Mencius: Contexts and Interpretations

Edited by Alan K. L. Chan
Copyright Date: 2002
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    Book Description:

    For two thousand years the Mencius was revered as one of the foundational texts of the Confucian canon, which formed the basis of traditional Chinese education. Today it commands considerable attention in current debates on "Asian values" raging in classrooms and boardrooms in both East Asia and the West. This volume, which represents the work of fifteen respected scholars of early Chinese thought and culture, is an especially timely effort to bring the Mencius under fresh scrutiny. Making use of recently excavated manuscripts, the contributors approach the Mencius from novel perspectives, challenge established interpretations, and confront anew issues that continue to attract and divide students of this classic text. The famous Mencian doctrine of the "goodness" of human nature forms one main focus. Questions of context and interpretation bring into sharp relief key hermeneutical issues that surround the text. Does the Mencius present a coherent and systematically developed ethical teaching? Or should it be read as a composite work, comprising different layers of material that reflect different emphases and conflicting doctrines? Traversing contested territories and exploring new avenues of understanding, the essays presented here do not aim at settling debates; on the contrary, they afford ample opportunities for further discussion on the background, interpretation, and continued relevance of this classic of Confucian philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6360-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)
    Alan K. L. Chan

    The thirteen essays in this volume bring into view the complex world of theMencius,a classic in the full sense of the word with few rivals in Chinese history. From the fourteenth to the early twentieth century, as is well known, it was revered as one of the “Four Books” (sishu四者), which formed the basis of traditional Chinese education.¹ Its influence, of course, extends beyond China, as Confucian learning makes its presence felt in East Asia at large. Today, theMenciusagain commands considerable intellectual attention, as debates on “Asian values” rage from the classroom to the boardroom,...

  5. 1 The Ideological Background of the Mencian Discussion of Human Nature: A Reexamination
    (pp. 17-41)
    Ning Chen

    The background to the Mencian discussion of human nature (xing) has been the subject of considerable scholarly attention because it helps explain the central Mencian argument that “human nature is good.” A study of this background should take into account at least the following concerns. How many views ofxinghad been advanced before Mencius joined the debate? To what extent are they similar to or different from Mencius’ own conception ofxing?Which of these views presents the greatest challenge to him, and why? Not all of these questions have been satisfactorily answered in the relevant literature, though there...

  6. 2 A Matter of Taste: Qi (Vital Energy) and the Tending of the Heart (Xin) in Mencius 2A2
    (pp. 42-71)
    Alan K. L. Chan

    Mencius2A2 offers an intriguing account of the relationship between the “heart” (xin心) andqi氣—the “vital energy” that engenders and sustains life—and their role in self-cultivation. On the one hand, it portrays an ethical ideal marked by a heart—or “heartmind,” as some translators prefer, taking into consideration both the affective and cognitive concerns that the concept ofxinencompasses—that is firm and unwavering in its aims and direction. The assumption seems to be thatqiacts as an unruly or prejudicial influence that would disturb the heart and, as such, must be tightly controlled and...

  7. 3 Mencius and a Process Notion of Human Nature
    (pp. 72-90)
    Roger T. Ames

    Michael Sandel, in hisLiberalism and the Limits of Justice,reflects on the variety of names we use to express our self-understanding, one of them being “human nature.” “To speak of human nature,” he observes, “is often to suggest a classical teleological conception, associated with the notion of a universal human essence, invariant in all times and places.”¹ This “essentialist” and “invariant” (or, in other words, “transcendent”) conception of human nature not only has been influential as a cultural dominant in the way in which we in the West are inclined to think about ourselves but also has quite naturally...

  8. 4 Biology and Culture in the Mencian View of Human Nature
    (pp. 91-102)
    Irene Bloom

    In two previous essays on the Mencian conception ofrenxing, I have argued (1) that the termrenxingin theMenciusis aptly translated and understood as “human nature”; (2) thatrenxingexpresses Mencius’ notion of what is both universally and distinctively human; and (3) that it is fundamentally a biological concept.¹ It is the third argument that is perhaps most controversial and that I would like to develop further here. In doing so, I will refer in passing to an ongoing disagreement that I have had with my friend Roger T. Ames, as well as to a more recent...

  9. 5 Mengzi and Gaozi on Nei and Wai
    (pp. 103-125)
    Kim-Chong Chong

    The debate between Mengzi and Gaozi in Book 6 of theMengzihas been controversial. For instance, D. C. Lau has argued that it is wrong to think that “Mencius . . . could have indulged consistently in what appears to be pointless argument or that his opponents were always effectively silenced bynon sequiturs.”¹ But it is precisely this that Mengzi is guilty of, according to Chad Hansen.² More famously, Arthur Waley states, “As a controversialist he [Mengzi] is nugatory. The whole discussion (Book VI) about whether Goodness and Duty are internal or external is a mass of irrelevant...

