HUMAN NATURE: Good or Evil? A Debate Between MengZi and XunZi
HUMAN NATURE Etymology: Natus - “born” Nascor - “to be born” Naturus - “about to be born” Definition: denotes literally everything that is going to be born or is contained in the fact itself of birth as its possible consequence.
MengZi (372-238 BC) “Mencius” Born in Zhou Came from an aristocratic Mang Sun family of the state of Lu Studied under Kong’s great grandson Zi Si. Became an influential Confucian thinker. Like Kong Zi, MengZi too was an educator par excellence.
Kong Zi (551-469 BC) “Confucius” The Sage, The Master, The most revered of teachers He was a private teacher and is believed to have had more than 3,000 students, 70 of whom became his best disciples. The philosophy of the Master is centered on man. Philosophy started with man… “was bold, poised, stimulating, humane and wholesome…”
Kong Zi belongs to the School of the Literati or RuJia, which was later known as Confucianism.
Kong Zi always considered man the center of his philosophy and tried to develop the microcosmic man as the paragon of a perfect family and a perfect society.
Human Nature is Good “Water, indeed, is indifferent to east and west, but is it indifferent to high and low? Man’s nature is naturally good as water naturally flows downward. There is no man without this good nature; neither is there water that does not flow downward. Now can you strike water and cause it to splash upward over your forehead, and by damning and leading it, you can force it uphill. Is this the nature of water?”
The Four Seeds of Goodness MengZi believes that one is born with innate seeds of goodness: Sense of Pity Sense of Right and Wrong Sense of good and evil Sense of truth and falsity.
CULTIVATION OF THE SEEDS Sense of Pity Virtue of Renor Benevolence Sense of Right Virtue of Yi or and Wrong Righteousness Sense of Good Virtue of Li or and Evil Propriety Sense of Truth Virtue of Zhi and Falsity or Wisdom
MengZi says… “The feeling of commiseration belongs to all men; so does that of shame and dislike and that of reverence ad respect; and that of approving and disapproving. The feeling of commiseration implies the principle of benevolence (REN); that of shame and dislike, the principle of righteousness (YI); that of reverence and respect, the principle of propriety (LI); and that of principle of approving and disapproving (ZHI).”
Four Seeds of Goodness: Sense of Pity Sense of Right and Wrong Sense of Good and Evil Sense of Truth and Falsity Four Cultivated Virtues: Ren - Benevolence Yi – Righteousness Li – Propriety Zhi – Wisdom or Knowledge
FOR MENG ZI: Man was obviously formed for virtue As human nature is intrinsically good, it is morally perfectible because man has already within him the seeds of innate goodness. Virtues are the blooming of these innate seeds. The blooming of the seeds are due to the learning and educative training undergone by the individual. Education
But what causes evil…? We are all equally men; yet some become GREAT and some become SMALL. GREAT Men (Moral) follow the great part of themselves, i.e. the heart or reason. SMALL Men (Evil) follow the small part of themselves, i.e. senses. By coming in contact with things via senses, we are led astray But by thinking, one obtains what is good.
One who uses reason cannot be but good, while one who allows himself to be led by the “desires” of the senses will become evil. The differences among men are not due to the natural endowment from T’ien, but due to the way each man tries to cultivate these natural endowments.
For while all are the same in their inherent nature, they are different in their ability for recognition and apprehension Their abilities do not come spontaneously from the heart as innate capacities but rather as results of one’s conduct of development and conduct in one’s daily life.
Learning as Self-Cultivation The whole process of learning should be focused in the development of moral character. The end of learning is nothing but the search for the lost heart. To seek for the lost heart is nothing but the recovery of one’s original good nature and preservation .
HUMAN NATURE IS EVIL: His goodness is only an acquired training. XunZi
XunZi (320-235 BC) Confucian Philosopher Born in Zhao in Shanshi He was born when MengZi was 50 years old. Unlike MengZi, XunZi was more unorthodox in his acceptance of Kong Zi’s philosophy. Came up with a fresh interpretation of Kong Zi.
Evilness For XunZi, evilness consists in: Desire for personal benefit Inclination to seek praise and admiration Vices of pride, envy, lust, hatred and rebellion.
“The original nature of man today is to seek for gain, which results to strife and rapacity, and courtesy dies. Man originally is envious and naturally hates others, injury and destruction follow, loyalty and faithfulness are destroyed. Man originally possesses the desire of the ear and the eye, he likes praise and is lustful. If these are followed, impurity an disorder result, and the rules of Li and Yi and etiquette are destroyed.
“Human Nature is Evil!” Positive Statement: Human nature only results in strife and confusion and violence. Negative Statement: The original nature of man to-day is evil, so he needs to udergo the instructions of teachers and laws, only then will he be upright.
Causes of Evil Not Nature itself. But the interaction of such nature with the external factor will naturally spell evil. “People desire and hate the same things. Their desires are many but things are few. Since they are few, there will inevitably STRIFE.” Human desires which cannot be fulfilled due to the limitation of worldly goods gives rise to evil in the world. All human tendencies that are drawn by impulse lead to evil.
GOODNESS as Acquired, Not Natural MengZi Says: “The fact that men are teachable shows that their original nature is good. “ XunZi says: “This is not so… Whatever belongs to original nature is the gift of Nature. It cannot be learned. The Sage-kings brought forth the rules of proper conduct Li and Yi. Men learn them and gain ability; they work for them and obtain results in the development of character… THIS IS THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN ORIGINAL NATURE AND ACQUIRED CHARACTER.”
The Natural Tendency “Now the nature of man is that when he is hungry, he desires repletion when he is cold, he desires warmth; when he labours, he seeks rest. This is man’s natural feeling. …But now when a man is hungry and he sees food, he dares not rush ahead of others; instead he yield to others. When tired, he dares not to seek rest, instead he works for others… ARE CONTRARY TO ORIGINAL NATURE AND ANTAGONISTIC TO HUMAN FEELINGS.”
INBORN NATURE ACQUIRED CHARACTER A congenital characteristic capable of development. The result of individual effort “Crooked wood needs to undergo steaming and bending to conform to the carpenter’s rule; only then is it straight. Blunt metal needs to undergo grinding and whetting; only then is it sharp.”
“The doctrine that man’s original nature is good implies that without growing away from his first state, he becomes admirable; without growing away with his natural disposition, he becomes beneficial.
Evil tendencies are innate in man while virtues are not inborn. Man is praised and admired not because of NATURE, but because he has polished his original crude and evil self.
Conquering Evilness Human Nature tends to evil, but one has an infinite capacity for development in the direction of good as well. Man is endowed with intelligence at birth and that this reasoning faculty enables him to transform the crude self into a mature and polished personality through an endless process of cultivation.
The Role of Education Man is transformed from being crooked to becoming a worthy citizen of the state . Not only to improve one’s corrupted nature, but also to counteract evil impulses so that one might acquire some goodness to transform his evil nature.
XunZi regarded goodness as the hard-earned achievement of diligence and art, for virtues are not gifts from T’ien but are human accomplishments. If MengZi saw goodness as something innate and then lost through negligence and an evil environment.