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The Life of Mencius
James Legge


Title: The Life of Mencius

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Mencius' interpretation of Confucianism has generally been considered the orthodox version by subsequent Chinese philosophers, especially by the Neo-­Confucians of the Song dynasty. Mencius' disciples included a large number of feudal lords, and he was actually more influential than Confucius had been. The Mencius (also spelled Mengzi or Meng-­tzu), a book of his conversations with kings of the time, is one of the Four Books that Zhu Xi grouped as the core of orthodox Neo-­Confucian thought. In contrast to the sayings of Confucius, which are short and self-­contained, the Mencius consists of long dialogues, including arguments, with extensive prose.

While Confucius himself did not explicitly focus on the subject of human nature, Mencius asserted the innate goodness of the individual, believing that it was society's influence – its lack of a positive cultivating influence – that caused bad moral character. "He who exerts his mind to the utmost knows his nature" and "the way of learning is none other than finding the lost mind".
His translator James Legge finds a close similarity between Mencius' views on human nature and those in Bishop Butler's Sermons on Human Nature.

To show innate goodness, Mencius used the example of a child falling down a well. Witnesses of this event immediately feel
“alarm and distress, not to gain friendship with the child's parents, nor to seek the praise of their neighbors and friends, nor because they dislike the reputation [of lack of humanity if they did not rescue the child]...
The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of humanity; the feeling of shame and dislike is the beginning of righteousness; the feeling of deference and compliance is the beginning of propriety; and the feeling of right or wrong is the beginning of wisdom.
Men have these Four Beginnings just as they have their four limbs. Having these Four Beginnings, but saying that they cannot develop them is to destroy themselves.

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