Ethical Analysis of an Ancient Debate: Moists versus Confucians

Submitted by James Miller on Mon, 05/25/2009 - 12:09
James Miller's picture
TitleEthical Analysis of an Ancient Debate: Moists versus Confucians
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1980
AuthorsJochim, C.
JournalThe Journal of Religious Ethics
Date PublishedApr

Despite the importance of the Moist-Confucian debate to students of both Chinese thought and comparative religious ethics, it remains in need of a careful analysis using contemporary ethical theory. In presenting such an analysis, this essay aims to accomplish three things: (1) to show how Confucius and Mo-tzu were divided over the priority-of-the-right issue, the latter being a utilitarian in his working ethics despite his oft-noted interest in divine command theory; (2) to describe how their followers worked out a meta-ethical basis for their respective positions on this issue (Mencius, in particular, opposing the psychological and "definist" approach of the Moists with an "intuitionist" one that would have a deep influence upon later Confucian orthodoxy); (3) to demonstrate the tendency, perhaps grounded in the structure of human thought, toward conflict between two basic ways of doing normative ethics: the deontological and the teleological.