SOAS University of London

Everyone can Become a Sage:’ A Revisionist Reading of the Mencius on ‘Human Nature’ 人性

Roger T. Ames

Date: 19 February 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 19 February 2014Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4429

Type of Event: Lecture

The Master Seminar is open to graduate and research students only. As places are limited, participants are expected to book a place for this session with Professor Bernhard Fuehrer ( and prepare the reading material. The required reading material will be made available when a place is booked for this event.


Michael Sandel, in his Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, observes that: “To speak of human nature is often to suggest a classical teleological conception, associated with the notion of a universal human essence, invariant in all times and places.” What is at issue here in saving Mencius from essentialism is the question: How do we define what it means to be human?—by a speculative assumption about innate, isolatable causes that locate a person outside of one’s roles and relations, or alternatively, by taking account of a person’s initial conditions and context, and then by assaying the full aggregation of consequent action? How do we explain growth?—by reduplicative causal accounts (the child is a ready-made adult), by teleological accounts (the child is simply preliminary to the existing ideal), or by a contextual, narrative account available to us through a phenomenology of personal action? We must ask whether the metaphysical way of thinking about “human beings” is consistent with the Confucian project of becoming consummately human within a natural qi cosmology, a project that seems to demand not only motivation and real effort, but also imagination and a creative responsiveness to ever changing circumstances.

Roger T. Ames is Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Hawai'i. A leading figure in the study of Chinese philosophy, he is also editor of the journal Philosophy East & West (since 1978) and of the China Review International (since 1992). He holds a Honorary Doctor of Letters of the University of British Columbia (1999) and has been awarded the 2013 Confucius Culture Award (孔子文化獎) by the Chinese Ministry of Culture and the Shandong Provincial Government .

The annual AC Graham Memorial Lectures are jointly organised at SOAS by the Early China Seminar at the Department of the Languages and Cultures of China and Inner Asia, the SOAS China Institute and the London Confucius Institute.

The 2014 AC Graham Memorial Lectures are supported by a generous grant from the London Confucius Institute (LCI) and SOAS China Institute (SCI).

For further details please contact Professor Bernhard Fuehrer (

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