Comparison of Mencius and Confucius

Mencius and Confucius were the renowned spokesmen of their time, with their revolutionary viewpoints forming the basis for Confucianism, a famous school of thought practiced throughout East Asia. Mencius was a Confucian disciple who studied from the grandson of Confucius, Zisi. Despite coming about 200 years after Confucius’ death, Mencius is widely regarded as the best successor to Confucius in the ancient philosophical traditions of Confucianism. Mencius heavily stressed the teaching of Yi, the second Confucian virtue, which emphasized brotherhood, or as the modern world would describe it, helping others. Confucius and Confucianism schools of thought were first approved after the fall of the Qin dynasty. The ideas of Confucius were commonly accepted with Confucianism further developing into Neo-Confucianism and New Confucianism in the Western world. Despite different backgrounds, Mencius was a staunch Confucian scholar who spread Confucius’ teachings while blending them with his own philosophical beliefs from which a few differences between the two philosophers arise.

Confucius and Mencius had very different backgrounds. Confucius was born in the state of Lu around 550 BC to a low-income family. He led a simple life traveling from one country to another, learning and explaining his philosophy (Yao 17). Confucius grew up to be modest in his endeavors and founded the philosophy of Confucianism. Mencius was born in the state of Zou during the warring ages when states were at constant war with each other. He was raised at a time when war, political refugees, and corruption were considered normal. Hence, these challenging environments shaped Mencius to be more cynical and aggressive in his teachings of Confucianism doctrines (De Bary 62). Mencius also traveled for many years offering counsel to various Chinese leaders (De Bary 62). Confucius’ life, philosophies, and manners were mainly recorded and preserved in The Analects while Mencius wrote his biography. The Analects are more detailed than the biography of Mencius, and as such more information on Confucius can be found.

Confucius and Mencius had contrasting modes of teaching. Confucius’ teachings in most cases were brief and straight to the point, while Mencius’ school of thought, on the other hand, was elaborate containing extensive dialogue and prose to emphasize his point (Sung 634). It is due to this methodology that Mencius was able to achieve more significant influence than Confucius, the father of Confucianism. Thus, as long as Confucius and Mencius had different ways of teaching, to a large extent, most of their teachings diverged as well.

One of the most substantial differences between the two philosophers is their conflicting views on the aspect of human nature and how it determines a human being. Mencius believed that every human being is born with a kind and decent heart, and it is the society one grows up in that shapes people into being either positive or negative (Sung 635). Hence, Mencius reckoned that society played a crucial role in the development of human beings; his ideas are best highlighted in one of his famous quotes in which he states that regardless of gender, individuals only fully discover themselves and their true nature when they learn to open their minds and fully express themselves. Confucius, on the other hand, did not dwell upon the issue of human nature and gave it little importance. Therefore, one may argue that Mencius’ views on human nature were more elaborate than that of Confucius.

Moreover, unlike Confucius, Mencius employed more aggressive techniques in his teachings as earlier discussed above. Both philosophers believed that an Emperor or a King had the duty to maintain peace and order within their territories. However, Mencius thought that citizens had the right to rebel, start revolts or object to the state laws and policies if the ruler failed in his task of keeping peace and order in their kingdom (Sung 638). Confucius generally regarded that rulers were highly superior to common people while Mencius emphasized the importance of citizens in a nation (Sung 638). Nevertheless, the two philosophers agreed that every relationship should be beneficial, with a ruler required to justify his position by upholding his duties. However, Mencius encouraged the public to take action when the situation goes out of control thereby incorporating violence and aggressiveness into his Confucian teachings, which were missing in the fundamental teachings of Confucius.

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Confucius and Mencius also had conflicting views on the path to heaven. Confucius claimed that one attained the path to heaven only if born a ruler (Yao 139). He further argued that another ruler or a son of heaven could only dethrone the former ruler. Thus, Confucius asserted that citizens had no right to rebel against an Emperor regardless of his acting unjustly; additionally, the philosopher thought that any revolt against the King would be contrary to Li Jiao’s teachings (Yao 140). In his turn, Mencius based his beliefs on the philosophy of Ren Yi, which emphasized the practice of mercy and honesty. Mencius maintained that rulers could only achieve the path to heaven if they were merciful and just to their people and neighboring states (De Bary 124). Unlike Confucius, Mencius was strongly convicted that even if born a ruler, an individual would not attain a straight path to heaven if they diverge from the teachings of Ren Yi.

