Global Ethics and Chinese Resources (2001)

Gregor Paul, Karlsruhe University, Department of Philosophy


In my article, I focus on the following problems:

(i) What is the relevance, if any, of the question of whether or not normative global ethics and traditional Chinese moral philosophy are compatible with each other?

(ii) What should be the basic principles of normative global ethics?

(iii) Does traditional Chinese, and particularly classic Confucian, philosophy include these principles, or similar principles? And if not, is it at least compatible with these principles?

I argue (a) that the basic principles of normative global ethics comprise fundamental human rights, (b) that these principles and traditional Chinese moral philosophy are compatible, and (c) that this compatibility facilitates Chinese acknowledgement of the principles. More precisely, I try to show that both

(a) certain key concepts of traditional Chinese moral philosophy and

(b) what could be called a traditional Chinese methodology of dealing with the question of whether or not a cultural tradition should be protected, and nurtured

actually favor realization of universal ethics.

Finally, I try to explain the well known differences which exist between ethical and political theory on the one side and ethical and political practice on the other, and to give some hints as to how to overcome the obstacles which hinder ethico-political progress.

Global Ethics and Chinese Resources

Gregor Paul, Karlsruhe University

As it is actually used, the term “global ethics” refers to at least two different classes of rules and patterns of behavior. First, it is just a new name for theories or sets of universally valid ethical norms. Often, the golden rule is regarded as such a norm. Versions of this rule have been formulated in ancient Greek philosophy, the Bible, the Pali Canon, and the Confucian Analects (the Lunyu). For instance, chapter 15.24 of the Analects says, ”Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.”[i] It may be helpful to immediately add that the fact that almost everybody sometimes violates the golden rule does not automatically disprove the idea that it is universally valid. We also violate mathematical laws without regarding such violations as refutations.

One can, however, understand ”global ethics” also as a descriptive term referring to the rules and patterns of behavior that actually govern the ways of cross-cultural and international dealings in a potentially, or even actually, world-wide context. On an abstract and logical level, many of these rules and patterns contradict each other. Also, many of them are followed without regard for possibly inhumane consequences. The share holder value ideology which is doubtlessly part of the class of rules that determine international relations, may be incompatible with the golden rule. In short, taken as a descriptive term, ”global ethics” denotes rather vague and complex concepts of actual behavior which comprise sociological, sociopolitical, psychological, and even economic aspects. Ethical norms in the narrow sense of normative principles of ”good” behavior are only one aspect of such a wide notion of global ethics.

Though it is important to know and analyze the forces that actually determine human behavior, it is more important to answer the question which forces ought determine it. This is so because this answer decides about the goals of human life, and about the means to pursue them. The answer is not completely independent of (a knowledge of) the actual facts for some of them may constitute natural, sociopolitical and personal conditions that limit individual freedom. Others may indicate inborn human inclinations which are so strong that trying to do away with them, or to oppress them, would be unrealistic or inhumane. This notwithstanding, however, the goals and respective means of human life are, in a crucial sense, independent of facts as facts, i.e., independent of what we actually do, what tradition we actually honor, etc., since no’ is’ logically implies an ’ought.’ One cannot get an ought from an is. For example, the fact that my parents and I ride bicycles does not imply that we should ride bicycles. And from the mere fact that I have been a member of a chess club for many years, I cannot conclude that I ought remain a member. This already leads me to one of my main hypotheses: Whether an ethical rule is, in a normative sense, universally valid or not, is independent of such facts as the existence of different cultural or national traditions, be they, e.g., German or Chinese, and it is also independent of the existence or non-existence of specific cultural norms and respective sources. One of the most impressive passages in the Mohist texts indicate this by pointing out that a cultural tradition such as killing the first son may be old and widely honored but nevertheless remains inhumane and unjust. As far as the systematic problem of validity and justification is concerned, the question of whether or not specific cultural or national traditions embody a certain universal norm, or respective resources, is irrelevant. Contrary to this, this question is often relevant with regard to the task of how a certain universal norm could be actually realized in a certain culture.

