Why bioethics should take a Confucian approach seriously An

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					"Towards A Cultural Comparison of the Developmental Ethics in the Daxue
and Christian Ideas of Moral Learning."

Ole Döring (Bochum, Hamburg)1

It is rewarding to review the complicated relationship between Christian and
Confucian cultures in the light of their capacities to respond to fundamental
challenges raised by global modernisation processes. This paper argues in
programmatic terms for the hypothesis that Christian and Confucian
approaches need not be regarded as mutually exclusive, notwithstanding their
different meta-perspectives. A case discussion of the moral developmental
program of the Great Learning (Daxue) and its significance for core issues of
modern philosophical ethics, as exemplified by biomedical ethics, indicates
opportunities for a sufficiently robust common moral perspective that should
be pursued systematically. This paper closes with the notion that, whilst grave
differences in the ritual formalities and metaphysical anthropology remain,
such as about the meaning of family or the original sin, a disciplined practical
focus can open perspectives towards common moral rationales. Confucian and
Christian cultures of ethics share capacities for pursuing more than merely
strategic alliances. They can support different levels of humanistic and
enlightened critique against utilitarian or technical approaches to globalising

Bioethics, Moral development, Commonalities of Confucian and Christian
Moral Agenda, Response to Modernity

The argument I would like to develop in this paper pursues the hypothesis: that
Christian and Confucian approaches need not be regarded as mutually
exclusive. Disregarding the different meta-perspectives of a metaphysical
versus a pragmatic-secular oriented frame, the moral development program of
the Great Learning (Daxue) and its relation to biomedical ethics, as a case in
point, exemplarily indicates a sufficiently robust common moral content that
can help to jointly respond to challenges of globalised modernity.

Accordingly, an ethical governance approach, which does not focus on the
doctrinal groundwork, can be compatible with worldviews that do not
necessarily depend upon a particular moral anthropology or ontology. Rather,
they can, in metaphysically less ambitious ways, be satisfied with attending to
the purposes of functionality and quality of the process of moral cultivation. In
this view, conflicts between these systems appear to be owing to the rituals and
social institutions, and symbolic politics. This notion has been expressed early

  An earlier version of this paper was presented at the symposium, “Taking Confucian Ethics Seriously”, 28-29 June
2004, at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. I am grateful for comments by participants and for helpful
interventions by Yu Kam Por and Heiner Roetz. Not at least, I took encouragement from a critical comment of one
anonymous peer reviewer.
on, for example, in Mattheo Ricci‟s accommodation theory and the resulting
conflicts with Catholic orthodoxy. On the other hand, the fundamental and
principal companionableness of both moral systems in practical terms is
materially illustrated through famous Chinese leaders such as Sun Yat-sen.
Today, some of the most dedicated and original Chinese bioethicists refer to
both, Confucian and Christian ethics, without concern about contradiction of
faith. The content of the moral profiles of Christian and Confucian positions in
ethics, with their resulting propensity for conflict, obviously depends on the
priorities attached to the ethical outlook (including the question of form versus
matter of the approach).

In situations at hand that require ethical judgement, a practical attitude that
focuses on robust moral performance in the light of issues and general moral
intentions, rather than on formal or ritual protocol will find that biomedicine
and the globalisation of bioethics present cultural enquiries with plentiful
opportunities to explore the meaning and normative significance of „culture”,
or “cultures”, in vivo. The price of such an approach is that comparison and
negotiation or understanding, on a fundamental level, is largely put aside. What
might be gained, however, by virtue of the chief interest in the moral matter, is
likely to confirm common basic insights and symbols of deeper moral
meaning, with implications for common moral ground even on higher levels of
abstraction. It is obviously not the objective of this paper to actually perform
such a comparison in sufficient detail but to argue towards this line of research
and encourage systematic studies towards such an end.

1 Cultivating bioethics
This is a challenge for philosophy, hermeneutics and anthropology. It also
marks a fundamental step in the work on the conceptual and symbolic
repertoire of ethics. The descriptive and methodical interest in matters of
philology and historical studies is transcended and transformed, once we
enquire about qualitative assessments of their ethical content and explore their
normative impact. At the same time, these latter disciplines are instrumental in
defining the range of plausible interpretations; they inform us about the facts,
as far as their faculty is concerned. Moreover, this exploration, in a context of
contemporary affairs, introduces to academic hermeneutics a fresh perspective,
pertaining to the fabric and procedural logic of understanding. What are the
differences or similarities between interpreting a highly institutionalised and
firmly metaphysically rooted religion, such as Christianity, and an ethical
tradition of reflected practices that clearly offers some metaphysical orientation
(especially since its struggles with the Buddhism) but should be described
primarily as programmatically political and secular in its moral interest, such as

