Human Nature by Mencius And Xunzi

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Despite the fact that they were both Confucianists, Mencius and Xanzi had very different perspectives on human nature. Mencius argues that humans are naturally nice. Xunzi, on the other hand, believes that human nature is flawed and can only be improved via the application of righteousness norms. Because these two thinkers perceive the world differently, they build divergent views about human nature. Their opposing perspectives on human nature influence how they perceive the human society as well as old rites and rituals.

Mencius believes that humans are born with compassion. He claims that ""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" (De Bary 147).It is in us to help a fellow human in times of danger or any harmful situation that they may face. Although compassion is the first principle of human nature, humans become corrupt because of bad teachings (Yangzi and mozi) from the society. However, there is no possible threat that can detain humans from moral good if they nurture their nature in the right way, which can be done through rites and rituals (li). Human nature already has the required predispositions which include compassion, disdain, feelings of approval and disapproval, and deference to become good (De Bary 123). These predispositions are the sprouts of goodness, and one has to cultivate them throughout their life. It is a process that needs commitment, discipline and years of hard work. A person who cultivates them through old rites and also nurtures them through rituals gains sweet and healthy fruits i.e. moral goodness. Mencius argues that humans should practice self-cultivation, not to turn something bad or neutral into a good thing, but to make something good even better.

Xunzi's view of human nature is completely different from Mencius'. He believes that human nature is bad from birth because all humans possess egoistic desires. According to Xunzi, humans have no compassion for fellow human beings but always seek for means to satisfy their selfish interests first. He provides the example that when one is hungry, the natural thing is to eat without thinking about anyone else first (De Bary 185). It is only artificial social convention that can make a person think about letting others eat before him. Our desires are insatiable and need to be transformed and not cultivated as Mencius suggested. Desires are dangerous for two main reasons. Firstly, they are a cause for chaos in society because searching for the means to satisfy everyone's desires is chaotic. This is because interests will always clash hence there would never be order and unity in the society. The second reason is that human desires are non-finite. Even if a person is able to satisfy one desire, there will always be others that force them to seek for more gratification. Therefore due to these reasons, there must be a mechanism that prevents the evils of desires. Rites and rituals, referred to as Li, are the mechanism that which Xunzi terms as standards of righteousness and can be used to set a limit to our endless desires (De Bary 181). Li endorses social distinctions which are critical in maintaining social order and also unifies people and harmonizes societies. Without rites and rituals, everything would be in chaos, and human existence would be threatened.

It is important to note that both philosophers acknowledge that human nature is characterized by good emotions as well as bad or selfish emotions. There always is, therefore, an internal struggle to retain the good emotions and eradicate the selfish emotions that is influenced by rites and rituals as well as the world around us. Both philosophers agree that by performing rites and rituals, an individual can achieve goodness. Xanzi does not contradict Mencius view that from birth, human beings possess certain emotions that can lead to morality. It can, however, be argued that their disagreement arises from their different understanding of the concept of nature. For Mencius, all species have a nature that is innate and unique to only them. Therefore human beings also have moral inclinations which he terms as "moral potentials inherent in each person" he classifies these moral potentials as the four beginnings; humanness, wisdom, propriety, and rightness.

On the other hand, Xunzi describes human nature as inborn and not something that requires effort to complete. According to Xunzi, human nature is comprised of innate and spontaneously developed habits such as selfishness and violence instead of moral inclinations. Therefore because of their different definitions of nature, their view on how a man can become good or maximize the goodness within himself also varies. Mencius argues that individual betterment can be achieved through cultivation while Xunzi is of the opinion that it can be achieved through transformation (De Bary 182). There has to be external influence from sages and teachers for transformation to be achieved; otherwise, the individual retains their selfish and violent emotions.

From the arguments made by the two philosophers and from personal experiences in life, I tend to agree with Mencius that human nature is inherently good. It was his view that evil cannot be blamed on inborn capacities. People are molded by the beliefs, values, and attitudes they acquire as they grow up and it is these factors that influence their choices in life as well as who they grow to become. People who turn out to be serial killers would not be capable of such evil at age two or five. The same can be said of teenagers with antisocial tendencies although such behavior may become the foundation for other actions and events that from which it can be concluded that the person is evil. Moreover, it can be argued that the individual who becomes a serial killer has had bad experiences that damaged them put them on the path of becoming a such a person instead of, say a nurse.

The example that if a person saw a child fall into a well, their natural reaction would be to try and save them shows that goodness is in our nature. A person would not react like that because they seek appreciation or recognition from the child's parent as Xanzi implies in his philosophy. Such a reaction is natural because humans possess the four beginnings as which are the essence of the human condition. Although he believed humans were naturally good, Mencius also recognizes that evil exists. People can develop evil tendencies because of negative influences from the society. He provides the example of malevolent rulers and the general perception that the youth were violent and reckless (De Bary 134). However, Mencius believed that the youth acted in such a manner because they felt oppressed by tyrannical rulers. A relevant example is the recent Arab spring whereby similar behavior was exhibited by many citizens in Arab countries who rose up and rioted against regimes they felt were oppressive.

It is my opinion that evil prevails in situations where poor circumstances collide with a poor personality. It is possible that two people with the same background and who have had similar experiences can grow to be completely different people. It all depends on the whether the individual has resilience or lacks it. At the same time, people who are able to bounce back from traumatic experiences or unfortunate circumstances have a higher likelihood of having a strong character and being morally upright. For instance, resilience can be seen in women who, having experienced abuse as children, show resilience by helping victims of child abuse. On the other hand, the less resilient may perpetrate the same abusive treatment they got on their children. Evil only exists after certain conditions are met. The evil in us only emerges after some actions are taken, and without such action, no evil can exist. It is my belief therefore that our nature as humans is defined by goodness rather than evil.

Significantly, both Mencius and Xanzi agree that man can be good and man can be bad. Moral goodness is something that every human being is born with as no one is born evil. Man is born with compassion for other beings and only changes due to influence from the society, and kind of experiences they are exposed to as they grow up. According to Mencius, although we are inherently good, everyone has to make the effort to cultivate good sprouts that we possess from birth.

Work cited

De Bary, William Theodore. Sources Of Chinese Tradition. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1999. Print.

April 26, 2023

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