This essay explores the doctrine of the mean as the key concept in Confucian thought and practice, contending that it has both general and specific dimensions as it recognizes the absoluteness of moral and ethical principles while acknowledging the importance of relativity in concrete situations when those principles are used. The notion of the “mean” is thus not merely a moral virtue that enables the avoidance of extremes; rather, it is utilitarian because it looks for goodness and effectiveness.
This essay points out that the Confucian notion of the mean can be applied to a wide range of bioethical issues, particularly the way we look at life and death in the case of euthanasia and abortion. In Western moral philosophy, there has always been some disagreement about the importance of principles and rules to morality exemplified by the debate between Kantians and utilitarians. The essay argues that the doctrine of the mean in Confucianism offers an alternative way of examining the differences between these two moral approaches.