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Lecture 3

PHL237H1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: Guodian Chu Slips, Mircea Eliade, Human Nature

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Vincent Shen

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Classical Confucianism: 2nd Phase From Zisi to Mencius
The recent unearthed Guodian bamboo slips, dated c.350BC, confirm the
transition from Confucius’s grandson Zisi (子思 493-406BEC), to Mencius (孟子
371-289BEC). Scholars today agree to call them the Si-Meng School 思孟學派.
Guodian bamboo slips contain both Daoist texts and Confucian texts. The
Confucian part of Guodian texts might be seen as the relay between Confucius
and Mencius.
Philosophical Ideas of Zisi’s School
1. Emphasis on human feeling
2. Distinction: Interior ren vs exterior yi
3. Distinction of xing (action) and de (virtue)
4. Concepts of zhong (centrality) and cheng (sincerity)
5. cheng and ming (educational enlightenment)
Emphasis on feeling: Dao Starts from Human Feeling
The Xin Zi Ming Chu《性自命出》 (Human nature comes from mandate) :
“Human nature comes from mandate. Mandate descends from Heaven. Dao stars
from human feeling. Human feeling is born from human nature. Those who begins
from human feeling will end up with righteousness.
Distinction: interior ren vs exterior yi
Among hundred things Heaven gave birth to, human being is the most noble.
The way of man either comes from the interior, or enters into him through the
exterior. Those come from the interior are humanity, royalty and fidelity; those
enter from the exterior are knowledge, rightness and sagehood. Humanity (ren)
is born from within human being, whereas rightness (yi) is born from the Way.
They were born either from within or from without.
Distinction of action and Virtue in The Wuxing 五行篇:
Five Actions: Ren , when formed within is called virtuous action; when not
[formed within] is called action. Yi , when formed within is called virtuous
action, when not is called action. Li , when formed within is called virtuous
action; when not is called action. Zhi , when formed within is called virtuous
action, when not is called action. Sheng , when formed within is called
virtuous action, when even not, is also called virtuous action. Together there are
five virtuous actions. Be there synthesis of all five, it is called Virtue. Mere
synthesis of four virtuous actions is called excellence. To be excellent is the way
of human; to be virtuous is the way of Heaven.
Heaven-Human Nature-Education: Zhong Yong 中庸 (Doctrine of the Mean)
Human Nature: The Zhong Yong develops Zisi’s idea “Human nature comes from

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mandate; Mandate descends from Heaven” and develops it into a systematic
vision of Heaven, Human Nature and education: “What Heaven imparts to
human beings is called human Nature. To follow human nature is called the Way.
Cultivating the Way is called Education. ”(SB p.98)
The concept of “nature” (xing ) represents that which is properly human, or
the essential nature of human beings.
The concept of zhong and cheng
Two meanings of zhong centrality: Metaphysically, it refers to the Centrality
understood as the Ultimate Reality in ancient religion(Book of Documents, SB,
p.9) (cf. Mircea Eliade) Psychologically, it means the true self or transcendental
self before its expression into empirical emotions. (SB, p.98)
Cheng : There is an inner connection or dynamic identification of the Ultimate
Reality and human authentic self, expressed by cheng (sincerity), understood
both as True Reality and sincerity.
Sincerity, Enlightenment, Human nature
The enlightenment coming from sincerity constitutes our nature; whereas
education consists in the process going from enlightenment to sincerity. Given
sincerity, there will be enlightenment; given enlightenment, there will be
“Only those who are perfectly sincere can fully unfold their nature. If they could
unfold their nature, they can fully unfold the nature of people. If they could
unfold the nature of other people, they can the fully develop the nature of
things. If they can the fully develop the nature of things, they can then assist in
the transformation and nourishing process of heaven and earth… thus form a
trinity with Heaven and earth.
Mencius’ view of nature
1. Humans share a common liking for flavors, music, beauty, such that we recognize
greatness among them
2. Heart‐mind (xin ) similar to senses and shared by all humans
3. We must all be alike in heart ‐mind
4. Sages exist in the world and their moral virtues are recognized
5. Heart‐mind cherishes morality just as mouths cherish great food
Mencius’ argument over the definition of nature comes from his need to refute
the theory of a contemporary thinker named Gaozi • Gaozi argued that:
1. The word “nature” simply means life
2. Human nature is a blank slate; it is indifferent to good and evil
3. Desire for food/pleasure come naturally and define our nature
4. Moral virtues such as humaneness and righteousness are made by human

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What is important for us is Mencius’ theory of the “four sprouts” of moral virtue:
benevolence, righteousness, ritual, wisdom
If one wishes to manifest the tendency of goodness into actuality, one must
cultivate the sprouts, bringing them to maturity
Where man fails and commits evil is when his effort to cultivate the four sprouts
is insufficient
Argument for Human Goodness
Mencius’ claim that no human does not tend towards goodness is supported by
several arguments:
First, he says: “The reason why I say that humans all have hearts that are not
unfeeling toward others is this. Suppose someone saw a child about to fall into a
well: everyone would have a feeling of alarm and compassionnot because one
wanted to gain fame among his neighbors and friends, and not because one
would dislike the sound of the child’s cries. From this we can say if one is
without a heart of compassion, one is not human”
1. Anyone who sees a child about to fall into a well will feel anxiety and
commiseration. He feels this way not to gain friendship with the child’s parents,
gain the praise of others, or he detests hearing the child’s screaming
2. This shows people can’t bear to see the suffering of others
3. This feeling is the beginning of humanity
4. Thus, humans have the beginning of humanity in their nature
He next argues that: “Life is something I desire; I also desire righteousness. If I
can’t have them both, I will forsake life and select righteousness. Life is
something I desire, but there is something I desire more than life. Hence, I will
not do just anything to obtain it. Death is something I hate, but there is
something I hate more than death. Hence, there are calamities I do not
avoid...from this we can see that there are means of obtaining life that one will
not employ. Front this we can also see that then are things that would avoid
calamity that one will not do. Therefore, there are things one desires more than
life and there are also things one hates more than death. It is not the case that
only the worthy person has this heart. All humans have it. The worthy person
simply never loses it
1. Everyone desires life and hates death but humiliate someone by giving him
food and he would not accept it even if he needs it
2. Hence there is always something that one desires more than life or something
that one hates more than death
3. If there is something one would not do to stay alive and avoid death then one
is a being for whom self‐survival is the only goal
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