Oxford University Press has just published my new book on early Confucian social thought, and what contemporary people might learn from it: Mastery, Dependence, and the Ethics of Authority. The publisher’s page is here. At present the cheapest way to purchase it is directly from Oxford, with a discount code for 30% off (AAFLYG6).
This comes with hearty thanks to Steve Angle and Bryan Van Norden, who were belatedly revealed as the press’s referees.
Pacific Philosophical Quarterly periodically publishes essays in Chinese or comparative philosophy; in the latest issue, Richard Kim has an essay called “Human Nature and Moral Sprouts: Mencius on the Pollyanna Problem.” Check it out!
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 →
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 →
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.
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 →