Man is capable of both good and evil, but which nature were we originally born with? Mancius released Man’s Nature Is Good discussing his standpoint on this topic, but in a much different light than most. Mencius clearly believes that all men are born inherently good with desires to achieve principle respect by making moral decisions. Later, in Hsun Tzu’s written piece Man’s Nature is Evil, we clearly see that his philosophy is founded upon the idea that all men are born inherently evil with the desire to do wrong, and goodness is a result of one’s conscious activity. Despite the pessimistic tone of Tzu’s message, it is taken away that there are many factors that come into man achieving true satisfaction: ritual observance and relationship of man to the state; both necessities for upmost goodness.
Tzu repetitively points out that men cannot learn nature given by Heaven, but principles and rituals set by sages are able to be applied, worked on, and fully comprehended. His system neglects Heaven, which ultimately rewards or punishes a ruler according to his record by substituting a mechanical process that is independent of the doings of man. In his famous and controversial essay, Tzu exclaimed that by nature, men were evil and that they acquire goodness only through proper training. He believed that humans at birth are like uncarved blocks of wood and that as they get older, society molds and shapes them; moral teachings and prominent rulers are the key to human perfection. Tzu never says that humans cannot reach goodness eventually, he just makes it evident that those men who desire good only strive for good because of their original evil nature. For Hsun Tzu, instruction and teaching was the only road to salvation. All of the good of society is to be found in the sages’ teaching that man must exercise social restraint and develop the faculty of discrimination in order to train and direct his crude animal nature. Tzu argues that one cannot acquire clear sight and keen hearing by study alone; perfection has to be taught.
Tzu also makes many valid points arguing that man is born with feelings of jealousy and hate; all things rooted in evil. If man yields to these, it will lead up to brutality and wrongdoings. An example of this is how man is ruthless; he fights and competes to do better than another. That mindset and these actions root to evil and sin. Tzu devoted much of his writing to attack the prevalent superstitions. He rejected the naturalistic view of man and the universe. He believed that if man follows his nature and indulges in his natural desires, without transforming himself by conscious activity he is doomed to fall victim to his evil nature. Tzu does not agree that nature is good, because that would conclude that this would only result in man not truly understanding their nature and conscious activity. Tzu asserts that all tongues savor the same flavors, all eyes see the same beauty and all ears hear the same music. This means that goodness cannot differ from person to person; it has to be consistent through all of humanity.
Mencius strongly presumed that goodness is polished through instruction and persistence or wasted through abandonment and pessimistic guidance, but it is never lost entirely. He refers to a song that proclaims that humankind is born from Heaven, and evil is not endowed on them immediately. Mencius does agree that man’s heart can be mired in different situations, but all men start with a clean slate. Mencius states that all men are capable of learning, because nature is good. He compared this propensity toward goodness to Ox Mountain, a hill that was once forested. The trees were cut down in order to make a place for cows to graze, but tree shoots continue to crop there. The cows chew them, which causes the trees to never reach maturity, but the potential for tree growth is always present. Simillary, humans have the potential and ability to pursue sagehood, but most become altered and end up unsuccessful. Mencius maintained that all were born good and became bad only when their goodness was abused or neglected. For Mencius, learning was a seeking of the lost heart of childhood innocence; becoming a good person is the result of developing our innate tendencies toward benevolence, righteousness, wisdom, and propriety. Mencius is generally considered to be the maintainer of an overly optimistic conception of man.
Both Mencius and Hsun Tzu agreed that men could attain perfect virtue through study and imitation of the sages. The significant difference was the logical and conceptual one of whether one starts from bad and moves toward the good, or whether one starts from good and inevitably suffers a combination of bad. Mencius believed evil comes from our condition in life, where scarcity of resources or a harsh climate vitalizes evil within us while Tzu believed that humans are born with an devil nature and wrong intentions, and goodness come from our condition in life and our obedience to set rules and honored rulers. Even with these two different views and beliefs, they both stress the same things: ritual observance, relationship of man to the state, and an ethical imperative in living life. No matter what standpoint man is at, all men can agree that goodness certainly survives while evil dies, but good also seems to build upon the foundation of evil.