Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Mencius, Book VII

Book VII.A (Jin Xin I)

Book VII is much more aphoristic than the rest of the book, and the topics are varied. Some of the topics in VII.A:

(1) discussion of seeking one's true nature (VII.A.1, VII.A.2, VII.A.3, VII.A.4, and perhaps also VII.A.5 and VII.A.6);

(2) the importance of taking virtues like ren and yi to be high priorities (VII.A.8, VII.A.9, VII.A.10, VII.A.11, VII.A.25, VII.A.33);

(3) the relation between king and people (VII.A.12, VII.A.13, VII.A.14, VII.A.15, VII.A.22, VII.A.23);

(4) the character of the noble person (VII.A.19, VII.A.20, VII.A.21, VII.A.24, VII.A.33, perhaps VII.A.35, VII.A.37, VII.A.40, VII.A.41, VII.A.45);

(5) the importance to virtue of hitting the right mark (VII.A.26, VII.A.27, VII.A.28, VII.A.29, VII.A.41, VII.A.44, VII.A.45, VII.A.46).

One of the notable passages is VII.A.26, in which Master Meng criticizes three philosophers by putting them into opposition. Yangzi is an egoist; Mozi advocates universal care; Zi Mo tries to find a middle way. Because he takes a middle way, he is closer than the other two, because someone who takes an extreme is someone who is not looking at everything; but he fails to find the right measure and concern for circumstances in his attempt to find a middle, and so to that extent has taken an extreme in yet another way.

Another notable passage is Mencius's account of the five ways in which a noble person teaches (VII.A.40):

The first is by transforming influence like that of timely rain. The second is by helping the student realize his virtue to the full. The third is by helping him to develop his talent. The fourth is by answering his questions. And the fifth is by setting an example others not in contact with him can emulate.

Book VII.B (Jin Xin II)

Three major themes dominate VII.B: violence, cultivation of character, and tradition.

The first is the problem of violence. Just as a humane king extends his humanity from his immediate circle to the Empire, so a ruthless king extends his ruthlessness to everyone (VII.B.1). Wars, even legitimately punitive wars, are dangerous and to be avoided (VII.B.2-4). It is very serious to kill the family member of another, because this creates feuds (VII.B.7). Modern kings use the instruments once designed to protect from violence to perpetrate violence (VII.B.8).

In addition, several of the sections concern virtue and good character. Who does not practice the Tao himself cannot expect anyone else to do so (VII.B.9). Profit is dangerous as a motive and those who seek cannot be trusted (VII.B.10, VII.B.11). The survival of a state depends ultimate on trust of the virtuous (VII.B.12). Good character must be actively cultivated (VII.B.21, VII.B.32). To cultivate oneself, one should reduce one's desires (VII.B.35).

A very important passage concerned with virtue occurs when Mencius notes that ren is ren -- that is, the virtue of humanity to self and others is itself the proper sense of being human -- and the two together are the Tao (VII.B.16). The two forms of ren here are etymologically related, homophonic, and are written with related characters -- if you take ren, 人, human, and add the number 2 to it, 二, indicating a relation, you get the virtue ren, 仁, humaneness or benevolence or humanity to self and others.

A third major theme in this final part of the book is tradition, which, of course, is also the influence of the sage and the noble. The skilled can teach rules but not skill itself (VII.B.5); teaching the Tao requires practicing it (VII.B.9). "The sage is teacher to a hundred generations" (VII.B.15). The Confucians accept anyone who is willing to learn (VII.B.26, VII.B.30). The man who, while decent and faultless by ordinary standards, refuses to learn from the ancients is the enemy of virtue (VII.B.37). And in the final section of the entire book, we find Mencius soberly reflecting on how the chain in a tradition of virtue can break (VII.B.38):

Mencius said, 'From Yao and Shun to T'ang it was over five hundred years. Men like Yü and Kao Yao knew Yao and Shun personally, while those like T'ang knew them only by reputation. From T'ang to King Wen it was over five hundred years. Men like Yi Yin and Lai Chu knew T'ang personally, while those like King Wen knew him only by reputation. From King Wen to Confucius it was over five hundred years. Men such as T'ai Kung Wang and San-yi Sheng knew King Wen personally, while those like Confucius knew him only by reputation. From Confucius to the present it is over a hundred years. In time we are so near to the age of the sage while in place we are so close to his home, yet if there is no one who has anything of the sage, well then, there is no one who has anything of the sage.'

But, of course, there was Master Meng himself; and although Mencius knew Confucius only by reputation, there was certainly something of the sage in him.


Quotations are from Mencius, Mencius, D.C. Lau, tr., Penguin (New York: 1970).

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