Free Essay

Mencius and Xunzi on Human Nature

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By yibus310
Words 1022
Pages 5
Mencius and Xunzi on Human Nature

Mencius and Xunzi both follow Confucian philosophy yet have a dramatically different understanding of human nature. Additionally, the two philosophers make their arguments in strikingly different literary methods. Mencius believes that the “goodness of human nature is like the downward course of water” (147) in that people are naturally inclined to be good, and he makes this argument through conversations among friends and public figures. In contrast, Xunzi staunchly argues that “Human nature is evil” (179) and through essays claims that human nature’s only “goodness derives from the conscious activity” (179). The two philosophers both use many metaphors to explain their own interpretation of human nature in different ways. By exploring the philosophies of these two great Confucian thinkers, one better understands the multitude of ways human nature can be explained in Confucianism throughout Chinese history. As the “single most influential contributor to a view of human nature in Confucianized East Asia” (116), Mencius’ philosophy is fundamental. Mencius argues that human nature is good, and “ru” teachings furthered natural tendencies. To explain the natural goodness of human nature Mencius shows that “the goodness of human nature is like the downward course of water.” By this he claims, “there is no human being lacking in the tendency to do good, just as there is no water lacking in the tendency to flow downward” (147). Furthermore he counters the claim that water can be manipulated to go many directions by rationalizing that, “while people can be made to do what is not good, what happens to their nature is like this”(147). Overall, this metaphor is used to show that without manipulation or outside forces, people naturally want to do good things. Additionally, Mencius asserts that the innate knowledge and ability, that of the child, is original and good due to the natural human tendency toward goodness. He explains that, “what people are able to do without having learned it is original, good ability. What they know without having to think about it is original, good knowledge” (156). Furthermore he gives the practical example that, “there are no young children who do not know to love their parents” (156). Another metaphor, that of the child falling into the well, advances the idea that this innate knowledge can be found in all people. Mencius explains that a man upon seeing a, “child falling in to a well, his mind would always be filled with alarm” therefore, “all human beings have a mind that cannot bear to see the sufferings of others (129). By claiming that a man can not help but feel this alarm naturally supports Mencius’ idea that by nature humans can not bear to see the suffering of other. Finally, Mencius uses the example of Ox Mountain, which was once beautifully covered in trees but is now bare to show the transformation of the outward appearance of human nature. Upon seeing, “this barrenness, people suppose that the mountain was never wooded. But how could this be the nature of the mountain?” (151) He asks. By this Mencius illustrates that one might suppose that a man never had the capacity for goodness just because he does not now follow the Way, however just as is the mountains nature to be wooded, it is man’s nature to be good. In contrast to Mencius optimistic thoughts on human nature, Xunzi argues that, “human nature is evil; its goodness derives from the conscious activity” (179). By this Xunzi means that human nature tends towards a “fondness for profit…envy and hate…beautiful sights and sounds…” and “following human nature and indulging human emotions will inevitably lead to contention and strife” (180). Such a grim outlook on human nature likely derives from the tremulous and violent time period in which he developed these philosophies. Xunzi’s journeys during the Warring States Period likely had an impact on his pessimistic stance on human nature. However, Xunzi explains that these low human desires can be and should be controlled and directed by means of ritual and teachings. He praises the value of teachers as a way of practicing virtue and claims, “one must be transformed by the example of a teacher and guided by the way of ritual and rightness before one will attain modestly and yielding, accord with refinement and ritual, and return to order” (180). Xunzi refutes the idea that ritual and rightness are part of human nature and instead are the result of activity through the metaphor of a potter and carpenter. Xunzi rationalizes, “a potter may mold clay and produce an earthen pot, but how could molding pots of clay be the potter’s nature? A carpenter may carve wood and produce utensils but how could carving utensils out of wood be the carpenter’s nature?” (182). In this metaphor Xunzi illustrates how rituals are the result of conscious activity, and these rituals “established models and limits in order to reform and improve the human emotional nature” (180). Without such limits to evil human nature, society would fall into chaos. Mencius, in each of his metaphors illustrates how human nature has a tendency to be good. In contrast Xunzi’s metaphors and explanations illustrate his claim that human nature is bad. Although these two thinkers differ greatly in philosophy, they share the idea that governance and personal cultivation have a close relationship. Mencius’ belief that human nature is good is related to his idea of proper governance. Leading by example allows people to follow the Way and to be in touch with their true human nature, and therefore Heaven. In contrast, Xunzi believes that evil human nature can be curbed and directed through conscious activity and ritual so as to allow for order in government. Finally, the two, as “ru” thinkers, also believe in the ability of humans in general to aspire to higher personal cultivation. Mencius states, “if one does what is not good, that is not the fault of ones capacities” (149) and similarly Xunzi also claims, “The man on the street can become a Yu” (183) meaning any man on the street has the natural endowment needed to understand virtue.

