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Han Feizi's Criticism of Confucianism and its Implications for Virtue Ethics

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Several scholars have recently proposed that Confucianism should be regarded as a form of virtue ethics. This view offers new approaches to understanding not only Confucian thinkers, but also their critics within the Chinese tradition. For if Confucianism is a form of virtue ethics, we can then ask to what extent Chinese criticisms of it parallel criticisms launched against contemporary virtue ethics, and what lessons for virtue ethics in general might be gleaned from the challenges to Confucianism in particular. This paper undertakes such an exercise in examining Han Feizi, an early critic of Confucianism. The essay offers a careful interpretation of the debate between Han Feizi and the Confucians and suggests that thinking through Han Feizi's criticisms and the possible Confucian responses to them has a broader philosophical payoff, namely by highlighting a problem for current defenders of virtue ethics that has not been widely noticed, but deserves attention.


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