Class #15

Mencius on Human Nature (I)

Readings: Mencius, Readings 2 

Lecture PowerPoint Deck

The readings for today and Monday are somewhat shorter than the other selections. This is because they focus on passages key to Mencius's most distinctive and influential doctrine: the goodness of human nature. Last week, we saw that Mencius pictured actual human beings in terms of the potential for moral excellence within them - trying to illustrate to woefully amoral warlords that their ethical instincts were actually alive, and pointing them towards the type of good conduct that Confucians sought in the True King.  The doctrine of the goodness of human nature articulates that view theoretically.

On Friday, we'll begin by considering passage 2A.2, which is the Mencius's most detailed look at the experience of sagely certainty - something Mencius is pictured as having achieved.  In this passage we will encounter a "psychology":  an analysis of the structure of the morally responsive mind and its development.  The stress lies on the way that the mind gains full leadership over the embodied person.  There is no view of a "mind/body" split (very common in the West), rather, the issue is how we can mobilize ourselves to turn our entire persons into an agent for our morally responsive consciousness - so that when we act, we act out the perfect and powerful instincts that our feelings spontaneously give to us.  The issue is primarily cast in terms of gaining control over a bodily force/substance that was called qi. So critical is passage 2A.2 to our understanding of Mencius that it will occupy us for most of today's class and form the foundation of our more direct consideration on Monday of passages directly expounding the doctrine of the goodness of human nature.