Xunzi on Moral Psychology

Part of the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy book series (DCCP, volume 7)


Among early Chinese thinkers, Xunzi offers some of the most detailed and extensive discussions of moral psychology. While much of that material appears in his remarks about people’s xing 性 (“nature”) and wei 偽 (“deliberate effort”), several other passages that do not explicitly invoke those notions are also relevant to understanding his views on moral psychology. In this chapter I focus primarily on those other passages, since Xunzi’s conceptions of xing and wei are treated extensively elsewhere in this book. In particular, I first discuss his understanding of qing 情 (“dispositions”) and yu 欲 (“desires”). The second section then analyzes Xunzi’s view of ke (“approval”), which plays an important role in his explanation of moral behavior. I review some of the controversies in the English-language scholarship about the relations between yu and ke in Xunzi’s picture of moral motivation, and I defend an interpretation on which Xunzi takes yu and ke to be independent and potentially conflicting sources of motivation that must be harmonized in order for a person to achieve sagehood. The chapter ends with a consideration of how the demand for such harmonization derives from Xunzi’s views about virtue, and notes some questions raised by his position.


Motivational Force Filial Piety Virtuous Person Moral Psychology Western Tradition 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I would like to thank Wang Kai 王楷 and the two editorial reviewers for the volume for their comments on an earlier draft of this essay.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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