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Humanism

Chinese Conception ofThe Beliefs Of Mencius

Mencius (c. 371–c. 289 B.C.E.), the most influential Confucian after Confucius, focuses on a specification of what this natural basis of ren is. Mencius is known for his view that xing (usually translated as "nature" or "human nature") is good. He believes that in everyone's natural endowment there is an organ called xin (heart/mind) that carries with it four inborn seeds (duan) for moral behavior: the heart of compassion (also called "the unbearable mind"), the sense of shame and disgust, the sense of compliance and respect, and the sense of right and wrong. These seeds are not infused into people from outside, but were there from the beginning (Mencius, 6a/6). Human beings do not have to learn or work in order to get them; in fact, they have them just as they have four limbs (2a/6). When these seeds grow and become mature, they turn into four major virtues: benevolence, dutifulness, observance of propriety, and wisdom. These are not four independent virtues, but four different aspects of the general virtue of ren.

When Mencius says that human nature is good, he does not mean that everything that is inborn is good. He is fully aware that human nature itself is a complex, inclusive not only of elements that are good but also of elements that are either morally neutral or have little moral value. When he says that xing (human nature) is good, he refers only to one part of this complex, the part that is composed of the four seeds and the flourishing of which makes a noble person (junzi).

Mencius singles out this part from the complex of human nature because it is the part that makes a human being a human being, and because it distinguishes human beings from other animals (Mencius, 2a/6). Although humans have these inborn seeds, the seeds are fragile and it takes great human effort to make them grow. A person who completely casts away these seeds is not much different from the beasts (6a/8). A person who preserves and develops these seeds becomes an excellent person (4b/19). It is the four seeds that form the characteristic feature of being a human, and to be a person of ren is to actualize these seeds.

Because ren has such a natural basis that is imparted from the dao of Heaven, the actualization of ren is not just a moral ideal, but a state in which one is unified with Heaven. This state is called cheng ("self-completion," also translated as "sincerity" or "creativity"), in which one completely actualizes one's humanity, one's self-understanding, and Heaven, and in which one can help other people fulfill their humanity. Cheng is an ever-renewing and ceaseless process of self-understanding and creativity. In this way, a person becomes a counterpart of Heaven and Earth, or a participant in their creative activity, in the sense that as Heaven and Earth help things in the world grow and flourish, persons of ren fulfill others as well as themselves.

To sum up, Confucian humanism pursues a desirable kind of humanity and involves features such as a belief in the goodness of human nature, confidence in the power of education and self-cultivation in actualizing human goodness, an emphasis on traditional community and family values, the requirement of altruist love and affection, and a strong belief in the organismic unity of man and nature. This Confucian human ideal was further elaborated by subsequent Confucians in different dynasties, most notably by the Neo-Confucianism of the Song-Ming period (960–1644). In coping with the challenge from Buddhism, Neo-Confucianism sought to provide a more solid and detailed cosmological basis for Confucian humanism.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Heterodyne to Hydrazoic acidHumanism - Chinese Conception of - Underlying Beliefs, Achieving Ren, The Beliefs Of Mencius, Contemporary Revival Of Confucianism, Bibliography