 A related discussion about the hermeneutics of understanding can be found in: Ole
Döring, ”Verstehen als Anerkennen. Überlegungen zu einer zeitgemäßen
Kulturhermeneutik am Beispiel der Medizinethik im heutigen China”, Bochumer Jahrbuch
zur Ostasienforschung Band 25 2001, Bochum (Iudicium), 2002: 9-52.
Such studies pertain to political, social critical, moral or ethical writings, when
a perspective of a “good life” is concerned with prescriptive accounts. In
bioethics, as the particular area of ethics dealing with issues raised by the
modern life sciences, we are encouraged to go beyond the realm of history and
philology proper because it raises questions about the meaning of humanity
and a “good life”. It addresses the range of legitimate action, interference with
nature and moral obligations. In other words, bioethics can mobilise cultural
resources in ways that go beyond positive assumptions, as they are presented as
being meaningful, explicitly or implicitly, symbolically or in connotation, from
the view of the respective stakeholder. These questions are assessed differently,
according to their particular cultural or societal context. An ethical judgement
thus reflects on what it actually means to respect different cultures and
societies. It cannot confine itself to political, legal and regulatory, or “experts‟”
approaches, as is often the misunderstood image of bioethics. In terms of
religious comparisons, it provides context for reflection about how morality
functions in practice, with a heuristic tendency to disregard or rationalise the
related metaphysics.

However, such reference to context-specific „culture“ does not trump universal
ethical considerations. Without a heuristic framework of ethics that can hold
universally binding regulatory principles in order to prevent abuse of power,
there will neither be prevention from undue influence of partisan morality,
illegitimate domination of interests, or, coercion and injustice, nor can the
diversity of individual “cultures” be appreciated or protected. It would also
mean to forego the opportunity to explore moral common ground underneath
the distinguishing ornaments of ordered convention. The case of bioethics
illustrates how we, on the firm grounds of moral conviction but not necessarily
subscribing to the same design of organised and reflected morality, may
overcome ethical relativism by the very conceptual means that enlighten
practically interested hermeneutical understanding itself.

Owing to the human-centered perspective of medicine, an analysis of bioethics
in a given social-political-cultural context, e.g., China, or in a traditional
system such as Confucianism or Christianity, reminds us of the primary
practical importance of moral qualities of individuals in performing, assessing
and improving of morality, in relation to themselves and towards others. It
reconfirms the importance of a culturally enlightened reconstruction of social
practice. The ultimate purpose here is obviously to serve the progress of ethics
in medicine. Accordingly, ethics should be appreciated as a reasonable and
scientific assessment of the meaningful cohabitation of the moral, legal and
political normative practices in society.

2 Setting the stage: trust
A key material issue in contemporary biomedical ethics, as a domain of social
ethics, is the rehabilitation of trust. The biomedical turn in medicine and health
care raises questions of responsibility, credibility, and trust, which can be
assessed only in view of the related social-cultural framing conditions. One
theme of trust emerges from concerns about the independence and
emancipation of science from secondary interests. It is guided by an interest in
the sustainable development of science. Sustainable trust depends on a
common basis of mutual acknowledgement among human beings, sincere
taking of responsibility, and interest in mutual knowledge-related benefit,
between science and society. This foundation of legitimacy stands in question,
when sciences, with their particular theoretical and methodological mindset
and strong economic (or political) alliances, promulgate their capability to
guide society towards a better life, in their own right.

A healthy bioethics could serve as a facilitator of criticism and building of such
trust. A debate of issues of bio-medical ethics, or bioethics, has the particular
function to generate terms of fundamental trust in a sustainable development of
the sciences in society, regionally and globally.

Ethically, trust is one of the working conditions for respect, in the form of self-
respect and the respect towards others. Ideally, patients trust that doctors treat
them as best as possible, the public trusts that politicians are concerned with
the commonwealth and that scientists pursue a better understanding of the real
world. Throughout current bio-medical ethics debates, doubt about the
trustworthiness of key players is being raised. There is a tendency to take
personal greed, double standards and a merely rhetorical reference to moral
arguments for granted, among politicians, commercial enterprises and
researchers. Ethical standards seem to support an overly individualised
anthropology that prudently offers suspicion and caution rather than trust and
respect. This development is fuelled by the development of biomedicine
towards a market place that is regulated by economics or law and is lacking a
fundamental sense of humane community. The combined spirits of
competitiveness and economic rationality, when left without general moral
orientation, such as by solidarity or submission under an overall and immaterial
aspiration, (be it coined in terms of virtue or de-ontological ethics), could lead
to dismemberment of society and communities. Such a development might
jeopardise the success of the vision of sustainability and respect for human
beings, as well as the integrity and freedom of the sciences. Like other social
contracts, sustainability of trust depends on the resolve of the elite to make
examples of honesty, responsibility and trustworthiness.

This is not a new theme. Trust is addressed as a primary value of political and
social philosophy in early Confucian writings,3 highlighting a special sense of
reciprocity between trust and trustworthiness. During the Warring States
Period, when the world appeared to be drowning in chaos and lack of
orientation, symbols of trust were situated and systematised in a context of
social or political contract.4 Early Confucians noted that, without the presence
of xin (trust, confidence), „a covenant is of no use“5.

