I explore conceptions of happiness in classical Chinese philosophers Mengzi and Zhuangzi. In choosing to frame my question with the word ‘happiness’, I am guided by the desire to draw some comparative lessons for Western philosophy. “Happiness” has been a central concept in Western ethics, and especially in Aristotelian and utilitarian ethics. The early Chinese concept most relevant to discussion of Mengzi and Zhuangzi concerns a specific form of happiness designated by the word le, which is best rendered as “contentment.” For both Mengzi and Zhuangzi, there is a reflective dimension of happiness that consists in acceptance of the inevitable transformations of life and death, though these two thinkers chart very different paths to such acceptance. Mengzi holds that it lies in identification with a moral cause much larger than the self. Zhuangzi is profoundly skeptical about the viability of such a path to contentment. He instead offers identification with a world that transcends human good and evil, and a way to live in the present that can be deeply satisfying. One interesting outcome of both their discussions of achieving happiness is that both come to question the importance of happiness as a personal goal.
Practicing critical hermeneutics throws us into the tension between the requirement to construe others as being like us and to open ourselves to ways they may differ fundamentally from us and pose challenges to our cherished truths. I analyze this tension and propose a way to reconcile them. I argue that embrace of difference is necessary if we are to interpret others as being like us, because we need sufficient diversity in the "us." Whom we decide to include in the "us" depends on relations of power. I draw from the relationship between China and the West to illustrate this argument, discussing what it takes for "us" in the West to understand Confucian ethics, and the efforts of contemporary Chines thinkers to "translate" the concept of rights from the West.
This paper is a development of earlier attempts of mine to interpret what conception of the moral development of natural compassion is contained in the Mencius. I bring crucial features of this conception into dialogue with contemporary science on the development of empathy.
Philosophy and anthropology need to integrate their accounts of what a morality is. I identify three desiderata that an account of morality should satisfy: 1) recognize significant diversity and variation in the major kinds of value; 2) specify a set of criteria for what counts as a morality; and 3) indicate the basis for distinguishing between more or less justifiable moralities, or true and false moralities. I will discuss why these three desiderata are hard to satisfy at the same time, and why they are controversial. Anthropologists and philosophers will differ on which ones they are inclined to reject. I argue that all three should be accepted and can be satisfied.