Ethics in China: Mozi
In this lecture we will cover three of the most important Chinese philosophers who followed Confucius, both philosophically and historically: Mozi, Mencius & Xunzi, Master Mo, Master Men & Master Xun. These thinkers debated with Confucius and each other about how much we should love everyone as we love ourselves, our families and our states, and about whether human nature is good or evil, based in compassion for others or selfish desire.
Mozi & Universal Love
Not much is known about Mozi (470-391 BCE, “Moe-t’zeh”), but he was certainly the founder of Moism, one of the four major schools of the Period of the Hundred Schools along with Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism. The Warring States of China were unified briefly by the Qin (“Chin”) Dynasty, who supported Legalism and tried to extinguish Confucianism. The Han Dynasty took over, supported Confucianism and Daoism, but not Legalism, because of their unpopular support by the Qin who employed harsh, draconian justice to keep the Warring States unified, and not Moism, which argued for a more radical type of universal love than Confucius, Mencius or Xunzi thought wise or sustainable. Mozi’s teachings and sayings were collected by his students and established as Mozi’s text and philosophy, just as with Confucius’ and Mencius’, and there was a Moist school flourishing around 400 BCE with several offshoots.
One ancient work says that Mozi studied Confucius at an official school, but then became disgusted and developed his philosophy in opposition to Confucianism. Mozi does frequently quote the Book of Odes and the Book of History, books that Confucius compiled as textbooks for his students. We know that Confucianism and Moism were both flourishing and in competition at the same time from texts like the Daoist text of Zhuangzi, in which Zhuangzi states that what the Confucians call right the Moists call wrong and vice versa. Like Confucius, Mozi likely traveled to schools and noble courts expounding his philosophy and seeking students and supporters. Nobles and other wealthy individuals would often put on banquets and debates for education and entertainment.
Because Mozi was a great critic of the excesses of the powerful and voice for the common people, some scholars have speculated that Mozi was of the lower classes. He may have been a craftsman, as he often uses metaphors such as a compass, carpenter’s square, and plumb lines. Some even say he could have been an ex-convict and Mo meant tattoo, like the sort used to brand ex-cons as a punishment (thus, Mozi would mean Master Tattoo or Master Tat). These scholars are likely thinking of Zhuangzi’s use of ex-con teachers countering Confucius while playing the Moists and Confucians against each other.
While Mozi criticized the luxurious excesses of the wealthy, particularly in light of the suffering of the poor and oppressed as the wealthy spent vast sums of money on extravagant entertainment, it is unlikely that an ex-con would have access to the noble courts and fine houses that Mozi frequented in seeking to expand the influence and membership of his school of thought. Unlikely, but perhaps his teachings and following were impressive enough to grant him aristocratic audiences.
How could Mozi get away with criticizing the powerful? Mozi argued (as did the Confucians) that it is behavior that makes one a good person and not high birth, arguing for meritocracy over aristocracy like the Confucians. As in ancient India, and common in all human cultures ancient and modern, the top ranks of power are in constant struggle with the up and coming powers. Unfortunately, it may have been the hard-lining Moist stance against the top levels of society that ultimately resulted in the downfall of Moism when the Han endorsed the Confucians and Daoists. Moism was neglected for 1,500 years afterwards. It was only in the times of Song Neo-Confucianism, ironically, that Mozi was reexamined along with Buddhism and put in a Confucian context.
Like Xunzi, Mozi was exceptional at examining the validity of beliefs. He had a system of three tests. First, one should seek the origin of the belief, which for most Chinese philosophical arguments was the wise ways of the legendary sage kings. Second, one should seek the empirical validity of the belief, or how well the belief corresponds to what we have discovered to be true based on evidence. Interestingly, Mozi argues that there must certainly be ghosts, as so many people have reported seeing them. We do know that a typical symptom of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after engaging in violence is seeing victims in both waking hallucinations and in dreams, being haunted by those one has hurt. While most would today consider this haunting to be psychological, not supernatural, Mozi could certainly have traveled the globe and found much evidence across all cultures that ghosts exist and punish the wicked, which he argued was the natural morality of the universe.
Third, one should seek the practicality and applicability of the belief, similar to the Utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill and American Pragmatism. Mozi was quite a Utilitarian, arguing that all things, including beliefs, should be used to maximize happiness and minimize pain for all of society, and that this was the way of the sage kings. Mozi argued that the belief that ghosts punish the wicked is not only true based on the evidence, but on its usefulness. If evil people are afraid of being haunted and persecuted by ghosts for their crimes, it makes them less likely to commit offenses. For example, if you do not turn in all of your essays, my vengeful spirit will haunt your grade point average until your dying day.
