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Her translation is eminently reliable and has a graceful directness and simplicity. Ivanhoe's introduction helpfully highlights key ethical, political, and religious views and relates them to relevant contemporary philosophical debates. This book will be widely used and consulted by scholars.

L3.4 - Introduction to Mencius

Alan K. Chan, National University of Singapore A tremendous accomplishment that crowns Bloom's exemplary career Choice Accurate and very fluid; in addition to their other strengths, Bloom and Ivanhoe are both gifted writers of English Journal of Chinese Studies. Philip J. Ivanhoe specializes in the history of East Asian philosophy and religion and its potential for contemporary ethics. Series Translations from the Asian Classics.

Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Philosopher , b. He was a disciple of the grandson of Confucius, and ranks next to the great master as an expounder of Confucian wisdom. His work, known as the "Book of Mencius", or simply, "Mencius", is one of the four Shuh, or books, given the place of honour in Chinese literature after the King , or classics.


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Of Mencius' life only a meagre account has been handed down, and this is so like the story of Confucius in its main outlines, that one is tempted to question its strictly historical character. He is said to have lived to the advanced age of eighty-four years, being thus a contemporary of the great Greek philosophers , Plato and Aristotle. His father died when he was very young. The care of his training was thrown upon his mother, and so well did she fulfil her task that she has been honoured ever since, among the Chinese of all classes, as the pattern of the true mother.

But after some years, seeing that the prince was not disposed to follow his counsels, he reigned his charge, and for years went about from state to state, expounding the principles of Confucius. At last he was kindly received by Prince Hui, and was instrumental in promoting the welfare of his people through his wise measures of reform. After the death of the prince he retired to private life, and spent his last years instructing his disciples, and preparing with them the book that bears his name.

The "Book of Mencius" consists of seven parts or books, and treats of the proper regulation of human conduct from the point of view of society and the state. Religion as a motive of right conduct seems to have concerned him much less than it did Confucius. He is interested in human conduct only in so far as it leads to the highest common weal.

In 1A7, C 1 is the ox being led to slaughter. The king perceives that the ox is suffering, feels compassion for its suffering, and acts to spare it. There is also a case that is relevantly similar to the paradigm case, C 2 , but in which the individual does not currently have the same cognitive, emotional, and behavioral reactions. Although his subjects suffer, the king ignores their suffering, has no compassion for it, and does not act to alleviate it. Were the king to extend from the ox to his subjects, he would notice their suffering, feel compassion for them, and change his current military and civil policies.

Later in 1A7, Mencius provides concrete advice about which policies to enact. What is the connection between the king perceiving the logical similarity of the suffering of the ox to the suffering of his own people and the king actually being motivated to act to help his people?

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When there are benevolent persons in positions of authority, how is it possible for them to trap the people? Mencius illustrates this with an example of learning the board game of go :. However, classic texts and teachers can assist by inducing or guiding these activities. Mencius similarly tries to induce reflection in a government official who asks whether it is permissible to reduce the crushing tax burden on the peasants slightly this year, and wait until next year to lower it to a reasonable level.

Stories from classic Confucian texts particularly the Odes and Documents are often a stimulus for these discussions, helping to illustrate the role such works play in Mencian ethical education. One aspect of reflection is particularly salient: it is insufficient for successful extension that one merely recognize, in an abstract or theoretical manner, the similarity between two situations. One must come to be motivated and to act in relevantly similar ways. Because of the preceding requirement, an intense topic of discussion among later Confucians influenced by Mencius is the relationship between knowledge and action.

Graham demonstrated in a classic essay, Mencius and his contemporaries regarded the nature of X as the characteristics that X will develop if given a healthy environment for the kind of thing X is. A characteristic, C, can be part of the nature of X even if there exists an X such that X does not have C.

Early Life

For example, language use is part of the nature of a human being, but there are cases of humans who, due to neurological damage or simply failure to be exposed to language prior to the onset of adolescence, fail to develop a capacity for language use. It is even possible for C to be part of the nature of X if most instances of X do not have C. For example, it is the nature of an orange tree to bear fruit, but the majority of orange seeds do not even germinate, much less grow to maturity.


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  5. This thesis runs the danger of becoming viciously circular: we might characterize goodness as the result of growing up in a healthy environment, and a healthy environment as one that results in humans being good. Human nature is good, on this view, because becoming a good person is the result of developing our innate tendencies toward benevolence, righteousness, wisdom, and propriety.

    The Advice of Mencius

    These tendencies are manifested in distinctively moral emotions, correlated with the virtues. They will manifest themselves, at least sporadically, in each human. Yet some become great humans and some become petty humans. Those who follow their petty part become petty humans.

    Why is it that some follow their greater part and some follow their petty part?

    Mencius (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy/Summer Edition)

    However, in ancient Chinese thought, eyes, ears, and the other sensory organs are primarily associated with sensual desires e. Physical desires are never treated as intrinsically problematic. This is an especially acute danger because our sensory desires always respond automatically and effortlessly to their appropriate objects, while our moral motivations are more selective.

    If it does not reflect, then it will not get it.

    Mengzi shuo Mencius Book 1a

    I am fond of wealth. If Your Majesty is fond of wealth but treats the commoners the same, what difficulty is there in becoming [a great] King? I am fond of sex. If Your Majesty is fond of sex but treats the commoners the same, what difficulty is there in becoming [a great] King? Zhu Xi held that Mencius was simply explicating what was implicit in the sayings of Confucius. While ingenious, this interpretation of Mencius is unmotivated without the assumption that the Analects and Mengzi must be expressing the same view. Mencius was often an incisive critic of other philosophers.

    Another philosopher argues that human nature is identical with the characteristics a human has in virtue of being alive.


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    5. Mencius performs a swift reductio ad absurdum, pointing out that—since dogs, oxen, and humans are the same in being alive—the proposed definition entails that dogs, oxen, and humans have the same nature 6A3. If a doctrine does not lean toward Yang Zhu, then it leans toward Mozi. Mozi fifth century BCE is the first systematic philosophical critic of Confucianism.

      He is generally interpreted as a sort of impartial consequentialist, who grounds ethics in maximizing overall benefit or profit, where this is defined in terms of material goods such as wealth, populousness, and social order. On this basis, Mozi criticizes the Confucian emphasis on ritual, regarding as wasteful such Confucian practices as elaborate funerals, lengthy mourning periods, and musical performances.

      Mozi certainly did not advocate eliminating the family as a social institution. However, he argued that human motivations are highly malleable, and can be radically altered, so long as humans are given appropriate rewards for compliance and punishments for disobedience. As evidence for his claim, he cites the example of. Mozi was not just an original philosophical thinker; he was also the founder of an organized movement, the Mohists, which survived his death and continued to be influential until the Qin dynasty BCE— BCE reunified China.

      Although Mohists and Confucians disagreed about many things, they agreed on two key points: the proper Way to live and to organize society is dictated by Heaven, and this Way will sometimes demand extreme self—sacrifice of those who follow it. Yang Zhu appealed to the fact that nothing seems more natural for humans than self—preservation.

      But if there is a human nature, it must be dictated by Heaven, and therefore must be consistent with the Way.