Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

The Heart of Deference

Section 2A/6 of the Mencius tells us that the heart of deference (辭讓) is the starting point of ritual. I’ll try to convince you that this is a puzzling claim, and then suggest a solution to the puzzle.

The puzzle is that ritual obviously mobilises motives other than deference, and calls for behaviour that is not simply deferential. Think of the way that grief takes on ritualised shape in funerals: this is not just an extension of deference. So, why did it make sense to the author or authors of Mencius 2A/6 to say that deference is the starting-point of ritual?

You could solve this puzzle if you thought that extending the heart of deference could give it a radically different character, so that (for example) the sort of grief appropriate during a funeral could count as an extension of deference. I don’t think anyone reads Mencius 2A/6 this way, however, and if it were right, why are there four hearts rather than just one that can be extended in arbitrary ways?

You could also deny that the Mencians were trying to give a full account of the psychology of ritual here, and that they would agree we need more than just deference to participate correctly in ritual. Perhaps you’d mention that the parallel passage in Mencius 6A/6 mentions a heart of respect or reverence rather than of deference as evidence that they recognised that ritual had a more complex psychological basis. Maybe in each of these passages it was for literary reasons alone that they chose just one motive to be characteristic of ritual, and the choices were not meant to carry philosophical weight.

Still, the derivation of benevolence from the heart of compassion and the derivation of righteousness from the heart of shame do seem to carry philosophical weight. It is easy to think of benevolence as an extension of compassion—feeling and being compassionate when and as appropriate. This is certainly the sort of benevolence that is at work in the Mencian conception of benevolent government, for example.

It is stranger to us, maybe, to derive righteousness from shame, but an appropriate conception of righteousness is at work in a number of other passages and it could easily be here too. Think of Mencius 7B/31: “If people are able to fill out the heart that bores no holes and jumps no walls, then their righteousness cannot be used up. If people are able to fill out the core of refusing to be addressed informally, they will go nowhere without being righteous.” The first reference seems to be to sexual impropriety (see also 3B/3), the second to humiliating treatment. In both cases, one becomes righteous by refusing to be shamed. Presumably one does this most often by refraining from shameful behaviour, though this and other passages also allow that one could be shamed by what other people do.

It would make things tidier if we could relate deference to ritual in something like this way. (And it would be tidier still if we could make similar sense of Mencius 6A/6’s variant claim.)

Suppose I pass a cup of wine to my father. If I do this because I anticipate that he would like a cup of wine, and I conform to his inclination, then it is reasonable to say that I am deferring to him. However, if this is a ritual, then my father’s desire for a cup of wine is irrelevant: the ritual is unlikely to require that he actually want wine, and I am going to pass the cup even if he does not. I am making a show of deferring to him, perhaps, but I am not actually deferring to him, and of course he is not deferring to me. What we are deferring to is the ritual.

That is how I propose we understand the heart of deference. We defer not to the other participants in the ritual, but to the ritual itself and the tradition of which it is a part. Deferring to the ritual tradition in the right way requires that we engage other psychological resources, of course, but deference to tradition is always fundamental. And similarly with the Mencius 6A/6 variant: we respect or revere not the other participants in the ritual, but the ritual itself as well as the entire ritual tradition.

This is not what scholars typically think of as a Mencian idea, but we do find similar ideas in other passages. 3A/5 rejects Mohist proposals for social change because they do not derive from an instinctive rejection of current practice; in the absence of such a rejection, the passage insists, we should simply follow tradition. 3B/9 portrays a world in disorder, in which beastly philosophers such as Yang and Mo confuse the world like their arguments. This forces Mencius to engage in argument himself when really people should just follow the way of the ancient sages. In these passages at least, deference to and reverence for tradition takes on fundamental importance. If I am right, then it does in Mencius 2A/6 as well.

May 23rd, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism, Ethical Theory, Human nature, Mencius, Psychology | 78 comments

78 Responses to The Heart of Deference

  1. Manyul Im says:

    Hi Dan; I’m inclined to agree entirely with you. It’s to the ritual and the ritual tradition that one is supposed to defer. I would also add that it is deference to the social order that the ritual delineates. Only that could make sense of requiring deference of the “son of Heaven,” the emperor. Among the emperor’s ritual requirements is how he communicates with his underlings — it would be entirely inappropriate, ritually, for him to invite a commoner, dressed in rags, into his sedan for a ride. But that isn’t because he’s deferring to the commoner, nor is it to Heaven. The deference is to the social order that the rituals outline. Neither can the emperor go around in public wearing anything he wants; deference to the position that he occupies requires him to dress appropriately. And so on…

    • Dan Robins says:

      Though 辭讓 includes 讓 which is typically done by the person higher up in whatever hierarchy is at issue. The emperor wouldn’t be deferential towards the commoner, exactly, but he would be in a way deferring or ceding or yielding to him.

      To make the same sort of point, you could refer to the ritual that gets mentioned in 6A/5, in which a boy takes on the ritual identity of an ancestor and other participants in the ritual respect (敬) him appropriately. What, here, is really the object of the respect? MC 6A/5 says it’s the boy, but surely that’s only a partial answer. At some level what’s being engaged is respect for the social order that’s getting put on display, even as participants jump into different roles for the duration of the ritual.

      • Manyul Im says:

        Good point about 讓. It does complicate things that Mencius talks about ritual respect in the context of defending a view about righteousness, though, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, I think Mencius’s ritual examples in 6A5 and 6A4 both indicate that, on Mencius’s view at least, the significance of the ritual ancestral impersonation and the significance of a person’s age (relative to one’s own) is what matters in ritual and deference is to those things rather than the person who happens to be in those positions.

        Back to righteousness for a moment, so the complication here is that Mencius seems really to be talking about deference in 6A4-5, not about shame. Pardon my Internetese, but WTF is going on?

        • Dan Robins says:

          Maybe it’s as simple as, he’s taking ritual to be a part of righteousness. But if anyone has solved MC 6A/4-5, I haven’t heard about it.

  2. Bill Haines says:

    Hi Dan,

    I pretty much agree. But I’d say that if I pass my father a cup of wine just because that’s the ritual, then my action does show something like deference to him, for two reasons

    First: If the ritual is to pass the wine, and I don’t, that’s an insult.

    OK then, here’s the second: Ritual is forms of behavior that grant a decent accessible place or role to everyone and in that sense respect everyone. Ritual is forms of cooperation that restrain and limit our tendency to be inconsiderate and to overlook others. (“After you,” said the squirrel. “Oh no, after you!”)

    I think Youzi anticipated the point at Analects 1.13, when he wrote恭近於禮: 遠恥辱也. Here’s what I wrote about that line in my Youzi paper:

    —————-
    Couplet B likens one’s ritual propriety, li 禮, to respectfulness, gong 恭. Youzi says respectfulness is close to ritual because it “keeps far from shame and insult.”

    Gong involves conducting oneself with humble dignity, restraint, and reverence or respect. It pertains specially to one’s personal interactions and demeanor ([Analects] 5.16, 13.19, 15.5). Now, a respectful person does not insult or shame people (cf. Mencius 4A16). Hence a respectful person is unlikely to incur shame or insult (cf. 17.6). Youzi’s words lump these points together as one phenomenon, and plausibly so; for a person’s ways will come back to her.

    Ritual propriety is easily understood as the formal enactment of respect for the community, its tradition, and its members, saliently including strangers and public figures. Even the conventional dance of formal etiquette is a means by which we forestall conflict, misunderstanding, disorientation, and surprise; protecting ourselves and each other from shame and insult. Hence the difference between ritual propriety and mere respectfulness is largely one of scope. Gong supports li because they are analogous.(34)


    34. Confucius too held that respect is important to ritual propriety (3.26, 4.13, 7.36, 12.2, 15.5; cf. 12.5).
    —————-

    • Bill Haines says:

      Oh, I haven’t yet seen any of the above comments …

    • Dan Robins says:

      Bill, that’s helpful—deference to or reverence for the community as well as the tradition. The relation to insult and shame might also be relevant to Manyul’s question about 6A/5. Righteousness seems to be about avoiding being shamed and responding to insult, maybe part of ritual is not shaming or insulting others? (I mean according to MC 2A/6.)

      In the wine case, whether I insult my father is going to depend on the significance we attach to the ritual, isn’t it? Consider a role reversal like we see in 6A/5. If I fail to act appropriately towards my younger brother while he is impersonating the dead, it’s not really my younger brother I’m insulting. (Maybe I’m insulting an ancestor.) But whether or not I insult my younger brother or father, if I fail to do my part in the ritual, a Confucian could easily take this to be an insult to the community and the tradition. I’d say that kind of insult, and the corresponding kind of respect, is what’s basic.

    • Bill Haines says:

      Not just the community, I was arguing, but also each participant–which in the impersonation case is, I think, mainly if notionally the ancestor, but also the impersonator. I think it is a bit of an insult (presumptively) to my younger brother the impersonator if I don’t act properly toward that figure. I’m not cooperating with him.

      The two kinds of reasons I distinguished differ, I think, in that one might be tempted to argue of the first that it does not show how deference/respect might be a root that could prompt or explain ritual as an institution; like your “deference to tradition” it can seem only to show that once ritual is up and running as an institution, respect for our fellows dictates our following ritual.

      In the wine case, whether I insult my father is going to depend on the significance we attach to the ritual, isn’t it?

      So far as the first reason goes, no. So far as the second reason goes – well, the second reason is the proposal that there’s a kind of significance inherent to li 禮. Consider etiquette – it’s not just conventional forms for interaction, so that in one culture etiquette might require thank-you notes after a gift, and in another culture a kick in the rear. I submit that li 禮 is similarly not just conventional forms.

      • Dan Robins says:

        Okay, we may have a disagreement here, though it’s more a disagreement about ritual than about the Mencius, maybe.

        Suppose my father hates the little ritual where the son serves him first, he’d much rather I just pour my own wine and then pass it along the table. Or suppose my younger brother and I have spent the morning mocking the ritual we’re going to participate in, and we both depart from the script in little amusing ways. In these cases, I don’t see how I count as disrespecting my father or my younger brother.

        I’m not sure what your kick-in-the-rear example is supposed to show. Just that ritual and etiquette are to some extent shaped by human psychology (e.g., by the fact that most of us do not like being kicked in the rear)? Sure, and there are no rituals that require us to fly under our own power, either. (Correct me if I’m wrong!) That doesn’t mean that any non-kicking and non-flying ritual is going to win the deference or reverence of everyone who has to participate in it.

        • Bill Haines says:

          Well, there’s quite a bit in the Liji about leaping 踴 to mourn the dead.

          I’m not sure what to think about 禮, really, but I think the points I’ve been defending are plausible enough that they might have been what Mengzi had in mind.

          I didn’t mean my kicking example as a proof. I meant it to display that some forms are more naturally suited than others to express attitudes suited to harmony.

          OK, you’re right about the special cases you describe, about Father and the wine, etc., but I think Mengzi’s claim (like any general claim I might ever want to make about ritual) is meant in broad strokes.

        • Bill Haines says:

          Oops, that’s not what I meant the kicking case to display; rather that’s how I hoped it would display something else: that li is not just conventional forms for interactions. So, for example, it might be essential to li, or to li as Mengzi envisions it, that its project is harmony by way of mutual yielding.

  3. Steve Angle says:

    Hi Dan and all,

    Thought-provoking post, as always! I think there’s plenty of truth in what has been said here by y’all, but it seems to me that in one important way, Dan has started us off in a misleading way. Rather than reading Mencius as saying that the heart of deference is the starting point of ritual, I would have thought it is the starting point of ritual propriety: that is, of a trait or disposition, parallel to benevolence and righteousness, as opposed to the practice or tradition of ritual.

    I take deference to be the ability or disposition to trust, follow, yield, and/or submit to something that you acknowledge as (at least in the particular, local circumstance) authoritative. Such an ability does indeed seem to be fundamental to ritual propriety, since there can be no genuine propriety without the (usually implicit) recognition of a given ritual tradition as authoritative. Often, though, our ritual behavior (which is distinct from, though typically generated by, our trait/disposition/ability of ritual propriety) expresses deference not just to the ritual tradition, but to other objects as well–the social order, the community, and ancestors have been mentioned; teachers, parents, rulers, ministers aptly remonstrating to or instructing rulers, and other individuals all count too, I think.

    • Bill Haines says:

      Steve, if it’s a mistake to read Mengzi here as referring to something more than the individual’s mere disposition to accord with the existing institution of li 禮, then I think the mistake is entirely mine, not invited by Dan. But why think it’s a mistake? I don’t recall anyone as early as Mengzi marking that distinction (after him, I wouldn’t know). And there’s nothing odd in thinking that an institution (for example, formal etiquette) could arise from and express people’s mutual deference and respect. Mengzi wouldn’t see that point as in conflict with any idea that the institution comes from 天.

      Also, is there really such a connection between 讓 or 辭讓 and authority? I’d have thought I could go too far in 讓ing. You say that my deference to X implies that I acknowledge that X is authoritative. I’m troubled by three ambiguities in the account, which make me unsure whether the account says anything more than that deference is yielding “when one thinks there is some reason to do so.” (1) Does “Smith acknowledges that P” imply that P is true? (2) Is the authoritativeness you’re talking about supposed to be a rather general authority (such as one implies when one says out of context that a person is authoritative”) or merely some very specific authority (as my cat has the authority to demand that I move when I lean on its tail)? (3) How thinly may we read “authority” in your account? If there is reason for me to yield to X on this occasion, does that very fact imply that X is authoritative with regard to that yielding?

      At An.4.13, Confucius says, “…不能以禮讓為國,如禮何?” and I wonder whether part of the picture is that yielding to subjects is a kind of generosity or kindness, not their right. (Compare 8.1: Taibo “三以天下讓”)

    • Steve Angle says:

      As I read Dan’s original post, “ritual” (as in the heart of deference (辭讓) is the starting point of ritual, etc.) seems to refer to ritual practices and/or the ritual code. I may be wrong about that–and he could be purposely being ambiguous between, as it were, “ritual” and “propriety.” But that’s certainly how the thing reads to me.

      My initial reason for thinking this reading is a mistake is the failure of parallelism. I don’t think that anyone thinks that ren, yi, or zhi in 2A:6 refer to practices or institutions. So it would be odd if li did.

      I agree that one can go wrong in one’s deference, which is also to say be mistaken about an attribution of authority.

      I like the thought at the end–generosity rather than a matter of right–but I’m not sure right now what more to say about it. Let me reflect!

      • Bill Haines says:

        Thanks Steve.

        “After you,” I say at the door, or as we see the bowl of potatoes between us. What authority is involved there?

      • Dan Robins says:

        Hi Steve,

        Ren” doesn’t refer to practices, but if you are ren then there’s a way you act. Parallelism suggests that the same is true of li: it refers to an attitude or motive of some sort, but if you have it, there’s a way you’ll act. That is, you’ll act in accord with some ritual tradition, and (as I’m reading this) you’ll do that out of deference to that tradition.

        This leaves room for Mencians to say that it doesn’t have to be that one tradition you defer to, if they recognised alternative ritual traditions as real possibilities and their conception of ritual here is abstracted from any particular tradition—though for reasons not especially relevant here I doubt they did this.

        Reading them this way does make it plausible that one’s ritual engagement, down even to the smallest particular, has a unified psychological basis, which is what the passage is claiming. If you think instead of the deference or reverence that gets put to work within the ritual, I don’t think you get this. Think of the feelings in play in a wedding or funeral, for example. They might coexist with deference or reverence towards other participants, but does it really make sense to say that they derive from it? Whereas if the deference at issue is deference to the ritual or to tradition, then that deference does provide a basis for the engagement of other attitudes within the ritual. Or anyway that’s how it seems to me.

        • Steve Angle says:

          Hi Dan, My reply to Huaiyu below is relevant here, but let me expand. Basically, I think that when one behaves in a ritually prescribed manner, a whole variety of things may be going on. Bill asks above about “After you.” One motive in play here is propriety, which offers one this particular shape of behavior in this particular kind of circumstance. I’m happy saying, as I now understand you to be arguing, that propriety emerges from deference to ritual tradition. I’m not entirely sure, though, about the idea that this deference “provide[s] a basis for the engagement of other attitudes within the ritual.” I think one typically has a variety of value-laden emotional responses to a given situation. So one’s “After you” may also be a means of expressing respect, fellowship, friendliness, humility, etc. One does this though the ritual, and the ritual is based in deference to a tradition. One might be able to express these things in other ways, but the ritual provides a useful way to do it. Are you happy with that?

          • Dan Robins says:

            Yes, that sounds right to me. If we all defer to and revere tradition, that gives us ways to act that we can all recognise as expressing a variety of other attitudes, including presumably deference to and reverence for one another.

          • Bill Haines says:

            I take deference to be the ability or disposition to trust, follow, yield, and/or submit to something that you acknowledge as (at least in the particular, local circumstance) authoritative.

