The Art of Convention: An Aesthetic Defense of Confucian Ritual

In Colin Marshall (ed.), Comparative Metaethics: Neglected Perspectives on the Foundations of Morality. New York, USA: Rutledge. pp. 119-138 (2019)

Irene Liu
New York University
This paper aims to produce a defense of the ethical significance of Confucian ritual. An adequate defense must explain how these conventions are based in a culturally-neutral, objective ground. After a brief account of how Confucians view the relationship between rituals and moral goodness, I consider three sorts of justification. Mencian naturalism appeals to a conception of flourishing that is grounded in human nature. Xunzian consequentialism looks to how ritual brings about social order. I argue that both of these approaches fail because they are unable to account for the normative fineness of rituals, which refers to the precision and detail of ritual propriety. Instead, I look to Xunzi for a justification of rituals in terms of their role in beautifying human nature. I argue that this view provides a sort of objective ground for ritual, while also preserving their normative fineness. I conclude with remarks on how Xunzian aestheticism may be useful for understanding other areas of moral life.
Keywords Ritual  Xunzi
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