, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 59–76 | Cite as

The Heart of Compassion in Mengzi 2A6

  • Dobin ChoiEmail author


This essay examines the structural position of Mengzi’s 孟子 heart of compassion (ceyin zhi xin 惻隱之心) within his theoretical goal of teaching moral self-cultivation. I first investigate Kim Myeong-seok’s account that views ceyin zhi xin as a higher cognitive emotion with a concern-based construal. I argue that Kim’s conclusion is not sufficiently supported by the text of the Mengzi, but is also tarnished by the possibility of constructing a noncognitivist counter-theory of ceyin zhi xin. Instead, I suggest that David Hume’s causation-based approach to sentiment provides an alternative route to reach the theoretical core of Mengzi’s ceyin zhi xin. People’s uniform moral sentiment as the effect of mental causation implies that there is a natural cause universally engraved in the human heart. As Mengzi’s practical teaching of moral self-cultivation begins with recognizing this heart of compassion, his focus is placed not upon the characteristics of the expressed emotion, but upon the universal presence of its natural cause in the human heart which demonstrates our moral potential to care for others.


Heart of compassion Ceyin zhi xin 惻隱之心 Moral sentiment Moral self-cultivation 


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This essay’s earlier version was presented at the 5th Northeast Conference on Chinese Thought at the University of Bridgeport, November 2016 and at the ISCWP panel at the Eastern APA meeting in Baltimore, January 2017. I am grateful to the audience of both conferences and the anonymous referees of this journal, whose critical suggestions have much improved this essay. This is a condensed version of the first chapter of my dissertation, written under the supervision of Dr. Yu Jiyuan. It was one of the most pleasing moments in my life when he approved my doctoral project after reviewing this chapter in the summer of 2014.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyThe University of IowaIowa CityUSA

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