            I read that Account as saying that when I 讓 to X, I am taking X as relevantly authoritative. But when I say to you at the door or at the table, “after you,” I’m 讓ing to you. It would seem to follow from the Account, then, that I am taking you as relevantly authoritative in that case. But that doesn’t seem true. The point of the 讓ing there doesn’t seem to have much to do with the authority of the 讓ee.

            (At the risk of muddying the waters with an extra point: it seems to me that “after you” cases in our ritual typically involve yielding the door or the potatoes to someone of lower status than ourselves, including young people who may have no inkling that it might be proper for them to be yielded to in that way.)

      • Bill Haines says:

        My initial reason for thinking this reading [i.e. that ci-rang is the root of li not merely in the sense of the individual’s accord with a set of rules given by tradition, but in a sense that implies that ci-rang is in some sense the root or heart of the rules themselves] is a mistake is the failure of parallelism. I don’t think that anyone thinks that ren, yi, or zhi in 2A:6 refer to practices or institutions. So it would be odd if li did.

        Well, other apparent failures of parallelism are pretty striking.

        But never mind; I don’t want to claim lack of parallelism here. For I didn’t mean to propose that li there referred only (or even mainly) to the institution. Consider the disposition to go along with traditional forms for interaction, should any be in place. Is it an impressive disposition? Now consider a second disposition, with a further feature: that if people have it, they are likely to be able to judge whether one of the rules is a good one, or out of synch with the point of the institution; and furthermore, if they failed to be blessed with a suitable tradition, they could and would invent whole sets of good rules. Good by the standards inherent to li. That isn’t so hard to imagine, I guess, when the sort of institution we have in mind is etiquette.

        How we might envision the details of the Second Disposition depends on whether “禮” just means conventional forms for interaction. Is that how you understand it, Dan? I submit that if there is a set of rules, there might be a spirit or purpose animating the rules, explaining their shape; and that “conventional forms for interaction” might then be a seriously incorrect definition. For example, suppose the project of 禮 is to support harmony by rules that make mutual yielding sufficiently palatable as to get us apes to do it. Then the “second disposition” described above might centrally involve a disposition to defer to others – I mean to other individuals, not just to tradition or the community in the abstract.

        If that were one’s vision, one might say that ci-rang is the heart of ritual, meaning at once that it is the heart of the virtue of individuals and that it is the heart of the institution.

  4. Huaiyu Wang says:

    Very nice points, Steve. I like your interpretation of the beginning of ritual propriety in terms of submission and yielding – the translation “deference” itself could be misleading – maybe the more accurate way of putting could be modest/unassuming.

    “Such an ability does indeed seem to be fundamental to ritual propriety, since there can be no genuine propriety without the (usually implicit) recognition of a given ritual tradition as authoritative.”

    I am not sure this authoritative dimension is endorsed by Confucius or Mencius. There may be some element of truth in it – but it also invites a misinterpretation that C/M would take everything passed down from the tradition as unconditionally right and authoritative. The final judgment for ritual propriety – as M says, is the heart to be modest/unassuming, for C, it is to be a humane (ren) person.

    See e.g. Ch. 29 of the Book of Ritual (Kongzi Xianju) where Confucius identify the supreme ritual and music as formless and soundless.

    MY two cents 🙂

    • Steve Angle says:

      Thanks, Huaiyu. I agree that the term “authoritative” is tricky, but I also think it’s important. Sor-hoon Tan’s essay “Authoritative Master Kong in an Authoritarian Age” (Dao 9:2, 2010) speaks to the difference between the two concepts in her title, linking authoritative with excellence and authoritarian with coercion, and therefore emphasizes that “authoritative” is never “unconditionally right.” Part of the point of her essay, though, is to acknowledge that Confucius’s authoritative model was often subsequently identified and used as an authoritarian one, and to reflect on what implications that might have for contemporary Confucianism.

      • Huaiyu Wang says:

        Thanks for the nice points on authoritative vs. authoritarian. I know Tan’s article and think it expands an early thesis by Roger T. Ames on ren as “authoritative humanity.”

        It is indeed important to distinguish the importance of “excellence” from “power” – but I am not so sure the sense of “entitlement” for the “excellent” that is suggested by the term “authoritative” or meritocracy/elitism.

        Indeed, Ames himself seems to soften up on his early thesis on “authority” as he rejected the elitism model in their recent treatise on Xiao (Rosemont/Ames, Translation of Xiaojing, 49-50). I think that is a good move for highlighting that the most important element in the political order is not authority or excellence, but benevolence and benefaction.

        • Steve Angle says:

          Thanks very much for this reference, Huaiyu, and for the stimulating point. It is related to Bill’s suggestion above that “yielding to subjects is a kind of generosity or kindness, not their right.” Ames gives these three reasons for preferring benefactor-beneficiary to superior-inferior: (1) helps us avoid thinking of the relation as “elitist” or “coercive”; (2) helps us avoid seeing the relation as essential and rigid; (3) reminds us that “proactive deference” is a central theme of Confucianism.

          I think these points are each important. However, I am currently still thinking that it is better to capture them in a different way. It is crucial that a system of rituals be relatively independent from individual, particular judgments, so that it can be accessible (it serves as a kind of social shorthand) and also so that it can play its disciplinary function. I emphasize only “relatively” independent: rituals (or even, in an extreme case, whole systems of rituals) can be critiqued and changed or abandoned; and in individual cases, we can exercise ethical discretion and modify or skip a ritual. The idea, then, is that there is a set of ritual practices that are defeasibly authoritative for us and include various default attributions of status hierarchy. I think that this way of parsing things lets us grasp the import and value of rituals and hierarchy while also holding on to the distinct importance of relationally-constituted ethical goodness and ethical judgment. In contrast, I worry that Ames’s approach collapses this distinction, thus making ritual both too particular and not subject to ethical critique.

          • Huaiyu Wang says:

            Thanks Steve for the excellent points.

            Though an oxymoron in itself, “defeasibly authoritative” is apparently the best term one can use if one has to insist on the concept of “authority” in this context. Other approaches to make the similar points, of course, is to render the “authority” as subjunctive or as if…
            (I have some relevant discussion on this issue in the recent article in DAO 10:2, near the end of first section and middle of third section, if interested).

            For Ame’s work, however, I don’t see why the benefactor-beneficieary relation would deprive one of the ethical judgment – it may well be a source of ethical reasoning. I think Amee’s problem is his insistence on the lack of freedom and autonomy for the relational selves – a point I have criticized in some other places…

            Though I am sympathetic with your point on the importance of whole system of ritual, I don’t know if that is the Chinese way of thinking for one’s particular practice of propriety such as “After you.” I tend to believe the respect is first and foremost directed to the persons involved, and to a secondary sense (even heuristic/pragmatic sense) to the ritual system itself.

            My two cents 🙂

  5. Huaiyu Wang says:

    Steve, As I reviewed Tan’a article, I want to add that though she did an excellent job in showing why Confucianism is not “authoritarian,” which is right on point, she offered almost no textual evidence (expect some plausible way of modern translation) on the function of authority in Confucianism.

    As a matter of fact, it is hard to find any discussion on the term or meaning of “authority” (in the strict western sense) at all in Confucius discourse so far as I know.

  6. Manyul Im says:

    Hey everyone,

    I’m a little concerned that “authority” and “authoritative” are slippery between referring to de facto authority and de jure — or, morally/politically legitimate — authority. In the de jure sense, ritual propriety involves deferring to authority that has been discerned, through some faculty or skill of discernment, to be morally/politically legitimate. That is one way of using “authority,” i.e. presuming it to be morally/politically legitimate. That’s the sense in which I think Dan’s reading of Mencius’s view makes sense of deference. It is always to something that presumptively deserves the deference. Wouldn’t that be less problematic for a Confucian virtue of deference than if “authority” were understood de facto, i.e. as referring to whatever person, position, social hierarchy, etc happens to be hegemonic?

    For support of this, there’s at least the Mencius 1B8 indication that what looks like regicide isn’t really regicide if the de facto sovereign’s status isn’t morally legitimate.

    • Dan Robins says:

      I think we’ve been working with an authority/power distinction, where authority is de jure and power is de facto.

      Though I think it’s a bit more complex than that. If the idea is that you’re deferring to a ritual tradition, then you somehow have to select which people, communities, texts, and rituals you’ll count as authoritative for that tradition. I doubt a heart of deference could do that on its own. Partly it’s because I don’t think deference (or yielding, or whatever) on its own can do that, and partly it’s the parallel with the hearts of compassion and of shame.

      You can (by Mencian lights) be inappropriately compassionate—witness King Xuan and the ox (1A/7). You can also give in to shame inappropriately—witness Bo Yi, mortified by the villager whose cap isn’t straight (2A/9). But it’s not King Xuan’s kindness that’s going to keep him from the kitchen (so he won’t be inappropriately kind to animals), and it’s not Bo Yi’s sense of shame that’s going to make him less fastidious. In both cases, something else is required. I think the same is true of the heart of deference: something besides the heart is needed if we are to avoid deferring to inappropriate authorities.

      What something else? The heart of judgment (shi-fei 是非) is a pretty good candidate, maybe. Though so little gets said about that heart that appealing to it here doesn’t really explain anything.

  7. Bill Haines says:

    Dan, you write in the Original Post, “The puzzle is that ritual obviously mobilises motives other than deference, and calls for behaviour that is not simply deferential.

    Isn’t it also obviously true that ren mobilizes motives other than compassion (e.g. self-discipline and curiosity) and calls for behavior that is not simply compassionate? And similarly for yi and shame?

    • Dan Robins says:

      There are other motives, but to the extent that 仁 is a matter of being concerned for others’ well-being, then compassion gives all the other motives their point. If you need discipline to be 仁, for example, that’s because discipline enables you to more effectively serve the needs of more people.

      Shame is trickier, but I think this and other passages give us good reason to take seriously the possibility that whoever wrote 2A/6 really did think of shame as the motive characteristic of 義, and to think of 義 as, is large part, avoiding behaviour and associations that would bring shame upon you. But the heart of shame maybe needs its own post (and maybe Walker should write it).

      With deference and ritual, the question is whether we have at work here an account of ritual as primarily giving us ways to peacefully defer to one another (or revere/respect one another). That doesn’t seem at all like the right account to me. Do you find signs of it elsewhere in the Mencius?

      • Bill Haines says:

        Before I defend the account, here are some things I’ve searched up from Mencius. Though (like you?) I don’t think of him as someone who thought much about this stuff on his own.

        Maybe there’s a sign of the view at the beginning of 3A3, where a ruler’s exercising li toward his subordinates is closely associated with refraining from taking from them:
        是故賢君必恭儉禮下,取於民有制.

        And maybe in 4A4, where if one’s li behavior is not reciprocated one should ask whether one has really been respectful after all:
        愛人不親反其仁,治人不治反其智,禮人不答反其敬。

        And maybe in – well today I’m going to have to call it Li Lou 56 (which you can find on Sturgeon’s site), where Mencius says the ren person loves people, while the person who has ritual respects people, and thus they preserve their hearts:
        君子以仁存心,以禮存心。仁者愛人,有禮者敬人.

      • Bill Haines says:

        OK, now I’ll try to defend in a more general way the idea that “we have at work here [in the Mencius] an account of ritual as primarily giving us ways to peacefully defer to one another (or revere/respect one another).”

        Maybe I can soften you up a little by noting that early Confucians sometimes more or less identified ritual propriety with the whole of morality, and one doesn’t usually think it’s wacky of Kant to have identified the whole of morality with respect for people (or something like that). Or one might think of how Aristotle more or less associated justice with the avoidance of pleonexia. Pleonexia is taking-too-much (vis-à-vis other people), which is sorta the opposite of 辭讓. Or one might think of the translation of 恕 as “forbearance.”

        Granted, lots of early texts (including passages in the Mencius) naturally suggest to us a view of 禮 as a million piddling rules about, say, what color socks to wear with a bourbon hangover. And then the point might be to avoid indecision at the sock drawer, or to mark the people in the know, or to make the world seem less chaotic (at least in the morning). But I think it’s fair or at least charitable to suppose that the leading Ru did not see ritual in quite that way. Some sorts of 禮 are likely to have seemed to them paradigmatic, and to shed explanatory light on the whole.

        Now, one way to argue for my reading of the Mencius line is to argue that the mutual deference/respect view was “in the air,” not atypical for early Confucianism. I’ve argued here above that Youzi put forth a view of that kind (and I proposed in my Youzi paper that the Mencius owed quite a bit to Youzi – not just the idea of deriving li, ren, and yi in parallel ways from humbler roots or 端, but also the idea of arguing for natural human equality on the analogy of non-human kinds).

        (Chris Fraser objected to the passage in my Youzi paper that I quoted above: he said he thought respect is rather like the whole of morality, hence not a mere small-scale root of ritual. But I wasn’t talking about respect there exactly, I was talking about 恭, which I characterized more narrowly. I never got to act on or acknowledge his helpful comments on my Youzi paper, because PEW messed up and never sent me galleys to review.)

        Another piece of evidence about the air is that somebody thought to arrange the Liji so that the opening passage said (in Legge’s translation),

        The Summary of the Rules of Propriety says: Always and in everything let there be reverence; with the deportment grave as when one is thinking (deeply), and with speech composed and definite. This will make the people tranquil.

        Pride should not be allowed to grow; the desires should not be indulged; the will should not be gratified to the full; pleasure should not be carried to excess.

        Men of talents and virtue can be familiar with others and yet respect them; can stand in awe of others and yet love them. They love others and yet acknowledge the evil that is in them. They accumulate (wealth) and yet are able to part with it (to help the needy); they rest in what gives them satisfaction and yet can seek satisfaction elsewhere (when it is desirable to do so). When you find wealth within your reach, do not (try to) get it by improper means; when you meet with calamity, do not (try to) escape from it by improper means. Do not seek for victory in small contentions; do not seek for more than your proper share. Do not positively affirm what you have doubts about; and (when you have no doubts), do not let what you say appear (simply) as your own view.

        I think Youzi’s proposal that the function of ritual is social harmony – a proposal echoed in non-accidentally similar terms in the Xiaojing and the Liji (and even, perhaps, in the opening lines of the Liji quoted just above) – neatly fits the mutual yielding/respect view. As you know, I think Youzi had in mind sacrificial rituals in which the different roles of each kind of person, most saliently the high kind and the low kind, fit together into a harmonious whole, so that it makes sense for each party to cooperate rather than rebel or try to ride free. In the paper I defended his claim: “Cooperation without coercion needs mutual confidence and an agreed plan. In the visible coordinations of ritual we refresh and observe our shared sense of the attractions of harmony, renewing our confidence in our mutual commitment; and ritual celebrating the ranks sketches a social plan. Outside of grand ceremonies, ritual forms for interactions especially between unequals can accomplish the same on a smaller scale, casting the inequality as a shared adherence to a stable common way rather than a conflict of interest that threatens both parties.”

        The idea of respect for ritual itself does enter into that picture. Ritual is impersonal forms for deferring to each other, yielding to each other, individually and collectively, and part of what makes all that yielding palatable is that it is most directly a respect for the tradition or its forms. But the shape of the forms is about making way for each other, harmonious coexistence among us apes. Not everyone who respects the rules need see that, but maybe someone who truly has the spirit of the ritual would. (Of course I am speculating.)

        • Dan Robins says:

          Thanks for this Bill! It’s really helpful. Maybe it’s worth adding (on your side of the argument!) how often in the Mencius you get worries about when to gifts, who gets to summon who, and whether and when to meet someone—issues of etiquette where yielding of a sort really does seem to be central.

          Still, there are funerals. Xunzi’s account of funerals and other rituals actually fits nicely with the idea that yielding is at the heart of ritual. We have certain desires and emotions (such as grief for a dead parent) that, if we are left to our own devices, will lead to disorder. Ritual steps in to give us ways to act on those attitudes while also peacefully coexisting with others. So for Xunzi, the other motives that are at work in ritual are actually a problem, and the sort of yielding that ritual teaches is the solution to that problem. So it’s not that it’s good or appropriate or whatever to feel grief at the death of a parent, and rituals provide us the best way to express that grief, but that we inevitably do feel grief, and something has to be done about that.

          I’m finding it hard to think of that as a Mencian idea, though.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Thanks Dan! Maybe I should decline your gift argument, on the grounds that Mengzi’s interest in the topic is too easily explained otherwise.

            The question about how the Mencius would relate mourning ritual with the ci-rang gong-jing (CRGJ) view of ritual strikes me as an interesting and good one. And I suppose it is something Mengzi would have thought about, given the trouble he faced over the charge that he went against ritual in this connection (1B16).

            The first answer to try, I guess, is that mourning ritual is CRGJ to the departed. (That’s not mutual ,except in the sense that people pay it backward serially; but it is to someone, and 2A6|6A6 don’t say “mutual.”)

