Remastering Morals with Aristotle and Confucius by May Sim
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Overview: In some ways, Aristotle and Confucius seem like promising subjects for comparative philosophy. Both emphasize the cultivation of virtue and flexible responsiveness to concrete situations over abstract moral rules. However, Aristotle and Confucius have importantly different conceptions of what it is to live well. For Aristotle, the life of the theoretical scholar (the scientist or philosopher) can be intrinsically worthwhile, and the family exists only as a tool for producing and maintaining virtuous individuals. In contrast, Confucius thinks that learning must always be in the service of society, and full virtue can be exercised just by being a good father, mother, son or daughter. Furthermore, some have argued that Confucius is actually more like “postmodern” critics of Aristotle than Aristotle himself.
In this book, May Sim begins by arguing against those who see Confucius as fundamentally unlike Aristotle. She says that Confucius’s “commonsense” view of the self and reality is not identical with that of Aristotle, but is generally consistent with it. She then goes into a detailed comparison, noting (with a subtle eye) the similarities and differences between Aristotle and Confucius. She focuses in particular on four issues: virtue as a “mean” between extremes (e.g., courage is a mean between rashness and cowardice), the characteristics of the ethical “self,” the connection between politics and virtue, and the relationship between friendship and virtue.
This book is written in an accessible manner, so non-scholars can understand it. However, it does go into detail on some technical issues, so it is not for casual readers unwilling to read slowly and thoughtfully. For those interested in comparative philosophy and willing to make the effort, I recommend this book strongly.
Incidentally, this book is one of three dealing with Confucianism and Aristotelianism that came out in 2007. The other two are The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of Virtue and Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy. In addition, Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of Virtue and Conceptions of Courage was a groundbreaking earlier study on a related topic.
Genre: Non-Fiction > Faith, Beliefs & Philosophy