e g r e g o r e s

"Graciously bestow upon all men felicity, the summit of which is the knowledge of the Gods." [Julian, Oration to the Mother of the Gods]

So who is this Mencius fellow?

Anyone familiar with the great Chinese philosopher Mencius could not help but think of him if they happened to read Jerry Coyne’s July 31 USA Today piece As atheists know, you can be good without God. That’s because Coyne opens his essay with a personal anecdote illustrating “the instinctive nature of moral acts and judgments,” which was the defining theme of Mencius’ philosophy (and which Mencius famously illustrated in a way highly reminiscent of Coyne’s anecdote).

For those not familiar with Mencius, and/or those who know a little and wish to learn more (a category in which I place myself) a very handy resource is the article on Mencius in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (the entry is by Kwong-Loi Shun, Chair Professor of Philosophy at Chinese University of Hong Kong, and he is also author of Mencius and Early Chinese Thought). And for anyone not familiar with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it is to wikipedia as Buffalo mozzarella is to Cheese Whiz.

Here is how Professor Shun begins his article:

Mencius (fourth century B.C.E.) sought to defend the teachings of Confucius (sixth to fifth century B.C.E.) against other influential movements of thought, especially those associated with Mozi (fifth century B.C.E.) and Yang Zhu (fifth to fourth century B.C.E.). He is probably best known for the view that “human nature is good”, a view of human nature on the basis of which he defended the Confucian ideal and developed an account of the self-cultivation process. His view was subsequently challenged by Xunzi (third century B.C.E.), another major Confucian thinker, who defended the alternative view that “human nature is evil”.

Confucian thinkers of the Han (206 B.C – 220 C.E.) were influenced by the teachings of both, but by the late Tang (618–907), influential intellectuals such as Han Yu (768–824) came to regard Mencius as the true transmitter of Confucius’ teachings. This view was shared by Confucian thinkers of the early Song (960–1279), and Zhu Xi (1130–1200) included the Mengzi (Mencius) as one of the Four Books, which became canonical texts of the Confucian tradition. Mencius came to be regarded as the greatest Confucian thinker after Confucius himself, and his teachings have been very influential on the development of Confucian thought in the Song, Ming (1368–1644), Qing (1644–1912), and up to modern times.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: