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Mencius (Mengzi) well known as Master Meng was a fourth- century BCE Chinese philosopher whose significance in the Confucian tradition is second best to that of Confucius. Being the master of chronological ages, he played the character of St. Paul who explains to Confucius’ Jesus full of philosophical stamps ideas. Mencius is widely famous for his theory of human nature, for which all people share an innate goodness that they can find through either education, self-discipline or neglect, and negative influences. However, it is not clear that Mencius ideas prevailed in first Chinese theoretical circles but eventually succeeded in gaining the support of influential thinkers such as Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming. This paper discusses the concept that, according to Mencius, human beings are good by default and their goodness is under more influence of inborn personality rather than the forces of nature.
Mencius on Human Nature
On human nature, Mencius asserted the inherent goodness of the human believing that it was the community’s influence that led to the bad moral character. To show innate golly, he used the example of a baby falling a borehole. Witnesses of this occasion instantly feel distressed and alarm neither to have a friendship with the parents of the baby nor to find the praise of their friends and neighbours, nor because they will not like the reputation if they do not save the child. Thus, the habit of goodness is within every human by default (Kupperman 23).
Mencius centers his explanation using two relevant passages namely the 6A6 and 6A15. Basing on his 6A6, Mencius successfully differentiates to his opponents whose standpoints are that human nature can be neither good nor bad. In the illustration, Mencius says that, with no any influence and forces, the natural existence of life is right. Thus, the individual’s expression of goodness has the power of nature, and any element of evil human deeds is not within their capacity (Kupperman 27). In the passage 6A15, Mencius explains why some humans are wrongdoers and evil while others remain good and great. The good behaving human achieves to express the best ethical practice when they follow their great path. On the contrary, those who opt to behave so do so due to influence from things within nature. Mencius defines these things as the conflicts between political, economic, and social aspects in the society.
The feeling of sympathy is the beginning of humanity, the sense of embarrassment, dislike is the start of righteousness, the meaning of respect, submission is the start of propriety, and the feeling of wrong or right is the start of knowledge. Human has these four starting just as they have their four appendages. Since they have four beginnings, believing that they cannot develop them is to destroy themselves. Individual’s nature is to have innate tendency towards goodness, and then moral rightness cannot be the last aspect (Behuniak 86).
Mencius also believed in the influence of destiny in controlling the roles of the people in the society. Human intellect or foreseen cannot contrive the destiny path. Future one can obtain when a path arises that is; both are productive and unforeseen. Destiny and fate should not be confused (Mencius 39). Mencius refuses that heaven would protect an individual regardless of his deeds saying that one who knows fate will not stand under a shaking wall. The correct pathway is one that is natural and voluntary. The right path one should sustain as the safe paths characterized with weeds. Those that follow destiny will live for long and have a fruitful life. One who goes against fate will die before his time.
In a political context, Mencius emphasized the importance of the ordinary natives in the state. He claimed that it is inhuman and injustice and for the subjects to overthrow or even murder a ruler who ignores the citizens wants and rules harshly. A leader who practices prejudice is no longer a real leader. Additionally, he addressed the overthrowing issue of the wicked King Zhou Shang. Mencius hear the assassination of the villain Zhou, but he heard the murdering of Zhou as the ruler. This saying one should not see as an incitement to violence against leaders but as a presentation of Confucian theory to the community (Kupperman 90).
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Confucian needs a justification what any relationship may reasonably expect. All relationship should be of significance, but each has its standard or inner sense (Mencius 86). A leader must justify his position by acting generously before he/she can expect correspondence from the human. In this perspective, a leader is a steward. Mencius clarified the proper hierarchy of human society. Even though a leader has a higher status than public, he is subordinate to the masses of individual and the funds of the society. Then there would be an oblique disrespect of the potential of people’s culture moving into the future (Mencius 114).
Opponents of Mencius can criticize him on the grounds of how he has perceived the relationship between human and nature and the definition of nature. As much Mencius believe, human nature is good, some opponents such as Mohist, and his fellow Confucian Yang Zhu counter argued basing on the thesis that “human nature is bad.” For instance, Yang Zhu primary disagrees with Mencius about the ideal definition of nature and human goodness. Yang Zhu suggests that Mencius definition of nature was misleading. Yang Zhu argues that all people have an innate but emerging disposition toward virtue, which has more influenced human values rather their personality. Unlike Mencius claim that human cannot control nature, Yang believes that human morals can affect nature (Behuniak 47). Accordingly, Yang Zhu supports his argument by suggesting that as for the way the eyes like pretty colors, the ears like beautiful sounds, the mouth prefers tasty flavors, the heart liked what was important, and the flesh and bones liked what was calm. Yang Zhu claims that human need ethical cultivation just as curved wood must await steaming and straightening on the shaping frame and merely then does it become sharp. Yang Zhu believed that human nature was in the position of self-interest and greed, and the tenacity of moral cultivation was to improve our character into goodness setting him at odds with Xunzi (Behuniak 83).
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Similarly, Mohist also used Mencius standpoint on how the inherent goodness personality character can exclusively affect human nature. Mohist argues that Mencius’ perception on human nature cares more on relative internal naturally than external strangeness. Therefore, Mencius ethical system, which demands neutrality, will be impractical. Unlike Mencius, who states Heaven as one source that gives birth to things, Mohist reveals two sources, one acknowledging the Heavenly moral authority while the second one demands the deviating of human beings from the endowed nature of heaven. Mencius sees the Mohist argument that advocates for impartial caring as both impractical and perverse (Kupperman 53).
In his reply, Mencius can use the doctrine of the real human nature as part of the strategy in presenting a Confucian response over Yang Zhu and Mohist criticism. He has countered Yang Zhu’s idea of the human nature having a determinate nature but argued saying that the human nature has more than just the self-motivations that are distinct from nature. He illustrated his arguments using the child whose is about to fall into a well. From this illustration, Mencius’s tries to show how human beings are compassionate and respond to alarming situations such as the one mentioned. He also argues that if an individual does not have the feeling of compassion, then they are not human (Mencius 65).
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Reasons to Accept Mencius Position on Human Nature
One of the reasons to accept Mencius standpoint on human nature is the fact that people are also following God’s will and way of Heaven and have a duty to act ethically right by nature. In addition, Mencius reasoning is idealistic since he placed more focus on human sentiments as the elements that influence human moral and immoral behavior. He believes that human moral and immoral deeds as part of nature. Many of the human actions are tangible since it is part of human biology. Mencius chose to ignore observing human behavior based on society’s norms and rituals and instead bases it on their relationship and expression of moral sentiments (Kupperman 25). Another reason is the fact that the benefits associated with human behavior tend to awaken the innate abilities of the people’s thoughts that push them to express ethical conduct. Thus, human should check for inner consistency by evaluating repercussions of immoral behavior against moral actions (Behuniak 75).
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In conclusion, it substantial to accept Mencius position on human nature as he successfully explains how people have an element of morality even if they choose to behave immorally. In addition, Heaven determines the human nature, and this underpins the fact that every human has to act ethically in the society. Mencius reply to his critics Mohist and Yang Zhu is substantial as it also challenged the benevolent nature human irrespective of whether it is bad or good by nature as illustrated by the baby experiment. However, Mencius partly agreed with some Mohist and Yang Zhu that human goodness is under the influence of nature as the power of Heaven also affects it.