Xunzi’s Ritual Program as a Response to Han Feizi’s Criticism of Confucianism

Journal of Confucian Philosophy and Culture 34 (August):129-153 (2020)
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One of Han Feizi’s most subtle criticisms of Confucianism targets a central feature of its moral cultivation program, namely an appeal to modelling oneself on ancient sages. According to Han Feizi, this ideal of model emulation is doomed to failure due to imperfect knowledge of past exemplars, the fact that certain ideals of practice may not be applicable to (or catastrophic for) some practitioners, and the additional fact that one cannot always rely on past examples to provide good guidance for future events. As Eric Hutton points out, this line of critique bears striking similarities to one offered by Bernard Williams against virtue ethics. Accordingly, this emulation problem poses difficulties not only for Confucianism, but also more generally for virtue ethics. This paper argues that the emulation problem can be overcome by appealing to the Confucian Xunzi’s account of the role of ritual (li) in moral cultivation. Specifically, the ways in which ritual promotes moral development provide the Confucians (and, by association, virtue ethics) with the means of devising a sufficiently sophisticated account of emulation to meet the challenge lobbied by Han Feizi and Williams.



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Colin Lewis
University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

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The Rationality of Emotion.Ronald DE SOUSA - 1987 - Philosophy and Rhetoric 22 (4):302-303.
Situationism and Confucian Virtue Ethics.Deborah S. Mower - 2013 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (1):113-137.

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