I’ve been making by way through Benjamin Schwartz’ The World of Thought in Ancient China (1985). I’m currently moving through the chapter on Mencius and Xunzi, and found an interesting little section that deals (albeit quickly) with the issue of choice-theoretic models of selfhood, which was the subject of my post below this one on Fingarette and Confucius. Schwartz agrees with Sam (see comments in post below this one) that Mencius differs from Confucius on the centrality of choice. See below the fold.
In the comments section of my previous post on Teaching Chinese Philosophy, Bill Haines mentioned that during his experience teaching at Beida in 1990, students seemed more to enjoy Zhuangzi than Xunzi. His point has made me think a bit about the reactions students have to different Asian philosophies, and about what motivates those different reactions.
Readers, lurkers and comment makers, lend me your ears: Peony, Bill Haines and I will be organizing a virtual “reading group” (which will take place both here and at Peony’s place, Tang Dynasty Times) focusing on Daniel Bell’s 2000 work East Meets West. The book deals with a very timely topic and is written in dialogue form, making the work accessible to both academics and non-academics alike. See below the fold for more information on the book and the reading group schedule. Hopefully many of the lurkers here will take up the opportunity to buy the book and read along, hopefully joining in on the online conversation. The more the merrier!
I tend to prefer readings of texts that make people more radical. I’ll just admit it — I don’t smoke anymore, and I don’t drink much anymore, so it’s one of my remaining vices. What can you do. Specifically, in the present case, I tend to prefer readings of Xunzi that have him arguing that morality or goodness is externally imposed upon the agent by the creative hand of the sage, not something that can be discovered and nurtured in the agent in the sense that Mencius seems to suggest. But now I’m not so sure.
Trying to make sense of what Xunzi’s philosophy on the whole means can run into some pretty basic difficulties, at least in my less than knowledgeable (when it comes to Xunzi) case. The reason for this stems from a difficulty in making clear what Xunzi is up to at the most fundamental level. It’s tough to attempt more sophisticated readings of finer points when the more basic and general points are still unclear. One of them concerns Xunzi’s take on xing (human nature), whether it is bad (e) and whether yi (duty, righteousness, appropriateness) is innate. The problem: if yi is innate, it seems that xing is not e, and that puts him in bed with Mencius, a person Xunzi doesn’t want to be sleeping with.
Last week there was considerable discussion of Mencius 7A35 in the seminar. It seemed to me that just about everyone agreed on a general interpretation of the passage. Much as the conversation was interesting (as the reading brought up important issues about Mencius), I just couldn’t convince myself that they were reading the passage right.
Right at the start of the Mencius, story 1A7 brings to light, I think, some very interesting questions concerning how we should understand the notion of “right” action. Particularly, 1A7 makes me wonder whether, for Mencius, action “assessment” (what is appropriate or Yi) and action “guidance” come apart, or whether they should be closely aligned (if not identical). Towards the end I speculate whether Mencius and Confucius wind up differing on this question. Below I’ll try to puzzle out my thoughts on this. It’s a meandering post, so bear with me.