Similar Documents

Premium Essay

Science

...Wang Fuzhi (1619–1692) was a Chinese philosopher of the late Ming, early Qing dynasties. Wang Fuzhi inherited and further developed the materialism of his predecessors and established the system of Simple Materialism. He believes that the world is material; material is primary and eternal. Wang Fuzhi (1619–1692) was a Chinese philosopher of the late Ming, early Qing dynasties. Wang Fuzhi inherited and further developed the materialism of his predecessors and established the system of Simple Materialism. He believes that the world is material; material is primary and eternal. Zhu Xi (1130 – 1200) was a Song Dynasty Confucian scholar who was the most influential rationalist Neo-Confucian in China. His synthesis of Neo-Confucian thought long dominated Chinese intellectual life. He assigned special significance to the The Four Books and emphsized on the investigation of things (Gewu), and the synthesis of all fundamental Confucian concepts. Zhu Xi (1130 – 1200) was a Song Dynasty Confucian scholar who was the most influential rationalist Neo-Confucian in China. His synthesis of Neo-Confucian thought long dominated Chinese intellectual life. He assigned special significance to the The Four Books and emphsized on the investigation of things (Gewu), and the synthesis of all fundamental Confucian concepts. Huang Zongxi (1610 – 1695) was a Chinese thinker during the latter part of the Ming dynasty and the early part the Qing Dynasty. Huang was well-known for being one of the......

Words: 1044 - Pages: 5

Free Essay

Mencius and Xunzi on Cultivation

...ethical outlook that was developed further by prime disciples Mencius and Xunzi. This development took place amidst the background of arguments against other thinkers or in response to their criticisms of Confucianism. However, there was a disagreement within the Confucian school, as well, as shown by Xunzi’s critique of Mencius. It may be perceived that Mencius has the dominant position in the Confucian tradition as Mencius’s belief that human nature is originally good has often been interpreted into certain sayings of Confucius. Additionally, Xunzi’s claim that human nature is “evil” and that people can be transformed to become good may be inconsistent, as they imply Mencius’s claim that human nature is inherently good. For this reason, it is crucial to analyze both thinkers separately as integration of one thinker’s original thought to another may obscure the important aspects of the assimilated thinker’s position. Secondly, this method of analysis will show that the debate is not one conducted from extreme opposites as it may seem at first sight, for both Mencius and Xunzi agreed that man must cultivate his goodness consciously regardless of whether he is born with it or acquires it from the state. The differences in their views on human nature lead to the ultimate difference of interpretation of the betterment of human nature. Although both philosophers had differences, their ultimate goal was to suggest that human beings can be good and this is what the state needed in......

Words: 2133 - Pages: 9

Free Essay

China Religion

...Philosophy and Religion China’s history has been full of richness of culture, mainly due to how they progressed with philosophy and religion. Since the beginning of the Chinese’s civilization philosophy and religion has been at the forefront of Chinese culture. From the ancient oracle bones and bronze inscriptions to the development of different schools of thought, the Chinese have always been adept for the time period in philosophy and religion. And over the course of their history they have combined the two in a manner that suits their needs, through this evolution and combination of the two they have become a strong nation. Oracle bones were the corner stone of the early Chinese dynasties such as the Shang from around 1200-1050 B.C (Shang pg. 1). In one of the articles it attempts to explain the use of these bones by saying that the kings of the Shang Dynasty would “attempt to communicate with the spiritual forces that ruled their world by reading the stress cracks in cattle bones…” (Shang 1). These kings would apply a heated poker to the bones which would produce cracks that they would analyze based on the direction and deepness of the crack. Recently these bones and the records of the king’s analyzation were uncovered. An estimated 150,000 oracle bones were found, and have references to the god of the Shang, Di (Shang pg. 1). This type of analysis by the kings is an early form of a religion, and the building blocks for later philosophy and schools of thought in China’s...

