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...
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