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Judging by this, without a heart-mind that sympathizes one is not human; without a heart-mind aware of shame, one is not human; without a heart-mind that defers to others, one is not human; and without a heart-mind that approves and condemns, one is not human.

Mengzi : Wan Zhang I - Chinese Text Project

Thus, Mencius makes an assertion about human beings - all have a heart-mind that feels for others - and qualifies his assertion with appeals to common experience and logical argument. This does little to distinguish him from other early Chinese thinkers, who also noticed that human beings were capable of altruism as well as selfishness.

What remains is for him to explain why other thinkers are incorrect when they ascribe positive evil to human nature - that human beings are such that they actively seek to do wrong. Mencius goes further and identifies the four basic qualities of the heart-mind sympathy, shame, deference, judgment not only as distinguishing characteristics of human beings - what makes the human being qua human being really human - but also as the "sprouts" duan of the four cardinal virtues:. A heart-mind that sympathizes is the sprout of co-humanity [ren]; a heart-mind that is aware of shame is the sprout of rightness [yi]; a heart-mind that defers to others is the sprout of ritual propriety [li]; a heart-mind that approves and condemns is the sprout of wisdom [zhi]….

If anyone having the four sprouts within himself knows how to develop them to the full, it is like fire catching alight, or a spring as it first bursts through. If able to develop them, he is able to protect the entire world; if unable, he is unable to serve even his parents. Now the complexity of Mencius' seemingly simplistic position becomes clearer. What makes us human is our feelings of commiseration for others' suffering; what makes us virtuous - or, in Confucian parlance, junzi - is our development of this inner potential.

If our sprouts are left untended, we can be no more than merely human - feeling sorrow at the suffering of another, but unable or unwilling to do anything about it. If we tend our sprouts assiduously -- through education in the classical texts, formation by ritual propriety, fulfillment of social norms, etc. This is the basis of Mencius' appeal to King Hui of Liang r. Has Your Majesty noticed rice shoots? If there is drought during the seventh and eighth months, the shoots wither, but if dense clouds gather in the sky and a torrent of rain falls, the shoots suddenly revive.

When that happens, who could stop it? If that does happen, the people will go over to him as water tends downwards, in a torrent - who could stop it? Mencius devotes some energy to arguing that "rightness" yi is internal, rather than external, to human beings. He does so using examples taken from that quintessentially Confucian arena of human relations, filial piety xiao. But as it happens, shifts in external circumstances can effect changes in status; one's younger brother can temporarily assume the status of a very senior ancestor in the proper ritual context, thus earning the respect ordinarily given to seniors and never shown to juniors.

For Mencius, this demonstrates that the internal orientation of the agent e. Having made a teleological argument from the inborn potential of human beings to the presumption of virtues that can be developed, Mencius then offers his sketch of moral psychology - the structures within the human person that make such potential identifiable and such development possible. The primary function of Mencius' moral psychology is to explain how moral failure is possible and how it can be avoided.

As Antonio S. Cua has noted, for Mencius, moral failure is the failure to develop one's xin heart-mind. In order to account for the moral mechanics of the xin , Mencius offers a quasi-physiological theory involving qi vital energy - "a hard thing to speak about" 2A2 , part vapor, part fluid, found in the atmosphere and in the human body, that regulates affective-cognitive processes as well as one's general well-being. It is especially abundant outdoors at night and in the early morning, which is why taking fresh air at these times can act as a physical and spiritual tonic 6A8. When Mencius is asked about his personal strengths, he says:.

It is interesting to note the apparent link between powers of suasion - essential for any itinerant Warring States shi , whether official or teacher - and "flood-like qi. Mencius goes on to describe what he means by "flood-like qi ":. It is the sort of qi that is utmost in vastness, utmost in firmness.

If, by uprightness, you nourish it and do not interfere with it, it fills the space between Heaven and Earth. It is the sort of qi that matches the right [yi] with the Way [Dao]; without these, it starves. It is generated by the accumulation of right [yi] - one cannot attain it by sporadic righteousness. If anything one does fails to meet the standards of one's heart-mind, it starves. It is here that Mencius is at his most mystical, and recent scholarship has suggested that he and his disciples may have practiced a form of meditative discipline akin to yoga.

Certainly, similar-sounding spiritual exercises are described in other early Chinese texts, such as the Neiye "Inner Training" chapter of the Guanzi Kuan-tzu , c. It also is at this point that Mencius seems to depart most radically from what is known about the historical Confucius' teachings. While faint glimpses of what may be ascetic and meditative disciplines sometimes appear in the Analects , nowhere in the text are there detailed discussions of nurturing one's qi such as can be found in Mencius 2A2. In spite of the mystical tone of this passage, however, all that the text really says is that qi can be nurtured through regular acts of "rightness" yi.

In short, here is where Mencius' case for human nature seems to leave philosophy and reasoned argumentation behind and step into the world of ineffability and religious experience. There is no reason, of course, why Mencius shouldn't take this step; as Alan K. Chan has pointed out, ethics and spirituality are not mutually exclusive, either in the Mencius or elsewhere. To sum up, both biology and culture are important for Mencian self-cultivation, and so is Tian.


