Ren, Empathy and the Agent-Relative Approach in Confucian Ethics

Asian Philosophy 22 (2):133-141 (2012)
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Abstract

The recent debate on whether Confucian Ethics should be viewed as a type of virtue ethics inevitably touches on the issue of the meaning of virtues such as ren 仁, yi 義, and li 禮. However, the argument would be over-simplified to claim that since Confucianism puts significant weight on virtues then it is virtue ethics. The conclusion would mainly depend on how we understand the key concepts such as ren, yi and the roles they play in the ethical life of humans. Some scholars interpret ren as benevolence, yet others interpret it as empathy. In this paper, I will make a scrutiny of these concepts and their implications. My primary aim is to discern the characteristics of Confucian ethics, rather than to classify it into some categories that are largely constructs of contemporary philosophy.

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