In what I have said so far, I have presupposed that (i) fundamental decisions about man’s goal of life and respective means should be made in a rational way. In particular, the decisions should be logically consistent, empirically based, critical and self-critical. One should try to abide by the rules of logic and empiricalness, thereby always aware that most human knowledge, one’s own included, is fallible. I have further presupposed that (ii) such a rational approach leads to the result, roughly and provisionally put, that an ethics of humaneness is most apt to guide man’s behavior toward others. If it comes to global ethics, I maintain that such ethical norms as the respect for human dignity, the right to life, and the right of individual freedom (especially moral autonomy), are indeed universally valid principles.

The two presuppositions have been a topic of philosophical, religious, and political discourse for more than 2000 years. The last hypothesis (regarding the material norms of global ethics) is a main theme of human rights discourse. Against the advocation of rational discourse, two important objections have been raised. First, rational discourse cannot itself be justified rationally for this would amount to a vicious (logical) circle. In the strict sense of the words, this is true, though it is rather irrelevant. Rational discourse can be justified pragmatically. For instance, if we would not, in one way or the other, in our reflection, understanding, and communication abide by fundamental logical laws such as the principles of identity, non-contradiction, and tertium non datur, we would not even be able to think for ourselves. Not only Aristotle but also the later Mohists already pointed this out. To abide by logical laws, in one way or the other, is an indispensable methodological principle of human understanding. However, in spite of the validity of this principle, a considerable number of sophisticated scholars and politicians maintain – this is the second objection against rational discourse – that there exists a distinctively Eastern logic. They even maintain that such culturally distinctive logic precludes the possibility of a rational, and successful cross-cultural discourse about human rights. I only quote from two articles of the influential German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau. The first article says,

The objections [of non-Europeans] against the European view of human rights are based on reasons which can be very well understood from the different logic of these foreign cultures.

The second article maintains that rational argument is something distinctively 'Western' depending on a distinctively Western formal logic.[ii]

Recently, David Hall and Roger Ames have again, in their Thinking From the Han, argued in a very confused and confusing way that, from post-Qin-times, rationality did not play a significant role in Chinese culture. Partly, their convictions are due to the strange notions of rationality and logic which they employ. According to these notions, rational discourse almost implies contentiousness (in the sense of an interest in quarreling), and logic (which Hall and Ames do not sufficiently distinguish from logos) is concerned with objectivity. However, which ”Western” philosopher, not to mention a common man, would regard contentiousness as a characteristic of rational discourse? And what has formal logical consistency to do with contents? Since Hall and Ames certainly do not want to maintain that thinking in traditional Chinese culture follows formal logical principles which are incompatible with the respective principles of ”Western” logic while nevertheless as valid as these ”Western” principles, their whole argument about Chinese culture and logic seems rather vain. In other words, since they probably admit that ”the Chinese” usually conclude from A greater B, and B greater C, that A greater C, and so on, their insistence on describing Chinese cultures as non- or not logical, or aesthetic as opposed to rational, is at best grossly misleading, insinuating that there exists an abyss of cultural difference. I have dealt with the hypotheses of a distinctively Eastern, or Buddhist, or Chinese, etc. logic, and with Hall’s and Ames’ idea of rational and not rational cultures extensively and in detail. I refer to these studies.[iii]

The crucial point is simply this. Chinese as well as other people usually try to abide by logical rules, regard self-contradictions as self-refuting, honor facts such as that a horse is not a cow, know and apply causal principles such as that water, when cooked, becomes hot, calculate according to arithmetical rules, know that people do not like pain, and Chinese as well as other people expect – rightly, of course – that their fellow beings know all this too, and act accordingly. There is simply no way denying in a valid and convincing manner that all people are able to think and discourse rationally, and that they often do. Exceptions are fundamentalists who base there beliefs on irrational, and often inconsistent and empirically unfounded, axioms. That we do not like to give in to a valid argument that contradicts our personal interests and inclinations, is a different topic which I take up below. As a matter of consequence, then, all the arguments about culturally distinctive ways of logical reasoning and rational argument are unapt to refute the hypothesis that in principle all men of all cultures are able to discuss questions of normative ethics in a rational fashion.

