Fraud, murder, courage, and strong will are all words that can be linked to humanity. These words will often raise questions like, who did it, how they did it, or why. Can it be that the true answer to these questions lies in getting a better understanding of our human nature? Does man act according to his divine plan, or is he taught how to act? In analyzing the works of Hsün Tzu and Jean-Paul Sartre, I will determine which of these two philosophers offers the strongest foundation for living an ethical life in the modern era.
Hsün Tzu is one of the main founders of eastern philosophy and is considered one of the three great sages in China along with Mencius and Confucious. Tzu’s style of writing is poetic and easy to understand. In his writings, he repeats his main ideas constantly as if he were preaching. This is a style that we can identify as being used also by some of our politicians, teachers, and clergymen to name a few.
Tzu also states that, “ (man’s) goodness is the result of his activity” (198). This means that a man’s actions are what determine the goodness of such a man’s nature. However, Tzu explains that in reality man acts apparently good but only because his actions of goodness are born from selfish reasons. According to Tzu, because man’s nature is evil and his focus is on personal gain, man seeks the gain that comes from doing good. This idea continues to be argued today. One can find people in either side of this debate almost anywhere and anyplace. It is interesting to learn how his views on this matter originated from so long ago.
Tzu explains that in order for men to reach goodness they must be taught the “Way” by the sages. The Way teaches men the path to righteousness and propriety, he says, “the nature of man is evil. It must depend on teachers and laws to become correct and achieve propriety and righteousness and then it becomes disciplined” (199). Learning the Way is how man can unlearn his evil nature. Similarly, in the world today this philosophy proves to be valuable since we still depend on the elders, on our community, our teachers, and pastors to teach us and younger generations the way to act in harmony with fellow man.
Jean Paul Sartre was a Western French philosopher and wrote some of his major works during World War II. His multiple styles of writing were in the forms of academic essays to novels and many others. He self-described as an atheistic existentialist who believes, “existence precedes essence, or that subjectivity must be the starting point” (143) that is, that man must make subjective choices in his life that are acceptable not only to himself but to others and not find any other excuses for himself.
Sartre explains that, “the existentialist does not think that man is going to help himself by finding in the world some omen by which to orient himself” (147) therefore, according to Sartre, man without God can no-longer use him as an excuse...