  E.g., in Lunyu 19.10, xin is regarded as more fundamental than welfare and military
  Heiner Roetz, Confucian Ethics of the Axial Age, New York (SUNY) 1993: 73.
  According to the Zuozhuan, cf. Roetz 1993: 76
This observation is evidently relevant for a state of positive norms, and the law
in particular. It is impossible to imagine the medical institution of an „informed
consent“ form, if either the consenting party is not duly respected, or the
calling party uses it to cheat, or, if public institutions fail to protect and
guarantee the validity of the contract in cases of a conflict.6 This is just one
example of the dependence of normative institutions in general on the trust and
trustworthiness of the agents. Moreover, it indicates that such institutions
cannot properly fulfil their purpose, when based merely on a reduced legalistic
or formalistic concept of practice.7

Thus, in the minds of philosophers of ancient China, cultivation of trust
evolved as an important generator for peace, stability and development on all
levels, individually, inside the family and in society. At the same time, it was
confirmed that, in terms of the genesis and practical logic of moral evolution,
trust is rooted in the character of the individual agent, from where it branches
out and connects with other individuals, depending on external nourishment
and guidance, as well as on experience of interaction. The most important
moral principle and virtue, humaneness (ren), by definition includes trust and
trustworthiness8. Xin (or: its quality of presence or absence, respectively)
connects the individual in any role or function, with society and the public.

The practical implications of this concept construe the actor, (such as, in the
context of bioethics, the doctor or researcher), as a responsible causal factor.
The goal, to become trustworthy in order to be qualified to take a position,
implies self-cultivation, namely education beyond professional training as a life
long process; interaction and learning-by doing; creative thinking and
responsiveness to criticism, together with sincere self-criticism and self-
cultivation. It also calls for institutions that provide reliable and durable
conditions that allow trustworthiness to unfold.

Trust as a practical concept is exemplified in the two positions of Meng Zi and
Xun Zi. Whereas Meng Zi appeals to the individual‟s efforts to promote the
process of moral cultivation in terms of an expression of his true innate nature
(ren xing, ziran zhi xin, that was later developed by Wang Yangming in his
concept of the „good inner knowledge“, liang zhi), it is Xun Zi who
emphasises, how trustworthiness should be standardised, with the help from
positive authorities, normative codes and institutions, (as it can be found later

 Cf. O'Neill, Onora, Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics, Cambridge, 2002; and Susan Dorr Goold, “Trust, Distrust and
Trustworthiness. Lessons from the Field”, J Gen Intern Med. 2002 January; 17(1): 79–81.
  The evident functional alternative is „stability by fear and terror“, as explained by political
philosophers Han Fei, Mo Di, Nicolo Macchiavelli and others.
  E.g., in a systematic combination with reverence gong, tolerance kuan, keenness min, and
kindness hui; Lunyu 17.5, or „reverence (gong) in private life, respect (jing) when entrusted
with a task, and benevolence (zhong) when dealing with others“, Lunyu 13.19) (Roetz 130),
or as a form of the „one that permeats all“, empathic reciprocity (shu).
correspondingly in the canonical educational reforms of the Song dynasty
under the influence of Zhu Xi).9

3 A Confucian example
Why to begin with a focus on a largely subjective notion, such as „trust“? Why
to begin with the subjective root, rather than with the principle of development,
or the fully branched prescriptive model for emulation? According to Meng Zi,
the beginning already bears the necessary elements required to process and
guide the moral development, in a kind of genetic moral program code10.

Traditionally, the Chinese classics have been credited with particular
competence in matters of practical guidance. In our days, however, while we
witness a shift of the focus of ethics towards different levels and micrologies of
culture and practice, we hardly find serious references to it.

How can bioethics be encouraged to take Confucian ethics serious, as a reason-
guided core of Chinese philosophy? A prominent study example is the Daxue
(the “Great Learning”). Although its scope is obviously not concerned with
specific areas of practice, such as bioethics, its moral development rationales
by virtue of their universal practical aspirations, establish the pattern of a
habitually moral character disregarding the concrete context, or, rather,
prepared to act properly under any circumstance. In this sense, the Daxue can
be reconstructed so that it offers a program with an ambition to systematically
integrate politics, sciences, society, communities, individual and common
morality, within an elaborated ethical framework and, at the same time, a
concrete illustration of the stages of moral development, embedded in a
hierarchical architecture of virtues, principles and policy priorities. Such
reconstruction, with regard to a concrete program of ethical tasks, can serve for
dialogue and comparison between Christian and Confucian thought. This
program hinges upon the individual as responsible subject in moral character

The Daxue, on the programmatic level, is interesting in particular for its
integrating approach to morality, governance, a theory of learning, and science.
It includes a „scientific” assessment of knowledge (ge wu) that might suggest
compatibility with science and ethics, though not being scientific in any
contemporary meaning. It delineates an understanding of cultivation, on the
individual (xiu shen) and polis‟ (tianxia ping) levels, as a holistic endeavour
toward comprehensive moral development that might be translated into
„Bildung” and „Wissenschaft”, respectively. And it endows ethics with an
optimistic practical telos for moral progress and moral optimism (zhi shan,
neng de), challenging moral partisanship and formalism as well as legalistic

