According to evolution, human beings have descended from apes. Charles Darwin hypothesized that with time, the early humans developed such features and functions that made them unique and intelligent as compared to other animals. Apart from intelligence, people have possessed the ability to distinguish the good from the evil. Moreover, they started to experience emotions and feelings towards nature and other organisms in the habitat. Most importantly, they developed positive attitude with other human beings. This paper will seek to explore the view of arguments as well as its counterarguments of Mencius on human nature.
Before considering his philosophy, it is important to understand the personality of Mencius. He is considered to be the second most respected Confucian who was born as Meng Ko in 372 B.C. and passed away 83 years later in 289 B.C. He was a specialist in interpreting the doctrine of Confucius being mentored by Zisi, who was the grandson of Confucius. He used to spend his time to travel around China offering free advice to emperors and other leaders on leadership and reforms.
Mencius View on Human Nature
Mencius is widely known as the person who pioneered positive psychology. Moreover, he developed the concept of using the mind in the quest for happiness. According to the fact mentioned before, Mencius devoted almost half of his life traveling around Chinese kingdoms and offering his services to their rulers who were mostly skeptical and jaded. His aim was to spread the message of good virtues among the leaders to enable them to rule without the use of tyranny and dictatorship. In his teaching, Mencius was categorical in the position that good virtues begot happiness and vice versa.
Moreover, Mencius believed that humans are endowed with deep-seated values of righteousness, humanity and virtuousness. Therefore, in his teachings, Mencius urged the leaders to concentrate on improving their morals to transfer those virtues to their subjects. He convinced the rulers of the needlessness to concentrate their leadership and policies on people. Moreover, he argued that peace, being necessary all over the world, would be easier to achieve if the leaders would be responsible and lead by example by encouraging their subjects to be moral, virtuous and exercise concern for each other. In his position, Mencius supported the idea that helping others, sympathy, and goodness was associated with intoxicating joy and irrepressibility.
Virtuousness was related to utmost happiness. According to Mencius, immense happiness was gained from doing the good. Human beings have that inner self that rejoices at the sight of the happiness of fellow human beings. The amount of joy found in the process of helping others correlated with the motivation achieved by satisfaction to the beneficiaries. Specifically, the more satisfied the beneficiaries are, the more joy that the helper feels.
The notion of mind played a critical role in determining the values of a person. Mencius suggested that it is the mind that is the bridge connecting the greater or moral self to the lesser or physiological self. Possessing a balance between these two was critical in attaining personal satisfaction, fulfillment, and sagehood that translated to personal and inner happiness. Before Mencius may not have written numerous volumes, but his connection with happiness and satisfaction gained as a basis for guiding people to do the good and engage in righteous acts elevates him above the rest as it shows his strong understanding of human nature.
Mencius used a child as the example to explain his views on human nature. Accordingly, he suggested that any human being would help out the child from draining without expecting anything in return (Meng and Lau 366). Apparently, even the cruelest human would feel shame and guilt when walking away from a drowning innocent child. The nature of human beings is to sympathize with those in harm’s way and to offer help and assistance to the best of their ability. While some people, especially politicians, offer help in front of the cameras, Mencius was quick to note that true and strong happiness was derived upon giving unconditional support with love and sympathy. True virtues are expressed anywhere and anytime without circumstantial excuses.
Reasons for His Views
To explain his views, Mencius used the concept of “qi” (vital energy). He added that development of “qi” was vital towards achieving satisfaction and good health. To obtain the vital force, one must engage in steady and continuous accumulation of positivity. He suggested the example of people who nourish their qi with contrived and calculated efforts in comparison to a farmer who forcefully pulls up his corn to speed up their growth. He explains the need for satisfaction towards self-cultivation (Meng and Lau 238).
Mencius also mentions that humans create the important structure of the universe. The supreme power which he referred as Tian bequeathed human beings with its nature. Part of this nature is sprouts of virtue and righteousness which bring with it growth in sincerity. The Tian nature enables human beings to discover their deep-seated goodness and ability to perform righteously and humanity acts for their good. He brings out the essence of self-reflection, a key component of the teachings of Confucius as the foundation of self-cultivation. To support these sentiments, the famous Greek philosopher, Socrates, espoused categorically that “the unexamined life is not worth living” which brought into focus the need for human beings to be a source of joy and happiness to others to prove their value for living. The legacy of a person is determined by how many lives they touched positively while they journeyed through the earth.
Counter-Argument to Mencius’ Views
In his view of human nature, Mencius fails to acknowledge the diversity of human beings. Nature creates different human beings, with diverse characters. For instance, some human beings are naturally born with better feelings and love for fellows. On the other hand, cruel and tyrannical leaders are sometimes born, rather than created. In this human beings, righteousness is a virtue that is replaced by cruelty and lack of concern for fellow human beings (Ivanhoe and Kline197).
Dictators like Adolf Hitler and Mussolini were human beings before they were leaders. What then could have driven them to have so much hatred for some human beings? In the reference of human beings, did Mencius consider the variation in color and race? Mencius failed to recognize the so-called alpha humans who derive joy and satisfaction from human suffering.
Xunzi was a key critic of the teachings of Mencius. He espoused in his teachings that human beings are evil and envy. Xunzi lived through a tumultuous period characterized by war and human suffering. He argued that if indeed human beings were righteous, why then were their wars and chaos. He felt that those who were righteous were the minority and deserved to be elevated to the level of sagehood.
In his defense, Mencius could argue that even maize has chaff. Therefore, the few bad people in society should not be used as a reason to fail to appreciate the underlying righteousness like human beings.
In my opinion, it makes more philosophical sense to accept the position of Mencius on human nature. While I may not be able to get into the inner self of others to truly understand how they feel, the understanding of my nature guides me towards the belief that other humans do not feel different. I would fail to understand how a human being can derive joy and satisfaction from the suffering of other people.