Confucian Ethics of the Axial Age describes the formative period of Chinese culture—the last centuries of the Zhou dynasty—as an early epoch of enlightenment. It comprehensively reconstructs the ethical discourse as thought gradually became emancipated from tradition and institutions. Rather than presenting a chronology of different thinkers and works, this book discusses the systematic aspects of moral philosophies.
Based on original texts, Roetz focuses on filial piety; the conflict between the family and the state; the legitimating of the political order; the virtues of loyalty, friendship, and harmony; concepts of justice; the principle of humaneness and its different readings; the Golden Rule; the moral person; the autonomous self, motivation, decision and conscience; and various attempts to ground morality in religion, human nature, or reason.
These topics are arranged in such a way that the genetic structure and the logical development of the moral reasoning becomes apparent. From this detached perspective, conventional morality is either rejected or critically reestablished under the restraint of new abstract and universal norms. This makes the Chinese developments part of the ancient worldwide movement of enlightenment of the axial age.
Heiner Roetz is Lecturer at the J. W. Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt, Germany.