Moral advance and moral risk -- a Mengzian reflection

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Abstract
On one view of moral development, someone not yet virtuous can reliably progress by engaging in what meaningfully resembles virtuous conduct. However, one may also morally degrade from such an attempt precisely because of the way in which one's character still falls short of virtue. This risk of degradation casts doubt on the developmental view. I counter the doubt by refining the developmental view through interpretation and application of the Mengzi. In passage 2A2, invoking the image of a farmer who “helped” the crop grow by pulling the sprouts, MENG Ke cautions, “do not help it grow.” I defend a novel interpretation: it warns the less-than-virtuous not to advance with a naïve negligence about their psycho-physiological constitution. I then construct a way to advance with realistic care also from the Mengzi: by suitably reflecting about one’s morally advanced undertaking, one can mitigate the risk of degradation without forgoing the action.
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First archival date: 2018-10-29
Latest version: 4 (2019-05-04)
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2018-10-29

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