Ear and Conscious Activity
Man’s Nature is Evil Hsun Tzu Man’s nature is evil; goodness is a result of a conscious activity. The nature of man is such that he is born with a fondness for profit. If he indulges this fondness, it will lead him to wrangling and strife, and all sense of courtesy and humility will disappear. He is born with feelings of envy and hate, and if he indulges these, they will lead him to violence and crime, and all sense of loyalty and good faith will disappear. Man is born with the desires of eyes and ears, with a fondness for beautiful sights and sounds.
If he indulges these, they will lead him to license and wantonness, and all ritual principles and correct forms will be lost. Hence, any man who follows his nature and indulges his emotions will inevitably become involved in wrangling and strife, will violate the forms and rules of society and will end as a criminal.
Only $13.90 / page
Therefore, man must first be transformed by the instructions of the teacher and guided by ritual principles, and only then he will be able to observe the dictates of courtesy and humility, obey the forms and rules of society, and achieve order.
It is obvious from this then, that man’s nature is evil, and that his goodness is the result of conscious activity. A warped piece of wood must wait until it had been laid against the straightening bard, steamed and forced into shape before it becomes straight; a piece of blunt metal must wait until it has been whetted on a grindstone before it can become sharp. Similarly, since man’s nature is evil, it must wait for the instructions of the teacher before it can become upright and for the guidance of the ritual principles before it can become orderly.
If men have no teachers to instruct them, they will be inclined towards evil and not upright, and if they have no ritual principles to guide them, they will be perverse, violent and lack order. In ancient times, the sage- kings realize that man’s nature is evil and that therefore he inclines toward evil and violence and are not upright or orderly. Accordingly, they created ritual principles and laid down certain regulations in order to reform man’s emotional nature and make it upright, in order to train, transform and guide it to proper channels. In this way they caused all men o become orderly and to conform to the Way. Hence today, any man who takes to heart the instructions of the teacher, applies himself to the studies and abides by the ritual principles may become a gentleman, but anyone who gives free rein to his emotional nature, is content to indulge his passions and disregards ritual principles may become a petty man. It is obvious from this therefore, that man’s nature is evil, and that goodness is a result of conscious activity. Mencius states that man is capable of learning because his nature is good. I say that is wrong.
It indicates that he has not really understood man’s nature nor distinguished properly between the basic nature and conscious activity. Nature is that which is given by heaven, you cannot learn it, and you cannot acquire it by effort. Ritual principles, on the other hand, are created by sages; you can learn to apply them, you can work to bring them to completion. That part of man which cannot be learned or acquired by effort is called nature; that part of him which can be acquired by learning and brought to completion by effort is called conscious activity.
This is the difference between nature and conscious activity. It is a part of man’s nature that his eyes can see and his ears can hear. But the faculty of clear sight can never exist separately from the eye, nor can the faculty of clear hearing exist separately from the ear. It is obvious then, that you cannot acquire clear sight and keen hearing by study. Mencius states that man’s nature is good, and that all evil arises because he loses his original nature. Such a view, I believe is erroneous.
It is the way with Man’s nature that as soon as he is born, he begins to depart from his original naivete and simplicity, and therefore he must inevitably lose what Mencius regards as his original nature. It is obvious from this, then, that the nature of man is evil. Those who maintain that the nature is good praise and approve whatever has not departed from the original simplicity and naivete of the child. That is, they consider that beauty belongs to the original simplicity, naivete and goodness to the original mind, in the same way that clear sight is inseparable from the eye and keen hearing from the ear.
Hence they maintain that nature possesses goodness in the same way that the eye possesses clear vision or the ear keenness of hearing. Now it is the nature of the man that when he is hungry he will desire satisfaction, when he is cold he will desire warmth and when he is weary he will desire rest. This is his emotional nature. And yet a man, although he is hungry, will not dare to be the first to eat if he is in the presence of the elders, because he knows he should yield to them, and although he is weary, he will not dare to demand rest because he knows that he should relieve others of the burden of labor.
For a son to yield to a father of work or a younger brother to yield to his elder brother, for a son to relieve his father of work or a younger brother to relieve his elder brother- acts like these are all contrary to man’s nature and run counter to his emotions. And yet they represent the way of filial piety and the proper formed enjoined by the ritual principles. Hence, if man follow their emotional nature; there will be no courtesy or humility; courtesy and humility in fact counter man’s emotional nature.
For this it is obvious then, that man’s nature is evil, and that goodness is the result of conscious activity. Someone may ask: if man’s nature is evil, then where do ritual principles come from? I would reply: all ritual principles are produced by the conscious activity of the sages; essentially they are not a part of human nature. A potter holds clay and makes a vessel, but the vessel is a product of the conscious activity of the potter, not essentially a product of his emotional nature.
A carpenter carves a piece of wood and makes a utensil, but the utensil is the product of the conscious activity of the carpenter, not essentially the product of his human nature. The sage gathers together his thoughts, ideas and experiments with various forms of conscious activity, and so produces ritual principles and sets forth laws and regulations. Hence, these ritual principles and laws are the products of the conscious activity of the sage, not essentially products of his human nature.
Phenomena such as the eye’s fondness for beautiful forms, the ear’s fondness for beautiful sounds, the mouth’s fondness for delicious flavors, the mind’s fondness for profit, and the body’s fondness for pleasure and ease- these are all products of the emotional nature of man. They are instinctive and spontaneous; man does not have to do anything to produce them. But that which does not come to being instinctively must wait for some activity to bring it into being is called the product of conscious activity.
These are the products of the nature and of conscious activity respectively, and the proof that they are not the same. Therefore the sage transforms his nature and initiates conscious activity; from his conscious activity he produces ritual principles. Hence ritual principles and rules are produced by the sage. In respect to human nature the sage is the same as all other men and does not surpass them; it is only his conscious activity that he differs from and surpasses other men. Every man who desires good does so precisely because his nature is evil.
A man whose accomplishments are meager longs for greatness; and ugly man longs for beauty; a man in cramped quarters long for spaciousness; a poor man longs for wealth, and if he is already eminent he will no longer look for greater power. What a man already possesses in himself he will not bother to look for outside. From this we can see that men desire to do good precisely because their nature is evil. Ritual principles are certainly not part of man’s original nature, and therefore he ponders and plans and thereby seeks to understand them.
Hence, man in the state for which he is born neither neither possesses nor understands ritual principles. If he does not possess ritual principles, his behavior will be chaotic, and if he does not understand them, he will be wild and irresponsible. In fact, therefore, man in the state in which he is born possesses this tendency towards chaos and irresponsibility. From this, it is obvious then, that man’s nature is evil, and that his goodness is the result of conscious activity.