The possible objection that it is the contents that matters and not logical form, does not hold. For causal laws, empirical facts such as the difference between horses and cows, and universal human feelings like abhorrence of pain, provide a common material basis sufficiently broad for successful rational argumentation. I need not relate in detail that except for neo-Confucian polemics against Buddhism most of traditional Chinese philosophy does not argue for cultural relativism.

The further objection that all these similarities and congruencies are too general in character to be of significance would be mistaken too. For instance, I readily admit that people of different cultures may experience pain differently. Also, they may bear, and react to, suffering differently. In some cultures, men are expected to never show signs of pain. In others, they may openly display their feelings. But such specific differences are rather unimportant if it comes to the question of whether or not humans ought be permitted to torment, or even torture, their fellow beings. Further, such differences must be explained in terms of different historical and sociopolitical conditions. They do not result from, or express, fixed and unchangeable cultural, or even ethnical, mentalities. In war and poverty, many Germans became accustomed to a rather painful life, while most wealthy, spoiled and pampered Chinese kids of the 21st century would probably find it difficult to stand the hardships of heavy physical labor. Though it is true that traditional Chinese education has been more severe than modern German education, and that traditional education led most Chinese to accepting, tolerating and bearing hardships which many modern Germans would be unable to cope with, this again only proves that it is historical conditions which are responsible for the difference. Most important, from the mere fact that some people are able to even stand horrible pain, one cannot conclude that people ought accept such pain or ought suffer such pain. I do not want to become cynical. But since people of almost all times and cultures knew only too well how to efficiently torture foreign captives, they must also have known the respective laws of cause and effect and the respective anthropological universals.

Generally speaking, if one compares two notions or two things, because of logical reasons one can always generalize or differentiate. One can even distinguish between two hen’s eggs, but, as a German saying goes, no cock would care about such a distinction. In his Gulliver’s Travels, Swift tells us how two political parties quarrel about the question of whether eggs should be opened by breaking their blunt or their pointed ends, and how these quarrels result into civil war. Among other things, fundamentalism is characterized by the conviction that it is certain specifics which (ought) determine our thinking and behavior. For instance, a religious fundamentalist may refuse to acknowledge that one can gain salvation by simply believing in the existence (of one) god. He may be insist that, to be rescued, one must belief in no other god but the god G. In other words, the fundamentalist may maintain that it does  not suffice to be a monotheist. In comparative studies it is hence of great importance to explain the reasons for one’s generalizations and differentiations (specifications), and of even greater importance, to point out their relevance. In normative ethics, generalization is itself an important method, and validity is the single most important criterion for the acceptability of ethical prescriptions. Only if there were certain culturally specific norms that are, in every sense of the word and invariably, incompatible with what I call normative global ethics, the objection that the sketched basis of rational argumentation is too general to be sufficient for enabling successful intercultural communication about ethical values would be valid. Except for fundamentalist positions, specific traditional norms of behavior are either compatible with global ethics or can be changed. Actually, global ethics permits for numerous specific differences, e.g., differences in expressing pain, different forms of politeness, differences in eating habits (again except for fundamentalist orthopractice), etc. Whether one shakes hands or bows to each other: both kinds of greetings are equally valuable expressions of a general idea of politeness.[iv] As indicated, the question of whether, or how, to realize a universally valid ethical norm, is a different problem which, indeed, requires taking into account historical and sociopolitical particularities of various kinds. 

Coming back to my second presupposition – namely that rational argumentation leads to, or supports, a normative concept of humaneness – I offer the following explanation. It seems impossible to rationally argue for inhumanity except for the case that one must choose evil to avoid greater evil. More precisely, rationality does not permit for inhumanity because there exist no valid, or potentially universal, reasons for cruelty, torture, ruthlessness, or whatever else kinds of inhumaneness. Also, since rationality is a common human faculty the results of this faculty are, in principle, acceptable for all human beings. I hasten to add again that what I mean by ”rationality” must not be confused with a metaphysical, or ontological, or dualistic notion of rationality, not to mention the absurd notion of a ”Western” rationality.

