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The Pluralist

Interview by Richard Marshall.

I think that all moralities adequately serving the function of fostering social cooperation must contain a norm of reciprocity—a norm of returning good for good received. Such a norm is a necessity, I argue, because it helps relieve the strains on motivation of contributing to social cooperation when it comes into conflict with self-interest. I also identify a constraint I called “justifiability to the governed,” which implies that justifications for subordinating people’s interests must not rely on falsehoods such as the natural inferiority of racial or ethnic groups or the natural incapacities of women.

My version of relativism is pluralistic and attributes functions to morality that in combination with human nature place limits on what could count as a true morality. Unlike many other relativists, I do not hold that people are subject to a morality because they all belong to a certain group. That is, I don’t hold that being a member of a group makes one’s subject to some set of generally accepted norms. What is true is that others around us teach us morality and moral language, so they inevitably influence us. That is why there are moral traditions that share important values, shared interpretations of those values, and certain shared ways of prioritizing them. But even within those moral traditions there are disagreements that don’t bottom out in facts that decide the issues.

Zhuangzi is especially insightful about the human pretension to know. The Zhuangzi tells a story about a frog who lives in caved-in well. Because he is the lord of this little world of his, king of the pollywogs, he is very proud of himself. But he doesn’t know how small his world is until a turtle comes and tells him about the vastness of the sea. We human beings are like the frog, not realizing how little our worlds are.

The Chinese concept of rights arose, then, in a context of power. Western nations had become powerful enough, and imposed their will in nakedly aggressive fashion, so that they had to be addressed in their terms. Eventually rights in Chinese thought are attributed not just to nation states but also to individual people.

The Confucians paid a great deal attention to ritual, highlighting the ones that expressed the sorts of affective attitudes one wants to cultivate, engaging in them with keen awareness of their value for shaping and reshaping the self, and insisting on the need to be emotionally present to their significance for one’s relationship to others. If we Americans want to rebuild our capacities for a shared life, we would do well to pay attention to all this. I know it will be greeted with skepticism by those who think that these ideas will only work in a more homogeneous society, but China, even ancient China, is and was more pluralistic than we suppose, and it was Confucius who said that harmony is not the same as agreement.

David Wong is the Susan Fox Beischer and George D. Beischer Professor of Philosophy at Duke University.

The main subjects of his research include 1) the nature and extent of moral differences and similarities across and within societies and how these differences and similarities bear on questions about the objectivity and universality of morality; 2) the attempt to understand morality naturalistically as arising from the attempt of human beings to structure their cooperation and to convey to each other what kinds of lives they have found to be worth living; 3) the nature of conflicts between basic moral values and how these give rise to moral differences across and within societies; 4) how we attempt to deal with such conflicts in moral deliberation; 5) the relevance of comparative philosophy, especially Chinese-Western (Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism) comparative philosophy, to the above subjects; 6) Whether our reasons to feel and act are based solely on what we already desire or whether reasons transcend what we desire and are used to critically evaluate and shape our desires; 7) the extent to which a person’s recognizing that she has reasons to feel and act in certain ways can enter into the constitution of her emotions and change those emotions. Here he discusses his understanding of a pluralistic approach to morality, the relationship between philosophy and anthropology in the matter of understanding morality, the hermeneutical requirement of similarity and difference, Confucianism and Western philosophy and the possibility of a synthesis, why it’s better to talk of sustaining cultures rather than preserving them, the issue of diversity and increasing homogeneity, Aristotle and Daoist approaches to how we should live, the role of Rawls’ Aristotelian Principle in approaching the complexity of understanding the good life, the Daoist’s ‘less is more’ principle, the different faces of love in the good life, relational ethical approaches to the environmental crisis, how the notion of a relational self helps overcome conflicts between individuals and their communities, and how Mencius helps overcome the perceived division between desire and reason.

3:AM: What made you become a philosopher?

David Wong: Someone once asked me what I do. When I said I was a philosopher, he paused for a moment and said, “But what do you do for a living?” I agree with the premise of that question. It’s a bonus to get paid for something I would do anyway. Being the son of immigrants and growing up in a place (Minneapolis, Minnesota) where there weren’t very many Chinese or Chinese Americans gave me the acute sense of living between two (or more) worlds. I had an urgent sense of needing to come to terms with being in that liminal state, leading me to seek answers to questions about where people get their ideas of how to live, and how to deal with the conflict between those ideas.

3:AM: You’ve defended a pluralistic relativism in ethics. What is distinctive about your approach to relativism and how do you explain group and interpersonal disagreement? Does this approach link with Zhuangzi when he says we should stop being obsessed with being right all the time? It always strikes me that the relativist seems to place less weight on getting to the bottom of things than non-relativists – and unfortunately no doubt for me this always seems frustrating. It’s probably emotional, but I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to get the right answer!

DW: I take the definition of moral relativism from my thesis adviser, Gilbert Harman, as the view that there is no single true morality. I call my version of it “pluralistic relativism” because it denies that all moralities are true, and holds rather that only a bounded plurality of moralities are true. Debates over moral relativism typically polarize between the view that there is a single true morality and the view that all moralities are equally true or justified (in case truth values are denied to moralities).

I have a functionalist conception of morality. Morality is that part of human culture which has an interpersonal function of promoting and regulating social cooperation in ways that do not depend on coercion or force. It also has an intrapersonal function of fostering within the individual a degree of ordering among potentially conflicting motivational propensities, including self- and other-regarding motivations. The content of moral norms about what is just, right and the qualities of the good person is constrained not only by the functions these norms must fulfill but also by the nature of the human beings they govern. This nature includes a diverse array of self- and other-regarding motivational propensities plausibly considered to have a biological, innate basis in most human beings. Morality’s functions, in combination with the nature of the beings it governs, constrain the content of its norms.

Different moralities must share some general features if they are to perform their functions of coordinating beings having particular kinds of motivations. Morality is a cultural construction in something like the way bridges are. There would be no bridges unless human beings used them to move across bodies of waters or depressions in the earth, but a good bridge cannot be designed according to whim, but rather according to what would adequately fulfill their function and the nature of the materials that are available for their construction.