The Moists are most famous for their doctrine of universal love, which we discussed last time in dialog with Mencius. Mozi had the hard task of trying to convince rulers and common people alike that they should not only love others as themselves, which the Confucians also teach, but that they should love other families as they love their own families and love people of other countries as they love the people of their own country. In accord with his three tests, Mozi argues that universal love was 1) the practice of the sage kings, 2) is the best practice based on evidence of social behavior, and 3) is practical and could be put into practice within a single generation if enough rulers were convinced that it is in their own best interest as well as in their people’s best interest.
Paradoxically, Mozi argues that when we look at things dispassionately, without the biases of a Confucian for their family or nation, we can see that compassion for all equally is the best strategy for a healthy individual and society. Not only does looking at things objectively and with emotional detachment give us the best mind for seeking truth, it teaches us about proper emotional conduct. Mozi argues that all problems, both of individuals and of society, are caused by bias and partiality. Just as we trust others when we know that they are impartial, judging them by their words and actions when they can benefit themselves more than others but do not, we trust our rulers and ourselves when they and we are impartial. Mozi’s ‘universal love’ is passionate, but it is akin to Buddhist emptiness, which as openness is compassion but also detachment.
Mencius seems terrified by Moism, his major rival in Northeast China at the time, saying, “The ideas of Yang Chu and Mozi fill the world” (Mencius 3B:9). Yang Chu and Mozi were equal opposite extremes which Mencius feared would cause individuals to fall from the middle way and balance of opposites proper to the great cultivated person. Yang Chu, whose school did not survive the Qin and Han unification of China, taught a sort of social Darwinism, that it is everyone for themselves, while Mozi taught universal love, that everyone should care for everyone as they do for themselves. The Confucians’ doctrine of loving all but having particular love for one’s family, friends and country was offered as a middle way between these two extremes. Against Mozi, Mencius argues that loving everyone as one loves one’s own father is like one has no father, that loving everyone as one loves one’s own children is like one has no children. Considering the emphasis that Confucians such as Mencius put on following one’s father, this would be a great evil.
Mencius argues against the Moist Yi Chih, also known as Yizi, Master Yi, that society began with the burial of the dead. Our early ancestors began to bury the bodies of those who died because they became distressed seeing animals and insects consume the bodies. Yi Chih does not object, and the text seems to present this as Mencius’ argument going unanswered and thus it being a victory for Mencius. However, why should Moist Master Yi object? Mencius is implying that the ancestors buried their family and friends, but it could equally be argued that they buried those of their community, considering that communities were much smaller and more intimate in earlier times. Whether or not Yi Chih is aware of this, he could agree that the ancestors were disturbed at the sight of others and use this as further support that human beings naturally care about others as they do themselves.
The Moists and Confucians seem to be presenting two sides of an issue that touches all cultures. You can find a good example of the conflict in the ancient Greek tragedy Antigone. Antigone’s two brothers fight each other to rule the state, and when one kills the other, he takes the throne and orders that his brother’s body not be buried (clearly, this would creep Mencius out). Antigone is torn between obeying her brother, the state, and burying her other brother as an obligation to her family members. Antigone argues in court that she must bury her brother, as one must serve one’s family over the state, and she is condemned to death. In one passage of Confucius’ Analects (13:18), Confucius sides with Antigone, arguing that a son who testifies against his father for stealing a sheep is wrong for not protecting his family from harm. We can assume that the punishment of the father would injure the family considerably.
Are the Moist and Confucian ideas of love incompatible? Is the love one has for others the origin of the love one has for those one is familiar with, or is the love one has for those one is familiar with the origin of the love one has for everyone? There is evidence that some during the Warring States period regarded them as complementary halves of the same truth. The Confucians such as Mencius argue as if the Moists wish to feed everyone a sandwich when they themselves want to eat a sandwich, which they argue is impractical. The Moists likewise argue as if the Confucians wish to feed only their families and have no obligation to anyone else. As a Moist, it is quite reasonable to believe that universal love allows one to take care of one’s own needs first, as everyone else should do for themselves, while keeping in mind that one must make the effort to ensure that all are cared for equally by society as a whole in addition to attending to one’s own needs. Likewise, as a Confucian, it is quite reasonable to care about everyone in society and the prosperity of society as a whole while taking care of one’s own needs and those of one’s family.
