Posted: June 24th, 2021
Philosophy Response – Mencius Throughout Mencius, there is continual debate amongst the people regarding human nature; is it, by nature, good or bad? Every option is discussed by Mencius himself, ranging from whether all are born good, born evil, born with both or born with neither. Overall, Mencius succeeds in his description of all possibilities of whether human nature is good or bad. The main permutation discussed by Mencius is that all humans are born good. In Book 2, Part A, Section 6, Mencius describes a child falling down a well.
If a human were to see this child fall down the well, they would not just stand there doing and feeling nothing, because they have a heart. Any human with a heart would feel sorrow and sadness for the child that just fell down the well. For anyone without a heart, this would mean that they would feel nothing and their human nature is ultimately evil. In the same part, Mencius describes the “4 Shoots” of human nature. These four shoots, when accepted and learned by humans, ultimately lead to good human nature for the rest of their lives.
The four shoots are “the heart of compassion, benevolence; the heart of shame, dutifulness; the heart of courtesy and modesty, observance of rites; and the heart of right and wrong, wisdom” (2A6). These four shoots, throughout the book, show how they apply more to humans with a good nature rather than a bad nature. Benevolence, as described by Mencius, is a primary part of the four shoots of human nature. In one section, Mencius states “One who puts benevolence into effect through the transformation influence of morality will become a true king, and his success will not depend on the size of his state” (2A3).
This means that the human with a good nature that uses benevolence correctly will ultimately end up with the best in life, as shown in this example by showing how a normal person will become a king over the people. Also, this shows that no matter what you have will not matter because you have shown a good nature, and everyone will respect you for what you have already. However, there still is the evil side of human nature. As Mencius says, “Benevolence brings honour, cruelty, and disgrace.
Now people who dwell in cruelty while disliking disgrace are like those who are content to dwell in a low-lying place while disliking dampness” (2A4). This excerpt shows that those with an evil human nature will end up drawing the wrong things from benevolence, such as cruelty. Those who draw cruelty will end up living a very dark and depressed life, and their evil human nature will continue to hinder their true abilities as humans. Mencius successfully shows the difference between benevolence in good human nature and benevolence in evil human nature.
By showing how good benevolence will lead you to being as high as a king, against bad benevolence will lead you to a sad and depressed life, shows the reader and listener that good benevolence will always lead to a better life for anyone. Dutifulness is another part of the four shoots, and just as important to human nature as any of the other parts. Mencius alleged, “Life is what I want; dutifulness is also what I want. If I cannot have both, I would choose dutifulness rather than life” (6A10).
This shows how dedicated to the four shoots Mencius is, because he would rather die than have to break away from dutifulness. This leads back to the example of the bear claw and fish story. In his story, Mencius compares the fish to life, and bear claws to dutifulness. Mencius would rather take the bear claw than the fish because Mencius already has life, but dutifulness is much harder to come by. When given the opportunity, Mencius would rather take the bear claw / dutifulness, so he can get as much dutifulness as he can.
That is the good human nature because the person that truly has a good human nature would rather take dutifulness over life so they can continue having a good human nature. However, those who have an evil human nature would rather break the rules of the 4 shoots just so they can continue to live their life. This also shows how the person is scared of death, because they would rather break a barrier of honestly and truth rather than die knowing they lived a truly good life.
This is also a successful comparison from Mencius because he shows how those who would give up their life to continue a life of good nature would truly live on forever, while those who are afraid of dying would rather continue on in their life of misfortune and evil. Observing the Rites is another important part of the four shoots, due to the fact they are rules that are set in stone, and by breaking these rules, much punishment and anguish is headed your way. In one part, it is said “According to the rites, when summoned by one’s father, one should not answer ‘I am coming’.
When summoned by one’s prince, one should not wait for the carriages to arrive” (2B2). This shows that, for example, if called by your father, you shouldn’t just say that you are coming, because there is always the chance that you would not come, and therefore you are disrespectful to your father, who is your elder. To continue living your life with a good human nature, you should always do as you’re told, no matter what is told to you by an elder. This is a matter of respect and a matter of respecting and observing the rites laid out.
However, those who just expect things to happen or say things to make people happy are being selfish. By just saying things and not following through with them shows disrespect to anyone you are talking about or talking to. Therefore, you are breaking the rites and you are having an evil human nature. This is also successfully examined by Mencius because this shows how much following the rules and respecting your elders counts in society. Without respect and rules, there would never be any good human nature, and the world would be a dark and sad place to live.
Wisdom, or the heart of right and wrong, is the last of the four shoots, but without this part there would be no decision making in society ever. Going back to the example of the girl falling into the well, if one were to see this happen and not act properly on it, this would be an example of evil or bad human nature. If one were to just walk away or stand around and do nothing would be devoid of a heart, because if you were to help in some way to help the girl get out of the well, your wisdom would improve and your human nature would remain good, maybe even improve.
Those who would find a way to help the girl out of the well, or alert other people so that they may help too, would have a good human nature, due to the fact they are doing something positive to help society instead of limiting society to something so sad and negative by leaving the girl in the well. Mencius successfully describes this because he shows how those who are devoid of a heart would make the wrong choice, while those with a heart would make the better decision and help out the girl.
As Mencius states, “Human nature is good just as water seeks low ground. There is no man who is not good; there is no water that does not flow downwards” (6A2). Mencius believes that all humans are born good, and although many try to disprove this theory, Mencius ultimately comes up with better arguments than them all. Mencius successfully defends his claim that all humans are born good, and by doing this, shows how all people can have a good human nature.
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