Mengzi: Exploring the Negative Impact of Vision

In my presentation, I believe I have asked about what Mengzi would say about a sociopath’s nature. I believe Mengzi would have said that they are born with an innate goodness, but are incapable of developing it for they have a difficulty of differentiating between right and wrong. In my opinion (and Mengzi would probably agree), I believe a sociopath’s difficulty to cultivate his or her innate goodness may be due the environment he or she is situated in and witnesses in his or her everyday life. Hence, in the case of a sociopath, Mengzi’s idea of vision being a useful tool for cultivating our innate goodness and extending it to others would be refuted; the case proves that vision can also play as an obstacle to one’s development in their benevolent nature. Although I feel like I’m making it start to appear that Mengzi only indicated vision as useful instrument that would support our benevolent nature, I believe that there were certain areas in the book in which he negatively characterized vision. In Mengzi’s kitchen example, I’m certain that Mengzi illustrated vision as a tool that can stump the growth of one’s benevolent nature. In Book 1A, Mengzi compared the king’s growth in benevolence to “gentlemen [that] keep their distance from the kitchen” (1A7.8). Metaphorically speaking, the act of avoiding “the kitchen” can be seen as an action of distancing yourself from an environment that negatively impacts your innate goodness by slowing its expansion. Thus, by “staying away from the kitchen”, a person would be able to cultivate the growth of his or her benevolent nature or extend it to others. Hence, this example may have likely portrayed sight as a tool that would not only propel the development of one’s innate goodness, but that it can also delay its progress or stunt its growth by evoking a non-benevolent nature. If we were to associate the word “kitchen” with images of animal corpses, and dead plants, it would become easier for us to relate a kitchen to Mengzi’s unidealistic environment for the association of the word kitchen with dead organisms generate negative connotations such as death or destruction. Unlike the sight of the ox stimulating the growth of King Xuan’s benevolent nature, the sight of the kitchen (or witnessing an environment Mengzi would regard as a danger to the growth of our innate goodness) would be the obstacle to a person’s journey of leading a virtuous life. Hence, I believe that Mengzi demonstrated sight carrying another ability other than generating compassion: that it can be used to disintegrate the development one’s benevolent nature.

3 comments

  1. Hello Joy! Great post! I never really looked at the “kitchen” verse that way! Your post inspired me to go back to the book and also to do more research on what the verse actually means. Your interpretation is very accurate! So Kudos to you!! 🙂 But I want to share with you an alternative meaning to the verse that I got from running a search on the Chinese google and analyzing the verse in its original language, Chinese haha. In case you wish to google, the verse is 君子远庖厨 (I don’t actually know how to pronounce any of these words, I only know how to write them LOL). Turns out, Meng Zi could also be saying: To be a true Gentleman, guys should stay away from women-y activities such as slaughtering animals and cooking, because those aren’t the job of men. Men are the breadwinners of their families and should be working on ‘honorable’ things such as earning a degree or more money. So this verse is essentially a standard for men. It comes across sexist and I don’t deny since traditional Chinese societies are pretty sexist. But overall, I do agree with you that the environment has indeed a great impact on how ‘benevolent’ one is. I also wrote about how environmental factors relate to upbringing and parenting, so if you’d like, you may check it out 🙂 Once again, great post!!

    1. Hey Nicole! 😀 Thanks for your comment! Oh yeah you could be right! That interpretation can totally work out too :O I never thought about it that way…
      I can see why Mengzi could be thinking in that perspective as well.. considering that he did come from a traditional Chinese background. Thanks for your reply to my post! 🙂

  2. I agree that if asked about sociopaths, at least from what I understand of Mengzi’s view he would say that they have sprouts of virtue like we all do, but that the environment in which they grew up was not conducive to those sprouts developing into full trees. What I am not sure about is whether that can change when they are older, according to Mengzi. I imagine it would have to do with how badly the sprouts have been “deformed” or “starved” by the bad environment.

    Vision and virtue is an interesting topic! I remember you also wrote something along these lines in an essay, right? My understanding of the kitchen example is that Mengzi is saying that people feel more compassion for those animals that they can see, and find it easier to kill and eat those they can’t. So that’s why they stay away from kitchens–because they wouldn’t be able to eat the animals they saw before the animals were killed. That’s how I understood it, anyway! I’m not sure he’s saying that being in a kitchen would have to reduce one’s virtue, because actually it might spark one’s compassion. But then he does say that “gentlemen” (a word he uses for those who are or are on the path to becoming virtuous, I think) will stay away from kitchens. So perhaps there is something to this idea that the problem with kitchens is not just that one will not be able to eat because one’s compassion will be sparked; maybe there’s something more to it about how it could harm one’s virtue. If that’s the case I am not certain I understand what he means, though!

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