Schopenhauer and Mencius

Two thousand years and thousands of miles apart…

“How is it possible that another’s weal and woe should influence my will directly, that is, exactly in the same way as otherwise my own move it? How can that which affects another for good or bad become my immediate motive, and actually sometimes assume such importance that it more or less supplants my own interests, which are, as a rule, the single source of the incentives that appeal to me? Obviously, only because that other person becomes the ultimate object of my will, precisely as usually I myself am that object; in other words, because I directly desire weal, and not woe, for him, just as habitually I do for myself. This, however, necessarily implies that I suffer with him, and feel his woe, exactly as in most cases I feel only mine, and therefore desire his weal as immediately as at other times I desire only my own. But, for this to be possible, I must in some way or other be identified with him; that is, the difference between myself and him, which is the precise raison d’être of my Egoism, must be removed, at least to a certain extent. … It is, what we see every day – the phenomenon of Compassion; in other words, the direct participation, independent of all ulterior considerations, in the sufferings of another, leading to sympathetic assistance in the effort to prevent or remove them; whereon in the last resort all satisfaction and all well-being and happiness depend. It is this Compassion alone which is the real basis of all voluntary justice and all genuine loving-kindness. Only so far as an action springs therefrom, has it moral value; and all conduct that proceeds from any other motive whatever has none.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), The Basis of Morality, Chapter 5

“All people possess within them a moral sense that cannot bear the suffering of others. The former kings had such a moral sense and thus they devised means of government that would not allow people to suffer. If a ruler were to employ the moral sense that makes human suffering unendurable in order to implement such humane government, he would find bringing the entire empire into order to be simple, as though he were turning the world in his hand. Why do I say that all people possess within them a moral sense that cannot bear the suffering of others? Well, imagine now a person who all of a sudden sees a small child on the verge of falling down into a well. Any such person would experience a sudden sense of fright and dismay. This feeling would not be one that they summoned up in order to establish good relations with the child’s parents. They would not purposefully feel this way in order to win the praise of their friends and neighbors. Nor would they feel this way because the screams of the child would be unpleasant. Now by imagining this situation we can see that one who lacked a sense of dismay in such a case could simply not be a person. And I could further show that anyone who lacked the moral sense of shame could not be a person; anyone who lacked a moral sense of deference could not be a person; anyone who lacked a moral sense of right and wrong could not be a person.”
– Mencius (372–289 BCE), Mencius, 2A:6

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One thought on “Schopenhauer and Mencius

  1. Pingback: Sunday Salon 9-18-16 | Thirty-Two Minutes

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