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Updating Yin and Yang


Ethicists haven’t paid much attention recently to the Chinese complementarity of yin and yang. That complementarity can be updated to take into account and also form the basis for some of our contemporary ethical thinking. In my From Enlightenment to Receptivity, I argue that Western thought has overemphasized rational control/autonomy at the expense of the countervailing virtue of receptivity, and it turns out that the yin/yang complementarity can be profitably viewed as anticipating and clarifying a complementarity between receptivity and rational control that recent developments in Western philosophical thought point us toward. But just as Western philosophy has overemphasized rational autonomy, Chinese thinking hasn’t sufficiently appreciated its importance. Both Chinese and Western thought need to seek a more even balance between autonomy/control and receptivity, but the idea of such balance comes more from yin and yang than from anything in previous Western philosophy.

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Correspondence to Michael Slote.

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Slote, M. Updating Yin and Yang. Dao 12, 271–282 (2013).

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  • Yin/yang
  • Receptivity
  • Rational control
  • Autonomy
  • Complementarity
  • Western thought
  • Chinese thought