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Evil As A Man’s Nature

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Hsun Tzu, being an early Chinese philosopher and a Confucian scholar, was a highly intellectual individual, who offered a thorough and complete analysis of the Confucian theories. Also known as Xunzi, Hsun Tzu had rather conflicting and controversial theories compared to the other great architects of Confucianism; although he supported the central teachings of the religion. Xunzi believed that man’s nature is evil and goodness is the result of conscious activity. His argument that man is born evil is supported by the case that man is born with a fondness for profit and that if he is to gratify this desire, he will inevitably indulge in evil activities. Xunzi’s view is that man is born with such feelings and emotions which ‘lead’ to evil behavior. Man has various driving forces for doing evil and those driving forces are his innate feelings and emotions. For example, his fondness for profit will ‘make’ him do evil things; deceiving others and arguing over affairs so as to get them to serve his purpose. Idea inspired by studymoose, mans love for oneself, makes him behave selfishly (“Man’s Nature is Evil- Hsun Tzuu Essay”). Further on, Xunzi has used major logical appeals to defend his philosophy, while also catering to the opposition’s objections. Perhaps the decisive point of the argument was that if man was inherently good, why would there exist a need for sages and rituals in the first place? Sages and rituals would have been worthless and their existence wouldn’t have even mattered if man was inherently good. Hence concluded, the mere existence of sages and rituals itself prove that man is inherently evil and that goodness is the result of conscious activity.

The first and foremost point that needs clarification, is that Xunzi does not have a pessimistic approach, as nearly all his critics object on this aspect. Rather, he has a more rational and accepting approach, recognizing facts as they are. When Xunzi says that mans nature is evil, he is only mentioning a problem that inherently exists in human beings. Further on as he says that goodness is the result of conscious activity, he is technically providing a solution to the problem. A pessimistic approach would’ve been more like -mans nature is evil and there is nothing he can do about it-. Provision of a solution itself reflects the optimism Xunzi has in human potential and abilities. He also believes that any man can become a gentleman or a sage given that he is willing to transform from his original nature. A normal man has the essential senses to comprehend benevolence and righteousness along with the human potential to put them into practice. The reason why some men are able to lead a righteous life is not because heaven has bestowed any particular favor upon them, rather they are able to do so because they have the willingness to transform from their original nature. Through consistency and commitment to learn from the sages, and steadfastness in practice, these men become dutiful and reverent.

Additionally, if we go far back in time when Adam and Eve existed in heaven, we can find out whether man was originally created evil or good. Since this is where man first came into existence, it is only logical to analyze the incident of Adam and Eve. When God created Adam and Eve, he taught them the way to live in heaven and specifically warned them of one particular tree. They were vividly told not to eat fruit from the forbidden tree. They however, disobeyed their lord and ate from that tree. It is believed that Adam and Eve were very well aware of the consequences of eating from that tree but still gave into their temptation. Another point made in this incident is that Satan exploited mankind’s weakness. Now what is this ‘weakness’? This ‘weakness’ in man is therefore the natural tendency towards wrong. Mans natural inclination towards wrongdoing goes as far back in time as the first man to ever exist-Adam. That being said, if man really was good, why would he ever defy his Creator, go against the teachings and guidance of his lord, disregard all the blessings bestowed on him and eat from that one particular forbidden tree when he had the privilege to eat from any other tree he wished to? The answer to all these questions is simple and precise; mans nature is evil.

Renowned political scientist Hobbes proposed that man in his original nature, without any government, civilization, laws or common power to restraint human nature would be in the state of nature “war of all against all” (“SparkNote on Leviathan.”). That is, humans would constantly aim to destroy one another to gain monopoly of power. Life in such a state of nature, in Hobbes words, would be “nasty, brutish and short” (Leviathan, 1651). Building on this theory, man left to his original nature would indulge in brutal and menacing activities because he is originally evil and needs conscious and deliberate practice to transform into a righteous man.

