Religions (Aug 2023)

Rethinking the <i>Mengzi</i>’s Concept of <i>Tian</i> 天

  • Kevin J. Turner

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 14, no. 8
p. 1015


Read online

There is an undeniable relationship between humanity and tian 天 in the philosophy of the Mengzi 孟子 where the latter is generally conceived as the metaphysical or ontological source of the morality and ethics of the former. However, this line of interpretation is misleading because it not only imports foreign notions of transcendence into the thought of the Mengzi but also because it ignores the contribution humans make to tian. At the same time, there have been attempts to read the Mengzi in biological terms, thereby naturalizing human morality. This likewise does not satisfy as an adequate account of human morality because it also reduces it to a natural or biological realm where human culture is an external accessory. However, the relationship between humanity and tian in the Mengzi is one of mutual influence and emergence; therefore, this article analyzes their relationship and argues that tian is to be understood as “tradition” whereby humans in their process of becoming humans contribute to and invigorate it as successive generations carry it on into the future.