Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Seventh in a series of discussions in Chinese philosophy

by Thomas Riggins

After a restful evening, Karl and Fred were together again in Karl’s study for an early morning discussion of the philosophy of Hsun Tzu.

“I see you have Chan’s text of The Hsun Tzu open before you Fred. Are you ready to begin our discussion?”

“Ready and willing Karl.”

“Well then, let's begin.”

“What do you know about Hsun Tzu?”

“Only that he lived a couple of generations after Mencius. I remember that Mencius was born around 371 and died around 289 BC, while Hsun Tzu lived from about 298 to 238 BC. I also know that he is usually considered the anti-Mencius because. as opposed to Mencius’ view that people are born naturally ‘good’, he said they are naturally ‘evil’. And I do remember reading in Chan that ancient Confucianism is seen as developing along two different roads leading away from Confucius himself. Namely, the Idealist School or Road of Mencius and the Naturalistic School or road of
Hsun Tzu.”

“What else do you remember?”

“Let’s see. You better help me out.”

“Ok. Chan remarks that 1. His philosophy was dominate over that of Mencius up until and throughout the Han period--206 BC to 220 AD. He is also said to have been partially responsible for the Ch’in Dynasty and the repressive dictatorship of the ‘First Emperor’. That must be the first ‘modern’ emperor as we have those olden time emperors the sages are always talking about. The Ch’in Dynasty was short lived--221-206 BC....”

“Don’t forget we have Goodrich’s Short History here. First Emperor ( Shih-huang-ti ). The first one to unify China into a large empire--a unification that has lasted until modern times. He was a real tyrant and his empire was over thrown a few years after his death by the people who founded the Han Dynasty. He is, as I recall, best known to most people today as the the emperor who had all those terra cotta warriors made that are such a tourist attraction in modern day China. He also has an opera written about him!”

“That’s right Karl. And Chan says two of Hsun Tzu’s students Han Fei and Li Ssu were ministers of Ch’in.”

“I don’t see how Hsun Tzu can be tarred with the brush of Ch’in totalitarianism. He died before the rise of the Ch’in to total control of China. Anyway, he was honored as the greatest Confucianist until the end of Han times and the Han would never have allowed him that status if they considered him as an ideological forerunner of their mortal enemies the Ch’in.”

“That sounds right. But to continue. Chan points out that he was a native of Chao and moved to Ch’i when he was fifty so he could hang out with other scholars. Later he went to Ch’u, served briefly as a magistrate, taught students, and then dies there. He wrote his own book rather than relying on his students to make a compilation of his sayings. Chan writes that he ‘was contemporaneous with Mencius but there is no evidence that the two ever met.’”

“Which is not too strange as by Chan’s own dates for these two Hsun Tzu, would have been nine years old when Mencius died!”

“Chan has translated three of the most important chapters of the Hsun Tzu which covers all the main points of Hsun’s philosophy. There are thirty-two chapters in the Hsun Tzu, but these are the big one’s for philosophy. Ready?”


“We begin with chapter seventeen, ‘On Nature.’ Hsun says, ‘Nature (T’ien, Heaven) operates with constant regularity.... Respond to it with peace and order, and good fortune will result. Respond to it with disorder, and disaster will follow.... If the Way is cultivated [followed?] without deviation. the Nature cannot cause misfortune. Therefore flood and drought cannot cause a famine, extreme cold or heat cannot cause illness, and evil spiritual beings cannot cause misfortune. But if the foundations of living are neglected and used extravagantly. the Nature cannot make the country rich.’”

“It is obvious that this is an advanced view for the times Fred. The laws of nature are invariable and if human beings learn them and work with them all will be well. Nature does not cause famines is a good example of this. We can figure out the cycles of Nature, knowing that droughts, etc., are common, that floods occur, etc., we make sure we plan on storing up food for the lean years. If we fail to take proper actions we will have a famine. It is not to be blamed on Nature but on our lack of foresight and knowledge.”

“That makes sense, he continues saying famines, sickness, etc., ‘cannot be blamed on Heaven: this is how the Way works. Therefore one who understands the distinctive functions of Heaven and man may be called a perfect man.’ But you know, this sounds like ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’”

“It certainly does. I think Hsun Tzu would agree with that. But note, since we know that people use guns to kill people and there are many irresponsible people, it would make sense to limit the gun supply. This would be knowing ‘the distinctive functions of Heaven and man.’”

