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Mencius 孟子【mèngzǐ】 385 – 303/302 BCE

Mencius 孟子【mèngzǐ】 385 – 303/302 BCE .

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Mencius 孟子【mèngzǐ】 385 – 303/302 BCE

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  1. Mencius 孟子【mèngzǐ】 385 – 303/302 BCE • Mencius' interpretation of Confucianism has generally been considered the orthodox version by subsequent Chinese philosophers, especially by the Neo-Confucians of the Song dynasty. Mencius' disciples included a large number of feudal lords, and he was actually more influential than Confucius had been. The Mencius (also spelled Mengzi or Meng-tzu), a book of his conversations with kings of the time, is one of the Four Books that Zhu Xi 朱熹, 1130 -1200, China) grouped as the core of orthodox Neo-Confucian thought. In contrast to the sayings of Confucius, which are short and self-contained, the Mencius consists of long dialogues, including arguments, with extensive prose.

  2. The Four Books of Confucianism 四书【sìshū】 • the Great Learning 大学, • the Doctrine of the Mean 中庸, • the Analects of Confucius 论语, • and the Mencius 孟子. • The Four Books were, in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, made the core of the official curriculum for the civil service examinations.

  3. 孟母三迁【mèngmǔsānqiān】Mother Meng Moved Three Times • Mencius's father died when he was very young. His mother Zhang (仉) raised her son alone. They were very poor. At first they lived by a cemetery, where the mother found her son imitating the paid mourners in funeral processions. Therefore the mother decided to move. The next house was near a market in the town. There the boy began to imitate the cries of merchants (merchants were despised in early China). So the mother moved to a house next to a school. Inspired by the scholars and students, Mencius began to study. His mother decided to remain, and Mencius became a scholar.

  4. Mencius’ View on Human Nature • While Confucius himself did not explicitly focus on the subject of human nature, Mencius asserted the innate goodness of the individual, believing that it was society's influence – its lack of a positive cultivating influence – that caused bad moral character. "He who exerts his mind to the utmost knows his nature" and "the way of learning is none other than finding the lost mind". • His translator James Legge finds a close similarity between Mencius' views on human nature and those in Bishop Butler's Sermons on Human Nature.

  5. Innate BenevolenceMencius Sounds Platonic! • "The Life of Mencius" pictures Mencius walking with the King of Teng (about 326 BCE), discussing his philosophy that all men have innate benevolence.

  6. The Mencius • Meng Ke was a native of the small state of Zou, modern Zou xian, Shandong. He was a disciple of one of the followers of Zisi, Confucius’ grandson. He traveled through the state of Qi, Song, Teng, and Wei teaching his philosophy of “human government” or “rule by benevolence.” The Mengzi is a text that is now divided into seven chapters. • The work is a mixture of dialogues and extended essays on moral and political philosophy. Mengzi was strongly opposed to the military strategists, traveling persuaders, Mohists, and the so-called hedonistic Yang Zhu (370-319 BCE) school. Thus, the Mengzi contains a number of passages in which Mengzi is cited as denouncing the dele’terious thought of the thinkers he opposed.

  7. Sophistication of Argument • “The sage kings no longer flourish, the vassal lords do as they please, retired gentlemen recklessly offer their opinions; and the words of Yang Zhu and Mo Di fill the empire. If the words of the empire do not belong the Yangists, they belong to the Mohists. Yang advocates egoism, which means to be oblivious of the ruler.Mo advocates caring for all the people, which means to ignore one’s father and mother. To ignore one’s father and be oblivious of the ruler is to be a brute or beast… I wish to rectify the hearts of men, put a stop to wayward theories, and resist excessive speechifying in order to follow in the traces of the three sages. I am not fond of argument, but I do not have any choice. Whoever with words can resist Yang and Mo is a true follower of the sages.” 3B/9

  8. Mencius’ Ethical Ideal • Mencius elaborated on the Confucian ideal by highlighting four ethical attributes — ren (benevolence, humaneness), li (observance of rites), • yi (propriety), and zhi (wisdom). • While he retained the use of ren in the broader sense to refer to an all-encompassing ethical ideal, he used it more often in the narrower sense to emphasize affective concern. Ren in this narrower sense has to do with love or concern for others, and involves a reluctance to cause harm and the capacity to be moved by the suffering of others. The scope of such concern includes not just human beings but also certain kinds of animals, and there is a gradation in ren in that one has special concern for and obligations to those closer to oneself. Ren results from cultivating the special love for parents that everyone shares as an infant and the affective concern for others shown in the well-known Mencian example of our commiseration for the infant on the verge of falling into a well.

  9. The Heart/Mind and Human Nature • For Mencius, the four ethical attributes, ren-benevolence, yi--Righteousness, li--rite; courtesy; etiquette; manners, and zhi--wisdom, result from our cultivating four kinds of predispositions of the heart/mind that everyone shares. These include commiseration, the sense of shame, a reverential attitude toward others, and the sense of right and wrong. He referred to these as the four ‘sprouts’ or ‘beginnings’, and regarded the four ethical attributes as growing from these predispositions in the way that a plant grows from a sprout. Besides commiseration and the sense of shame, he also regarded love for parents and obedience to elder brothers as the starting point for cultivating ren and yi respectively. His view that the heart/mind has these ethical predispositions provides the basis for his response to the Moist and the Yangist challenges.

  10. View on politics • Mencius emphasized the significance of the common citizens in the state. While Confucianism generally regards rulers highly, he argued that it is acceptable for the subjects to overthrow or even kill a ruler who ignores the people's needs and rules harshly. This is because a ruler who does not rule justly is no longer a true ruler. Speaking of the overthrow of the wicked King Zhou of Shang, Mencius said, "I have merely heard of killing a villain Zhou, but I have not heard of murdering [him as] the ruler."

  11. People First, a King Second! • This saying should not be taken as an instigation to violence against authorities but as an application of Confucian philosophy to society. Confucianism requires a clarification of what may be reasonably expected in any given relationship. All relationships should be beneficial, but each has its own principle or inner logic. A Ruler must justify his position by acting benevolently before he can expect reciprocation from the people. In this view, a King is like a steward. Although Confucius admired Kings of great accomplishment, Mencius is clarifying the proper hierarchy of human society. Although a King has presumably higher status than a commoner, he is actually subordinate to the people. One is significant only for what one gives, not for what one takes.

  12. Stylistic Features of the Mencius • Logical in argument; • Marked with strong emotions; • Smooth in flow; • Parallelism; • Skillful at trapping opponents;

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