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Ethics of the East Part 2 with Bradford Cokelet

Dr. Bradford Cokelet is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kansas. His work focuses on Eastern philosophy, the philosophy of religion, and applied ethics. In this podcast, Brad returns to finish discussing Eastern Ethical traditions—how they compare with one another, and how they contrast with Western Ethical traditions.

APA citation: Cazzell, A. R. (Host). (2020, January 21). Ethics of the East Part 2 with Bradford Cokelet [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from


Note: This transcript was generated automatically. Please excuse typos and errors.

Amber Cazzell: 00:00:55 Hi everyone. I am here with Brad Cokelet again for round two. Last time we talked about comparing ethics of the East and West and I kind of got us off track and we never really got to talk about what psychologists can learn from Eastern ethics. And for often I like to start the podcast by hearing about researchers backgrounds, but you're just going to have to go and find Brad's other podcasts to hear about his background. We are going to start by talking about psychology's backgrounds broadly and the relationship between psychology and philosophy. Starting with Kohlberg. Brad was telling me that from his perspective, it's really interesting how philosophers sort of picked up on Kohlberg and engaged with him and then sort of stopped tracking moral psych for awhile. So Brad, could you just kind of repeat some of what you told me and set the backdrop for like why moral psychology is wed, where moral psychology is. Ethical roots seem to be coming from primarily and and then we'll move into kind of contrasting that with Eastern ethics.

Brad Cokelet: 00:02:14 Okay, sure. Well thanks for having me back, Amber. It's fun to keep talking. Yeah, so the thing about Kholberg that I was mentioning to you, one thing is that really interesting is, so Warren's Kohlberg is this influential, I guess, sort of founder of moral psychology in psychology. He also published in top philosophy journals like journal of philosophy and people were debating with him philosophers. So Owen Flanagan, who did an interview with he was you know, in the, in their debating with him. And another thing about Kohlberg is when you kind of look at his, he has a theory of moral stages the emphasize judgment, especially about moral dilemmas. But he, one thing that's interesting if you look at his stages is he has this kind of high stage that he doesn't think kind of your average person necessarily gets to.

Brad Cokelet: 00:03:09 And so he has sort of built in to his psychological theory of moral development. What I you could think of as sort of like a moral ideal and it's focused on justice. But it also is, looks like it's very heavily influenced by Immanuel KIant and can't influence philosophers like John Rawls who I think Kohlberg was hanging out with or at least definitely has a connection to. And so then in philosophy after Kohlberg created, his psychological theory of moral development leading up to this top stage, both raw John Rawls, who's, you're one of the very most influential moral philosophers in the last a hundred years or so. And then you're going to Jurgen Habermas, who's another kind of world historical philosophy, philosophic figure. They both do. What appealed the Kohlberg in order to explain basically moral psychological development. Mmm. So I thought, and then, and Habermas and Rawls are both very content influenced moral philosophers.

Brad Cokelet: 00:04:15 And so but I think kind of after that period where these two kind of huge influential figures did appeal the Goldberg. One thing that happened is people criticized Kohlberg or the appeal to Kohlberg and philosophy. And then people like Owen Flanagan and criticized Kohlberg, I think sort of, or more psychological point of view. And that was connected to in philosophy a kind of push back against certain Kantian views. But for whatever reason, philosophers, I think at that point they may be just stopped reading psychology or didn't have connections with psychologists and they didn't as a whole didn't tend to talk much about psychology. And I think part of the reason is they thought to build a good ethical theory or moral theory telling us what's morally right and wrong and what we ought to do and ought not to do. They didn't think psychology was relevant to that.

Brad Cokelet: 00:05:18 Okay. And so it was later on that people like Owen Flanagan and then this guy Larry Blom and David Wong I think they had a reading group in Boston at some point. And then they want it in their careers to kind of talk more about moral psychology on, several of them talked about the Carol Gilligan a response to Kohlberg, but it's not until a much more recently that I think more people have started looking at a lot of the other traditions you've talked about in moral psychology and some of your other interviews. So that's sort of a, a kind of basic setup. I don't know if there are things to talk about that.

Amber Cazzell: 00:05:59 Well, I'm curious where, so where did Allister McIntyre's work come in in all of this? Like was he kind of the mover and shaker back to virtue ethics or had that been going on all along in philosophy?

Brad Cokelet: 00:06:12 Yeah, no, that's a good question. I mean sort of the story is there were a lot of these current influence people in the know Rawls was sort of lose large, at least in the way we tell the story now. And there are also utilitarians around, but Mmm. There is a movement criticizing kind of both utilitarianism and Kantianism. And it was connected to people thinking maybe there's something kind of messed up with our current society and our, our, our moral debates and there's something kind of wrong headed both in the real world and also in philosophy. And maybe we need to go back and look at ancient Greece and sort of the Aristotelian tradition to get an alternative that's better philosophically. And maybe also actual change are the way we live our lives and structure institutions and things. And so MacIntyre was a huge figure in them movement that people call the virtuosic movement.

Brad Cokelet: 00:07:18 And so this woman, Elizabeth Anscombe, wrote a really influential early article and then there are other people like Michael soccer and Michael slowed in it. So there's a sort of movement of people that get associated with this term virtue ethics. And it's kind of saying we have to find some kind of new approach. And it was kind of has, it's kind of a grab bag where it's not clear. There's like one thing they all share, but one thing they seem to all share is thinking these other ways of doing things are wrong and we could go a different way. And so MacIntyre is one of the really hugely influential people, Mmm. In that movement. And he was saying, let's go back to Aristotle. You could think there's another group that kind of are saying, let's look at care, not Aristotle. They, they liked Carol Gilligan's stuff and then they might also like David Hume. So that's where I'm like, one way you could think about it as they're sort of two camps here, one group saying, let's go to Aristotle. You have your other sort of saying, let's go to David Hume. Mmm. Yeah.

Amber Cazzell: 00:08:26 So do you have a sense for whether virtue ethics in psychology was influenced by that movement in philosophy or vice versa? Like what, what was the directionality on that?

