Human Nature Has Been a Subject Essay

Pages: 7 (2811 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 11  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Biology

Human nature has been a subject of debate amongst the classical Chinese philosophers. Please present your understanding of this concept by focusing on one or two Chinese philosophers' perspective.

When considering good and evil, one must ask himself what is good and what is evil, not only when these two terms are being discussed in relation to man's actions, but also as two key concepts of human existence. It is our opinion that addressing any of these issues with a strong statement of either existent or nonexistent is an act of extreme boldness, because the two terms are often applied differently in cultures and societies. Take, for instance, death penalty: it involves killing, but it is something legal and embraced within certain circles because it is perceived as an act of punishment for one's horrible actions, and not as an evil deed, holding thus no moral consequences if the act of murder is toward an individual who "deserves" the punishment. Let us consider that capital punishment prevailed in many countries over the years and that it is only within the last century that attempts have been made to abolish it, while it is still applied today in several American states and other countries such as China and India, though much rarely employed. Likewise, many women in the Middle Ages were accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death by burning

. People then thought that magic came from the devil and that those who practiced it worshiped the devil; witches were accused of causing harm to societies and were blamed for a lot of what was going wrong within the communities. One of the most prominent figures to represent women throughout history is Joan of Arc, also to have been burned at stake for heresy and witchcraft. Nowadays, she is recognized a saint.

We would think that such issues belong within the obscurity and the darkness of Medieval times, but cases of alleged witchcraft were still being punished by torture and death not so long ago in Kenya. In 2008, eleven people accused of being witches were hunt down and burned individually by civilians. It is within the premises of such cases that we must ponder on human nature and morality. Is good or evil part of a universal structure of creation, meaning, do they exist as such in human nature, or must they be understood in the context of ages and civilizations, thus of culture and religious beliefs? If each individual has the right to live then, by sentencing one to death, however legally, does that not violate man's natural right? In such a case, is something as natural right even valid? Is it moral to apply such a punishment just because it conveys societal standards that it is "the righteous thing to do" according to someone's deeds? Are we born either good or bad and do we have a say in this? Such questions can be addressed in relation to various opinions and statements and have represented topics of concern for many philosophers since ages. A Chinese proverb exerts that a man cannot become perfect in a hundred years but he can however become corrupt in less than a day, which can lead one thinking that human nature is susceptible to doing harm rather than doing good and so the issue of whether or not "it is harder to change a man's nature than to change rivers and mountains" is rightfully derived from the context of goodness over evil and vice versa.

Chinese philosophy during the classical period was a boast of "Hundred Schools" which gave rise to so many philosophers that scholars felt it was important to classify them according to the nature of the studies they were preoccupied with. Thus, six fundamental schools were recognized within the range of classical Chinese philosophers and two more were added later by Liu Xin. It was within the fourth and early third centuries that the Jixia Academy attracted philosophers such as Mencius who, among other philosophers belonging either to Confucianism, Daoism, Mohims, Sophism, Yangism and others, raised questions over human nature, the goodness or evil pertaining to humankind and other ethical issues.

Mencius was a defender of Confucianism, that is to say that he shared Confucius' concept of self-cultivation of one's self and he believed that benevolence prevailed upon human nature. His "plan of action" was set to defend the movement against others that emerged influentially in Chinese philosophy and, as such, Mencius has come to be regarded as one of the greatest thinkers after Confucius himself (Shun 2004, par. 2). His influence has been compared to the role of the Apostle Paul in regards to Jesus' work, only that the role of Jesus in Chinese culture was this time substituted by Confucius. It is considered that, not only did Mencius interpret "the thought of the master for subsequent ages" but that he has also "impressed Confucius' ideas with his own philosophical stamp" (Richey 2003, row 5-6).

Mencius' theory of human nature is somewhat controversial. Basically, his work regarding the subject is comprised within the text Mengzi (Mencius) which has led to many different views on his theory. Because of the number of translations and reinterpretations, scholars argue, Mencius' work has been subjected to mutability. However, some features are rendered as representative for all of the versions that have emerged since the compilation of Mencius' disciples and these are: that man is by nature good, or that human nature is good, or that human nature is originally / naturally good, or that all men have good nature (Hwang 1979, p. 201). The version of the text which is used nowadays by the vast majority analyzing Mencius' work is Zhao Qi's dating from the second century C.E.

From a Mencian point-of-view, human beings must aspire to the best of which they can achieve through personal efforts and self sustainment. Mencius recognizes the seeds of good in all men but acknowledges that one must work his way through a process of constant development, meaning that, although goodness is seeded within all beings, along the course of life, each individual is responsible for how he uses his "gift" and thus, his deeds ultimately decide the character. This is achieved if a good relationship between nature and the heart-mind connection of the individual exists. Mencius believed that people must constantly subject themselves to an evaluation in order to keep a system of morality updated and for people to be able to compare their behaviour and improve it where necessary. Other philosophers before him had also raised the question of human behaviour and had pondered on the extend to which this behaviour is conditioned by cultivated beliefs (let's remember capital punishment and the witchcraft case) or is derived from our very own nature. Mencius believed that the heart (or mind) was the place where goodness was seeded and the place where our morals subsided. He viewed this function of the heart as the settlement of our moral capacity and as having the ability to distinguish right from wrong as naturally as the process of the mouth depicting good food from bad food or much like our eyes can perceive physical beauty. In the dialogue between Mencius and the philosopher Kao, the latter addressed the former as follows:

Man's nature is like water whirling round in a corner. Open a passage for it to the east, and it will flow to the east; open a passage for it to the west, and it will flow to the west; Man's nature is indifferent to good and evil, just as the water is indifferent to the east and west (Mencius, 2009, 6A2).

Mencius thus replied as such:

Water indeed will flow indifferently to the east or west, but will it flow indifferently up or down? The tendency of man's nature to good is like the tendency of water to flow downwards. There are none but have this tendency to good, just as all water flows downwards. Now by striking water and causing it to leap up, you may make it go over your forehead, and, by damming it and leading it you may force it up a hill; but are such movements according to the nature of water? It is the force applied which causes them. When men are made to do what is not good, their nature is dealt with in this way (Mencius, 2009, 6A2).

This is the very statement upon which scholars have recognized Mencius as the advocate for the goodness in human nature. One of the most important ideas to depict from this affirmation is the philosopher's recognisition that, although "human nature is good," circumstances in one's life may determine that person to behave badly. His vision therefore does not undermine the presence of evil in the world but merely seems to position its presence not as something derived naturally like the good in human nature, but as the result of exterior factors. Furthermore, the moment when man is subjected to doing evil is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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