For example, I think that all moralities adequately serving the function of fostering social cooperation must contain a norm of reciprocity—a norm of returning good for good received. Such a norm is a necessity, I argue, because it helps relieve the strains on motivation of contributing to social cooperation when it comes into conflict with self-interest. I also identify a constraint I called “justifiability to the governed,” which implies that justifications for subordinating people’s interests must not rely on falsehoods such as the natural inferiority of racial or ethnic groups or the natural incapacities of women. This follows, I argue, from the way that morality culturally evolved to become a distinctive way of fostering social cooperation on a largely voluntary basis, something that can be accepted on the basis of non-coerced and non-deceived belief. Finally, I identify “accommodation” as a value that must be acknowledged within all adequate moralities because of the ubiquity of disagreement over how to interpret values that might even be shared among people or how to prioritize shared values in case of conflict. Accommodation is a willingness to maintain constructive relationship with others with whom one is in serious and even intractable disagreement. Social cooperation would come under impossible pressure if it always depended on strict agreement.

Moral disagreement has a number of sources. People come to have different moral beliefs because they have different non-moral beliefs about relevant facts. People are disposed to believe whatever justifies the practices and institutions that benefit them. But I argue that not all moral differences can be explained away in such a fashion. Some of the most profound disagreements come from differences in priority assigned to values such as relationship and community on the one hand, and individual rights and personal autonomy for the individual, on the other hand. The differences are more subtle than is often supposed. An ethic that emphasizes relationship and community can be concerned with protecting the individual’s interests, but always with an eye to trying to reconcile those interests with those of others. An ethic emphasizing rights and autonomy should be concerned with promoting enough community to foster a motivating concern for everyone’s rights, not just one’s own.

At the end of the day I hold there are disagreements that don’t bottom out in some set of facts that would make one side right and the other wrong. Getting straight on relevant nonmoral facts, removing biases of interest, and applying universal constraints (such as reciprocity, justifiability to the governed, and accommodation) reduces but does not narrow down to just one the ways that human culture has found to adequately fulfill the functions of morality. There is no single coherent morality fulfilling these functions that provides optimal expression of all the things human beings value.

So my version of relativism is pluralistic and attributes functions to morality that in combination with human nature place limits on what could count as a true morality. Unlike many other relativists, I do not hold that people are subject to a morality because they all belong to a certain group. That is, I don’t hold that being a member of a group makes one’s subject to some set of generally accepted norms. What is true is that others around us teach us morality and moral language, so they inevitably influence us. That is why there are moral traditions that share important values, shared interpretations of those values, and certain shared ways of prioritizing them. But even within those moral traditions there are disagreements that don’t bottom out in facts that decide the issues. We share much of the meaning and reference of our moral concepts with others around us, but we are subject to multiple influences of this kind, especially in pluralistic societies, so each of us may possess moral concepts that reflect this multiplicity of influence and the particular ways that we as individuals have absorbed and made sense of it for ourselves. That’s why accommodation is a value that needs to be present in all moralities that fulfill the interpersonal function.

So Richard, I would say that I place a lot of weight on getting to the bottom of things, and I have described where I find the bottom. To me, it is universalists who stop short of getting to the bottom and arbitrarily end the conversation by saying, “This is the moral truth, and others are mistaken because they don’t know the facts, or have an interest in not recognizing the truth,” and so. This kind of explaining away of difference is almost always abstract and hand-wavy. There is very little serious attempt to understand the moral positions of other people and other moral traditions in any depth. A serious attempt to understand involves critical reflection on how these others justify their views, and it is governed by epistemic values of fairness and respectfulness, of giving the other views their most sympathetic interpretation, as we would expect ours to be given, and being prepared to say that sometimes we don’t have a good reply to a view we don’t share and that we can’t plausibly explain it away as due to ignorance or bias.

Now to Zhuangzi. As I see it, it’s not that he isn’t interested in the right answer. For him (though it’s not clear how many people contributed to this text under his name) it’s about being honest with yourself when you don’t know what the right answer is or when you have reason to doubt the answer you have. Zhuangzi is especially insightful about the human pretension to know. The Zhuangzi tells a story about a frog who lives in caved-in well. Because he is the lord of this little world of his, king of the pollywogs, he is very proud of himself. But he doesn’t know how small his world is until a turtle comes and tells him about the vastness of the sea. We human beings are like the frog, not realizing how little our worlds are.

It’s not about abandoning the search to know. In fact, our need to feel like big shots keeps us wedded to inadequate perspectives on the world, keeps us from exploring and dealing with what doesn’t fit into those perspectives. We should be trying to formulate a bigger, richer perspective to accommodate what doesn’t fit, but no matter how beautiful and true that new perspective looks to us, we should always be prepared to acknowledge that it doesn’t accommodate something we haven’t yet confronted.

The attempt to form a bigger, richer perspective has animated my attempts to incorporate a comparative dimension into discussions of moral relativism. It is odd that most discussions of this subject in the contemporary philosophical literature are so culture-bound. In my exploration of Chinese moral philosophy, I find a different world, one that shares some important features with Western moral philosophy, but also with interestingly different emphases on the value of relationship and community, in contrast with an emphasis on rights and autonomy. It’s important not to overdraw that contrast, because Chinese philosophies, such as Confucianism, have ways of addressing the need to protect individual’s interests when they come into conflict with the interests of others, just as Western ethical traditions have ways of placing value on relationship and community. There are some important common concerns, but the ways in which these concerns get worked out differently, and the priorities among values that might be shared across traditions get worked out differently. It’s when the differences are subtle and interwoven with commonalities that I find it’s most plausible to surmise that there is no single true morality.

One has to understand another tradition well enough so that one knows how to fairly challenge it with critical questions, and then to see what resources there are in that tradition to answer those questions. When I conduct that sort of examination of the Chinese Confucian tradition, for example, I conclude that the best versions of that tradition cannot be said to be in error. But neither do I think Confucianism is the single true morality, because I have reached similar conclusions about the best versions of some Western ethics.

In reaching that conclusion, am I sure I have I gotten to the bottom of things? In the spirit of Zhuangzi, I have to say, no, I am not sure at all. This is just the biggest, richest perspective I have arrived at thus far. But it seems to me that it’s going further towards trying to get to the bottom than those who simply rest content with their moral intuitions and do not try to see how these intuitions might be challenged by other traditions.

3:AM: Can and should anthropologists and philosophers agree on what morality is?

DW: Well, why should we expect everyone from these two groups to agree when we can’t even get everyone within either one of the groups to agree? More important is that there is beneficial mutual learning between these disciplines, whether or not we end up agreeing. I have learned from anthropologists and cultural psychologists about the range of values in different parts of the world and different parts of one society and about the varying conceptions of what it is to be a person. Philosophers can contribute more systematic and self-conscious conceptions of morality so that even if anthropologist (and other philosophers) disagree with their conceptions, we can get clearer on the theoretical motivations behind competing conceptions. We are more on the lookout for the justificatory relationships between different norms or values.

