Virtually ever since humans began roaming the Earth, there has existed an ongoing debate about whether humans are inherently good or evil. In this paper, I will first summarize and analyze three arguments from philosophers far before our time. In the first discussion, Mencius conveys that humans are fundamentally good. In the following discussions, Xunzi and Plato contend that humans are inherently evil. I will conclude the paper with the argument that the views expressed by Xunzi provide are the strongest of those examined in this paper.
Mencius argues that humans are fundamentally good by establishing that every person has within himself or herself a sense of sympathy and compassion for others. Mencius directly states that “no man is devoid of a heart sensitive to the suffering of others” (“Introducing Philosophy,” page 462). He then provides a hypothetical example of a man sighting a child about to fall into a well. Mencius argues that this man would “certainly be moved to compassion” (“Introducing Philosophy,” page 463) and would save the child. In that split-second decision, the man saved the child on accord of his own sympathy without thought of positive praise from his parents, villagers, or friends, or because he disliked the sound of the child’s cry. The man’s actions were not malicious or selfish, but were instead driven by a sense of concern and consideration rooted in the human race.
Mencius then contends that every human has four ‘germs:’ benevolence, dutifulness, observance of the rites, and wisdom. He maintains that any person devoid of any one of these germs is not human. A person who denies these germs within themselves is only crippling his or her own potential. These germs can be found in a person’s occupation, which a person should be careful in choosing – a doctor is clearly more well-meaning than a coffin-maker, and a maker of armor is more goodhearted than a maker of arrows. Mencius offers that “benevolence is the highest honour bestowed by Heaven” (“Introducing Philosophy,” page 463), and a person can find benevolence within themself.
In contrast to Mencius, Xunzi asserts that humans are inherently evil. The opening statement to his argument sets the tone for his discussion: “The nature of man is evil; his goodness is acquired” (“Introducing Philosophy,” page 464). Xunzi claims that humans are born with selfish desires, and unless raised and taught properly, conflict will arise from the person. Furthermore, people are inherently envious and hateful, resulting in malice unless people are trained otherwise. Finally, people are born with a greediness of beautiful objects and sounds, which develops into excess and disorderliness if not curbed. According to Xunzi, these fundamental traits of humans can be corrected by teachers, laws, order and hierarchy, and the observation of proper etiquette.
While Mencius argued that people learn because they are fundamentally good, Xunzi counters that people learn because they lack...