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?
In Mengzi, for instance, Zhou Gong is labeled a sage of antiquity (古聖人), but Mengzi also acknowledges that Zhou Gong did not know (不知) that his brother would rebel against the Zhou (a situation enabled by Zhou Gong appointing his brother overseer of the Yin). In 2B9 Mengzi explains that Zhou Gong did in fact commit an infraction (過), and although appointing his brother as overseer was an appropriate act (宜), it was something in need of reform (改).
In 5B1 Bo Yi, Yi Yin, and Liuxia Hui are described as sages that display virtues of purity, responsibility, and harmony; yet they seem to lack the knowledge (智) that Kongzi possess, allowing him to make use of these various attributes at the proper time.
I’m not sure how to reconcile this with Mengzi’s other statements of a more perfect sage (and that sage-like figures would do as the others have done had they switched places [易地皆然]), but these passages seem to, at the very least, separate wisdom (智) from sageliness. Does this mean that the sage only needs a minimal degree of wisdom in order to be a sage? And if so, how does this lack of wisdom effect his development and display of the other virtues?
I have a few more thoughts to add, but this should be good enough to get the conversation going.
What are the shortcomings of the sages?