Dao Companion to the Philosophy of Xunzi

Volume 7 of the series Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy pp 67-93


Ethics in the Xunzi

  • Eric L. HuttonAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Utah Email author 

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Xunzi’s views on ethics can be approached from at least two different perspectives. One, a more historical perspective, seeks to understand how Xunzi relates to the rest of the Chinese tradition, by way of comparison and contrast with other Chinese thinkers. The other perspective is more philosophical, and is concerned with understanding how Xunzi’s ideas fit together, and what are their strengths and weaknesses. This chapter takes the latter approach, since other chapters in this book cover Xunzi’s relation to his historical context. I first survey the main elements of Xunzi’s ethics and highlight the way that his approach pays attention to rules for behavior, social roles, virtues, and consequences of actions. Next, I offer an account of how these various elements relate to each other in Xunzi’s view, and I discuss some of the challenges involved for classifying his ethics in terms of various well-known forms of normative theory. After this reconstruction, the final section of the essay explores points where people may be inclined to object to his ideas, as well as aspects of his view that may still seem plausible and relevant in today’s world.