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Guided by the examples of ancient sages and the ritual forms and texts they have left behind, one starts to develop one's heart-mind further by nurturing its qi through habitually doing what is right, cultivating its "sprouts" into virtues, and bringing oneself up and out from the merely human to that which Tian intends for one, which is to become a sage. Nature is crucial, but so is nurture. Mencius' model of moral psychology is both a "discovery" model human nature is good and a "development" model human nature can be made even better :. Detailed discussion of Mencius' key interpreters is best reserved for an article on Confucian philosophy.

Nonetheless, an outline of the most important commentators and their philosophical trajectories is worth including here. Gaozi, who is known only from the Mencius , evidently knew Mencius personally, but Xunzi knew him only retrospectively. Both disagreed with Mencius' views on human nature. Gaozi's dialogue with Mencius on human nature can be found in book six of the Mencius , in which both Mencius' disciples and Gaozi himself question him on his points of disagreement with Gaozi. Gaozi - whom later Confucians identified, probably anachronistically, as a Daoist -- offers multiple hypotheses about human nature, each of which Mencius refutes in Socratic fashion.

Gaozi first argues that human nature is neither bad nor good, and presents two organic metaphors for its moral neutrality: wood which can be carved into any object and water which can be made to flow east or west.

Numéros en texte intégral

Challenging the carved wood metaphor, Mencius points out that in carving wood into a cup or bowl, one violates the wood's nature, which is to become a tree. Does one then violate a human being's nature by training him to be good? No, he says, it is possible to violate a human being's nature by making him bad, but his nature is to become good.

As for the water metaphor, Mencius rejects it by remarking that human nature flows to the good, just as water's nature flows down. It is possible to make people bad, just as it is possible to make water flow up - but neither is a natural process or end. Like Mencius, Xunzi claims to interpret Confucius' thought authentically, but leavens it with his own contributions. While neither Gaozi nor Mencius is willing to entertain the notion that human beings might originally be evil, this is the cornerstone of Xunzi's position on human nature. Against Mencius, Xunzi defines human nature as what is inborn and unlearned, and then asks why education and ritual are necessary for Mencius if people really are good by nature.

Whereas Mencius claims that human beings are originally good but argues for the necessity of self-cultivation, Xunzi claims that human beings are originally bad but argues that they can be reformed, even perfected, through self-cultivation. Also like Mencius, Xunzi sees li as the key to the cultivation of renxing. Although Xunzi condemns Mencius' arguments in no uncertain terms, when one has risen above the smoke and din of the fray, one may see that the two thinkers share many assumptions, including one that links each to Confucius: the assumption that human beings can be transformed by participation in traditional aesthetic, moral, and social disciplines.

Gaozi's metaphor of carved wood, incidentally, is one of Xunzi's favorites. Through an accident of history, Mencius had no occasion to meet Xunzi and thus no opportunity to refute his arguments, but if he had, he might have replied that Xunzi cannot truly believe in the original depravity of human beings, or else he could not place such great faith in the morally-transformative power of culture.


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Later interpreters of Mencius' thought between the Tang and Ming dynasties are often grouped together under the label of " Neo-Confucianism. Thinkers such as Zhang Zai Chang Tsai, CE , Zhu Xi Chu Hsi, CE and Wang Yangming CE , while distinct from one another, agree on the primacy of Confucius as the fountainhead of the Confucian tradition, share Mencius' understanding of human beings as innately good, and revere the Mencius as one of the "Four Books" -- authoritative textual sources for standards of ritual, moral, and social propriety.

Li [cosmic order] and yi [rightness].

THE SHI-KING

Kwong-loi Shun has pointed out that Dai Zhen's defense of Mencius actually owes more to Xunzi than to Mencius, particularly in regard to how Dai Zhen sees one's heart-mind as learning to appreciate li cosmic order and yi rightness , rather than naturally taking pleasure in such things, as Mencius would have it. Although Dai Zhen shares Mencius' view of the centrality of the heart-mind in moral development, in the end, he does not ascribe to the heart-mind the same kind of ethical directionality that Mencius finds there.

More recently, the philosophers Roger Ames and Donald Munro have developed postmodern readings of Mencius that involve contemporary developments such as process thought and evolutionary psychology. For instance, jumping and running, though most directly concerned with the ch'i , also have an effect on the mind. Ch'i can be developed to great levels of quantity and stability by correctly nourishing it and not damaging it, to the extent that it fills the space between Heaven and Earth. In developing ch'i , if you are connected with Righteousness and the Tao, you will never be in want of it.

It is something that is produced by accumulating Righteousness, and is not something that you can grab from superficial attempts at Righteousness. If you act without mental composure, you will become ch'i -starved. You must be willing to work at it, understanding that you cannot have precise control over it.

You can't forget about it, but you can't force it to grow, either.