  Ole Döring, ”Moral Development and Education in Medical Ethics. An Attempt at a
Confucian Aspiration”, in Ole Döring and Renbiao Chen (eds.), Advances in Chinese
Medical Ethics. Chinese and International Perspectives, Hamburg (Mitteilungen des
Instituts für Asienkunde No.355) 2002: 178-194.
   Cf. The „Four Beginnings“ (si duan), Mengzi 2.1.6, esp.: 65-6.
distortion or political instrumentalisation of ethics. Moreover, the Daxue takes
a substantially ethical standpoint that criticises and acculturates utilitarian or
mere prudential consideration (“Make profit!” wei li) according to the humane
imperative of “goodness” (“Embrace righteousness!” yi yi). Hence, it embraces
a moral culture in a nutshell.

In addition, on the societal level, the Daxue proposes an interpretative key in
order to assess, e.g., the role of the individual as member of a family and of a
state, the relative meaning of particular virtues or principles, such as “filial
piety” xiao, which is highlighted as core value in the unfolding process of the
enlargement of moral capacity in particular by Zengzi, the assumed author of
both, the Great Learning and the Classic of Filial Piety (Xiaojing), within their
moral context. It organises the relationship between individuals and
communities, the particular role(s) of an individual in a practical hierarchy of
norms and authorities, in different roles according to social functions (wu lun).

Strangely, in spite of its obvious ethical potential, this canonical text11 does not
seem to play a significant role even in expressly labelled „Confucian”
contributions to bioethics today, or in cross-cultural studies, even when authors
support the relevance of Confucian ethics. Prominent bioethicists from the
Chinese mainland seem to regard Confucianism as a traditionalistic problem
rather than a resource12 to guide modernisation.

However, different voices are heard occasionally13. For example, Cheng
Chung-ying, in a philosophical discussion of bioethics, refers to the moral
transformation of human beings and „the ideal of transforming the human
being, not only into a human person but into the human person toward
perfection, namely the supreme moral person“, that is, the shengren. Here,

   Its canonical status might in fact serve to explain some of the current reservations about
taking the Daxue serious. Notably, the Daxue is known almost exclusively (if it has been
studied at all) in the version of the first of the „Four Classics“ as arranged by Zhu Xi. The
differences between this text and the version of chapter 39 in the Liji seem to elude most
colleagues, together with the resulting ethical impact. For a defence of Zhu‟s arrangement,
cf. Daniel K. Gardner, Chu Hsi and the Ta-hsueh. Neo-Confucian Reflection on the
Confucian Canon, London (Cambridge University Press) 1986.
   Cf., e.g., 2000, Qiu Renzong, „Reshaping the Concept of Personhood: A Chinese
Perspective“, in: Becker G.K. (Hg.) 2000: The Moral Status of Persons: Perspective on
Bioethics; Amsterdam and Atlanta (Rodopi): 124-148.
   E.g., Tao, Julia Lai Po-wah, 2002b, "Global Bioethics, Global Dialogue: Introduction",
Julia Tao Lai Po-wah, Hg., Cross-Cultural Perspectives on the (Im)Possibility of Global
Bioethics, Dordrecht et.al. (Kluwer): 1-18, Yu Kam Por 2002, "Respecting Nature and
Using Human Intelligence: Elements of Confucian Bioethics", Proceedings of the
Workshop "Asian Genomics. Cultural Values and Bioethical Practice", IIAS Leiden, March
28.-29., 2002, Tsai Fu-chang 2001, "How should doctors approach patients? A Confucian
reflection on personhood", Journal of Medical Ethics 27, S. 44-50, Nie Jingbao, “Abortion
in Confucianism: A Conservative View.” The Second International Conference of
Bioethics, Taiwan, June 2000; Lee Shui-chuen 2002, "A Confucian Assessment of
'Personhood'", in: Döring und Chen 2002: 167-177, and some discussions in Fan Ruiping
(ed.) 1999, ed. Confucian Bioethics, Dordrecht (Kluwer). These authors represent a broad
variety of different approaches to Confucianism and bioethics.
Cheng observes that, though „we cannot know how biological and biomedical
discoveries and inventions will help our becoming (...) a supreme moral
person“, „one thing is quite clear: the idea of a shengren requires an
understanding of the moral development abilities of human nature“.14.

Cheng continues, „morality requires an inner source of development and
creativity“, that „presupposes that the human being is a free and creative agent
with autonomy of his own will, and that he is capable of self-discipline and
self-control.“15 This seemingly modern notion, expressing Confucian and
Christian fundamental assumptions, includes the conception of a „human
process-identity“16. It synthesizes the patterns of individual moral development
and the relational or social nature of the human being, and generates a multi-
dimensional concept of humanity. Thereby, it echoes other developments in
philosophy proper, for example, Kants universal humanistic ethics and moral
pedagogy, hermeneutic phenomenology (Paul Ricoeur), cultural anthropology
after the narrative turn (Clifford Geertz), and the related studies of
“Leiblichkeit” as well as achievements from critical feminism.