The old-fashioned division of labor was that anthropologists study “descriptive” similarities and differences in values across cultures, e.g., similarities and differences in what is believed to be right and wrong, whereas philosophers would deal with the normative questions concerning belief, e.g., what is right and not merely what is believed to be right. But in the end, many anthropologists have normative interests, and even though philosophers tend to be invested in meta-ethical and normative issues, they have reason to inform themselves about descriptive differences in belief, especially when they are asking best-explanation-of-disagreement questions as I do. A chief part of the explanatory project for me is whether the differences in descriptive belief are of such a nature that we can say people are all assigning precisely the same meaning to their talk about what is right, or if I am right, we have to say that they are assigning overlapping meanings that can be significantly different depending on the issue.

3:AM: The pluralistic context requires hermeneutical practices but any critical hermeneutics sets up two requirements that don’t seem easily reconciled: you have to construe others as being like us; but you also have to be open to seeing how different they are from us. You approach this by arguing that to treat someone like us we have to recognise the possibility of diversity within ‘us’, and that decisions as to who gets included in the ‘us’ is a matter of power. Could you talk us through your argument?

DW: Let me first clarify the position you mention: who gets included in the ‘us’ is not only a matter of power, but power is an important factor because other influencing factors leave the ‘us’ indeterminate to a significant degree. This view is part of my answer to the question of how we come to interpret what others mean, what they believe, and what values they have.

From Quine and Davidson we have the interpretive principle of charity. The intuitive idea is that we interpret others by using ourselves as models. Since we regard our own beliefs as true, we are being “charitable” to others when we construe them as believing what we do, as rationally acting in the world on the basis of desires and beliefs as we do. Davidson had to qualify this principle in order to allow that people can differ from us in their circumstances and history of experiences, such that they can come to have different beliefs (and desires) within limits. My argument is that there is a great deal of looseness in what constitutes those limits.

Part of the thought behind charity is that we should interpret others so that we can see them as living in the same world as we do. On the other hand, people see the same world but see it differently, from different locations and on the basis of somewhat different experiences and being a constructed a bit differently temperamentally. Human beings have different desires and different dispositions toward situations of risk and opportunity in the environment. I couldn’t get very far in understanding many other people if I had to interpret them as having exactly the same desires and dispositions as I do (after all, human groups benefit from having members with somewhat different orientations toward the world: if they can cooperate, their differences can make for greater resourcefulness and flexibility of response). Learning what it is to be among other human beings includes learning that they can be different from us as well as similar. We imagine what it would be like to experience the world differently from their locations, nor our own. We might still use analogies to understand others, but analogies point to similarities that co-exist with differences. Similar in some respects is consistent with different in other respects.

The world does not present to us sharp boundaries as where others become so different that we can’t understand them. We label as “monstrous” or “inhuman” those who clearly fall beyond the pale, but there are many cases that fall short of the pale, where we just sort of find ourselves drawing the boundaries here rather than there. Now, one of the influences on how we set those boundaries is whom we cooperate with. If they have resources and skills we need, we have incentives to include them within the boundaries of the normal and intelligible. That is how power enters into the equation.

There can be two-way causal interaction between the factors of whom we are motivated to interact with and whether we find them normal and intelligible. We can cooperate more easily with those who more easily intelligible to us, who are more familiar to us. But the advantages of specialization of labor often push us in the direction working with people who have different strengths and viewpoints than we do. I think that this is one major reason why moralities are always subject to change, because some of the people we cooperate with are going to be different from us in ways that often lead them to have different value orientations than we have; and interacting with them can change us.

One example I’ve given of the influence of power in what we come to regard as intelligible is the history of the way the Chinese understood and incorporated the concept of rights from the West. In the 19th century, the British East India Company conducted a very profitable opium trade with China. Alarmed by the number of drug addicts created by the availability of opium, the Chinese imperial government outlawed opium trafficking, but British and other (including American) traders bribed local Chinese officials in order to keep it flowing. The Imperial Commissioner of Canton attempted to halt the opium trafficking. In trying to justify his action to England and other Western nations, the Commissioner studied with the help of a missionary a textbook on international law, in which it was written that every state had a right to prohibit the entrance of foreign merchandise. The missionary helping him understand the text used a Chinese word to translate the word ‘right’. The Commissioner’s efforts were to no avail, as the British waged war against China to impose upon her the opium trade.

Other contexts in which the concept of rights drew attention from, and some use by, the Chinese were similar: originally it was an interest to express the right of the Chinese nation to regulate the actions of foreigners on its soil. The word quanli was coined to talk about the rights of nations, where ‘quan’ connotes power in a normative sense (the power a nation ought to have) and ‘li’ connotes benefit or profit. The Chinese concept of rights arose, then, in a context of power. Western nations had become powerful enough, and imposed their will in nakedly aggressive fashion, so that they had to be addressed in their terms. Eventually rights in Chinese thought are attributed not just to nation states but also to individual people (see Stephen Angle’s Human Rights in Chinese Thought).

But at the same time the concept of rights the Chinese took from the West transmuted in the journey. There were in fact many different concepts of rights articulated by Chinese thinkers, and these concepts tended to show influences from the West, but also influence from internal Chinese trends of thought, both contemporary and long-standing traditions of thought such as Confucianism. Ideas about the legitimacy of the individual’s desires, the necessity and desirability for self-assertion fed into evolving thought about individual rights in China, but so did the ideas that individuals needed to flourish in order for society to flourish and that individuals were in turn dependent for their flourishing on society, and that individual and social interests could be made compatible. The idea is that asserting the legitimate interests of individuals is not asserting anything that needs to conflict with the flourishing of their societies, and that rights are not intrinsically valuable but are means to the development of personality and advancement of the nation.

3:AM: How does your approach help us to understand the relationship between China and the West, in particular the way the West should approach Confucian ethics and going in the other direction, how Chinese should understand the idea of ‘rights’?

DW: My own sense as an American is that we have begun to experience the disadvantages of framing virtually all moral issues in terms of individual rights. American history has consisted of swings back and forth between rights talk on the one hand and talk of duties, responsibilities, and the common good on the other hand. Recent decades have seen a big swing toward rights, and conceived in very individualistic terms, which hasn’t always been the case even with rights. There’s little sign of a swing back, and I fear that our loss of a sense of connection with, and duties to, each other leaves us unable to effectively address growing inequality and the bitter antagonism between different communities in American society. We’ve been at our best when we’ve felt in significant degree that our fates bound up with each other, where we’ve had a very inclusive sense of the other, and that’s now very much not the case.