            But maybe you’d say that that proposal confuses the grief with the ritualization of the grief. Mengzi would have distinguished, associating the grief itself more with filiality.

            One answer might just be that a main function of the ritualization is to make sure that people mourn enough.

            A better answer might be that the departed isn’t the only person addressed by mourning ritual. The Mencius is concerned with mourning ritual mainly as a public act of a ruler or official, and in connection with its significance to the wider audience. For that, the application of our “hearts” toward those other people comes into play. The ruler’s public mourning is a display of humility and indeed of respect for ritual and the community in general, and (at least thereby) his subjects, winning their reciprocal allegiance. Other officials’ mourning rites are limited by and so mark their station.

            But the Mencius isn’t very fresh in my head — can someone else help out here?

          • Bill Haines says:

            True, the opening “paragraphs” of the Liji that I quoted seem to stress a specifically Xunzian kind of yielding: something like a refraining from exercising one’s heart fully. If that’s the CRGJ picture that was in the air, then the point about the air might not support my reading of 2A6 and 6A6.

            But that passage in the Liji does not in fact speak of restraining the heart; it describes only the shape of what the virtuous person feels and does.

  8. Bill Haines says:

    Here’s how Legge translates each of the four occurrences of 辭讓 in the Liji (thanks to Donald Sturgeon!)

    辭讓而對
    [try to] decline (answering)

    尚辭讓
    (show his value for) kindly consideration and complaisant courtesy

    辭讓
    words and postures of courtesy

    辭讓之節繁
    (The usages between them,) now declining, now yielding, the one to the other, (are numerous)

  9. Bill Haines says:

    I’m away from my own books today. Of the other places where辭讓 appears in early material shown in the Chinese Text Project, only the Zhuangzi is accompanied there by an English translation. Here are both of the instances of 辭讓 in the Zhuangzi, with Legge’s translation:

    貨財弗爭,不多辭讓
    (while he does not strive after property and wealth, he does not plume himself on) declining (them)

    而不受,非虛辭讓也
    (they would not receive [the throne] – not that they) declined it (without purpose)

    Maybe Legge is way off the mark. But if he’s not – then then to say that we 辭讓 the tradition and its ritual would seem to amount to saying that what we politely forgo is the tradition and its ritual!

    • Dan Robins says:

      But then the alternative reading is that we politely forgo other people.

      辭 and 讓 both involve yielding in a way. 辭 is more refusing something you don’t have, 讓 is more giving up something you have (“after you” is 讓). I tend to think of 辭 as more something the inferior party does and 讓 as more something the superior party does, though this doesn’t always hold true. (Am I right to think that a minister resigning is 辭 while a king abdicating his throne is 讓?) 辭 at least doesn’t always imply that you’re yielding to someone else (if I offer wine and my father 辭, he’s not telling me to drink it himself). Still, I think we’re agreed that the core idea here is that of yielding. (Maybe “deference” makes it sound too much like a bottom-up attitude.)

      • Bill Haines says:

        But then the alternative reading is that we politely forgo other people.

        Well, yes – heh – but in a way not. The main object of the English “defer,” an indirect object, is the thing or party one defers to. But ci-rang seems to take as its main object the thing declined. That’s a different sort of picture, I think, and doesn’t invite the idea that the party from whom (or, secondarily, for whom) one declines or yields the thing could be the tradition or ritual itself.

        As for the difference between the characters, I defer wholly to you.

      • Bill Haines says:

        … I mean, the ci-rang picture of yielding some thing does, I think, invite the picture that yielding is something done between people, and perhaps also something a person might do toward a community, as declining rulership offered by acclamation.

      • Bill Haines says:

        Kongzi said, “You love the sheep; I love the ritual.” Are there clear cases in the early literature where 辭 and/or 讓 takes ritual or tradition as an indirect object?

      • Bill Haines says:

        I read too quickly at first your discussion of the difference between 辭 and 讓. It’s very interesting.

        Your point about 辭 not generally having a beneficiary suggests to me that “declining” might be a better term than “yielding” for what they have in common. The uses in the Analects that sorta fit your point about ministers v. kings are cases in which the辭 and 讓 are actually refusals to accede to the other party’s wishes, and hence decline rather than yielding.

        • Bill Haines says:

          On second thought, I think you’re right, Dan: ‘yielding’ captures much more of the range than ‘declining’ does.

  10. Bill Haines says:

    I think Manyul is right in #1 above to say that in ritual, deference is also to such things as age and the position someone holds (hence not (just) to individuals or to comprehensive things like the whole social order). I don’t think it follows that the yielding, respect, or whatever is not to individuals. I think it is to individuals thereby. “Age before beauty,” someone once taught me to say when holding the door for someone; that doesn’t mean one isn’t giving way to the individual.

    (He also taught me to say, when accepting an offer of the door, “pearls before swine.” Then he said, “You try it,” and no doubt he had some further trick planned, but I was a poor student and said “Pearls before swine” as I offered the door to him.)

  11. Bill Haines says:

    Dan, you’ve said that the reading you’ve proposed is likely to seem to be a non-Mencian idea, and you counter that charge by readings of 3A5 and 3B9. I don’t agree with those readings.

    3A/5 rejects Mohist proposals for social change because they do not derive from an instinctive rejection of current practice; in the absence of such a rejection, the passage insists, we should simply follow tradition.”

    First, it seems to me that this passage is thinking about burial more in terms of ren and ren’s heart than in terms of its being an instance of ritual. Second, the line you have in mind seems to be “夷子思以易天下,豈以為非是而不貴也?” – but “易天下” just means changing what everyone does, yes? What everyone does does indeed have prima facie authority of a sort that is in a way prior to and independent of any philosophical view about the authority of the hoary past or whether ultimate authority resides in the heart that everyone basically has in common. (As you suggest, Mengzi’s argument about sweating at the ditch seems to stress that the authority of the heart overrides the authority of existing practice.)

    3B/9 portrays a world in disorder, in which beastly philosophers such as Yang and Mo confuse the world [by] their arguments. This forces Mencius to engage in argument himself when really people should just follow the way of the ancient sages.”

    “Just” following the sages suggests following them for some reason that can plausibly be regarded as “no reason except that they’re the sages.” To support your use of 3A9, I guess your version of that would have to be “for no reason except that they led in the past,” or something like that. But, first, 3A9 stresses that history cycles between following the sages and not doing so, and we’re now not doing so. Second, 3A9 seems to argue for the rightness of the way that is the sages’ way, on the grounds that it has much better consequences than other ways. It mentions the sages mainly toward empirical fleshing-out of the consequentialist argument.

    • Bill Haines says:

      D’oh! I mean 3B9.

    • Dan Robins says:

      Well, 3B/9 is specifically denying that Mencius considered it appropriate to defend his normative views in argument, and goes pretty far in denying that competing normative proposals are real human possibilities. I agree that it’s bound up in the narrative that the sages were able to bring order. Though think about the Yu part of the story (both here and in 3A/4): he allowed the waters to find their proper courses by removing obstructions. That’s how the text construes Mencius’s own activity, clearing the way for things to return to their proper course by driving out the animals Yang and Mo.

      I’m not sure where you’re seeing a disagreement over 3A/5. The spontaneous instincts (or whatever) of the heart do trump tradition, but whatever the Mohists were doing doesn’t, because the Mohists were in some sense trying to establish a second root, independent of tradition. Do you disagree with the second part of that?

      (I do think the relation of ren to funerals has to be more complex than maybe you allow, since Mencius seems to acknowledge that it would not be ren for someone with Yizi’s values to give his parents lavish funerals.)

    • Bill Haines says:

      I’d have sworn I’ve read a published article or ms by you on these passages, but I can’t find anything meeting that description. Help?

      I’ll try to address your points in order –

      —–3B9:

      Argument is inappropriate – do you mean “therefore we’re thrown back onto the alternative, which is tradition”? Why wouldn’t we be thrown back onto our hearts instead?

      Competing normative proposals aren’t real human possibilities – do you mean “therefore despite the sages’ periodic and current unpopularity, they’re still plainly THE tradition”? I do see that he argues that the competing proposals are awful.

      Yu and Mencius clearing the channels: Wouldn’t it be more in character for the Mencius to have in mind clearing the channels for the springs of the human heart, rather than clearing the channels for intergenerational transmission of norms?

      —–3A5:

      Did I appeal in some way to the idea that what the Mohists were doing trumps tradition in Mencius’ view?

      I don’t agree that by the “one root” Mencius means tradition. I don’t see what might support that reading.

      Mencius says (Sturgeon/Legge):
      且天之生物也,使之一本,而夷子二本故也。
      “Moreover, Heaven gives birth to creatures in such a way that they have one root, and Yi makes them to have two roots. This is the cause of his error”

      Here his language suggests to me the heart rather than tradition as the “one root.” Heaven didn’t make us with tradition.

      In 3A5, Mencius approves of what he imagines early people doing: departing from existing practice, not on grounds of tradition.

      (Hm. I wonder if the background of the argument could have been like this: The Mohists, seeing Confucians appealing to the hoary past, might have argued that the earliest past must have lacked the Confucian fol-de-rol about mourning, and so offered a past-based argument of their own, at least as a reductio of the Confucian approach. And Mencius was answering this, saying “Suppose indeed there once were some who just tossed their parents in ditches …”?)

      —–Ren and mourning ritual:

      I would think Mencius would think that so long as one sticks to Mohist values, one is unfilial (hence not ren) whichever way one goes.

      —————

      Even if these passages in 3 did show Mencius defending the authority of tradition, I don’t think that fact would then support the idea that he doesn’t think we should respect or defer to other things too, such as our neighbors!

      • Stephen C. Walker says:

        Mengzi appeals sometimes to the authority of tradition and sometimes to the authority of the heart. Clearly he cares about both; to what extent does he envision them conflicting? Does he ever advise changing tradition according to the dictates of the heart?

        3a5 shows him approving of a cultural change that took place long ago, which is very different from approving of cultural change in the present and future, as a live option. I tend to read Mengzi as thinking that the Ru moral and ritual tradition (associated primarily with the Zhou monarchs but also with a selection of more primordial sages) differs from other ways of life in that it uniquely satisfies the appetites of the heart. (Whether or not this uniqueness is a matter of degree seems unimportant; the important thing is to stay committed to the tradition.) He assumes that the tradition did not always exist in the form that he teaches it; what brought it about was the responses some humans made to their hearts’ preferences. Mengzi certainly seems satisfied that all the important work was done in the past; he offers no suggestion that people might discover some other ritual system that suits their hearts better.

        To the extent that Mengzi grounds the rightness of Ru customs on psychological satisfaction, and Xunzi on social utility, it remains a peculiar fact that both thinkers deny basic deliberative authority to anybody but historical figures – whether mythical sages or characters from thought experiments. It is not a live possibility to them that people in general can be consulted on what would satisfy them psychologically, or on what would be best for society, in a way that could conflict with the paramount importance of the inherited Ru system.

      • Bill Haines says:

        Stephen, much of what you say seems to me right.

        On the one hand, I think 3A5 and 3B9 don’t express a view of respect for tradition so strong as to make seem Mencian the idea that the heart of ritual is respect for and deference to tradition rather than for and to other people, i.e. the idea that respect for tradition or existing practice is so fundamental that, as it were, Heaven wrote it directly into our basic hearts more than it wrote in basic respect for and courtesy to others.

        Nevertheless, your remarks show me that I was overlooking the distinction between respect for tradition or existing practice as such, and respect for the Ru tradition in particular, and (existing practice insofar as it fits) Ru ideas in particular.

        I think maybe Dan’s proposal about 2A6 and 6A6 is not so specific as to choose between respect for the tradition, and respect for tradition as such. (And of course, his proposal is at least as much about respect for (the) ritual as it is about respect for (the) tradition.) So maybe I was wrong to interpret his arguments about 3A5 and 3B9 as being about respect for tradition/existing practice as such. But it seems to me offhand that as between respect for the tradition, and respect for tradition as such, the former is less plausibly regarded as being in our Heaven-written hearts, because it is too particular.

        3a5 shows [Mencius] approving of a cultural change that took place long ago, which is very different from approving of cultural change in the present and future, as a live option.”

        Are you saying he didn’t advocate cultural change?

        I’d have to re-read the Mencius to check, but my sense is that although he does sometimes argue from the authority of Ru and/or the feudal tradition (taking his interlocutors to accept that premise), his main use of history is as a source of illustrations and evidence for claims about how things work, rather than in arguments of the form “Old figures the Ru revere did or said X, therefore X is right.” But I suppose he also relies on the perceived authority of the Ru tradition in the very fact of expecting people to listen to his arguments and advice. And I suppose one could argue that in relying on historical evidence about how things work, he would of course be relying on Ru versions of history; by his time there may have been alternative versions.

        One feature of Mencius’ approach that might lead one to underestimate the extent to which he advocates cultural change, is that he Mencius tries to persuade people, and so tries to emphasize that he is relying only on premises and attitudes he thinks his interlocutors already hold or want to think they hold.

        To the extent that Mengzi grounds the rightness of Ru customs on psychological satisfaction, and Xunzi on social utility, it remains a peculiar fact that both thinkers deny basic deliberative authority to anybody but historical figures – whether mythical sages or characters from thought experiments. It is not a live possibility to them that people in general can be consulted on what would satisfy them psychologically, or on what would be best for society, in a way that could conflict with the paramount importance of the inherited Ru system. .”

        I don’t agree that Mencius’ appeal to thought experiment is a species of appeal to historical figures. It looks to me more like an appeal to the interlocutor’s judgment.

        I think Mencius often argues from the social utility of acting on his way (e.g. in 3B9 and 1A1 and his defense of the well-field system in 3A3); not just the intrinsic satisfactions of acting on his way.

        Mencius plainly holds that that people in general (individually and collectively) can be consulted on what would satisfy them psychologically, and on what would be best for society; and that their answers have some authority (especially insofar as they are widely and strongly held), for they tend to reflect what Heaven has written into people. Presumably he thinks their answers will coincide with what the Ru tradition recommends, because he seems to think the tradition or some strain of it is right, at least in broad strokes.

        As you say, it is not a live possibility for Mencius that the authority of our hearts might justify rejecting the ways of the sages. (Similarly, it is not a live possibility for him that the authority of the sages might justify rejecting the ways of our hearts.) That is only to say that he is sure they agree; it isn’t to say anything at all about priority of authority between them.

        To the extent that Mengzi grounds the rightness of Ru customs on psychological satisfaction, … it remains a peculiar fact that [he denies] basic deliberative authority to anybody but historical figures … [and not] people in general

        It’s not peculiar that Mencius doesn’t locate fundamental deliberative authority in each person’s actual pronouncements, for people disagree and are often just wrong. It’s not peculiar that he doesn’t advocate permanent direct democracy on basic matters of cultural and political organization; for that’s a bridge to nowhere. Is there a reason to think he doesn’t locate fundamental deliberative authority (among people) in each person’s Heaven-given heart, and not (otherwise) in historical figures?

        Maybe your point is partly to defend Dan’s proposal more directly, by arguing that there are limits to the respect for and deference to other (contemporary) people that Mencius was willing to advocate? I think that in order to combine a public life with respect for strangers, one has to operate on some assumptions about what other people at bottom are and want.

        I hope to respond to your response in the Monism thread, but not before much more reconnaissance with the relevant things you’ve said elsewhere on the blog.

        • Stephen C. Walker says:

          My remarks are not intended to address the “heart of deference” directly; rather they were prompted by the discussion of 3a5 on the comment-thread. To what extent does Mengzi grants the heart’s preferences the kind of authority that could justify appealing to the heart rather than to Ru traditions in deciding what we should do? Much of Mengzi’s originality as a moral philosopher hovers around this question – I think that, generally, he wants mores and traditions to serve the needs of the human heart, and that he is also satisfied that the relevant mores and traditions have already been mapped out in substantive (though not exhaustive) detail. If he does not find even hypothetical tension between the heart’s preferences and the dào of Yao, Shun, and King Wen, then he is probably best understood as conforming his account of what would satisfy us to the goods already on offer from the tradition. That account assumes more of its conclusions than we could ever find justified, since Mengzi shows no evidence of having engaged in serious or systematic reflection that might put the tradition’s authority in danger.

          3a5 seems to provide evidence for this interpretation; I agree with Dan that its primary point is to oppose the Mohist way of reforming cultural practices, on the ground that such practices should only be reformed in answer to an overwhelming affective urge. Mengzi shows no interest in developing a theory of overwhelming affective urges in general, or observing (in Mohist fashion) the responses various communities have made to the urge of caring for their parents’ bodies. He is not even interested in questions of fact concerning the history of his own preferred burial customs – he introduces his thought-experiment with 蓋 “doubtless”, indicating recognition of its speculative character. The point seems to be that only reactions of the kind portrayed would justify the sort of change in custom that Mohists are trying to accomplish – and clearly such reactions are lacking, not only among people in general but among the Mohists themselves, whose moral theory makes little reference to affective urges.

