the Conventional as cultivation
The Analects say very little about moral education (how to live the good life) and human nature.
5:13 Zigong said “The Master’s cultural brilliance is something that is readily heard about, whereas
one does not get to hear the Master expounding upon the subjects of human nature or the DAO of
17:2 The Master said, “By nature people are similar; they diverge as a result of practice.”
One’s conception of human nature determines how one theorizes about how to live and how
conventions cultivate (or shape) our lives.
So, in the lectures on Mengzi, we will investigate how he understands human nature and how that
understanding influences his view of the good life.
Organization of the discussion:
(A) Mengzi’s view of human nature: innately moral
(B) the moral sprouts metaphor
(c) the role of li and reflection and extension
Different through social rules and how we actually live
Mengzi offers an interpretation of what a divergence will be
A philosopher’s conception of what nature is conceptualizes(?) what the good life is
(A) What does Mengzi mean, when he says that we share an innate human nature?
Five parts of the Confucian psychology and get a theory to get a good life/cultivate and shape lives
according to conventions
Human psychology – social rules and conventions (li) – offers a different sort of way to live live
So, there are three questions
1. What does Mengzi mean by “nature”?
2. What does Mengzi mean by “innate…and what sort of things are innate?
3. What does Mengzi mean by “human” No satisfying answer ‘til Wed 17.12 – Mengzi’s philo is a meditation/reflection on that analect
Re: 1 What does Mengzi mean by “nature”?
Friday: Read first parts of section 6
“By nature men are alike”
we are similar in so far as we share human NATURE
6A1 – Gaozi is a philosopher that really disagrees with the Confucians
First exchange in their debate
yi – righteousness – is like cups and bowls
Tree grows and we put the trees to use; idea is that human nature needs to be shaped (it’s shapable);
think of social rules/conventions/li as tools that shape us into cups and bowls; bowls are moral concepts
Mengzi says we have to destroy nature of the tree; end human nature to make it moral
What characteristics belong to our nature? Think about being shaped into being moral nature or
something else.; you don’t kill us when you get a moral product
Characteristic i: Our nature involves the ability to be shaped without losing our nature.
analogous – both are natural, both can be shaped
6A2 – Human nature is like swirling water; Gaozi gets at the notion that we’re adaptable; water takes
the form of its container
Mengzi makes a challenge; water does distinguish between up and down, but not east and west due to
the force of gravity
Sometimes, water does go upward - “Now by striking water…” (145)
Mengzi is agreeing by move by Gaozi – significant is that water tend downward like humans tend to the
good Mengzi and Gaozi is using analogies to help us make sense of claim about human nature and giving a
way it is like/not like in these analogies
Characterisic ii: Our nature involves the tendency to favor the good, but can be “forced” to *do+ evil
Crucial idea for Mengzi; human psychology is like domesticated plant (sprout analogy); productive =
Unproductive – shrivel and die; barely getting by sort-of plant
We are forced/limited by our circumstances toward bad/evil
6A3 – Gaozi is fed up; what he means by ‘life’ is just ‘nature’
Mengzi struck as odd (second line) – Gaozi says human life is like a willow tree; doesn’t make sense why
righteousness would be made into cups and bowls 6A1