Arisotelian and Confucian cultures of authority : justifying moral norms by appeal to the authority of exemplary persons

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2005
Authors
Harris, Thorian Rane
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Abstract
This thesis attempts to argue that exemplary persons-teachers, parents, etc.-are norms in their own right. They do not merely exemplify virtues or demonstrate a life according to duty, nor are they simply the embodiment of a bunch of moral principles. Rather, they are a unique variety of norm altogether, and, as Aristotle and Confucius illustrate, can be a moral system's most basic norm-that is, the source of justification for all other norms, and the source of their own normative justification. To defend these claims I begin, in the first chapter, by discussing the meaning of the word "norm," and then turn to a consideration of the requirements for justifying moral norms. This consideration touches directly upon whether exemplars can carry their own justification, and uncovers one of the major obstacles involved in successfully arguing for the normative justification of exemplars qua exemplars. That is, the Kantian line of thought that holds two things: (1) that all moral norms must be justified on a priori grounds, and (2) that if exemplars were basic norms, they would condition moral blindness on the part of the emulator-that is, the inability to think critically about the moral worth of one's exemplars. Because the normativity of exemplars comes from experience, they can never be necessarily and universally normative; so to agree with the first of these Kantian claims is to preclude the possibility a normative justification of exemplars qua exemplars. In an attempt to overcome this obstacle I problematize the Kantian position by arguing that the justification of any of our moral norms-not just exemplars, but principles as wellcannot be secured a priori. This forces us to look for normative justification from within experience-proving the possibility, at the very least, of the claim that exemplars can be a moral system's most basic norm. In the second chapter I use the ethics of Aristotle and Confucius to illustrate how one can treat exemplary persons not only as norms, but also as the most basic norms in one's ethics. In the last chapter, after exposing and attempting to overcome the shortcomings of the moral systems of Aristotle and Confucius, I endeavor to undermine the second of these Kantian claims by showing that the very nature of an Aristotelian or Confucian exemplar's authority forestalls if not moral blindness altogether, then at least the major problems with moral blindness.
Description
Thesis (M.A.)--University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2005.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 102-106).
vi, 106 leaves, bound 29 cm
Keywords
Aristotle -- Ethics, Normativity (Ethics), Authority, Role models, Confucian ethics
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Theses for the degree of Master of Arts (University of Hawaii at Manoa). Philosophy; no. 3237
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