Brad Cokelet: 00:08:41 That's a good question. I mean, my sense is that a lot of the people all, so one of the thing about psychology I've noticed is that at least my perception, and I'd be interested to hear what you, you know more, you've interviewed all these people and have a better education and psychology than I certainly do. And one thing I noticed is that one place people talk about a virtue and character and Aristotle is some of those people sort of work on maybe personality psychology or a positive psychology. They might be interested in sort of going beyond just sort of feel good happiness and talk about some more robust idea of meaning or flourish thing. So that there are some people coming out of that way. And then I noticed there are some people in moral work on moral psychology. Mmm. Well, like Darcia Narvaez is saying, you know, who kind of seem like they like to talk about virtue and practical wisdom. Maybe Aristotle a little.

Amber Cazzell: 00:09:51 Okay.

Brad Cokelet: 00:09:52 And my sense is that those people, Mmm. A lot of them seem to have read McIntyre and maybe Charles Taylor and Charles Taylor, maybe some of them have like some of them were introduced by people who worked at hermeneutics who may have read life thought and God him or, and so there's this sort of,

Brad Cokelet: 00:10:17 Coming back, it'll kind of inspiring some of the movement is, is that, are these philosophers but they aren't really maybe reading or in dialogue with kind of the more recent virtue ethics people in philosophy, but at the, but I get the sense there was this kind of like, you know, big name, early waves that influence psychology. But it's, yeah, I mean, that's my guess.

Amber Cazzell: 00:10:43 Yeah. I mean, I certainly have the sense like that it seems to me the, the psychologists who are operating out of virtue ethics usually either have a training in philosophy or are coming at or, or coming from like a theoretical and philosophical psychology kind of tradition. So like for instance, positive psychologists, I think they often kind of appeal to Aristotle. I don't know how deep that knowledge really goes in, in terms of like, sometimes it's kind of tacky. If you look at the papers, it doesn't, it doesn't really jive with Aristotelian traditions so much is just sharing the word virtue. Mmm. But anyway, yeah, I mean my, my take I think sort of matches yours except that I'm not familiar with probably the more recent movements in philosophy regarding virtue ethics.

Amber Cazzell: 00:11:43 Well let's, let's jump from here into comparing, comparing Western virtue ethics traditions and Kantian traditions and things like that with Confucianism. Cause this is something we didn't, we didn't get to do last time, so let's make sure to do it this time. So you, it, it seems to me you, you think that there are some ways that psychologists and philosophers could benefit from studying or adopting Confucian kind of ethics. Could you remind me just generally speaking, what, what the ethical philosophy of Confucianism in a broad brush stroke sense is?

Brad Cokelet: 00:12:33 Mm, yeah. So so a couple of things I guess. Oh, Confucianism starts out with Confucius and then there's, it's like any other, a tradition where there's tons of people with differing views by some of the main things that Mmm. The focus is there's a kind of an idea that you play different roles in your society or you can play different roles in your society and what ethical theory and ethical development is about is developing a set of psychological dispositions or traits or something like that that will enable you to fulfill these various roles in a, in a good or maybe admirable kind of way. So so one thing is that a Confucius was trying to, and a lot of Confucians, they were trying to influence the rulers in their day. And so one thing they emphasize was they said in order to be a good ruler, you have to be a good person.

Brad Cokelet: 00:13:42 And if you want to know what someone is, if there's a good person you need to look at, are they a good parent, are they a good son, are they a good, like if they're playing some intermediary role in a political organization or they, you know, a good underlying or a good boss, we went and say no. And so they were interested in kind of familiar relationships, friendships and then hierarchical relationships that we get in all kinds of domains in society. And they, and so their idea of the focus if you're trying to measure moral development is you want to kind of look at what's leading people to fulfill these roles in a good or bad way. And then, so I'd say in addition to that, then they're kind of one big emphasis of their tradition is that Mmm. Social kind of structures and sociological structures have a huge influence on whether we are capable of developing good psychological characteristics or not.

Brad Cokelet: 00:14:49 So a lot of times it gets translated as ritual, but it's this broad notion, Mmm Mmm. Where kind of like social norms and maybe include stuff that we would think of as etiquette, but it would also include like one example that this Confucian scholar gives is like in some societies, if you go somewhere you want to make friends, there's a way you make friends. And so you make friends by, you start to sort of disclose a little bit more personal information and, but if you, if you puke out all your personal problems too quickly, that's not a way to make friends. But there might be some cultures, you know, where I would just gasp, like, you know, I dunno, or they're in Germany, maybe, maybe there are cultures where people are more reserved. And so what in the U S would be a totally normal way to make friend.

Brad Cokelet: 00:15:37 You'd be the equivalent of puking out your problems. It's another culture. And so a lot of what it is to be a good friend or a good parent and stuff, they think you know, that might vary culture, the culture. But there might be good and bad ways to set this up culturally. So. So that's so they have these thing with rules and they have this stuff about kind of social norms need to be good or bad. And so one thing Confucius thought was he thought his society had a lot of problems at his time because the social norm to gotten kind of crappy. And so he thought, look we need to try to follow the good social norms ourselves and become better people and then we need to try to get everybody to change the social norms so that we collectively can become better people. Mmm.

Amber Cazzell: 00:16:28 I'm curious how Confucius would have thought about where these norms come from and like, which ones are, are good and bad. I sort of had this impression that it was like the goodness was about right fit to the norm. But if there's like this broader thing outside of the norm that dictates whether or not you should find the right fit for that norm, it seems to imply that there's something beyond sort of the, the role. Yeah. What was the ritual?

Brad Cokelet: 00:17:03 Yeah, no, I mean, and so one thing is I think that's a contested in the confusion. It's like one of the big questions the Confucians had was why, what, how do we pick out the good norms and the bad ones? What makes them good or bad? And yeah, I think one thing is that as a tradition went on, people disagreed about that.

