Category Archives: Mencius

Ramsey at 1000 Word Philosophy on Mengzi / CFP

1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology recently published two essays on Chinese philosophy:

In addition, this project is specifically looking for more very brief introductions to philosophical traditions that are new to many readers. The Call for Papers is here.

Columbia Neo-Confucian Seminar: Hagop Sarkissian “Experimental Philosophy and the Confucian Philosophical Tradition: A Brief History and Comparison.” Friday, September 30 @ 3:30pm

The next session of the Columbia University Seminar on Neo-Confucian Studies (University Seminar #567) will convene Friday, September 30, 2016 from 3:30 to 5:30pm in the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University.

Hagop Sarkissian (City University of New York, Baruch College | Graduate Center) will present his paper

“Experimental Philosophy and the Confucian Philosophical Tradition: A Brief History and Comparison.”

ABSTRACT: Continue reading →

Louis CK and Mengzi

This clip (below) from Louis CK’s most recent interview on Conan made a splash on social networks.  The whole thing is pretty funny, but the first minute or so reminded me of Mencius 1A7.

Part of what prevents the king in 1A7 from becoming a genuine king in that passage is his disconnect from his subjects.  He feels the suffering of the ox and this tugs at his sprout of compassion.  By contrast, he doesn’t see the suffering of his subjects, so he feels no sympathy for them and fails to treat them benevolently.

Louis CK raises the same general issue for children today and cellphone use. Continue reading →

Is it Possible to be Too Yi 義?

Passage 3B10 in the Mengzi stood out during my last read through the text. In 3B10 Mengzi tells the story of Chen Zhongzi, who in seeking purity (lian 廉) refused to eat his mother’s food or live in his brother’s house (believing that his brother had not rightly [buyi 不義] attained his salary and home). Mengzi’s critique of Chen Zhongzi is that “only an earthworm could fill out [the values] he holds to” 蚓而後充其操, which I take to mean that living in the human world (i.e., a world of complex relationships) entails living a life where one cannot live to such a degree of purity and at the same time realize other (often more important) values. Mengzi seems to have similar sentiments about figures such as Bo Yi in passage 5B1. While he praises Bo Yi (and Chen Zhongzi in 3B10), being too lian 廉 or qing 清 is problematic for Mengzi. Continue reading →

Against Empathy

The following article in this week’s New Yorker by Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has been circulating in social networks:

The Baby in the Well: The Case Against Empathy

Despite what many of us on this blog might initially wonder, the title of the paper does not refer to Mencius’s famous thought experiment.  (Instead, it refers to the famous case of an actual child in a well that led to a worldwide media circus in the 1980s.)  Nonetheless, the article may be of interest to those of us working in Confucian ethics and moral psychology.

Continue reading →

The Shortcomings of the Sages

I’d like to use this as an opportunity to think about depictions of sages in early Confucian texts (Mengzi in particular). I’ve thought, for better or worse, that the authors of these texts used the figures of the sages as representations of fully cultivated people. Yet I’ve noticed that these sages are sometimes described as falling short of perfection, and this gives rise to a question–in what ways can one be deficient, and yet still be considered a sage? Continue reading →

Eichmann, Arendt, Milgram and Mencius

A cross-posting of Eric Schwitzgebel’s post on his Splintered Mind blog. Please address all comments directly to Eric; he’ll be checking in here periodically to reply.

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Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt, Stanley Milgram, and King Xuan of Qi

Perhaps my favorite Mencius passage is 1A7.  At its core is a story of a king’s mercy on an ox.

While the king was sitting up in his hall, an ox was led past below. The king saw it and said, “Where is the ox going?” Hu He replied, “We are about to ritually anoint a bell with its blood.” The king said, “Spare it. I cannot bear its frightened appearance, like an innocent going to the execution ground.” Hu He replied, “So should we dispense with the anointing of the bell?” The king said, “How can that be dispensed with? Exchange it for a sheep.” (Van Norden, trans.)

Mencius asks the king (King Xuan of Qi):

If Your Majesty was pained at its being innocent and going to the execution ground, then was is there to choose between an ox and a sheep?… You saw the ox but had not seen the sheep.  Gentlemen cannot bear to see animals die if they have seen them living. If they hear the cries of their suffering, they cannot bear to eat their flesh. Hence, gentlemen keep their distance from the kitchen.

(Note that Mencius does not conclude that gentlemen should become vegetarians.  Interesting possibilities for reflection arise regarding butchers, executioners, soldiers, etc., but let’s not dally.) Continue reading →