Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A Comparative Study of Bishop Joseph Butler's and Wang Yang-ming's Conception of Conscience
by Chang, Peter T. C., Th.D., Harvard Divinity School, 2009, 279; 3440451
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is a comparative study of the Anglican Bishop Joseph Butler's (1692–1752 AD) and the Neo-Confucianist Wang Yang-ming's (1472–1529 AD) conception of conscience (or in Wang's terminology, liang-chih ).

Conscience, for Butler and Wang, is the supreme moral guide, signifying the individual person's moral autonomy. Yet human remain fallible leading Butler and Wang to warn that unless carefully nurtured, conscience may yet become weakened or even buried. Therefore Butler's and Wang's moral appeal is the recurring call to conscientiousness and to exhort their fellow humankind to diligent moral cultivation.

In comparing Butler and Wang this study shows they possess complex differences and important similarities. In the first instance there are marked variances, for example, while affirming the supernatural realm they diverge radically in their specific depiction of the transcendent. They also differed in moral cultivation with Butler's emphasis on 'cool reflection' while Wang focus more on the senses. Differences notwithstanding Butler and Wang share important semblances. Their modes of deliberation reveal familiar patterns, e.g., assertions of prima facie truth, decisions guided by consequences, recognition of primary and secondary norms etc. There are also intriguing parallels in their prognosis of erroneous teachings. Butler’s critique of Hobbes and Wang’s repudiation of the Mohists, show their unified concern to defend a sanguine interpretation of human nature. Butler’s refutation of the Deists and Wesley, and Wang’s criticism of Chu Hsi and the Buddhist, underscores their common struggle over the perennial dialectical tension of reason and sense.

In addition this dissertation shows that Butler’s and Wang’s conception of conscience, and by extension the moral self, have critical nuances. This is evident specifically in their thicker rendition of human flourishing, i.e., their more intricate view of what constitute the Christian and Chun Tzu. However they also share crucial similarities especially in their thinner account of moral self, i.e., their expectation that humankind ought to conform to a set of basic values. In sum this thesis argues that while Butler and Wang possess critical thick differences they also affirm thin similarities that are equally vital.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Little, David
Commitee: Carman, John, Dyck, Arthur, Puett, Michael
School: Harvard Divinity School
Department: Theology
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 72/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Religion, Philosophy, Ethics, Comparative
Keywords: Bishop John Butler, Christianity, Comparative philosophy, Comparative religious ethics, Confucianism, Conscience, Ethics, Wang Yang-ming
Publication Number: 3440451
ISBN: 9781124479309
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