Zhu Xi and the Debate between Internalism and Externalism

  • Shui Chuen LeeEmail author
Part of the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy book series (DCCP, volume 13)


This essay first presents a rather detailed development of the question of internalism and externalism as it was triggered by Bernard Williams’s notion of internal and external reason all the way through Nagel and Korsgaard. Basically I adopt Gunnar Bjornsson’s definition of a conditional internalism in my evaluation of Zhu Xi’s moral philosophy. I argue that ethics as a practical philosophy must contains a theory of moral cultivation and shows how people could become a moral person. This is a good indication of whether a moral philosophy provides an adequate understanding of our moral experience and provides a criterion for our evaluation of the kind of reason it provides for moral judgments and motivation. To cultivate oneself to be a virtuous person and the ideal is a sage is precisely the basic concern of Confucianism. Zhu Xi is no exception and is what he struggles all through his early to mature theory. The central concern is his reflections on moral self-cultivation. This paper presents a brief background of Zhu Xi’s Confucianism and showing how his conception of the way of moral cultivation and hence his framework in general is different from Confucius and Mencius. I then argue that Zhu Xi have a clear conception of moral cultivation that fully satisfy the four criteria proposed by Bjornsson and that it is a conditional internalism. It shows also that Confucianism provides an answer to the question of “why be moral.”


Zhu Xi Confucianism Internalism Moral cultivation Gunnar Bjornsson 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Institute of PhilosophyNational Central UniversityTaoyuanRepublic of China

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