Respecting different ways of life: a Daoist ethics of virtue in the Zhuangzi

Submitted by James Miller on Wed, 05/14/2014 - 16:54
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TitleRespecting different ways of life: a Daoist ethics of virtue in the Zhuangzi
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsHuang, Y.
JournalJournal of Asian studies
Pagination1049 - 1070
Date Published2010
ISBN Number0021-9118, 0021-9118
KeywordsAnthropology, China, Daoism, Ethics, Morality, Religious beliefs, Tradition

As the ethics of virtue, with a focus on cultivating admirable traits of character instead of commanding adherence to rigid rules, becomes increasingly popular in contemporary moral discourses, scholars have tried to find evidence of virtue ethics in such ancient traditions as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. This article explores the possibility of a virtue ethics in a tradition that has been largely neglected, Chinese Daoism, by focusing on one of the most important classics in this tradition, the Zhuangzi. Contrary to a common misconception of the Zhuangzi as skeptical, relativistic, and therefore empty of any guide to moral life, it presents a solid normative ethics through various stories, and this normative ethics is a virtue ethics. The most important trait of character in this Daoist virtue ethics is respect for different ways of life-a virtue not discussed in any familiar versions of virtue ethics in the West and yet most valuable to to contemporary life in a global and pluralistic society.