Brad Cokelet: 00:17:25 And so at least one kind of general way of going is some people thought there was sort of a metaphysical fact out there about what the best set of norms would look like. And they thought of maybe this has to do with the norms that are kind of like naturally good or better. So they had a kind of strong metaphysical realism about there's this pattern. And if things follow the pattern, then they're closer to being good. And if the norms are sort of deviating from the pattern they're last good. And they thought moral development was about you, you kind of grasping what it would take to instantiate good patterns in your interactions with other people in your society. Mmm. And so they had a story about selfish desires, distort your capacity to grasp the good way for things to be. And so moral development and partially is about people changing their psychology so they can pick up on harmonious good patterns.

Brad Cokelet: 00:18:40 So that's one, one strain of the tradition kind of, you can think of it as like, it's sort of this fact about kind of broadly harmonious good patterns. And then there's a question about how you, no, no, no what those are and, and, and get them to realize them in your, in your life. And then, but there's another part of attrition I think that is a little more like while there's some view of like what it is to have good human relationships and maybe to have sort of like a good blood human life that involves having valuable relationships with other people. And the good patterns are the ones that enable us to flourish together, you know, into the people we're with now and through our connections to the past. And so some kind of idea of like human wellbeing that maybe involves relational wellbeing. That would be the thing that determines which patterns are good or bad. So, so I think those are two of them main competing stories that I see in in their tradition.

Amber Cazzell: 00:19:49 Yeah. Okay. So now in this list you've sent me Brad has sort of a list of the cool things about Confucianism. Maybe, maybe he'll let me link to it in the description on the podcast. But anyway, and this list, you had mentioned that Aristotelian traditions seem to focus on the need for wisdom and rationality and knowing goods and Humean traditions seem to focus on compassion and love but not wisdom. So, and then you also mentioned, okay, it seems like Confucians get the importance of both of those things. Could you expand on that and tell me more about that?

Brad Cokelet: 00:20:39 Yeah, so partially this is, you know they're sort of philosophers that are inspired by these historical figures, Aristotle, Hume, but you can also just see they're sort of debating camps in contemporary philosophy. So one way is just if you look at, if you were to look up different people, philosophers writing theories of virtue. So it's like, what, what are good character traits that make someone admirable and morally good? Mmm, there are some people who emphasize practical knowledge and wisdom and they're inspired usually by Aristotle. And so one way to think about this is like I mentioned at the end of the last podcast, their view would be to have practical knowledge, you have to make correct judgments, but then you also need to have emotions that track the correct judgments. So if you're, you know, if you realize social status is commonly overvalued in our society, Mmm.

Brad Cokelet: 00:21:41 You might recognize, like if you're you know, if you don't win some competition in your work or something, you know, you don't get that promotion, you might judge, wow, that's, you know, that's not good for me, but it's not really a big deal. It's not, you know, winning the B number one, as long as the person who won actually deserve to win. It's okay. But then you might emotionally get, you know, way more upset as you might think your emotions are reacting as if this is like, you know, great injustice. Like maybe you find yourself being really angry and sort of like imagining getting revenge on the person. Emotional responses would make sense if the person unjustly got ahead of you. Mmm. And so the rest of the Aristotelians think you should make correct judgments, like who deserve to win. Why were you on, did you unjustly not get the promotion or did you just, you know, farmer, you didn't get it.

Brad Cokelet: 00:22:33 So you have to make the correct judgments and then you need to have emotions in line with that. So that's the kind of and Aristotelian idea of practical wisdom is you make correct judgments all over the place and then your emotions are in law. So it's us demanding ideal. But what Aristotle never, you know, there is a mention of something that you could, we could bring up basically Aristotle. It is not a virtue of Aristotle's on his list or it is feeling compassion and sympathy for other people. Or empathizing with other people. So sort of, you know, perspective taking in the other. What's that I liked from the other person's point of view. Yeah. That is not part of Aristotelian virtue.

Amber Cazzell: 00:23:18 Why do you think that is?

Brad Cokelet: 00:23:22 Wow, that's a good question. Yeah,

Amber Cazzell: 00:23:26 Like I mean in, in general, right? Like they're like humility wasn't a virtue and things like that didn't seem to be considered a virtue. It does seem like Aristotle has sort of this bizarre list of what he cared about anyway.

Brad Cokelet: 00:23:46 There might be, part of the explanation could be if you think about who Aristotle was, he was a guy living in this city state in Greece and he's giving his ethics lectures to all these basically a link property owning people who are going to take over and rule the city. And so he's asking when he's asking, Mmm, what did, what are the virtues? He's either thinking, you should, the answer is you should just become like, kind of like him, like a philosopher or scientist and contemplate turtle trues because that's the life that's closest to being a God. And so that's really like, obviously the gods are, you have, the closer you get to imitating them, the more excellent your life is in the excellent or person you are. And there's number two option is you're the person with practical wisdom and knowledge. And I think he might be kind of thinking like, what, what's what excellence is? Do you need to be like a really great politician? And that's where he's thinking you know, he can make these judgments about justice and have your emotions of wine and these other you know, other goods that do matter. But it's about, you know, you try to get the distribution of goods in the society that are fitting and will lead to good results. And he's just not thinking you'd have empathy or sympathy. I mean, yeah. And so

Amber Cazzell: 00:25:13 You're like the only person I've talked to that I can like hear the critical pieces of Aristotle coming through. Like it sounds like you're not a big fan.

Brad Cokelet: 00:25:22 Well, I love Aristotle. I mean that. So part of the reason I originally got into all this virtue stuff is I like things I like about Aristotle is that he says we should aim ideally to had to integrate our crack judgments about what matters with our emotions.

Amber Cazzell: 00:25:37 Right? Right.

Brad Cokelet: 00:25:39 And I think, and then, you know, contemporary people inspire Aristotle, they're all going to say, well luck. Aristotle may not have had all of the relevant goods or capacities. So maybe we want to add on and compassion. And you can see how that kind of happened when Christianity took up Aristotle. So, but I'm just a fan of like, let's be honest about, you know, there are inspiring things about Aristotle's work and then there are these reasons that we just like, it seems like his theory is totally inadequate for us today. Doesn't mean you can't, you know, update it and improve it and build on it, but you just, I, yeah, I guess I like to be like, let's just, let's be honest about the shortcomings.

