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Ideas of Mencius (Meng K'e), by Text

[Chinese, 372 - 289 BCE, Teacher of Confucian thinking. Adviser to King Hui of Liang.]

310BCE Mencius
1.A.3 p.51 Should a coward who ran fifty paces from a battle laugh at another who ran a hundred?
     Full Idea: If two soldiers were fleeing from a battle, and one stopped after a hundred paces and the other stopped after a fifty paces, what would you think if the latter, as one who only ran fifty paces, were to laugh at the former who ran a hundred?
     From: Mencius (Meng K'e) (Mencius [c.310 BCE], 1.A.3)
     A reaction: A nice illustration, in my view, of the universality of truths about human virtue. In no culture would this laughter be appropriate. Nevertheless, there must be degrees of dishonour. Better to flee than join in with the likely winners.
1.A.7 p.55 Avoid the animals you are going to eat, as it is hard once you have got to know them
     Full Idea: Once a gentleman has seen animals alive, he cannot bear to see them die, and once having heard their cry, he cannot bear to eat their flesh. That is why the gentleman keeps his distance from the kitchen.
     From: Mencius (Meng K'e) (Mencius [c.310 BCE], 1.A.7)
     A reaction: If you applied this to a Gestapo officer and his victims, it would obviously be the epitome of wickedness. But it is complex. Compassion is expected when we encounter suffering, but we are not obliged to seek out suffering. Or are we?
1.A.7 p.56 Extend the treatment of the old and young in your family to the rest of society
     Full Idea: Treat the aged of your own family in a manner befitting their venerable age and extend this treatment to the aged of other families. Treat your own young in a manner befitting their tender age, and extend this to the young of other families.
     From: Mencius (Meng K'e) (Mencius [c.310 BCE], 1.A.7)
     A reaction: This seems to me to articulate the ideal of communitarianism very nicely. Morality is not just about healthy adults in war and peace. It must include the children and the old. The values of the family are above the values of contracts and calculations.
1.A.7 p.57 Seeking peace through war is like looking for fish up a tree
     Full Idea: Your desire to extend your territory by war, in order to bring peace, is like looking for fish by climbing a tree.
     From: Mencius (Meng K'e) (Mencius [c.310 BCE], 1.A.7)
     A reaction: Mencius had a flair for analogies. Just occasionally I suppose he might be wrong on this point, but I would think that experiments in the laboratory of history have shown that he is right in nearly all cases.
1.B.1 p.60 If the King likes music then there is hope for the state
     Full Idea: If the King has a great fondness for music, then perhaps there is hope for the state of Ch'i.
     From: Mencius (Meng K'e) (Mencius [c.310 BCE], 1.B.1)
     A reaction: This seems to be Shakespeare's attitude to music as well. The general idea must be that love of music requires a selfless state of mind, where the mind revels in the beauty of something outside of itself. Respect is the desirable result.
1.B.1 p.61 A true king shares his pleasure with the people
     Full Idea: If you shared your enjoyment of music or of hunting with the people, you would be a true King.
     From: Mencius (Meng K'e) (Mencius [c.310 BCE], 1.B.1)
     A reaction: I suspect that this is a great truth for dictators and traditional monarchs. One pictures the successful ones attending public entertainments, and allowing the public to see their own. Tyrants keep entertainment private. Nero is a counterexample!
1.B.7 p.67 Only put someone to death if the whole population believes it is deserved
     Full Idea: When close attendants say a man deserves death, do not listen; when all the councillors say so, do not listen; when everyone says so, have the case investigated. If he is guilty, put him to death; he was put to death by the whole country.
     From: Mencius (Meng K'e) (Mencius [c.310 BCE], 1.B.7)
     A reaction: The jury system is a gesture in this direction. Compare Idea 95. In Mencius's time, no doubt, everyone believed that capital punishment was sometimes right. Nowadays, when many people (e.g. me) reject it, the procedure won't work.