Kant, Xunzi and the Artificiality of Manners



Both Chinese and Western philosophers have argued for the ethical importance of manners. Their approaches are sometimes criticized on the grounds that manners are artificial. I compare Xunzi’s and Kant’s responses to this claim, and discuss the relevance of both positions for the development of a theory of manners. I show that there is no single artificiality claim, but rather four different claims: the claim that polite behavior lacks spontaneity, the claim that it is insincere, the claim that it goes against human nature, and the claim that it is arbitrary. While Kant is mainly concerned with the insincerity claim, Xunzi focusses on the claim that manners are arbitrary rules. Because of their different understandings of the function of manners both authors only provide a partial answer to the artificiality claim. To arrive at a full account of manners both perspectives must be combined.


Xunzi, Kant, manners, politeness, artificiality

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4312/as.2017.5.1.173-192


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