The Difference Between Ren and Yi: Mengzi’s Anti-Guodianism at 6A4-5

Sophia:1-16 (forthcoming)
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Passages from the recently excavated Guodian manuscripts bear a surprising resemblance to a position ascribed to Gaozi and his followers in the Mengzi at 6A4-5, namely that righteousness is “external.” Although such a resemblance has been noted, the philosophical implications of it for the debate between Gaozi and Mengzi and, by extension, for Mengzian ethics have been largely unexplored. I argue that a Guodian-inspired reading of 6A4-5 is one that takes the debate to be about whether standing in certain family relations makes a difference to whether one’s actions are righteous. Gaozi denies that it does, holding the view that one’s family relations, i.e., relations internal to the household, are irrelevant when it comes to matters of righteousness, while Mengzi disagrees, arguing that all relational properties, including family relations, are just as much reason-giving properties for performing righteous actions as they are in the case of performing benevolent actions. I argue that such a Guodian-based reading provides us a simple, yet explanatorily powerful reading of 6A4-5 that has broader implications for Mengzian ethics and our understanding of the early Chinese intellectual milieu in general.

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Waldemar Brys
University of New South Wales


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