To provisionally sum up: if global ethics is understood in the sense of a class of universally valid and universally acceptable normative rules of behavior, then global ethics refers to a set of principles of humanity, especially such principles as the basic concepts of human rights. Such a class exists, and the validity though not the actual acceptability – of its principles is independent of the particular characteristics of specific human cultures, and of the respective sources of these cultures. This is so mainly because of the following two reasons: 1. The impossibility to get an ought from an is. 2. The principal compatibility of humaneness, logicalness, and causality. This is again to say that the question of whether there are Chinese sources, or resources, of global ethics, is relevant only with regard to the methods/ways of a ”Chinese”, and consequently universal, realization of global ethics. Because of the validity of global ethics, realization itself  is, in principle, an indisputable goal.

As indicated, one must not underestimate the problems which result from culturally distinctive normative traditions and which make realizing universally valid ethical norms difficult. Hence the question of whether or not a culture includes within itself (re)sources favorable to such a realization is important. Now, probably all cultures possess respective resources. (1) First of all, cultures are complex phenomena comprising in themselves a wealth of different possibilities. (2) Second, they are no static entities. Cultures change. (3) Third, they are no organic entities that develop according to a kind of an original quasi-biological disposition comparable to a plant that grows out of its sprouts to become what it is destined to be. (4) This is also to say that cultures are man-made, and a product of social engineering. As to the particular features of Chinese culture which are, or could be, catalytic to a realization of global ethics, I limit myself to indicating some systematically and historically important philosophical resources.

First, according to most Chinese philosophies, whether a cultural tradition ought be followed and protected or not, depends on whether or not it accords with the dao, and ren and yi, etc. In other words, the value of a cultural tradition is a function of its morality, and not vice versa. This also applies to the value of traditional law. The indicated Mohist anecdote of traditional inhumanity is an impressive example of this philosophical doctrine. Another one is the repeated statement in the Xunzi that the ideal person (the junzi) follows the dao and yi rather than the ruler and the father. Also, the Xunzi emphasizes that the ideal person, in his behavior, is not influenced by group-egoism, ideas of fame and wealth, and personal leanings. The Xunzi thus formulates a notion of moral autonomy: It is ultimately only the dao, i.e., the universally valid moral law, that ought determine human behavior. (The structure of this notion of moral autonomy is similar to that of Kant’s notion of free human beings who – as far as morality is concerned – are subject only to the universal moral law. I may add that, according to this notion, moral behavior cannot be egoistic, i.e., automatically takes into account the legitimate interests of one’s fellow men.)[v]

Second, already the Mozi puts forward the argument that traditionalism is pragmatically self-refuting, for every tradition is, in certain respects, a deviation from older traditions. Hence every traditionalist is actually also a deviator from tradition.

Third, one cannot defend, or justify, a tradition by the tradition’s own normative standards. To evaluate a tradition one needs a non-traditional standard. (To apply this to human rights discourse: one cannot defend a distinctive cultural norm by arguing that it accords with the culture’s normative standards.) This argument is implicit in the Mozi, the Zhuangzi, the Xunzi, the Shang jun shu, and the Han Feizi.[vi] For example, the Xunzi and the Legalist writings point out (a) that we cannot know for certain the original character of a tradition, (b) that an actual tradition comprises in itself several different, if not antagonist, sub-traditions, and (c) that hence every choice between these sub-traditions requires an external measure to compare them. Otherwise, I may add, the choice would amount to a vicious circle.

Forth, since we cannot get an ought from an is, we cannot defend a tradition by merely pointing out that it is an established tradition. I have already indicated this argument but since it is of fundamental relevance I repeat it. Within academic sinology there has been a certain inclination to maintain that ”the Chinese” did not, or do not, sharply, or clearly, distinguish between is and ought, and that it is therefore, e.g., Eurocentric to apply the is-ought distinction to ”Chinese” moral thinking. This is a very strange view, to say the least, for it is evident that the Chinese philosophical classics and the great novels – not to mention ordinary people – make clear cut distinctions between good and evil, between what ought be done, what ought not be done, and actual deeds. The question is in no way a problem of Chinese grammar. If a human being knows, and is able to tell you, that a certain action is wrong and better should not have been performed, this human being knows and applies the distinction between is and ought.

