Abstract 摘要

Why have some countries done better than others in dealing with the coronavirus crisis so far? One popular answer is in terms of politics: everything depends on state capacity, the level of political trust in society, and the quality of leadership. This paper suggests the need to go beyond politics and turn to ethics. If one does not delve into the ethical spirit and substance that underlie tangible political decisions and activities to combat the coronavirus pandemic in a state, one will fail to see the cultural momentum of the people’s responses in that state and miss the moral foundation of the social practices embedded within that state’s civilization in comparison with other civilizations. In particular, this paper argues that the spirit and substance of Chinese ethics differ from those of the contemporary mainstream Western ethics characteristic of secular principlism, which, although they possess important advantages and merits, suffer from a series of defects and failures, including untenable reductionism, a type of dogmatism, and even radicalism. In contrast, Confucian civilization provides the Chinese with a virtue ethics that is not principlism. It is rather an exposition of Confucian virtue (de), as a powerful but peaceful moral force, that is entrenched within the fundamental structures of the universe (as portrayed in the images of yin-yang, the eight trigrams, and the 64 hexagrams in the Classic of Change) and within the ritual activities of human beings (as described in the ceremonial and minute rituals in the three Confucian ritual classics) to shape the Confucian moral character. Confucian virtue principles and rules are implicit in such structures and the rituals to be formulated in connection with them, but they cannot be created through pure reason. They play their roles in human practices along with structures and rituals but can never exhaust their richness and profundity. The paper indicates that this virtue ethics contains a Confucian notion of harmonious freedom (that can counter scientific determinism) and a familist ethic (that can be adopted to check and balance runaway contractualism), which can be fruitfully used to direct political decisions and activities to combat the coronavirus pandemic and to accomplish peaceful and fruitful outcomes in society.