The Moists start with universal love and assume it will extend to the partial, while the Confucians start with partial love and assume it will extend to the universal. Taking care of the self and those close to you and taking care of everyone are complimentary and mutually supportive. It is true, however, that starting with one or leaning towards the other can create great differences in doctrines and policy. For example, Mozi wanted limitations on extravagant funerals and mourning periods (traditionally three years) for family members, as these benefit one’s own family more than they contribute to the good of society as a whole. If money is spent on funerals and time on mourning periods, it can not be spent ensuring the prosperity of everyone. Confucians believe that one should provide decent funerals and mourning for one’s family members, as it is an exercise in devotion to those one shares one’s life with.
The Moists were known to be experts in both debate and warfare, and they excelled in both logic and military science, but for the purpose of self defense and defending the weak against the strong. Remember that the period of the Hundred Schools was also the Warring States Period, a time of instability when many who were weak were being abused and killed by local wars and bandits. Today, the Swiss embody this stance on war the best as they spend a decent amount on defense and bases from which they launch jets out of mountains but never go on the offensive, staying neutral in international matters.
In the section Identifying with One’s Superior, Mozi says that before there were laws and culture in prehistoric times, everyone had different views and the world was a brutal place without regard for family or anyone other than the self. Civilization occurred when people subjected themselves to rulers and their laws. This picture is identical to that of Xunzi as well as Hobbes, the British political philosopher of the 1600s. Mozi says, like Hobbes, that one must subject one’s own will and decisions to that of one’s superior, but unlike Hobbes and like Confucius, Mozi argues that if one’s superior is wrong they should be told by subordinates. The lowest of people should report all good and bad to their superiors, but then do what they are told by their superiors. Mozi argues that the Lord of Heaven, the highest god, will support the good and dethrone the bad, naturally creating a just society.
There is a bit of a conflict here with his views in Against Offensive Warfare. Mozi argues that self-defense is always preferable to offense, and it would seem this includes mounting an offense against one’s own rulers. However, in order to answer those who say the ancient sage kings went to war, he makes a distinction between offensive warfare for gain and punishing an unjust ruler, which he says is what the sage kings did whenever they went to war. It seems that if you are a ruler it is alright to use war as punishment against a neighboring unjust ruler, but not if you are the subject of an unjust ruler.
In the section Universal Love, Mozi begins by stating that the good person seeks to promote what is good and reduce what is harmful. He argues that the greatest harm is powerful states and families attacking the weak states and families and the strong oppressing the weak. All this comes about not by love but by hate, not by universality (caring about the whole) but by partiality (caring about part of the whole as opposed to another part). Partiality must be, therefore, replaced with universality.
Mozi uses the example of using a flood to counter a flood (fighting water with water) or putting out a fire with another flame (fighting fire with fire). To fight partiality with partiality (such as fighting one army with another, each wanting exclusive control of a territory) will not work. The only way to defeat partiality is through universality, just as the way to fight fire is with water. If rulers and people saw other cities as they do their own, then they would not attack them but rather give to them and inspire the others to give back. While many in his time as well as today would be skeptical of the practicality of this, Mozi argues that it is not easy but it is the only practical solution to warfare and poverty.
Mozi argues that this can be put into practice or even he would be critical. We naturally trust the universal person with our family and possessions more than the partial person. He uses the example of a man going to war, who would trust his family to the universal rather than the partial man. Therefore, we naturally love and trust the universal ruler more than the particular ruler. He argues further that if one cares about one’s parents, caring about others as one cares about one’s parents would be the best way to take care of one’s parents, as others would care about one’s parents and provide for them as they do for themselves. Mozi mentions that critics have replied that universal love and a universal society is as impossible as picking up Tai Shan, the gigantic sacred mountain of China, and leaping over a river with it. Mozi responds that the ancient sage kings practiced universal love, proving it is possible. Whether or not the sage kings did love everyone equally, it may be problematic to insist that their subjects all joined them.
There is, however, a problem with this view that Mencius mentions: we do in fact see people naturally loving their own more than their neighbor, just as we do see people trusting partial rulers rather than universal ones. Mozi says there are no fools in the world like this, that everyone knows a universal person is more trustworthy than a partial person, but experience does show us otherwise. However, he argues that if the people saw rulers that fed and clothed everyone equally, there could be radical change in society within a single generation. He argues that King Ling liked slender waists, so his subjects all went on a one-meal-a-day diet within a single generation, that King Kou-Chien liked bravery, so his subjects became brave warriors within a single generation, and Duke Wen liked course clothes, so his subjects began to wear coarse clothes within a single generation. If people can change these ways within one generation, how much more would they benefit from universal love and care? While it would have problems, it is not necessarily impossible. Confucius did say that no one, including himself, is perfect.
