Mencius: A New Translation Arranged and Annotated for the General Reader

Excerpt

If a philosopher is to be judged by the measure of the influence that his works have exercised, then Mencius is one of the world's important philosophers. He was born a century after the death of Confucius (c. 551-479 B.C.) and was to live to see the birth of Hsün Tzu (c. 340- 245 B.C.). Confucius, Mencius, and Hsün Tzu are the founding fathers of the philosophy known as Confucianism. All have left records of their teachings. Of them those of Mencius are the most lucid and readable.

The Works of the earlier fathers of Confucianism lack the form and shape that the orderly presentation of ideas takes in later Chinese philosophical writing. Confucius' Analects are short sentence- or paragraph-length sayings of the Master, illustrative anecdotes, maxims, and the like. They were recorded by his pupils. Their purpose, it seems clear, was to provide "key texts" for the novice when being initiated by a Master into the teachings of the school. They were almost certainly intended to be committed to memory. The Works of Mencius follows the pattern of the Analects, though the paragraphs are extended and the treatment is fuller. There is not, as yet, any perceptible attempt at arrangement by topic or sequence. The reader -- who is not directly addressed in Mencius -- is, as it were, invited to eavesdrop on the conversations of a Master and his pupils ranging at random across the entire spectrum of Mencius' thought. The reader must piece together for himself, from allusion, parable, anecdote, and maxim, an ordered statement of Mencius' philosophy. It was Hsün Tzu who, some fifty years later, left his philosophy in a literary form susceptible to arrangement by subject under chapter headings. Hsün Tzu addresses the reader directly. The indirect appeal to the reader in Mencius, to my mind, gives the Works a freshness and intimacy which the impersonal, though much more tidy, treatment of Hsün Tzu lacks.

The Works of Mencius received canonical recognition in the twelfth century. But previously, in the first century A.D., the Imperial Court had designated "Masters of Learning" to devote themselves exclusively to its study. There are many commentaries on the Works.

Additional information

Contributors:
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Harmondsworth, England
Publication year:
  • 1963

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