          As you point out, there is a sense in which Mengzi does advise “consultation” with the preferences of people in general; however, this consultation generally restricts itself to how people are feeling, and does not go on to inquire what they think should be done about it. (Justin Tiwald’s article on the supposed “right of rebellion” explores this contrast very helpfully in the political setting.) I might want to say that, for Mengzi, people in general have affective authority but not deliberative authority. Mengzi generally fails to engage with rivals who have alternative moral and political theories and agendas to offer in response to what are, presumably, the universally recognized affective dissatisfactions of the world. Note how the Mohist character in 3a5 is silenced instead of offering a serious response; 7b37 is a good passage to investigate not only for a refusal to engage with rivals but for a systematic privileging of past exemplars and narratives over examination of present conditions.

          We are not born with an appetite for the Ru tradition in all its specificity, but the Ru tradition provides for our appetites better than any other. I think Mengzi has very little interest in or ability to argue the point convincingly; gestures in this direction (e.g. 6a7) look extremely naive. The moral psychology passages make far more sense as coaching material for people already committed to following the Ru dào.

        • Bill Haines says:

          Thanks, Stephen!

          To what extent does Mengzi grants the heart’s preferences the kind of authority that could justify appealing to the heart rather than to Ru traditions in deciding what we should do?

          (1) Maybe by “rather than Ru traditions” you mean “against Ru traditions,” and you are asking whether he thinks that in principle he might be wrong on large points (a claim about himself) or that one ought in general to be skeptical on a metaethical level.

          Mengzi’s main project seems to have been trying to fight war, poverty, and ignorance (and win glory for himself) by persuading monarchs away from small-minded views about what was in their own interest. That project gave him strong reason not to emphasize any meta-normative view he may have about the possibility of his own error on general norms, or the possibility that the one sort of political system that had any chance of viability in his time was not ideal. (He might have done more good in the long run by working out some more republican or liberal views, though not if he had combined that project with a general mockery of theory and reason.) I submit that we see him understandably reluctant to admit error or ignorance on particular points. So I just don’t know how far he thought he didn’t know.

          I do think it’s plainly wrong to suspend judgment about too few or too many norms, in one’s practice or in one’s normative theory.

          (2) Or you might mean to ask to what extent Mengzi thinks a person can be justified in decidng on basis of her heart’s promptings rather than on the basis of Ru tradition as such — as she might be especially tempted to do if she is in any of various circumstances familiar to Mengzi: e.g. if she is the under the (false) impression that the tradition disagrees with her heart; or she happens to be ignorant of Ru traditions, in general or on the point at issue, like the earliest sages and body-ditchers; or she doesn’t have handy someone who can tell her what the Ru tradition is on the point at issue; or there is some controversy about the Ru tradition; or her knowledge or experience has some gap or error that leaves her distrustful or at least not positively trustful of Ru traditions.

          I guess you mean (2), partly since you say, “Much of Mengzi’s originality as a moral philosopher hovers around this question.”

          I have no inclination to defend the originality or general quality of Mengzi’s philosophical thought, but I do think he had some good points (though it’s been some years since I’ve read the book beyond checking the occasional passage, and it fades …). In particular I like some aspects of his hearts doctrine: his emphasis on the idea that care and respect are pretty basic in us psychologically, and that in dealing with others we should keep in mind that such things, and a basic decency and wisdom as well, are deeply rooted in others as in ourselves.

          Your picture of Mengzi’s view of the heart seems to be that it is the locus of certain desires such that the purpose of culture and the reason to be moral is to maximize the satisfaction of those desires, for oneself or perhaps for the community. Lots of passages do suggest that. But I’m inclined to think rather that his picture is that the heart is the locus of certain preferences as to what to do or think that are authentically ours, and are authoritative because they come from Heaven. That is, what is right is to act on them, as distinct (at least in the abstract) from trying to maximize their satisfaction over the future. Maybe when Mengzi argues in terms of his interlocutor’s self-interest, he does so not so much because his theory tells him that’s the proper form of justification, but because he thinks truths about one’s self-interest and satisfaction are effective, especially for people accustomed to being obeyed. I’m not terribly certain that my view here is the more accurate one.

          On both visions, 1A1 would seem to propose a calculative deliberation based on the heart, i.e. the interlocutor’s given aims, not relying on the authority of the tradition. In that case, as presumably in many others, there is no need to appeal to fine points of what the heart wants; the calculation simply doesn’t need that.

          The first half of 1A4 looks to me like a direct appeal to the interlocutor’s sense of right and wrong (“… Is there any difference between killing him with a knife and killing him with misrule?…”), though 1A4 concludes with an appeal to Confucius (on burial images). Given the subtle and indirect character of that argument from tradition, I wonder whether it is mainly offered as a second appeal to the interlocutor’s heart.

          If he does not find even hypothetical tension between the heart’s preferences and the dào of Yao, Shun, and King Wen, then he is probably best understood as conforming his account of what would satisfy us to the goods already on offer from the tradition. That account assumes more of its conclusions than we could ever find justified, since Mengzi shows no evidence of having engaged in serious or systematic reflection that might put the tradition’s authority in danger.”

          0. I agree that Mengzi was no pioneer of systematic reflection; you have to get up pretty early in the morning to catch him agreeing with himself. I suppose he started with what seemed a very clear vision (some of his talks with rulers on relating to their people remind me of the Monkees’ “Sometime in the Morning,” but I’ll spare you the YouTube link), and invested his life in rhetorical activism.

          1. Well, he doesn’t think his lists of 4 are comprehensive lists of the things that would help satisfy us (decency, wisdom, etc.). There is also fine food etc. He sometimes stresses dignity, though I’m not sure where to locate that among the 4.

          2. One way of reading what you say here is that since Mengzi supposed agreement between hearts and tradition, he must have cooked his view of the hearts to suit the tradition, rather than vice versa or neither or both, or cooking his view of middle premises such as the workings of sociology. Why choose the first of those five?

          3. Anyway either sort of “cooking” or “conforming” would be reasonable given the premise that we have hearts from heaven. If history displays only one workable kind of social order, that is surely powerful evidence about the form of our heaven-written hearts. Conversely, insofar as we can examine our hearts directly (as Mengzi recommends in 1A7), our findings are surely important for helping us interpret the sketchy records of history.

          I agree with Dan that [3A5’s] primary point is to oppose the Mohist way of reforming cultural practices, on the ground that such practices should only be reformed in answer to an overwhelming affective urge. … The point [of the body-ditching story] seems to be that only reactions of the kind portrayed would justify the sort of change in custom that Mohists are trying to accomplish….”

          (Pending re-examination of the paper of Dan’s that I can’t find) I think it’s unlikely that 3A5 relies on or means to suggest the principle that cultural practices should be reformed only from an overwhelming affective urge. I think the prima facie point of the body-ditching story is to help Yizi attend to the heart that made him thick-bury his own parents. That point seems sufficient, it is very much in character for Mengzi, and it looks rather like the conclusion Mengzi explicitly draws from the story, which doesn’t look at all like the general principle about cultural change.

          Further, the principle says what to do if your heart does not cry out (and that’s how it’s supposed to have application to the Mohist criticism of Ru practice). But the body-ditching story is about a case where one’s heart did cry out. In that way the body-ditching story seems ill-suited to support the principle.

          Further, the body-ditching case is as though designed to challenge rather than suggest the principle about what to do when the heart does not cry out. Insofar as the principle has application to that case it implies something nasty, or at least seems to do so at first glance: that the body ditchers should have continued the practice if they had merely thought of some of the serious drawbacks but hadn’t chanced upon the ditch at the awkward time (or had had their sensibilities gnawed barren by too much of that sort of practice). So it seems unlikely that the case is meant to hint, largely on its own, that the principle is correct.

          Further, while Mengzi points out that the Mohists aim to 易天下, “change the whole world,”
          he does not say that the body-ditching practice was ever universal, as one might expect him to if his purpose were to make some general point about rejecting well-established practice. Rather, he says, 蓋上世嘗有不葬其親者: “Sure, probably long ago there once were people who did not bury their parents.”

          When Mengzi argues for the well-field system, which appears not to be traditional, he does not argue on the basis of overwhelming affective urges.

          Finally, the principle (unlike the story) suggests that there are two important roots: current practice as such, and the heart. Such a suggestion would seem out of place in 3A5.

          There’s more I want to say in reply, but this will do for today.

        • Bill Haines says:

          This isn’t much more after all.

          I don’t have a general opinion on the extent to which Mengzi or the Mencius sides with the deliberative authority of the Ru tradition or of tradition as such as against (at least hypothetical) rival deliberative authorities such as one’s own moral intuition (except that both Ms seem committed to the abstract point that any practice that genuinely goes against the heart must be mistaken). You’ve made me much more curious about that sort of question.

          The points of disagreement between us here are, I think, one or two.

          1) I hold that it is not part of the point of 3A5 to defend or rely on tradition as such or the general authority of Ru tradition (I mean, in any respect that goes beyond the uncontroversial presumptive authority of approximately-universal practice; or beyond specific points of Ru practice that the passage derives from the heart; or beyond the fact that if Mengzi succeeds in an argument against the Mohists on filiality, he thereby scores a point for the general authority of the Ru).

          2) I’m committed to the view that Mengzi’s view of the authority of (the?) tradition was not such as to show that the “heart” he associates with ritual is about respect for and yielding to (the?) tradition and not other people. For I think he meant mainly other people. (Mr. Courtesy, he alive and living in the heart of deference.)

          I don’t know if you disagree with me on (2), so I’ll stick to (1) here.

          Dan says above that in 3A5 Mengzi is responding to the fact that, as Mengzi saw it, “[while] the spontaneous instincts (or whatever) of the heart do trump tradition, [nevertheless] whatever the Mohists were doing doesn’t, because the Mohists were in some sense trying to establish a second root, independent of tradition.” The proposal seems to be that in the line, “天之生物也,使之一本,而夷子二本故也,” it is supposed to be clear that the “one root” is tradition (custom as such or the Ru tradition). That is, the line is supposed to point specifically to tradition, so that even if Mengzi assumes that tradition and the heart always agree, this line nevertheless refers to tradition rather than to e.g. the heart. (In any case, however much Mengzi may have cooked the philosophical books, surely his official position is that the Ru tradition depends on the heart, not vice versa.)

          I don’t know what two roots Mengzi is attributing to Yizi. But I don’t think it’s plausible to read Mengzi’s one root as referring to custom as such or to the Ru tradition.

          First, the language “天之生物也” suggests that Mengzi is talking about something inborn; and
          as you mention, Stephen, “We are not born with an appetite for the Ru tradition in all its specificity,” however well it may suit our hearts. More to the point, we are not born with the tradition itself: at least, not all of us are. Early people were not, and arguably barbarians are not, nor perhaps those who live in highly disordered times. But Mengzi thought we are all born with those hearts.

          Second, the language “天之生物也” more than suggests that Mengzi is generalizing not just about humans, but about all creatures. Whatever root Heaven gives to people should be analogous to something Heaven gives to all other creatures – and that surely must be instinct or spontaneous ways. One could argue that the heart-based tradition is the human analog of a spider’s or tree’s spontaneous ways, but I think the natural reading is that the human analog is the heart. It is not so easy to see custom-as-such as the human analog of a spider’s spontaneous ways.

          Those two arguments are stronger insofar as we have reason to think Mengzi’s interlocutor is familiar with Mengzi’s doctrines about the human heart. The fact that Mengzi here makes abbreviated reference to a baby at a well suggests that the conversation presupposed that familiarity and was in some sense about those doctrines.

          (I have found at least one published passage where Dan talks about 3A5: 395f in “The Moists and the Gentlemen of the World” (Journal of Chinese Philosophy 35:3, Sep. 2008). I think it’s a really first-rate article, and I remember that it helped me a great deal with 3A5; but it doesn’t change my mind on this point. Incidentally, I said something pretty obscure in an earlier comment that I’d like to say clearly here, in response to something Dan says both above and in that paper. He argues as follows: Mengzi and Yizi agree that filiality requires treating one’s parents according to the Way one honors. On this basis Mengzi attacks Yizi for unfiliality, on the grounds that while Yizi holds that one should thin-bury parents, Yizi thick-buries his own parents. So the Mengzi’s argument is committed to the proposition that it would be filial for Yizi to thin-bury his parents. “This … undermines the claim that filial piety demands just one sort of ritual expression.” My response is that Mengzi needn’t have thought that treating one’s parents according to the Way one honors is the only requirement of filiality. Filiality may also require that we thick-bury our parents, etc.; so that if your Way is to thin-bury parents, you simply cannot be filial without changing your Way. Hence Mengzi’s argument is free from the proposition that it would have been filial for Yizi to thin-bury his parents. Granted, the general principle that filiality requires treating parents by the Way one honors does by itself suggest that there is some legitimate range of variation in relevant Ways. But the principle does not imply that there is; and even without that implication the principle could still have some value: e.g. in argument between people who agree on the principle but not on other things, or in deciding what to do when one is uncertain of the objective details of perfect filiality.)

          *

          I’m unsure to what extent your claim goes beyond the point that Mengzi thought the Ru tradition is largely correct. If it is correct, and if he was also right in thinking that authoritative Heaven authored our “hearts,” then it cannot also be the case that our hearts conflict with the tradition. It doesn’t follow that one can’t entertain that possibility as a hypothetical, e.g. in maintaining some such claim as: “We may change our tradition if our hearts cry out for such a change.”

          When you say Mengzi denies “basic deliberative authority” to anybody but historical figures such as mythical sages or thought-experiment characters, I wonder if you mean to say he denies it to our hearts, or instead the domain of your remark is limited to human beings. And I wonder whether by “basic” you mean “fundamental” or something more like “ordinary, standard.”

          Thank you for prompting me to look (again, I think) at Justin Tiwald’s paper on the right of rebellion. I agree that it’s an outstandingly excellent piece. I haven’t put in enough time following up references etc. to be sure that I agree with every word of it.

          Regarding the right of rebellion, Justin is talking about violent overthrow of an established government led by someone who does not already hold high position. As Justin points out, saying that a putative monarch is a mere robber and murderer doesn’t justify just anybody in attacking that man; and Mengzi’s post hoc interpretation of his own advice about invading Yan backs him up, however much Mengzi’s interpretation strains credulity as a reading of Mengzi. (But insofar as a popular rebellion can take the form of nonviolent demonstrations and refusal to obey, that point has no application. We don’t have to obey a mere outcast. And what norm is Mengzi committed to about whether, when a mere outcast specifically attacks me or my family, I may respond in kind?)

          I’m not sure what conclusions we can draw from Mengzi’s views on rebellion against governments to his views about the authority of Ru tradition (or else custom as such) as against the heart (or else the feelings or opinions of people in general, i.e. of any given person regarding her own affairs, or of commoners collectively) – especially if the Mencius’ doctrine on rebellion is just our extrapolation from a few data-points that Mengzi may have been been driven to by the immediate exigencies of this or that political or rhetorical tussle. (Which wouldn’t make it an inaccurate reading of the Mencius.) But that’s just a doubt; you may be completely right.

      • Bill Haines says:

        As Dan points out in his article, even if we grant that the body-ditching story shows that we shouldn’t just toss our parents’ bodies in ditches, that conclusion doesn’t imply anything about how lavishly we should bury and mourn them, which is the controversial matter the conversation seems on its face to claim to address. As he says, that’s a reason to think the passage is really trying to establish something else, such as a principle about cultural change (and thereby perhaps the relative merits of Mohism v. Ruism).

        I’ve made some proposals above about the quality of the passage’s argument, if there is one, for the principle about cultural change. Here I want to look more closely at the idea that the passage really is arguing about mourning practices (and thereby perhaps the relative merits of Mohism v. Ruism).

        Section 25 of the Mozi argues for moderation in mourning practices. It presupposes a certain account of the ends of filial piety (to ensure that parents have sufficient prosperity, descendants, and harmony), and of virtue in general (to promote the world’s prosperity, numbers, and harmony). Therefore the only way to defend fancy mourning practices is to defend them in terms of at least one of these ends. But they are indefensible in terms of these ends, the book argues.

        Confucius disdained to get into that sort of argument with Zai Wo; he thought a decent person would feel compelled to mourn large. That doesn’t mean he would have conceded the argument about consequences. I think Mengzi would not have conceded that argument (see 3A2). But he may have preferred (cf. 1A1) to address the Mohists’ more basic premises about the ends integral to filiality, as the body-ditching story does.

        Section 25 of the Mozi also discusses some odd ancient practices of extremely “薄” burial, claiming to give accurate reports. For example: “… People in that place followed the custom of scraping off the flesh of their parents upon their death and throwing it away. Only the bones of their parents were buried. They believed that only by doing so could they become filial sons.” The text says these practices are too “薄” to be the way a virtuous person acts, though they show that custom and habit can confuse us about what is virtuous. But the text says nothing about any grounds for the view that these practices go too far. That looks to me like a glaring problem with the Section’s overall argument.

