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He exemplifies by saying that anyone witnessing a child about to fall in a well would immediately turn to rescue the child without seeking any advantages in doing so. But while this position has been argued on the grounds that "such an example is not intended to prove that all men will actually take some action in such circumstances" (Allinson apud Chan 1996), Chan has defended Mencius by emphasizing that what the philosopher "intends to show in the child-falling-into-the-well example is that all men will at least be moved to compassion by such a sight" (Chan 1996). Chan further explains "that all we need to prove the statement is that we carry out some sort of self-examination or thought-experiment. Once we are convinced, that's the proof. We don't need the results of others to confirm our result. That's a case for science." (Chan 1996)
From the conversation above, we can also depict Kao Tzu's position in regards to the nature of man, specifically that it "is indifferent to good and evil," that is to say that man's nature is neither good nor bad. Kao Tzu is said to have built his construction of man's character "out of that realization of a discrepancy between "nature" and "morality" on which premises he "sought his own psychic integrity (…), balancing the demands of an inner and an outer ethics" (Lai, 1984, p. 147). To Kao, the inner and outer of human behaviour made the difference between that which is biologically and naturally inherited by an individual and that which the individual learns to acquire. Thus, three features are meant to represent the construction of man's character in Kao Tzu's vision, as presented by Lai: "what is inborn (biology) -- basic food and sex (morally neutral: like water channelable in different direction), what is inner (a spontaneous attitude) -- love of one's kin (instinctual love of close kin, an act that is self-gratifying), what is outer (a learned behaviour) -- respect for all elders (as demanded by social decorum / duty, only other gratifying) (1984, p. 148). Man had to discern between what was "natural" and what was "learned" using the instrument of the mind, much like Mencius himself had acknowledged. But man was ultimately judged by what he did not by what he thought, given that his thoughts remained secluded within his own mind, and thus unknown to the outer world. However, working as an intermediary between the mind and man's actions was considered the speech or man's words. But Kao Tzu was aware of the fact that merely using speech to emphasize on certain points which are not feasible, only disturbed man, specifically the mind was being burdened with something it could not achieve. In this sense, society served as a model for man "to rule the passions by the mind." However much ridicule Mencius would have posed on Kao Tzu's positions, Lao (2003) seems to think that there "is a view which was likely to have been accepted by both Kao Tzu and Mencius" and that is that human nature can become either good or bad because "it is no more than a description of the undeniable fact that human beings sometimes become good and sometimes become bad" (Appendix 5, p. 366) and, because of this, the interpretation or neither good nor bad existing in human nature, was attributed to Kao Tzu.
If man is born with innate qualities, that is moral qualities, then the conclusion can be drawn that a universal structure does exist in human nature. Thus, morality is not just something we learn along, but something which has been inscribed in man by the divinity, Mencius believes as depicted from one of his statements: "…a man who knows his own nature will know heaven." But scholars adopting a more scientifical position today, are likely to reject a religious claim, however still be able to "filter the Heaven out of Mencius (…) and still retain a justification for much of his ethics" (Munro, 2005, p. 63). This is a most important facet that Mencius' views can be analyzed apart from religion because much of what constitutes religion has changed throughout time and, with it, the understanding of what is righteous and what is not. If Mencius disregarded Kao Tzu's position on morality and somewhat his vision on human nature, Xunzi was at conflict with the former in regards to the very same topics. Their agreement went as far as to acknowledge that moral development is a slow process much like "the cultivation of a sprout" or "the straightening of a board or the sharpening of metal" (apud Schwitzgebel, 2007, p. 158); it's to say that morality exists within each individual who needs to nourish it for development much like a seed is to give life to a tree if the environment is appropriate. However, while Mencius defended the goodness in human nature, Xunzi believed that man's natural instincts led to conflict and thus man had to work on these natural tendencies to transform them. Xunzi believed that people needed guidance and were not to be left on their own. Children, for example, needed to be taught about the right and wrong as their personal judgement was considered too frail for such a understandement to occur. If left to their own natural tendencies, people's lives would have eventually turned to no more than a barren existence, thus pointing to everything which is bad in human nature. Xunzi defends his position by saying that, if people were good by nature, then there would be no need for law or education of morality, as every individual would know intuitively to do the right thing but "the nature of man is evil; whatever is good in him is the result of acquired training" (Xunzi apud Creel, 1953, p. 120).
If indeed "the best way of developing one's good tendencies was to resist domination by material desires" (Zhengming, 1994, p. 125), than everything would seem all too very easy regarding the process of moral development, but man is made of feelings and desires and needs, all of which ultimately complicate the theory of human goodness as natural. Overall, we do tend to agree with Mencius that our very own nature is good, considering we are born innocent, but we live in a world of duality and we have been granted free will that does not always work for the benefit of human nature as good.
Chan, C.W., 1996. Good and Evil in Chinese Philosophy, the Philosopher. Vol. LXXXIV. Available at: http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk/good&evil.htm. Last accessed 21 May 2013.
Creel, Herrlee G., 1953. Chinese Thought from Confucius to Mao Tse-Tung. London: The University of Chicago Press.
Hwong, P.H., 1979. What is Mencius' Theory of Human Nature. Philosophy East and West. 29 (2), 201-209.
Lai, W., 1984. Kau Tzu and Mencius on Mind: Analyzing a Paradigm Shift in Classical China. Philosophy East and West. 34 (2), 147-160.
Mencius, 1895. The Works of Mencius. Trans. James Logge. London: Clarendon Press.
2003. Mencius (a Bilingual Edition). Trans. D.C. Lau. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press.
Munro, Donald J., 2005. A Chinese Ethics for the New Century: The Ch'ien Mu Lectures in History and Culture, and Other Essays on Science and Confucian Ethics. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press.
Richey, Jeffrey. (2003). "Mencius." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available: http://www.iep.utm.edu/mencius/. Last accessed 21 May 2013.
Schwitzgebel, Eric (2007). "Human Nature and Moral Development in Mencius, Xunzi, Hobbes, and Rousseau." History of Philosophy Quaterly. 24 (2), 147-168.
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Zhengming, Ge (1994). "Mencius." Prospects. XXIV…[continue]
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