The Mengzi is an eponymous collection of Mengzi's sayings and his debates and discussions with students, rulers and other philosophers. For other translations of this work, and suggestions for further reading, see my "Essential Readings on Chinese Philosophy" and my "Comments and Corrections on D.C. Lau's Mencius."
(Pinyin romanization unless otherwise noted)
Mengzi had an audience with King Hui of Liang. The King said, "Sir, you have come, not regarding hundreds of miles [too] far. Surely you will have something to profit my state?"
Mengzi said in response, "Why must Your Majesty say, 'profit'? Let there be benevolence and righteousness and that is all. Your Majesty says, 'How can my state be profited?' The Counsellors say, 'How can my family be profited?' The scholars and commoners say, 'How can I be profited?' Those above and those below mutually compete for profit and the state is endangered.
"In a case where the lord of a state of ten thousand chariots is murdered, it must be by a family with a thousand chariots. In a case where the lord of a state of a thousand chariots is murdered, it must be by a family with a hundred chariots. One thousand out of ten thousand, or one hundred out of a thousand, cannot be considered to not be a lot. But if righteousness is put behind and profit is put ahead, one will not be satisfied without grasping [from others].
"There have never been those who were benevolent who abandoned their parents. There have never been those who were righteous who put their lord last. Let Your Majesty simply say, 'Benevolence and righteousness, and that is all.' Why must you say 'profit'?"1A1: Commentary by Van Norden
It is tempting to read 1A1 as a simple condemnation of profit. But Mengzi never says that it is wrong or bad to profit. He only says that one should not "say" (not "speak of" or "mention") the word "profit." Part of the point, surely, is that if the King emphasizes profit in what he says (even if it is the profit of his state rather than his personal profit), this will encourage other people to emphasize profit, and this will be unprofitable.
Neither Kongzi nor Mengzi is opposed to profit, per se. Indeed, they both seem to think that the Ruist Way is, in the long run, the most profitable. As Kongzi says, "The wise profit from ren (Analects 4:2). What Ruists do emphasize, however, is that the effort to aim at profit directly to take profit as your primary goal, will fail. Again, Kongzi said, "If one acts aiming at profit, one will incur much resentment" (Analects 4:12). Zhu Xi is clear on this point in his commentary on 1A1, where he cites approvingly the observation of one of the Cheng brothers: "The noble never fails to profit, but if one single-mindedly thinks of profit there will be injury. If there is only benevolence and righteousness [in one's heart] then one will not seek profit but will never fail to profit."
This observation, that aiming at profit directly is self-defeating, is familiar to Western philosophers as "the paradox of egoism." This is not to say that the virtuous person will perform, in each situation, the action that maximizes profit. As Mengzi observes, "An intent gentleman does not forget [he may end up] in a ditch; a brave gentleman does not forget [he may] lose his head" (3B1). In other words, the possession of the Ruist virtues makes it more likely that one will obtain other goods (such as political success). Nontheless, the possession of the virtues may require the sacrifice of some goods in the name of virtue.
1A1 should be compared with 6B4, in which Mengzi warns Song Keng of the dangers of endorsing policies on the grounds of their profitability.
1. Literally, the texts says "1000 li." The li is a unit of length equal to about one third of a mile.
2. Most translators read the previous four sentences as a conditional: "If Your Majesty says. . ., then the Counsellors will say. . ., and the gentlemen and commoners will say. . ., and those above and those below. . . ." My translation is more literal, but the sense is clearly that the King sets an example for others, so if the King aims at profit (even if it is the profit of his state as a whole), everyone will seek to profit either their families or themselves, with catastrophic results.
3. Zhu Xi comments on the preceding two sentences: "This means that benevolence and righteousness have never failed to be profitable, thereby clarifying the meaning of the previous passage, 'Let there be benevolence and righteousness and that is all.'"
4. Literally, "if one single-mindedly takes profit as one's heart."
The passage begins with Mengzi having an audience with King Xuan of the state of Qi. The King asks Mengzi to inform him about the doings of the historical figures Huan of the state of Qi and Wen of the state of Jin. Since Confucians are supposed to be well- versed in history, this was a reasonable request. But Huan and Wen were "hegemons" in their eras. That is, they were powerful rulers of their states who nominally protected the King, but in fact ruled in the King's place. Mengzi disapproves of hegemons, so he tells a lie.He says that there is no historical record of the affairs of Huan and Wen because none of Kongzi's (Confucius's) disciples would talk about him. Instead, Mengzi offers to talk about being a true king. "King" Xuan, who has assumed the title fo king without genuine authority, and who knows perfectly well that he does not rule all of China, as a real king would, asks, 1A7: Partial Translation:
"What must one's Virtue (de) be like so that one can become a king?"
[Mengzi] said, "One cares for the people and becomes a king. This is something no one can stop."
[Xuan] said, "Can one such as I care for the people?"
[Mengzi] said, "He can."
[Xuan] said, "How do you know that I can?"
[Mengzi] said, "I heard Hu He say,
The King was sitting up on the pavilion. There was an ox being led past the pavilion. The King saw it and said, "Where is the ox going?" Someone responded, "We are about to consecrate a bell [with its blood]." The King said, "Spare it. I cannot bear its frightened appearance, like an innocent going to the execution ground." Someone responded, "So should we abandon the consecrating of the bell?" [The King] said, "How can that be abandoned? Exchange [the ox] for a sheep."
[Mengzi continued,] "I don't know if this happened."
[Xuan] said, "It happened."
[Mengzi] said, "This heart [i.e., feeling] is sufficient to be a king. The commoners all thought Your Majesty was being stingy. [But] I knew that Your Majesty could not bear [the frightened appearance of the ox]."
The King said, "That is so. There really were commoners like that. Although Qi is a small state, how could I be stingy about one ox? It was just that I could not bear its frightened appearance, like an innocent going to the execution ground. Hence, I exchanged it for a sheep."
[Mengzi] said, "Let Your Majesty not be surprised at the commoner's taking you to be stingy. You took a small thing and exchanged it for a big thing. How could they understand it? If Your Majesty were pained at its being innocent and going to the execution ground, then what is there to choose between an ox and a sheep?"
