Moral Intuitions and Aesthetic Judgments: The Interplay of Poetry and Daoxue in Southern Song China

In: Modern Chinese Religion I (2 vols.)


Confucian moral epistemology, from Confucius and Mencius through the Tang and Northern Song dynasties, was a form of ethical intuitionism. One recognized right action as one engaged in events. One’s response, moreover, was in terms of emotions and intentions rather than moral maxims. These moral intuitions, however, entailed a form of Kantian aesthetic judgment: the responses and the events that elicited them were bound together in their particularity by universal moral categories without being explicit about the nature of those categories. Poetry in this context served as a complement to moral intuition: both placed moments of encounter within larger intuited structures. This synergy was challenged in the Song dynasty by the emergence of Daoxue, which sought to place moral knowledge outside the phenomenal realm. The history of poetry and Daoxue in the Southern Song, however, shows the shaping of a new synergy that rejected Zhu Xi’s inchoate dualism.