Abstract: Commentators have recently turned their attention to the Confucian notion of the mandate of heaven. The question is: Is the ruler legitimate because Heaven says so, or does Heaven say so because he is qualified as a legitimate ruler (i.e., by the way he benefits the people)? The answer depends on how the notion of mandate of heaven is interpreted. In what might be called the liberal interpretation, the mandate of heaven lies in the will of the people. In what might be called the conservative reading, the mandate to rule lies in a heaven that transcends the people. To subscribe to the latter is to subscribe to what might be called the "Divine Command Theory of political legitimacy," analogous to the Divine Command Theory of morality. By contrast, the liberal reading of "mandate of heaven" is analogous to the "moral autonomy" position. Mencius' view on political legitimacy will be discussed in terms of the Divine Command Theory so as to permit a comparison with Kant's account of moral judgments. It will be argued that Kant manages to avoid being impaled on either horn of the Euthyphro dilemma by grasping both horns. In the same way, Mencius' view can be read as one that incorporates both the liberal and the conservative positions. It will be argued that such reading is more consistent with textual evidence and renders Mencius' position more coherent.
Philosophy East and West – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: May 9, 2013