I believe that we can learn from how the Confucians always anchored their theoretical concerns with attention to the practical—to the “how” as in “how do we realize our values?” They appreciated the role of emotion both in conditioning what we are able to perceive and in either blocking or enabling us to realize our values. They did not view emotion as brutish, blind, uncontrollable passion, but as something that we could make intelligent and humane through reflecting and working on it. One of the primary methods was ritual—including not only dramatic life-passage ceremonies to mark birth, coming of age, marriage and death, but also the everyday ceremonies that are the infrastructure of our everyday lives such as greeting, sitting down to meals with others, giving and receiving gifts and favors, and still further, the ceremonies and protocols that mark our institutional lives, as illustrated by academic rituals that are supposed to express our ethical commitments. The Confucians paid a great deal attention to ritual, highlighting the ones that expressed the sorts of affective attitudes one wants to cultivate, engaging in them with keen awareness of their value for shaping and reshaping the self, and insisting on the need to be emotionally present to their significance for one’s relationship to others. If we Americans want to rebuild our capacities for a shared life, we would do well to pay attention to all this. I know it will be greeted with skepticism by those who think that these ideas will only work in a more homogeneous society, but China, even ancient China, is and was more pluralistic than we suppose, and it was Confucius who said that harmony is not the same as agreement.

As I indicated earlier, the concept of rights can undergo transformation when received by people not previously familiar with it. How they come to understand rights is affected by the normative perspectives they already have. It is a matter of debate among contemporary Confucians whether an ethic so centered on social harmony is compatible with attaching importance to individual rights. Though my philosophical commitments are too eclectic to call myself a Confucian, I believe Confucianism can benefit by incorporating some important concerns associated with rights. If you hold that harmony is not the same as agreement, and in fact that harmony requires the cooperation of diverse voices, I think you will be open to assuring people freedom to speak their minds. Early Confucians such as Mencius (Mengzi) and Xunzi held in the importance of ministers speaking frankly to their superiors in order to express their views of what was right, and that this was in the service of a commitment they shared with their superiors to the right.

Mencius and Xunzi did not, however, state that ministers (much less ordinary subjects) should have protection from displeased superiors when they speak their minds. It is simply expecting too much of ministers (and government officials in general and ordinary citizens) to speak inconvenient truths to those above them when they have no explicit, morally required, assurance of protection. Contemporary Confucians can incorporate a concept of rights, and in this particular case, rights to freedom of expression, but the basis for rights would be the idea that it is not simply the individual who benefits from and is protected by rights, but the society as a whole. Protected freedoms to dissent and criticize those in power help keep abuses of power in check. They combat tendencies of elites to become isolated from and ignorant of the people they deeply affect through their decisions.

Rights conceived in this way would not presuppose a sharp contrast between the individual’s compelling interests and broader social interests. For Confucians, we are such thoroughly social beings that individual and social interests are not in the end regarded as fundamentally incompatible. Though there will be conflicts, the central mission of moral and political philosophy is to foster approaches that will render them compatible or if that is not possible in some cases, to keep a reasonable balance so that neither side is consistently sacrificed for the sake of the other.

I know that there will members of both traditions that will be skeptical of the idea of a kind of synthesis. But the arguments for skepticism I have seen typically rely on a kind of essentialism about rights or the value of relationship. But when we look into either tradition we see vigorous debate and a variety of perspectives on, for example, how rights are to be conceived and justified or on what the ideal of social harmony means and the extent to which it is compatible with allowing vigorous disagreement to flow freely.

3:AM: Linked to this is the question of whether we should aim to preserve cultures, and how we might understand this goal if it is indeed a good thing to do. The project seems to involve a kind of essentialism which many will see as problematic, so how might this project be reconceived to avoid the issue of essentialism?

DW: Preserving cultures might seem to presuppose a kind of essentialism, and I’ve earlier stated some reasons why I wouldn’t buy into that view of cultures. The things we call cultures are dynamic, internally diverse, and their interpretation is internally contested among its members. I have suggested that cultures are like ongoing conversations with many voices, often telling stories about who “we” are. An ongoing conversation can contain themes (beliefs, values, practices) that catch on. They become dominant voices in the conversation in the sense that many members assent to them, including many of the most powerful ones who are in positions to put economic and political power behind these themes. But these themes are typically very general, and they will always receive different interpretations.

Furthermore, a culture will likely contain themes that are in tension with the dominant ones. The conversation I call culture will often take the form of point and counterpoint. In the Chinese tradition, Confucian values and practices express the theme of the deeply social nature of human beings and point to the family as a model for harmonious social relationship. But Daoist texts will point to the oppressive and suffocating aspects of the human social world and instead present the alternative of our membership in a world much greater than the human world, one that we should be learning from and becoming attuned to.

As I said earlier, I read American history as a series of swings between individualistic rights talk and the notion of a common good, and whether that particular point and counterpoint conversational thread will continue remains to be seen. One cultural psychologist I’ve learned a lot from is Hazel Markus, who with Alana Conner in their book Clash, has drawn attention to the internal diversity of American culture. Part of that diversity involves varying emphases on interdependence and independence. While not quite the same, this contrast is related to my contrast between relationship and autonomy. Markus and Conner point out that there are regional differences in the ways, and degree to which, each member of the contrast is emphasized. The western U.S. tends to emphasize autonomy. The southern U.S. tends to emphasize interdependence in comparison. The northeastern U.S. displays a particular kind of blending between interdependence and dependence. Of course, in my terms, these are generalizations about regions of the U.S. are based on degrees of dominance of voices in favor of interdependence and independence, and each member of this contrast can receive different, more specific interpretations that will be held by different members of these regional communities.

In light of the complexity of culture, Nicole Hassoun and I have argued that it is better to talk about sustaining cultures rather than preserving them, and we mean “sustaining” in the sense of a culture’s members continuing to transmit, interpret and revise it, while contesting amongst themselves. This seems much truer to the dynamic, internally diverse and contested nature of culture. Globalization in part means that a lot of people are walking into the room and in some cases becoming influential or even dominant voices in the conversation. Sometimes they are like party-crashers coming in and pushing people around, scooping up the valuables and eating up the food in the frig—bribing political leaders, undermining traditional economies and the ways of life that are interwoven with them, replacing them with new economic models that effectively exploit developing countries for their labor and resources.