The King laughed, saying, "What was this heart [i.e., feeling of mine] really?! It's not the case that I grudged its value and exchanged it for a sheep. [But] it makes sense that the commoners would say I was stingy."
[Mengzi] said, "There is no harm. This is just the way benevolence works. You saw the ox but had not seen the sheep. As for the relation of a nobles to birds and beasts, if they see them living, they cannot bear to see them die. If they hear their cries, they cannot bear to eat their flesh. Hence, nobles keep their distance from the kitchen."
The King was pleased and said, "The Odes say, 'Another person had the heart, [but] I measured it.' This describes you. I was the one who did it. I reflected and sought it, but did not understand my heart. You spoke, and in my heart there was a feeling of compassion. In what way does this heart accord with being a king?"
[Mengzi] said, "Suppose there were someone who reported to your majesty, saying, 'My strength is sufficient to lift 500 pounds, but not sufficient to lift one feather. My eyesight is sufficient to examine the tip of an autumn hair, but I cannot see a wagon of firewood.' Would Your Majesty accept that?"
[Xuan] said, "No."
[Mengzi] said, "In the present case your kindness is sufficient to reach (chi) birds and beasts, but benefits do not reach (zhi) the commoners. Why is this case alone different? Hence, not lifting one feather is due to not using one's strength. not seeing a wagon of firewood is due to not using one's eyesight. The commoners not receiving care is due to not using one's kindness. Hence, Your Majesty's not being a [true] king is due to not acting; it is not due to not being able."
[Xuan] said, "What is the difference between concrete cases of not doing and not being able?"
[Mengzi] said, "'Pick up Mount Tai and leap over the north Sea.' If you say, 'I cannot,' this is truly not being able. 'Massage the stiff joints of an elderly person.' If you say, 'I cannot,' this is not acting, it is not a case of not being able. So Your Majesty's not being a [true] king is not in the category (lei) of picking up Mount Tai and leaping over the North Sea. Your Majesty's not being a [true] king is in the category of massaging the stiff joints of an elderly person.
"Treat your elders as elders, and extend (ji) it to the elders of others; treat your young ones as young ones, and extend (ji) it to the young ones of others, and you can turn the whole world in the palm of your hand. The Odes say, 'He set an example for his wife, it extended (zhi) to his brothers, and so he controlled his family and state.' This means that he simply took this heart and applied (jia) it to that. Hence, if one extends (tui) one's kindness, it will be sufficient to care for [all within] the Four Seas. If one does not extend (tui) one's kindness, one will lack the wherewithal to care for one's wife and children. That in which the ancients greatly exceeded others was no other than this. They were simply good at extending (tui) what they did. In the present case your kindness is sufficient to reach (ji) birds and beasts, but benefits do not reach (zhi) the commoners. Why sit his case alone different? Weight (quan), and then you will distinguish the light and the heavy. Measure, and then you will distinguish the long and the short. Things are all like this, the heart most of all. Things are all like this, the heart most of all. Let Your Majesty measure it."
1. Cf. 4B11: "As for great people, their words do not have to be faithful; their actions do not have to produce any result. They simply dwell in righteousness."
2. See Mengzi 4B21, where Mengzi says there are historical records of Huan and Wen.
3. Presumably one of Xuan's toadies.
4. An alternative possible translation is, "This [i.e., exchanging the sheep for the ox] is an artifice of benevolence," meaning that exchanging the sheep for the ox was a commendable "trick," which both protected the king's delicate sensibilities (which would have been injured by allowing an animal he had seen and felt sorry for to be executed) while still performing the sacrifice (as required by ritual). This is Zhu Xi's reading.
5. The meaning of the last clause is obscure. I translate according to Zhu Xi, who says it means that because of what Mengzi had said, Xuan re-experienced the feelings of compassion he had at the time he spared the ox. Lau gives the more prosaic reading, ". . . and your words struck a chord in me."
6. Mengzi thinks it is easier to have compassion on human beings than on animals, so the fact that the King showed kindness to the ox shows that he is capable of showing kindness to human beings. Mengzi may be mistaken in this belief; we have all had the painful experience of encountering people who care for their pets but not for other humans. But Mengzi holds that one's parents are the first objects of one's benevolence (7A15). Consequently, according to Mengzi, if King Xuan showed kindness to an ox, he must already have shown it to at least some human beings.
7. It is not clear exactly what this sentence means in the original Chinese, but it is clear that it is an example of an easy act. Legge translates it, ". . . breaking off a branch from a tree at the order of a superior."
8. Sc., should be treated.
9. Sc., should be treated.
10. An alternative possible translation is, 'Treat your elders as elders [should be treated] so that it extends to the elders of others," etc.
11. Nivison has noted in conversation with me that this ode illustrates a different sort of "extension" than Mengzi has previously discussed in 1A7. The ode describes the royal Virtue, which radiates out from a sage king, transforming his subjects. Previously in 1A7, however, Mengzi has been discussing the extension of virtuous emotional and behavioral reactions from one circumstance to another.
12. See Lau, beginning with the third paragraph on p. 57, for the continuation of the discussion between Mengzi and King Xuan.
Gongsun Chou asked, saying, "Suppose that you, Master, were to be appointed to the position of High Noble or Prime Minister in Qi and were able to put the Way into practice there. If it were so, it would not be surprising at all if [the ruler of Qi] were to become Hegemon or King. If it were like this, would it move your heart or not?"
Mengzi said, "It would not. My heart has been unmoved since I was forty."
[Gongsun Chou] said, "In that case, you, Master, have far surpassed Meng Ben."
[Mengzi] said, "This is not difficult. Gaozi had an unmoved heart before I."
[Kung-sun Chou] said, "Is there a way [to cultivate] an unmoved heart?"
[Mengzi] said, "There is. As for Bogong You's cultivation of courage, his body would not shrink, his eyes would not blink. He regarded (si) the least slight form someone like being beaten in the market place. [Insults] he would not take off of a common fellow coarsely clad he also would not take off of a lord of ten thousand chariots. He looked upon running [a sword] through a lord of ten thousand chariots like running through a common fellow. He did not treat the various lords with respect. If an insult came his way he had to return it.