Amber Cazzell: 00:26:18 Right, right. So I agree. I think it's cool that you're a Sicilian piece about aligning sort of judgments with, with emotions, desires. It's interesting though because that's like the one piece that it seems like doesn't jive with a lot of people that I talk to that maybe aren't as interested in moral philosophy, stuff like that. Like I have a friend out here and he was kind of insisting like, no, you have to kind of feel the burn on these moral things or else it just doesn't show as much moral strength than that somehow like moral strength is this really important thing. So obviously going back to very like duty Kantian ethics kind of appeal. And I'm wondering like, do you have a sense for, and I'm sorry I keep asking these questions that are maybe outside of the scope of philosophy specifically, but do you have a sense for how common that is globally and also like historically speaking? Cause I know like when we, when we spoke last time you were telling me, okay, well like morality is, we currently think about it hasn't always been recognized as distinct from other nonmoral kind of character traits. So it seems like it has to be some time after that point. And maybe it isn't until Kant comes around. I don't know. Anyway,

Brad Cokelet: 00:27:52 Yeah, I mean that's definitely, I mean con is known for the idea that like the paradigm case where you're showing that you have what he calls moral worth is the action where you're doing it because it's your duty. And so he thinks the case where it's most clear that you're doing something because it's duty, it's your duty is the case where you don't really want to do it or whatever. So it's like, no, he thinks you, your, your actions could have moral worth and what you're doing could be a morally good thing. Even if you do want to do it in your, and in your emotions align, but he thinks it's not really that clear. Cause we can ask sort of, you know, we'll wait if you want to do this thing. And you also know it's your duty. How do you really know what's motivating you here? Is it your duty or are you doing it because you weren't?

Brad Cokelet: 00:28:41 We can't tell. And it's possible you're motivated by your duty, but it's just, we're kind of, you know, he's calm, thinks our own motivations are very unscruitinizable. We can't tell what they are. And so he thinks the case where you've, where you see people that you can be really confident, they're morally good are the cases where they feel the bird. Yeah. And you know, that's he thinks that to be morally good and virtuous in which he has a theory of virtue, we don't need to roughly do morally good. You have to be motivated by duty. So that's just his his view is this duty-centered. And it kind of goes with the idea that, yeah, you would, you'd be like, well, I can really tell someone's moral fiber in the moment where they're doing the right thing, even though they feel the burn. And that's definitely, you know, that's the Kanitan sort of idea. And I don't know, I mean, I definitely

Brad Cokelet: 00:29:47 Would suspect that may be connected to certain Christian Protestant currents in Western culture, but that's totally speculative. And I don't think anyone's studied this and I'd love to have someone do like a study of what people's intuitions are cross-cultural on, you know?

Amber Cazzell: 00:30:08 Yeah. Interesting. Now I'm going to go look it up when we're done. Yeah, go ahead.

Brad Cokelet: 00:30:16 Well also I was going to say, should we go back to is different. Yeah. So, so errors always got this like, you know, your emotions in line, right? And then that's not a feature of Kant then Hume. He doesn't just talk about this, but he's really, a lot of people have been inspired. So especially people say like Lawrence Kohlberg to his study he mostly focused on young men. He was really interested in are they just, are they, are they making correct judgments?

Brad Cokelet: 00:30:44 And so then his student, Carol Gilligan criticized his theory and when she did studies of women especially who are facing difficult decisions involving abortion she emphasized that for them care was associated with being moral. And that idea also was taken up in philosophy. And a lot of people who like that idea of that care is very central to morality are inspired by David Hume, who's this Scottish philosopher. So there's sort of this connection and there's a movement all care ethics where people say care or other people have focused on empathy, sympathy, that these are really the heart of what it is to be a morally virtuous person. And so there's this philosopher Julia Driver, her book called uneasy virtue. She is, Leslie is like, you don't need knowledge. You don't need wisdom. You don't need stop there. It's not always talking about, Mmm.

Brad Cokelet: 00:31:46 You just need to have, you just have to care about the good people's well being and like want other people to be, you know, used to be upset when their wellbeing is going down. And you need to be a caring person. And so that's roughly this idea is that you kind of get the Aristotle people emphasize rationality and judgment combined with emotion. The human people say you don't need rationality, no judgment at all. It's not that cognitive. What you need is carer and empathy and compassion. So there's this kind of, it's rational Esther kind of cognitive, the base and Aristotle in a way that the people who like the other war philosophers think no, no virtue is really more about just your emotions and your caring. And so you kind of, if you're interested in a virtue based approach, you can feel this. Like there are these teams historically, but also contemporarily there's like the pro sentimental here, people. And then there's like the rationality people and you can sort of be, feel like you have to pick which way, which way do you think about virtue. And so that's, that's the first point in the second part. So maybe we could, we could talk about that. And then my thought is the Confucians kind of give you a way you can sort of combine both.

Brad Cokelet: 00:33:15 Yeah. And so one thing about the people who emphasize compassion and love and empathy. So like one of the main people more recently is this guy, Michael Sloan, who's one of them was my old colleague. And he's got an amazing, really a super impressive moral theory that's evolved over time. I mean, he's just got like a complete moral theory and he, you know, he emphasizes empathy a lot and so he draws on some psychologists like Martin Hoffman and other, other psychologists emphasizing Compassion's role and empathy's role in moral development and really doesn't want to have a lot of cognitive judgment involved. So, but if you look at the Confucians, one thing that's interesting is they, they, they focus a lot on the golden rule. And so they say, if you want to know how to be a good interact with your family member in a good way, Mmm.

Brad Cokelet: 00:34:15 One thing you should think about is you should think about what you would want if you were in your kid's place. And one of the things that, not all Confucians but one thing I think is interesting about when you look at the tradition developing, it looks like part of that involves you trying to imagine yourself being a very different person who in a very different situation than you and you don't want to just go with how you imagine you would react if you were in that situation. You have to think about what will be the appropriate way to react. So you kind of do involve this perspective taking in other people's points of view, which is connected to empathy, but then there is a cognitive kind of set of judgments you make about, yeah. So one way I think about that is like, I could be like if I know if I go on another trip, I have to think about like how would I feel if I was at my kid's, she might my seven year old shoes, shoes, I go on the second trip this month.