  10. 6 Xin and Moral Failure: Notes on an Aspect of Mencius’ Moral Psychology
    (pp. 126-150)
    Antonio S. Cua

    The following is a study of an aspect of Mencius’ moral psychology. The first section deals withxin心 as the seat of the “four beginnings” (siduan四端) of the four Confucian cardinal virtues (ren 仁, yi 表, 禮li , and zhi智). This discussion presupposes the vision of the Confuciandao,an ethical ideal of the unity and harmony of Heaven and humanity (tianren heyi). The second section examines Mencius’ account of moral failure with a Xunzian supplement. The essay concludes with some remarks on Mencius’ contributions to Confucian ethical theory.

    In an earlier essay, I proposed that the contrasting...

  11. 7 Understanding Words and Knowing Men
    (pp. 151-168)
    Jiuan Heng

    This paper seeks to resituate Mencius’ celebration ofzhiyan yangqi知言養氣 in 2A2 in a political context by proposing that “zhiyan” should be translated as “understanding words” or “understanding speech” as opposed to “understanding doctrines,” as Nivison and Riegel have argued.¹ To understand how to decipher words is to draw upon a powerful resource for reading persons and situations, a key to knowing how to employ men and how to remonstrate. It is an aspect of self-cultivation that draws the political and the personal into a dialectic of mutual implicature and enhancement, to paraphrase Sor-Hoon Tan.² I trace “understanding speech”...

  12. 8 Between Family and State: Relational Tensions in Confucian Ethics
    (pp. 169-188)
    Sor-Hoon Tan

    In theMencius, when asked what the sage-king Shun would do if his father killed a man and was about to be apprehended for the crime, Mencius replied,

    Shun looked upon casting aside the Empire as no more than discarding a worn shoe. He would have secretly carried the old man on his back and fled to the edge of the sea and lived there happily, never giving a thought to the Empire.¹

    This recalls a passage in theLunyuwhere Confucius informed the governor of She that in his village “a father covers for his son, and a son...

  13. 9 Casuistry and Character in the Mencius
    (pp. 189-215)
    Robert Eno

    TheMenciusprovides a clear and distinctive theory of moral knowing in its doctrine of the innate and universal structure of human nature as moral, and in its identification of the four moral senses that characterize that uniquely human nature. The forceful way in which the text presents such ideas invites us to see the core of Mencian moral discourse in terms of these theories and the modified intuitionism that they imply.¹ However, a great deal of the ethical discussion in theMenciusseems to have little explicit connection with these theories. Although we are certainly entitled to construct from...

  14. 10 Mencius, Xunzi, and Dai Zhen: A Study of the Mengzi ziyi shuzheng
    (pp. 216-241)
    Kwong-Loi Shun

    In his debates with Gaozi, Mencius opposes Gaozi’s view that there is neither good nor bad in xing 性 (nature) and thatyi義 (propriety) is external, apparently defending the view thatxingis good (xing shan生善) and thatyiis internal (yi nei義內) (Mencius6A1–6A6, 2A2).¹ These two Mencian claims have come to be regarded by later Confucians as key elements in his thinking.In his Mengzi ziyi shuzheng孟子字義疏證, Dai Zhen 戴震 seeks to defend these two claims, framing his discussion in terms ofli理 (pattern), which has become a key philosophical term by...

  15. 11 The Nature and Historical Context of the Mencius
    (pp. 242-281)
    E. Bruce Brooks and A. Taeko Brooks

    Later ages ascribe all the sayings in theMencius孟子 (MC) equally to the historical Mν̀gn Kν̄ [Meng Ke] 孟軻 but the text contains differing statements of view that are not easily explained as variant statements of a single view.¹ As we shall argue, they are more plausibly seen as early and late phases in a development. That is, the text seems to have a time depth. If so, its thought will be best understood not as a unity, diverse but ultimately consistent, but rather as a sequence of positions, nourished by continued thought and perhaps also shaped by continuing...

  16. 12 Mengzi as Philosopher of History
    (pp. 282-304)
    David Nivison

    I will first distinguish between “critical” and “speculative” philosophy of history. I then will examine briefly some of Mengzi’s critical views, which are less prominent than his speculative ones. Proceeding to the latter, I will examine his ideas about the origins of civilization, his idea that a true king must “arise” every 500 years (in Mengzi’s time 700 years had passed), and the sources for these ideas. Noting then that Mengzi’s overriding view of the past was the concept of the “Three Dynasties,” I will consider how Mengzi participated in a contemporary discourse that was refining and changing this concept,...

  17. 13 Mencius and an Ethics of the New Century
    (pp. 305-316)
    Donald J. Munro

    I have never met anyone who tried to use either the ethics of Plato’sRepublicor the Epicurean hedonism of Lucretius’On the Nature of Thingsas a guide for living. So I would not spend time asking if there was any compatibility between either of them, on the one hand, and some serious contemporary Western ethics, on the other. But I have met Chinese people who treat theMenciusas such a guide. I think that Arthur Danto was on target when he made the following comments about some non-Western literature.

    The difficulty with our approach to non-Western literature...

  18. Contributors
    (pp. 317-320)
  19. Index
    (pp. 321-328)