The cultivation of moral feelings and mengzi's method of extension

Philosophy East and West 61 (4):587-608 (2011)
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Offered here is an interpretation of the ancient Confucian philosopher Mengzi's (372–289 B.C.E.) method of cultivating moral feelings, which he calls "extension." It is argued that this method is both psychologically plausible and an important, but often overlooked, part of moral life. In this interpretation, extending our moral feelings is not a project in logical consistency, analogical reasoning, or emotional intuition. Rather, Mengzi's method of extension is a project in realigning the human heart that harnesses our rational, reflective, and emotional capacities in order to extend the feelings we already have to the appropriate objects for these feelings. It is argued that there are three main features of Mengzi's account that make it an attractive explanation of the cultivation of moral feelings. The first is the way Mengzi sees reasoning and philosophical reflection as an aid to, rather than the foundation for, moral development. The second is Mengzi's precision regarding the relationship between the basic moral feelings we start with (the "sprouts") and their corresponding virtues. The method of extension acts as a well-designed bridge between feelings and virtues. Third, Mengzi's account, unlike that of the Mohist Yi Zhi, whom he criticizes, pays special attention to the complexities and limitations of human psychology. In conclusion it is shown how a Mengzian understanding of the relationship between feelings and morality can answer some traditional challenges, especially Kantian ones, regarding the proper role of emotion in moral life



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Emily McRae
University of New Mexico

References found in this work

Kwong-loi Shun on Moral Reasons in Mencius.Bryan W. Van Norden - 1991 - Journal of Chinese Philosophy 18 (4):353.
David Wong on emotions in mencius.Craig K. Ihara - 1991 - Philosophy East and West 41 (1):45-53.
Two Roots or One?David S. Nivison - 1980 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 53 (6):739 - 761.

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