Sydney Bennett Dr. William Hedberg PAR 125 November 19, 2012 Writing Assignment #2 Confucius is one of the most important Chinese philosophers of all time. He taught his thoughts, which eventually formed a religion now known as Confucianism, throughout the city-states of China. After his death someone published the thoughts and conversations of Confucius in order to continue his teachings. There were also other thinkers that Confucius taught who continued to spread his teachings.
One of these thinkers was Mencius and although he and adapts his ideas from Confucius’s Analects, his teachings differ and grow from Confucius’ thoughts and teachings. According to Confucius, everything people do in their mundane, daily lives constitutes ritual. The way people even create and sustain relationships is through rituals. These rituals give us the sense of what it the right thing to do given a certain situation. For example, people know it is wrong to lie but in certain situations it also seems wrong to tell the truth. The right choice is that which gives you a reaction that pleases everyone. Goodness” is defined as the sense of what one should do, in any context, to affect others in Bennett 2 a positive way. Rituals are customs or conventions people are born into and practice in order to train themselves to be good. According to Confucius’ system there are no divine guidelines and no single rule that can be applied to every situation. In every situation, however, there is something people can do to make the circumstances better or worse. In some ways Confucius’ view of goodness could be considered a question of intention. Mencius is another teacher of Confucianism and has many of the same beliefs as Confucius.
However, he takes what Confucius said and grows on it. Confucius never spoke anything of human nature but Mencius seems to be very concerned with the idea of it. He believed that human nature is innately good. For example if a person sees a kid fall into a well their natural response is to want to save the kid. Even though the person does not know the kid and has no connection to him, it is an instinct or part of human nature to want to save him. Another example is when people see corpses on the side of the road it is horrifying. These natural reactions prove human nature is innately good.
Confucius may not have necessarily opposed these thoughts but rather found them irrelevant. He was never known to talk much about human nature and, like the after-life, I think he wouldn’t be very concerned with human nature. This idea that people are all born with this innate goodness raised a lot of questions. If everyone is just born innately good then why isn’t society always good? Why do people do Bennett 3 such awful things? Although people are born good natured according to Mencius, this does not mean everyone will grow up and be good people. He refers this innate goodness to a sprout that must be nurtured.
If people nurture and take care of this sprout, it will become stronger and grow as they become a better person. Rituals are a way of cultivating yourself and grow your innate goodness. Things as simple as respecting your elders and showing compassion to others are rituals that help each person grow into a better person. However, the sprout can also be neglected and killed. Mencius relates this sprout to the Ox Mountain; it was once beautiful but it became polluted and trashed. Once people cultivate themselves over many years, they can begin to extend compassionate feelings to abstract.
For example, people feel bad for a sheep that was sacrificed even though they don’t have any physical connection to the sheep. It does not matter if they actually see the sheep get killed. This extending of compassionate feelings is also referred to as “filling out our heart”. Confucius was only concerned about how people become good and did not care whether they were born good natured. However, I believe he would have agreed with Mencius on the ability for people to extend compassionate feelings to others because he spoke a lot about using rituals to become good or cultivate ourselves.
According to Confucius, it takes a lifetime to become a truly good person. He says himself that he would need fifty more years before he is truly good. Although this may seem Bennett 4 like it is not worth all the work it takes to become good, Confucius believed people should be motivated by this ideal. It definitely shows that a person must be dedicated and really want to become good in order to achieve goodness. Mencius’ thoughts on how people can grow and nurture their sprout clearly come from Confucius. I think they could both agree that most people never are truly good.
Although it sounds like it is simple, you do good things and you are a good person, it is actually a lot harder. Like Confucius said, it takes a lot of dedication. Although according to Mencius all people are born good natured, he did say that their sprout of goodness could be neglected and killed. I think most people want to be good but often fall short. Lastly, Mencius talks about heaven being moral; it simply rewards the good and punishes the bad. This, I think, is the biggest difference between Mencius and Confucius. Confucius does not discuss heaven at all. It is not important or relevant in his opinion and he never cared to address it.