chapter  10
Filial piety, commiseration, and the virtue of ren
BySIN YEE CHAN
Pages 13

In the Analects, filial piety and respect for one’s elder brother have been described as the root of the virtue of ren: “It is rare for a man whose character is such that he is good as a son and obedient as a young man to have the inclination to transgress against his superiors . . . The gentleman devotes his efforts to the roots, for once the roots are established, the Way will grow therefrom. Being good as a son and obedient as a young man is, perhaps, the root of ren” (1:2). On the other hand, we find that Mencius refers to something else, namely commiseration, as the germination of the virtue of ren.1 In the description of the four minds, commiseration is described as the germ of ren (Mencius 2A:6). In this chapter, I show how both commiseration and filial piety can be seen as essential to the development of the virtue of ren, as they pertain to the different aspects of ren. Commiseration is about a general concern for the well-being of people, and filial piety (as well as respect for the elderly brother) is about a special bonding with particular individuals. While the claim that commiseration and filial piety are both important for a person’s moral development is not a novel claim, I hope to shed new light on it by showing how psychological theories can help to ground it.