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Yangism (Chinese :楊朱學派; pinyin :Yángzhūxuépài) was a philosophical school founded by Yang Zhu, existent during the Warring States period (475 BCE – 221 BCE), that believed that human actions are and should be based on self-interest. The school has been described by sinologists as an early form of psychological and ethical egoism. [1] The main focus of the Yangists was on the concept of xing, or human nature, [1] a term later incorporated by Mencius into Confucianism. No documents directly authored by the Yangists have been discovered yet, and all that is known of the school comes from the comments of rival philosophers, specifically in the Chinese texts Huainanzi , Lüshi Chunqiu , Mengzi , and possibly the Liezi and Zhuangzi . [2] The philosopher Mencius claimed that Yangism once rivaled Confucianism and Mohism, although the veracity of this claim remains controversial among sinologists. [3] Because Yangism had largely faded into obscurity by the time that Sima Qian compiled his Shiji, the school was not included as one of the Hundred Schools of Thought.

Chinese language family of languages

Chinese is a group of related, but in many cases not mutually intelligible, language varieties, forming the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Chinese is spoken by the ethnic Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in China. About 1.2 billion people speak some form of Chinese as their first language.

Pinyin Chinese romanization scheme for Mandarin

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

Yang Zhu, also known as Yang Zi or Yangzi, was a Chinese philosopher during the Warring States period. An early ethical egoist alternative to Mohist and Confucian thought, Yang Zhu's surviving ideas appear primarily in the Chinese texts Huainanzi, Lüshi Chunqiu, Mengzi, and possibly the Liezi and Zhuangzi.



"What Yang Zhu was for was self. If by plucking one hair he might benefit the whole world, he would not do it." [4]

Mencius on Yang Zhu, Mengzi (4th century BC)

Yangism has been described as a form of psychological and ethical egoism. [1] The Yangist philosophers believed in the importance of maintaining self-interest through "keeping one's nature intact, protecting one's uniqueness, and not letting the body be tied by other things." [5] Disagreeing with the Confucian virtues of li (propriety), ren (humaneness), and yi (righteousness) and the Legalist virtue of fa (law), the Yangists saw wei wo, or "everything for myself," as the only virtue necessary for self-cultivation. [6] Individual pleasure is considered desirable, like in hedonism, but not at the expense of the health of individual. [7] The Yangists saw individual well-being as the prime purpose of life, and considered anything that hindered that well-being immoral and unnecessary. [7]

Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to act in their own self-interest. It differs from psychological egoism, which claims that people can only act in their self-interest. Ethical egoism also differs from rational egoism, which holds that it is rational to act in one's self-interest. Ethical egoism holds, therefore, that actions whose consequences will benefit the doer can be considered ethical in this sense.

Li (Confucianism) [禮/礼] classical Chinese word which finds its most extensive use in Confucian and post-Confucian Chinese philosophy

Li is a classical Chinese word which is commonly used in Chinese philosophy, particularly within Confucianism. Li does not encompass a definitive object but rather a somewhat abstract idea and, as such, is translated in a number of different ways. Wing-tsit Chan explains that li originally meant “a religious sacrifice, but has come to mean ceremony, ritual, decorum, rules of propriety, good form, good custom, etc., and has even been equated with Natural law.”

Ren (Confucianism) Confucian virtue

Ren is the Confucian virtue denoting the good quality of a virtuous human when being altruistic. Ren is exemplified by a normal adult's protective feelings for children. It is considered the outward expression of Confucian ideals.

The main focus of the Yangists was on the concept of xing, or human nature, [1] a term later incorporated by Mencius into Confucianism. The xing, according to sinologist A. C. Graham, is a person's "proper course of development" in life. Individuals can only rationally care for their own xing, and should not naively have to support the xing of other people, even if it means opposing the emperor. [5] In this sense, Yangism is a "direct attack" on Confucianism, by implying that the power of the emperor, defended in Confucianism, is baseless and destructive, and that state intervention is morally flawed. [5]

Mencius Chinese philosopher

Mencius or Mengzi was a Chinese Confucian philosopher who has often been described as the "second Sage", that is after only Confucius himself. Living during the Warring States period, he is said to have spent much of his life travelling around China offering counsel to different rulers. Conversations with these rulers form the basis of the Mencius, which would later be canonised as a Confucian classic.

