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This essay explores the interrelation of skills and virtues. I first trace one line of analysis from Aristotle to Alasdair MacIntyre, which argues that there is a categorical difference between skills and virtues, in their ends and intrinsic character. This familiar distinction is fine in certain respects but still importantly misleading. Virtue in general, and also some particular virtues such as ritual propriety and practical wisdom, are not just exercised in practical contexts, but are in fact partially constituted by the mastery of certain skills. This has implications for moral psychology, specifically how we might understand the acquisition of virtue, as well as its very nature. To try to make this claim plausible I analyze two case studies from early Confucianism: treatment of ritual propriety as a cardinal virtue, and Mencius's less carefully integrated treatment of excellence at moral discernment. I conclude by revisiting the question of the relations between skill and virtue, and exploring a few of the difficulties implied by my account of early Confucian ethics.
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Keywords: Aristotle; Mencius; Xunzi; mastery; moral psychology; skill; virtue

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Religious Studies, Indiana University

Publication date: 2010-09-01

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