Brad Cokelet: 00:35:16 Mmm. So then at first I could imagine what they might feel. And then I have to think about, well, being an adult now, if I imagine what would be the kind of like complaints or objections my kid might lodge I have to import a lot of cognitive material when I'm trying do that. So I don't just go kind of like think emotionally how are, how are they going to react in terms of their emotional States? I have to sort of reconstruct an argument about whether this is a good thing to do or not from the perspective of this other person. So in that way you're, you've got the kind of like caring about other people and their emotional reactions. But then you go beyond that and you have to bring in kind of rationality and cognition and judgment to figure out whether it's acceptable from their point of view or not. Mmm. So that's the thing. One thing I like about I think these Confucians they wanted a, maybe they want us to be more compassionate and loving in terms of our emotional responsiveness, but then they think that's sort of like, how's you, where there stuff you need to initially worry about morally. Then you have to go the next step in sort of rationally analyze what the best thing to do is.

Amber Cazzell: 00:36:36 So what what in Aristotelians and in Hume's tradition and everything, wouldn't they kind of say, well we have that baked in any way because you can't be wise if you're not, if you're not taking the particular context of emotional sensitivities and things like that into account in the first place. Mmm.

Brad Cokelet: 00:37:03 Well, I mean if there was a couple of interesting things, so one thing is like at least Aristotle and then a lot of contemporary Aristotelians they don't really, it's hard to see how they, they don't really have this built in the, as part of their theory. So I think you might have a concept like justice, so they could say did you get your fair share? Did you get, like, so if you're trying to decide how you're going to distribute, you know, birthday cake at a kids birthday party and if one kid starts to grab like their third piece and you're gonna run out and the kid hasn't had any yet, he might be like, no, okay, we've got, you can't have another piece because Johnny needs a piece. So your concern would like a just distribution. And so you need to be responsive to different people what they deserve. Mmm. But it's not clear that you need to imagine what things are like from that person's point of view and what they would you don't have to have necessarily be responding to their emotional States. So that, so it's true that like Aristotle in principal wants you to be responsive to like what they deserve. But in terms of the psychological access to knowing what other people deserve or need, it's not, he doesn't really I mean there's a little

Brad Cokelet: 00:38:35 Part where he talks about sympathy a little bit, but it doesn't like in the Confucian picture, this is like the central, a thread that unifies the different capacities you need and all these different roles and relationships you play. So it's sort of partially like, that's their kind of like unifying thing is this perspective taking and then yeah, it involves potentially, you know, actually just feeling compassion too. So then kind of like emotionally noticing. So okay. It's not, yeah, it's not, it's, it's sort of like if you're just thinking in terms of like, let's just have a theory where we've got these virtues, that's, I think you could just kind of add it in, but you just don't really find it in these Western approaches. And so why don't you see it? You're like, Oh, well, it seems natural. We can combine these two things. So why not do that? Okay. Yeah.

Amber Cazzell: 00:39:31 Okay. So you also mentioned that Western theorizing doesn't capture interpersonal reciprocity. I wasn't really sure what you meant by that. What is, what are you referring to there?

Brad Cokelet: 00:39:48 Well, so this is definitely contentious, but so there's this philosopher that I think is really kind of driven this whole named Steve Darwall who's at Yale and he's got this book, the second personal standpoint. And one thing he thinks is that

Brad Cokelet: 00:40:07 What, what characterizes modern moral thinking that we talked about in a previous podcast and sort of arose during in like mid roughly was a concern for that morality, essentially about treating other people in a way that you could justify to them or that you could, you could expect them to if you could spell out the reasons why you're doing what you're doing, you could ex you expect those, that other person. Would accept that you are doing something that's legit. You're treating them in a way that's legitimate and justifiable. Okay. And so that idea is, is embedded in Kant's theory too. And so it's this kind of idea. All human beings have a rational dignity. They have you know, we're different from other animals cause we're rational. And so the way you respond well to other people, human beings who have this special rationality is by respecting their rationality. And so a big way you do that is when you act, do you have impact on them? You care about whether you could justify to them, which you're doing. That's sort of the way you respect their rationality. And so that idea that morality is centrally about

Brad Cokelet: 00:41:33 Making sure what you're doing is sort of justifiable to other people. And that ideally if they're treating you morally, then you're in these relationships with them where you can justify what you're doing to them, they can justify what they're doing to you. And you're both doing that because you respect each other's dignity as rational agents. Mmm. That's this kind of very modernist sort of Kant focused idea of what morality is all about. Mmm. And that idea of sort of, we morality is about respecting each other as individual beings with individual points of view and justifying stuff to each other. And that's the way we kind of like more of, we value each other or treat each other morally. That idea is not in Aristotle or Hume. So they don't. And so like if you look at Aristotle, he doesn't really, that's not a part of kind of what he thinks of is central to, yeah, thanks.

Brad Cokelet: 00:42:42 Mmm. And so that's some way people, it's a waste. Some people put this, if they, they've said this kind of idea of interpersonal reciprocity, it's connected to this idea of justice, that liking finding Kohlberg. Mmm. And that's a nod. And Aristotle and so Aristotle's account of justice is totally defective because it doesn't involve this. Mmm. And so contemporary Aristotle inspired ethics people to some extent. What they're doing is they're trying to graft this stuff on Aristotle's theory. Yes. I don't know if, does that help at all? I don't know if that's clear.

Amber Cazzell: 00:43:19 Yeah. So could you say more about like how because we, how that's kind of baked into Confucianism the first place.

Brad Cokelet: 00:43:32 Yeah. Well, and so that's what I find, one of the things I find interesting about Confucianism is that when you look at the role that the golden rule plays and Confucianism and the, this idea of, Mmm, you should, when they order to fulfill your roles, well, one of the main things is sort of you're trying to act in ways that will, that will just, well, we'll start merit good responses from the other people.