Words: 1428 - Pages: 6

Free Essay

Mencius on Human Nature

...Mencius' philosophy about human nature improves upon Taoism and Confucianism in that it is more rational in concern with the human's development in relation to it's environment. Taoists believed that humans did not need cultural refinement, adjustment, or molding based on an external environment, but that it was only their pre-existing natural inborn goodness that needed to be tapped into. Confucians (like the Xunzi for example) thought that people were born innately evil. Mencius improved upon both of those by claiming the natural genetic state of humans is good only with the potential of the environment to develop that natural goodness. Mencius' message did not entail that all humans are born good, but that humans are born with certain positive instinctual temperaments that are made good by personal development and molding from interaction with the environment. Within the analogy of the four germ sprouts, Mencius states four potentials that are hardwired into human genes; “From the feeling of commiseration benevolence grows; from the feeling of shame righteousness grows; from the feeling of courtesy ritual grows; from a sense of right and wrong, wisdom grows. People have these four germs, just as they have four limbs”. These views on human behavior point more toward modern psychology/sociology because they accept that innate human states are less significant than their position within the context of an influence from their environment. Mencius responds to Gaozi's...

Words: 349 - Pages: 2

Premium Essay

Chinese Religions

...Most Chinese have shown themselves to be concerned primarily with the human person and society. More interestingly, the Chinese people seem to have liberty in choosing their faith based on their own thought and beliefs. Confucianism is upon the most contradictory tradition of the Chinese religions. Confucius teachings were elaborated from two distinct people about human virtue and social life. Confucius was the founder of Confucianism and believed that government must be founded on virtue. In other words, a person should have a moral power to be a ruler. However, Confucius follower, Mencius, elaborated about human virtue and good government, proclaiming the original goodness of human nature. Mencius thought humans were predisposed to doing good things because of the compassionate characteristics humans hold. Further, humans in society have a tendency to act shameful in doing something wrong and to help other when we see someone in need. Conflicting to Mencius’ philosophy of human nature, are Xunzi’s views. Xunzi believed that humans are egocentric people and very driven by our desires. Further, he claimed that humans were originally evil and become good only through strict laws and harsh punishments. From my own personal belief, Xunzi’s views are much more credible and understanding. In my eyes, humans are naturally meant to do wrong. As discussed in class, this is a “dog-eat-dog” world. It is in our nature, once brought into the world, to defend ourselves in all possible......

Words: 433 - Pages: 2

Free Essay

Education in Chinese Philosophy

...instance, they all placed radically different values on education. In particular, Confucianism promoted intellectual pursuit for both the individual and the populace, whereas Legalism and Taoism had a diverging attitude that was strongly against education. The Confucian ideology is the only one of the aforementioned schools to place a heavy emphasis on intellectual cultivation for both personal purposes and for the sake of a virtuous government. The philosophy looks down on those with faith in intuition and natural understanding, which is a notion that is present in Taoism. They believe that genuine understanding derives primarily from studying a subject; it does not necessarily come to someone spontaneously. Confucius supposedly said, “By nature men are alike. Through practice they have become far apart” (Analects 17:2, Chan 29). He outlines that men are inherently good for the most part, but interaction with the surrounding environment can significantly mold their values. The influences of external forces are not always for the better and people will often need...

Words: 1700 - Pages: 7

Premium Essay

History

...character and practiced on how to restore political and social order. His ideas concentrated on the formation of junzi or superior individuals and did not allow personal interests influence their judgements. Confucius had edited the Zhou classics for his disciples to study. Ren, an example of key Confucian values, was a sense of humanity, kindness, and benevolence. There was also Li, a sense of propriety, courtesy, respect, and deference to elders. Lastly, there was Xiao, afilial piety and familial obligation. He wanted to cultivate personal morality and junzi for bringing order to China. One of the spokesmen for Confucian school was Mencius, who believed in the goodness of human nature, an example of ren, and advocated for a government by benevolence and humanity. Xunzi, an example of Li, had a less positive view of human nature and believed that humans selfishly pursue their own interests. He preferred harsh social discipline to bring order to society and advocated for moral education and good public behavior. Daoism...

