Virtuous actions in the Mengzi

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 31 (1):2-22 (2023)
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Many anglophone scholars take the early Confucians to be virtue ethicists of one kind or another. A common virtue ethical reading of one of the most influential early Confucians, namely Mengzi, ascribes to him the view that moral actions are partly (or entirely) moral because of the state from which they are performed, be it the agent’s motives, emotions, or their character traits. I consider whether such a reading of the Mengzi is justified and I argue that it is not. I argue that there is no reason to believe that Mengzi distinguishes the moral value of actions that are performed from virtuous and non-virtuous states. Given this, virtue (as a feature of agents) is normatively posterior to virtuous actions. I conclude, first, that this poses a challenge to a wide range of common interpretations of the Mengzi, be they virtue ethical or otherwise, and second, that there might be conceptual space for an account of virtue ethics that rejects the normative priority of virtue over virtuous actions.

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Waldemar Brys
University of New South Wales (PhD)

Citations of this work

Extending Kindness: A Confucian Account.Waldemar Brys - 2023 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 104 (3):511-528.

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References found in this work

Target Centred Virtue Ethics.Christine Swanton - 2021 - Oxford University Press.
Exemplarist virtue theory.Linda Zagzebski - 1996 - Metaphilosophy 41 (1-2):41-57.
Moral Sentimentalism.Michael Slote - 2004 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 7 (1):3-14.

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