Confucian views on the ideal behaviors of a human being and the nature of human beings
PHIL 348 Week 5 Discussion
Daoism and Confucianism both present concepts related to what makes up the ideal human living in the world? Address the following in an initial post of about 300 words.
Describe some Confucian views on the ideal behaviors for a human being (such as ren or jen) and the nature of human beings. Look at the teachings of Kongzi (Confucius) and Mengzi (Mencius) and include some in your descriptions.
Describe some Daoist views on the ideal state of being of a human (wuwei) and the nature of human beings. Look at the teachings of Laozi (Lao Tzu) and Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) and include some in your descriptions
Finally, explain which view makes the most sense to you and why.
Confucian views on the ideal behavior for a human being is that of a princely person or gentleman. The term for prince in ancient China, used by Kongzi, means a person of sound moral character. Confucious believed that a person of sound moral character would exhibit “ren” or humanity, humaneness, and benevolence. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Confucious once stated, “never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself" (UMGC.edu). Mengzi emphatically presented the view that human beings were good by nature. Mencius said: "Everyone has a heart that can't bear to see others suffer” (UMGC.edu) , meaning that the example he gives is if a person saw a baby fall into a well, that they would be moved to help.
Daoist views on the ideal state of being of a human was a person who had achieved “wuwei” or actionless action; Chinese paradox contemplated and lived by Daoists who do nothing yet leave nothing undone. Laozi said, "Ordinary people's hearts become Sage's heart" (UMGC.edu). A person who embodies wuwei is virtuous and filled with life energy. This is to say, a person who acts without acting is a person of virtue. Laozi approaches the topic from the perspective of nature. Zhuangzi claimed that people who live according to the Dao need few laws because they do not seek to possess anything under Heaven. Zhuangzi once said that "The perfect man's heart is like a mirror" because it "just responds" instead of hankering after things” (UMGC.edu).
The view that makes the most sense to me is the way of the Daoists. I agree with Laozi that the most incredible wisdom was not found through book learning or ritual as in Confucianism but through spontaneous activity (UMGC.edu).
UMGC.edu. Module 4: On Being Human—The Transformation of an Idea in East Asia. 2022. 2022. <https://learn.umgc.edu/d2l/le/content/686432/viewContent/25988639/View>.
Mengzi believed that humans have innate potential or pre-dispositions towards virtue. He believes that human nature is good. Kongzi and Mengzi paved the path for the Confucian Dao. Mengzi tried to prove this notion using the thought experiment of a child falling into a well. He argued that everyone who would see the kid fall into the well would immediately respond with alarm and compassion. This notion means that the reaction is an innate disposition towards benevolence, a characteristic all humans have. "Mengzi emphatically presented the view that human beings were good by nature. He argued that any person who saw a baby about to fall into a well would be moved by pity to save it. Thus, he claimed, everyone has a heart that can't bear to see others suffer. Mengzi thought that the capacity for spontaneous commiseration arose from innate goodness" (Commentary). "Kongzi used the term Junzi with reference to the ideal person in society. This word originally meant son of the prince, but Kongzi revalorized it to denote a person of quality. A person of quality manifested 'Ren.' Kongzi taught that a person became a Junzi not through birth but through education provided by a society that followed the Way of Heaven. Kongzi spoke of the Junzi (person of quality) who cultivated Ren (benevolence). In his view, one's humanity (Ren) is cultivated through li (Ritual, decorum, propriety) and study. Through good education and proper conduct, humans cultivated their potential for benevolence (Ren). Zhong shu (loyalty and reciprocity) is the thread running through Kongzi's teaching. Zhong shu is sometimes called the Confucian Golden Rule" (Commentary).
Laozi and Zhuangzi both follow the Dao. Their idea of human nature is a little different than Confucian Dao. Zhuangzi had a positive view of human nature. In this, he was closer to Mengzi than to Xunzi or Han Feizi. Zhuangzi quoted Laozi as saying, "The perfect man's heart is like a mirror" because it "just responds" instead of hankering after things (Zhuangzi 7). A person's mirror-like heart responds to things in a spontaneous and clear manner. Thus, Zhuangzi claimed that people who live according to the Dao need few laws because they do not seek to possess anything under Heaven (Commentary). "Laozi considered civilization to be secondary to nature. He noticed that such things as learning (Xue) and benevolence (Ren) arose in society at the point when people were already falling away from the Dao. Laozi spoke about people with de (virtue, power) who could live according to the Dao (Way) by spontaneously exhibiting Wuwei (actionless action). He believed that the greatest wisdom was not found through book learning but through the spontaneous activity that partook directly of qi (the energy of Heaven). He emphasized the value of silence and flowing, water-like movement" (Commentary).
I found the Daoist views on the ideal state of being of a human to make more sense, but I find Xunzi's stance on human nature more viable. Xunzi's view opposed Mengzi's view on the subject of human nature. "Xunzi said that the goodness of human nature could not be supported by facts. Yet he thought that people could cultivate benevolence (Ren) through education. But Xunzi warned that people could also become evil through association with bad people and bad cultural activities" (Commentary). But Xunzi doesn't believe that we should follow our naturalistic desire on instinct since we are rational creatures, just like how Hobbes' sees human nature in the state of nature. This, in turn, would lead us to become virtuous and flourish. Instead of using the metaphor of sprout growing into a healthy plants for humans having an innate goodness, he used a different metaphor where human are like potters that can mold clay into a beautiful vase.
I see these views like Hobbes', Locke's, and Rousseau's views on human nature. Each eastern ideas seem to have a resemblance to western views on human nature; Mengzi's Confucian Dao to Rousseau's views on human nature; Zhuangzi's Dao to Locke's views on human nature; and Xunzi's views on human nature to Hobbes' views on human nature. I might be biased since learning about Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau gives me a different perspective on this topic. I consider myself to lean more towards the Hobbesian state of nature that humans aren't inherently good. But that doesn't mean that we don't have the capability to be good.
Commentary. Module 4: On Being Human—The Transformation of an Idea in East Asia. University of Maryland Global Campus. https://learn.umgc.edu/d2l/le/content/686432/viewContent/25988639/View
Urubshurow, Victoria Kennick. Introducing World Religions. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, 2008.