Moral Extension and Emotional Cultivation in Mèngzǐ

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Mèngzǐ’s 孟子 advice to King Xuān 宣 to take up his feeling of compassion for an ox and apply it to his people (Mèngzǐ 1A7) is equivocal, and can be understood in two markedly different ways: on one hand, to take immediate care of the people’s needs by performing a kind of (mental) act of applying compassion; on the other hand, to engage in a long-term project of cultivating compassion for them. These views, moreover, when combined with the assumption that emotion is the sole motivator of moral action, give us a perplexing picture of Mèngzǐ as urging the king to do exactly what he cannot—namely, acting out of compassion for his people that he falls short of feeling enough of. This essay explicates the Mengzian model of moral extension (tuī 推) through a solution to this puzzle, specifically by explaining how one’s immediate performance of moral actions are conducive to cultivating related moral emotions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-388
Number of pages20
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Sept

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I am deeply grateful to Philip J. Ivanhoe, Winnie Sung, Hagop Sarkissian, Jacklyn Cleofas, Jihyun Hwang , and the anonymous reviewers of this essay for their inspiring comments, suggestions, and references.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy


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