Finally I argue that the evidence produced and discussed at length within the thesis provides abundant evidence for strong similarities in Aristotle and Confucius’s outlooks concerning ethics. Emerging from the point that both of their works can be classified as examples of virtue ethics and building upon the numerous areas of convergence between them too it is clear that both Aristotelian and Confucian virtue ethics can be discussed in terms with each other and are not exclusionary of the ideas or concepts, nor the internal workings, of the other.
With this, then, two very different cultural and historical contexts are shown to be able to give rise to ethical systems which are in no way mutually unintelligible despite not having all the same base assumptions or internal conceptions the other possessed as a result of its cultural and historical context. Though this is but one example, and far from a conclusive evidence for the extrapolation of the point beyond this instance, it is a beginning and, hopefully, will serve as both evidence for the merits of such a comparative approach as well as an incentive to engage in more such philosophical comparisons. 1.2Virtue Ethics and Comparative Philosophy:
For this exercise in comparative philosophy to be effective it is important to define the sphere, or field, in which we will be exercising it. For the purpose of this thesis that sphere can be defined as the similarities between the Aristotelian and Confucian virtue ethics systems. From this, then, it becomes necessary to understand what a virtue ethics system is and what the exercise of comparative philosophy is.
Virtue ethics is one, of numerous, method of prescribing or describing the field of ethics and what it is or ought to be (“Comparative Philosophy: Chinese and Western.” Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy). It does not, as somewhat touched upon above, refer to set or consistent single system of ethics, hence why we can have two or more different versions of it, but the broad category of virtue ethics does exist as a coherent normative approach to the philosophical question of ethics. (“Virtue Ethics” Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy).
It is distinct from other approaches such as deontology and consequentialism by its focus upon the concept of moral characteristics, virtues, and their role in ethics. The other primary distinguishing aspect of virtue ethics from other ethical systems is the focus it places upon the entirety of a human being’s ethical character as opposed to treating actions in isolation from each other (Jiyuan, 5-10). Thus virtue ethics is an ethical system in which moral characteristics, different virtue ethics identify different moral characteristics, are argued to be the key component in the process of a human being becoming, or achieving, ‘good’ or the desired moral and ethical outcome in their lives (“Virtue Ethics” Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy).
Comparative philosophy, the tool being utilized in order to expand the understanding of Aristotelian and Confucian virtue ethics in terms of each other and argue for their commensurability, consists of taking a set of different philosophical traditions; a nebulous term, and attempting to analyse or critique them in terms of the other (“Comparative Philosophy: Chinese and Western.” Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy). At least that is a very general and neutral definition of this practise. In truth the term ‘comparative philosophy’ has historically mostly been applied in academia to the specific action of comparing Western philosophy to non-Western philosophy, as nebulous as a term ‘Western’ actually is (Jiyuan, 2).
Rarely is comparative philosophy discussed when examining, for example, two Western philosopher’s works in terms of each other; such as Aristotle or Socrates, as their exists instead a general assumption that all Western philosophy falls into a sort of general framework which means they are automatically compatible with each other (Jiyuan, 2-4). This approach, however, ignores the fact that numerous works categorized as Western philosophy often are contradictory with other examples of such and are. Thus, for this thesis, we will choose to follow with Jiyuan Yi’s conception that comparative philosophy is the process of investigating our own interpretation of two philosophical systems and preserving the ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’ we can acquire from both (Jiyuan, 3-5).