Lecture 2: Metaphors for Governance in the Xúnzǐ

Lecture 2: Metaphors for Governance in the Xúnzǐ

Lecture 2: Metaphors for Governance in the Xúnzǐ

Mèngzǐ envisions a hierarchical relationship between the heart-mind and the body, but as is well-acknowledged, Xúnzǐ differs from Mèngzǐ in how he envisions hierarchy. This difference is signified by Mèngzǐ’s use of the plant metaphor for moral cultivation as opposed to Xúnzǐ’s use of the craft metaphor. In this lecture I want to explain why the comparison between their theories is more complicated than the difference between growing and crafting, and that is partly because Xúnzǐ employs metaphors and analogies other than crafting.  In the course of this explanation, I will further develop some of my previous work on Xúnzǐ’s theory of moral cultivation. I then proceed to discuss how Xúnzǐ conceives the relation between the king, the people, and his ministers.

      Xúnzǐ’s theory anticipates the role of culture in transforming our biologically-based dispositions, culminating in the assertion that human flourishing lies in just such a transformation. His theory comes much more clearly into focus when we consider the array of metaphors and analogies he uses in addition to the craft metaphor. These include analogies to the leader guiding the people through embodying the parent in the parent-child relationship, and the metaphor of nurture applied to desires and dispositions. Considering their role in Xúnzǐ’s theory helps to correct the impression of a craftsman who makes a fine artifact through a sheer overcoming of the material through relentless will. Xúnzǐ does emphasize the necessity for unceasing accumulated effort, but it is effort guided by a sense for the structure and contours of the material to be crafted, so as to bring out the best in it. Again, bringing in contemporary empirical and scientific inquiry, I argue that a synthesis of Mèngzǐ’s and Xúnzǐ’s theories of moral development gives in broad outline the most plausible theory of moral development we have to date.