        Mengzi’s body-ditching story seems suited to challenge the claim that such customs could have survived for any period, and hence the claim that custom and habit have the power to mislead people to that extent about decency. That point would amount to a defense of the authority of custom, at least to the extent of claiming that custom is not a complete moron.

        Finally, again, the body-ditching story looks like a way to prompt Yizi to look into his heart and understand why he buried his parents 厚. In that way the story’s argument for thick burial in general would proceed not by way of its specific conclusion about ditches, but by way of the moral sensibility the argument unblocks for Yizi and anyone else in his position.

        I do think it’s plausible to regard the story as an implicit dig against an excessive focus on (utilitarian?) argument, saying in effect, “You’re so focused on budgets and force that you’ve overlooked something basic about the human heart.”

        • Dan Robins says:

          Hi again Bill! I’ll follow up a bit on 3A/5 and social change.

          Suppose Yizi does look into his heart and see that it’s out of sync with Mohist doctrine. What’s this supposed to show, and especially what’s it supposed to show other Mohists? There’s no attempt to claim that Yizi’s action was typical. What’s the argument against a Mohist whose heart is all on side with the doctrine, or who is revolted by the sort of ostentatious display the Ru advocated? What’s the response to the argument that Yizi wasn’t moved by filial piety at all, but by a desire for ostentation, or a desire to win the approval of people with bad values?

          There’s actually no claim in the passage about what motivated Yizi. Contrast that with the people in the myth at the end of 3A/5, or with the comparable moments in 1A/7 and 2A/6. There’s nothing comparable about Yizi. We’re not told that something of the right sort within his heart compelled him to bury his parents thickly, and there’s no attempt to rule out possible ulterior motives (such as desires for ostentation or for approval). If the central claim of the passage is about Yizi’s heart, then why is the claim not actually made?

          The claim that is made about Yizi that matches up with the myth is the claim that he sought to convert the world to thin burials, a claim about his work for social change rather than about motivations. Yizi’s departure from doctrine illustrates this contrast, because it shows that he is not moved to promote Mohist values in the same sort of way as the people in the myth were moved. But it is not essential to the contrast—there would be a contrast between the sort of spontaneous revulsion of the myth and Mohist (for want of a better word) activism even if all Mohists were completely in line with their official views.

          The passage you draw from Mozi 25 actually supports this way of seeing things, I think. When the Mohists survey the burial (or non-burial) practices of other cultures, this isn’t part of an argument in support of moderation. They’re defending a general contrast between what is right and what is customary. If 3A/5 is responding to this, then its claim seems (to me!) to be that we can legitimately draw that distinction only when we respond to custom in something importantly like the way the people in the myth responded to the sight of their parents’ bodies being eaten by foxes and flies. The Mohists weren’t doing that, or at any rate weren’t claiming to do that.

          It’s tricky what to make of the appeal to one root in the context of this part of the passage’s argument. The people in the myth supply a paradigm of sorts, but I can’t imagine the author(s) of 3A/5 thought that people in generally would be one-rooted in the same way in their adherence to thick burials. The 6A/7 paradigm is quite different: we are supplied with tradition, and find it satisfying; the satisfaction derives from what’s in our hearts, but the tradition derives from—well, it doesn’t say. But in an obvious sense, adherence to tradition is going to have, for most of us, two roots, the tradition itself and the satisfaction it gives us. I think the same probably goes with 3A/5. It’s not that, left to our own devices and with proper attention to our hearts, we’d get things right. It’s that having been exposed to traditional custom, we find it satisfying, or anyway satisfying enough that we don’t rebel against it. So where’s the one root?

          One answer is that it’s meant to be just a root for changes to custom, in which case the spontaneous responses of the heart seem to serve. But this takes tradition as a given, and maybe that’s unsatisfying. The account would be more unified if the tradition itself were somehow rooted in the heart. 3A/5 is agnostic on this point even with burials: it twice hedges with “蓋,” and then the concluding statement is a conditional. But maybe that’s the hope, that tradition in general is rooted in the right sort of way in the hearts of the people who came up with it.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Hi Dan, Thanks for this detailed reply! Alas, for a few days I won’t have a chance to reply or even properly think it through, because I have a swarm of houseguests.

        • Bill Haines says:

          A couple of my phrases earlier in this rope imply that I think 3A5 has a thesis about burials. That’s not exactly what I think:

          1A7 seems to be designed to display a series of doctrines and rhetorical techniques to people not well versed in things Mencian. Its comprehensiveness and clarity suggests (to me and I think to some others) that it is a fiction: a story designed to educate the reader in Mencian ideas and tactics.

          By contrast, I think, 3A5 is a terse report of an actual series of events (as they happened or at least as the Mencians fancied in retrospect that they had played out). Plainly, the report leaves obscure in several places what some main points in the argument were, or else what lines of thought are supposed to have been communicated by the speakers’ few words. I assume that’s because the speakers knew something about each other and their conversation was terse, and/or the author assumed that his readers would share his own familiarity (and, we might infer, sympathy) with standard Mencian lines. That is, I think that while Mengzi in the passage has a thesis – in the sense that he is trying to convince Yizi of something in particular (something about burials, I think, and thereby something about Mohism more broadly), – I don’t see that the passage itself otherwise has a thesis. I don’t think the passage was carefully crafted to communicate and support a point cryptically, and it doesn’t seem to have been carefully crafted to communicate and support a point non-cryptically.

          I think the Menciusas a whole reports and reflects an image of how moral understanding works and how moral persuasion works, exemplified in the Mengzi conversations and laid out in the theoretical sections. The image isn’t fully plausible, and/or Mengzi applies it and tests it by inconsistent standards (many problems cluster around the question how far out of touch with their hearts people are). But the image itself seems clear enough. Humans are similar in that we have deep down a mind that is capable of recognizing what’s right, a mind that feels with authority and is the same for all people. Mencian rhetoric aims to put people in touch with this heart, their rock-bottom judgments or concerns or values (not that Mengzi doesn’t occasionally make regular old arguments). I think that if we take into account that that is how Mencians envision moral understanding and moral argument, we get a pretty clear and consistent picture of what they would think happened in the exchange as reported in 3A5.

          Suppose Yizi does look into his heart and see that it’s out of sync with Mohist doctrine. What’s this supposed to show, and especially what’s it supposed to show other Mohists?

          My own guess is that the author’s aim is not to show anything to the reader or other Mohists. I think 3A5 is too obscure for that. As I said, my working assumption is that 3A5 is a report, not a narrative treatise. On the other hand, I think it would have been pretty reasonable for the author to think that something important is more or less shown.

          The author would have thought that Yizi’s basic heart is the universal basic heart, and he is likely to have expected his readers to have the same view.

          Further, the body-ditching story clearly supposes that body-ditching is unacceptable even to those who do it, once they see what they’re doing (once they go into the foxes’ kitchen?). It would horrify anyone. The vivid account of the goings-on in the ditch could be expected to move readers, as Bernard Williams expects his story about Jim and the Indians to move readers. The extent of the implications of the shudder is something that the story itself doesn’t settle.

          Still, Mencians presumably think that different Mohists’ hearts can be blocked differently, calling for different shovels.

          The mere fact that Mengzi scored a victory over a prominent Mohist (or any Mohist) on some issue would weigh in favor of his views against Mohist views – especially if the defeat was profound and accomplished by a quick deft move.

          On my reading, we can see how the story is supposed to have been rhetorically effective. On your reading of the point of the story, is it possible that the story could have been rhetorically effective in making its point to Yizi? Is it possible that someone could have expected it to be effective? (I argued above that the story is suited to persuade someone to reject the point that you say is its point.)

          There’s no attempt to claim that Yizi’s action was typical.

          Right (and I think I mentioned to you once that I fancy that the reason Mengzi initially delayed the meeting was to give his team a few days to work up a file on Yizi). But the author of the passage presumably took for granted that we all have the same basic heart. Not all kings pardon oxen or love music, but that doesn’t show that Mencians thought people didn’t have the same basic heart. A rhetorician looks for whatever cracks are showing in the blockage.

          What’s the argument against a Mohist whose heart is all on side with the doctrine,

          The Mencian author of the passage would have thought that there aren’t such Mohists, or that their hearts are like Ox Mountain and need a long vacation before argument can help.

          or who is revolted by the sort of ostentatious display the Ru advocated?

          That’s a telling point against the proposition that the passage or Mengzi succeeds in proving that Ru practices are correct. I don’t even think Mengzi in the report is even making a normative argument exactly. He’s operating an intuition pump. (As he says in 2A2, “不得於言,勿求於心,不可.”)

          What’s the response to the argument that Yizi wasn’t moved by filial piety at all, but by a desire for ostentation, or a desire to win the approval of people with bad values? There’s actually no claim in the passage about what motivated Yizi.

          Is there an argument for that? Here are my responses to the proposal that he might have been so motivated:

          (1) The fact that the little story worked so powerfully on Yizi suggests that what happened is that Mengzi guessed right about Yizi’s motives; that Yizi’s motives were as I proposed.

          (2) The alternative possibilities you propose would make Yizi’s inconsistency more absurd, because then his aims regarding the opinion of cultural leaders would be pretty directly opposed to each other. It’s absurd to be active in public argument for one practice, while being concerned not to be publicly regarded as someone who would engage in that practice. The absurdity is especially great if Yizi was distinguished among Mohists in aiming to reform burial practices, though I don’t think it’s clear from the passage that anyone thought he was.

          There’s actually no claim in the passage about what motivated Yizi. Contrast that with the people in the myth at the end of 3A/5, or with the comparable moments in 1A/7 and 2A/6. There’s nothing comparable about Yizi. We’re not told that something of the right sort within his heart compelled him to bury his parents thickly, and there’s no attempt to rule out possible ulterior motives (such as desires for ostentation or for approval). If the central claim of the passage is about Yizi’s heart, then why is the claim not actually made?

          It’s not really my position that the purpose of the passage is to establish a claim. I think the purpose of Mengzi’s speeches is to establish a claim (to Yizi), but I don’t think it’s a claim about Yizi or his heart. Anyway the narrator isn’t omniscient, and I think it’s unquestionable that the passage is in several respects so terse as to approach the cryptic. Also, I don’t suppose Mengzi or his reporters report their general outlook every time they exercise it.

          If the central claim of the passage or of Mengzi in the passage is that there shouldn’t be social change that isn’t based on mass revulsion, why is this claim not made?

          The claim that is made about Yizi that matches up with the myth is the claim that he sought to convert the world to thin burials, a claim about his work for social change rather than about motivations.

          Working for social change does not appear in the body-ditching story. There’s nothing in the body-ditching story about anyone trying to change anyone else’s customs (or working to change her own), much less trying to convert the world.

          Working for worldwide social change sort of loosely matches something in the story (viz. a social change). But similarly, a reaction of the basic heart sort of loosely matches something in the story (viz. a profound gut reaction). Which is the closer match? (On that point: the profound gut reaction in the story is not attributed to special features of the people involved, and it seems to me quite odd to me to think that the listener and readers are not supposed to understand it as the reaction anyone would have. The premise that even people without burial practices would have such a reaction would support an a fortioriinference that pretty much anybody would have such a reaction.)

          Yizi’s departure from doctrine illustrates this contrast, because it shows that he is not moved to promote Mohist values in the same sort of way as the people in the myth were moved.

          I’m not sure how you want to argue from the premise about illustrating the contrast (and I’m not sure exactly what contrast you mean).

          But it is not essential to the contrast—there would be a contrast between the sort of spontaneous revulsion of the myth and Mohist (for want of a better word) activism even if all Mohists were completely in line with their official views.

          I’m having trouble following your argument. What is this point (that there would be a contrast) supposed to support? Also I’m not sure what is the “way of seeing things” you refer to just below.

          The passage you draw from Mozi 25 actually supports this way of seeing things, I think. When the Mohists survey the burial (or non-burial) practices of other cultures, this isn’t part of an argument in support of moderation. They’re defending a general contrast between what is right and what is customary.

          Earlier in this rope I was very brief in discussing Mozi 25, and especially the passage on gross practices at the end of 25; I didn’t properly lay out my line of thought. I’ll try to do a little better here.

          I agree that the passage is a defense against the custom argument for thick burial, and not otherwise part of an argument in support of moderation. My point is that the defense immediately suggests a challenge to 25’s overall argument. The overall argument has been that if there is any reason for thick burial, it must be a reason from a certain small menu of potential reasons, and then the book argues that all the reasons in the menu push against thickness. The arguments are all of a very direct sort: burials and other mourning practices that cost lots of time and money take time and money away from other important things. There is no effort to weigh these costs against any potential gains from substantial burials and mourning practices. And yet we find out at the end, in the discussion of savage customs, that what the Mohists are recommending is a middle ground. The gap in the book’s argument is very conspicuous at the end, where the book says the savage practices are “too thin,” so that a virtuous person would not choose them, but offers no reason why they are too thin. (So conspicuous and embarrassing is the gap that W.P.Mei’s translation, on Donald Sturgeon’s site, introduces a proto-reason: overly thin burials are “heartless.” There is no such claim in the original. The recent translation by Wang Rongpei and Wang Hong in the Library of Chinese Classics follows Mei’s example.) Perhaps the Mohists could offer an argument to fill the gap, on their utilitarian premises, but the argument would have to go into the workings of human psychology in a way that is, er, far from customary for them (or is that not so?) and would thus implicitly cast into question the completeness of the main arguments of the book as well as many Mohist arguments elsewhere.

          The passage you draw from Mozi 25 actually supports this way of seeing things, I think. When the Mohists survey the burial (or non-burial) practices of other cultures, this isn’t part of an argument in support of moderation. They’re defending a general contrast between what is right and what is customary. If 3A/5 is responding to this, then its claim seems (to me!) to be that we can legitimately draw that distinction only when we respond to custom in something importantly like the way the people in the myth responded to the sight of their parents’ bodies being eaten by foxes and flies. The Mohists weren’t doing that, or at any rate weren’t claiming to do that.

          You’re saying the main point of the story in 3A5 is to support the norm, “In the absence of widespread revulsion against a custom, don’t change the custom.” Against this, my argument is:

          (1) The norm addresses what to do in a certain kind of case, a kind of case that neither arises in the story nor is discussed by characters in the story. (The norm may suggest what to do in a second kind of case, the kind that arises in the story; but on your reading the application of the norm that is of concern in the discussion with Yizi is not that second kind of case.)

          (2) I think neither the story nor anything else in 3A5 objectively suggests the norm as an idea. But if someone hearing the story or reading 3A5 were to think of that norm, and then ask herself, “What might this story suggest about that proposed norm?” it seems to me the story would not suggest any line of thought that pushes in the norm’s favor, but would immediately suggest one or the other of two parallel lines of thought that push against the norm, because the norm has a kind of counterfactual application to the story-society, by way of the question “What if the case that the norm is about had indeed obtained in that society? That is, what if the people either (a) had not happened by the ditch or (b) had happened by the ditch and felt no repugnance, –but they had thought of powerful-seeming arguments against their practice?” The norm implies that in these cases the people should continue to toss their parents’ bodies into ditches. Thus the norm’s only apparent implication about the story case is a conclusion that is almost certain to be repugnant to the reader and, more importantly, even to Yizi. Thus the story’s only apparent implication about the proposed norm is that it is highly dubious.

          It’s tricky what to make of the appeal to one root in the context of this part of the passage’s argument. The people in the myth supply a paradigm of sorts, but I can’t imagine the author(s) of 3A/5 thought that people in generally would be one-rooted in the same way in their adherence to thick burials. The 6A/7 paradigm is quite different: we are supplied with tradition, and find it satisfying; the satisfaction derives from what’s in our hearts, but the tradition derives from—well, it doesn’t say. But in an obvious sense, adherence to tradition is going to have, for most of us, two roots, the tradition itself and the satisfaction it gives us.

          It doesn’t say? 6A7 says the work of the sages is analogous to the work of a great chef: both discover what is pleasing to our natural faculties. Surely it goes without saying that the sages are the people who work out the details of the way? And much of the point of the passage is that the fact that the details are worked out by somebody doesn’t mean they’re arbitrary? (That’s an argument one often has in Ethics 101.) The faculties are the judges, and the work product is what is judged. Qua transmitted, the way is the “tradition,” if you like, but 6A7 doesn’t touch on that aspect of the matter. 6A7 is focused on origins. True, it doesn’t talk about the process of discovery or creativity on the part of the sages or the designers of recipes. It seems to aim to dismiss that aspect of things as trivial; as the work of a great recipe-creator is the discovery of the palate, the creative work of the sages is not so much the design of cultural recipes as the discovery of the heart, by which I guess he might mean either the clearing away of blockage in one’s own mental veins or the discovery that our basic hearts are the same (a point highly relevant to cultural design), or both.

