孟子 (pīnyīn: Mèng Zǐ) – 372 BC-289 BC – was the first great Confucian after Confucius. Mencius developed a philosophy that is idealistic in temperament. Mencius saw his mission as to perpetuate the doctrines of Confucius, as Confucius has made with the earlier doctrines. The text left by Mencius is also called the “Mencius” - 孟子.
The main themes of the doctrines advanced by Mencius:
  • Mencius is the first to make a distinction between the moral ideal of the “superior man” 君子 (simplified: 君子, pīnyīn: Jūn zi) and the effective power of the prince君子(simplified : 君, pīnyīn: Jūn). (Mencius VI-16,『 有天爵者,有人爵者。仁義忠信,樂善不倦,此天爵也;公卿大夫,此人爵也。』, “There is a nobility of Heaven, and there is a nobility of man. Benevolence, righteousness, self-consecration, and fidelity, with unwearied joy in these virtues; these constitute the nobility of Heaven. To be a gong, a qing, or a da fu; this constitutes the nobility of man. ”)
  • The Ideal King and the Kingly Way – 王道 (pīnyīn: Wáng dào) - Mencius advocated a distinction between a King – 王 and a Feudal Lord or Tyran – 霸 (pīnyīn: bà). The King would be a ruler that governs through the Confucian altruism - 仁 – and has only the interest of the people in mind, while the Feudal Lord would seek personal profit or honor. (Mencius VII-60,『民為貴,社稷次之,君為輕。是故得乎丘民而為天子,得乎天子為諸侯,得乎諸侯為大夫。諸侯危社稷,則變置。犧牲既成,粢盛既潔,祭祀以時,然而旱乾水溢,則變置社稷。』, “The people are the most important element in a nation; the spirits of the land and grain are the next; the sovereign is the lightest. Therefore to gain the peasantry is the way to become sovereign; to gain the sovereign is the way to become a prince of a State; to gain the prince of a State is the way to become a great officer. When a prince endangers the altars of the spirits of the land and grain, he is changed, and another appointed in his place. When the sacrificial victims have been perfect, the millet in its vessels all pure, and the sacrifices offered at their proper seasons, if yet there ensue drought, or the waters overflow, the spirits of the land and grain are changed, and others appointed in their place.”). Mencius evolved the doctrine of Rectification of Names - 正名 - further, maintaining that although the activities of the ruler and the ruled differ, they are mutually indispensable, so that neither can exist without the other. The consequence is that a ruler must be conform to the role of a ruler, and therefore be able to behave as a sage – 聖 (pīnyīn: shèng).
  • Mencius view of human nature 性 (pīnyīn: xìng) is of a moral, human, altruist one. In this he antagonizes a “neutral” view of the nature by the Moists, who only saw natural amoral processes in it, what would lead to a “selfish” nature. Mencius supposes the existence of a original spirit - 本心(simplified : 本心, pīnyīn: běn xīn) – which is specific to man.
    • Specificity of Human Nature – Mencius sustained that the difference between human nature and an animal nature is its “moral nature”, (Mencius, IV-47, 『人之所以異於禽於獸者幾希,庶民去之,君子存之。舜明於庶物,察於人倫,由仁義行,非行仁義也。』, “That whereby man differs from the lower animals is but small. The mass of people cast it away, while superior men preserve it. Shun clearly understood the multitude of things, and closely observed the relations of humanity. He walked along the path of benevolence and righteousness; he did not need to pursue benevolence and righteousness.'”).
    • The “greatness” of human nature - 大體 (simplified: 大体, pīnyīn: dà tǐ) – is what allows men to evolve to a “nobler state”. (Mencius, VI-15, 『公都子問曰:“鈞是人也,或為大人,或為小人,何也?” / 孟子曰:“從其大體為大人,從其小體為小人。” / 曰:“鈞是人也,或從其大體,或從其小體,何也?” / 曰:“耳目之官不思,而蔽於物,物交物,則引之而已矣。心之官則思,思則得之,不思則不得也。此天之所與我者,先立乎其大者,則其小者弗能奪也。此為大人而已矣。”』, “Gaozi I: The disciple Gong Du said, 'All are equally men, but some are great men, and some are little men - how is this?' / Mencius replied, 'Those who follow that part of themselves which is great are great men; those who follow that part which is little are little men.' / Gong Du pursued, 'All are equally men, but some follow that part of themselves which is great, and some follow that part which is little - how is this?' / Mencius answered, 'The senses of hearing and seeing do not think, and are obscured by external things. When one thing comes into contact with another, as a matter of course it leads it away. To the mind belongs the office of thinking. By thinking, it gets the right view of things; by neglecting to think, it fails to do this. These - the senses and the mind - are what Heaven has given to us. Let a man first stand fast in the supremacy of the nobler part of his constitution, and the inferior part will not be able to take it from him. It is simply this which makes the great man.'”).
    • Evil would be then the incapacity of identify and develop one’s own good nature (Mencius VI-6, 『乃若其情,則可以為善矣,乃所謂善也。若夫為不善,非才之罪也。(…) 仁義禮智,非由外鑠我也,我固有之也,弗思耳矣。』,“ From the feelings proper to it, it is constituted for the practice of what is good. This is what I mean in saying that the nature is good. If men do what is not good, the blame cannot be imputed to their natural powers. (…) Benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and knowledge are not infused into us from without. We are certainly furnished with them, but it is still necessary to be conscient of them. ”).
