Class #16

Mencius on Human Nature (II)

ReadingsMencius, Readings 3

Lecture PowerPoint Deck

We will begin on Monday by returning to section 2A.a, which will provide critical background for understanding Mencius's theory of human nature as good, and then turn to a contiguous portion of the text, found in Book 6A, and known as the "debate with Gaozi" section. Here, the Mencius takes us through a number of arguments against Mencius's theory, reportedly offered by a rival thinker named Gaozi, who was probably a Confucian who had reached a compromise position with Mohism. Mohism argued that a good ethics was one that had adopted the proper "standards" - the proper standard of "right," or yi. Ethical actors (remember, Mohism was an "Ethics of Action") were those who conformed their action choices to the correct standard of yi, a standard provided by Reason or by political authority (depending on whether you attend to the philosophical approach of the "Universal Love" chapter or that of the "Will of Tian" and "Identifying With Superiors" chapters). Gaozi adopted this notion of yi (2A.2 reports his maxim as: "If you cannot find sanction for a course of action in the teachings, do not search for it in your heart"), but he rejected the Mohist claim that we could, through an act of will, "love" others. Linking feelings of love to ren, Gaozi claimed that ren was dictated by our hearts, and could not be manufactured through the manipulation of our effortful energy (qi). Mencius agreed with this latter position, but strongly disputed Gaozi's Mohistic position that yi - moral standards - were "external" to our spontaneous dispositions. Basically, Mencius's goal is to utterly refute the Mohists by proving that right action, most especially action according to li, stems from our most primal orientation, a species characteristic endowed in us by that ultimate, shadowy, and very plastic authority: Tian.