          One or two roots of what? When Mengzi speaks of roots, I think it is likely he means roots of the Way one adheres to. The Way does not itself derive from “tradition;” rather its transmission is tradition. Mengzi might also mean the roots of one’s adherence to this or that Way. And then the existence of the Ru Way as a prefab option might seem an important root, or might instead seem beside the point: if you ask “Why did you buy a Toyota?” and I say “Two reasons really. One, there are Toyotas; …,” I have slightly misunderstood the question.

          If Mengzi means the root(s) of one’s particular actions, or of one’s approval of policies short of a whole Way (think of each person assembling a social Way of her own from parts), then reliance on tradition as such seems potentially relevant. But as you say in your original post, Mencius is likely to have thought that such reliance may in turn be rooted in the heart of deference (or the heart of respect), so that tradition would not be a second root. Reliance on tradition is a form of respect for and deference to others, and our elders, which is naturally moral.

          (I’m inclined to think the “two roots” come in when Yizi says we care about family first but are corrected to care about the world. Mengzi elsewhere seems to want to trivialize the distinction between caring about family and caring about the world, and his hearts doctrine looks like opposing a distinction between natural causal roots and rational justification (I don’t mean because of anything he says about “性”). The obvious hypothesis is that Mengzi is charging Yizi with finding something in words that he does not find in the natural common heart. And the obvious objection to that hypothesis is that the body-ditching story doesn’t seem to challenge that kind of two-root view. But the hypothesis is otherwise very attractive, and I’m not sure the objection is unanswerable.)

          I think the same probably goes with 3A/5. It’s not that, left to our own devices and with proper attention to our hearts, we’d get things right. It’s that having been exposed to traditional custom, we find it satisfying, or anyway satisfying enough that we don’t rebel against it. So where’s the one root?

          If the Ru Way originates in the sages’ appreciation of the heart, and we are all sage material, then in some sense “left to our own devices and with proper attention to our hearts” and a proper nutritive matrix, we would indeed get things right, just as we could discover the integral calculus, i.e. not really but hey. If we chanced to think of the right ideas in the right order we’d recognize them as correct, as we went. Anyway once we try out the calculus we’ve inherited, we can see that it’s right. Isn’t that Mengzi’s view?

          One answer is that it’s meant to be just a root for changes to custom, in which case the spontaneous responses of the heart seem to serve. But this takes tradition as a given, and maybe that’s unsatisfying. The account would be more unified if the tradition itself were somehow rooted in the heart. 3A/5 is agnostic on this point even with burials: it twice hedges with “蓋,” and then the concluding statement is a conditional. But maybe that’s the hope, that tradition in general is rooted in the right sort of way in the hearts of the people who came up with it.

          (By “tradition in general” here I think you mean the Ru tradition, not tradition as such?) I think it is more accurate to say that 3A5 is silent on the point than that is agnostic, and even more acccurate to say that 3A5 suggests that the Ru tradition is rooted in the heart than that it is silent on the point. 3A5 is fully in line with the Mencian view that the Ru tradition is rooted in the heart.

          “且天之生物也,使之一本.” Can this be about a root specifically of changes in custom? What would be the bovine or arboreal analog of changes in custom?

          • Dan Robins says:

            Hi Bill!

            We seem to agree about a lot of smaller things but disagree about a couple of really big things. I’ll concentrate on those big things.

            The first is that I do think the issue of social change, and of how it should come about, is prominent in 3A/5. We learn two things about Yizi: that he’s trying to convert the world to the Mohist way, and that (contrary to that way) he buried his parents thickly. And the myth is precisely a myth about a social change, it’s about the origin of burial customs. A concern with social change frames the whole exchange with Yizi.

            The sort of argument the passage gives (as I read it) is also extremely common in early China: you propose a model or paradigm, and claim that the controversial case either does or does not match that model. Mencius’s myth is offered as a model of what it means to be one-rooted, and the point is that Yizi, by not matching the model, fails to be one-rooted. (That’s the contrast I mentioned in my previous comment, between Yizi and the people in Mencius’s myth.)

            So far I don’t think I’ve made the passage out to be at all cryptic. We’ve got a clear framing concern with social change, and an instance of a very common sort of argument by analogy.

            Where it starts getting tricky is when you try to figure out what Yizi’s two roots are supposed to be. You say, I’m inclined to think the “two roots” come in when Yizi says we care about family first but are corrected to care about the world. But Yizi doesn’t say anything about something coming first or about correction. He says that care has no grades or levels, but the work begins with family. This is just standard Mohist doctrine, which calls for an impartial sort of care but also insists that day to day we do more for the people closest to us, especially our families. (If I’m wrong on one of these points, it’s the impartiality of inclusive care. The Mohists’ commitment to differentiating family norms and attitudes is obvious throughout their writings, whereas the evidence that inclusive care would be impartial is quite limited.)

            Suppose that the two roots are Yizi’s heart and his doctrine. Is that by looking within his own heart he can tell that he was right to bury his parents thickly, and wrong to endorse a doctrine of moderation?

            (Aside: I take you to be suggesting that the aim of the passage, as well as Mencius’s aim within the passage, is not to establish a thesis, but that Mencius’s aim is just to get Yizi to see things right, and the passage’s aim is to give an example of successful Mencian rhetoric. This is related to your view that the passage likely depicts an actual exchange, and I’ll come back to that. Here, though, I’ll say that the claim that Yizi is two-rooted looks awfully like a thesis to me.)

            I’ve already given some of my reasons for thinking this isn’t right. In the background, though, we have another major disagreement. I don’t think that the idea that we can learn what is right by looking within our hearts is at all prominent in the Mencius. In fact I think it’s alien to the text. The closest you get is the idea in 6A/7 and 2A/2 that our hearts are pleased by what is right, but this never gets presented as a way to find out what’s right, and other texts that appeal to the heart are trying to show that we have what it takes to do what we already agree is right. So I don’t think that general approach to moral thought or moral persuasion is taken for granted in 3A/5.

            2A/2 and 6A/7 (especially 2A/2) do seem to insist that accepting a doctrine in the right way will give the heart pleasure, and that idea could be in the background here. But I take the objection to be to Mohist psychology, and not to the content of their normative claims. The Mohists make no attempt to show that their doctrines are in any way pleasing to the heart. They instead rely on our tendency to commit ourselves to conceptions of what is right, which to a Mencian might look like trying to find motivation, inappropriately, in language.

            Of course it’s not because he gave his parents thick burials that Yizi is two rooted. An alternative is that it’s his belief that funerals should be moderate. But I think it’s far more likely that it’s his attempts to convert the world to moderation, both because that’s what’s actually mentioned in the passage and because it would be a more pressing concern. The problem, though, isn’t with moderation as such, but with the psychology: Mohists advocated for a view of what is right without relating that view to the heart in a way a Mencian would find acceptable.

            For this to work, the model we find in 2A/2 and 6A/7 has to be close enough to the paradigm Mencius sets out in 3A/5 itself. This isn’t too much of a stretch, I think.

            I actually think something similar is going on with the brief exchange about inclusive care midway through the passage. You could say the two roots are the heart and doctrine, though it actually makes a lot of sense to be more precise and say they are family affection (qin) and Mohist care (ai). (I’m one of those who thinks that caring inclusively largely amounts to making a normative judgment, so this isn’t much of a shift for me.) Again I’d say the point isn’t that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with other people’s well-being the way the Mohists said to, but with the psychology: the Mohists rely on the assumption that we tend to commit ourselves to conceptions of what is right, without relating those commitments to spontaneous feelings such as qin.

            I don’t think I’ve said anything too strange so far. I’ve disagreed with other interpretations of the passage on two main points, in emphasising that it’s Yizi’s role as a Mohist activist that’s especially at issue, and in saying that it targets Mohist psychology rather than the contents of their doctrines. I think the motivation for my first disagreement is fairly plain, and it shouldn’t be a surprise if a Mencian argues about psychology where we might expect to find a normative argument. Of course I’m also seeing more of a concern with claims and arguments than you are, but as I said above I think it’s pretty clear that the passage is claiming that Yizi is two-rooted and that Mencius’s myth is supposed to justify this claim somehow.

            But I haven’t said anything so far about tradition. I tend to talk not just of Yizi’s roots but also of the roots of customs, especially burial customs, and I tend to say that the one root for custom would be tradition. You’ve got me thinking I need to be a lot more careful with these claims—and that’s good timing, because one of the things on my plate right now are (I hope) final revisions to the paper you’ve alluded to elsewhere in this thread.

            One issue is whether I’m talking about tradition as such or the Ru tradition in particular. I’m inclined to say that at least some of the time the Mencius refuses to acknowledge this distinction. This is plainest in 3B/9, where rival philosophers are categorised as animals, but it may be implicit in some of the stuff about the heart as well. But I’ll hold off on that argument for now; maybe on another thread, and once I get a few things off my plate.

            The bigger issue, I think, is the root of tradition itself. If changes to custom are permissible when they satisfy the heart in the right sort of way, then that actually results in (at least) two roots, unless from the beginning the tradition has appealed to hearts in the right sort of way. So you want an account of the tradition’s origins that will satisfy this constraint.

            I’ve hesitated to pursue things in that direction because 3A/5 is silent on that issue. More than silent, really: Mencius essentially confesses that he doesn’t know whether the tradition has the right sort of origin. 6A/7 does seem to imply that it does, but all it offers by way of explanation is its comparison to cooks and cobblers. It’s not much to go on (slightly more than Xunzi gives us, I suppose).

            Then there’s the question of authority. This is another point on which we seem to have a significant disagreement, because I don’t agree that this places final authority in the heart of the individual. As I said above, I don’t think the Mencius ever tells us to discover what is right by looking within our hearts. We do have the constraint that we shouldn’t try to follow a way that does not please our hearts, but that constraint by itself won’t narrow things down to just the one, Ru tradition. And there’s enough wiggle room built in that even if I don’t find enjoyment in some feature of tradition I’m in no position to reject it—I could have failed to think about it right, or never had it presented to me in an effective way, or I could just be a brute. Effective authority remains with the tradition, and my heart will be reliable only if I am willing to defer to it, and able to find enjoyment in it.

          • Dan Robins says:

            Ugh, I just realised I never went back to the idea that 3A/5 records an exchange that actually took place. I think this is plausible for a couple of reasons. First, it helps make sense of the otherwise weird role that the intermediary Xu Bi has in the narrative. Second, I think it helps make sense of Yizi’s statement about inclusive care.

            The statement about inclusive care is entirely nonresponsive. Mencius has criticised him on the funerals issue, and stating the doctrine of inclusive care obviously cannot answer that criticism. Those who think Yizi is compromising on Mohism by allowing for special concern for family sometimes take that special concern to justify lavish funerals, but Yizi isn’t compromising and the text clearly indicates that he isn’t advocating a compromised version of moderation in funerals. Nivison has a somewhat involved reading that takes Yizi to be saying he’s cultivating his care by acting out of love for family, but even if that were a plausible reading of what Yizi says (it’s not) it hardly answers the criticism that he’s disrespected his parents. And I don’t know of any other way you could make sense of Yizi’s statement as a response to what Mencius has said.

            But suppose the exchange really took place. Yizi’s the one who first wanted to speak with Mencius, and he presumably has something he wants to say. Mencius tries to head him off with his criticism, but maybe Yizi simply doesn’t fall for this gambit, and goes ahead and says what he’d originally intended to say. That makes sense to me, but probably only granted the assumption that the exchange really did take place in something like the way 3A/5 says it did.

            It’s still worth having an account of why the exchange on inclusive care didn’t simply get left out of the passage—it’s not as if the Mencius includes full accounts of all of Mencius’s conversations. But I suspect that any such account would work better as an explanation of why the exchange was left in rather than as an explanation of why it was made up.

            Far from conclusive, of course.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Hi Dan, and thank you. You are vastly more familiar with the book than I am, and your view of the whole is very different from mine on big issues where I don’t have many particular passages in mind to cite. (Probably the same is true of you, Stephen.) So these replies are not ones that I can properly consider without carefully re-reading the Mencius. I hope to do it, but I’m not sure how fast I’ll be.

  12. Agui says:

    I meant to respond to this post before so many comments were made. While I’ve skimmed through the comments, someone may have already said this; if so, I apologize.

    I understand the 端s as kinds of incipient tendencies that lead toward grand virtues such as 仁,禮,義,and 智 (or related institutions, since I don’t think we need make such a clear distinction as Steve suggests). As such, the tendency to 辭讓, as exemplified in the sages of the past, has lead toward the development of ritual propriety or a ritual tradition.

    I’m not sure we have to read the text as claiming that every instance of 禮 entails the tendency to (or some sense of) 辭讓. Others have pointed to passages in Mengzi where the incipient tendencies associated with 仁, for instance, seems to lead to the development of 禮. Other texts, such as the “Liyun” chapter of the Liji, attribute the development of 禮 to the sages improving the conditions of human living (using fire, living in houses, etc.), the need to maintain social distinctions, human beings experiencing grief at the loss of a family member, the natural patterns of cosmos, and the faculty of 義. Although the Mengzi might move in a significantly different direction, are there reasons we must (or should) read the text to mean that every instance of 禮 necessarily involves some notion of 辭讓?

    The question of whether 辭讓 is directed toward people, objects, or the ritual tradition is, IMO, an interesting, but somewhat separate question.

    • Bill Haines says:

      Hi Agui – good points! The closest we came to touching on them was at the beginning of #7 above, I think.

    • Bill Haines says:

      One might think it’s pretty tough, though, for Mengzi to avoid the idea that his characterization of the “heart” of a virtue has to fit each characteristic action of that virtue, insofar as he thinks virtue is just about taking this heart and applying it over here and over there. Manyul makes a powerful argument about that in “Emotional Control and Virtue in the Mencius” (PEW 49.1, Jan.’99).

      • Agui says:

        I really like this article of Manyul’s but I’m not quite clear where the argument you refer to is being made.

      • Bill Haines says:

        Oops! I had remembered correctly the abstract point that the paper is a powerful one, but misremembered what it says! Or at the very least, my memory overstated the directness with which the paper attacks the kind of position I take at the beginning of #7 above (and still want to take). I’ll try to explain what I was thinking.

        Dan’s post had said, “The puzzle is that ritual obviously mobilises motives other than deference, and calls for behaviour that is not simply deferential.” And in #7 I said in reply, “Isn’t it also obviously true that ren mobilizes motives other than compassion (e.g. self-discipline and curiosity) and calls for behavior that is not simply compassionate? And similarly for yi and shame?”

        My assumption was that if we start with spontaneous compassion, and make a regular practice of acting on it, we will thereby develop a number of new motives or concerns such as self-discipline and curiosity. Acting from the motive of curiosity about statistics or Zimbabwe is different from taking the same actions from compassion combined with the belief that one’s knowing more about statistics or Zimbabwe will benefit others. The virtue of ren will involve the new motives. I thought that picture was pretty much the same as the picture you were presenting.

        That kind of development or emotional refinement comes from experience or what we might call habituation. On p. 1f, Manyul seems to promise to show that the Mencius does not believe in this sort of refinement, or at least does not hold that it is the necessary or standard way to develop virtue.

        Only, I guess what Manyul had in mind to attack was not the view that we develop new motives that are subsidiary in that sort of way to the ends of our hearts; rather he meant to attack the view that we develop new basic or perfect motives such as the valuing of this or that virtue for its own sake (p.2). (Is that right, Manyul?)

        (I might want to argue that loving ren for its own sake is in fact a motive subsidiary “in that sort of way” to compassion’s end, but that’s beside the point for reading Manyul’s paper.)

        • Bill Haines says:

          “I guess what Manyul had in mind to attack” — I mean, attack as a reading of the Mencius.

        • Manyul Im says:

          Hi Bill and Agui,

          RE: I guess what Manyul had in mind to attack was not the view that we develop new motives that are subsidiary in that sort of way to the ends of our hearts; rather he meant to attack the view that we develop new basic or perfect motives such as the valuing of this or that virtue for its own sake (p.2). (Is that right, Manyul?)

          Yes, that is what I meant to argue against. It is an interesting question, though, that Agui raises: is the requisite heart-mind, or duan (2A6), for each type of virtuous activity involved/entailed in each instance of such activity? That depends on the type of involvement/entailment we’re wondering about, doesn’t it? Even if 禮 develops from the tendency, the tendency is entailed in at least one way by each instance of 禮: as a “genetic” entailment. I assume though, that what we might be wondering about is whether an iteration of some one type of heart-mind-felt attitude or motivation in the agent is entailed by each instance of the virtuous activity. I guess one question is: suppose Mencius thought so; what’s at stake? or if he didn’t, what would be at stake?

          Also, on the model in which the duan for 禮 is merely an incipient tendency, are we assuming that the 禮 that is developed from that tendency comprises only the institution of rituals and not the virtue of being ritually adept (for lack of a tidy adjectival term for 禮 — like “polite” for the virtue associated with the institution of etiquette)? It would seem like what matters in 禮 is the attitude as well as proper decorum (“the institution” of 禮). If so, why wouldn’t deference enter into each iteration of the activity?

