A Dilemma for Yong Huang’s Neo-Confucian Moral Realism

Australasian Philosophical Review (forthcoming)
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Yong Huang presents criticisms of Neo-Aristotelian meta-ethical naturalism and argues Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucian approach is superior in defending moral realism. After presenting Huang’s criticisms of the Aristotelian metaethical naturalist picture, such as that of Rosalind Hursthouse, I argue that Huang’s own views succumb to the same criticisms. His metaethics does not avoid an allegedly problematic ‘gap,’ whether ontological or conceptual, between possessing a human nature and exemplifying moral goodness. This ontological gap exists in virtue of the fact that it is possible for there to be bad people, and the conceptual gap exists in virtue of the fact that people are not ‘good’ (in that sense of being a good agent) merely because they are human. Aristotelians and Confucians both should reject that such gaps are problematic. I conclude by proposing that Huang is better understood as criticizing the Aristotelian move from scientific-empirical facts about human nature to the objective prescriptivity of moral norms. But so too I argue that Confucians should not follow Huang here either. There is good scientific evidence that would be supportive of a Confucian analysis of social virtues and provide one way of responding to those worries about the scientific-empirical accessibility of facts about the good life.

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James Dominic Rooney
Hong Kong Baptist University


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