Is Xunzi’s Virtue Ethics Susceptible to the Problem of Alienation?

Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 10 (1):71-84 (2011)
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In this essay I argue that if Kantian and consequentialist ethical theories are vulnerable to the so-called “problem of alienation,” a virtue ethics based on Xunzi’s ethical writings will also be vulnerable to this problem. I outline the problem of alienation, and then show that the role of ritual ( li ) in Xunzi’s theory renders his view susceptible to the problem as it has been traditionally understood. I consider some replies on Xunzi’s behalf, and also discuss whether the problem affects other Confucian and eudaimonian approaches to virtue ethics. I close by considering some solutions to the problem and the affect that this result has on the argumentative dialectic between the three major ethical traditions

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James Harold
Mount Holyoke College


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