How Virtue Reforms Attachment to External Goods: The Transformation of Happiness in the Analects

Journal of Confucian Philosophy and Culture 33:9-39 (2020)
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After distinguishing three conceptions of virtue and its impact on ordinary attachments to external goods such as social status, power, friends, and wealth, this paper argues that the Confucian Analects is most charitably interpreted as endorsing the wholehearted internalization conception, on which virtue reforms but does not completely extinguish ordinary attachments to external goods. I begin by building on Amy Olberding’s attack on the extinguishing attachments conception, but go on to criticize her alternative, resolute sacrifice conception, on which the virtuous retain their ordinary attachments to external goods but are able to master them and willingly settle for virtue. I argue that we should reject this view because, unlike the wholehearted internalization conception, it cannot capture the facts that virtue silences or attenuates attachment to viciously obtained external goods and that virtue grounds positive emotional and cognitive self-assessments that are incompatible with some ordinary attachments to external goods.

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Bradford Cokelet
University of Kansas


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