Fifth, the Legalist writings and the Lüshi chunqiu emphasize that new social problems may require new methods of solution. The Legalist slogan that one ought not use the old to criticize the new has become a much used and much abused ideological means through the ages.

Sixth, the value of a norm, doctrine, or tradition is independent of its place of origin, and of the identity of its founder or author. This argument was repeatedly advanced by Chinese Buddhists who defended themselves against the attack to follow a foreign and hence wrong teaching.[vii] To apply this to contemporary human rights discourse: even if the argument that human rights are a ”Western” invention were true – which it is not – this argument would be irrelevant with regard to the question of whether or not human rights constitute universally valid moral norms.

Seventh. This leads me to the ubiquitous argument that ”Western” judgements about ”non-Western” cultures are inevitably culture-centered and hence wrong. To be a little bit elaborate: Censure of the history of Christian mission, and of European colonialism and imperialism, often results in wholesale and unqualified damnation of transcultural criticism. One fails to distinguish between cultural particularities which deserve protection and preservation, and such which do not. Europeans are often afraid that every criticism they direct against another culture cannot but be ”Eurocentric.” But this is a mistaken view. When criticizing certain features of a foreign culture, one need only (i) also criticize similar features of one’s own culture, and (ii) quote, or relate, similar criticism advanced by members of the respective foreign culture. Because of the richness, and complexity, of cultures one can trust that there exists such internal criticism. Often, these attacks are harsher than one’s own criticism.[viii] Also, (iii) if every ”European” criticism of a non-European culture were untenable and unacceptable, this would apply to every kind of transcultural criticism. In particular, Asian scholars and politicians who regard every ”Western” criticism as per se culturally biased and hence wrong, must, by their own argument, regard themselves as mistaken, for according to their view their judgement about the character of the ”Western” position is biased by their ”Asian” perspective. Returning to the question of ”Chinese resources”: has their ever been a more brilliant refutation of the misconception that one can only know what is identical with oneself, or parts of oneself, than the Zhuangzi’s story about the pleasure of the fishes?[ix]

To provisionally some up: even within the field, and from the viewpoint of, normative methodology, Chinese philosophy provides all the doctrines and arguments one needs to argue, from a Chinese perspective and in a Chinese manner, for the realization of universally valid ethical norms. (I have consciously expressed myself in a way a cultural relativist would choose – a way I usually eschew.)

Furthermore, classic Chinese philosophy itself has actually formulated many of these norms, or it has at least advanced notions that can function as starting points for developing, and realizing, these norms. I have already mentioned the notion of moral autonomy. Other notions are those of the biological equality of all men, of the value of human life, of an intrinsic human dignity common to all human beings, etc. Also, I call back to memory the classic Confucian notions of ren, yi, and the golden rule. One may, however, object that the contents of the Chinese notions is a distinctively ”Chinese” one, and perhaps even hold that it is incompatible with the contents of the respective ”Western” notions. To deal with this objection, I should like to enter into a short discussion of the Mencian notion of human dignity. I hope that the result of this discussion can be generalized, i.e., extended to other problematic normative notions.

Not only relativists may doubt whether the classic Confucian notion of a human dignity as a mere potential to behave humanely is compatible with the so-called Western idea of an inalienable dignity that must not be violated under any condition. For instance, the Mencius formulates a notion of a human dignity that is a mere potential. This has been pointed out by Irene Bloom, and I myself have also described and discussed this Mencian view of human dignity.[x] According to the Mencius, since a cruel murderer has not actualized, or realized, his dignity, he may be treated accordingly. To a certain extent, this idea is comparable to the juridical idea that a criminal can lose his or her civil rights.

Seen in a rational way, the classic Confucian doctrine of human dignity is quite convincing, for the notion of an inalienable human dignity cannot be justified in an epistemologically valid and/or universally acceptable way. 1. One cannot show that such a dignity is inborn. 2. Even if it were inborn this would not imply that it should be protected for this would amount to getting an ought from an is. 3. Apart from their epistemological problems, religious and theological foundations amount to particular beliefs that will never be shared by all human beings. 4. It is impossible not to violate the human dignity of prisoners sentenced to severe penalties, and probably severe penalties are unavoidable.