"As for Meng Shishe's cultivation of courage, he said,
I look upon defeat the same as victory. To advance only after sizing up one's enemy, to ponder [whether one will achieve] victory and only then join [battle], this is to be in awe of the opposing armies. How can I be certain of victory? I can only be without fear.
Meng Shishe resembled Zengzi. Bogong You resembled Zixia. Now, as for the courage of the two, I do not really know which was better. Nonetheless, Meng Shishe preserved something important (yue).
"Formerly, Zengzi speaking to Zixiang said, 'Are you fond of courage? I once heard about great courage from the Master:
If I examine myself and am not upright (suo), although [I am opposed by] a common fellow coarsely clad, would I not be in fear? If I examine myself and am upright, although [I am opposed by] thousands and tens of thousands, I shall go forward.'
Meng Shishe's preservation of his qi was still not as good as Zengzi's preservation of the important (yue)."
[Gongsun Chou] said, "I venture to ask whether I could hear about your unmoved heart, Master, and Gaozi's unmoved heart?"
[Mengzi answered,] "Gaozi said, 'What you do not get from doctrines (yan), do not seek for in the heart. 'What you do not get for the heart, do not seek for in the qi,' is acceptable. 'What you do not get from the doctrines, do not seek for in the heart,' is unacceptable.
"The intention (zhi) is the commander of the qi. Qi is that which fills up the body. When the intention arrives somewhere, qi sets up camp (ci) there. Hence, it is said, 'Take hold of the intention. Do not injure the qi.'"
[Gongsun Chou asked,] "Since you have already said, 'When the intention arrives somewhere, qi sets up camp there,' why do you add, 'Take hold of the intention. Do not injure the qi'?"
[Mengzi said], "When the intention is unified it moves the qi. When the qi is unified it moves the intention. Now, stumbling and running have to do with the qi, but nonetheless they move one's heart."
[Gongsun Chou said,] "I venture to ask wherein you excel, Master."
[Mengzi said], "I understand words (zhi yan). I am good at cultivating my floodlike qi."
[Gongsun Chou said,] "I venture to ask what is meant by floodlike qi."
[Mengzi said,] "It is difficult to put into words (yan). It is a qi that is supremely great and supremely unyielding. If one cultivates it with uprightness (zhi) and does not harm it, it will fill up the space between Heaven and earth. It is a qi that unites righteousness with the Way. Without these, it starves. It is produced by accumulated righteousness. It cannot be obtained by a seizure of righteousness. If some of one's actions leave one's heart unsatisfied (bu qie), it will starve. Consequently, I say that Kao Tzu never understood (zhi) righteousness, because he regarded it as external.
"One must work at it, but do not aim at it directly. Let the heart not forget, but do not help it grow. Be not like the man from Song. Among the Song there was one who, concerned lest his corn not grow, pulled on them. Wearily , he returned home, and said to his family, "Today I am worn out. I helped the corn to grow." His son rushed out and looked at them. The corn was withered. Those in the world who do not help the corn to grow are few. Those who abandon them, thinking it will not help, are those who do not weed their corn. Those who help them grow are those who pull on the corn. Not only does this not help, but it even harms them."
[Gongsun Chou said,] "What is meant by understanding words (zhi yan)?"
[Mengzi said,] "If someone's expressions (ci) are one-sided, I know (zhi) that by which they are deluded (bi). If someone's expressions are excessive, I know that by which they are entangled. If someone's expressions are heretical, I know that by which they are separated [from the Way]. If someone's expressions are evasive, I know that by which they are exhausted. [When these states] grow in the heart, they harm government. When they are manifested in government, the heart, they harm government. When they are manifested in government, they harm affairs. When sages arise again, they will surely follow my doctrines (yan)."
1. Jeffrey K. Reigel's "Reflections on an Unmoved Mind: An Analysis of Mencius 2A2" (Journal of the American Academy of Religion Thematic Issue 47:3 (September 1980), pp. 434-457) is an important study of this text. however, those familiar with Riegel's article will note that I differ with him on many points.
2. This is not a moot point. Mencius was, in fact, soon made High noble of Qi. See 2B6.
3. On moving one's heart, see 6B15
4. Nothing is known about Meng Ben.
5. I borrow this wonderful phrase from D.C. Lau's translation.
6. One point to keep in mind here is that Mencius's teacher was either Zisi or a disciple of Zisi, and Zisi (in addition to being Kongzi's grandson) was a disciple of Zengzi. So Mencius is the spiritual line of descent from Zengzi. Zixia founded a competing Ruist sect. The two individuals represent two extremes with in the Ruist movement. Zengzi was apparently not intellectually acute (Analects 11:18), but he seemed to have a strong emotional commitment to the Way (Analects 8:3, 4, 7). Zixia was cleaver (Analects 3:8) and learned (Analects 11:2), but he was accused of emphasizing insignificant details over matters of substance (Analects 19:12), and Kongzi found it necessary to warn him, "Be a noble scholar. Do not be a petty scholar." (Analects 6:13) Bogong You is similar to Zixia, then, in that both emphasize something superficial. Zixia overemphasizes popularly "courageous" behavior. Meng Shishe, in contrast, is similar to Zengzi in recognizing that real virtue has to do no just with how one acts but with one's emotional state. As Mengzi goes on to explain, though, Zengzi's courage is, ultimately, superior to both the "courage" of Bogong You and that of Meng Shishe, because he recognizes that real courage requires, not fearlessness, but the wisdom to know what is, and what is not, to be feared.
7. By "the Master" he means Kongzi. What follows may be intended as a direct quotation from Kongzi, but it may also be Zengzi paraphrasing the Master's teaching.
8. Qi was originally the mist that arose from heated sacrificial offerings. Later, it came to refer to mist generally (clouds, etc.) and breath. More esoterically, qi was thought of as a kind of fluid, found both in the atmosphere and the human body, responsible for the intensity of one's emotions. For other uses in the Mencius see 6A8 and 7A36.