In the section Against Offensive Warfare, Mozi says that everyone knows that it is wrong to steal from one’s neighbors, but that when it is called warfare, and a people steal from another people, it is praised. If it is true that killing one person is a crime, then killing a hundred is far more of a crime. People are truly confused about right and wrong if they consider warfare to be justice. Mozi argues this is like calling a large amount of black ‘white’, or calling a large amount of bitter ‘sweet’. Rulers unjustly use people as a beast uses its claws and teeth to attack other people, praising those they use this way. This causes people to lose soldiers who are needed for self-defense, who die not only from combat but from starvation and disease in times of war. It also causes the death of people, who are the ones who tend to the needs of spirits. In the section The Will of Heaven, Mozi says that people can hide from their families in another house or their rulers in another land, but they cannot hide from Heaven. If one does good, then one prospers. If one does evil, one perishes. The Will of Heaven, the way of things, is “like a compass to a wheelwright or a square to a carpenter”, giving a model for matching the curved and the straight.
Mencius & Human Nature as Good
Mencius (370-290 BCE) or Menzi, the second patriarch of Confucianism, taught that human nature is good and we should develop the heart, growing the four virtues through love. He argued that because the human individual is essentially good, we need ritual to guide our growth but love is the true essence. Xunzi (312 – 230 BCE), the third patriarch of Confucianism, argued, against Mencius by name, that human nature is evil and without the rituals and tradition to hold our nature back and transform us through education we would be selfish and uncivilized. (Xunzi is pronounced “Hsun tzuh“.) This remained the major divide and debate in Confucian thought. We can see that there are various views and opinions within the school, and that individuals can draw on Mencius, Xunzi or both to back up their own interpretations of Confucius.
Mencius was born in the small warring state of Zou, near to where Confucius was born and taught. He is sometimes said to have founded Confucianism as an official school, but like with so many cultural movements there were followers of Confucius who compiled the Analects before Mencius, and certainly there were strands of schools that followed Confucius earlier. Mencius was, however, the primary interpreter of the themes of the Analects for the Confucian tradition to follow. A thousand years later, with Neo-Confucianism, Zhu Xi taught that Mencius was the last great thinker of the Period of the Hundred Schools and the patriarch of Confucianism, made the Mencius one of the four books of Confucian education along with the Analects, and declared Xunzi to be a heretic for arguing against Mencius. This is the reason that when the Jesuits got to China 700 years after Zhu Xi, they gave Confucius and Mencius Latin names, but not Xunzi.
In 2A:6, Mencius states a major thesis of his work: No one is devoid of compassion for others. Mencius argues that we naturally feel for others and their well-being as we do for ourselves, and that when we fail to care for others there are other factors involved that block or reverse our natural compassion, just as water naturally goes downward unless it is obstructed by something humans are naturally compassionate unless matters are complicated by obstructions. The heart is a root system which grows the virtues of humanity when properly cultivated through education and practice. The four parts are compassion (Ren) which sprouts benevolence, shame which sprouts duty and righteousness (Yi), courtesy/modesty which sprouts observance of ritual and principle (Li), and a sense of right and wrong (Chih) which sprouts wisdom.
Mencius uses the example of a young child falling into a well example to back up his argument. He argues that anyone would feel panic and fear if they saw a child in danger, regardless of how evil that individual is or how twisted they have become. This point is excellent for debate. We can all imagine someone who is sociopathic that they would not care watching a child in serious danger or coming to harm, but is this common? If it is possible, is it due to obstructions to original nature, to isolated psychological situations Mencius believes that there are four parts of the human heart that are developed and cultivated by society and study such that four virtues are grown like plants, germs or sprouts.
In 3A:5, we see Mencius getting into a battle with Yizi, a Moist, over whether one should love one’s own family more than others. While compassion is central to Confucianism, whether or not it is innate like Mencius says or has to be transplanted like Xunzi says, Confucians believe that one should have more love for one’s parents, children, family, and country and that this is the natural and proper way of things. Moists, who are radical egalitarians, argued against the Confucians that we should love everyone without distinction, as much as we love ourselves, our parents, our children, and our country. Confucians argue that the Moists are breaking with the natural way of the human heart and society, and that proportion in love is proper and best. Mencius argues that we all do naturally love infants and young children and that this is good. He returns to his well example, and argues that Yizi is taking this one case and applying it improperly to everyone.
