Mengzi and Xunzi on Human Nature

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Bryan Soriano Professor Pedro Monque Theories of Human Nature October 14, 2018 Human Nature’s true nature: It is a controversial question on the nature of a human. Both Mengzi and Xunzi disagree on the answer but their arguments on how to nurture one in order for them to realize this nature are similar in many areas. These views aren’t necessarily factual as they are open to interpretation and will have different answers depending on who you ask, but their thoughts and arguments that they use to help their case are interesting in that they have strong claims to support.

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I will show the consistencies between Mengzi and Xunzi’s arguments. Mengzi uses the term “sprouts” as a metaphor as how a human is raised with ideas. The way in which Mengzi believes these sprouts can be tended to is through a means of ethical cultivation. Ethical cultivation would mean that one would have to introduce and teach the concept of morality, of what is right and wrong when living in a society. Of course these ideas instilled upon them will only continue to develop as they grow older and experience all there is to life.

Mengzi argues that a bad environment can “destroy one’s original nature”. Some of Mengzi’s arguments seem to support Xunzi’s claims. Mengzi’s idea of cultivation is a form of governing one’s mind at a young age, teaching them from our experience of what it is to be good and bad. Mengzi wants humans to be raised with someone showing them the things they are supposed to do (Societal norm) because no one is born with a sense of how to act, they are born with no sense anything. Parents are given the order on how they should the child, according to what is expected of them by society. Mengzi’s confucian beliefs view parents and ancestors as figures to always hold with high respect, while also respecting tradition. Mengzi believes in the old ways of tradition and ritual to be enough for a person to understand the value of life. Xunzi compares the process of growth to that of making a tool or a weapon because things like morality and purpose has to be taught to slowly “straighten the wood” as he would say. The more knowledge a person can acquire will lead them closer to “moral perfection”. Xunzi wants rules to constantly be reminded to a person for them to truly understand. He says that it can only happen if it is slow and difficult.

A person is born with the nature of chaos, meaning they can do whatever they want without any consequence, so in order for a person with no sense of morality to be taught, they have to constantly be reminded what is right and wrong, what they are allowed to do and how they should behave. These teachings are more of rules to follow instead of guides to follow. Life is about how much you can grow and learn from each new experience and Xunzi wants us to understand that it is the only way to achieve perfection in ourselves. While Mengzi’s claims were never made to argue Xenzi’s point and their points seem to support one another in the ways of how a human should be raised to end up as an accepted member of society. Xunzi is also a confucianist that believes that ritual is necessary so it would make sense that there are similar arguments in their claims. When Xunzi’s ideas were rejected just for saying that the human nature is bad, people turned back to Mengzi’s ideas, showing that human nature tends to stick with the way that things were before. This instance supports both their claims that Humans stick with traditions and are restrained by the established rules of society. The concept of changing the way of thinking made them not know what to do other then try and keep it the same because they know it worked before. Without established rules being enforced, there would be chaos.

From Mengzi’s perspective, raising a person is more about guidance and wisdom like tending to a plant; he wants us to use prior knowledge in order to make someone else understand it. Xunzi’s views are more authoritative in the way he describes the process of raising a human by saying that they have to be shaped and straightened like wood because if no one is enforcing the rules, then the human would grow up only seeking chaos for they don’t know their own limitations. A person has to know their purpose in living to avoid the bad side of their nature. Both philosophers do understand their arguments and any of the two ways can be argued to be right but Xunzi seems to have a better understanding of human nature. Specifically, he has a better understanding of human behaviors and how to control it. Xunzi understands that no human can grow to be good without someone stopping them. People do things because of the concept of consequences and morality, Xunzi believes that a newborn has no sense of morality for it is a social construct that is instilled in them as they grow and over time, they will come to understand.

Mengzi also has some socialist ideologies based on the claim that “The effort to base one’s actions on, benefit or profit, even if it is the profit of one’s kingdom as a whole, will be self-defeating.” His views are more focused on how one should be living as a part of society or a family instead of living for their own gain. Not understanding the importance of where you came from and how things have come to be will lead to one’s own personal defeat. Xunzi sees it in a more personal perspective, wanting a person to learn more about the world around them in order to eventually achieve moral perfection. They both share the same ideas of wisdom but Mengzi believes that the wisdom of others and our trust in their knowledge is what’s important, while Xunzi wants a person to know their limitations and the value of the world around them to understand their worth.

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Mengzi and Xunzi on Human Nature. (2019, Feb 09). Retrieved from