Contrary to appearances, Mencius does not deploy anything like the Aristotelian doctrine of the mean to describe Boyi, Yi Yin, and Liu Xiahui. While Confucius' actions are intermediate between the actions of these three sages, the sages' character traits do not bracket Confucius' character traits. Instead, the failings of the three sages are skew to each other. Boyi lacks righteousness; Yi Yin lacks benevolence; and Liu Xiahui lacks wisdom. The comparison of the sages centers on the question of when to resign an advisory position. According to Mencius, one should resign only if one's advice will not be heeded, or if declining to resign would somehow lead to wrongdoing. Associating with wrongdoers and benefiting from the wrongdoing of others might lead to wrongdoing. Wrong motives might distort one's advice. Insults from the advisee might be evidence of the futility of giving advice. But in themselves, fastidiousness, non-benevolent motives, and mistreatment by the advisee are not legitimate reasons to resign.
- Doctrine of the mean
- Three sages