Analysis on Mencius’ perception of the human nature
The term Philosophy, according to the definition provided by Wikipedia, is “the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. From the establishment of human civilizations, people started asking themselves about the underlying truths of the world. Among those questions they delved into, the question about the human nature – whether humans are good or evil by nature – grasped many philosophers’ interest. For this question, many western and eastern philosophers came up with their own unique explanations for the human nature. Among those uncountable philosophers, Xunzi and Thomas Hobbes are the most prominent philosophers who advocated the innate evilness of human beings; and Mencius, along with Jean-Jacque Rousseau, is the one most frequently referred to when talking about innate goodness of human beings.
The Chinese philosopher Mencius stands out among the philosophers who dealt with the truths of human nature, for while other philosophers focused on explicit and direct explications, Mencius combined the profound ideological content with a high level of artistry through ample usage of metaphors and analogies. Although his words are quite circuitous, this certain degree of ambiguity allows the listeners to find the core of the meaning by themselves, and his painstaking selection of apt metaphors makes it much easier for listeners to illustrate the points in their heads.
Throughout this paper I will give the explanation of how Mencius reached the conclusion that humans are good by nature and his reasoning – including innate pity for ones in danger – written in the book Mencius, focusing on his usage of ambiguous expressions and implicit messages hidden behind the passages.
Mencius’s explanation of human nature
Heavily influenced by Confucian philosophies, Mencius, throughout his long book named after his name – Mencius, spend most of the pages explaining about human nature and morality. Although each chapter of the book seem to be talking about very distinct ideas, taking holistic approach in comprehending the analects clearly shows that they are refer to a common specific idea and their seemingly different explanations actually converge.
The part that epitomizes Mencius’ idea on human nature is the part where he explains that “all human beings have a mind that cannot bear to see the sufferings of others”. To support his idea, he provides the well-known example of baby falling into a well: Now, if anyone were suddenly to see a child about to fall into a well, his mind would be filled with alarm, distress, pity, and compassion. That he would react accordingly is not because he would hope to use the opportunity ingratiate himself with the child’s parents, nor because he would seek commendation from neighbors and friends, nor because he would the adverse reputation.
This passage, without much ambiguity, illustrates how people, regardless of whether one has been disciplined or not, bear the tendency to feel unpleasant at the sight of others’ pain. By enumerating the plausible elements arousing “alarm, distress, pity, and compassion” and clearly saying that the person’s change of state in mind is not the reaction to those, Mencius proves that such feeling are very impulsive and spontaneous, implying that people are born with goodness, since people are born with such inclination to feel compassion without any process of thinking.
What I find impressive is that Mencius just explains about the feeling being aroused, and just stops there. Many people may fail to notice, but Mencius does not mention anything about the person watching the baby fall into the well taking actions to actually save the child. When people encounter crisis in reality, they do feel disturbances in their mind, however, such tendency does not guarantee actions. This implicit message hidden in...
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