          • Bill Haines says:

            Hi Manyul – excellent questions! I’m still hoping to hear Agui’s answers.

        • Dan Robins says:

          Hi again, Bill, and sorry for the late and partial reply. But I thought I’d comment on this:

          My assumption was that if we start with spontaneous compassion, and make a regular practice of acting on it, we will thereby develop a number of new motives or concerns such as self-discipline and curiosity. Acting from the motive of curiosity about statistics or Zimbabwe is different from taking the same actions from compassion combined with the belief that one’s knowing more about statistics or Zimbabwe will benefit others. The virtue of ren will involve the new motives.

          This could be right, but is it Mencius? We actually have a case very much like your example in section 1A/7. In effect, Mencius gets King Xuan to recognise that he has a heart of compassion, and instructs him how to protect or be kind to his people. He doesn’t say anything about developing new motives. The king is to use (yong 用) his kindness, picking up or mobilising (ju 舉) his existing heart and applying it to his people. There’s nothing here about developing, say, curiosity.

          The king’s kindness can’t be the whole story—there’s also whatever determines whether and how he uses his kindness. This whatever presumably comprises character traits that could be developed or encouraged. (1A/7 itself seems to rule out any need for extended cultivation, but it gives Mencius an important role as an encouraging moral coach.) But would the author or authors of these texts have thought of these other traits as motives akin to the king’s kindness or the compassion that provides the starting-point for benevolence?

          In any case, it’s still going to be true that if becoming ren involves gaining new motives, these motives will gain their significance from the concern for others—the compassion—that they serve. That’s not in general true with the motives other than deference that get put into play in ritual, if the deference in question is just deference to other participants in the ritual. To go back to the passage I quoted at the start of this comment, you’re not going to develop grief for a dead parent by cultivating your spontaneous deference. I’m pretty sure that’s all I need for my argument.

          • Dan Robins says:

            Er, I don’t mean to imply, if I’m implying it, that I think the argument is decisive, just that that’s the argument. I’m still trying to decide if I think deference (or yielding more generally) could be characteristic of ritual in a way that suits 2A/6 without being somehow the basis of the other attitudes that ritual puts into play. But I’d still argue that it can’t be a basis or starting-point for those other attitudes, and that this distinguishes it from compassion in relation to ren.

          • Bill Haines says:
        • Bill Haines says:

          Hi Dan!

          But would the author or authors of these texts have thought of these other traits as motives akin to the king’s kindness or the compassion that provides the starting-point for benevolence?

          Well, I’m not sure what kind of kinship you have in mind. If the category is “emotional episode” or (alternately) “attitude”, then I don’t see why compassion couldn’t help us develop other members of the category.

          I don’t imagine it would come naturally to early Confucians to to think that the various virtues are realized in action mainly in discrete episodes, “actions of the virtues,” such as to raise the question whether the relevant one of the four basic kinds of episode or attitude has to be involved in generating each action of the related virtue. From the outset here you’ve rightly been careful about the point that in burials or (what I take to be a more inclusive term) mourning ritual, perhaps we should regard only some aspects of the event as the ritual aspects, only some aspects of one’s activity as attributable to one’s ritual propriety. I doubt that Mengzi had or aspired to an orderly set of views on such matters. I doubt that he aspired to conceive the four virtues mentioned in 2A6 as not overlapping, or as forming an exhaustive list. I think he just wanted to make sure he covered the high points. I also doubt that he intended 惻隱, 辭讓, 恭敬, 羞惡, and 是非 (and 不忍人) to name items all in one psychological category such as attitudes or emotional episodes. I think they are just various things.

          Of these items the only one other than 惻隱 that seems to invite being categorized as a kind of feeling or emotional episode is 羞惡. But I think that seeming is based on a mistake. It’s based on the reading 羞惡 as “xiu wu4,” shame-revulsion. That reading seems to be completely uncontroversial. But I see no basis for that reading except the assumption that we’re talking about kinds of feelings. That character-pair doesn’t show up in in that sense, or indeed in any sense, elsewhere in the Mencius or in any pre-Qin (or Han) text on Sturgeon’s site. (The other two-character pairs seem common enough.) Now, in 2A9, Mengzi mentions 惡惡之心, which has to be read “wu4 e4 zhi xin” (惡惡 is a common enough phrase). Hence, it seems to me, in the absence of further evidence, the reasonable guess is that 羞惡 is “xiu e4,” shame at evil or baseness, giving the two-character phrase a verb-object structure. (I’ve argued for that point before in these hallowed halls, but got no response …)

          (Regarding the phrase 不忍人之心 from 2A6 – I wonder whether you (and others) regard that as another term for 惻隱之心 or instead as a general account meant to cover all 4, which seems to me possible. Its negative form does not suggest episodes.)

          In any case, it’s still going to be true that if becoming ren involves gaining new motives, these motives will gain their significance from the concern for others—the compassion—that they serve. That’s not in general true with the motives other than deference that get put into play in ritual, if the deference in question is just deference to other participants in the ritual.

          These lines make your position much clearer to me than it was before! Thank you.

          I’m not sure just what I said above, but the position I want to take is that when in this context Mengzi speaks of respect (I’ll use that as shorthand for 辭讓 and/or 恭敬, he is thinking of respect for people, but not limiting that to other participants in the particular ritual at hand. Such a limit would raise the question whether the person I am properly walking behind is a participant in my ritual propriety, and whether the participants in mourning ritual include the deceased, the mourner’s audience, his subjects, the people who bring food to his hut, etc. We might also distinguish subtly between (a) a general attitude of respect for the people around one, and (b) a general attitude of respect for people in general (I don’t mean the community or the aggregate); and my claim is not that Mengzi is focusing specifically on (a).

          Oh, here’s another muddying idea that might help. The idea of respect for “other participants in the ritual” relies on the idea that rituals are individuated things. And sometimes they are, more or less. But maybe more often it would have been natural to think of ritual (activity) as an uncountable thing, like etiquette. And the list of “participants in ritual” is indefinitely long. Such a broad view of “ritual” puts me in mind of something like a social contract, or a sort of gift relationship of (largely)mutual respect.

          Such general attitudes of respect for people seem to me parallel to a general attitude of compassion for people, in being able to mobilize other motives. And like compassion, it seems to be the sort of attitude that can show itself in small-scale heartfelt episodes, though it does not lend itself as easily to dramatic ones.

        • Bill Haines says:

          I forgot to say why I was arguing that羞惡 has a verb-object structure: the point is that the verb-object structure makes it easy to read the phrase as naming an attitude, not necessarily or only an emotional episode or kind of feeling.

          On the question whether Mengzi is thinking of the 辭讓 and 恭敬 he mentions in 2A6 and 6A6 as directed primarily toward people (very much including individuals), i.e. not primarily toward tradition or ritual itself, I think the evidence and arguments I offered earlier are dispositive. Do you agree? Still, I have to grant that it is possible that he blundered in holding such a view in combination with the other main lines of his moral psychology, e.g. because of problems about funerals. I haven’t yet made adequate sense for myself of his general moral psychology, so I’m not sure.

          On the other main point of disagreement between us in this big discussion: My arguments above on the interpretation of 3A5 look to me compelling, if a little short of dispositive; I’d love to hear sometime whether you agree.

  13. Agui says:

    I’ve been meaning to reply, but every time I open up Mencius something else demands my attention. Now, of course, even more has been said in between.

    Anyways, here are my thoughts without giving as much attention to the text as I’d like.

    Perhaps the best explanation that Mencius gives for the creation of 禮 is the 辭讓之心 or the 恭敬之心. In comparison with texts such as Xunzi and the Liji this isn’t a particularly robust explanation for how 禮 comes about. In those other texts 禮 can come from a number of sources–an attitude/inclination/tendency to 辭讓 being one of those.

    For Manyul and those arguing for genetic entailment, I’m wondering why we must read Mencius as advocating that every instance of 禮 necessarily involves the 辭讓之心. Why must we start with 辭讓 to get to 禮? I suppose this is where a close reading of the text would come into play. Are there instances where this isn’t the case? Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple relevant passages; most of which have already been cited.There’s 6A6 where 恭敬 is used instead of 辭讓. Am I missing an argument as to why these should be equated? 3A5 has also been discussed; and I’m not sure why this can’t be read in a ritual context since it reads similar to passages in the Liyun explaining how specific rituals originated.

    Let me pose some alternative sources for 禮 and ask those who have done a closer reading of Mengzi whether or not these might be possibilities for Mencius:

    1) The faculty/virtue of 義. Liyun: 故禮也者,義之實也。協諸義而協,則禮雖先王未之有,可以義起也。

    2) The cosmos. Liyun: 是故夫禮,必本於大一,分而為天地,轉而為陰陽,變而為四時,列而為鬼神。

    3) The sages looking to improve the living conditions of humanity. Liyun: 夫禮之初,始諸飲食…

    4) And then, of course, the 三本 passage from Xunzi: 禮有三本:天地者,生之本也;先祖者,類之本也;君師者,治之本也。無天地,惡生?無先祖,惡出?無君師,惡治?三者偏亡,焉無安人。故禮、上事天,下事地,尊先祖,而隆君師。是禮之三本也。

  14. Bill Haines says:

    Dan, here I’ll try to lay out in an orderly way my reading of 3A5, so far as it goes. You have convinced me on some points, and I’m closer to agreeing with your claim in the original post that “3A/5 rejects Mohist proposals for social change because they do not derive from an instinctive rejection of current practice; in the absence of such a rejection, the passage insists, we should simply follow tradition.” But I still disagree with it, especially as an account of the main thesis of the passage or of Mengzi in the exchange.

    I know that you have very much more to say in elaboration and defense of your reading than you’ve yet published or mentioned here. I don’t expect a reply soon, since I know you’re busy finishing a paper on the subject. I’ll gladly take the finished paper itself as your reply, whether or not it addresses any of the following explicitly.

    Here is 3A5 in Lau’s translation, pinyinized and divided into numbered sections, presented in order, with my discussion stuffed in between sections.

    1. Yi Zhi, a Mohist, sought to meet Mengzi through the good offices of Xu Bi. “I wish to see him too,” said Mengzi, “but at the moment I am not well. When I get better, I shall go to see him. There is no need for him to come here.

    Mengzi may want to give his people time to research Yizi; or this may be a way of registering either that he does not eagerly desire the contact or that he claims superiority.

    2. Another day, he sought to see Mengzi again. Mengzi said, “Now I can see him. If one does not put others right, one cannot hold the Way up for everyone to see. I shall put him right.”

    Mengzi seems to want to stress that it is not for himself that he is willing to see Yizi. Think of a theist and atheist, each interested in trying to change the other’s mind, but each pointing out that she is certain the other cannot succeed. Each thinks the other’s reason for engaging in the conversation is fundamentally mistaken. They can still happily debate, but that is perhaps surprising. Maybe the reason Mengzi and Yizi never meet has to do with their failure to agree about the purpose of conversing.

    Mengzi’s words are actually “不直,則道不見;我且直之” – “Not straight (or: not straighten), then Way not seen (or: not show). So I’ll straighten him.” His sentence is open to more than one interpretation. The two obvious candidates are:

    (I) Mengzi will straighten Yizi because only then can Yizi see the way, i.e. he’ll adjust Yizi’s character to adjust Yizi’s opinions (cf. 4A10); and

    (II) Mengzi will speak with Yizi because correcting Yizi will help people in general see the right way.

    Either way, there is a distinction between straightening Yizi and making the way visible. The right reading has to involve such a distinction.

    (Within (II) we might distinguish two readings: (IIA) I’ll correct Yizi’s views toward correcting everyone’s views; (IIB) I’ll straighten Yizi’s character toward correcting everyone’s views.)

    If 3A5 is, as you say, against activism for social change, or at least against a certain variety of activism for social change, then on reading (II) this sentence would have the effect of labeling the whole exchange in 3A5 as an example of Mencian action for social change, the kind of social action Mengzi favors.

    An argument for reading (II) is that Mengzi says in 3B9 that a main reason why he argues at all is to defeat Mohism in order to help restore the right way in the world. “I wish to safeguard the way of the former sages against the onslaughts of Yang and Mo, and to banish excessive views. Then there will be no way for advocates of heresies to arise. For what arises in the mind will interfere with policy, and what shows in policy will interfere with practice.” There he is addressing the charge that he acts out of sheer love of arguing, and his basic reply is that he argues so much because of the grave need for social change—specifically, cultural restoration.

    Another argument for (II) is that (I) seems to give too small a reason to meet with Yizi, if Yizi is otherwise not worth Mengzi’s time. For it’s not clear why the general fact that straightening a person helps that person see the way would be a reason to try to straighten Yizi in particular.

    An argument for (I) is that (II) seems to rate Yizi’s importance too highly, especially given Mengzi’s negative phrasing of the point. Surely Yizi’s own crookedness does not render the way invisible in general.

    My own guess is that Mengzi means that he will straighten Yizi’s character to make the Way more visible to Yizi in particular and thereby presumably to others. But he does not phrase the point in a way that distinguishes between helping the way be visible to Yizi and helping it be visible in general. I think Mengzi (or the author) would have been concerned about that distinction if the main topic in 3A5 were the legitimacy of activism for social change, or the relative legitimacy of different kinds of action for social change.

    Mengzi goes on to challenge Yizi’s character rather than his views.

    3. “I have heard that Yizi is a Mohist. In funerals, the Mohists follow the way of frugality. Since Yizi wishes to convert the Empire to frugality, it must be because he thinks it the only honorable way. But then Yizi gave his parents lavish burials. In so doing, he treated his parents in a manner he did not esteem.”

    ‘Frugality’ can suggest the virtue of 儉 and hence a middle ground; but in fact the word Mengzi uses is 薄, which is one of a pair of opposite terms referring in the first instance to the coffin walls (“thin” and “thick”) and by extension to all material aspects of the funerary respect shown to the deceased, and even the length of the mourning period. The Mohist essay on the topic, Mozi 25, happens to mention at the end that there is such a thing as going too thin (e.g. burning the corpses, expelling old widows even before they die, or scraping the flesh from corpses’ bones and throwing it away), but its recommended mode of burial is thin enough to shock even Westerners.

    In the sentence about wishing to change the world, Lau has added the specifying phrase ‘to frugality’ (sc. in burials), where I think Mengzi might simply have meant “to Mohist ways”; in any case, Mengzi seems clearly to be inferring any claims about Yizi’s interest in social change from the fact that Yizi is reported to be a Mohist. And the point about changing the world seems to be here to serve a specific purpose: to support the claim that Yizi thinks departing from Mohist ways (perhaps specifically regarding burial) is unacceptable; and this point in turn is offered for the specific purpose of supporting or intensifying the personal charge against Yizi. Mengzi wishes to maximize the sense of conflict between Yizi’s moral-political projects and his personal life. The fact that the point about his wishing social change is offered to make a further point that is not about social change at all, argues against its being a label of Mengzi’s main concern in the passage.

    Dan, you wrote (395f in “The Moists and the Gentlemen of the World” (Journal of Chinese Philosophy 35:3, Sep. 2008) that Mengzi’s charge here is unfiliality rather than hypocrisy, thus highlighting a principle that one should not serve one’s parents by a Way one regards as base.

    Does the Mencius elsewhere express that view? 4A12 might be read that way, but (I think) not so as to have application to Mohists in his view; and I suppose Mengzi had a different reason in 3A2 for advising the prince to choose his own path rather than respect his forebears’ funerary tradition. Confucius in the Analects advocates sticking to one’s father’s way for three years after his death, thus during mourning. Mozi 25 lists the concerns of filial piety, apparently toward arguing on the basis of the idea that an analogous list of concerns is roughly complete; but nothing even very remotely resembling this concern is on the list. Anyway there is of course no suggestion in 3A5 that it would have been filial for Yizi to bury his parents thinly. That would have been unfilial on different and perhaps stronger grounds.

    Anyway I agree that Mengzi is relying on the point that treating one’s parents in a way one despises does seem unfilial. He is charging unfiliality, and apparently straining to do so, even though the charge of hypocrisy is more explicit and salient. The point of the suggestion of unfiliality may be to twist the knife about the fact of hypocrisy or inner conflict. “Not only did you act basely by your own standards, you dragged your parents into that!” – like doing something base on sacred ground. Mengzi is challenging Yizi on the sensitive topic of his feelings for his parents; he wants Yizi’s being of two minds on this matter to hurt. More specifically, he may want to help Yizi feel that Yizi cares about his parents perhaps more than he has realized, and that his stepping over the line for their sake was not more than adequate filial piety, as Yizi may have thought. Rather his being a Mohist blocked him from being adequately filial.