Confucianism Chinese ethical and philosophical system

Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is a system of thought and behavior originating in ancient China. Variously described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or simply a way of life, Confucianism developed from what was later called the Hundred Schools of Thought from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius.

Angus Charles Graham was a Welsh scholar and Sinologist who was Professor of Classical Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

The Confucian philosopher Mencius depicts Yangism as the direct opposite of Mohism, while Mohism promotes the idea of universal love and impartial caring, the Yangists acted only "for themselves," rejecting the altruism of Mohism. [8] He criticized the Yangists as selfish, ignoring the duty of serving the public and caring only for personal concerns. [7] Mencius saw Confucianism as the "Middle Way" between Mohism and Yangism. [3]

Altruism is an ethical doctrine that holds that the moral value of an individual's actions depend solely on the impact on other individuals, regardless of the consequences on the individual itself. James Fieser states the altruist dictum as: "An action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable to everyone except the agent." Auguste Comte's version of altruism calls for living for the sake of others. One who holds to either of these ethics is known as an "altruist."

Mohism Chinese philosophy

Mohism or Moism was an ancient Chinese philosophy of logic, rational thought and science developed by the academic scholars who studied under the ancient Chinese philosopher Mozi and embodied in an eponymous book: the Mozi. It evolved at about the same time as Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism, and was one of the four main philosophic schools from around 770–221 BC. During that time, Mohism was seen as a major rival to Confucianism. Although its influence endured, Mohism all but disappeared as an independent school of thought.

Influence on later beliefs

Mencius incorporated the Yangist concept of xing into his own philosophy. Some sinologists have argued that Yangism influenced Taoism, and can be seen as a "precursor" to later Taoist beliefs. [7]

Taoism Religious or philosophical tradition of Chinese origin

Taoism, or Daoism, is a philosophical or religious tradition of Chinese origin which emphasises living in harmony with the Tao. The Tao is a fundamental idea in most Chinese philosophical schools; in Taoism, however, it denotes the principle that is the source, pattern and substance of everything that exists. Taoism differs from Confucianism by not emphasising rigid rituals and social order, but is similar in the sense that it is a teaching about the various disciplines for achieving "perfection" by becoming one with the unplanned rhythms of the universe called "the way" or "dao". Taoist ethics vary depending on the particular school, but in general tend to emphasise wu wei, "naturalness", simplicity, spontaneity, and the Three Treasures: 慈 "compassion", 儉 "frugality", and 不敢為天下先 "humility".

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Ivanhoe, P.J.; Van Norden, Bryan William (2005). "Yangism". Readings in classical Chinese philosophy. Hackett Publishing. p. 369. ISBN   978-0-87220-780-6. "Yangzhu's own way has been described as psychological egoism (humans are in fact motivated only by self-interest), ethical egoism (humans should do only what is in their own self-interest), or primativism (humans should only do what is in the interest of themselves and their immediate family
  2. Shun, Kwong-loi (2000). Mencius and Early Chinese Thought. Stanford University Press. pp. 40–41. ISBN   978-0-8047-4017-3.
  3. 1 2 Shun, Kwong-loi (2000). Mencius and Early Chinese Thought. Stanford University Press. p. 36. ISBN   978-0-8047-4017-3. "there is little evidence that Yangist teachings were influential during Mencius's time, and this has led some scholars to suggest that Mencius exaggerated the movement's influence
  4. Graham, Angus Charles (1981). Chuang-tzǔ: The Seven Inner Chapters and other writings from the book Chuang-tzǔ. Allen & Unwin. p. 223. ISBN   978-0-04-299010-1.
  5. 1 2 3 Stalnaker, Aaron (2006). Overcoming our evil: human nature and spiritual exercises in Xunzi and Augustine. Georgetown University Press. p. 57. ISBN   978-1-58901-094-9.
  6. Senghaas, Dieter (2002). The clash within civilizations: coming to terms with cultural conflicts. Psychology Press. p. 33. ISBN   978-0-415-26228-6.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Bontekoe, Ronald; Deutsch, Eliot (1999). A companion to world philosophies. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 142–143. ISBN   978-0-631-21327-7.
  8. Ivanhoe, P.J.; Van Norden, Bryan William (2005). Readings in classical Chinese philosophy. Hackett Publishing. p. 153. ISBN   978-0-87220-780-6.