9. Note that Zhuangzi inverts Mengzi's advice in Ren jian shi, recommending that we rely upon our qi for guidance, as opposed to our zhi (intention) or heart. Compare A.C. Graham's translation (p. 68): "Unify your attention (zhi). Rather than listen with the ear, listen with the heart. Rather than listen with the heart, listen with the energies (qi).
10. This is a difficult line to translate. Lau translates as I do. What does it mean, though, to unite righteousness and the Way? Presumably, the floodlike qi unites one's own sense (or sprout) of righteousness and the Way (for surely righteousness in the abstract never fails to be united with the Way). Legge's interpretation is also defensible, though: "It is the mate and assistant of righteousness and" the Way. Perhaps both readings are intended.
11. It makes a great difference whether one renders bu qie as "unsatisfied" or "dissatisfied." Is the point that one's heart has a positive distaste for certain actions, or merely that the heart is apathetic toward certain actions?
12. On the externality of righteousness, see 6A4-5.
13. The second part of this sentence has several plausible interpretations. I have found Yang Bojun's notes especially helpful (Mengzi yizhu (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, n.d.)). Lau suggests that we amend the text, resulting in, ". . . and never let it out of your mind." Legge (who claims to be following Zhu Xi) gives, ". . . but without the object of thereby nourishing the" qi. I think 7B33 also sheds light on this clause.
14. Zhu Xi (whom Lau apparently follows) glosses the phrase I have rendered "wearily" as, with "an unknowing expression" on his face.
15. In Analects 20:3 (Lau 20:3), Kongzi is reported to have said, "If one does not understand words (yan), one will be unable to understand others."
16. Graham quotes a definition of ci from the Lushi chunqiu in his Later Mohist Logic, p. 207: "The wording [ci] is the externalization of the idea [yi]." The notion that people can be deluded (bi) by seeing only part of the Way also appears in the Analects (17:7) and becomes a central notion in Xunzi's thought (chapter 21, Jie bi)
17. Less likely: "If someone's expressions are excessive, I understand the respect in which they are entangled. If someone's expressions are heretical, I understand the respect in which they have departed [from the Way]. If someone's expressions are evasive, I understand the respect in which they are exhausted."
18. For the continuation of this passage, see D.C. Lau's Mencius, beginning with the last paragraph on p. 78.
Mengzi said, "Humans all have hearts that will not bear [the suffering of] others. The former Kings had hearts that would not bear [the suffering of] others, so they had governments that would not bear [the suffering of] others. If one puts into practice a government that will not bear [the suffering of] others by means of a heart that will not bear [the suffering of] others, bringing order to the whole world is in the palm of your hand.
"The reason why I say that humans all have hearts that will not bear [the suffering of] others is this. Suppose someone suddenly (zha) saw a child about to fall into a well: everyone [in such a situation] would have a feeling  of alarm and compassion -- not because one sought to get in good with the child's parents, not because one wanted fame among their neighbors and friends, and not because one would dislike the sound of [the child's] cries.
"From this we can see that if one is without the heart of compassion, one is not a human. If one is without the heart of disdain, one is not a human. If one is without the heart of deference, one is not a human. If one is without the heart of approval and disapproval, one is not a human. The heart of compassion is the sprout (duan) of benevolence. The heart of disdain is the sprout of righteousness. The heart of deference is the sprout of ritual propriety. The heart of approval and disapproval is the sprout of wisdom.
"People having these four sprouts is like their having four limbs. To have these four sprouts but to say of oneself that one is unable [to be virtuous] is to steal from oneself. To say that one's lord is unable [to be virtuous] is to steal from one's lord. In general, having these four sprouts within oneself, if one knows to fill them all out (kuo er chong), it will be like a fire starting up, a spring breaking through! If one can merely fill them out (chong), they will be sufficient to care for [all within] the Four Seas. If one only fails to fill them out, they will be insufficient to serve one's parents."
1. That is, the sage kings of antiquity, such as Yao and Shun.
2. The suddenness of the reaction is important. It means that one does not have time to deliberate over how saving the child might satisfy some ulterior motive. One only has time to react immediately, and instinctively, to the prospect of the child suffering.
3. Literally: ". . . would have a heart (xin) of alarm and compassion."
4. Alternatively: ". . . and not because one would dislike the reputation [for not caring about a child in danger]." Notice what Mencius does not say here. He does not claim that one would actually act to save the child. Anyone who has ever "choked" in a moment of crisis knows that spontaneous inclinations are not enough to guarantee action. Furthermore, after the initial, spontaneous benevolent reaction, there may be time for selfish impulses to come into play.
5. These last three sentences seem like non-sequiturs. Surely, the most the child-at- the-well example shows is that all humans have the heart of compassion. Perhaps, though, Mencius holds a version of the "unity of the virtues" doctrine. Many philosophers (including Socrates) have held that one cannot have any one of the virtues without having all the others, because they are conceptually or causally related to one another. Mencius's most detailed discussion of the relationship among his cardinal virtues is in 4A27.
6. But, as Mencius surely knows, some humans do not have all four limbs. Is he hinting that there are, likewise, the "moral disabled"?
The Mohist Yi Zhi sought to see Mengzi through [the help of] Xu Bi. Mengzi said, "I am definitely willing to see him. Today I am still ill. When my illness improves, I will go and see him. Yi Zhi does not [have to] come [again]." The next day, he again sought to see Mengzi. Mengzi said, "Today I can see him. If one is not upright, the Way will not be manifest. I will make him upright."
"I have heard that Yizi is a Mohist. Mohists, in regulating bereavement, take frugality as their Way. Yizi longs to (si) change the world [to the Mohist Way]. Could it be that he honors [the Mohist practice], while regarding it as not right? Nonetheless, Yizi buried his parents lavishly, so he served his parents by means of what he demeans."
Xuzi told Yizi this. Yizi said, "As for the Way of the Ruists, the ancients [tended the people] 'like caring for a baby.' What does this saying (yan) mean? I take it to mean that love is without distinctions, [but] it is bestowed beginning with one's parents."