Brad Cokelet: 00:44:00 So like, you should be like, it's still a very like, misogynistic tradition, I should say. You know, it's not, but, but it'd be like, well, you're a good husband should treat his wife in ways that she wouldn't have any reason to lament a good son will act in ways that won't make his parents you know, I regret they had them. I don't know. It's extreme, but, so there's this, there's this focus on being morally good, fulfilling these roles, and it involves acting in ways that will kind of warrant good responses. And so then the golden rule is partially you're trying, do I think sort of access is the way I'm acting, going to what kind of response does it, should it, would, it kind of the person reasonably have? So the whole kind of ethical way of the way they recommend thinking about ethics is tied to this focus on how's it going, how's what you're doing at impact other people, and then how could they reasonably respond. So it's, so it's got this sort of similar focus on to be morally oriented is to focus on kind of how other people who you're affecting, how, how, how should they, you know, are you kind of like acting away as they should be glad you're doing that.

Brad Cokelet: 00:45:24 So it's not, it doesn't have the emphasis on rational justification, but it's, it's, it has this, Mmm, yeah. Similar structures. So that's, that's my thought is that it's, it's in that way, sort of more similar to say someone like Kant than Aristotle and humor.

Amber Cazzell: 00:45:45 Yeah. As you're talking, it reminds me of I, I just recently I recorded a podcast with Roy Baumeister and I don't know if you're familiar with [inaudible] his, his work with like self awareness and things like that. But anyway, in the podcast he was talking about how he had, he at the time when psychology was sort of obsessed with, with self esteem and he was moving in more of the self regulation direction, he realized that it just seemed like self regulation was less about some achieving some desired internal psychic state and seemed to be more about kind of meeting this desired state of how others would view you. So I'm, I'm putting it as articulately than he is, but it kind of echoes what you're saying here. I think that that morality and he also, you know, has Roy Baumeister, he does a lot of work with self-control. It's philosophy, familiar with any of that line of stuff. In psychology.

Brad Cokelet: 00:47:03 I would say I am, but I will be in an anomaly. I mean there are, I mean, one thing that's sprouted up recently as certain philosophers get interested in knowing more about empirical psychology. So there's a woman, Lorraine Besser June's at Middlebury, right, who's done stuff with self-regulation theory, but it's not, yeah, it's not a, I would say generally philosophers are not trained to be aware of almost anything that's going on in psychology, which isn't like it's a good state of affairs, but they're just so busy doing like philosophy.

Amber Cazzell: 00:47:36 Yeah. And vice versa. I don't think psychologists are very aware of what's going on in philosophy, generally speaking. But anyway, yeah, it's interesting. And also the, the, the next podcast it's going to be released was with Tage Rai on relationship regulation theory, which was the basic idea. Have you heard of this? Either the basic ideas that our moral motivations are geared towards maintaining certain types of relationship structures that are common patterns across the globe. And anyway, really interesting stuff. And it's just, it seems like, I think psychologists at least, and, and philosophers probably all along, I have appreciated that that morality needs to be thought of like very relationally as opposed to abstractly and it seems like, yeah. Confucianism with a focus on sort of these good role fulfillment and ritual and concern with like whether or not we can justify what we're doing from the perspective of the other person kind of captures that a little bit better.

Brad Cokelet: 00:48:50 I'll have to check out that. That sounds super interesting cause I'm gonna have to check out that. I was learning about love, learning about new psychology. Yeah.

Amber Cazzell: 00:48:57 Yeah. It's fun stuff. Okay. So tell me more. So what's, what's next then? Like what are some of the other perks of Confucianism?

Brad Cokelet: 00:49:06 Yeah, I mean, so I mean, so for me you know, one question you get into from a more philosophic point of view is you know, what's the, what's the correct morality. So, I mean, I sort of feel like listening to some of your other podcasts and especially listening to the people who work on moral foundations and some of the, yes, Shweder is how you say his name. And so some of these earlier, other traditions that arose after Kohlberg they sound sort of relativistic to me. And then, you know, I noticed like people work on moral foundations sometimes they say like, we're not making normative judgements, we're just describing like these, so you started to adopt, but I think of it as sort of like a, almost like a psychological version of culturally anthropology or something. You're, that you're like, okay, there are these different moral systems and kind of nations and you know, some people care about some and some care about another.

Brad Cokelet: 00:50:03 And as a philosopher, I'm like, well, that's all really interesting and I want to read that. But like, I'm also wondering this question, you know, what's the right way to think of morality? And you know, it sort of connected to what you said about you know, for the Confucians how do we know, for example, what social norms are good or bad. Yeah. And so for me, I think that another interesting thing about Confucianism is that it gives you an interesting way to think about, Mmm. Why you might think one sort of ethical form of ethical development is better than others. And so that's one thing I sort of noticed about psychology. Like when you read Kohlberg and then you read Carol Gilligan, they both clearly had these very strong views about people going up there stages up to this really demanding highest state.

Brad Cokelet: 00:51:01 They call it post-conventional morality. It was like you are getting morally better. Yeah. And one thing, I noticed his psychologist since then, and they seem very weary about positing a moral ideal. So, you know, I, and there are all these other reasons. They didn't, you know, they disagree with Kohlberg and stuff, but it's like, so and so, even the people who aren't in the moral foundations, they're not, it's making it sound like they're kind of relativists in a way. Even the people who don't, they're like, Oh no, I don't want to do that. But they still are not positing like an end state that much, you know, for the most part. Mmm. And so for me I think Confucianism offers an interesting picture of the moral ideal. And then as a philosopher, you know, you get, you want to know how are you going to justify this as the best moral ideal?

Brad Cokelet: 00:51:56 And then there are questions about why we should want to be become more moral. So if we have like the true theory of moral psychological development that's great. But then as an individual you might decide, wow, it's, you know, I don't really want to become more moral cause it's gonna maybe come at a personal cost or something. So for me, Confucianism positioning for those reasons. And so I guess one thing is that I sort of wished psychologists would be a little bit more bold about trying to tease out either are they denying that they need to figure out whether there's a moral ideal or if they think there is a moral ideal, you know, how are they gonna defend that? But those are those kinds of are getting into philosophy. So anyway but so for me, Confucianism is appealing cause it, it's a way of showing that maybe by if you become more Confucian the way that more and more all the way the Confucians understand that that's going to come with a kind of, make it likely that you're going to be in sort of your own wellbeing might go up.