    The significance of the question whether the charge is hypocrisy or filiality might depend on how we understand the purpose of the charge. If we do in fact think of it as a charge, we are thinking of it as a move in a sort of a meta-debate about whether there is to be a conversation at all: Why should I listen to, or consider potentially heeding, someone who is hypocritical/unfilial? But we might instead think of it as a move in Mengzi’s effort to straighten Yizi, in which case we might think of the question “Is the main charge hypocrisy or unfiliality?” as the question “What concern of Yizi’s is Mengzi trying to appeal to here? The concern not to be a hypocrite or the concern to be filial?”

    Mengzi elsewhere seems to have this rhetorical program or pattern: He supposes that when someone advocates or pursues a wrong dào, she does not do so wholeheartedly. After all, we all have the right basic heart. The Mencian rhetorician often looks for how the opponent deviates in practice from her conception of her dào, and draws attention to the springs of that action, endorsing them (cf. 7A17). In speaking with rulers, Mengzi likes to draw attention to a mismatch (however slight) between the ruler’s conception of his aims and what he really wants, to get the ruler to attend to the aspect of what he really wants that suits Mengzi’s program. That’s the picture 1A7 paints for us. In disputing against rival philosophies or dàos as represented by individuals, Mengzi follows a similar path. In 3A4 he looks for items that Xuzi 許子 does not make for himself, asks for the reason, and develops the implications of that reason. In 3B10 he argues that Chen Zhongzi 陳仲子 did not fully follow his own principles, and rightly so: for to do so would be to live the life of a worm. That is, Mengzi looks to ally with something inside his interlocutor or opponent; but where I might listen for premises I can use, Mengzi roots around for impulses, attitudes, desires, aims. I think Mengzi is taking the same approach in 3A5. He wants to use Yizi’s personal history to cut him to the quick, make him feel his inner conflict, make him feel the pain arising from the conflict between Mohism and his heart.

    4. Xuzi reported this to Yizi. “The Confucians,” said Yizi, praised the ancient rulers for acting ‘as if they were tending a newborn babe.’ What does this saying mean? In my opinion, it means that there should be no gradations in love [愛], though the practice of it begins with one’s parents.”

    Dan, you have pointed out to me that Mohist impartiality may follow roughly the pattern of rule utilitarianism: that is, universal care or concern (愛) comes in only at the level of fundamental philosophical background, while practice should directly favor family (though normally not as far as thick burial). If the best reading of 3A5 does involve that distinction between the philosophical and the practical, then I think that’s an important discovery for the understanding of Mohism. I just don’t see it in 3A5.

    You have also pointed out that where Lau says “parents,” 親 may in fact mean close ones more generally. Indeed it would have to do so here, since tending an infant is the leading example.

    Toward understanding what Yizi means, it may be helpful to ask (A) why he says this and (B) how he derives those norms from that saying.

    (B) How does Yizi derive those norms from that saying? I can think of two possible ways, and both involve the idea that Yizi reads the saying as referring to the way we care for an infant in our own family.

    The saying says we should treat everyone according to a certain model, and the model is that of a specially strong kind of family care. We can’t apply the model unless we first have the model. Similarly, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” is addressed to people who first love themselves.

    Alternately, Yizi takes the saying to mean that we should care for everyone in the same strong way; and he is here interpreting the saying as an expression of the Ru way (as the Chinese wording suggests); and he knows that that Confucians, such as Youzi at Analects 1.2, defend what can seem an excessive emphasis on family care on the grounds that it is the root of broader social care.

    (A) Why does Yizi say this here? Clearly he means to suggest that the Ru are committed to agreeing with Mohism on these matters of abstract principle. (Thus where Mengzi looks to ally himself with his opponents’ deviations in practice as reflections of general values, Yizi looks here to ally himself with his opponent’s abstract verbal commitments.)

    But of course Yizi’s knows that Mengzi will hear his terse remark also as an attempt to respond to the charge of hypocrisy/unfiliality. So Yizi must mean it as a response to that charge, whatever additional purpose he may have.

    Exactly what response-argument this man thought his brief remark would suggest is obscure. It might be that Yizi is the (familiar) kind of philosopher or activist who is focused on principles or ideals and does not consider his personal deviations to be black marks against the principles or ideals; and he may be hoping that this reminder that Confucians don’t object to thick burial will quiet Mengzi on this point so that they can get down to philosophical business.

    Or it might be that his explication of the saying is meant to allude to the thought that for Mohists (as I think you have said), universal mutual love, ungraded love far beyond the family, is a social ideal, not currently wholly practicable for individuals. It is hard to think that the idea that the movement’s ideal is not currently practicable would not have been familiar to Mohists, for that sort of idea is excruciatingly familiar to all advocates for profound changes in lifestyle, whether or not they accept it. (We do not know how thickly Yizi buried his parents; we do not know how hard it would have been to justify his action in such terms.)

    If Yizi has a detailed rationale about how his particular deviation might be justified in Mohist “partial compliance theory,” it might have to do with avoiding being despised for presumably not caring about his parents, or with avoiding giving offense to the rest of his family. If so, Mengzi would suspect that Yizi was strongly moved by something not captured in his rationale. It is hard for us, perhaps, to envision being strongly tempted, even against our principles if it comes to that, to spend a humongous amount of money on a burial. But that wouldn’t seem odd in Mengzi’s or Confucius’ day.

    5. Xuzi reported this to Mengzi. “Does Yizi truly believe,” said Mengzi, “that a man loves [親] his brother’s son no more than his neighbor’s newborn babe? He is singling out a special feature in a certain case; when the newborn babe creeps toward a well it is not its fault.”

    I am not sure exactly how to read this. (A) Mengzi may be rejecting (or unaware of) the idea that in the model cited by the saying, the hypothetical infant is supposed to be the agent’s own child. He is stressing that in fact our attitude toward infants in general, random infants, is nothing like the greatest care we are capable of (cf. 7A45,46; and the innocent ox at 1A7). So treating everyone “as though protecting an infant” does not amount to caring without grades or levels. Or (B) perhaps Mengzi means, “Can one really believe that Yizi would have people be as close to a neighbor’s infant as they are to an elder brother’s child?” That is, it is nuts to think we are essentially or ideally as close in relationship to a neighbor’s infant as to an elder brother’s child.

    As you have mentioned, Dan, these replies are not apt on your reading of what Mohist 兼愛 really comes to. Whether they are apt responses to what Yizi thinks, or to what he is proposing to attribute to the Ru tradition, is less clear to me. (I understand that you have sophisticated and interesting reasons for thinking that Mengzi is not trying to rebut Yizi here at all; I don’t address that idea here.)

    6. “Moreover, when Heaven produces things, it gives them a single basis [本], yet Yizi gives them a dual one. This accounts for his belief.”

    Or more accurately: when Heaven generates things/creatures (生物), it gives them one root; but Yizi stands on two roots (or: the problem is that Yizi has two roots).

    In interpreting an effort at communication, a good principle is that the obvious guesses are right unless they can’t be, so let’s start with the obvious guesses.

    Mengzi’s remark is presumably a reference to some aspect of the duality evidenced in Yizi’s apparent hypocrisy and the presumably related duality in his gloss of the ancient saying. On the one side, there is Yizi’s thick burial of his parents and his view (or his view that Confucians think) that the work of universal care begins at home; on the other side, there is Yizi’s Mohism and universal care.

    These two sides line up neatly with the obvious guess about what the two roots are. The first obvious guess is that one of Yizi’s roots is the root from Heaven. Since Mengzi says this is supposed to be the sort of root that every creature has, it cannot be tradition, and a fortiori cannot be any particular tradition. The obvious guess is that it is (to be brief) natural instinct, which in the case of humans Mengzi would specify as 人心, the heart that Mengzi thinks is shared by all humans and comprises the attitudes that are naturally spontaneous in us, and to serve which we have elaborated such tools as good laws. The obvious simple guess about Yizi’s other root is that it is Mohism: the teachings of Mozi. Mengzi thinks the human heart likes Mengzi’s own way, but Mohism is a conflicting way. We know that Mengzi thinks Yizi has or stands on these two roots, and that Mengzi would think they directly generate the unfilial hypocrisy that Mengzi has highlighted. On this reading, the point Mengzi is making to Yizi is not about any duality of Mohism. Rather, Mengzi’s point is that Yizi has a root from Heaven. Mengzi is directing Yizi’s attention to the human heart and its authority.

    Some confirmation that Mengzi does not think Yizi’s problem is any duality within Mohist teachings may be found in other passages, where we learn that Mengzi has a simplistic view of the Mohist way, especially as regards family:

    “Yangzi chooses egoism. Even if he could benefit the Empire by pulling out one hair he would not do it. Mozi advocates love without discrimination. If by shaving his head and showing his heels he could benefit the Empire he would do it. Zimo holds on to the middle, and that is to come close [to the Way]. But holding to the middle without discrimination is like holding to just one. What is to be disapproved in those who hold just one thing is that they cripple the Way. They hold to one thing and discard a hundred.” (from 7A26, Lau much modified)

    “The teachings current in the Empire are those of the school of Yang or those of the school of Mo. Yang advocates everyone for himself, which amounts to a denial of one’s prince. Mo advocates love without discrimination, which amounts to a denial of one’s father. To ignore one’s father on the one hand and one’s prince on the other, is to be no different from the beasts.” (from 3B9, Lau)

    Dan, you have pointed out that the Mozi endorses filiality; it endorses special practical care for one’s own family. However, I see no sign that Mengzi recognized that Mohism as such endorsed filiality. My own observation of anglophone discussions of utilitarianism by those who are not its partisans hardly predicts that Mengzi would be clear about the subtler points of Mohism, such as any distinction between fundamental impartiality and practical partiality, a distinction that you have shown me one can tease out of some parts of the Mozi.

    (Mengzi might conceivably have recognized that Mohists endorsed filiality, but thought they were thereby compromising core Mohist ideas. Or he might even have regarded their endorsement as a rhetorical smokescreen. The idea that it is a trick is, I think, likely to occur to any reader of the Mozi essay on burials, and it strikes me as a plausible reading. The essay begins by listing the concerns of filiality. Then it points to an analogy between them and the concerns of the good person, and argues from the latter concerns only, leaving filiality behind. Thus the essay’s opening seems designed to give the false impression that the essay argues from the concerns of filiality. To be charitable, one might think the essay means to do something vaguely like what Sidgwick and Parfit do with the analogy between egoism and utilitarianism. Egoism, as a willingness to defer gratification for a greater later, is a kind of impartiality, involving a kind of sacrifice; and recognizing that point can soften you up for real impartiality; still, utilitarianism is inconsistent with egoism.)

    On my reading, then, Mengzi should proceed to try to put Yizi in better touch with his heaven-sent root, the basic human heart, in a way that moves and changes him, leading to Yizi’s recognizing that Mohism does not have the right way.

    Here is how Mengzi proceeds:

    7. “Presumably there must have been cases in ancient times of people not burying their parents. When the parents died, they were thrown in the gullies. Then one day the sons passed the place and there lay the bodies, eaten by foxes and sucked by flies. A sweat broke out on their brows, and they could not bear to look. The sweating was not put on for others to see. It was an outward expression of their innermost heart. They went home for baskets and spades. If it was truly right for them to bury the remains of their parents, then it must also be right for all dutiful sons and benevolent men to do likewise.” Xuzi repeated this to Yizi who looked lost for quite a while and replied, “I have taken his point.”

    As you say, Dan, it looks as though the people in the story proceeded to bury their parents no more thickly than Mohists advocated. But you infer that the story misses the point at issue, if the point at issue is about thick v. thin burials; so that the point directly at issue must be something else.

    I agree that the thickness of burials is not the largest point at issue in the exchange between Mengzi and Yizi. And I grant that it may not be the most immediate conclusion from the story, depending on how we read the story’s explicit conclusion. But I don’t agree with you that at this point in their conversation the issue of the thickness of burials is long gone, so that it is only incidental that the story is about burials or parents.

    I think what is happening in the story is that Mengzi is completing two projects begun in his initial speech about hypocrisy and roots: (A) the project of pointing out to Yizi that Yizi has a Heaven-given heart that has something to say about burying parents, and (B) the project of arguing that what this heart wants regarding burials is right.

    (A) I say he is “pointing out” that Yizi has this heart, not just that he is claiming that Yizi has this heart. For the story appeals to Yizi’s sympathetic imagination, just as does Mengzi’s story about the child at the well (which he seems to think Yizi knows). Mengzi wants Yizi to attend to his heart and feel with it. Mengzi started working on that project when he reminded Yizi of Yizi’s thick burial of his parents.

    Of course, Yizi’s feeling with this heart is not enough for Mengzi’s pointing-out project, for if it were, the pointing-out would have been accomplished back when Yizi buried his parents (and similarly the king in 1A7 would have been straightened the moment he was moved to spare the ox). What Mengzi adds in this conversation is the articulate idea that Yizi has a heaven-given heart that has something to say about burials, and that everyone else has the same heart. That completes the “pointing-out.”

    (B) Mengzi began the project of arguing that the heart’s concerns about burials are right when he said at the beginning that the heart was from heaven and is one of Yizi’s roots. Mengzi completes that project when he says, “If it was truly right for them to bury the remains of their parents [and can you deny this?!], then it must also be right for all dutiful sons and benevolent men to do likewise.” That’s Lau’s translation with my bracketed addition. The inference to the general case is supported presumably by the story’s point that the belated burials in the story came from the people’s inmost heart, the premise that one’s inmost heart is from heaven just as the instincts of all creatures are, and the tacit premise that instinct is uniform within species.

    But I think Lau’s translation may not be quite right. Mengzi expresses the consequent of the conditional as follows: “孝子仁人之掩其親,亦必有道矣,” which might be more literally rendered, “Filial sons and ren people’s burying their parents indeed must have the way.” I suppose this means that when decent people bury their parents, the fact that they are right to do so is not a mere coincidence between their custom and the right way, but rather reflects their being in touch with, having a line to, the Way quite independently of custom. (By the way: there is no suggestion that custom as such is part of that line; the story suggests that the line is quite independent of custom, and Mengzi seems unconcerned to correct that suggestion.)

    Legge translates the whole sentence, “If the covering them thus was indeed right, you may see that the filial son and virtuous man, in interring in a handsome manner their parents, act according to a proper rule.” Legge seems to suppose that “孝子仁人之掩其親” means “the way parents are buried by the [kind of people normally regarded as] filial and ren.” The phrase “孝子仁人” sounds to my ear as though it might be a standard epithet, hence meaning something like “good people,” without the suggestion of high standards, without the suggestion that good people might be hard to recognize, and without the negative connotations that “village worthies” might have for some. I haven’t tried to research the phrase.

    Legge’s reading has a big advantage over Lau’s reading: Legge doesn’t make Mengzi’s virtue-words pointless. For my part, I suppose the reason Mengzi says “孝子仁人” instead of something more general like “人” is that he wants to be safe against the objection that some people do in fact bury wrongly. Lau might at this point want to say that there is a need for a similar defense against the objection that some people don’t bury their parents at all. My reply is that that’s a negligible need.

    The problem with Legge’s version of the conclusion is that the story doesn’t support it, or anyway not except by way of my reading (above), which does rather suggest that the details of how decent people bury their parents are likely to be on the right track. The fact that an animal’s action of doing X is instinctive tends to support the idea that the details of how the animal does X are instinctive as well—as Bryan more or less points out (right in the friggin’ text).

    Mengzi holds elsewhere that thick burial is not an arbitrary construct of tradition. Rather it is a specific demand of the human heart. When his own burial of a parent was challenged as being so thick as to violate the traditional way he favored, he answered, “Anciently, there was no rule for the size of either the inner or the outer coffin. In middle antiquity, the inner coffin was made seven inches thick, and the outer one the same. This was done by all, from the sovereign to the common people, and not simply for the sake of beautiful appearance, but because only so could people satisfy their human hearts (人心). If not permitted to make their coffins in this way, men cannot have the feeling of pleasure. If they have not the money to make them in this way, they cannot have the feeling of pleasure. When they were not prevented, and had the money, the ancients all used this style. Why should I alone not do so?” (2B7, Legge modified)

    Exactly what broader lessons Yizi should or does take about Mohism is left obscure, I think. We’ve discussed that a little, earlier in this thread, where I proposed that 3A5 puts a chisel into an otherwise conspicuous gap in the argument of Mozi 25, the essay on burials. But Mengzi’s main goal, beyond making a point about burials, may be to make a change in Yizi himself—a straightening—for example, to reorient Yizi’s attitudes toward his own feelings.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    In effect, this reading of 3A5 involves the idea that Mengzi regards the human heart as a practical authority in some sense, at least for some people in some circumstances in some respects. You and Stephen said that although Mengzi does think that what the heart wants is right, the idea that Mengzi thinks the heart is a practical authority is way off the mark; and these statements made me think I had better go back to the book and rethink the whole. I’ve done a little of that re-reading and rethinking, but not enough. I hope to offer a proper answer to the objection on another day. For now, 7A1 is a start.

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