East-West comparative ethics has drawn increased attention in recent years, especially comparative discussion of Confucian ethics and Western thought. Such interest stems in part from a growing concern with the political systems of Asian countries, which are often viewed as informed by Confucian values. Critics of such systems accuse them of a form of authoritarianism that is at odds with Western democratic ideals. Defenders of such systems reject the imposition of Western political ideals. Some argue that such systems are characterized by a democracy of a distinctively Asian kind, and some even argue that Western notions of rights and democracy are inapplicable to Asian political structures. Underlying this rejection of Western political ideals is the view that values espoused by Asian ethical and political traditions, and more specifically the Confucian tradition, are radically different from and no less respectable than those of Western traditions, a view that has led to a growing interest in the “Asian values” debate.
The interest in comparative ethics also stems in part from a concern to understand Asian ethical traditions as a way to unravel philosophical presuppositions behind Western ethical traditions. Setting the different traditions alongside each other helps to put in sharper focus the presuppositions that shape the development of each, thereby preparing the ground for a comparative evaluation and possible synthesis. The Confucian tradition, with its long history, rich content, and extensive influence on Asian communities, has drawn much attention in such comparative discussions.
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