Mencius argues that love and care for others began with early humans, living before civilization, seeing the decaying bodies of their parents being attacked by animals. Because humans naturally care for others, particularly their parents, they were moved at the sight to bury the bodies. Indeed, archaeology recognizes the birth of culture and civilization in the increasingly ritualized burial of the dead, who are increasingly ornamented and buried with items which were precious to the individual and possibly useful in the afterlife or next life. Yizi concedes the point and accepts that love starts with the love one has for one’s parents and develops from there. In 4A:12, Mencius elaborates and says that goodness starts with working on the self and love for one’s parents, and moves outward from there to one’s friends and the whole of one’s society.
In 4A:16, Mencius considers another thought experiment with important implications. A scholar, school unknown, poses a problem to Mencius: It says in the laws that it is improper for men and women to touch hands if they are not married, but if your brother’s sister is drowning, shouldn’t you reach out to save her? Mencius replies that it is proper to save her, and that one must not blindly follow the law but use discretion given the situation. Confucius said in the Analects that even though the rites say to use a silk hat, it is OK to use a hemp hat instead because it is more modest. He also tells his students to rise up and overthrow an unjust tyrant. The scholar debating Mencius says the empire is now drowning, implying that they should radically break with the laws, traditions and government to save society. Mencius replies that with this too we must use discretion, implying that revolutionizing the traditional structure of society is unwise and excessive.
In 6A:2, as in several other places, Mencius likens love and human nature (which he believes to be identical) to water and argues that just as water naturally moves downward love naturally moves outward. If water does not move downward, it is blocked by something. In the same way, if a human being is not loving towards others and compassionate, it is blocked by something. As seen, this love would grow outward naturally but equally would radiate in differentiated levels. Love for those close would be greater than love for those far, but love for those close and love for those far would mutually support and increase each other.
In 6A:7, Mencius speaks of sowing barley on various ground (strikingly similar to the parable of Jesus, which must have astounded the Jesuits along with the Gold and Silver rules of reciprocity). Just as when barley does not grow the seeds have fallen on bad soil, when humans are bad it is not because they do not have love and goodness in their nature but because they are put in a bad situation. Recall Mencius’ mother repeatedly seeking a better environment for the cultivation of her child. Reason and goodness are common to all. The sage or great person simply recognizes this and grows what all have to become great.
Xunzi & Human Nature as Evil
Xunzi (in the older Wade-Giles, Hsun Tzu), the third most important Confucian after Confucius and Mencius, studied and taught at a university in the state of Chi. Like Confucius and Mencius, he briefly held a government position until his patron was assassinated, then returned to teaching. He had many followers in his day, some of whom are said to have used his teachings in the service of Legalism, which strangely sought to have Confucianism banned when supported by the Chin and then was banned by the Confucian supporting Han in turn. Unlike Confucius and Mencius, he did not travel widely. Also, unlike the Analects and Mencius, his text is his own, not a set of anecdotes and sayings collected by followers. Thus it is more systematic and contains entire arguments at length.
Xunzi argued that human nature is evil because human nature is desire. Common to human thought across all cultures is the frame of desire and hate as the lower selfish part of our nature and reason and love as the higher compassionate part of our nature. While Mencius argues that we naturally are the upper and it is merely obstructed by the lower when we are evil, Xunzi argues that we naturally are the lower and it is only through cultivation that we develop compassion. Are either singularly human nature? Regardless, there is a common theme that we only come to be fulfilled in the way desire tries through developing reason and love, which truly satisfy. Like Mencius, Xunzi argued that anyone in the street can become a sage, but it depends on environment and effort. If one hangs out with foolish people, one will be foolish, and likewise if you stick to the wise and read the wisdom of great books you will become wise.
Xunzi argues that without society and laws people would grab for themselves and do nothing for others. Like Hobbes, the English political philosopher, Xunzi argues that this justifies the king acting any way the king sees fit, including killing his subjects, in the name of the good and safety of the entire people. In Improving Yourself (Section 2 of the Xunzi), he argues that if we stick to the rituals and laws our behavior will be good and if we abandon the rituals and laws it will be bad. He draws openly on the behavior of civilized nobles versus the behavior of poor country folk, as well as the behavior of children versus adults. While Daoists saw the common country people as exemplary of virtue, Xunzi sees them as course and uncultured.
