Happiness in Xunzi

The following paper is forthcoming in a special edition of Philosophical Topics on comparative studies of happiness, edited by my colleagues Edoardo Zamuner and Timothy O’Leary.

Update: This has been published as “Happiness in Classical Confucianism: Xunzi,” Philosophical Topics 41.1 (2013), 53–79.

I set out to write a general explanation of why happiness is not an especially prominent topic in early Chinese thought but quickly concluded the topic was much too ambitious for a single journal article. I found that most of my points could be made more effectively through a careful study of a single ethical system. The result is a detailed, and I hope informative, exploration of Xunzi’s ethics with a relatively unusual orientation, offering an interesting interpretive twist on the grounds for Xunzi’s views.

* * *

Happiness in Classical Confucianism: Xunzi


This essay contributes to comparative inquiry concerning happiness through a case study of Xunzi, a major Confucian thinker. Xunzi’s ethical theory presents values and norms that fill the role of happiness indirectly, through the ideal figure of the gentleman. However, his working conception of psychological happiness and individual well-being turns on aesthetic values that go beyond the universal prudential values to which his ethical theory appeals. Hence I argue that his implicit conception of happiness actually revolves around a way of life grounded in what Susan Wolf has called ‘reasons of love.’

Download full draft of the paper here.