Does this imply that the Confucian notion of an ”alienable” dignity excludes the idea of inalienable dignity? By no means. For the Confucian notion is no (quasi-)juridical notion, i.e., it is no conventional notion of human dignity as a (quasi-)juridical institution. The most famous formulation of such a notion is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, one can do both: defend the conviction that it is actually impossible to never violate human dignity, and nevertheless demand, or agree with, an institutionalization of the idea of an inalienable dignity as a (quasi-)juridical norm, regarding and justifying (i) such an institutionalization as the most efficient means to protect human beings against violence and humiliation, and considering (ii) such optimal protection necessary. There is no reason why a Confucian should not be able to admit this.

According to an influential interpretation, Confucian ethics maintains that ”we deserve respect and rights as humans only to the extent that we are humane, and we are humane only to the extent that we have actualized our potential for benevolence”.[xi] Regarding the Confucian notion of an alienable dignity, this seems to imply that to cruelly punish and humiliate a cruel murderer is not only justified but even morally required. But viewed in the context of classic Confucian ethics in general, such a conclusion would not be tenable for classic Confucian ethics prefers education, instruction, generosity, tolerance, reform and mild punishment to severe punishment. Though this is not to say that Confucianism does not permit at all for harsh and even cruel punishment, it means that classic Confucian ethics argues in favor of a generous and benevolent principle of reciprocity. This could facilitate acceptance of the idea of institutionalizing a norm of inalienable human dignity.

In his interpretation of the Mencius, Heiner Roetz goes even further. First, he calls attention to the fact that the Mencian notion of human dignity as a potential to realize his ”nobility of heaven,” is actually a notion of an inalienable dignity. According to the Mencius, the human capability to behave humanely is an inborn value that cannot be lost. Independent of Roetz, I have arrived at the same conclusion. Second, Roetz argues that this notion forcefully works against the idea that men ought be treated humane only to the degree that they actually behave humanely. To support this view he emphasizes that, according to the Mencius, it is the enduring potential of human dignity, and not its actual realization, which is man’s ”true condition (or essence).”[xii] If I am not mistaken, Roetz concludes from this that the Mencius asks for treating human beings by at least (also) remembering their ”true condition.” Again, Roetz is right. His argument indeed qualifies the indicated interpretation of the Mencian notion of human dignity.[xiii]

Actually, the Mencius puts forward two concepts of human dignity. The first one refers to man’s potential to behave in a humane way. This potential cannot be lost. Even a murder remains capable of acting humanely. The second notion refers to a human dignity as it is realized, or reflected, in man’s actual behavior. Only a man who lives up to the ethical norm of humanity, possesses this dignity. In the context of the human rights discourse, the crucial question is whether man ought be treated according to the first, or the second, concept of dignity, or even according to a kind of mixture of both. If only the second concept is relevant then man should be treated according to the degree he realizes his dignity. Like Roetz, I hold that the Mencius advocates that, in dealing with one’s fellow men, one ought also take into account that he possesses the inalienable potential to behave humanely, though I do not feel that the Mencius stresses this point.

In the context of human rights discourse, it is not only the notion of inalienability but also the scope of the Mencian (and classic Confucian) concept of human dignity that seems to indicate incompatability with the so-called Western notion of human dignity. This is so because the Mencian notion seems to conceive of human dignity as a function of merely man’s moral disposition. This would be a comparatively narrow concept of dignity, and hence raise the question of whether, according to the Mencius, man deserves humane treatment only because of his moral disposition and behavior. Imagine, for instance, immoral actions which do not hurt anybody. Should such actions be forbidden, and the actors punished? In other words, should individual freedom be restricted to a behavior that accords with moral norms?

