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Confucius recognized that in the activity of self-cultivation everyone makes mistakes, but he taught that it is tragic to repeat a mistake or fail to reform after making one 9. Confucius thinks of human being development as taking a raw piece of jade and carving and polishing it until it is fully refined 9. Such a person always does what is appropriate yi 4. Exemplary persons take the high road, not the low one Indeed, exemplary persons cherish their excellence of character over power, land, or thought of gain.

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Exemplary persons take as much trouble discovering what is right as lesser men take to learn what will pay 4. Mozi took the position that in order to achieve social order people must be concerned for each other, showing care for others and not merely for themselves or their own families. Practically speaking, jian ai meant that in relationships with others, people should seek mutual benefit and express mutual respect.

So, he argued that a coherent social order must rest on a common and coherent morality that is absolutely and universally true. He held that if pluralism of moral values is allowed to exist, conflict would be the inescapable result. Accordingly, two preeminent philosophical questions occupied Mozi. What is the source of true morality?

The Planning Theory of Law: A Critical Reading

What is the content of true morality? Mozi praises Heaven tian as impartial, generous, wise, just and caring, and regards it as the source for true morality.

Heaven cares for humans and benefits the worthy by providing resources and blessings, while judging and punishing the wicked. Mozi finds the reliance on elitist consensus as the source for morality, which he associates with Confucius and the ideal of the exemplary person junzi , to be both unconvincing and flawed. He takes the view that even if a practice is traditional for example, received rites such as li it is not necessarily morally right.

He makes a distinction between custom and morality, associating the Confucian li with custom, while advocating objective moral standards coming from Heaven that he calls fa. For such moral norms, the analogy Mozi uses most often is the plumb line or the L-square. He points out that the function of these tools is to guide the performance of work. They are reliable, objective, and even the novice can employ them. Specifically, Mozi argues that in human society prototypes, exemplars, and role models that exhibit correct judgments and true morality do so because they are following the will of Heaven or the standards fa specified by the Son of Heaven ruler who perceives and understands the divine source of morality.

While following these standards will yield the best and most efficacious results, Mozi is not strictly a utilitarian. He does not say that examining or quantifying the desirable consequences of an action determines moral right or good.

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The Daodejing teaches that when individuals try to make something happen in the world by their own reasoning, plans, and contrivances, they inevitably make a mess of it. In Chapter 18 of the Daodejing , the ancient masters have transmitted the teaching that it was only when persons abandoned oneness with dao that they begin to make distinctions in morality. The Daodejing makes this point by specifically mentioning in a critical manner several of the distinctions made in Confucian moral and social philosophy: humaneness ren ; appropriateness yi ; filiality xiao ; and kindness ci DDJ If humans had continued in their primal oneness with dao, they would not have needed to invent such moral discriminations.

So, in the Lao-Zhuang traditions there is a call to return to human inner nature that moves with the dao and away from the conventions of morality. In the Zhuangzi , making distinctions of these sorts is considered a disease that is condemned in several logia of the text ZZ chs.

In the Lao-Zhuang traditions, struggling over these human-made distinctions represents the source of all strife in the world. The key is not to begin this process at all or to empty oneself of it by forgetting such distinctions and returning to the unity with dao , expressing its power de. For both the Daodejing and Zhuangzi , the concept wuwei is used to report a kind of effortless, spontaneous conduct that invariably expresses moral efficacy without deliberation or calculating consequences.

This is not an ability that is available to persons without preparation. A person caught up in making moral distinctions should not expect to be able to wuwei as a verb without first entering into oneness with dao by forgetting those very distinctions. The holiness of wuwei conduct rests on the fact that moving in this manner accords in the situation with an efficacy that can only be attributed to the dao ; it could never have resulted from human wisdom, planning, or contrivance.

This is not to say that such action might not correspond to conventional human moral belief. Rather, the point is this: While moving in wuwei may look to the outside observer like moral conduct following human distinctions, its origin lies in empty stillness. It is a hopeless pursuit to invert this process and think that by following human morality one will come upon the dao or be able to wuwei.

The Zhuangzi compares the spontaneous and effortless action of wuwei to the kind of prehension Cook Ding experiences when he cuts up an ox without ever hitting a bone or dulling his knife ZZ ch. Another way of saying this is that humans moralize in a way analogous to how that a corn kernel yields corn and not tomatoes.


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Mencius means that humans do not start out as blank slates having to learn to moralize. For Mencius, humans are good by nature. This view marks the beginning of his philosophy of anthropology. When reading Mencius, the early Chinese ontology that he inherited must be kept in mind. For him, there is no object that is a self or soul as found in Western philosophy. Nevertheless, there is a sort of five-phase correlation of qi that has produced a human rather than something else.

