, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 541–578 | Cite as

Refutational Strategies in Mencius’s Argumentative Discourse on Human Nature

  • Lin-qiong YanEmail author
  • Ming‑hui Xiong 


Mencius, a prominent Confucian philosopher in the Warring States period (c. 453 BC–221 BC) of ancient China, is well-known for his argumentative skills, including his refutational skills used to maintain his own standpoints. This paper attempts to reveal how Mencius refuted his opponents argumentatively and strategically on the issue of human nature. To this end, the pragma-dialectical approach to argumentation is adopted to first reconstruct Mencius’s argumentative discourse on human nature according to the four stages in critical discussion—the confrontation, opening, argumentation and concluding stages. Under the ancient Chinese historical and cultural context, Mencius’s argumentative discourse about human nature was developed in three critical discussions, between Mencius the protagonist, and his explicit interlocutors and implicit adversaries who held different views on human nature—the antagonists. The discussions were undertaken around three single mixed differences of opinion concerning three propositions, with resolution of the first difference of opinion serving as a starting point of the second, and the resolution of the second as a starting point of the third. Then based on the reconstruction, the paper elaborates the refutational strategies that Mencius employed in various stages, such as dissociation, reductio ad absurdum based on refutational analogy, and conciliation. It further points out that the employment of these strategies is strategic maneuvering undertaken by Mencius in an attempt to realize both dialectical and rhetorical aims.


Mencius Argumentation Human nature Dissociation Reductio ad absurdum Refutational analogy Conciliation 



The study is supported by International Program for PhD Candidates of Sun Yat-sen University, and funded by Jiangsu Province Projects for Philosophy and Social Sciences in Higher Educational Institutions (Grant No. 2017SJB1076), Argumentation Studies in Ancient China (Grant No. 17GZGX23), and China National Social Sciences Foundation Project (Grant No. 19AZX017). Sincere thanks are also given to anonymous reviewers and especially to A. Francisca Snoeck Henkemans, without whose meticulous and constructive comments and suggestions, this paper can never have been improved for publication.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Logic and Cognition, Department of PhilosophySun Yat-sen UniversityGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.School of Foreign LanguagesJiangsu UniversityZhenjiangPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Institute of Reasoning, Argumentation and CommunicationSouthwestern University of Finance and EconomicsChengduPeople’s Republic of China

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