Xuzi told Mengzi this. Mengzi said, "Now, does Yizi truly hold that a person's affection (qin) for his elder brother's son is like their affection for their neighbor's baby? There is only [one thing that should be] gleaned from that [saying]. When a crawling baby is about to fall into a well, it is not the baby's fault.
Furthermore, the reason [why Yizi is mistaken is that] Heaven, in producing the things [in the world] causes them to have one root, but Yizi [gives them] two roots.
"Now in the past ages, there were those who did not bury their parents. When their parents died, they took them and abandoned them in a ditch. The next day they passed by them, and foxes were eating them, bugs were sucking on them. Sweat broke out  [on the survivors'] foreheads. They turned away and did not look. Now, as for the sweat, it was not for the sake of others that they sweated. What was inside their hearts broke through to their countenances. So, they went home and, returning with baskets and shovels, covered them. If covering them was really right, then when filial sons and benevolent people cover their parents, it must also be part of the Way."
Xuzi told Yizi this. Yizi looked thoughtful for a moment and said, "He has taught me."
1. Zhao Qi gives this last sentence an interesting reading. He thinks that the quotation from Mencius ends with the previous sentence, and that this sentence should be read, "Yizi did not come," meaning that Yizi heard that Mengzi was ill and, consequently, did not come to talk with him that day.
2. Notice that, despite what Mengzi says, he never actually sees Yi Zhi. The entire discussion is conducted using XuBi as an intermediary. It is possible that a "not" has dropped out one of the earlier lines, so that it actually reads, "Today I cannot see him, [but] . . . ."
3. This is a rhetorical question. The assumed answer is, "Of course not!"
4. For the context of this quotation, see James Legge, The Chinese Classics, Volume 3: The Shoo King, or The Book of historical Documents, p. 389.
5. As Zhu Xi explains, Mengzi takes the point of saying to be that, "The common people unknowingly violate the laws, just as a baby unknowingly falls into a well." In other words, the common people are to be treated like babies only in the respect that, just as a baby must be protected lest it injure itself through its own ignorance, so must good rulers protect the people from injuring themselves through their ignorance. Mengzi's paternalism comes out very clearly here.
6. What are the "one root" and the "two roots"? David Nivison has argued that the two roots Yizi accepts are (1) our innate sense of benevolence, which is first directed at our parents (7A15), and (2) a doctrine (yan) of universalization that instructs us to extend this innate feeling so that it applies to everyone equally. Mengzi admits that Heaven has given as the first root, but denies that there is any other basis for ethics besides this innate sensibility (which, if properly developed, will extend to other people, but with lessening intensity as it extends from our parents to others). Zhu Xi, in contrast, says that "In the generation of people and animals, each must have its root in its father and mother without any second [root]. This is just the natural principle (li), as Heaven has caused things to be. Hence, one's love is based in them and extended (tui) so that it reaches others. Naturally there are gradations. Now, according to Yizi's doctrine, it is right to look upon one's father and mother as basically no different from people in the street. But the order of bestowing [love] still begins with them. If this isn't two roots what is?!"
7. Literally, "There was sweat . . . ."
Mencius said, "The core (shi) of benevolence is serving one's parents. The core of righteousness is obeying one's elder brother. The core of wisdom is knowing these two and not abandoning them. The core of ritual is to regulate and adorn these two. The core of music is to delight in these two.
"If one delights in them then they grow. If they grow then how can they be stopped? If they cannot be stopped then one does not notice (zhi) one's feet dancing to them, one's hands swaying to them."
1. (1) Alternatively, "to adorn these two in a regulated way." (2) Notice that a subtle change of topic seems to have taken place. Mencius has been discussing the virtues of benevolence, righteousness and wisdom. We expect him to say something about the virtue of ritual propriety, but instead he seems to be discussing ritual practices. Admittedly, the word for "ritual" is the same as the word for "ritual propriety," so it is syntactically possible that he is talking about the virtue of ritual propriety, but what would it mean for the virtue of ritual propriety to "regulate and adorn" benevolence and righteousness?
2. This sentence is crucial. Mencius thinks that one way of stimulating the growth of the sprouts is by reflecting upon and taking delight in one's own virtuous inclinations and actions. This is what John Taylor has labeled "extension by exercise."
Gaozi said, "[Human] nature is like a willow tree; righteousness is like cups and bowls. To make [human] nature benevolent and righteous is like making a willow tree into cups and bowls."
Mengzi said, "Can you, sir, following the nature of the willow tree, make it into cups and bowls? You must assault and rob (zei) the willow tree, and only then can you make it into cups and bowls. If you must assault and rob the willow tree in order to make it into cups and bowls, must you also assault and rob people in order to make them benevolent and righteous? If there is something that leads people to regard benevolence and righteousness as misfortunes [for them], it will surely be your doctrine (yan), will it not?
Gaozi said, "[Human] nature is like swirling water. Make an opening for it on the eastern side, then it flows east. Make an opening for it on the western side, then it flows west. Human nature's not distinguishing between good and not good is like water's not distinguishing between eastern and western."
Mengzi said, "water surely does not distinguish between east and west. But does it not distinguish between upward and downward? Human nature's being good is like water's tending downward. There is no human who does not [tend toward] goodness. There is no water that does not [tend] downward.
"Now, by striking water and making it leap up, you can cause it to go past your forehead. If you guide it by daming it, you can cause it to remain on a mountaintop. But is this the nature of water?! [No,] it is that way because of the circumstances. That humans can be caused to not be good is due to their natures also being like this."
1. Alternative translation: "It is that way because it was forced."
6A1-2: Commentary by Van Norden
In 6A1, Gaozi compared human nature to a willow tree, and benevolence and righteousness to cups and bowls made from that tree. Mengzi pointed out that a tree has a nature all of its own, a course of development and growth which is natural to it. We violate that nature by making the tree into artifacts. If that is to be our guiding metaphor for describing the process of moral cultivation, then people will look upon virtue as a violation of their natures.