Brad Cokelet: 00:53:13 But more importantly the, the health of all the relationships are in with other people are going to go up. And so they're sort of, they're, they're giving you a picture of moral development, the trajectory of his towards being someone who's going to be kind of relationally doing well. Like they're going to have lots of good relationships, they're going to benefit the people around them and, and help the people around them become more ethical too. And so to me,

Brad Cokelet: 00:53:43 That makes it a really appealing ideal. And I think that idea looks like something you might be able to get more intercultural agreement on. So like not everybody agrees that justice is as important as a lot of, you know, people in our, in Western like the United States do not the one thing you see with a foundation work or at least certain parts of United States and other people put on or something really a lot higher. And one thing I think it's interesting about the stuff that Confucians are picking out as being really important for moral development. It looks like something, it has a good shot of being accepted as really important. Awesome. Culturally. So being a good parent being a good worker who treats underlings and peers, you're competing with it in a more ethically good way. Like the filling these roles. My thought is there's, we might not be able to find a set of roles that are like for certain types of development stages of development in social structures. You know, they might be kind of more universal. So that's one thing I like about it is it's sort of a, but it sounds like that last, the person you were talking about this during this rotational approach, it's founding kind of similar to that. Yeah.

Amber Cazzell: 00:55:03 Yeah, it does kind of sound similar, but yeah, I think that's a good point about this. The, the the special obligations and things that you have in certain types of relationships. Yeah, interesting stuff. The one challenge though is like, since interviewing Richard Shweder, I've also been trying to kind of backtrack, backtracking, get a little bit more familiar with some of his other work as well. And I think that like one, one of his papers that was and that I think was really insightful and I forget what the name was now, but, but anyway, he was talking about how like there are different ways to try to compare People or cultures. And so one of them might be like universal trying to find things that every culture has in common. And then one of those might be a relativistic, like there they're all different but they're just as good as one another.

Amber Cazzell: 00:56:06 And then another one is sort of this evolutionary approach of like, well this is just more advanced. And so this culture is more advanced in some way than this culture. And each of these approaches have pros and cons to them. But the universal one I thought was interesting because it's a challenge. He had pointed out that when we're trying to talk about cross cultural universals, often it requires us to become abstract. And so like, like for instance, the, the idea of like being a good family member or being a good father or mother or something like that. Well then the challenge is if we want to universalize that we have to ignore the fact that who gets categorized as a child is different culture to culture. That these obligations aren't just natural. Like often, you know, your daughter will marry out of the family. And then all of a sudden like she's not your daughter anymore. And another culture that would be potentially morally appalling. And so it's a, it's interesting to think about. I think that people do generally agree that there are these certain types of roles we want to fulfill well, but trying to make those roles concrete, it seems like something is lost along the way still.

Brad Cokelet: 00:57:32 Yeah, no, that's super interesting. I mean one thought is a, I think it's just partially, I mean I have sort of these like different research programs I work on. And so when I'm thinking of doing the kind of moral theory philosophy, one, part of what I think is interesting is trying to make sense of what I think of as the best way to be a morally or ethically. And ideally looking for something that is more universal and partially that's connected to the idea of you're trying to get it right. And it's also just an inertia thing of what philosophers have focused on. So there are some things, Oscar's like this guy, David Wong at Duke, super interesting, and he defends this really sophisticated form of moral relativism where they're sort of like a central core of morality that you could expect to be universal. But then beyond that, there's a lot of relativity about, well, I think about it as, it's kind of like you could weight different moral foundations in different ways, even if you thought everybody has to include them all or something. And so

Brad Cokelet: 00:58:44 But relativism and philosophy and Mark and moral philosophy, it's sort of a little bit of an outlier in the sense that I think most people who get into moral philosophy and the tradition is sort of working to try to find some universal element. And part of what that involves is exactly what you're saying. So a good example would be not everyone who is going to be like this, but like this guy Tim Scanlan, who's now well, relatively well known through the good place. He's a super amazing, great moral philosophy, really influential at Harvard. And his theory is kind of this Kant inspired theory that I think is sort of close to Thomas and what I think Confucianism says. But you know, kind of interesting to compare. He kind of accepts what you said. So he's, his idea is he wants to understand when you think something's morally wrong, what is moral wrongness?

Brad Cokelet: 00:59:40 Why do we think moral something being morally right or wrong, it's so important. Yeah. And are we right to sort of think it's, it should kind of really drive what we do. So is huge and those questions and then if you start looking at his theory it'll turn out what things are right or wrong are going to depend on culturally variant facts. For example, maybe like local ideals about parenting or whatever else. So, Mmm. I think that's right. That a lot of philosophers who are trying to come up with a universal theory, they're sort of a, or at least, yeah. There's one prominent example sort of being okay with the idea that it is a relatively abstract kind of common thread and it's okay to focus on that. Cause then we're more interested in these questions of sort of why do moral and why are moral reasons so important and how do we know we've got, we're picking out the right thing. But you're right, then it could be sort of you want, you're like, wow, but then there's all this cultural variation for Haitian. No, I think you're picking up like that's probably a feature of a lot of philosophic moral theorizing as it becomes abstract in that way.

Amber Cazzell: 01:00:58 Yeah. I mean, and I think it's interesting like that in and of itself, the fact that universalism is what it seems to have a draw that people can't deny. Like everybody kind of wants to figure out where the common moral ground is. Especially like when I was talking to you about some of the big tech kind of algorithmic fairness type stuff where we're looking at these companies that are like really struggling to try to figure out what universals exist. So at least there's some sort of common grounds to not get in big trouble over, you know. So I, I think it makes sense and I think just the fact that people tend to naturally idealize universal principles is telling

Brad Cokelet: 01:01:46 Yeah. And I mean, I think, I mean it's interesting cause you look back like you're like in a way Allister McIntyre and there's this other really influential philosopher, Bernard Williams who gets listed as like the most influential, best philosopher when people do polls and ethics. And he was very critical of this desire to search for some kind of universal theory in a, in a certain way. Mcintyre thinks contemporary attempts to do that in philosophy are wrongheaded, but I think it's a weird thing where like, if there are some of the most famous names in more philosophy last a hundred years, but it's sort of like nobody really thinks that they, they think they are too pessimistic or to some extent. And so, but it's, you know, who knows. But but, but I think, yeah, I think that you're right, that if you search for this universal thing maybe it makes sense that philosophers spend more of their time doing that. And Mmm.

