Xin (concept)

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In Chinese philosophy, xin can refer to one's "disposition" or "feelings" (Chinese: ; pinyin: xīn), or to one's confidence or trust in something or someone (Chinese: ; pinyin: xìn). Literally, xin (心) refers to the physical heart, though it is sometimes translated as "mind" as the ancient Chinese believed the heart was the center of human cognition. For this reason, it is also sometimes translated as "heart-mind". It has a connotation of intention, yet can be used to refer to long-term goals.[1] Xunzi, an important early Confucian thinker, considered xin (心) to be cultivated during one's life, in contrast to innate qualities of xing (Chinese: ; pinyin: xìng), or human nature.[2]

A Daoist view, specifically from the philosopher Zhuangzi, understands xin (-?-) as being socialized, with environmental pressures influencing personal intentions, sometimes in such a way that can provoke disagreements and conflict. While a Confucian might take heart that xin (-?-) may be cultivated in order to develop de, or moral virtue, Zhuangzi considered this socialization as detrimental to one's personal nature, somewhat along the lines of the later French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. However, unlike Rousseau, René Descartes and many other Enlightenment-era European philosophers following the classical example of Plato, emotion and reason were not considered separate entities, but rather as coextensive; xin (-?-, but most likely 心) itself is a concept that is as much cognitive as emotional.[3][4]


It's wonderful that citations are provided in the second paragraph above, but without including the character or glyph for xin, it's difficult to ascertain if the same concept is being compared between Taoist & Confucianist thought. The ability to put trust (i.e. 信 xìn) or to have faith in the fact that others will act with propriety, sounds more like what is suggested when speaking of one's socialization, as opposed to the concept of their emotional stability (i.e. 心 xīn) playing some role in becoming a useful citizen by developing virtuous tendencies (i.e. 德 dé) as a result of said emotional stability. Is it possible that Zhuangzi was referring to xin 信 (i.e. trust) instead of xin 心 (i.e. heart/mind)? Clearly the Confucian view must mean xin 心, as only by cultivating one's thoughts can you become virtuous. But how do your own thoughts betray your "personal nature"? It seems more likely that xin 德 is the detriment feared by Zhuangzi, since putting blind faith in the virtue of others could lead to disaster. In other words, it would be better to follow your instincts and be distrustful of others, than to get metaphorically 'stabbed in the back' should people you interact with yield to greed or avarice instead of playing by the same rules of society as yourself.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shun, Kwong Loi, "Mencius", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>
  2. ^ Robins, Dan, "Xunzi", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>
  3. ^ Hansen, Chad, "Taoism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>
  4. ^ Ivanhoe, P.J., & Van Norden, B.W. (Eds.) (2001). Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, 2nd Ed. Hackett Publishing Co.: Indianapolis, p. 393