Sustaining cultures in the face of globalization is the ethical task of thinking about what is valuable in cultures (both valuable in itself as a work of art is and valuable to its members because cultures provide the makings of their practical identities, helps them to see who they are in the world and what they are about). The ethical task involves seeing whether there are ways that enable people to continue transmitting, interpreting, and revising their cultures. Of course, we know that global capitalism, and the commercially driven culture that comes with it, can be a powerful solvent, but many of us who benefit from it economically can regret the effect it has on our own lives as well as on the lives of others, and we should not view ourselves as helpless in the face of an irresistible force, especially since we may very well be complicit. We should be prepared to help others or to leave them be to sustain their cultures if we judge that they are of intrinsic value or of value to their members.

3:AM: Doesn’t the idea that we should preserve cultures speak to the actual situation which isn’t diversity and plurality but an increasing homogeneity? In which case, doesn’t this threaten the requirement for any sort of relativism? Isn’t the problem that languages and cultures are disappearing at a rapid rate and ‘sameness’ not ‘difference’ is the issue we face?

DW: Perhaps depressingly, both sameness and difference are issues for us. A sign of cultural homogenization is that languages are disappearing at an alarming rate. I am heartened by signs that some peoples are fighting back, e.g., the revitalization of the language of the Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts. But if we reject essentialism about culture, we will be cautious about overgeneralizing about what homogenization is and to what degree it exists. If we think of cultures as dynamic, internally diverse and contested, we will be aware that what looks like homogenization may be deeper down this more complicated thing. I think, and hope, this more complicated picture is to some degree correct.

I do fear that global capitalism is making us more like each other in regrettable ways, e.g., more people are increasingly captivated by spectacles of violence and aggression or of conspicuous consumption that are the subjects of the most commercially viable films across countries precisely because they don’t depend for their appeal on cultural fine points (a punch in the face means pretty much the same thing around the world); and more people are prone to deal with others on a purely instrumental and impersonal basis. My hope is that in different parts of the world, different kinds of hybridization are occurring, and that some of these kinds will point out the (plural!) ways we could live well with each other.

At the same time, the demonization of Islam and immigrants shows that perception of difference remains one of our biggest problems, and maybe always will be for a species that began in small groups competing with other groups for resources. These apparently competing forces for sameness and difference sometimes even seem to be mutually reinforcing. The homogenizing force of globalization tends to make many people feel they are on the losing side, economically and culturally, and it is they who are most easily turned against those “others” who are demonized by demagogues. And then feelings of exclusion, persecution and oppression on the part of the demonized exacerbate the sense of alienation and anger.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I am not sure the sociologists, cultural psychologists, and anthropologists do either. I hope for constructive hybridization of the type that has often occurred in the past. African and Jewish Americans have indelibly enriched American cultural identities, to give a couple of examples. Recently I heard the standup comedian Hari Kondabolu explain his ideal of integration as different groups contributing to the ongoing creation of American identities, and he comes from an urban area, Queens, where the cultural climate is conducive to just that.

The silver lining of Brexit and Trump is that it has undermined the perception that globalization is an unstoppable force, whether or not we think it is a good thing or a bad thing. There have always been losers and as well as winners in this process, and cultural minorities have been among the most vulnerable losers. Now that sizable numbers of people in the most advanced economies have made their grievances felt in a fashion that is hard to ignore, we must address the genuine case to be made for those grievances while rejecting the repellant uses to which some reactionary groups and demagogues have put those feelings of grievance.

3:AM: You’ve looked at complexity and simplicity in Aristotle and early Daoist thought as a way of thinking about answering the question about how ought we live. But if pluralism denies that there can be a single answer, and that’s the state we’re in, why even ask the question anymore, or say more than just state the fact that there’s no single answer?

DW: One reason is that on a pluralist view, there can be wrong answers we should avoid adopting. And I’ve argued that we can learn about other ways of life and incorporate aspects of them even if we do not adopt those ways in a wholesale manner. And I am less interested in arriving at a view of the good life that I can prescribe for everyone. Why not aim at saying something that perhaps a considerable number of people can put to good use? Why not aim at offering some ways of thinking about what a good life might be in the spirit of inviting people to consider its applicability to their own lives? One of the ways that the obsession with being right (to go back to your second question) can be restricting is that it makes us think we must either go around telling everyone else how to live or just give up talking to anyone else.

In the paper on Aristotle and Daoism, to which you refer, I am investigating the Aristotelian notion of complexity and the Daoist notion of simplicity, because both have been invoked in characterizing some aspect of a good or desirable life. Aristotelianism or Daoism may describe parts of a way of life that are among the plurality of acceptable ways of life. They may not be the ways of life we choose to pursue in whole, but we may choose to take from them in part because we find something appealing about them. The teachings of the Daodejing or the Zhuangzi appeal to some Americans who wish for a simpler way to live, one that is more attuned to the rhythms of the natural world. Aristotelianism, on the other hand, appeals to the idea of developing our sophisticated and complex abilities to perform impressively complex activities or create impressively complex work. Since both these ideas of simplicity and complexity can be appealing, I wanted (in the essay you are referring to) to delve into what Aristotle and the Daoists texts really said about them, and to see whether they were as incompatible as they might seem. In concluded that what is apparently simple is not so simple upon further analysis (see my next answer to question 9). And we might value a very complex activity, but our ultimate reasons may not have to do with the mere fact that they are complex (see my answer to the next question).

3:AM: Why is Rawls’ Aristotelian Principle helpful to discuss complexity and simplicity and the good life?

DW: I thought it useful to start with him on the Western side because Rawls is grappling with what one can say about how one should live one’s life while acknowledging a reasonable pluralism of conceptions of the good life. I think this is the question for us now: whether we can say anything substantial about how to live a good life that is compatible with the pluralism. One thing Rawls believes we can say is that, other things being equal, human beings enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities and that this enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized or the greater its complexity.

Rawls attempts to ground this Aristotelian principle in an interpretation of Aristotle’s conception of what is good for human beings. Human beings have complex natures that include their bodies and the part that is capable of contemplating eternal truths about the universe. We are also social creatures, which is why justice is a virtue for us. Aristotle does acknowledge the human need for complexity in different sorts of pleasurable activity, and apparently the need arises from our complex nature.

What Rawls leaves out from Aristotle is the idea that human composite nature and our need for varied activity is inferior to the condition of God, which is simple and immutable and therefore has the greatest pleasure.

