Agent and Deed in Confucian Thought

Philosophy East and West 69 (2):495-514 (2019)
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Based on key passages in The Analects, I develop a Confucian account of agency: more precisely, an account of the relation between agent and deed (action). The Confucian view is contrasted with "standard" causal accounts of action (e.g., Davidson, Searle), which hold that what makes an event an action is that it is intended. According to the Confucian account, the defining mark of action is not the causal involvement of a (prior) intention, but instead the expressive relation between agent and action. What's distinctive about an action is that it is expressive of who the agent is; the action expresses one's character or self. For the Confucians, what one really intends (the content of one's intention) is not a prior state to the action, but is rather determined or settled by the action as it is completed. I then explore the implications of the Confucian account for our understanding of three moral-psychological phenomena: weakness of will, self-deception, and moral regret.

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George Tsai
University of Hawaii


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