The Relativity of Ren (Humaneness)
Re-examining 2A6 and 6A6 of the Mengzi from the Perspective of Self-Introspection in Experience
A textual difference exists between 2A6 and 6A6 of the Mengzi: In 2A6, the heart-mind of ceyin (compassion), xiuwu (shame), cirang (courtesy and modesty), and shifei (moral judgement) are said to be the four “duan” (germs) of ren (humaneness), yi (optimal appropriateness), li (observance of the rites), and zhi (wisdom), whereas in 6A6, the term “duan” is not found. For this reason, some scholars today criticize the interpretation that translates “duan” as “starting point”, which implies a substantial difference between the four germs and ren, yi, li, and zhi that apparently does not exist in 6A6. Instead, these scholars prefer another interpretation that takes “duan” as an indication of the essential sameness between the four germs and ren, yi, li, and zhi that are originally possessed by a morally perfect heart-mind. This essay re-evaluates these two interpretations. First, it argues that compared to the first, the second interpretation’s argument for a morally perfect heart-mind is less compatible with the nature of Mengzi’s moral philosophy as a teaching that focuses on self-introspection and moral cultivation in experience. Second, this essay reinforces the first interpretation by demonstrating the existence of two different senses of ren (as well as yi, li, and zhi) in the Mengzi, thus allowing it to coherently suggest that the heart-mind possessing the four germs as innate moral feelings is the same as the “relatively antecedent” ren, which is, at the same time, the starting point for developing the “relatively consequent” ren that is substantially different from the former.
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