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Throughout his text, Xunzi criticizes Mencius for not being able to distinguish between basic human nature and conscious activity. According to Xunzi nature is that which is given by heaven [also adds to the relevance of Adam and Eve’s incident]. It is something that cannot be learned or acquired through effort. So when Mencius says that goodness exists in man inherently and that he only needs to further learn it by means of education and self discipline, it contradicts the philosophy that nature is supplied by heaven and cannot be learned through efforts. Mencius’ argument is that the reason why man is able to learn goodness is because it already exists in him or else he wouldn’t have the ability to learn it in the first place. Xunzi’s argument is of a much deeper analysis and understanding; the need to learn something only exists when there is an absence of that thing. If it exists already, why learn it? The reason why man has to learn goodness is because he is originally lacking it.

Another related point Xunzi makes in his essay is that evilness cannot be learned or acquired through efforts. That is not true, especially for modern times. In today’s rather post modern world, there are ways to ‘discover’ wickedness and iniquity. Cyber crime and terrorism is one example of the many ways that man has discovered to viciousness, over time. Famous sociologist, Sutherland found out that criminal behavior can be learned through social interaction and the process of communication. His differential association theory suggests that man can learn motives, values, attitudes and techniques for deviance and that “an individual will chose to become a criminal if the number of favorable interpretations that support violating the law outweigh the unfavorable interpretations that don’t” (Vinney, “Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory explained”). From these findings it can be deduced that man is capable of ‘learning’ evil, and that there are ways to acquire it. However, developing the argument, it can also be deduced that man has ‘natural tendencies’ towards evil and that he can find his way round the laws and normal standards to act immorally. This is Xunzi’s very argument that man is inherently evil and his inclination will inevitably be towards evil. Thus when committing an evil, man is not only performing an act that he learned, he is also serving his natural desire and innate feelings.

At some points in the argument however, Xunzi is a little too quick to judge. He says whatever man lacks in himself he seeks outside and from this we see that men desire to do good precisely because their nature is evil. This is rather a vague argument with no background or in depth explanation to it. At this point it seems like the author is deliberately keeping his statement precise, avoiding an explanation of the other side of the argument. This statement can be questioned that how does a desire to do good prove evilness, whereas it could actually prove goodness in humans?

Another discipline that can be examined to find out more, concrete data on human nature is that of economics. The fundamental principal of economics is that human wants are infinite while the resources to fulfill these wants are finite (Mankiw 4). Every man unquestionably knows that the worlds resources are depleting but no man is willing to give up his dispensable desires for a safer, more sustainable future. This behavior of the masses and world leaders yet again prove that man is in fact born evil. The single most surprising point is that majority of the people don’t even realize their evil behaviors. In these current times, when a person who can afford an expensive branded item buys it, he does not realize that this expenditure is at the expense of many hungry, dying children in some part of the world. Every human desire that you fulfill will come at the cost of another human not being able to fulfill even his needs. The fact that masses don’t realize this and are not even thinking on these lines, further prove that all a man cares about is himself. His first and foremost priority is his life and his desires, which a man is willing to go to any extent to fulfill his thirst, even if it is at the expense of another human’s life.

All these cases strengthen Xunzi’s argument that man is born evil and goodness is the result of conscious activity. Additionally, Xunzi’s simple and elaborative writing style made his argument even more convincing as it could easily be grasped by a vast audience. The fact that Xunzi used logic and human reasoning to build his argument, instead of emotional appeal, adds to his credibility as a scholar. While at some points he was too quick to judge, majority of his content and context was valid and convincing. This essay would have made a lot of sense in the warring states period as it was a period of political instability which would also lead to social instability. But even in the current age, evilness and wrongdoings are no less. In fact, everyday new ways to commit evil are discovered. Man finds out a new ways to deceive, hurt and ruin his fellow human, whether it is in a physical, mental emotional or spiritual form. In conclusion, man has been evil from the start of his existence and will remain so till the end of his existence. Goodness is only temporary and rare.

Works cited

  1. ‘Man’s Nature is Evil – Hsun Tzuu.’. Study Moose. 7 Apr 2016. Web. 20 Oct. 2019.
  2. Mankiw, N.Gregory. Principles of Economics 8th edition. Cengage learning. 2017. Print.
  3. SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Leviathan.”. SparkNotes LLC. n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2019.
  4. Vinney, Cynthia. “Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory Explained”. 06 June 2019. Web. 20 Oct. 2019.

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