This article will investigate how a naturalistic ethical framework might emerge from the interface between Confucian/Neo-Confucian thought and contemporary life science, social science, and systems thinking. Frequently questions asked and issues disputed are more fundamental and formative than the particular answers proposed. We shall find that the questions and issues that frame the Confucian tradition of ethical thought, when addressed with contemporary resources, open the way to elaborating a cogent ethical framework and approach to ethical cultivation that speaks directly to the problems and potentials of our time. The first half of the article will describe the basic Confucian conceptual resources, first looking at the classical foundation as laid out by Mencius, then considering its reinterpretation and development in the creative Neo-Confucian synthesis of Zhu Xi, and finally considering its searching re-examination and development in the course of the Korean Four-Seven Debate. The second part of the article will put the patterns and ways of doing ethical thought in the Confucian tradition into interaction with contemporary thinking, especially concerning evolution and the manner in which humans construct the social worlds we call cultures. Five contributions from the Confucian tradition emerge as of seminal importance for a contemporary naturalistic ethics and will be examined in turn: 1) Ethics or normativity understood as a matter of guidance, and a question of the availability of guidance for an appropriate way of responding to situations; 2) Original Nature as a way to deal with the counter-factuality inherent in norms or guidance; 3) Li/Dao (patterning structure) as the source of guidance; 4) Original Nature and Psychophysical Nature: disruption within guiding structure; 5) Well-being as the object of guidance. The product of this investigation is the framing of an approach to ethics in which Confucian patterns of thought enable contemporary science and social science to find a voice to address the perennial ethical question of how we are to live.


ethics, naturalistic ethics, Confucianism, Four-Seven Debate, Neo-Confucianism


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