A cross-posting of Eric Schwitzgebel’s post on his Splintered Mind blog. Please address all comments directly to Eric; he’ll be checking in here periodically to reply.
Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt, Stanley Milgram, and King Xuan of Qi
Perhaps my favorite Mencius passage is 1A7. At its core is a story of a king’s mercy on an ox.
While the king was sitting up in his hall, an ox was led past below. The king saw it and said, “Where is the ox going?” Hu He replied, “We are about to ritually anoint a bell with its blood.” The king said, “Spare it. I cannot bear its frightened appearance, like an innocent going to the execution ground.” Hu He replied, “So should we dispense with the anointing of the bell?” The king said, “How can that be dispensed with? Exchange it for a sheep.” (Van Norden, trans.)
Mencius asks the king (King Xuan of Qi):
If Your Majesty was pained at its being innocent and going to the execution ground, then was is there to choose between an ox and a sheep?… You saw the ox but had not seen the sheep. Gentlemen cannot bear to see animals die if they have seen them living. If they hear the cries of their suffering, they cannot bear to eat their flesh. Hence, gentlemen keep their distance from the kitchen.
(Note that Mencius does not conclude that gentlemen should become vegetarians. Interesting possibilities for reflection arise regarding butchers, executioners, soldiers, etc., but let’s not dally.) Continue reading
Section 2A/6 of the Mencius tells us that the heart of deference (辭讓) is the starting point of ritual. I’ll try to convince you that this is a puzzling claim, and then suggest a solution to the puzzle.
The puzzle is that ritual obviously mobilises motives other than deference, and calls for behaviour that is not simply deferential. Think of the way that grief takes on ritualised shape in funerals: this is not just an extension of deference. So, why did it make sense to the author or authors of Mencius 2A/6 to say that deference is the starting-point of ritual?
The excellent ethics blog PEA Soup hosts a public discussion of one article per issue of Ethics, and starting March 30 the discussion will feature Ted Slingerland’s “The Situationist Critique and Early Confucian Virtue Ethics,” which is now freely available (as part of an arrangement between the blog and Ethics). Double-congratulations to Ted (for the essay in Ethics, and for it being chosen for this discussion)!
UPDATE: the actual url for the discussion is here.