Jul 23, 2020 in Analysis

East Asian Conception of Human Nature

Human nature is what connects us to non-human universe. Social institution conditions it to what extent it reverberates directly from the in-built qualities or nature within humans. Mencius said that human beings are born for goodness. In argument he stressed that when one is born, there exists a natural disposition for goodness. This tendency is inevitable as the natural tendency of water to flow downwards. This propensity is a function of human nature that is the primary cause for proper human development but when left unattended and unhindered as well as properly natured the goodness tendency, which is in us, will manifest on its accord with or without our consciousness. According to Mencius, our hearts are our focus of our thinking and moral capacity. The heart being the source of our moral capacity it inclines itself towards what is morally right. On the other hand, Xunzi hypothesized that human nature could also be evil. In the books of Xunzi as mentioned by De Bary, human nature is evil and the derivation of this evil is from the conscious activities that we carry out when we relate with one another.

The assumptions behind the concept of human nature include attitudes, and opinions which answer the question who is the person by nature? How do they live in their social and physical environment and what are the values and goals of their life or simply the meaning of their life. The most important reason why people construes the concept of human nature is to minimize the complexity and make a filter which enables them to work more efficiently, to make quick decisions and with less effort. The concept of human nature helps to predict and explain the world in a corresponding manner. The only problem with explaining the concept of human nature is that theory dealing with this concept is working separately, and there is no general unanimity of what a person is. One of the most asked and discussed questions of East Asian about human nature are how their interpretation and analysis is. Some of these issues include; are humans by nature evil or good? Is it morally natural to humans to do well, or must they be taught to do what is right? This paper discusses the East Asian conception of human nature and whether it is natural moral among human beings to do good or evil.


East Asian conception of human nature is broadly brought out by Mencius. Mencius was born in a period of Chinese history during which various states competed against one another for mastery of all China. This era of his birth was a brutal period characterized by war and irrational competitions which gave rise to many knowledgeable philosophical movements including the Confucian tradition of which Mencius represented at first.

According to Mencius, human nature (Renxing) is naturally good. He claimed that humans have a tendency of becoming good in healthy environment. By using the word healthy environment, Mencius meant an environment that makes human beings good. The East Asian during the era of Mencius had varied assumptions about to human nature, they claimed that human nature is either good or bad. For this reason and others, one of the Mencius former disciple known as Gong Sun Chou asked Mencius to explain how his position differed from the people who argued in a different manner. He explained that human nature is good because becoming a good person is a result that comes from developing our inner tendencies towards righteousness, benevolence, propriety and wisdom. Mencius further emphasized that those humans who follow their greater part, apparently become great humans. He was answering to question “All people are the same in being humans and yet some become great, and some become inferior humans. Why? The East Asian concept had Buddhist-Taoism based concept of human nature according to them, they believed that humans are beings were small scale models of the universe a concept also known as the microcosm. According to microcosm, the Taoist thought that for them to understand the universe one had to know oneself in a way that he/she can define the lines between doing good or bad.

The ancient Chinese had a different perception and thinking about human organs such as ears and eyes as compared to modern western philosophy. They perceived these organs (ears and eyes and other sensory organs) as primarily associated with humans sensual desires such as fine foods, beautiful music, and lovely sights among others. In line with this argument, Mencius argued that when human beings pursue their sensual desires without engaging their ethical motivations, they lead them to wrongdoing. A philosopher in East Asian stated that human nature is identical with the characteristics every human has in the merit of being alive, but Mencius disputed with this definition saying that dogs as well as oxen’s are the same in being alive but human beings cannot be equalized with those animals.

According to the book of Xunzi; as pointed out by De Bary, human nature is evil. It is human nature that one is born with feelings of hate and envy. When one indulges into these two feelings, he/she is leading into theft and banditry and hence the good faith and the sense of loyalty one is born with lost. Mencius also reiterated that every human is born with the desires of the eyes and ears as well as with a fondness for appealing sounds and beautiful sights which lend chaos when one is not in control. Human emotions which are common to every human being lead to strife and contention causing a person to rebel even against his/her proper duty of care by reverting to chaos and violence. Xunzi argued that if human nature was good, then as humans we could have dispensed from the practice of justice and rituals. People must elevate the esteem of ritual and righteousness simply because human nature is evil. According to Mencius, human nature is good and when it is not good, it is as a result of having lost or destroyed nature. Human nature being good is in contrast to what Xunzi talk about. It suggests that when a person is born, he departs from the good human nature and the calm disposition so that he must inevitably lose the good nature. This, therefore, suggests that human nature is evil. According to the principles given that human nature is evil a question may arise that, then: If human nature is evil, then where do rituals and righteousness come from? In reply rituals and righteousness are created by the conscious activities done by human beings. In argument to this phenomenon, De Bary suggested that the same way a carpenter curves a utensil from a piece of wood, it is not the human nature of the wood to be created into wood but it is conscious activity of the carpentered. This example denotes that human nature is naturally evil, but it is the conscious of the being itself that justifies the goodness of human nature. The same case a potter may mold clay and make an earthen pot but the molding and the making of the pot is not the innate nature of the clay in the making of a pot. The existence is in the knowledge of the potter who delimitates and molds the pot in harmony with his cognizance. Therefore, it is in the same way that human nature is evil, but is made right by the consciousness of the persons who relate with humans and things around them. This consciousness is what we can define as being good or bad (Lecture Notes 1)

In conclusion according to East Asia conception of human nature, human nature may be good or evil. Mencius stresses that people pose the capacity to be righteous. Therefore human beings are born with the capability of goodness and that this virtue grows in them. Following Mencius quotations it is also suggested that the clear way to flawlessness is by the cultivation of heart and mind which is an innate faculty that allows human beings to choose between doing good and doing evil. Accordingly, we can also see that those who cultivate their mind and heart using study and practice of morality increases the exponent of their vital energy which becomes like a flood. However, human beings cannot live without love and cultivation of what comes from the heart or else society will always be in problems of evil vices like corruption, hatred, covertness and others. Therefore, Mencius proposed that people should show benevolence to their neighbors in order to create a peaceful society. Mencius asks society to assume the role of a person who sees a child about to fall into a well, according to human nature that an individual has a moral obligation to save the child from falling into that well. On the other hand, human nature has been depicted as evil. According to the proposers of this conception they argue that human beings are naturally evil and that it is their conscious that determine whether they are good or evil. In argument they suggests that, just as the clay that molds pot cannot be consciously in itself agree to be molded into a pot, the same case human beings are born evil and they are made good or bad by their conscious .But this arguments lack bases as so many questions are raised in regard to this conception. Therefore just like Mencius suggested human nature is good but if we don’t cultivate it may change and become evil.


Related essays