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The “Good” and “The Good Life”: Confucius and Christ

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The Golden Rule is the ethical point most frequently compared in Jesus and Confucius; 1 in each case, what is recommended is preconsideration of one’s own actions toward other people in the light of an imaginative projection of how it would be if the roles were reversed. The formulations in both look substantively identical. 2 Yet the positive formulation of Jesus and the negative formulation of Confucius actually shape the substance and import of the precept in distinctive ways. Moreover, there may be a deeper level at which, while they are certainly not contradictory, these two formulations are expressions of an important register of ontological difference. Engaged thoughtfully, they nonetheless afford to ethical modeling an opportunity for “harmony in diversity,” complementarity rather than mere equivalence. I argue here that the two traditions can be mutually enhancing, each through knowledge of and sympathy for the other.


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