The Inherent Nature of Man
There are two conflicting views on human nature. Chinese scholar Hsun Tzu believed that man’s nature is evil and when man acts “good” it is only the result of what he called “conscious activity. ” In the text, he describes conscious activity as “the part [of man] that can be acquired by learning and brought to completion by effort. ” In other words, Hsun Tzu believed that man is naturally selfish, and that unless there are rules and principles put in place to guide men away from his natural inclinations, society would disintegrate into chaos and violence.
Mencius, another Chinese scholar and fellow student of Confucius, believed the opposite. He thought that human nature is ultimately good and that people learn to be evil from various influences and experiences in their life. After reading both essays, it was extremely difficult for me to decide which author I agreed with. Hsun Tzu’s essay was a direct criticism of the essay written by Mencius and there were some very good examples of why he believed man is evil. However, in the end, my choice was to go with my instinctual belief that human nature is inherently good.
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If man’s nature were evil, no man would be able to come up with the concepts of rituals and principles. Hsun Tzu tries to refute this is his essay, but I did not think his explanation made sense at all. Based on the two essays I read and my experiences in life in general, it is my opinion that human nature is ultimately good. Wikipedia defines human nature as “the distinguishing characteristics… that humans tend to have naturally, i. e. , independently of the influence of culture. Mencius likened human nature to the nature of water. Human nature is inherently good like water naturally flows downhill. However, human nature can be distorted just like water can be manipulated to behave in a way that is neither normal to it nor expected of it. When Mencius asserts that human nature is good, by “good” he means not that most people are good, but that evil is an anomaly. The fact that we have the capability to be good is what makes us good. I have always believed that people are born good.
What happens to an individual over the course of time along with ones ingrained beliefs, values, and attitudes influences the choices that individual will make and what kind of a person they will become. Mencius believed that evil couldn’t be blamed on inborn capacities. I agree with this statement. A person could grow up to be a serial killer, but I don’t believe that that same individual is capable of evil at two years old, or even five. Even antisocial tendencies as a teenager cannot be considered evil, although they may be the foundation of a series of actions and events that will eventually form the idea that this is an evil person.
Further, the individual who grows up to be a serial killer has almost certainly had events transpire in his life that damaged him and put him on the path to becoming a serial killer rather than, say, an accountant. Mencius discussed the difference between benevolence and righteousness. According to an entry about Mencius in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, benevolence is basically concern for others and a love for fellow human beings. Mencius believed that benevolence is an intrinsic part of human nature and that, as humans, we cannot bear to see another human suffering.
Mencius said that when an individual sees a small child fall into a well, our natural tendency is to panic, to feel anxiety, and to try to rescue the child. We don’t do this because we want recognition from the child’s parents or because we want to enhance our reputations, as Hsun Tzu would say that we do. We try to save the child because it is in our nature. Mencius believed that all humans possess certain qualities that are the essence of the human condition. The qualities are benevolence, righteousness, ritual propriety, and wisdom.
All humans have innate feelings of compassion, feelings of contempt, beliefs about what is or isn’t deserving of respect, and categorical standards for what we approve of and what we disapprove of. These innate feelings are the basis for the qualities of the human condition, respectively. Although Mencius considered human nature to be inherently good, he did not deny the existence of evil. He believed that society influenced people in a way that could result in the development of evil. In his essay, he referred to instances of malevolent rulers and how the general consensus about the youth was that they were violent and reckless.
Mencius believed that these young people acted this way because they were under the regime of a tyrannical dictator. More recently, an example of the same kind of behavior occurred in Egypt last year when the Egyptian people were extremely unhappy with their leader and demonstrated that by participating in riots and taking on police and military. I believe that evil develops when poor circumstances meet with a weak personality. Two people can come from the same background and have similar experiences yet turn out completely different. The reason for this is resilience or the lack of it.
When a person can rebound from traumatic experiences and unfortunate circumstances, they are more likely to have a strong character and be a moral person. For instance, a woman who was abused as a child going on to help victims of child abuse as an adult is an example of resilience. Another woman who was abused as a child may go on to abuse her children. Specific conditions must be met in order to produce evil. Since an individual must take some sort of action to produce evil, and if no action is taken, no evil can exist, I believe it is goodness that defines our human nature, and not evil.