Words: 877 - Pages: 4

Free Essay

The Confucian Conception of Persons

...Nothing in the canon of early Confucians directly corresponds with the concept of a person.[1] Yet, the philosophical content of their works seems to commit Confucius and those who followed in his wake to various implications about persons. Three recent thinkers have been especially important in trying to specify the features of a Confucian theory of the person. Herbert Fingarettes’s Confucius: The Secular as Sacred is roughly of the same vintage as John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, and while it is a much more slender volume, it has had within its sphere a similarly far-reaching influence.[2] In the wake of Fingarette’s work, two other important essays were produced in honor of Fingarette: “Rights-Bearing Individuals and Role-Bearing Persons,” by Henry Rosemont Jr., and “Reflections on the Confucian Self: A Response to Fingarette,” by Roger T. Ames.[3] Each of these thinkers sees Confucius as offering an alternative understanding to the received Cartesian view of the person. In each case, the Confucian stance on the person is interpreted as being overwhelmingly social as opposed to the western view, which is characterized as being impossibly individualistic. Against these three currents, I will argue here that the Confucian understanding of a person is not so alien to western understandings, and I will use the seminal piece by P.F. Strawson on persons to demonstrate this.[4] Since I will refer to it throughout the treatment of the other authors, I will begin by briefly......

Words: 3417 - Pages: 14

Free Essay

1. “Human Nature Is Bad.”-- Xunzi / "人之性惡." -- 荀子 Explain Why You Agree or Disagree with Xunzi's Statement.

...Human’s unspeakable history of savagery, murder and war – be it the Nazi genocide of six million Jews in World War II or the gang rape and murder of a mentally-challenged woman in India this year – appears to be in substantiation of Xunzi’s notion that human nature is bad. Nonetheless, there is no lack of incidents shedding light on the empathy, selflessness and righteousness of humans in such cases as the engineers on RMS Titanic discharging their duties till the very last moment of their lives or the three men succumbing to massive doses of radiation to save millions of others in Chernobyl. Human nature defined as our intuitive and automatic impulses as opposed to rational reflection based on conscious thoughts, our tendencies towards altruism point to the goodness of human nature, coupled with the external influence contributing to the bad behavior, thus refuting the statement that human nature is bad. To commence with, the altruistic deeds performed for people in distress serve as corroboration of human nature being good. Despite the contention ventured by believers of the evil nature of human that altruism is disguised self-interest, such a claim is repudiated by innumerable and consistent instances of people helping others in jeopardy. The promptness exhibited in such decisions precludes the materialization of conscious weighing of costs and benefits, which would have otherwise forestalled the assistance rendered in traumatic events like the September 11 attacks.......

Words: 1171 - Pages: 5

Premium Essay

The Asian History

...The Origins of the Chinese Empire, to 220 C.E. these cities, built by rulers to move troops and supplies, were traveled by traders transporting such items as metal tools and utensils, lacquered wood plates and boxes, silk, pottery, gems, salt, and lumber. A money economy emerged, using copper coins called cash, with center holes for stringing them together for counting and carrying. China's towns and cities were likewise linked into a large economic system . Trade between China and distant lands A metal bell from the Zhou era. was difficult and dangerous, but by the era's end commerce was conducted by sea with Southeast Asia and by land routes crossing Central Asia. The Central Asian Connection Central Asia, a vast expanse to China's north and west where the climate was too dry for farming (Map 2), was home mainly to pastoral nomads who grazed herds on its plateaus and plains. Skilled on horseback, the nomads occasionally attacked Chinese settlements to carry off goods and supplies, but they also spread commerce and useful knowledge. Some nomads, for example, exchanged their Central Asian nomads connect China with other cultures Nomads and Chinese adopt horse riding and crossbows from each other Iron tools and weapons spread to China, enhancing farming and warfare hides, wool, and horses for Chinese silk, pottery, metalware, and wood products and then traded these items with other societies across Central Asia. Over time, connections with the...

Words: 18516 - Pages: 75