4 The ethics of the Daxue revisited
In this paragraph, I would like to sketch some reference patterns for bioethical
reflection, as I reconstruct them when reading the Daxue. They are presented
briefly in a twofold manner, that is, as elements of description of „practical
human nature“, and prescription of how to express and realise it, within the
respective framework. Notably, this does not aim towards „new“ theory,
principles or virtues. It means to prepare the reconstruction of an interpretative
setting for moral anthropology and ethics that can be developed in support of a
culture-transcending ethical framework for humanity in a globalised world.

4.1 Ethical reflection
4.1.1 The most striking general statement in the Daxue connects ethics, the
common good and welfare in such a way that the good life appears as a
function of proper perspective, attitude or maxims, and at the same time
accommodates both, the common and the particular, as aspects of one venture.

“Virtue is the root; wealth is the branches. If he make the root his secondary
object, and the branches his primary object, he will only quarrel with the
people, and teach them rapine. Hence the accumulation of wealth is the way to
scatter the people, and the distribution of his wealth is the way to collect the

   Cheng Chung-ying, „Bioethics and Philosophy of Bioethics: A New Orientation“, in
Julia Tao Lai Po-wah (ed.), Cross-Cultural Perspectives on the (Im)Possibility of Global
Bioethics, Dordrecht et.al. (Kluwer) 2002: 335-358: 343.
   Op.cit. 344.
   Op.cit.: 345. On the difficulties of an analytical philosophical framework to grasp the
procedural identity of the human being, cf. Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons.
   Chapter 26. I am following the order and enumeration as provided by James Legge in his
translation of Book 39 of the Classic of Rites, the „Tâ Hsio or the Great Learning“.
In view of the general orientation of bioethics, this statement lends ethical
priority to de-ontological (including interpretations towards virtue or duty
oriented and Kantian ethics) over utilitarian and consequentialistic
considerations. However, both schools of ethics are not antagonistic opposites.
They belong within the same process and perspective of moral deliberation and
practice. It is crucial that „righteousness“ qualifies and governs „prosperity“.
Whereas li is morally blind, and can even be misguided by an individual„s
characteristics, as it can be observed while one is alone (shen qi du), yi only
makes full and immediate practical sense for the shengren, that is, for all we
know, not probably for this given person. Therefore, for those whose actions
impact on the well-being of others, common good and welfare are signposts
that mainly indicate the need to observe one‟s own limitations, weaknesses and
obligations, towards oneself and others (namely, to be sincere and
trustworthy), in the situation of social interdependence. This is the general
purpose for an ethical framework of trust and trustworthiness, in respect of the
order of priorities.

4.1.2 The second normative statement informs us about the rational order of
practical structures and the proper ethical focus. The genetic primacy of
genuine moral substance is defended against the claims to formal or legal

“The Master said, „In hearing litigations, I am like any other body.‟ What is
necessary is to cause the people to have no litigations, so that those who are
devoid of truth shall find it impossible to carry out their speeches, and a great
awe be struck into the minds of the people.”18

This maxim does not contradict laws and regulations, but warns against the
vacuity of normative “letters without inspiration” (Buchstaben ohne Geist),
installing a strong moral sense of “awe” in everyone which makes it not only
prudent but reasonable and understandable to act towards ren and yi. “Truth” is
in the hearts-and-minds, rather than on the tongues or in the writing. Moral
dedication, in the sense of the “Great Learning”, will reduce moral confusion
and the incidence of smart and, in particular, white collar offences, and thus
enhance the justice of the law, as well as genuine compliance. We are informed
about the “measuring square” for moral inspiration, namely the Golden Rule19.
Again, one is required to consider a diversity of individual and moral
perspectives, interrelating one person‟s actions and the well-being of others.

4.1.3 Third, the Daxue describes a rationale for practical judgement, by
distinguishing the development process of humans as “things in affairs”.
Human development follows an expressive program (ben-mo), meanwhile our

Compare: “In a state gain should not be considered prosperity; its prosperity lies in
righteousness.”, chapters 38 and 39.
   Daxue chapter 13.
   Daxue chapter 23.
affairs have each their particular agenda (zhong-shi). “Things have their root
and their branches; affairs have their end and their beginning. To know what is
first and what is last will lead near to what is taught”20. Thus, learning itself is
defined as an affair (or probably a sequence of affairs in affairs). This gives
room for specialisation and particular avenues of excellence, so that one may
become “good” in a profession while moulding one‟s full personality according
to the standards of a shengren. The related subject is the human being. This
logic is applied to the starting point of the process of moral life, that is, the
occupied individual, as a sphere where the rationales of “things” and “affairs”

We are then advised to “consider the cultivation of the person to be the root (of
everything else). It cannot be, when the root is neglected, that what should
spring from it will be well ordered. It never has been the case that what was of
great importance has been slightly cared for, and at the same time what was of
slight importance has been greatly cared for”.21

The starting point requires utmost attention.22 An individual is a being in
development and in relations. It is appropriately assessed in an open process of
self-unfolding, realising the progress (or absence of it) of developing the full
human(e) shape, from the roots towards the mature form, with the latter‟s
elaborated personal practical subtleness (the “branches”). While the metaphor
of the plant23 suggests that an individual‟s life is seen as a unique form in
transition, with a coherent narrative of becoming a fully realised moral being
(shengren), the handling of affairs depends on both, the respective stage of
moral development and the natural characteristics of the respective business.