Contemplation is the best activity human beings can engage in because it is God-like activity. It has the finest objects—those which are eternal and immutable—and because it is the most self-sufficient and continuous and purest of pleasures. No doubt, the capacity to make fine discriminations belongs to the intellect that engages in contemplation, but this capacity is valued not for its pure virtuosity, but rather because it is endowed with the capacities it needs to continuously apprehend the finest of objects. What God does, for Aristotle, is contemplate. When we contemplate, we are at one with God. In the godlike ability to contemplate eternity, we are the only animals who can satisfy our desire for eternity in some way other than by reproduction. We can contemplate that which drives all motion, and in that sense become attuned to the cosmos. So Aristotle’s conception of the best activity of which humans are capable does not involve valuing complexity for its own sake. Valuing complexity is either a concession to our inferior composite natures, or it is instrumental for union with that which has a nature superior to our own.

In the end, Rawls’ own reasons for valuing complexity are not so much Aristotle’s, but are more revealing of our contemporary sensibilities. When Rawls tries to explain in more intuitive terms what is so good about complex activity, he celebrates the virtuosity of complex abilities to make fine discriminations and the newness it brings to experience, and the expression of individuality and personal style.

I get where Rawls is coming from, but I am also sympathetic to the general form of Aristotle’s view: the exercise of complex and more inclusive abilities is not anything in itself that is or necessarily should be valued over simple and less inclusive abilities. Rather, value depends on what the abilities are and the ends to which they are put. We don’t have to agree with Aristotle’s specific judgments about the value of contemplating the immutable to agree with his more general point.

For Aristotle too, purity of pleasure matters, and to that end, sometimes simpler is better: simpler activities can afford a greater purity of pleasure by enabling us to focus on doing one thing. The simple activity of running can afford a purer pleasure than more complex activities that include running, like basketball (mind you I am not attributing this particular view to Aristotle!). Running can provide a purer experience of the release of nervous energy and a more continuous attunement to the rhythms of one’s own body and its adjustments to the environment that is normally lost in work activities and even the more complex forms of play and sport.

Furthermore, contemplation is the best activity for Aristotle because it involves our union with God. The theme of unifying with the other also shows up in Confucianism and is associated with simplicity. In one passage of the Analects Confucius asks a group of his students what they would do if someone were to appreciate their talents and give them employment. Almost everyone gives him answers that have to do with what they would do in public office to benefit the state, but one student says he would assemble a group of youths to go bathe in the river, to enjoy the breeze and come back singing. Confucius says he is with this student. On my interpretation, Confucius is expressing attunement with the pleasure of sharing simple enjoyments and joining with others in the expression of joy. This interpretation has affinities with ones in the Mencius that evoke the role of music as a medium of shared enjoyment, and with a passage in another early Confucian text, the Xunzi, about the feeling of unity that listening to music with others brings about.

In a philosophy notable for its keen sense for social hierarchy and distinction, these passages express appreciation for simple and relatively egalitarian social communion. They point to a central dimension of the Confucian ideal of a fully realized human life, and that is the feeling of harmony and unification with others.

3:AM: The Daoist texts you examine argue that ‘less is more’ – of what value is this version of simplicity to the contemporary question about the good life?

3:AM: The Daoist appeal to simplicity can be very appealing to the many of us who feel that contemporary life is overwhelming. “Less is more” can be a call to identify what it is we really need and appreciate doing for its own sake, as opposed to what we have been socialized into wanting, often to our detriment, or becoming consumed by activity that we would never do for its own sake but only for the sake of something else.

One kind of simplicity celebrated in Daoism is intuitive and particularly efficacious mode of action, illustrated in the Zhuangzi by stories of extraordinary skill such as Butcher Ding’s dance-like carving of an ox. The carving is simple by virtue of its felt immediacy and ease, by its relative lack of reflective self-monitoring. I say “relative” because there is a moment in the story where the butcher encounters a difficult spot in the ox and has to slow down and take self-conscious care before proceeding. This is an important qualification and should put us on alert to ways in which this intuitive skillful activity turns out to be a complex achievement.

First, it takes a long period of methodical self-conscious practice to get to the level of relative ease and automaticity. Second, it is a mode of action that in practice takes into account the finest differences between situations. For the butcher each ox is different. The Cook’s intuitive cutting is exquisitely responsive to each ox as it is, even if no self-conscious thought records the differences between oxen. Indeed, the kind of simplicity displayed by this sort of intuitive activity seems to be tied up with this exquisite responsiveness. People become able to perform specially skilled and effortless actions such as the Butcher’s through a period of training that enables them to perform without conscious self-direction the component actions that form the infrastructure of the activity as a whole. The training, that is, allows them to execute the basics without thinking about them, and this in turn allows conscious awareness to fully focus on those aspects of the situation or activity that make for true skill. Thus the Butcher no longer has to pay conscious attention to the mechanics of the component actions that constitute cutting. His knife has become more like an extension of his hand and body while slicing through the spaces and joints of the ox. He is able to focus on the feel of the blade as it slides through the spaces and joints.

The skill level achieved is analogous to that of a musician who has mastered the technique of playing her instrument and who is freed to focus her attention on the music as she makes it, rather than, say the correct technique for bowing a violin. There is complex virtuosity that is displayed in this skilled intuitive action, and it is made possible by a kind of simplicity relative to action constantly guided by reflective self-monitoring. The simplicity of this kind of intuitive activity, then, is consistent with complex skills of discrimination in perception and response, of the type Rawls valued in fact! However, the activity is simple in the following sense: it is worth doing for its own sake, even if it is useful for other things we may want. Less is more when we can focus on doing what it is we want to be doing for its own sake.

I don’t think the Zhuangzi is exclusively focused on intuitive skillful activity as the only thing that is worth doing for its own sake, and as I say in my answer to question 2, its value is not to be taken as immune to skeptical questioning. The text, rather, invites us to consider the value of this kind of activity in vivid and compelling terms, rather than to try to compel our assent to it through argument. I invite you and your readers to consider whether this might be a refreshing turn.

3:AM: What are the different faces of love in a good life?

DW: The philosophical discussion of love has identified three main types of answers: 1) love is based on reasons that have to do with the beloved’s personal qualities; 2) it is not based on any reasons; and 3) it is based on reasons that have to do with one’s relationship with the beloved. Each is plausible in a certain light. Attempts to make one of these faces the fundamental or authentic face of love fail to ring true because, I think, love answers to distinct and powerful human needs.

