Abstract: In this essay it is argued that the conception of free will and determinism implied by Confucianism (of Confucius and Mencius) takes a compatibilist form. On one hand, it is argued that it is difficult to see libertarian free will in Confucianism. Confucianism's virtue ethics, with its emphasis on human character formation, cannot avoid the influence of internal factors and external circumstances on one's character that are beyond one's control. On the other hand, Confucianism espouses voluntary character formation and self-cultivation through human choice. This attitude likewise renders a hard determinist view untenable. With hard determinism and absolute free will both difficult to accept, the Confucian ethicists, beginning with Confucius and Mencius, seem to have been unable to avoid swinging between two extremes. However, as ethicists who exhort voluntary moral effort, they place autonomous action in the forefront of their compatibilism over inborn luck or fated events. Although this compatibilism may be valid from the standpoint of a practical philosophy that supports existing moral practices and responsibility, I examine whether it is truly tenable from a theoretical perspective.
Philosophy East and West – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: Jan 20, 2013
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