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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


A Re-interpretation of the Debates between Mencius and Kao Tzu

Vol. 32 No. 1   12/2002   


A Re-interpretation of the Debates between Mencius and Kao Tzu


Simon Man Ho Wong









Key words

Mencius, kao Tzu, Inborn Quality as Human nature, Internality and Externality of Righteousness


       There have been discussions by scholars about the four debates between Mencius (371-289 B.C.?) and Kao Tzu (c. 40- c.350 B.C.) in the Book of Mencius, which are the topics to be re-examined in this essay. The author thinks that in the debates of “Human nature is like the willow tree” and “Human nature is like whirling water”, the two thinkers expres their vies on human nature through their different interpretations of the same analogies. Kao Tzu thinks that human nature is indifferent to good and evil, and to turn human nature into humanity and righteousness requires transformation of nature; Mencius think that human nature is good and one should not violate human nature in order to attain humanity and righteousness. In the debate of “What is inborn is called nature," Mencius admits that desiring food and sex in inborn in all living beings, but since humans are different form animals, desiring food and sex should not be regarded as human nature. Kao Tzu, however, advocates that desiring food and sex should be regarded as human nature since it is inborn and it is inborn and is the most fundamental not only in anim als but also in human beings. As for the debate in whether righteousness is external or internal Kao Tzu thinks that it is “external” in the sense that although the sense of respect grows out of the mind-and-heart, the content and the degree of respect are always determined by external objects. Mencius regards righteousness as “internal,” which means that it grows out of and is determined by one’s mind-and-he art. It should be noted that Mencius’ notion of “internal” actually embodies a meaning that transcend “internal’ and “external.” In addition to the four debates, this essay also explains Kao Tzu’s idea of “unperturbed mind” in terms of the mind being unperturbed by means of the intellect, the will and emotion. This essay also gives a general description of kao Tzu’s system of thought.



Author: Simon Man Ho Wong
Genre: Article
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