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Contribution to Book
The Analects and Moral Theory
The Dao Companion to the Analects (2013)
  • Stephen C. Angle, Wesleyan University
Over the last century, scholars both within China and without have considered how the Analects relates to modern, Western philosophy. Should we think of the Analects—or the early Confucian tradition more broadly—as “philosophy,” and if so, should we seek to analyze its contents in terms of Western philosophical categories? With regard to the ethical teachings in the text, a more specific concern has also been raised: does it make sense to think of the Analects as engaging in “moral” theory, or is its framework adequately different from modern Western moral philosophy that a different set of categories are necessary?1 A central contention of the present chapter is that thinking about the Analects in terms of modern moral theory can indeed be constructive (from both interpretive and dialogical standpoints, as I will explain below), but there are also good reasons to take seriously concerns about an unhealthy hegemony of Western philosophical categories. The first section of this chapter will therefore address a variety of methodological issues raised by the prospect of thinking about the Analects in terms of moral theory. Subsequent sections will then explore the pros and cons of viewing the Analects through the lenses of Kantian deontology, which Sinophone scholarship on the text has tended to stress; virtue ethics, which is more prominent in Anglophone secondary literature; and role ethics, which has emerged as a potential alternative to both deontology and virtue ethics. We will also consider the results of viewing these theories through the lens of the Analects. The chapter’s overall conclusion is that we are entering an exciting time for open, cross-cultural and trans-linguistic textual interpretation and moral theorizing, much of which is on view in the recent approaches to the Analects canvassed here. 
  • Analects,
  • Confucianism,
  • Ethics,
  • Morality,
  • Deontology,
  • China
Publication Date
Amy Olberding
Citation Information
Stephen C. Angle. "The Analects and Moral Theory" The Dao Companion to the Analects (2013)
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