  • Moral physiology and The Four Beginnings - 四端 (pīnyīn: sì duān) – Mencius also sustained that the beginnings or principles of the Confucius virtues existed in every man, and therefore all potential to become a sage (Mencius II-6, 『人皆有不忍人之心。先王有不忍人之心,斯有不忍人之政矣。以不忍人之心,行不忍人之政,治天下可運之掌上。所以謂人皆有不忍人之心者,今人乍見孺子將入於 井,皆有怵惕惻隱之心。非所以內交於孺子之父母也,非所以要譽於鄉黨朋友也,非惡其聲而然也。由是觀之,無惻隱之心,非人也;無羞惡之心,非人也;無辭讓 之心,非人也;無是非之心,非人也。惻隱之心,仁之端也;羞惡之心,義之端也;辭讓之心,禮之端也;是非之心,智之端也。人之有是四端也,猶其有四體也。有是四端而自謂不能者,自賊者也;謂其君不能者,賊其君者也。凡有四端於我者,知皆擴而充之矣,若火之始然,泉之始達。苟能充之,足以保四海;苟不充之,不足以事父母。』,“All men have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others. 'The ancient kings had this commiserating mind, and they, as a matter of course, had likewise a commiserating government. When with a commiserating mind was practised a commiserating government, to rule the kingdom was as easy a matter as to make anything go round in the palm. When I say that all men have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others, my meaning may be illustrated thus: even now-a-days, if men suddenly see a child about to fall into a well, they will without exception experience a feeling of alarm and distress. They will feel so, not as a ground on which they may gain the favour of the child's parents, nor as a ground on which they may seek the praise of their neighbours and friends, nor from a dislike to the reputation of having been unmoved by such a thing. From this case we may perceive that the feeling of commiseration is essential to man, that the feeling of shame and dislike is essential to man, that the feeling of modesty and complaisance is essential to man, and that the feeling of approving and disapproving is essential to man. The feeling of commiseration is the principle of benevolence. The feeling of shame and dislike is the principle of righteousness. The feeling of modesty and complaisance is the principle of propriety. The feeling of approving and disapproving is the principle of knowledge. Men have these four principles just as they have their four limbs. When men, having these four principles, yet say of themselves that they cannot develop them, they play the thief with themselves, and he who says of his prince that he cannot develop them plays the thief with his prince. Since all men have these four principles in themselves, let them know to give them all their development and completion, and the issue will be like that of fire which has begun to burn, or that of a spring which has begun to find vent. Let them have their complete development, and they will suffice to love and protect all within the four seas. Let them be denied that development, and they will not suffice for a man to serve his parents with.”). The four principles would therefore be the following:
    • The feeling of commiseration - 惻隱 (simplified: 恻隐, pīnyīn: cè yǐn) is the beginning of compassion - 仁.
    • The feeling of shame and dislike - 羞惡 (simplified: 羞恶, pīnyīn: xiū wù) – is the beginning of righteousness - 義
    • The feeling of modesty and yielding - 辭讓 (simplified: 辞让, pīnyīn: cí ràng) – is the beginning of propriety - 禮
    • The sense of right and wrong - 是非 (pīnyīn: Shì fēi) is the beginning of wisdom 智 (pīnyīn: zhì)
  • Opposition to Utilitarianism – Mencius positioned the notion of righteousness 義 as opposed to the question between the Mohist concept of benefit - 利. This opposition is the core difference between Confucians and Mohists.
  • Mysticism and Heaven –天as a moving force. The principle of the good nature of man has metaphysical origin on the view of an ethical Heaven. (Mencius VI-15 – above - “The senses and the mind are what heaven has given to us). Mencius suggests a mystical philosophy, when he indicates that the virtues within men promote unity with the universe (Mencius VII-4,『 萬物皆備於我矣。反身而誠,樂莫大焉。強恕而行,求仁莫近焉。』,“All things are already complete in us. There is no greater delight than to be conscious of sincerity on self-examination. If one acts with a vigorous effort at the law of reciprocity, when he seeks for the realization of perfect virtue, nothing can be closer than his approximation to it.”) or when he indicates that the superior man is a transforming agent of heaven (Mencius VII-13, 『夫君子所過者化,所存者神,上下與天地同流,豈曰小補之哉?』,“Wherever the superior man passes through, transformation follows; wherever he abides, his influence is of a spiritual nature. It flows abroad, above and beneath, like that of Heaven and Earth. How can it be said that he mends society but in a small way!”) or when he indicates that a deep intuition of the human nature exists (Mencius VII-1,『盡其心者,知其性也。知其性,則知天矣。存其心,養其性,所以事天也。殀壽不貳,修身以俟之,所以立命也。』,“He who has exhausted all his mental constitution knows his nature. Knowing his nature, he knows Heaven. To preserve one's mental constitution, and nourish one's nature, is the way to serve Heaven. When neither a premature death nor long life causes a man any double-mindedness, but he waits in the cultivation of his personal character for whatever issue; this is the way in which he establishes his Heaven-ordained being.”)
  • Authenticity - 誠 (simplified: 诚, pīnyīn: chéng) is the ability to completely realize one’s own humanity, as it is accomplished “by itself.” This concept, explained in the Doctrine of the Mean -中庸 (simplified: 中庸, pīnyīn: Zhōng yōng) is contemporary to Mencius, and as in the Mencius, proposes a way to integrate taoist objections to the Confucian doctrine.

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