Kant, Xunzi and the Artificiality of Manners


  • Anja BERNINGER University of Stuttgart, Institute of Philosophy




Xunzi, Kant, manners, politeness, artificiality


Both Chinese and Western philosophers have argued for the ethical importance of manners. Their approaches are sometimes criticized on the grounds that manners are artificial. I compare Xunzi’s and Kant’s responses to this claim, and discuss the relevance of both positions for the development of a theory of manners. I show that there is no single artificiality claim, but rather four different claims: the claim that polite behavior lacks spontaneity, the claim that it is insincere, the claim that it goes against human nature, and the claim that it is arbitrary. While Kant is mainly concerned with the insincerity claim, Xunzi focusses on the claim that manners are arbitrary rules. Because of their different understandings of the function of manners both authors only provide a partial answer to the artificiality claim. To arrive at a full account of manners both perspectives must be combined.


Download data is not yet available.


Berkson, Mark. 2014. “Xunzi’s Reinterpretation of Ritual: A Hermeneutic Defense of the Confucian Way.” In Ritual and Religion in the Xunzi, edited by T. C. Kline III and Justin Tiwald, 107–32. Albany: SUNY Press.

Brandt, Reinhard. 1999. Kommentar zu Kants Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht. Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag.

Buss, Sarah. 1999. “Appearing Respectful: The Moral Significance of Manners.” Ethics 109: 795–826.

DiCenso, James. 2012. Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason: A Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Eno, Robert. 1990. The Confucian Creation of Heaven: Philosophy and the Defense of Ritual Mastery. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Frierson, Patrick. 2005. “The Moral Importance of Politeness in Kant’s Anthropology.” Kantian Review 9: 105–27.

Graham, A. C. 1989. Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. Chicago, La Salle: Open Court.

Hutton, Eric. 2014. Xunzi: The Complete Text. Princeton University Press.

Kant, Immanuel. 1968. Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht. Kants Werke. Akademie Textausgabe VII. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

–––. 1998. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated and edited by Mary Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

–––. 2003. Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloßen Vernunft. Hamburg: Meiner.

–––. 2006. Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Translated and edited by Robert B. Louden. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Klemme, Heiner. 1999. “Freiheit des Willens und Herrschaft des Bösen: Kants Lehre vom radikalen Bösen zwischen Moral, Religion und Recht.” In Aufklärung und Interpretation: Studien zu Kants Philosophie und ihrem Umkreis, edited by Heiner Klemme, Bernd Ludwig, Michael Pauen, and Werner Stark, 125–51. Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann.

Knoblock, John. 1994. Xunzi. A Translation and Study of the Complete Works Vol. 3. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Korsgaard, Christine. 1986. “The Right to Lie: Kant Dealing with Evil.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 15 (4): 325–49.

Lee, Janghee. 2005. Xunzi and Early Chinese Naturalism. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Li, Chenyang. 2011. “Xunzi on the Origin of Goodness: A New Interpretation.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy Supplement to Volume 38: 46–63.

Machle, Edward J. 1993. Nature and Heaven in the Xunzi: A Study of the Tian Lun. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Olberding, Amy. 2015. “From Corpses to Courtesy: Xunzi’s Defense of Etiquette.” The Journal of Value Inquiry 49 (1–2): 145–59.

–––. 2016. “Etiquette: A Confucian Contribution to Moral Philosophy.” Ethics 126 (January): 422–46.

Palmquist, Stephen R. 2016. Comprehensive Commentary on Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Bare Reason. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

Puett, Michael, and Christine Gross-Loh. 2016. The Path: A New Way to Think About Everything: Viking.

Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. 2001. 2nd ed. New York, Toronto, London, Sydney, Auckland: Random House.

Stohr, Karen. 2012. On Manners. New York, Abingdon: Routledge.

Stroud, Scott R. 2010. “Desire and the Project of Moral Cultivation: Kant and Xunzi on the Inclinations.” In Cultivating Personhood: Kant and Asian Philosophy, edited by Stephen R. Palmquist, 639–52. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Wood, Allen W. 2014. “The Evil in Human Nature.” In Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason: A Critical Guide, edited by Gordon Michalson, 31–57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




How to Cite

BERNINGER, A. (2017). Kant, Xunzi and the Artificiality of Manners. Asian Studies, 5(1), 173–192. https://doi.org/10.4312/as.2017.5.1.173-192



Classical Pre-Qin Philosophy: Comparative and Analytical Perspectives