Xunzi argues that one’s temperament and intelligence need to be in balance and if they get overgrown they will cause ruin. Human abilities need to be reined in by society and customs, or they will cause problems. Xunzi argues that only by following laws can one be liberal and compassionate. Compassion is the goal that is possible, but it cannot be achieved without laws and principles. Following one’s parents and teachers is necessary for human development. Confucius says in the Analects that learning without thinking is bad, but thinking without learning is dangerous. Xunzi is likely thinking of this very passage.
In Man’s Nature is Evil (Section 23 of the Xunzi), he opens with this thesis and states that all goodness is the result of growth and effort. People naturally desire. They must work and change to understand that they only get what they desire when they put their desires in check, and they only learn this through involvement with society and its laws. Freud argued very similarly about our basic impulses, and that all technology is sexuality and violence denied and deferred into work. Xunzi openly refers to Mencius by name and his theory that human nature is good and says that Mencius is wrong. Xunzi argues that Mencius is confusing human nature with the results of conscious human development. Xunzi believes that the early legendary sage kings created society because they realized that human nature is corrupt and they created a method for us to grow from our nature and become excellent in spite of it. Some asked how the great sage kings could have created a just society if one did not yet exist, to which Xunzi replied that they somehow managed to listen to the cosmos, inspired from outside themselves.
While Mencius teaches to look inside ourselves to find morality, Xunzi teaches to look outside ourselves, to both society and the cosmos. The sage kings looked outside of themselves not only to great texts and social arrangements, but to the order of the universe to develop themselves. Xunzi is more cosmological than both Confucius and Mencius, speaking of the orders of nature and base but can potentially develop to be great like a society or the cosmos. In one passage, Xunzi argues that fire and water have energy but no awareness, and that animals have energy and awareness but no morality, but humans have energy, awareness and the capacity to develop discrimination of right from wrong and morality. They develop this by looking outward and learning, not by looking inward which will only stunt growth and keep us in an immature and desirous state. It is making distinctions that makes us greater than beasts, and the rituals and traditions that are the greatest distinctions passed down from the sage kings.
Xunzi argues that the example of childlike love Mencius employs is misleading. Children do not know enough, are not developed enough, to refrain from grabbing for themselves. Good people restrain their own desires to be good to others, unlike the child. Note that we tell people to be like a little child (when happy & loving) and we also tell people to NOT be like a little child (when angry & upset). While children are innocent, and when happy adorable, it is true that they do not have the ability to care for others and support others that the developed adult has, and if a desire or negativity gets in their way they quickly lose all focus.
Xunzi argues that greatness IS an object of desire, and the great person desires to overcome desire and discipline desire to truly fulfill desire. This seems paradoxical, but true to life. Modern psychology experiments have shown that children who learn to control their desires and defer pleasure with patience are more successful later in life in their achievements. The achievements satisfy the person more than the initial lesser things desired. If Mencius is right, Xunzi argues, we could dispense with society and be good in the state of nature. Both the Daoists and Rousseau the European political philosopher hold this to be true. Xunzi is arguing that, if we believe Mencius, we may as well all become Daoists. If we honor the sages and the good over the stupid and the evil, we do so because of how much each has developed and not because of their universal nature. Xunzi is arguing that, if we believe Mencius, we may as well all become Moists.
Xunzi argues that all human beings are equal in their capacity to become good and develop, but they do not start out good. The sage is one who has developed, not the one who remains the same as they were in the beginning. Xunzi argues that because one has two feet, one can theoretically walk to the ends of the earth but no one has so far managed to do so. The famous bows (for arrows), leaders and horses all became famous for how they were cultivated and developed and were not excellent without conscious effort and process. He ends by saying twice: “Environment is the important thing!” Remember Mencius agrees in speaking of sowing barley. For Confucians, society is essential. The debate is on whether the environment compliments or contradicts human nature. Xunzi says:
Those who are good at discussing antiquity must demonstrate the validity of what they say in modern times; those who are good at discussing Heaven (the way of things) must show proofs from the human world. In discussions of all kinds, men value what is in accord with the facts and what can be proved to be valid. Hence if a man sits on his mat propounding some theory, he should be able to stand right up and put it into practice, and show that it can be extended over a wide area with equal validity. Now Mencius states that man’s nature is good, but this is neither in accord with the facts, nor can it be proved to be valid.