Mengzi’s Maxim for Righteousness in Mengzi 2A2

Abstract

In this essay, I argue that in Mengzi 2A2 Mengzi 孟子 proposes his method for cultivating righteousness (yi 義) by showing that on the way of achieving yi, such topics as the unperturbed hearts, cultivating courage, Gaozi’s 告子 maxim, and the flood-like qi 氣 ultimately converge. Toward this aim, first, I argue that Mengzi’s short remark “bi you shi yan er wu zheng, xin wu wang, wu zhu zhang 必有事焉而勿正, 心勿忘, 勿助長” can be read as his maxim for achieving yi that structurally parallels with the preceding maxim of Gaozi that Mengzi quoted. It tells us that neither our blind obedience to the words nor our impetuous boost of qi is helpful for achieving yi; instead we should concentrate on the heart’s moral sentiments and perform righteous actions. Second, I argue that Mengzi believes that qi is crucial in one’s proper self-cultivation. The centrality of moral sentiment in his teaching redirects our attention to qi’s positive aspects—exemplified by the flood-like qi—though qi’s impulsivity often makes it appear negative. If the four sprouts are to accompany the spontaneous movement of qi, it can be said that properly expressed qi signals the moral health of one’s heart. Moreover, I show that strong positive qi not only constitutes moral sentiment that serves as a fair standard for self-examination but also leads the will to perform moral actions without delay.

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Acknowledgment

Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the ISCP panel at the Pacific APA meeting in San Diego, April 2014 and at the 11th Midwest Conference on Chinese Thought at North Central College, May 2015. I am grateful to the audience of both conferences. I also appreciate the criticisms and patience of the anonymous referees, which have much improved the structure of this essay. Above all, I would like to thank my late advisor Jiyuan Yu for his criticisms and comments on a premature version of this essay in 2013. I wish I could get his responses again.

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Correspondence to Dobin Choi.

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Choi, D. Mengzi’s Maxim for Righteousness in Mengzi 2A2. Dao 18, 371–391 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11712-019-09671-6

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Keywords

  • Righteousness (yi 義)
  • Vital energy (qi 氣)
  • Unperturbed heart (budongxin 不動心)
  • Courage (yong 勇)
  • Flood-like qi (haoran zhi qi 浩然之氣)