Consequently, in 6A2, Gaozi switches to the simile of human nature as being like water, which just flows wherever it is guided. Mengzi takes Gaozi's metaphor and turns it against him. This is largely a rhetorical move on Mengzi's part, but there is an interesting dilemma posed by 6A1-2. Either humans have a nature or not. If human's have a nature, then any vision of ethics which recommends violating that nature will seem uncompelling. What if there is no such thing as human nature? As it turns out (6A4-5), Gaozi thinks humans do have a nature, so this line of argument is not open to him. More radical critics might challenge Mengzi on this point, though. Elsewhere, however (e.g., 2A6, 3A5, 6A10), Mengzi addresses this concern, and tries to convince us that humans have natural tendencies which are ignored only at one's peril.
Mengzi said: Is "life is what is meant by 'nature' " the same as "white is what is meant by 'white' "?
[Gaozi] said: It is.
[Mengzi said:] Is the white of white feathers the same as the white of white snow, and is the white of white snow the same as the white of white jade?
[Gaozi] said: It is.
[Mengzi said:] Then is the nature of a dog the same as the nature of an ox, and is the nature of an ox the same as the nature of a human?
1. What does it mean to say that "Life is what is meant by 'nature' "? I take Gaozi to mean that the nature of something is simply the characteristics that a thing has in virtue of being alive.
2. Mengzi is led to ask this and the previous question because philosophers in his era were alert to the fact that the appropriate use of words is very context sensitive. A word or phrase that is correctly used in one context may have a different use, or be inappropriate, in a different context. (See, e.g., A.C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao [La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1989], pp. 150-155.) Consequently, Mengzi wants to make sure that Gaozi is stating an exact equivalence between "life" and "nature," so that (according to Gaozi) "nature" refers to the same characteristic in all contexts, just as "white" refers to the same characteristic in all contexts. (In contrast, Mengzi thinks that "nature" does not function like "white," because while "white" refers to the same characteristic whether we are talking about "white feathers," "white snow" or "white jade," the "nature of X" depends on what X is.)
3. The logical structure of Mengzi's argument is reductio ad absurdum. In other words, he is attempting to show that Gaozi's position has logical consequences which are patently absurd. (Given how "nature" is used in philosophical contexts, the nature of an ox is certainly not the same as the nature of a human.)
Gongduzi said, "Gaozi says, '[Human] nature is neither good nor not good.' Some say, '[Human] nature can become good, and it can become not good.' Therefore, when Wen and Wu arose, the people were fond of goodness. When You and Li arose, the people were fond of destructiveness. Some say, 'There are natures that are good, and there are natures that are not good.' Therefore, with Yao as ruler, there was Xiang. With the Blind Man as a father, there was Shun. And with [Tyrant] Zhou as their nephew, and as their ruler besides, there were Viscount Qi of Wei and Prince Bi Gan. Now, you say that [human] nature is good. Are all those others, then, wrong?"
Mengzi said, "As for their essences, they can become good. This is what I mean by calling [their natures] good. As for their becoming not good, this is not the fault of their potential (cai). Humans all have the heart of compassion. Humans all have the heart of disdain. Humans all have the heart of respect. Humans all have the heart of approval and disapproval. The heart of compassion is benevolence. The heart of disdain is righteousness. The heart of respect is ritual property. The heart of approval and disapproval is wisdom. Benevolence, righteousness, ritual propriety and wisdom are not welded to us externally. We inherently (gu) have them. It is simply that we do not concentrate (si) upon them. Hence, it is said, 'Seek it and you will get it. Abandon it and you will lose it.' Some differ from others by two, five or countless times -- this is because they cannot exhaust their potentials. The Odes say,Heaven gives birth to the teaming people.
Kongzi said, 'The one who composed this ode understood the Way!' Hence, if there is a thing, there must be a norm. It is this that is the constant people cleave to. Hence, they are fond of this beautiful Virtue."
1. You and Li were notoriously bad kings of the Western Zhou Dynasty. You had the dubious distinction of being the last ruler of the Western Zhou.
2. See 5A2 for a story illustrative of the evil of Shun's brother Xiang and his father, the so-called "Blind Man."
Mencius said, "Fish is something I desire (yu); bear's paw [a Chinese delicacy] is also something I desire. If I cannot have both, I will forsake fish and select bear's paw. Life is something I desire; righteousness is also something I desire. If I cannot have 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 (wu), but there is something I hate more than death. Hence, there are calamities I do not avoid. If it were the case that someone desired nothing more than life, then what [means] that could obtain life would that person not use? If it were the case that someone hated nothing more than death, then what would that person not do that would avoid calamity? From this we can see that there are means of obtaining life that one will not employ. From this we can [also] see that there are things which 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 moral person has this heart. All humans have it. The moral person simply never loses it.
"A basket of food and a bowl of soup -- if one gets them then one will live; if one doesn't get them then one will die. [But] if they're given with contempt, then [even] a wayfarer will not accept them. If they're trampled upon, then [even] a beggar won't take them. [However,] when it comes to [a bribe of] 10,000 bushels [of grain], then one doesn't notice ritual propriety and righteousness and accepts them. What do 10,000 bushels add to me? [Do I accept them] for the sake of a beautiful mansion? for the obedience of a wife and concubines? To have poor acquaintances be indebted to me? In the previous case, for the sake of one's own life one did not accept [what was offered]. In the current case, for the sake of one's own life one did not accept [what was offered]. In the current case, for the obedience of a wife and concubine one does it. In the previous case, for the sake of one's own life one did not accept [what was offered]. In the current case, in order to have poor acquaintances be indebted to oneself one does it. Is this indeed something that one can't stop [doing]? This is what is called losing one's fundamental (ben) heart."
1. The proper translation may also be, "If they're given with a kick. . . ."
2. Mencius has surely overstated his case here. Many individuals have sacrificed self- respect in order to preserve their own lives. However, I have also been shocked by how much self respect even street people frequently manifest. I have had people insist on giving me some discarded magazines (retrieved from a garbage can) in exchange for the cup of coffee I offered, in order to preserve the illusion that they were not accepting charity. All that is really necessary in order to make Mencius's point, in any case, is that, for any given human being, there are some acts that she considers too shameful to perform. This sense of shame, however vestigial, is the sprout of righteousness, and can serve as the basis for cultivating virtue.
