Good Example Of Mencius’ Moral Theory Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Human, Ethics, Morality, Nature, Compassion, Humans, Children, Actions

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/12/06

Directly connected with morality, xian, human nature is a principle that deeply influenced the Chinese philosophy for ages. Mencius, the ancient Chinese philosopher, shaped the Chinese moral and ethical system of his time and long after, being known today as one of the most influential philosophers that treated human nature in relation with morality. Mencius, holds that morality is a natural inclination of human conduct, because humans born for goodness, being guided by good intentions and implicitly moral actions. The Chinese philosopher’ teachings indicate that the human nature as inextricably connected with morality, as they are both part of the heavenly universe that created them, serving as a function of humans’ capabilities.
In Mencius’ view, humans are naturally goodhearted, possessing goodness since their birth and expressing it inevitably, just as “the natural tendency of the water to flow downward” (Makeham 20). In this sense, Mencius exemplifies human natural goodness through the case of the child about to fall into the well, which naturally generates the sense of pity for any human being (Mou 193). With this case, Mencius argues that humans, even the perverted adults, possess the sense of right and wrong in their system, reacting to various situations in moral ways. The compassion is a moral component, because it defines the right from wrong. In other words, every human being comprehends that a child’s falling into a well is not a right action, hence it produces the absence of pleasure, in this case sadness, the expression of pity and compassion.
In Mencius’ philosophy, pity and compassion represent one of the four incipient moral tendencies, along with shame and aversion, deference and compliance and the approval and condemnation (Makeham 21). Mencius’ philosophy asserts that the four incipient moral values that define each human being are the reflections of the universe in the individual being, which is nothing but a microcosm, a connection with the Universe and an expression of its virtues (Makeham 20).
Mencius’ theory indicates that the four pillars of natural moral tendencies can be nurtured in natural environments that promote the positive human development in the spirit of goodness and morality. However, the philosopher notes the contrast of raising humans in un-natural environments: “There is no water that does not tend downward. Now, by striking water and making it leap up, you can cause it to go past your forehead” (Mencius 4rd BCE in Schwitzgebel 8). Similarly, humans who are nurtured and develop into adverse environments will grow further apart from their natural tendencies to morality. The Chinese philosopher considers any human development that does not include or act according to the four primordial moral values as unnatural.
Mencius is the adept of the idea according to which humans are naturally good, although he is aware of the fact that not “all people behave well” (Schwitzgebel 9). In the example with the child in danger of falling into the well, Mencius portrayed nothing but the actions of a goodhearted man, acting according to the four moral principles of the incipient, natural moral tendencies. Mencius considered that every human being would develop the sense of commiseration at the sight of a child about to fall into the well, which comes as a natural instinct of seeing another human being in danger. Such action would be generating pity and compassion for the fate of the child, shame and dislike for the fact that he does not prevent the act, which indicates that humans are born with the acknowledgement of righteousness (Makeham 21). However, as Mou (192) observes, in his entire debate over righteousness, the incipient moral set of four values that define the natural xian (human being), Mencius is solely reflecting the affection side of the individuals, neglecting the reasoning component of humanity. In other words, the heart of pity and compassion, of shame, of deference and compliance, of approval and condemnation, are reflections of the human affection and not the human reason. Nevertheless, as scholars further indicate, for Mencius the human affection is not separated by reasoning and the xin, which in Chinese defines the heart, holds a more complex connotation in his philosophy, defining both heart and mind and the relationship between the two (Makeham 20; Mou 192).
However, Mencius’ argumentation of human nature as being naturally moral is a matter of spontaneity, intuition and impulse, rather than solid and constructive reasoning. His example with the child about to fall into the well demonstrates that humans immediately develop the sense of commiseration, of shame and understand that such action is wrong from a natural instinct. In the nowadays society, the natural instinct is still a matter of impulse, but it also contains a reasoning component. Taking the case of the subway suicides that occur throughout the world in the areas that possess metro lines, seeing a person about to commit suicide would naturally generate the sense of commiseration for a human being in danger of losing his or her life. In the same time, however, one cannot stop to think that the suicidal act of the person, will generate further repercussions such as delayed metro circulation, which will cause many people to be late for work or job interview or other organized activities. Therefore, the person’s sufferance expressed through the act of suicide might not solely produce pity and compassion, shame and commiseration, but it would also generate frustration, if reasoning is applied, as the suicidal action might impede the natural flux of the personal activities.
In Mencius’ morality theory, the heart and reason are both functions of the human being and they both generate the moral behavior of individuals who develop in natural, unpervert conditions. However, his philosophy does not take reason and hear separately and for this cause, Mencius’ morality theory is incomplete. A child about to fall into the well or a person on the edge of committing suicide by jumping in front of the metro train naturally generate pity and compassion for the witnesses of such acts, as well as a sense of shame, the desire to stop the action as a condemnation of the act. Nevertheless, such actions also include a reasoning side. What if by jumping to save the child the person witnessing him will provoke the child’s death and he or she will be accused of murder? What if the suicidal person will delay the circulation of the subway causing people to be late for work or other activities?
Besides affection, morality also includes reason, which is an inherent human capacity that should be taken in consideration, separately of the human senses. Mencius’ philosophy asserts that all humans are naturally good, but with this statement the Chinese philosopher evaluates the affective values of human beings. While reasoning is not the antithesis of affection, it nevertheless comprises different connotations, influencing humans to act morally different than they would have acted if guided solely by affection.

Works Cited

Makeham, John. “Interpreting Mencius” new Zeeland Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 22 – 33. 2001. Print.
Mou, Bo. Hostory of Chinese Philosophy. New York: Routledge. 2009. Print.
Schwitzgebel, Eric. Human Nature and Moral Development in Mencius, Xunzi, Hobbes, and Rousseau.. Riverside: University of California at Riverside. 2005. Print.

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