Virtues and the interested “self” in Confucius and Adam Smith

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Henrique Schneider


This paper examines to which extent Confucius and Adam Smith can be read as virtue-ethicists. The goal of this paper is to show that, despite all differences, the concept of the “self” performs similarly in Smith and Master Kong. Although Confucius condemns the sole pursuit of self-interests, he still accepts that it is the interested self that cultivates itself and behaves according to the rites. Adam Smith highlights the value of virtues as an orientation for the individuals on how to develop their self-interest without harming others, ideally strengthening society. This paper shows that moral self-cultivation is important to both. In questions of philosophical anthropology and ethics, Master Kong and Adam Smith share many convictions. There are however two specific differences between them: First, each developed a social philosophy against a different social, political, and institutional background. Second, while ritual propriety and political leadership are important for Confucius, in Adam Smith, they are addenda. Nothing differentiates the leader from the “gentleman”.

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Schneider, H. (2019). Virtues and the interested “self” in Confucius and Adam Smith. Humanities Bulletin, 2(1), 91-104. Retrieved from