Early Confucian Philosophy and the Development of Compassion

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© 2015, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. Metaphors of adorning, crafting, water flowing downward, and growing sprouts appear in the Analects (Lunyu 論語), the Mencius (Mengzi 孟子), and the Xunzi 荀子. They express and guide thinking about what there is in human nature to cultivate and how it is to be cultivated. The craft metaphor seems to imply that our nature is of the sort that must be disciplined and reshaped to achieve goodness, while the adorning, water, and sprout metaphors imply that human nature has an inbuilt directionality toward the ethical that should be protected or nurtured. I argue that all the metaphors capture different aspects of human nature and how one must work with these aspects. There is much in contemporary psychology and neuroscience to suggest that the early Confucians were on the right track. It is also argued that they point to a fruitful conception of ethical development that is relational and holistic.





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Wong, DB (2015). Early Confucian Philosophy and the Development of Compassion. Dao, 14(2). pp. 157–194. 10.1007/s11712-015-9438-x Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/20417.

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David B. Wong

Susan Fox Beischer and George D. Beischer Trinity College Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Philosophy

David Wong is the Susan Fox Beischer and George D. Beischer Professor of Philosophy. Before he came to Duke, he was the Harry Austryn Wolfson Professor of Philosophy at Brandeis University and the John M. Findlay Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Boston University.

The main subjects of his research include 1) the nature and extent of moral differences and similarities across and within societies and how these differences and similarities bear on questions about the objectivity and universality of morality; 2) the attempt to understand morality naturalistically as arising from the attempt of human beings to structure their cooperation and to convey to each other what kinds of lives they have found to be worth living; 3) the nature of conflicts between basic moral values and how these give rise to moral differences across and within societies; 4) how we attempt to deal with such conflicts in moral deliberation and whether philosophical theory has an accurate and rich sense of the way such conflicts are deal with in real time; 5) the relevance of comparative philosophy, especially Chinese-Western (Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism) comparative philosophy, to the above subjects; 6) Whether our reasons to feel and act are based solely on what we already desire or whether reasons transcend what we desire and are used to critically evaluate and shape our desires; 7) the extent to which a person's recognizing that she has reasons to feel and act in certain ways can enter into the constitution of her emotions and guide those emotions, while at the same time gaining motivational force from being embedded in emotions.

His books include Moral Relativity (University of California Press, 1984), Natural Moralities (Oxford University Press, 2006), Moral Relativism and Pluralism (Cambridge University Press, 2023), and a Chinese translation of Metaphor and Analogy in Early Chinese Thought, five lectures given at National Chengchi University (2023). A book of critical essays on Natural Moralities is Moral Relativism and Chinese Philosophy: David Wong and his Critics, ed. by Yang Xiao and Yong Huang, SUNY Press, 2014), with responses by Wong to the essays.  Wong has co-edited with Kwong-loi Shun Confucian Ethics: a Comparative Study of Self, Autonomy and Community  (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Articles and chapters include "Feeling, Reflection, and Reasoning in the Mencius,” Dao Companion to Mencius, ed. Xiao Yang and Chong Kim-Chong (2023), “Constructive Skepticism in the Zhuangzi,” in the Dao Companion to Zhuangzi, ed. Kim-Chong Chong“ (2022) Practical Reasoning in Early Chinese Philosophy,” for The Routledge Handbook of Practical Reason, ed. Ruth Chang and Kurt Sylvan (2021), “Soup, Harmony, and Disagreement,” for The Journal of the American Philosophical Association (2020),
"Why Forgiveness is So Elusive,” for the Natural Method: Ethics, Mind & Self: Themes from the Work of Owen Flanagan, ed. Eddy Nahmias, Thomas W. Polger, and Wenqing Zhao (2020), “Practical Reasoning in Early Chinese Philosophy,” for the Routledge Handbook of Practical Reason, ed. Ruth Chang and Kurt Sylvan (2020), "Coping with Moral Conflict and Ambiguity," (Ethics, 1992), "Xunzi on Moral Motivation" (Chinese Language, Thought, and Culture: Nivison and his Critics, 1996), "Reasons and Analogical Reasoning in Mencius" (Essays on the Moral Philosophy of Mengzi, 2002), "Relational and Autonomous Selves" (Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 2004), "Zhuangzi and the Obsession with Being Right" (History of Philosophy Quarterly, 2004), “A Relational Approach to Environmental Ethics” (with Marion Hourdequin, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 2005),"Moral Reasons: Internal and External," (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2006), "Emotion and the Cognition of Reasons in Moral Motivation" (Philosophical Issues 2009), "Complexity and Simplicity in Ancient Greek and Chinese Thought" (in How Should We Live? Comparing Ethics in Ancient China and Greco-Roman Antquity, ed. Dennis Schilling and Richard King 2011), "How Are Moral Conversions Possible?" (in In Search of Goodness, ed. Ruth Grant 2011), "Sustaining Cultures in the Face of Globalization" (with Nicole Hassoun, Culture and Dialogue, 2013), "On Learning What Happiness Is" Philosophical Topics, 2013, actually appearing in 2015), "Integrating Philosophy with Anthropology in an Approach to Morality" (Anthropological Theory, 2014), "The Different Faces of Love in a Good Life" (in Moral Cultivation and Confucian Character: Engaging Joel J. Kupperman, ed. Chengyang Li and Peimin Ni 2014), "Early Confucian Philosophy and the Development of Compassion" (Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 2015), "Growing Virtue: The Theory and Science of Developing Compassion from a Mencian Perspective" (in The Philosophical Challenge from China, ed. Brian Bruya 2015). He has written articles on moral relativism for A Companion to Ethics, The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Encyclopedia of Ethics, and Dictionnaire de philosophie morale, and entries on "Comparative Philosophy, Chinese and Western," "Chinese Ethics" and "Mind (Heart-Mind) in Chinese Philosophy" for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  He was interviewed on the subjects of cultural and moral relativism for the Public Television Series, "The Examined Life." He has written on comparative ethics for The Encyclopedia of Ethics and on the "Definition of Morality" for The International Encyclopedia of Ethics.

Wong is co-director with Owen Flanagan of the Center for Comparative Philosophy at Duke. 

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