Examining Contending Views on Human Nature: Mancius vs. Xunzi
Throughout human intellectual history, mankind has debated the question: “are humans good by nature?” Do humans do good out of only self-centered motivations, or is there an internal built-in sense of morality? Today, we face this problem more than ever. For example, if a lawyer argues a killer’s intentions for committing heinous crimes originate from the fact that he has a tendency towards naturally incompetency, or if outside influences turned a naturally well-to-do individual into a ill-willed murderer. Mencius and Xunzi are among the most notable Confucian scholars, yet their differing views on this philosophical conundrum set them apart. Mencius maintained an optimistic stance on humans, while Xunzi believed that humans were ill-willed by nature and in need of rigorous moral education and reform. Both scholars had a large impact on the interpretations of Confucian doctrines and the strive for moral cultivation throughout Chinese history. This makes their unique stances on human nature especially relevant when examining Chinese as well as human civilization as a whole. In this paper, I will argue that although contemporary philosophers in today’s society would most readily agree with much of Mencius’ moral philosophy, Xunzi has a more realistic perspective on contemporary societal ideologies. In order to accurately purvey my argument I will use the primary sources; Mencius: a new translation arranged and annotated for the general reader; and Xunzi: a translation and study of the complete works translated and arranged respectively by W. A. C. H. Dobson and John Knoblock. I will also use a number of historical and contemporary secondary sources to assist and further my argument.
This paper consists of a concise linear argument on the positioning of Mencius and Xunzi’s views on human nature in relation to modern society and common contemporary notions of human morality. The first section will deal with the similarities between the two philosophers beliefs and methodologies, and their interpretations in the modern day. Then, the essay will individually analyze first Mencius, then Xunzi’s fundamental stance on human nature using the primary sources mentioned above. Subsequently, I will reiterate the primary stance of my thesis and support it using the primary and second sources that I have acknowledged in the body of my paper. Finally, I will conclude by examining these two competing beliefs in light of modern interpretations of human nature.
It is necessary to observe that Xunzi and Mencius both acknowledged that humans in general have both good and bad emotions as well sentiments of selfishness and selflessness. Furthermore, their belief system is built on the fact that humans’ internal battle to cultivate good sentiments and purge the bad ones is influenced by nature and external environments, and that by performing rituals one can achieve moral enlightenment and inherent...