Again, contrary perhaps to a first impression, classic Confucian ethics does not preclude a liberal notion of individual freedom. Because of its critical and rational spirit, this philosophy is anyway open for reasonable changes. But apart from this basic argument, other points must be taken into account. First of all, the classic Confucian notions of human dignity and moral autonomy are no mere ethical concepts. As far as they imply the property of li, namely culturally refined behavior, they include aesthetic aspects. (I leave aside the characteristic of zhi, wisdom.) In the Xunzi,[xiv] this is particularly clear, for the work expressly states that basic human desires must be satisfied, and that li is the means to achieve this. This is also to say that, according to the Xunzi, there are cases in which it is not morality but rather the requirements of public order that limit individual freedom. The relevance classic Confucianism attributed to poetry and music, is in itself a further indication of a more liberal idea of human life. Also, as indicated above, though classic Confucian philosophy advocated reciprocity, it did not ask for strict compensation and balance, but emphasized benevolence, generosity, and education instead of punishment. Finally, Confucianism permitted for such phenomena as eremitism and, as far as the male gender is concerned, rather extensive and intensive sexual life.

There remains the well known objection that the rational and critical Confucian ethics remained rather uninfluential in Chinese history. However, even if this objection were right its significance would be limited, for the validity of an ethics is independent of its historical fortune. (This argument is a version of the argument that one cannot get an ought from an is.) Apart from this basic consideration, the historical influence of classic Confucianism must not be underestimated. Classic Confucianism played a considerable role as one cause, and justification, of uprisings and dynastic changes. Also, it remained influential in the history of the imperial censorate. And perhaps most important, is has been kept alive in the great and popular Chinese novels, and of course in many philosophical works.

But given that all my arguments are true, why then is it that normative global ethics has not yet been realized? Again, I can only indicate the reasons. First of all, one should be aware that universally valid ethical norms are violated everywhere, and not only in Chinese culture. The main reasons for these violations are: 1) the temptation of power, 2) the actual inefficiency of rational argument, 3) inborn human aggression, 4) man's disinterest in occurrences he or she cannot experience concretely, 5) human indolence and the natural inclination to follow familiar ways of life, 6) ideological indoctrination (especially by totalitarian systems), 7) intimidation (again, especially by totalitarian systems), 8) the ambivalence, or obscurity, of ethical doctrines (particularly metaphysical and religious doctrines) that lean themselves to ideological abuse, and last but not least, 9) lack of institutions that promote, and guarantee, the realization of ethical norms. As is well knows, this deficiency is one of the main reasons of inhumanity in Chinese – and other cultures’ – history. What is most important and interesting is that these reasons are no cultural particulars. In other words, the most inhumane culture can be explained and understood by referring to transcultural determinants. Even in this respect, there is no cultural incomprehensibility. Hence, the great task to realize global ethics, ultimately results in the task to create conditions under which rational argument becomes an actually efficient means of solving problems and conflicts. As Dieter Senghaas has pointed out repeatedly, five almost necessary conditions are: a) state monopoly of arms/weapons, b) division and check of power, c) control, and management, of human feelings and desires, d) democratic participation in political power, and e) continuous strife for social justice.[xv]


 [i] Trans. D. C. Lau, Confucius: The Analects (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1992), 155. See also Lunyu 5.12 and 6.30.

[ii] See the articles by Wolfang Welsch and Detlef Horster in the Frankfurter Rundschau of September 3, 1966, and January 11, 1997, respectively. In German, Welsch’s statement reads: Die "Einwände [der außereuropäischen Opponenten] gegen die europäische Auffassung der Menschenrechte beruhen ja auf Gründen, die aus der andern Logik dieser anderen Kulturen sehr gut erklärbar sind."

[iii] See my: Aspects of Confucianism (Frankfurt a. M.: Lang, 1990). "Reflections on the Usage of the Terms 'Logic' and 'Logical' in Comparative Philosophy," in Journal of Chinese Philosophy 18/1991, 73-87. "Against Wanton Distortion: A Rejoinder to Hall's and Ames' Critique of my Views on Confucius and Logic," in Journal of Chinese Philosophy 19/1992, 119–122. "Equivalent Axioms of Aristotelian, or Traditional European, and Later Mohist Logic: An Argument in Favor of the Universality of Logic and Rationality," in Epistemological Issues in Classical Chinese Philosophy, ed. by Hans Lenk and Gregor Paul (Albany: SUNY Press, 1993), 119-135. "Tradition und Norm: Ein Beitrag zur Frage nach der Universalität moralischer Werte," in Hôrin (Munich: iudicium) 4/1997, 13–47. "Reflections on the tertium non datur: Theories and Applications in Chinese and European Philosophies" in Democracy in Asia, ed. : Michèle Schmiegelow (New York: St Martin's Press, 1997), 113-125. "Probleme, Ziele und Relevanz einer Theorie universaler Logik. Unter besonderer Berücksichtigung sinologischer Interessen," in minima sinica 1/1998, 40-69.

