“Getting It Oneself" (Zide 自得) as an Alternative to Testimonial Knowledge and Deference to Tradition

Oxford Studies in Epistemology 7:306-335 (2023)
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To morally defer is to form a moral belief on the basis of some credible authority's recommendation rather than on one’s own moral judgment. Many philosophers have suggested that the sort of knowledge yielded by moral deference is deficient in various ways. To better appreciate its possible deficiencies, I propose that we look at a centuries-long philosophical discourse that made much of the shortcomings of this sort of knowledge, which is the discourse about “getting it oneself” (zide 自得) in the later (post-classical) Confucian tradition. In this chapter, I offer the first sustained philosophical account of “getting it oneself,” as conceived by its most influential proponents—Cheng Hao, Cheng Yi, and Zhu Xi. I describe its most notable features, including its tendency to enhance epistemic confidence and what I call “self-discovery aspects” of the phenomenon. I then focus on the Neo-Confucian claim that some parts of the deliberative process should be spontaneous or unforced, which, I argue, they saw as necessary for an unbiased appreciation of the inferential force of the reasons for one’s moral conclusions. I conclude by pointing to some of the broader implications of my reading for both the history of philosophy and current debates about moral deference.

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Justin Tiwald
University of Hong Kong


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