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XIAO Yang|Hidden Key-Concepts in Mencius

Release Date: 2018/5/3 16:45:56


Hidden Key-Concepts in Mencius


XIAO Yang | Kenyon College

Date & Time:

9:30, Tuesday, May 9, 2018


Room 304, Building 4, Zhijiang Campus, Zhejiang University

When people think about key-concepts in Mencius’ philosophy, they often immediately think about the following keywords and their corresponding key-concepts: nature (xing 性), human nature (ren xing 人性), human nature being good (xing shan 性善), mind-heart (xin 心), the four beginnings (si duan 四端), benevolence (ren 仁), justice (yi 义), ritual (li 礼), understanding (zhi 智), and so on. To study keywords and their corresponding key-concepts has been a dominant way to study Chinese philosophy, in general, and Mencius, in particular. However, it has its limits, one of which is that we tend to neglect what I shall call “hidden key-concepts”. A concept is a hidden one in a text if it can be shown to be present in the text, even though it is hard to find a word or a phrase in the text that can be readily interpreted as corresponding to this concept in a straightforward manner. For example, as we can show, Mencius does have the concept of what we today would call “(instrumental or prudential) rationality”, although we cannot find any corresponding word or phrase in the Mencius that can be readily translated as “rationality”. However, whenever Mencius wants to say “A’s action is (instrumentally) irrational”, he is able to do so by making use of a concrete paradigm case of an (instrumentally) irrational action (e.g., “seeking fish by climbing up the tree”). In addition to “rational action”, the second and the third hidden key-concepts I want to discuss in this talk are: tianxia zhi dali 天下之大利 (the common good of the world) and wuwei 无为 (acting non-purposively). We cannot find these words in the Mencius, and furthermore, they are keywords in Mohism and Daoism, respectively. Hence one might have even more reasons to doubt that they are hidden key-concepts in Mencius, the Second Sage of Confucianism. But this is exactly what I shall try to show in this talk, and I shall also show that these three hidden key-concepts are central ones in Mencius’ philosophy of action and can shed light on other key-concepts in Mencius’ philosophy of action, such as cheng 诚 (sincerity, truthfulness) and xin fu 心服 (authority, submitting or trusting whole-heartedly), as well as several passages that have puzzled commentators for centuries.


XIAO Yang|Hidden Key-Concepts in Mencius

Yang Xiao (萧阳) is professor of philosophy at Kenyon College. He received his Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research, and was Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley and Harvard University. His research interests include ethics, philosophy of language, philosophy of action, and Chinese philosophy. He is co-editor of Moral Relativism and Chinese Philosophy: David Wong and His Critics (SUNY Press, 2014), and editor of Dao Companion to Mencius (Springer, 2019). He was the president of International Society for Comparative Studies of Chinese and Western Philosophy (ISCWP) in 2014-7.

XIAO Yang|Hidden Key-Concepts in Mencius

Zhejiang University Institute for Advanced Study in Humanities and Social Sciences

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