Mandarin paradox

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The Mandarin paradox is an ethical parable used to illustrate the difficulty of fulfilling moral obligations when moral punishment is unlikely or impossible, leading to moral disengagement.[1] It has been used to underscore the fragility of ethical standards when moral agents are separated by physical, cultural, or other distance, especially as facilitated by globalization.[2] It was first posed by French writer Chateaubriand in "The Genius of Christianity" (1802):[3]

I ask my own heart, I put to myself this question: "If thou couldst by a mere wish kill a fellow-creature in China, and inherit his fortune in Europe, with the supernatural conviction that the fact would never be known, wouldst thou consent to form such a wish?"

The paradox is famously used to foreshadow the character development of the arriviste Eugène de Rastignac in Balzac's novel Père Goriot.[1] Rastignac asks Bianchon if he recalls the paradox, to which Bianchon first replies that he is "at [his] thirty-third mandarin," but then states that he would refuse to take an unknown man's life regardless of circumstance.[3] Rastignac wrongly attributes the quote to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which propagated to later writings.[2][4]

In fiction[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hanotte-Zawiślak, Anna (2019-06-28). "Le retour du "paradoxe du mandarin" dans la construction de l'arriviste littéraire au XIXe siècle". Cahiers ERTA. Uniwersytet Gdański (18): 9–23. doi:10.4467/23538953CE.19.010.10695. Retrieved 2020-01-23.
  2. ^ a b Delon, Michel (2013-12-15). "De Diderot à Balzac, le paradoxe du mandarin". Italian Review of French Studies. 3 (3). doi:10.4000/rief.248. Retrieved 2020-01-23.
  3. ^ a b Ginzburg, Carlo (Autumn 1994). "Killing a Chinese Mandarin: The Moral Implications of Distance". Critical Inquiry. 21 (1): 46–60. doi:10.1086/448740. JSTOR 1343886.
  4. ^ Falaky, Fayçal (2011-09-15). "Reverse Revolution: The Paradox of Rousseau's Authorship". In Lauritsen, Holger Ross; Thorup, Mikkel (eds.). Rousseau and Revolution. Continuum Studies in Political Philosophy. Continuum. pp. 83–97. ISBN 978-1441128973. Retrieved 2020-01-23.


  • Champsaur F., Le Mandarin, Paris, P. Ollendorff, 1895‐1896 (réimprimé sous le nom L’Arriviste, Paris, Albin Michel, 1902)
  • Schneider L. Tuer le Mandarin // Le Gaulois, 18 juillet 1926, no 17818
  • Paul Ronal. Tuer le mandarin // Revue de littirature comparee 10, no. 3 (1930): 520–23.
  • E. Latham // Une cita􀁒on de Rousseau // Mercure de France, 1er juin 1947, no 1006, p. 393.
  • Barbey B. «Tuer le Mandarin» // Mercure de France, 1er septembre 1947, no 1009
  • Laurence W. Keates. Mysterious Miraculous Mandarin: Origins, Literary Paternity, Implications in Ethics // Revue de littirature comparee 40, no. 4 (1966): 497–525,
  • Antonio Coimbra Martins. O mandarim assassinado // Ensaios Queirosianos: «0 mandarim assassinado». "0 incesto d"os maias,' imitagdo capital". (Lisbon, 1967), pp. 27–28.
  • Eric Hayot. The Hypothetical Mandarin: Sympathy, Modernity, and Chinese Pain. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009