The four propensities are part of this structure, and they may be stated as follows: One whose heart-mind xin is devoid of compassion, shame, courtesy and modesty, and moral discretion is not human Mencius 2A6. The fact that Mencius chooses agriculture metaphors when writing about human nature suggests he is being consistent with the early Chinese ontology that influenced him. Chinese philosophy does not insist on a thick understanding of essentialism.

Yet, this does not mean that people are born without generally defining propensities. There are inborn, transitive, generational patterns that create bodies. To be devoid of these or possess some other set might eventuate in some other creature, but not a human body. Likewise, for Mencius, anyone devoid of the four propensities of morality lacks a human nature xing and cannot become human.

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He does not mean that humans are innately programmed to be morally good, or that they will automatically grow into morally good beings. The kernel will produce corn, but not if it is deprived of cultivation. Likewise, human nature is predisposed by means of inborn tendencies to act morally, but being morally good is not automatic. Evil and violent times can retard the youth, just as drought can harm the crops 6A7; 6A9. The great and luxuriant trees of Ox Mountain are beautiful, but if constantly lopped by axes, we cannot be surprised if the mountain appears bald and ugly.

The same is true of a person who repeatedly cuts down the sprouts of his moral intuitions and follows a way of immorality 6A8. On the other hand, Mencius thought that the incipient seeds of morality would grow, with cultivation by li , into the humane person ren. The cultivation of these seeds enables a person to increase in humaneness ren just as a fire that continually builds or a spring that has begun to vent will flow ever more strongly 6A6. In taking this approach, Mencius is making the difference between his position and that of Mozi very clear.

Unlike Mencius, Xunzi believes that human nature is disposed to self-interest and that, left alone without moral guidance and the restrictions of law, self-interest will degenerate into selfishness and breed disorder and chaos. Goodness will not grow from within like corn stalks from kernels because human inclinations are not the four propensities Mencius identified, but desires for beautiful sights and sounds, comfort and power. Unless controlled, these and other desires become violence, willful violation of others, and destruction.

Xunzi says that the sage-kings established moral rites, such as discriminations of right and wrong, and li , to shape, guide, and control people. For Xunzi, human beings invented morality; they did not discover it within Heaven Mencius or have it disclosed to them by Heaven Mozi.

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Accordingly, if the sage-kings had not invented the rites, there would have been no civilization and no order. Subsequent generations must be transformed by the influence of teachers and models, and follow especially the guidance of morality and rituals of human conduct li handed down to them. Humans depend on the rites of morality created over generations by exemplary humans to shape and carve individual being into something worthwhile. A way of extending the importance of this difference between Mencius and Xunzi is to notice the shift in metaphors that Xunzi makes.

Where Mencius used agricultural metaphors, Xunzi employed craft analogies: woodworking, jade carving, home construction, and so forth. For Xunzi, humans by nature are like warped pieces of wood that must be steamed, put into a press, and forced to bend into a straight shape.

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He holds that even children must be taught to love their parents and be filial, a position contrary to that of Mencius, who thinks this is a natural inclination. Xunzi believed that if Mencius was correct and human nature was such as to move persons toward the good like water flowing downhill, then there would be no necessity for the emergence of morality or li Xunzi ; Watson In Chapter 17 of the Xunzi , Xunzi makes the point that Heaven does not care about human behavior, or how the course of things affects humans.

In this, he takes a view much different than that of Mozi. Heaven cannot be appeased or persuaded to bring humans good fortune. If there is good fortune for humans, it is because persons make it happen through responsible government and well-ordered society. Neither does Heaven make people poor or bring calamities. Heaven has no will and no mind, and thus does not act to bring judgment or reward.

The well being of persons and societies is squarely in the hands of humans acting morally. In Chinese Buddhism, the moral life is understood in a way similar to the epistemological one. There are multiple levels.

On the lowest level, that of the lay followers, Buddhist morality looks in many ways like a conventional moral system. Various Buddhist schools share the basic code of ethics called the Five Precepts for the guidance of life when a seeker is at this lowest level. These entail abstinence from 1 killing, 2 stealing, 3 sexual misconduct, 4 lying, and 5 intoxication. Some Buddhist schools add three or five precepts to these. The so-called Ten Precepts form the conduct guides for monastic orders. The best-known companion concept to Buddhist morality at the level of precepts is the concept of karma.

Individuals living by moral precepts may stand out among others as good and ethical. They may receive awards and recognitions. We may seek them out in our relationships. In its highest forms, this is the Buddhism of compassion for the world, which seeks to remove evil and suffering by living a pure life and contributing to the welfare of others.