3. Literally, ". . . then one doesn't distinguish (bian). . . ."
Gongduzi asked, saying, "We are the same (chun) in being humans. Yet some become great humans and some become petty humans. Why?"
Mengzi said, "Those who follow (ts'ung) their greater part become great humans. Those who follow their petty part become petty humans."
Chun means same. Ts'ung means to follow. The greater part means the heart. The smaller part means things in the category of ears and eyes.
[Gongduzi] said, "We are the same in being humans. Why is it that some follow their greater part and some follow their petty part?"
[Mengzi] said, "It is not the office (kuan) of the ears and eyes to concentrate (ssu), and they are misled by things. Things interact with things and simply lead them along. The office (kuan) of the heart is to concentrate (ssu). If it concentrates then it will get it. If it does not concentrate, then it will not get it. This (tz'u) is what Heaven has given us. If one first takes one's stand (li) on what is greater, then what is lesser will not be able to snatch it away. This is [how to] become a great person."6A15: Commentary by Zhu Xi
Kuan means office (szu). The office (szu) of the ear is to listen; the office (szu) of the eye is to look. Each has something that it manages (chih), but is not capable of concentrating. Consequently, it is misled by external things. Since it is incapable of concentrating and is misled by external things, it too is simply a thing. Hence, for external things to interact with these things and lead them along so that they abandon [their office] is not difficult. The heart is capable of concentrating and taking concentrating as its office (chih). In general, as situations arise, if the heart takes office (chih), it gets their principle and things cannot mislead it. If it fails to take office (chih), then it will not get their principle and things will come along and mislead it. These three are all what Heaven has given me, but the heart is the greatest. If one has the wherewithal to take one's stand on it (li), then there will be no affairs one does not concentrate upon and the desires of the eyes and ears will not be able to snatch it away. This is how to become a great person.
The "this" (tz'u) in "This. . . Heaven" in old editions is frequently "compare" (pi), and in Chao Ch'i's commentary it is also glossed as "for example" (pi fang). Since most contemporary editions have "this" and most commentaries also have "this," it is not clear which is correct. But to have the word "compare" is implausible in meaning. Hence, we follow the current editions.Fan-jun hsin-chen says:
"The vastness of Heaven and Earth,
Gazing high and low, one sees no bounds! Between them
A tiny speck -- the human form.
The minuteness of this form,
Is like a tiny seed in a vast granary!
But to join together Heaven, Earth and human beings
Only the mind is said [to be capable of this].
In all the past and down to the present,
Who is without this mind?
But if the mind is only a servant of the body,
Then one is no different from birds and beasts.
It is only because of the mouth, ears and eyes,
And the activity of the hands and feet,
Take advantage of moments of leisure and idleness
And trouble this mind
The Subtlety of the one mind,
Is attacked my numerous desires.
What is preserved,
Alas! is so slight!
The cultivated person preserves integrity
And remains attentive and reverent.
The Heavenly Lord is unperturbed,
And the body follows its commands."
1. My translation of the poem that Zhu quotes is very tentative.
Mengzi said, "That which humans are capable of without studying is their good capability. That which they know without pondering is their good knowledge (liang zhi).
"Among babes in arms there is none that does not know to love its parents. When they grow older, there is none that does not know to respect its elder brother. Treating one's parents as parents is benevolence. Respecting one's elders is righteousness. There is nothing else [to do] but extend (da) these to the world."
1. In later thinkers such as Wang Yangming, liang zhi was adopted as a technical term to refer to "intuitive knowledge." I don't think liang zhi is a frozen technical term in this passage, though. The word chih normally has a positive connotation (2A6, 4A27, 6A6), so I usually translate it as "wisdom." However, sometimes chih refers to amoral cleverness (as in 4B26). Consequently, in this passage I think Mencius uses the phrase "good knowledge" (liang zhi) only to stress that he has in mind wisdom as opposed to mere cleverness. A similar point applies to "good ability" (liang neng). David Nivison and P.J. Ivanhoe suggest "pure knowing" as a translation for liang zhi when the term is used by Wang Yangming, because for Wang such knowing operates unless it is not "obscured" by selfish desires.
2. Sc., should be treated (including having the proper feelings toward them).
Mengzi said, "People all have things that they will not bear. To extend (da) [this reaction] to that which they will bear is benevolence. People all have things that they will not do. To extend [this reaction] to that which they will do is righteousness. If people can (neng) fill out (chong) the heart that does not desire to harm others, their benevolence will be inexhaustible. If people can fill out the heart that will not trespass, their righteousness will be inexhaustible. If people can fill out the core reaction (shi) of not accepting being addressed disrespectfully, there will be nowhere they go where they do not do what is righteous. If a scholar may not speak (wei keyi yan) and speaks, this is flattering by speaking. If one should speak (keyi yan) but does not speak, this is flattering by not speaking. These are both in the category (lei) of trespassing."
1. Zhu Xi comments, "Humans all have the hearts of compassion and disdain. Hence, no one does not have things that they will not bear, and will not do. These are the sprouts of benevolence and righteousness."
2. Literally: "If people can fill out the heart that will not bore through or jump over [a wall, in order to steal from someone else]. . . ." (Cf. Analects 17:10) It is also possible that what Mengzi has in mind is boring through or jumping over a wall is in order to carry out an illicit assignation. (Cf. 3B3)
3. Compare 4A27 on this use of shi.
4. Compare Analects 15:8. Normally, bu keyi has the sense of "may not," and keyi seems to require the stronger sense of "should" or "ought to."
Wan Zhang asked, saying, "When in [the state of] Chen, Kongzi said,
Perhaps I should return home. The scholars of my school are wild and hasty, advancing and grasping, but do not forget their early [behavior].
When in Chen, why did Kongzi think of (si) the wild scholars of [his home state of] Lu?"
Mengzi said, "Kongzi [said,]
If I do not get to associate with those who attain the Way, then must it not be those who are wild or squeamish? Those who are wild advance and grasp. Those who are squeamish have some things which they will not do.
Did Kongzi not want those who attained the Way?! He could not be sure of getting them. Hence, he thought of the next [best]."
