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Brad Cokelet
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Couldn't the Confucian grant that Dan is right about the influence of some situational factors (while adopting Hagop's line on those), but insist that there are other situational factors by which the more virtuous will characteristically *not* be affected? For example, the Confucian could point out that the virtuous will not be affected by peer-pressure and others opinions in the way that ordinary people are - their sense of self-esteem and their motivation to do what is right will not be affected by others attitudes as easily. This seems to be an idea in the Analects -- and the Stoics, Buddhists, etc. On this view the virtuous might still be affected by hot-and-cold-cup experiments (and the like) but not by Milgram like experiments. And moral cultivation would involve (a) developing Hagop-style approaches to some situational factors and (b) moral character that *insulates* one from being swayed by one's (less than virtuous) peers. This seems to turn Dan's conclusion that when it comes to moral cultivation, "much greater emphasis would likely have to be on manipulation of situational features [than on the development of character]", into an interesting, open question about which situational affects are more important to resist. I think that being characteristically insulated from peer effects is more important than being adept at manipulating the situational factors from whose influence one cannot be insulated, but I am not sure the Confucians would agree - and of course the two probably can't be separated in practice.
I really enjoyed this paper and, like other posters, was left wondering about the self-cultivation practices the Confucians recommend and how effective they can be. I think the comparison with Buddhist practices might be interesting here. For example, Buddhists commend specific concentration and mindfulness practices that are aimed to (i) enable one to keep a text in mind and apply its recommendations in one's experience, and (ii) develop an initially narrow compassion into one of broader scope. The first might be what David has in mind, I suppose. The second is particularly interesting in the light of what others have said about the Mencius quote. Buddhists quite explicitly propose that you learn to develop compassion for people you initially hate by engaging in a meditation that starts by triggering your compassion for those you love (e.g. your parents). More generally, I think Buddhists doubt that rational argumentation or advice from an adviser will enable one to "jump up". As Damien Keown has argued in his interesting book "Buddhist Ethics", many Buddhists think that our ability to profit from reflection, analysis, and advice depends on our uprooting various bad "non-cognitive" mental dispositions, and they think those can be best uprooted by concentration meditations. In a related vein, this article brought to mind the booming psychological research on mindfulness meditation. In particular, there seems to be good evidence that mindfulness practices can help people overcome akratic smoking and drinking better than practices in which people try to bring to mind their reasons for not smoking and then resist their urges through strength of will. So I wonder, first, whether the Confucians have analogous practices or whether they might not simply adopt these Buddhists one (with a less impartialistic form of compassion as the goal, of course). Or are they simply more optimistic about the fruit of things like reflection, reading, advice, and analysis? Finally, perhaps Aristotle would agree with Buddhists that our ability to profit from reflection, analysis, and advice depends on our uprooting various bad non-cognitive dispositions - or not having those in the first place. Unlike the Buddhists and Confucians, however, they seem less optimistic about our ability to reform these dispositions if they are malformed by our poor education and culture. Just an impression - I am no ancient scholar!
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Mar 30, 2011