MARCH 12, 2021: A Passage from Wang Yangming’s “Questions on the Great Learning


PresentsA Passage from Wang Yangming’s “Questions on the Great Learning”

Presenter: Harvey Lederman (Princeton University)
Discussants: Stephen Angle (Wesleyan University), Warren Frisina (Hofstra University), Xiaomei Yang (Southern Connecticut State University)

ABSTRACT: This session will follow the organization of those we had on Zhuangzi and Śāntideva from Fall 2020. A lead presenter will give some background on the text from which the passage below is derived–namely, Wang Yangming’s “Questions on the Great Learning” (大學問)–and introduce Wang’s notion of liangzhi (良知). The presentation will then discuss Wang’s understanding of “the extension of knowledge” (致知) and “making inclinations wholehearted” (誠意) from the Great Learning (大學) before giving a focused reading of the passage itself. According to this reading, a person has extended their knowledge if and only if they have made their inclinations wholehearted. Each of the discussants will then follow with some brief comments and questions before we open things up for Q&A.

DATE: March 12, 2021
TIME: 7:00-8:30 pm

Here is the passage:


Therefore if you want to rectify your mind, you must rectify it in regard to the arousal of your motivating concerns. If, whenever a concern arises and it is good, you genuinely love it as you love lovely sights, and whenever a concern arises and it is hateful [bad], you genuinely hate it as you hate hateful [bad] odors, then all of your inclinations will be wholehearted and your mind can be rectified. However, some of the inclinations which arise are good and some are bad. If one did not have a means to understand the distinction between good and bad, and wrongly mixed up true (真) and misguided, then although one wanted to make them [viz. one’s inclinations] wholehearted, they cannot successfully become wholehearted. Thus making one’s inclinations wholehearted must depend on extending one’s knowledge of them… Whenever a motivating concern arises, your mind’s liangzhi automatically knows it. [If it is good] your mind’s liangzhi automatically knows that it is good; [if it is bad], your mind’s liangzhi also automatically knows that it is bad. It has nothing to do with other people. Thus, although a petty person has become not good, and there is nothing they will stop at, nevertheless when they meet a noble person, they will ashamedly hide the fact that they are not good, and broadcast that they are good. From this one can see that there are some respects in which their liangzhi has not allowed itself to be obscured. Now, if you want to discriminate good and evil in order to make your inclinations wholehearted, this just depends on extending what your liangzhi knows about them and nothing more. Why is this? When a [good] motivating concern arises, the liangzhi of your mind already knows that it is good. Suppose you do not wholeheartedly love it but instead turn away from it and diminish it. You would then be taking what is good to be bad and obscuring your liangzhi which knows that it is good. When a [bad] motivating concern arises, the liangzhi of your mind already knows that it is bad. Suppose you do not wholeheartedly hate it but instead backslide and promote it. You would then be taking what is bad to be good and obscuring your liangzhi which knows that it is bad. In such cases one says that you know it, but in fact you do not know – how could your inclinations have become wholehearted! [But] now if what liangzhi [recognizes as] good or bad is wholeheartedly loved or hated, one’s liangzhi is not deceived and one’s inclinations can be wholehearted. (QJ 26.1070-1, cf. Chan (1963, p. 277-9))

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Verena Meyer (she/her) is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: A Passage from Wang Yangming: A Discussion
Time: Mar 12, 2021 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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