This study is conducted to broaden the understanding of the concept of 仁, 義, 禮,智(the ideas of benevolence, justice, courtesy, and wisdom) which are the key ideas in confucianism by comparing three different perspectives on The Mencius from Zhu Xi(朱熹), Jung Yak-Yong(茶山), Dai Zhen(戴震). In order to achieve the goal, this paper analyzes the writings of the three figures about The Mencius - 孟子集註 of Zhu Xi, 孟子要義 of Jung Yak-Yong, 孟子字義疏證 of Dai Zhen- by focusing on the examples that the words - 仁, 義, 禮, 智- were used in and the definition they had given to the words in their writings.
Zhu Xi who is considered to be the founder of neo-confucianism-major philosophy of eastern Asia in the medieval times- defines 仁, 義, 禮, 智 as human nature which is exactly the same with li(理)- the metaphysical concept referring to the order or the principle of the nature. According to Zhu Xi, 仁, 義, 禮, 智 represents the fundamental kindness of human nature so that these become the root of so called Four principles(四端))- the conscience that are divided into four in response to 仁, 義, 禮, 智.
Otherwise Jung Yak-Yong defines 仁, 義, 禮, 智 as not human nature but moral ideas that one should accomplish. Therefore following Four principles(四端) becomes the roots to achieve those ethical values. Even though Jung Yak-Yong still believed in the innate virtue of human being, Jung Yak-Yong ’s suggestion was exceptional in those days which Zhu Xi’s opinion was the majority in regard to the denial of apriority of 仁,義, 禮, 智. He broke the mold by redefining human-nature being ‘Preference’.
Dai Zhen’s view on 仁, 義, 禮, 智 is similar to Jung Yak-Yong in regard to those concepts being extrinsic so that one should accomplish by learning and practicing, but the difference is that Dai Zhen never refers Four principles(四端) as internal motivation to achieve moral values rather he emphasizes education and discipline supposedly standing Xun zi’s side considering human nature being fundamentally evil. Furthermore he suggests a new angle on 仁, 義, 禮, 智 by redefining each value being interdependent.
Although the words 仁, 義, 禮, 智 have been familiar to people having been living in Confucian culture, the actual concepts of those have always been controversial because of the viviparous limitation of metaphysical ideas. Thus Comparing three different perspectives on those concepts broadens the understanding and also could helps people find virtues to pursue.