[Wan Zhang said,] "I venture to ask what one must be like, such that one can be called 'wild.'"
[Mengzi] said, "Those like Qin Zhang, Zeng Xi and Mu Pi are the ones Kongzi called 'wild.'"
[Wan Zhang said,] "Why did he call them 'wild'?"
[Mengzi] said, "Their intentions were grand. They said, 'The ancients! The ancients!' But if one calmly examines their conduct, it does not match [their intentions and words]. If [Kongzi] failed to get those who are wild, he desired to get to associate with who disdain to do what is not pure. These are the squeamish. They are the next [best].
The ones who pass by my door without entering my home whom I do not regret [getting as associates] are the village worthies (xiang yuan). The village worthies are the thieves (zei) of virtue.
[Wan Zhang] said, "What must one be like, such that one can be called a village worthy'?"
[Mengzi said, "The village worthies are] those who say,
Why are [the intentions of the wild scholars] so grand? Their words take no notice of their actions, and their actions take no notice of their words. Then they say, 'The ancients! The ancients!'
Why are the actions [of the squeamish] so solitary and aloof? Born in this era, we should be for this era. To be good is enough.
Eunuch-like, pandering to their eras -- these are the village worthies."
Wan Zhang said, "If the whole village declares them worthy people, there is nowhere they will go where they will not be worthy people. Why did Kongzi regard them as thieves of virtue?"
[Mengzi] said, "If you [try to] condemn them, there is nothing you can point to; if you [try to] censure them, there is nothing to censure. They are in agreement with the current customs; they are in harmony with the sordid era [in which they live]. That in which they dwell seems to be loyalty and faithfulness; that which they do seems to be blameless and pure. The multitude delight in them; they regard themselves as right. But you cannot enter into the Way of [sage kings] Yao and Shun with them. Hence, [Kongzi] said [they are] 'thieves of virtue.'
I hate (wu) that which seems but is not. I hate weeds out of fear that they will be confused with corn. I hate cleverness out of fear that it will be confused with righteousness. I hate glibness out of fear that it will be confused with faithfulness. I hate the tunes of [the state of] Zheng out of fear that they will be confused with [real] music. I hate purple out of fear that it will be confused with crimson. I hate the village worthies, out of fear that they will be confused with those who have virtue.
The noble simply returns to the standard (jing). If the standard is correct, then the multitudinous people will arise. When the multitudinous people arise, then there will be no evil or wickedness."
1. Compare Analects 5:22 (Lau 5:20)
2. I render yu zhi as "associate with," by comparison with Analects 19:3. However, Legge renders the phrase "to whom he might communicate his instructions," which is also possible.
3. I render the phrase zhong dao as "those who attain the Way." Lau renders it "those who follow the middle way." The meaning is about the same, so long as the phrase "the middle way" is properly understood. The middle way is not the way of mediocrity or averageness. It is the way of acting which is perfectly appropriate to each situation, doing and feeling neither what is excessive nor deficient for that context. (A similar conception appears in Aristotelianism. See J.O. Urmson, "Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean," in A.O. Rorty, ed., Essays on Aristotle's Ethics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), pp. 157-170.)
4. Compare Analects 13:21 (Lau 13:21).
5. Unfortunately, we know almost nothing about these three individuals. However, there is an interesting revealing anecdote involving Zeng Xi in Analects 11:24 (LAU 11:26). Kongzi asks four of his associates what they would choose to do if others fully appreciated their talents. The first three describe governmental services for which each thinks he is fit. When it is Zeng Xi's turn, he says that he would just like, on a spring day, to go swimming with a group of adults and children, enjoy the breeze, and sing a few songs. Kongzi sighed and said, "I'm with you."
6. For a contemporary example of what Mengzi has in mind, think of people who are always saying, "Down with racism!" "Down with sexism!" or "Be tolerant!" but fail to live up to their own slogans.
7. More idiomatically, ". . . who don't want to get their hands dirty."
8. Xiang yuan could be translated into colloquial English as "good ol' boy," or "goodfella."
9. Zhu Xi comments: "The xiang yuan do not have understanding. . . . Kongzi regards them as seeming to be virtuous but not being virtuous. Hence, he regards them as the thieves of virtue." In connection with Zhu Xi's observation, we might cite Mengzi 6B6.6: "The multitude will inherently fail to understand that which the noble does."
10. Compare Mengzi 7B25, in which Mengzi distinguishes five levels of ethical development: the good, the fine, the great, the sagacious, and the daemonic. The xiang yuan is satisfied with the lowest level.
11. There are at least two ways to understand these two sentences. (1) It seems as if there is nothing to condemn or censure in the village worthies, because they live up to the standards of the era in which they live, but the wise person recognizes that they really do deserve to be condemned or censured. (2) There really is nothing to condemn or censure in the village worthies, because they do live up to the minimal obligations society demands. However, to "enter into the Way of Yao and Shun" requires more than meeting one's minimal obligations. It requires striving to be the best person one can be. The wild and the squeamish, for all their failings, at least aspire to excellence.
12. Compare 7A33: "If one dwells in benevolence and [acts out] of righteousness, the duty of the great person is complete."
13. Note that "corn" (miao) is also used in 2A2 as a metaphor for one's incipient, natural virtues. Compare also the use of "sprouts" (duan) in 2A6.
14. In Analects 17:16 (Lau 17:18), Kongzi says, "I hate that purple usurps crimson, I hate that the tunes of Zheng are confused with classical music, I hate that glibness overturns states and families." He also condemns "clever people" as "dangerous," and "the tunes of Zheng" as "licentious," in Analects 15:11 (Lau 15:11). In order to understand Kongzi's distaste for the color purple, recall the fact that Ruists think that even one's clothing reflects one's concern with virtue. (Compare Analects 10:5 (Lau 10:6).) Those who think this is shallow are invited to reflect upon what we would think of someone who showed up for a job interview wearing cut-off jeans and a Grateful Dead T-shirt. See also Steven Van Zoeren, Poetry and Personality (Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 49.
15. Compare Yi Mengzi, No. 23.