Topics for Paper II, REL302 Chinese Religions

Double-spaced, not more than 800 words. (You may use parenthetical notation to indicate page numbers for textual references.)

Due in class, Friday, November 12, 2010.

Be sure to write your name, the name of the class, and the title of your topic (Cook Ting and Mencius, Zhuangzi versus Lao Tzu, Harmony in the Tao of Taoism, ) at the top of the page.

I also strongly encourage you to read the essays on my Writing web pages, especially "Four Keys to Writing in the Humanities," "Paper Writing Guidelines," "Checklist for Papers," and "Writing: The Bridge between Consciousness and Unconsciousness."


1. Cook Ting and Mencius

In Mencius 1A7 (pp. 54-57), Mencius points out to King Hsuan that, even though the latter strayed from the correct practice of the li, he showed that he does have a budding sprout of benevolence when he compassionately spared the oxen he should have used for the sacrifice and substituted the sheep instead. Mencius teaches King Hsuan that the King should extend his heart of compassion to his people, just as he extended (although wrongly in this case) his compassion to the oxen.

Mencius tells the King to "stay out of the kitchen" so that his heart of compassion will not be blunted.

In the Zhuangzi (pp. 46-47) Cook Ting the butcher is held up as an example of a Taoist adept who is so skillful in carving up the oxen that his knife never becomes dull. He becomes so finely attuned to the Tao of carving the oxen that he goes beyond technical skill, completely forgets himself, and becomes one with the Tao.

Write an essay setting out how Cook Ting would criticize Mencius' teachings to King Hsuan. Also, include as part of your paper Mencius' response to Cook Ting. If you like, you can write this paper as a dialogue between Cook Ting and Mencius.


2. In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu seems to advocate his version of a return to the Golden Age: a simple agricultural life lived close to nature in small villages. Large centralized governments are discarded in favor of a more local existence in which peoples' natural desires, which are quite modest, are easily fulfilled.

Zhuangzi seems to advocate not so much a return to a Golden Age but to live in the world as it is without getting caught up in its hierarchical distinctions. His Taoist sage lives in the (Confucian) world but is not of it. Figures like Cook Ting and Woodworker Ch'ing illustrate how one can live within the Confucian structures but not get caught up in the competitive quest for status and virtue.

A) Zhuangzi versus Lao Tzu. Write a paper from the perspective of either Cook Ting or Woodworker Ch'ing (pp. 126-127) discussing why it is better to live within the structure of the Confucian hierarchy than to try to "return" to the simple, agrarian utopia as advocated by Lao Tzu.


B) Harmony in the Tao of Taoism. Write a paper discussing why Lao Tzu and Zhuangzi are not really different but are actually presenting two aspects of the same Taoist philosophy.


3. Useful Uselessness. Some figures appear in the Zhuangzi who would seem to be so useless in Confucian society as to be discarded: The Cripple Shu (p. 62), the Madman of Ch'u (p. 63), and the Woman Crookback (78-79). Using one or more of these figures, describe Zhuangzi's philosophy of the usefulness of the useless. How might Confucius or Mencius respond to this philosophy?


4. Hsun Tzu and Zhuangzi: Potter and Woodworker

Zhuangzi uses the image of a woodworker carving a bellstand (126-127) in order to describe the skillful Taoist. Hsun Tzu refers to the image of a potter molding clay (164) to describe how the Confucian Sages created the li. In either case, they are describing someone who lives in the world of distinctions and becomes one with the Tao, the flow and patterns of the cosmos. What are two similarities and three differences between the two (or three similarities and two differences between the two)? Use two or three paragraphs at the end of your paper to discuss whether their views are ultimately compatible or not. (Suggestion: Dan Lerman's article in the course reader, "Language and the Nature of Distinctions: An Analysis of Hsün Tzu and Zhuangzi," may be a helpful source of ideas.)

5. Hsun Tzu and Mencius on Human Nature

Mencius presents the four sprouts in an agricultural metaphor in order to argue that human nature is good (Mencius 2A6, reserve)Hsun Tzu argues that human nature is bad and in need of reform like a warped piece of wood. (see especially "Section 23: Man's Nature is Evil," Hsun Tzu 157-171).

A) Present Mencius' arguments first, then Hsun Tzu's likely response, then Mencius' response to Hsun Tzu.


B) Present Mencius' arguments first, then Hsun Tzu's likely response, then Mencius' response to Hsun Tzu.

If you like, you can write this paper as a dialogue between the two thinkers.

(Suggestions: Remember, don't simply rely on the passages cited above but incorporate ideas from their works as a whole. You might refer to some of Mencius' four types of arguments for his position - testimonial, give-away actions, childhood predispositions, and thought-experiments; Hsun Tzu argues that the conscious activity [ability to make distinctions] that learns the li is not part of human nature but is an instrument that must be cultivated by outside influences. Also, Ivanhoe's articles contain useful ideas.)

6. Hsun Tzu and the Sage Kings

Hsun Tzu's claim that human nature is bad faces a very specific difficulty. His premise is that, although human nature (emotions, desires) has a tendency to be chaotic and destructive, the Sage Kings overcame this tendency. According to Hsun Tzu, the Sage Kings were able to discern the patterns of Heaven, invent the li, and teach others the value of following the li. It would seem that the Sage Kings had something no other human beings had: The ability to overcome their bad human nature and invent a way of life in harmony with other human beings and the cosmos. Write a paper arguing for the strongest possible case for Hsun Tzu's view of human nature using at least one analogy from modern life. Raise criticisms and questions about this view, and then come to a conclusion, either by providing a response on Hsun Tzu's behalf to these criticisms or showing that he would be unable to respond to them. (Suggestion: See Ivanhoe article, "Moral Understanding and Human Nature in Xunzi," in the Course Reader.)