Early Confucian Ethics
Concepts and Arguments
In Early Confucian Ethics, Kim-chong Chong re-examines the thinking of the three classical Confucians—Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi—keeping each of them distinct, and not falling into the common trap of reading Confucius and Xunzi in Mencian terms. While clearly explaining the main ethical ideas of the three sages, Chong confronts controversial scholarly issues and resolves such puzzles as why it is that Confucius declares that he rarely discourses on ren (‘humanity’), when in fact he repeatedly refers to it.
Although Confucius’s Analects is now thought to consist of different accretions over successive periods, Chong shows that the work has a coherent theme, which can be brought out by considering the interconnections between ren and other ethical concepts. Confucius’s ethics is a ‘character ethics’, emphasizing the importance of character and motivation instead of guidance by general principles.
Though it is usually assumed that in their discourses on human nature, Mencius was rhetorical while Xunzi merely stipulated definitions, Chong shows that both Mencius and Xunzi could argue cogently, and he displays the nature, logic, and force of their arguments.
Contrary to a mistaken traditional view, Confucius does not advance a theory of human nature. Chong analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of Mencius’s and Xunzi’s different theories of humanity. In the end, despite these theories, both Mencius and Xunzi rely upon what is fundamental in Confucius’s ethics—the human expressions of ren.
"Chong’s book is ‘must’ reading for students and teachers of Chinese ethical thought. It is an excellent philosophical introduction to classical Confucianism, focusing on Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi. In presenting his analysis of basic concepts and arguments, Chong raises important issues."
—Antonio S. Cua, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Catholic University of America
"This is an important work which will deepen our understanding of the intricate relation between the thinking of the three Confucians, as well as their different understandings of the human heart and their insights into human psychology. Chong provides an acute and probing discussion of important key terms and crucial passages, convincingly reconstructing the philosophical outlooks of Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi, and avoiding common pitfalls. While the writing is clear and accessible, the level of inquiry is deep."
—Kwong-loi Shun, author of Mencius and Early Chinese Thought
Formerly Head of the Department of Philosophy in the National University of Singapore, Kim-chong Chong is now Professor, Division of Humanities, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He is author of Moral Agoraphobia (1996) and co-editor of Altruistic Reveries (2002), The Moral Circle and the Self (2003), and Conceptions of Virtue: East and West (2006).