Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 46:31 — 42.7MB)
Continuing from part one on the teachings of Mengzi from ca. 350 BCE. Our guest has gone, and so Mark, Wes, Dylan and Seth dive into textual quotes, starting with verse 2A6 which says that we all have "sprouts" of humaneness, rightness, propriety, and wisdom. In a move that was not actually in Confucius, Mengzi claims that everyone is basically good, in that we all have these potentialities that good upbringing can bring to fruition. But why claim that we have something in our soul that can grow toward good but deny that we have an evil one?
Sponsor: Secure your Internet and get three extra months free at ExpressVPN.com/PEL.
We then delve into chapter 6 which goes more into moral psychology. Unlike Mozi, Mengzi doesn't consider human nature to be simply malleable such that the people can effectively follow along with their leader, whatever that leader's moral behavior may be. In other words, ethics is built into human nature and not merely a contingent matter of social history. He considers and rejects theories that maybe some virtues are part of human nature ("internal") and some other requirements are products of social decision ("external").
This should remind us of Western moral sense theory (e.g. Hume), and like these figures, Mengzi connects apprehensions of artistic value to ethics. He claims that we all have the same tastes (again, if not corrupted by deprivation or some other trauma), and so (when we understand ethics) all acknowledge that the same actions are good. However, figuring out the correct action given very idiosyncratic circumstances may take exceptional wisdom. So different sages of the past may have displayed different behaviors (e.g. one chose to advise a leader, one chose to snub him), but this just makes ethics particularistic, i.e. dependent on circumstance, and not relative. There is one and only one right thing to do in every situation.
Plus, qi (pronounced "chee"): what is it, and how does it play into Chinese ethics by connecting us in a physical rather than merely social way?
A couple of new philosopher names that come up: Yang Zhu (or Yang Ju) is an ethical egoist (everyone is selfish and should be) that Mengzi argues against. Gaozi was a contemporary of Mengzi who's put forward in chapters 6 as an opponent who thinks that human nature is entirely malleable. There are no surviving texts written by Gaozi.
Next episode, we'll spend more time on this book, getting into the political ramifications and other topics.
Don't fail to get your ticket to PEL Live (and Streaming) for April 15 at 7pm ET (or you can watch the stream later): partiallyexaminedlife.com/live.
There is supposed to be a Xunzi that finds human nature to be bad, who was Mengzi’s main opponent in their day and culture.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Yep, we’ll complete our Confucian story at some point by reading him.