As to Hall‘s and Ames‘ recent views on rationality and logic in Chinese culture, see David Hall and Roger Ames, Thinking from the Han, SUNY Press, 1998, pp. 129–142.

[iv] See my article: “Kulturelle Identität, ein gefährliches Phänomen?“ In: Tadashi Ogawa et al., ed., Interkulturelle Philosophie und Phänomenologie in Japan, München. Iudicium, 1998. pp. 113–138. A Chinese translation of an abridged English version entitled „Notions of Cultural Identity: a Dangerous Myth?“ can be found in vol. 6 (1999) of Guoji ruxue yanjiu, Beijing, 1999, pp. 50–69.

[v] See for example Xunzi 2 (Xiu shen), John Knoblock, trans., Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works, 3 vols. (Stanford University Press, 1988-1994), vol. 1, 154, Xunzi 29 (Zi dao), Knoblock, vol. 3, 251-252, Xunzi 11 (Wang ba), Knoblock, vol. 2, 150, Xunzi 12 (Jun dao), Knoblock, vol. 2, 176, and Xunzi 8 (Ru xiao), Knoblock, vol. 2, 75.

[vi] In recent publications, I have tried to explain it in detail. See my: "Tradition und Norm: Ein Beitrag zur Frage nach der Universalität moralischer Werte," in Hôrin 4/1997, 13–47, and: "Menschenrechtsrelevante Traditionskritik in der Geschichte der Philosophie in China: Philosophische Überlegungen," in Menschenrechte in Ostasien, ed. by Gunther Schubert (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1999) 75–108.

[vii] See William Th. de Bary, ed., The Buddhist Tradition in India, China and Japan (New York: Vintage Books, 1972), 131–138, Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer, Das HUNG-MING CHI und die Aufnahme des Buddhismus in China (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1976), and John P. Keenan, How Master Mou Removes our Doubts: A Reader-Response Study and Translation of the Mou-tzu Li-huo lun (Albany: SUNY, 1994.)

[viii] Cf. for instance Dai Zhen’s attack on lixue. He even maintained that li was an instrument apt to kill people.

[ix] See Angus Graham, Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981), 123.

[x] See Irene Bloom, "The Confucian Theory of Norms and Human Rights," in Confucianism and Human Rights, ed. by W. T. de Bary and Tu Weiming (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998) 94-116, and my "Wai ru nei fa: nach außen konfuzianisch, innerlich legalistisch, in Die Menschenrechtsfrage: Diskussion über China – Dialog mit China, ed. by Gregor Paul (Göttingen: Cuvillier, 1998) 39-61.

[xi] Ci Jiwei in his presentation of his paper "The Right, the Good, and the Place of Rights of Confucianism" at a conference on Confucian values and human rights in Beijing, June 1998, manuscript, 26.

[xii] Mengzi 6a8. See Heiner Roetz, "The ‚Dignity within Oneself‘: Chinese Tradition and Human Rights," in Chinese Thought in a Global Context: A Dialogue Between Chinese & Western Philosophical Approaches, ed. by Karl-Heinz Pohl, Leiden: Brill, 1999, pp. 236–261.

[xiii] As far as my own studies are concerned, though I have always admitted that the Menicus puts forward a notion of an inalienable human dignity, namely the notion of the possiblity to realize his nobility of heaven, I have underestimated the relevance of this notion. It is due to Roetz‘s interpretation of the Mencius that I changed my view. – Seen from an epistemological point of view, the Mencian notion of human dignity remains questionable because of its naturalism or essentialism.

[xiv] See Xunzi 29.

[xv] See Dieter Senghaas, "Vom Internationalismus zur Weltordnungspolitik, " in SEF NEWS, No. 3, June 1998, 7–9.