For concrete bio-ethical dilemmas, it implies a general attitude of precaution
and humility on the part of the actor, such as researchers or physicians. It does
not provide general ethical guidance in a positive form, but evokes the sense of
awe among individuals with responsible tasks. Thus it helps to build a culture
of sincerity, trustworthiness and knowledge-orientation within the life sciences,
providing both, conditions for compliance and sound policy advice.

4.1.4 The fourth general topic of the Daxue, in view of bioethics, is the
prominence it places on empirical enquiry, in terms of the “investigation of
things” (ge wu).24 Though it is maintained that the practical meaningfulness of
   Daxue chapter 1.
   Daxue chapter 4.
   In the Lunyu, it is said, “Humans are born upright. If we neglect this (uprightness by)
birth, we escape (from misery) only by chance."(Lunyu 6.17). Meng Zi and Xun Zi agree
that “Every simple man can become like Yu“. (Cf. Mengzi 6.1.1 and Xunzi 23.7). All
humans share the need to improve through practical learning (Xunzi 1.3).
   C.f. Don Munro, Images of Human Nature. A Sung Portrait, Princeton (Princeton
University Press) 1988.
   C.f. Wing-Tsit Chan, A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton (Princeton
University Press) 1969, esp.: 84-94, 654-676; and Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese
Philosophy (translated by Derk Bodde) Vol.1, Princeton (Princeton University Press) 1983,
esp.: 361-369.
knowledge belongs “within” humanity25, the program to express and realise it
requires the study of “things” in the outside world as well. This includes
“affairs”, such as those related to medicine, and what we can learn from
practice, about the “external” impact of our will and action. It highlights the
intricacies of expression and development, that is, the real progress of moral
perfection, of interrelated individuals in a diversity of situations, contexts or

„The extension of knowledge is by the investigation of things”.26 This tentative
guidance leaves room for elaboration in depth and detail. First of all, it sets an
imperative to enlarge one‟s moral character building together with
understanding of the world. Obviously, it accommodates a holistic endeavour
towards comprehensive theoretical and practical cultivation that may be
translated into „Bildung” and „Wissenschaft”. It acknowledges the
philosophical importance of empirical scholarship, as the overall pursuit for
understanding the theory and practice of a good life.

4.2 Moral development
4.2.1 Among the many things the Daxue teaches us about moral development,
it is fundamental for bioethics to clarify and cultivate one‟s own moral sense,
moral reflection and performance, in the right order. In the quest towards good
governance and legitimate authority, trust and trustworthiness are to be
organised in ways that correlate with the habituation and cultivation of
sincerity in practice. Generally speaking, daily routines shall be observed,
regular checks of practice performed and suitable institutions installed. The
starting point and constant micro-focus, however, is an individual‟s sincerity.

 „What is called „making the thoughts sincere‟ is the allowing no self-
deception; (...) This is an instance of the saying, „What truly is within will be
manifested without.‟ Therefore the superior man must be watchful over himself
when he is alone“ (shen qi du).27

The cultivation of one‟s self is embedded in different social settings. In
traditional societies, the family provides the most natural context, at the
beginning of practical learning. However, the same principles apply throughout
the developmental process. The “regulation of the family” is highlighted
because it helps us understand the structures of good governance. (It is worthy
to note that particular virtues, such as “filial piety”, xiao, although implicitly
present throughout, do not play a significant role in the expressed conceptual
language of the Daxue.28)

   Cf. Mengzi 6.1.6 and 6.1.10.
   Daxue chapter 3.
   Daxue chapter 5.
   David K. Jordan, in his empirically based analysis of „Filial Piety in Taiwanese Popular
Thought“ (in Walter Slote and George De Vos, ed., Confucianism and the family, SUNY
1998, 267-283), elaborates 9 different patterns for discussing the concept of xiao in family
and society that would help to discuss virtues in context, in an informed and critical way,
making the omission of positive virtues on the basic level of a Confucian ethical framework
“Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing
to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify
their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be
sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge.”29

A re-emphasized lesson from the Daxue is to learn to take responsibility,
according to cultivated practical judgement. This task includes, for example,
identifying one‟s actual context, with the required roles and obligations. “As a
ruler, to rest in benevolence; as a minister, to rest in respect; as a son, to rest in
filial piety; as a father, to rest in kindness; in intercourse with his subjects, to
rest in good faith”. About the applications of responsible governance, we are
advised that filial piety, brotherly obedience, kind gentleness, shall be
observed, respectively.30 While in authority, one should act as a “parent to the
people”, that is, with selfless and loving care.31 Just as it occurs in the context
of medicine and biomedicine, legitimate authority tolerates (and even requires)
some extension of „benevolent paternalism“. However, the legitimacy of
assumed authority (tian ming) depends upon genuine moral determination.
„Goodness obtains the decree, and the want of goodness loses it”.32

Once more, trust and trustworthiness, in the sense of practiced righteousness
(yi) correspond with good governance. “By gaining the people, the state is
gained; and by losing the people, the state is lost. (...) The distribution of his
wealth is the way to collect the people”33.