Amber Cazzell: 01:02:50 Well like I was wrong though. It sounds like a lot of, sounds like a lot of big thinkers don't think that very many people, well, I mean I guess they are critiquing cause they feel like they're doing that. Hmm.

Brad Cokelet: 01:03:02 Yeah. I mean another thing you brought up that I think is really interesting is that like how do you, what kind of universality are you looking for? It could be tied to who is your audience. And so like you said, you know, I think you could be like, look, we're trying to come up with a true moral theory for people who are living in modernized societies where sociological sociologists call individualization had taken place. And maybe where there is a certain degree of a certain level of quality of the political system. And you know, we might be trying to develop a moral theory only for a certain group of people. And sometimes people wear that story to a story about how those societies are more advanced and better. So then, you know, but that's obviously tied to worries about progressivism and imperialism.

Brad Cokelet: 01:04:00 It's a whole can of worms, but I actually think that there's something to like I like this movement in psychology for example, of looking at other cultures and there's a little bit of a going on philosophy by there's also a question of like, if we're writing all these books and we're talking about this and we're trying to figure out how this is going to feed into our collective thinking and our policies you know, maybe we should be okay with, we're just create, we're just trying to figure out the best theory for people who are in cultures that have a certain form and it's not going to apply to all of them. So like I think to a certain extent, that's maybe how someone kind of like Habermas and there's a way, like that's sort of when John Rawls was doing political philosophy, he was sort of trying to create a theory that would speak to and be easily accepted by people only in a certain type of culture and political context. So that's one way to go is to sort of try to make intelligent distinctions by different types of societies and try to come up with a theory that's universally true for like hold group, you know, that it's sort of like a lot of important people care about morality in it. So I don't mean,

Amber Cazzell: 01:05:14 Do you think that, so just we're running up against time here and I, cause I didn't want to tie back into Confucianism before we go. I'm like, where does Confucianism fall on this? Does it claim to be universal?

Brad Cokelet: 01:05:32 Yeah, no, I mean, so for the most part, the Confucian tradition, the thinkers definitely least as far as I can tell, they think they are getting at the, the universal truths about what it, how to be an ethical person and be also to, you know, potentially set up a political structure and everything. Mmm. And so one challenge the, the, the tradition of Confucianism over time is to try to, they figure out maybe maybe the theory needs to be seriously updated in the light of sociological change is a, but also, you know, can it lead us to give an argument in favor of democracy, for example. And so there's a whole tradition of what they call New Confucians in Taiwan in particular that have argued favorite. This is out of there. People like Steve angle at Wesleyan I's written books on an S and various people that are really interested in, you know, even though I like things about Confucianism, I think might have things to offer that you won't find in Aristotle. For example, I think it needs to be updated in the same way Aristotle would, would need to be. And I think that's probably most people. Yeah, everybody, some extent people tend to agree with that, but they still do you sort of that the tradition looks like it's definitely claiming it's this universal truth review. Mmm. Okay. So those are the philosophers, so yeah.

Amber Cazzell: 01:07:01 What are some of the ways that a new Confucianism is like trying to update the theory?

Brad Cokelet: 01:07:08 Well yeah, one big one is that people have tried to explain how Confucianism properly developed, gives a justification for favor and democracy over political, other political systems and for including some kind of strong respect for people's autonomy, roughly. Mmm. And so there's this couple of thinkers in, in you know, in the last couple of hundred years who that's, they were partially, they did that by, they were studied in Germany and they are interested in kind of trying to compare current with various Confucians. And so that's one thing they want to like in the early confusion tax, you don't get a lot of idea of, you know, universal respect for everybody regardless of their gender, you know, and, and generally there's not a kind of push, for example, for respecting people's privacy. So if you think of things where you're like you're an autonomous, you're grown up, your parents aren't in charge anymore, or you get to chart your own life.

Brad Cokelet: 01:08:20 A lot of our kind of individualistic rights are connected to that idea. And so I think that's when we think about these new Confucians, they're trying to sort of, to some extent accommodating some of those values. And that's connected to valuing democracy. Awesome. And so they're trying to sort of show how you can get support for a lot of those ideas. Yeah. Just maybe in a slightly different form coming out here. Confucianism. Yeah. Yeah. So like Charles Taylor and other people have thought that's one way you could get an agreed upon account of human rights is that you wouldn't have like one moral theory that justifies it. You could show that a list of rights could be justified by a bunch of different independent traditions. And so that's one way to think. These new Confucians are trying to get closer to stuff that maybe we would a lot of Westerners like a mayor itself on the American bill of rights or something, you know, so it's, they're, they're kind of get some of that, maybe not all of it. I mean, it's definitely not but trying to get it sort of locally from the inside of their tradition. Mmm.

Amber Cazzell: 01:09:30 Cool. Cool. Well, we're out of time. Brad, Thanks so much. I really appreciate it. Learned a lot. It definitely makes me want to go and learn more about Confucianism and start to implement that more into my thinking. So anyway, you've given me a lot to think about, so thanks so much.

Brad Cokelet: 01:09:52 Thanks you too. I've definitely learned about a whole other thing I have to read in psychology, which is always good to talk to you.

Amber Cazzell: 01:09:59 Yeah, you too.

Outro: 01:10:08 Thanks for listening. If you have questions, comments, suggestions, or requests, contact me at The moral science podcast is sponsored by ERA Inc, a research and design think tank that's reinventing how people interact with each other. Music throughout the program is Microobee by Keinzweiter and can be found at


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