Consider 1). We depend for so much on those we love—we partner with them in some of the most important things human beings can do, such as having a family, and we are so vulnerable to them—that of course we want them to have desirable personal qualities and to believe that we do too. But if we pin our love for another, and theirs for us, based on personal qualities, it confers an unacceptable conditionality and substitutability on love: we don’t want to be exchanged for a better model of whatever our lovers deem to be desirable, so there is a strong tendency to want 2): to be loved for no reason at all, simply be loved. Moreover, if we value our relationship to a beloved, we want to be able to change as the beloved changes, to be prepared for the unpredictable ways that the beloved and ourselves change over time; we may not want the relationship to depend on a static notion of why we love the other. But 3), we may love each other because of what we have done together, our shared history, or because we stand in an important social relationship such as parent and child. People can love each other because they “fit” together, because they have raised and been raised by the other. Because relationship can constitute some of the greatest of human goods, it is not surprising that it can be a basis for love.

My point is that these are three different faces of love because they meet different, compelling human needs. At distinct moments in the course of love, we may need to accentuate one face more than the others. Sustaining love can be navigating through these different faces of love, accentuating the face that needs to be at the forefront in the given situation or period of life. We may have very little control over whether this happens as needed, and that is why we can be at love’s mercy. But perhaps there is such a thing as wise loving: perhaps, sometimes, we can realize what face is love is needed in the situation and we can actually succeed in putting forward that face. Such wise loving requires the possibility of reflectively controlling one’s emotions, a topic I will get to near the end of my answers.

3:AM: The great extinction, global warming etc etc – the environment has thrown up what some take to be ethical issues. There have been two ways of approaching environmental ethics – the instrumental approach which understands the environment solely in terms of human interests – and the intrinsic value approach which understands the environment as having value in and of itself. These two approaches aren’t always in disagreement but clearly they can be. How can a relational ethical approach drawing on Confucian, Western Apache and Inuit traditions, help resolve the potential conflict between the approach and can the new relational approach work in an increasingly cosmopolitan and non-local, non-place-based conception of modern human identity?

DW: There are two young philosophers I’ve co-written papers with on this subject, Marion Hourdequin and Nicole Hassoun, and they know a lot more about the environmental issues than I do. I recommend their work to you and your readers. But yes, the idea is that early Chinese traditions, the Daoist as well as Confucian, and Western Apache and Inuit traditions, point to ways our identities as persons include not only other people but also parts of the environment. We can subjectively think of ourselves as people who are very much of a certain place, or we may objectively without knowing it be people whose ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving have been formed by our having been raised in or spent considerable time in a certain place.

Confucianism highlights the way other people and our relationships with them can enter into who we are as persons. Daoism highlights the way that we fit with the non-human world. We argue for a relational conception of the person as a basis for an environmental ethic that can encourage us to preserve the environment not solely on the basis of satisfying human interests and not solely because we might attribute intrinsic value to the environment, but because the environment is something with which we can potentially enter into constructive relationship, as part of what makes us who we are or transform who we are and open us up to new interests. The Zhuangzi again is very good on telling us how the nonhuman-made world can enter into who we are more deeply than at the level of answering to our current interests. If the environment can shape who we are, it can shape our very interests, leading us to recognize things, events, and processes that are of genuine value and that we have not previously recognized as such.

Of course, it must be acknowledged that an increasing proportion of the world’s population is living in cities, in almost completely human-made environments. But we should also acknowledge that there are still a considerable number of people who wish to live in harmony with nature, and that globalization has made their ways of life increasing difficult to sustain. Furthermore, those of us who live in dense urban areas have very good reason to consider modifying our environments so as to create a more balanced blend of the human and nonhuman: it is possible to create urban spaces and gardens with plants appropriate to the water, soil, and climate conditions. Recent scientific studies have indicated that urban residents have significantly increased risk of anxiety and mood disorders as well as schizophrenia. The brains of city-dwellers show over-activity in the amygdala, which senses danger and is linked to anxiety and depression, and in the cingulate cortex, which plays a role in controlling emotion and dealing with difficulties.

A relational conception of the person certainly encompasses relatively local identities, such as the particular places in Durham that our dog and we favor for walking and running, but it also has the resources to encompass much wider and ultimately global identities. The Confucians thought is that we have to learn to care about others in intimate settings, first of all the family, but then the task is to expand that care to increasingly wider circles. One might buy one’s food locally and choose the food that is sustainably grown, but one can then support those national policies and NGO’s that encourage sustainable practices elsewhere in the world.

3:AM: Is this notion of a relational self one that overcomes the problems of conceiving of the self as autonomous and helps overcome the conflict between individuals on the one hand and communities on the other which is often a presupposed conflict in major Western philosophical traditions?

DW: I would say it helps us to deal better with conflicts between individuals and communities, because it helps us to reframe these conflicts in more constructive fashion. Individuals understood in relational terms cannot be conceived as fully separate from their communities. Others in one’s community may already be a part of the self. This conception of the person as overlapping in identity with others has normative implications for what constitutes the good of the individual and how that good relates to the good of others. One’s relationship with others can form a part of one’s good as an individual, such that one can have a compelling interest in the welfare of these others and in one’s relationship with them. In Confucian ethics, the paradigm of this interdependence of individuals and their goods is the family. In a morally healthy family the good of each member of a family includes and overlaps with the good of other members. When one family member flourishes, so typically do the others.

This is not to deny that an individual’s interests come into conflict with those of other members even in families. Not all our interests are interests in relationships, and of course we have multiple interests in different relationships. There are times when we cannot satisfy all these interests. One way of dealing with this problem that can be derived from Confucian texts is a continual process of balancing and negotiation between the interests of individuals and those of the others to whom the individual is related. Negotiation between interests is carried on in the light of the interdependence of individuals and the various communities to which they belong, and also the interdependence of the goods towards which they aim.

An individual’s interests may sometimes have to yield to the interests of others, and a partial compensation for yielding is that a central part of the individual’s good lies in relationship with those others. On the other hand, the good of the family cannot be achieved without consideration of an individual’s important interests. If those interests are urgent and weighty, they must become important interests of the family and can sometimes have priority in case of conflict. Sometimes, members must split their differences in compromise. Over time, yielding to others at some times must be balanced against getting priority for one’s interests at other times.

Let me take a story from 5A2 of the Mencius to illustrate these points. Stories of Shun the sage-king present him as an exemplar to those aspiring to live the Confucian dao or way. He was extraordinary for his ability to get people to work together and for his filial piety. This background is helpful for understanding the story of the time when he wanted to get married. It was at a time in his relationship to his parents when he knew that if he were to ask permission to marry, he would be denied. He decided to marry anyway without telling them. This is ordinarily an extremely unfilial act. But Mencius defends what Shun did, saying that if Shun had let his parents deny him the most important of human relationships, it would have embittered him toward his parents. What is Mencius’ reasoning? That Shun’s good as an individual depends on both his desired marriage relationship and his relationship to his parents. For him to conform to his parents’ wishes is not only to deny him the first relationship but also to adversely affect the second. For the sake of both relationships he must assert his own good, which in the end is not separate from the good of his parents.