The subject of authority and responsibility, as well as the object of moral
concern and caring governance, is the individual, not (immediately) a
collective of people. This follows from the imperative to self-cultivation and
making each one‟s thoughts sincere. „Good men are considered to be
precious”34. „Let me have but one minister, plain and sincere, not possessed of

plausible. He refers to moral micro-culture that sets the stage for moral development,
religious or emotional capacity, the economic function, (as facilitating common welfare),
psychological mechanisms, (enabling someone to „identify his self-interest with corporate
interest“), the political level, (where xiao displays „antisocial tendencies“, such as a
legitimate „familistic particularism, and its „mixing of politics with morals“), the relation
with a state of law that permits unequal treatment of subjects when high-ranking family
issues are involved. He further mentions the fundamental philosophical tension between
xiao and „nonfamiliar virtues of loyalty and benevolence“, adverse impact on society,
(namely „Confucianism omitted out of the social relationships man‟s social obligations
toward the stranger), and, not of least importance, the gender bias: „Filial piety is
represented in the abstract in an all-male idiom, rationalized as referring to everyone“ (page
   Daxue chapter 1.
   Daxue chapter 17, compare chapter 21.
   Daxue chapter 24.
   Daxue chapter 27.
   Daxue chapter 26.
   Daxue chapter 28.
other abilities, but with a simple, upright, and at the same time a generous,
mind, regarding the talents of others as if they were his own.”35

Thus, personal, subjective dedication precedes the logic of moral development.
“We see that the ruler has a great course to pursue. He must show entire self-
devotion and sincerity to succeed, and by pride and extravagance he will
fail”.36 The ruler, of course, can be situated in different settings, greater or
smaller in moral import, with particular configurations of authority and duties,
according to the actual role. Thus, a proper moral attitude is logically related to
legitimacy to act and succeed in moral terms, be one a doctor, a researcher or a
policy maker. Minor and especially mere utility matters are of low esteem.

4.3 Discussion
This sketch of the practical reasoning of the Daxue bears obvious implications
for bioethics and starting point for comparison with Christian moral thought.
The main focus of this approach investigates the moral character of the actors,
(e.g. doctors, researchers, patients), in terms of what drives them to becoming
„good“ in their respective role. One suggested answer is: be able to trust and
become trustworthy. It differs substantially, theoretically and methodologically
from ethical approaches that rationally „apply principles“, attempt to establish
comprehensive positive legal or ethical codes, or accept the authority of
preferences for authority‟s sake. In any instance, one should pay due attention
to the „nature of affairs and things“.

At this stage, disagreement as to who or what made or caused the “things and
affairs”, together with their deeper (spiritual, symbolic) meaning, can be
tolerated. The Daxue is written discretely enough to leave sufficient room for
speculations of such a kind. It reserves a private sphere for exploring and re-
ascertaining each one individuals‟ answer to the transcendental and does not
determine any positive attitude towards religiousness, (except, perhaps a
general sense of respect). For example, whereas cheng (sincerity) is required as
an exercise and virtue in moral and epistemic consciousness, it neither
prescribes nor rejects the acknowledgement of humanity‟s original sin, as a
metaphysical concept at the foundation of finitude and humbleness.

On the other hand, the role of family cannot be reduced to a matter of liberty in
a pluralistic society. The genuinely Confucian family focus, as expressed in the
Daxue, makes it clear that, in terms of moral development, the family is a
decisive micro-cosmos for an individual at the first steps in becoming a
socialised human being and the initial environment for cultivating moral

   Daxue chapter 30.
   Daxue chapter 34. This is why referring to the Liji version of the Daxue supports my
interpretation. The imperative to „love the people“ (qin min) focuses on the actor.
Otherwise, to „renovate the people“ (xin min), as in Zhu Xi‟s interjection, focuses on the
people as an object of social or political engineering. The implications of this subtle change
in light of their systematic ethical message are enormous. The first reading inspires a
moral/ethical, the second a political agenda. The first acknowledges the individual, the
latter addresses collective political or communal units.
experience. Christian thought might easily approve of such a role, as long as it
does not limit the moral scope to the horizons of a mere ingroup-morality.
However, the Daxue places the family in the centre of a developmental
process, which begins with self-inspection, passes through the given social
context (e.g. family or office) and is gradually enlarged, so that it eventually
encompasses increasingly wide spheres of practical competence, guided by
continued self-reflection and re-evaluation of action in context. To me, there
seems to be nothing alien to Christian imagination in such a view.

