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On Ethics and HistoryEssays and Letters of Zhang Xuecheng$
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Philip J. Ivanhoe

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780804761284

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804761284.001.0001

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Distinguishing What Only Seems to Be

Distinguishing What Only Seems to Be

(p.93) Essay 11 Distinguishing What Only Seems to Be
On Ethics and History
Stanford University Press

This chapter presents the English translation of an essay by Zhang, which provides not only a subtle account of a widely condemned human failing but also echoes of his personal disappointment in the intellectuals of his own age. The central theme of the essay originally was addressed by Kongzi, who lamented that the conduct of one of his disciples made him abandon his original trust that people would reliably do as they say. After several bad episodes involving [his follower] Zai Wo, Kongzi adopted a new attitude and policy toward others: “to listen to their words and then observe their actions.” Kongzi also expressed a strong dislike for things that seem to be good but in fact are not; this idea appears in the title of Zhang's essay, and variations of this refrain are heard throughout its course. Another less evident but clearly present influence on Zhang's thought in this essay is Mengzi's warnings about the effects that subtle but pernicious doctrines can have upon the unsuspecting mind. Zhang clearly thought that, like Mengzi, he was someone who “understood words” and had a mission to awaken a slumbering world to the dangers of false virtue.

Keywords:   Zhang Xuecheng, essay, Kongzi, Mengzi, false virtue

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