3:AM: Another area where a seemingly irreconcilable concepts in the Western tradition of philosophy and psychology may be overcome by looking at a different philosophical tradition is the division between desire and emotion on the one hand and reason on the other. How does Mencius help overcome this trenchant division? You’ve written about this haven’t you in respect of developing a theory and science of compassion?

DW: A good illustration from Mencius is the way he conceives of the development of natural compassion. He thought that the tendency to be moved by the suffering of others was part of human nature, but that it was just a “sprout” that needed to be grown through learning and experience in the right environment. Otherwise, it will remain an erratic impulse that is shown towards some but not toward others. His example of the sprout of compassion manifesting itself is the alarm and distress that people show when they see a child about to fall into a well. Yet the sprout has a ways to grow: we may find it difficult to show compassion for those who are not children or who are not familiar to us. Mencius was particularly interested in growing the natural compassion of the rulers of Chinese states in his time.

In Mencius 1A7 he tries to help the king of such a state, King Xuan, grow his sprout of compassion. The King asks Mencius whether he could be the sort of moral exemplar to his people that Mencius is urging him to be. In reply, Mencius asks whether a story he had heard about the king is true: that he had spared an ox being led to ritual slaughter for consecration of a temple bell. The king affirms that the story is true, but he had been uncertain about why he spared the ox. He knew that some of his people understood him to be motivated by cheapness, because after sparing the ox he ordered a (less valuable) sheep to take its place so that the ritual could go on.

Mencius tells him that it must have been his compassion instead. He had seen the ox’s fear, not the sheep’s. At Mencius’ prompting, the king is able to affirm that he spared the ox because he could not bear its trembling, like an innocent person being led to the execution ground. He says that he now grasps his own mind, and that when he heard Mencius speaking of the event, he felt a stirring. Mencius then reminds him that his people need to be spared from suffering and that it would be absurd to say that the king had the compassion to spare the ox but not to spare his own people.

Mencius is getting the king to reflect on his motivations in trying to persuade him that he has the wherewithal to be a true king. The story contains a characteristic form of Mencian reflection that takes the form of turning over in one’s mind certain elements of one’s past and present experience so that patterns or analogical associations emerge. In this case, it is the association between the innocent man and the ox, and then the ox and the king’s suffering people. Their point of resemblance is their suffering and innocence.

Analogical reasoning is one of Mencius’ primary methods for arriving at judgments as to what is right to do. The idea is that one has already in one’s memory a set of “baseline” cases in which one is confident that the right thing was done in a given set of circumstances. If one is puzzled about what to do in one’s present circumstances, one identifies the baseline cases that bear relevant similarities and no relevant dissimilarities to the present case, and one then makes a judgment about what to do in the present that is relevantly similar to what was done in the past cases.

Analogical reasoning is often used when we do not know which general principles could be used as major premises of a syllogism, for example, to deduce a conclusion that would address the problem at hand. Mencius in fact had put his finger on the kind of reasoning—pattern recognition—that is perhaps the most basic and remains one of the most valuable for human beings. It is an ability we have to consider an experience with numerous features, and to make a decision about what to do based on comparison of some subset of those features with another situation we have experienced in the past.

On my interpretation of Mencius’s conception of compassion, it is an emotion that can come to incorporate cognitive dimensions: the perception of another’s suffering and seeing that suffering as a reason to respond in a helping way. Mencius is reminding the king of the analogy between the ox’s suffering, the innocent man’s suffering, and his people’s suffering, in order to get him to see the similar reasons to respond.

However, it is not just analogical reasoning from belief to belief that concerns Mencius in the ox case. The king can easily grasp the analogy that concludes in his having a reason to relieve his people’s suffering. The more difficult task is getting the king feel that reason in order to be moved to do something about it. To this end, Mencius is employing an analogy of feeling: appealing to what one has felt in a past case to evoke a similar feeling in a present case with relevantly similar circumstances. In contemporary terms, Mencius was trying to turn the King’s cognition of his duty to his people from “cool” to “hot.” He is relying on the tendency to re-experience a feeling when we recall an emotionally significant event. Some of the same neural circuitry re-activates. The conclusion of the analogy Mencius was trying to deploy was not merely a judgment but a felt judgment. In the Mencius, then, there is both believing and feeling from relevant similarities.

By getting the king to re-feel the compassion he felt for the ox at the same time he is reminded of his people’s suffering, Mencius is attempting to enlarge the scope of the king’s compassion. More generally, this story from Mencius suggests that insight can enlarge feeling in the right set of conditions. At the same time, insight can be made motivationally efficacious through becoming affectively charged. This is an instance of the characteristic interweaving and interaction between reflection, reasoning and feeling that is one of the most distinctive and interesting features of Confucian practical reasoning.

It is an alternative to two common and opposing tendencies in the Western tradition when it comes to construing the relationship between reflection and emotion. One tendency is to think of emotion as a threatening distraction from the kind of dispassionate and objective thinking that ideally guides conduct. The other tendency is to think of emotion as the ruling force and reason not anything more than its occasional instrument. On the Mencian construal, reflection and emotion interact and interweave: through its marriage with emotion, reflection becomes motivationally effective at the same time that it makes emotion more intelligent.

3:AM: And finally, are there five books that you could recommend to the readers here at 3:AM that would take us further into your philosophical world?

Almost all the papers that have gone into my answers to you can be reached here. My world includes influences your readers are more likely to be familiar with, such as Quine, Davidson, Bernard Williams and Thomas Nagel. I’ll mention books in Chinese philosophy since it’s likely not to be as familiar:

The Analects, the translation by Ames and Rosemont or an online translation by Robert Eno;

the Mencius, translations by Irene Bloom or Bryan Van Norden;

and the Zhuangzi, the translation of selections by Paul Kjellberg in Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, ed. Ivanhoe and Van Norden, or translation of the essential writings by Brook Ziporyn;

the Xunzi, translated by Eric Hutton, the work of another early Confucian philosopher who articulated one of the first functionalist accounts of morality and who is eloquent on the power of ritual; and my own Natural Moralities: A Defense of Pluralistic Relativism, which gives you the way I put an analytic, naturalistic approach to understanding morality together with a comparative approach that draws from the works in early Chinese philosophy I have mentioned in this interview.

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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, June 3rd, 2017.