The problem of unifying moral intention and action in the Mencius
Date of Issue2016
College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
This thesis mainly explores the problem of how to unify one’s moral intention with one’s actions from Mencius’s perspective. A common approach is the knowledge−motivation model, which assumes that an action is the adjunction of correct moral knowledge and motivation. This model usually directs our attention to a specific action. However, Mencius advocates that the temporal dimension is needed. The temporal dimension assumes that the moral agent also needs persistent practice and habituation. Since Mencius does not have the knowledge−motivation dichotomy, he regards moral knowledge and motivation as an integration. Mencius thinks human beings are endowed with a natural moral disposition, known as the “four sprouts,” (si duan 四端) which contains both of these two categories, following which Mencius proposes that one should practice following his moral disposition persistently. Also, when one fails to practice moral intention, it does not mean he has lost his moral disposition. Instead, it is because he has not followed his moral disposition. Thus, Mencius’s focus is on how to increase the consistency of moral actions and then to habituate them. This process is called “moral extension.” To realize moral extension, two components are important: one is si 思 (reflecting) and the other is one’s qi 气 (vital energy). These two components assist one to achieve moral fortitude so that he reliably and stably acts morally in any situation. Thus, moral fortitude might be a way out of this problem.