Notably, in the area of biomedicine, thereby, the dimension of the personal
moral quality of the actor is added to the ethical concern. It is adjusting the
focus of bioethics to the domain of humanity in the medical sector.
Accordingly, the capability and legitimacy of an agent to judge and interfere is
of greater strategic and ethical importance than, for example, the formal
assessment of the “moral status of the human being”. In other words, claims to
be qualified to make such judgements must be legitimate. The imperative of
humanity does not necessarily support particular moral claims, but a
constructive bias in favour of those that are qualified by knowledge, reflection
and personal character. Here lies significant similarity with a Lutheran spirit of
individual responsibility.

A controversial issue between Christian and Confucian is the assumption of
equality between people. Confucianism appreciates the individual differences
as starting points in moral developments and the particular social role to be
fulfilled in a given situation, as a basis for society. According to Christian
anthropology, however, God created all humans equally in His own image.
This situation might be interpreted politically so that it bears an impact upon
the basis for democracy. However, neither has Christianity developed
democracy “naturally”, nor does democracy require a special egalitarian
anthropology. Moreover, a differentiated social moral phenomenology does not
immediately imply inequality in constitutional ethical or legal terms. It can be
easily interpreted in ways that prescribe due respect to all human beings and
alerts us to ascertain the proper sense of “due”. It does not necessarily
contradict democracy, but it certainly challenges democratic principles if it is
embedded in a non- or anti-democratic culture.

In principle, the thin normative framework of the Daxue tolerates different
ethical opinions, except from straightforwardly anti-ethical doctrines, although
this assumption does not mean to trivialise authoritarian or intolerant
tendencies in Confucian concepts and practices. This approach systematically
re-integrates partisan (e.g. particular moral) and imbalanced (e.g. utilitarian or
legalistic) normative stakes into their practical context and thus makes them
intelligible in terms of „humanity“ or human affairs. The moral conception of
the Daxue is sufficiently thick to build a theory for ethics to provide
fundamental orientation and a framework for a peaceful discourse for
stakeholders, prescribing the general meta-rules that orchestrate moral
diversity. It is at the same time sufficiently thin in its moral substance, so as not
to prescribe and interfere with the diversity of legitimate moral claims and
meanings of life.

Such an inspired reading accommodates the two dimensions and related major
approaches that reside in a Confucian philosophical ethics: the systematic spirit
(as it is expressed in relation to „principles“) and the visible practice of
individuals (as expressed in “virtues”). In the view of being a good doctor,
principles are realised by virtuous conduct, the “humane art” (ren shu) guiding
humanity through acts of non-maleficence and benevolence (ren). The human
individual acts as a two-dimensional relational being37. The very point is that
they both cannot be separated.

It is obviously not suggested here to replace a normative philosophical
approach with a procedural moral pedagogy. The Daxue reminds us of the
systematically integrating character of philosophy, especially in bioethics as an
interdisciplinary ethical venture. Virtues and principles refer to the same
heuristic assumption, here expressed in terms of „righteousness“ (yi), as they
are categorically distinct from utility, profit or benefit (li). Integration means
that li is fairly appreciated, but its normative capacity is limited and
ambiguous. Li may add substance to the deliberations of what „good“ means in
concrete situations, for a diversity of people.

On the other hand, yi cannot dictate the individual mores and life stile of
people, families or societies, beyond the general implications of a righteous
constitution. It takes them as they come, looking out for reference points to
open the moral dimension. It is the principle to guide our deliberations about
why certain preferences should be preferred and others should not. Such
questions must be tackled whenever one act might harm any person.

5 Conclusion
Generally speaking, Confucian ethics should be taken serious as a potential
Christian ally, especially regarding the responses to pragmatic developments in
the governance of economic and technological globalisation, because of its
substantially corresponding, partly challenging and in part supporting
programmatic vision and ethical resolve. First of all, it should be taken serious
in this sense because it, in itself, claims to be taken serious as a universal
humanitarian secular philosophy and has not raised any objections against the
ethos of Christian morality.

The programmatic imperative of learning can be inspiring. Increased scientific
reflection upon empirical diversity, such as about modern society and family,
in view of the ambiguities of “good life” and why “bad” actions, such as
oppression and injustice can happen even in a „good“ system, will enhance the
credibility of a philosophical Confucian approach. The Daxue, in its

  Daniel Fu-chang Tsai, „The Two-Dimensional Concept of Confucian Personhood in
Biomedical Practice“„ in Ole Döring and Chen Renbiao (ed.), Advances in Chinese
Medical Ethics. Chinese and International Perspectives, Hamburg 2002: 195-213.
programmatic understanding and owing to its adaptive, integrating and
procedurally open approach, is, in principle, suited well for coping with this
challenge. It should be deciphered as a socially, culturally and politically
critical approach. In this vein, it can support humanistic and enlightened
traditions of Christianity.


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