- The Advice of Mencius
- Mencius (c. 372—289 B.C.E.)
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- Mencius | Columbia University Press
Forgot password? Don't have an account? This chapter argues that crucial to understanding what the emotions were and what they signified for Mencius was his naturalistic conception of the human being as a coherent, intelligible entity characterized by certain distinct inclinations and tendencies.
Such an idea was resonant with developments in natural philosophy during this period, which recognized that the elements that made up the world were not simply inert, but possessed characteristic inclinations and tendencies. Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.
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The Advice of Mencius
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By realizing that humans mistake a lack of growth as a lack of capacity, he explained how we can possess this germination and yet also engage in immoral acts. Human moral achievement is a matter of recognizing our moral potential, holding on to it, and growing it effortfully. Mencius also recognized that a supportive environment is critical for fostering this growth in children. Because life is full of distractions and challenges, children initially need parental modeling and, later, guidance from other social agents, such as teachers, to deepen their self-cultivation.
Modern developmental science confirms that humans are born with the capacity to empathize with the suffering of others.
Mencius (c. 372—289 B.C.E.)
Our empathetic capacity initially sets us on the right track. Otherwise, those who are overwhelmed by empathy may be rendered incapable of being able to help those in need. It is remarkable that Mencius had the insight into this developmental process over two millennia ago. The third and final argument Mencius advanced is that, given our innate capacity toward goodness, and given that we are able to self-cultivate with social support, we must refuse to let our empathy, sympathy, and compassion wither.
In other words, Mencius expressed firm confidence in our resilience to rekindle our goodness, even when we have been damaged. He believed this applied to everyone, including our leaders. Mencius thought that if he could convince the king to adopt Confucianism as the state philosophy, and to govern with the moral principles of righteousness and benevolence, then the need for war would be eliminated altogether.
King Xuan of Qi is best known for going to Mencius for advice. Once, King Xuan asked Mencius how he could achieve his grand ambition of conquering Qin and Chu and ruling over the entire Middle Kingdom. Mencius knew that during a previous ceremony, the king had been disturbed by seeing a massive ox being led to a sacrifice. As if aware of its fate, the ox shook and struggled.
Agonized, King Xuan said the ox looked like an innocent man going to execution. Unable to bear it, he commanded that the sacrifice be stopped.
But rather than abandon the ceremony altogether, the king decreed a lamb be sacrificed instead. Because of this incident, Mencius told King Xuan he possessed the innate and undying ability to feel compassion.
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Guiding the king through a step-by-step analysis, Mencius explained that there is no difference between an ox and a lamb. The difference was in experience. Mencius then turned the discussion to the armies King Xuan was sending out, causing death for his own people and his neighbors. The king claimed he did not take delight in causing war, but that he only waged it to in order to reach his dream. He was incapable of doing otherwise.
Mencius | Columbia University Press
If the king could feel compassion for an animal and save its life, he could feel compassion for people, give up military aggression, and find another way to rule. Only then would he be a true king. In the end, King Xuan was ashamed to face Mencius and lamented his choices. Please follow our Commentary Guidelines when engaging in discussion on this site.
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