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Bishop Joseph Butler and Wang Yangming

A Comparative Study of Their Moral Vision and View of Conscience

Peter T.C. Chang

This book is a comparative study of the Anglican Bishop Joseph Butler’s and Neo-Confucianist Wang Yangming’s ethical enterprise. It first analyses, within their respective historical context, the two thinkers’ overarching worldviews and their seminal conception of conscience / liang-chih as a person's supreme moral guide. The English bishop and the Chinese philosopher-military general are then brought into dialogue by way of a comparing and contrasting of their distinct religious-philosophical traditions. In addition, Butler and Wang will be placed in a hypothetical encounter to explore how they, and by proxy Christianity and Confucianism, would critically appraise each other’s spiritual and sociopolitical endeavor. The end purpose of this study is to enhance our perception of the intriguing similarities and complex differences that exist between these two Axial Age civilizations. The author argues that dissonances notwithstanding, Butler and Wang share core values, consonances that could and should set the tone for an amiable Christian-Confucian co-existence.
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Chapter 5: Wang, Butler, and the Contemporary Challenges


Chapter 5 Wang, Butler, and the Contemporary Challenges

Globalization is the 21st century’s buzzword, the predominant theme in international trade, world economics, universal human rights, and much more. Never in history has humankind experienced a closer connectedness, and the momentum is moving towards even more integration across geography and cultures. One set of encounters that bears critical contemporary importance is the East-West, and specifically the Confucian-Christian, interactions. This relationship has attracted renewed attention with China’s recent deft rehabilitation of Confucianism as a corollary form of soft power to supplement its increasing economic and political influence. It has raised the ante in China’s competitive relations with the world at large, expanding potential points of conflict into the cultural sphere and even portending a possible clash of civilizations.

This chapter is an examination of these contemporary challenges and a study of how Wang and Butler can inform today’s state of affairs. I will draw on their works for insights into the intricacies of religious pluralism, in particular the relationship between the Confucian East and the Christian West (Section 5.1). The chapter closes with a revisit of the Comparative Religious Ethics (CRE) methodological debate and by contrasting my project with the models presented by Lee Yearley and David Little and Sumner B. Twiss (Section 5.2).

Infused with a new lease on life on mainland China, Confucianism is now poised to reoccupy an influential space in the East Asia moral community. The question of how it relates to...

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