Mencius and the Expansion and Elaboratoin of Confucius' Notion of Human Nature

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Mencius and the Expansion and Elaboratoin of Confucius' Notion of Human Nature The Eastern religions often focus on the human nature and condition. And such was the case for Mencius. Mencius devoted himself to expanding and elaborating Confucius’ previous notion of human nature. Since the Eastern religions did not focus on a Wholly Other, and rather the here-and-now, such spiritual matters had to be related in a more tangible means. And Mencius was at master at this. Mencius related various facets of the human condition to everything from water to willow trees. “The human nature is just like the downward tendency of water. Just as all water has a down-going tendency, all people have a tendency toward goodness.” Early on, in 6A:1, Mencius makes an argument that “If we destroy the willow to make cups and bowls, should we also destroy the human being to make jen and Righteousness?” While this makes sense, he later makes an argument that contradicts this in one of the more striking passages: “I like life and I like Righteousness. But if I have to choose between them I will let go of life and take Righteousness. I want life, but there are things more important to me than life. Therefore, there are things that I won’t to just to live. I hate death, but there are things that I hate more than death, and thus there are certain kinds of suffering that I won’t avoid.” He clearly is willing to “let go of life and take Righteousness” when in fact he had said there was no sense in loosing the human to make jen and Righteousness. All interpretations aside, this does not affect Mencius’ statement of the overall human condition. Mencius’ clearly believes that human nature is to tend toward good and right. He also believes, however, that these things can be ignored and turned into greed. This argument is made in 6A:12, where he says “We know enough to be bothered when our finger is not right, but don’t know enough to be bothered when our mind is not right. This is called ‘not knowing the relative importance of things.’” A similar argument is made when he compares the incorrect practice of jen to one putting out a bonfire with a cup of water.

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