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General (Chinese literature)

If you are not respectful, wherein lies the difference? Analects 2. Consequently, one of the central issues in Confucianism is how to cultivate virtues such as benevolence, loyalty, and filial piety.


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However, many of the debates among Confucians of the following two and a half millennia are about the precise form that learning and reflecting take, and their relative importance see Ivanhoe Xunzi discussed in Section 5, below emphasized study of the classics and performance of rituals, as did Dong Zhongshu, whose formulation of Confucianism was deeply influential in the Han dynasty BCE CE.

In contrast, Mencius, while not denying the value of the classics and ritual, stressed reflection based upon one's own innate dispositions toward virtue. Mencius was born about a century after the death of Confucius. His father supposedly died when Mencius was young, leaving him and his mother in poverty, and there are several famous stories of the determination of Mencius's mother to provide a good education for her son.

Caring for the inner field would be the joint responsibility of all the families, and the produce from that field would belong to the government as its tax. Mencius held office in the state of Qi 2B6—7. During this period, he was involved in Qi's invasion of Yan, although the precise nature of his role was disputed. The state of Yan was in turmoil due to a succession crisis. Mencius was asked, unofficially, whether it might be legitimate to invade Yan to restore order. He replied that it was. However, after Qi successfully invaded and annexed Yan, Mencius complained that he had not encouraged the specific actions that Qi took, which apparently included widespread killing of noncombatants and taking spoils of war see 2B8, 1B10, 1B11, and 2B9, in that order.

Mencius eventually resigned his position, when it became clear to him that the ruler was unwilling to enact any of the reforms that he proposed 2B10— After years of traveling from state to state, trying to advise rulers, Mencius retired from public life. It is not long from the era of a sage, and we are close to the home of a sage. Yet where is he? Where is he? The feeling of disdain is righteousness.

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The feeling of respect is propriety. Among these four, Mencius devotes the most discussion to benevolence and righteousness. Benevolence is manifested in the affection one has for his or her own kin, as well as compassion for the suffering of other humans, and even concern for non—human animals. However, according to Confucians, one should always have greater concern for, and has greater obligations toward, relatives, teachers, and friends than one does for strangers and animals 7A Benevolence is not simply a matter of feeling a certain way: it also has cognitive and behavioral aspects.

A fully benevolent person will be disposed to recognize the suffering of others and to act appropriately. Thus, a genuinely benevolent ruler will notice how his policies will affect his subjects, and will only pursue policies consistent with their well being 1B5.

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Righteousness is a disposition to disdain or regard as shameful dishonorable behavior or demeaning treatment. As is the case with benevolence, righteousness has cognitive and behavioral aspects. Thus, a righteous person would object to being addressed disrespectfully 7B31 , and would not engage in an illicit sexual relationship 3B3.

A fully righteous person would also recognize that it is just as shameful to accept a large bribe as it is to accept a small bribe 6A10 , and so would refuse to accept either. The core of righteousness is obeying one's elder brother. The core of wisdom is knowing these two and not abandoning them. As the preceding passage suggests, wisdom involves an understanding of and commitment to the other virtues, especially benevolence and righteousness. Other passages indicate that a wise person has the ability to properly assess individuals and has skill at means—end deliberation 5A9.

He notes that no sage would kill an innocent person, even if it meant obtaining control of and being able to benefit the whole world 2A2. Propriety is manifested in respect 6A6 or deference 2A6 toward elders and legitimate authority figures, especially as manifested in ceremonies and etiquette.

The character for the virtue of propriety is identical with the one for ritual, reflecting the close connection between this virtue and such practices. Mencius thinks that matters of ritual place legitimate ethical demands on us, but he stresses that they are not categorical, and can be overridden by more exigent obligations. For example, he notes that rescuing one's sister—in—law if she were drowning would justify violation of the ritual prohibition on physical contact between unmarried men and women 4A17; cf.

Knowing when to violate ritual is a matter of wisdom. Mencius discusses other virtues in addition to benevolence, righteousness, wisdom, and propriety, but it seems that they are ultimately manifestations of the preceding virtues. For example, in a nuanced account of courage, Mencius distinguishes between courage as exemplified in stereotypically daring behavior assaulting anyone who insults you , in fearlessness, and in a commitment to righteousness.

Mencius suggests that the last kind of courage is the highest form. Courage based on righteousness will lead to fearless opposition to wrongdoing, but also humble submission when one finds oneself in the wrong. Mencius holds that all humans have innate but incipient tendencies toward benevolence, righteousness, wisdom, and propriety. The sprouts are manifested in cognitive and emotional reactions characteristic of the virtues. For example, all humans feel compassion for the suffering of other humans and animals, at least on some occasions, and this is a manifestation of benevolence.

Similarly, every person has some things that he or she would be ashamed to do, or some forms of treatment he or she would disdain to accept, and these are expressions of righteousness. However, as Mencius's carefully chosen sprout metaphor suggests, humans are not born with fully formed virtuous dispositions. Our nascent virtues are sporadic and inconsistent in their manifestations. Consequently, a ruler who manifests genuine benevolence when he spares an ox being led to slaughter may nonetheless ignore the suffering of his own subjects. Likewise, someone who would disdain to be addressed disrespectfully may feel no compunction in acting against his convictions in the face of a large bribe.

To extend this reaction to that which they will bear is benevolence. People all have things that they will not do. To extend this reaction to that which they will do is righteousness. If people can fill out the heart that does not desire to harm others, their benevolence will be inexhaustible. The discussion of this issue has a long history, but was revived in Western scholarship by Nivison The basic structure of Mencian extension is clear from this example. There is a paradigm case, C 1 , in which an individual's sprout of compassion is manifested in cognition, emotion, and behavior.

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.

In 1A7, C 2 is the king's subjects. 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.

Nivison's work raises the issue of how the cognitive, motivational, and behavioral aspects of Mencian extension are related. 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? Mencius suggests that, for most people, there are three prerequisites for extension: an environment that meets people's basic physical needs, ethical education, and individual effort.

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. Thus, Mencius is trying to induce reflection in the king in 1A7 by directing the king's attention to the similarities between the ox he felt compassion for and his own subjects.

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. From a Western perspective, one of the noteworthy aspects of Mencius's view of extension is that he regards emotions as a crucial part of ethical perception and evaluation. 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. 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.

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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. Consequently, an important aspect of Mencius's claim that human nature is good is that humans have a tendency to become good if raised in an environment that is healthy for them. 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. Mencius's views might be mistaken, but they cannot be casually dismissed as naively circular; rather, they must be evaluated as a complex and subtle account of ethics and philosophical psychology.

Probably the two most important passages for understanding Mencius's view of human nature are 6A6 and 6A 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. These tendencies are manifested in distinctively moral emotions, correlated with the virtues. They will manifest themselves, at least sporadically, in each human. If the human capacity for goodness is rooted in our nature, isn't our capacity for evil equally grounded in our nature?

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? Descartes' example of a square tower that appears round from far away. 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.

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Mencius Author: Mencius. Series: Translations from the Asian classics. Find a copy online Links to this item ebrary. Allow this favorite library to be seen by others Keep this favorite library private. Find a copy in the library Finding libraries that hold this item P J Ivanhoe Irene Bloom. Reviews Editorial reviews.