However, the ideas of Confucius and Mencius do not uphold gender equality. According to Confucius, women were inferior to men and only played domestic roles in society. He placed females and slaves at the lowest level of the hierarchy. Mencius also taught that women were to obey their husbands and could not rebel against them in any way (Tsai 165). Furthermore, the two philosophers supported the patriarchal hierarchy in leadership. Confucius and Mencius believed that the superiority of men and the inferiority of women was ordained from heaven.

Both Confucius and Mencius upheld education. Education was a privilege that only the wealthy could afford during the time of Confucius. Nonetheless, he changed this tendency, as he gave the poor a chance to acquire an education. Confucius encouraged education to be a lifelong continuous process. He stated that this mode of learning would enable one to realize their best nature and live happily (Yao 144). Confucius emphasized that there were many dimensions of education so it was supposed to be realistic and practical. On the other hand, Mencius’ view on education was that it should awaken the hidden abilities of a person and their mind (De Bary 211. He insisted that the student’s talents should be a significant determinant in the mode of teaching. He promoted a full understanding of books and their context meanwhile discouraging cramming of texts without fully understanding them. He also taught that one should compare, analyze and debate in the process of learning. Therefore, both Confucius and Mencius played a critical role in the development of education and encouraged more people to obtain it during their time.

The teachings of Confucius and Mencius on morals and rules were similar. Confucius made it clear that the knowledge of morals at the personal level was more important than the knowledge of rules. He explained that individuals were to build themselves first, have role models whose behavior they imitated and acquire sound judgment skills (Yao 153). This practice would make following the set rules much more comfortable. He also claimed that one should place more value on human life than property. Mencius tried to instill in citizens compassion for other human beings and animals. However, Confucius emphasized that compassion for close people such as relatives and neighbors was more significant than caring for strangers. Mencius stated that the perception of action as right or wrong is determined by the timeline upon which it was performed; thus, when a man rescues their sister-in-law from drowning, it would not amount to a violation of the rule that denies unmarried men and women to have physical contact (Sung 640). Mencius also highlighted that all governments have the responsibility to ensure that their people have food and to prevent all forms of violence. As a result, both Confucius and Mencius encouraged society to be compassionate and put more value on human life.

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The destiny of a human being, according to Confucius and Mencius, was unpredictable. Confucius’ thoughts on destiny were that some aspects of the sense of human life are beyond their control. He reckoned that happiness is the primary goal of life, and to achieve it one must be peaceful. Additionally, the philosopher noted that destiny was beyond normal human experience, and for a person to fulfill their destiny they had to be rational, follow ethics and rules as well as delve into human affairs (Tsai 70). Confucius also said that at the beginning of life, there is a possibility of many ways of developing of future events, but they cannot be accurately foreseen while close to the end of life the stages of life cannot be undone. Nevertheless, Mencius stated that destiny was unpredictable but orderly. He taught that those who followed fate would live longer than those who rejected destiny. The philosopher believed that destiny played an enormous role in determining the role of a human being in society (Sung 640). Mencius also highlighted that human beings could not control destiny regardless of their level of intelligence and that heaven would not protect one from their destiny. Hence, both Confucius and Mencius agreed that it was impossible for a person to predict their destiny or protect themselves from it.

In conclusion, Confucius and Mencius had divergent backgrounds and lived during different times but despite that fact, Mencius spread Confucian teachings while incorporating his own philosophical beliefs which is why both similarities and differences between their views may be found. Confucius developed his philosophy during hard times, with his school of thought facing multiple challenges from other philosophers in the era of hundreds of schools of thought. However, Confucianism prevailed, and Confucius’ teachings of justice, and personal and government morality proved to be popular throughout several Chinese dynasties. Although the philosophers were born two centuries apart, Mencius’ contribution to Confucian traditions can never be overlooked. He interpreted Confucius’ thoughts and doctrine to subsequent generations blending it with his own philosophical beliefs of human nature explaining how society shapes a human being into either a negative or a positive person. Both Mencius and Confucius won the support of various influential medieval thinkers, kings, and citizens despite their distinct differences. Confucian doctrine prevailed throughout Chinese philosophical circles. Moreover, it is still practiced in modern times with Neo-Confucianism and New Confucianism spreading to western civilizations and the rest of the world.

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