The Ethics of Difference in the Zhuangzi

Huang, Yong
March 2010
Journal of the American Academy of Religion;Mar2010, Vol. 78 Issue 1, p65
Academic Journal
Most ethical systems that we are familiar with are, to a greater or lesser extent, what I regard as ethics of commonality, as they assume that all human beings are similar, if not the same, in all morally relevant senses. Thus what is the right thing to do to one person must be the right thing to do to another, and what I would like to be done unto me must be what others would like to be done unto them. I argue in this essay that such an ethics, if it ever has been appropriate, is no longer when we are living in an increasingly global village, where we have daily interactions with people who are very different from us in terms of ideas and ideals, interests and preferences, habits and customs, and cultures and religions. While there have been strong criticisms of such an ethics of commonality, particularly in contemporary philosophy, such criticisms have been characteristically relativistic, which makes it almost impossible to make any moral judgments. In this essay, inspired by one of the most important Chinese Daoist classics, the Zhuangzi, I develop an ethics of difference, which pays full attention to individual differences without falling into relativism (at least not any type of relativism that is problematic and that we are familiar with). According to such an ethics of difference, whether an action is morally right or wrong should be ultimately determined by the recipient of this action.


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