“Chan’s comment is interesting. ‘Hsun Tzu’s concept of Heaven is obviously closer to the Tao of the Taoists than to the T’ien (Heaven) of Confucius and Mencius. Their T’ien is still purposive, and the source and ultimate control of man’s destiny, but Hsun Tzu’s T’ien is purely Nature so that in most cases the word has to be translated as Nature rather than as Heaven. The marvelous thing is that while he accepted the Taoists’ naturalistic view, he was not influenced by their intuitionism and mysticism. In Hsun Tzu, we have rationalism and empiricism instead.’”

"While there may be relics of ‘purpose’ in the T’ien of Confucius and Mencius it is nothing like we found in Mo Tzu. I think the position adopted by Hsun Tzu is the culmination of tendencies already at work in Confucius and Mencius. This naturalistic way of thinking has simply become more completely manifest in Hsun Tzu. His concept of Heaven is similar to Spinoza’s concept of God. Where Spinoza says ‘Deus siva Natura’, Hsun Tzu says ‘Heaven or Nature’."

“We see this naturalism pretty well in the next quote Karl. Hsun Tzu says, ‘Each of the ten thousand things [idiom for ‘everything’] attains its harmony, and thus grows. Each obtains its nourishment and thus achieves full development.... The heart (mind) occupies the cavity in the center to control the five organs. This is called the natural ruler.... The sage purifies his natural ruler, rectifies his natural organs, sufficiently provides for his natural nourishment, follows the natural government, and nourishes his natural feelings so as to bring to completion the work of Nature. In this way he knows what to do and what not to do. Thus he rules heaven and earth and directs the ten thousand things.’”

“Except for the usual ancient mix up of the heart and brain, this is well said: an appeal to the use of our reason to guide both our social life and our understanding of Nature.”

“He then goes on to say, ‘Therefore great skill consists in not doing certain things, and great wisdom consists in not debating over certain things.’ He illustrates this by pointing out that we should study the stars and the earth and the four seasons, the yin and yang, etc., in order to discover the regularities of Heaven/Nature. And Chan adds, ‘Most ancient Confucianists either emphasized humanity (jen) and wisdom equally or stressed humanity. Hsun Tzu, however, emphasizes wisdom. Obviously, inborn humanity has no room in his theory of the innate evil nature of man. As an acquired virtue, humanity is valued. But being a tough-minded realist, he relies on wisdom rather than such an idealistic quality in humanity.’”

“Please note that he is not saying that there are no inborn qualities, what today would be called instincts, but that the Confucian idea of jen is not inborn. Specifically he is rejecting the Mencian notion of ‘The Four Beginnings’.”

“Hsun Tzu also sounds very modern when he proclaims that Heaven’s laws are not designed with humanity in mind.‘Heaven does not give up winter because people dislike cold.’ And, ‘Heaven has a constant way of action, earth has a constant size, and the superior man has a constant personal demonstration of virtue. The superior man pursues the constant principle, but the inferior man calculates results.’ How does this jive with what you said in our Mencius discussion about Fletcher and situation ethics?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, does not the ‘constant principle’ put Hsun Tzu in the Kantian camp. Wouldn’t he have to be for ‘calculating results’ if he was for situation ethics? So this seems to be another big difference between him and Mencius.”

“Wait a minute Fred. I don’t want to concede this point. Let’s look a little more closely at this quote. I think it can be legitimately interpreted to show that Hsun Tzu and Mencius are not really in disagreement.”

“I’m all ears.”

“Hsun Tzu says what is constant is ‘personal demonstration of virtue’. This amounts to doing the right thing in every circumstance or situation. This is what he means by the ‘constant principle’. The non-philosopher ‘calculates results.’ I take this to mean that he looks for personal advantage not necessarily what is the right thing to do. Morality is not something you just look up in a book or some iron clad rule [never have an abortion, never mislead someone, etc.] it does depend on results. So when Hsun Tzu says the inferior man ‘calculates results’ he means how the ‘results’ relate to him personally or some plan of his that he wants to accomplish. It can’t mean that the philosopher does not also calculate results. He does. He calculates if his action furthers virtue or not.”

“What about this then? ‘As to cultivating one’s will, to be earnest in one’s moral conduct, to be clear in one’s knowledge and deliberations, to live in this age but to set his mind on the ancients (as models), that depends on the person himself. Therefore the superior man is serious (ching) about what lies in himself and does not desire what comes from Heaven. The inferior man neglects what is in himself and desires what comes from Heaven.’ I would think Hsun Tzu would say just the opposite. Heaven’s laws are constant or the same thing, Nature’s. We are part of Nature so we should follow what comes from Nature and just do it. This would be following the Way. The inferior man would try to get out of it and just do what he wants to do--what ‘lies in himself.’”

“Hmmm! I see the difficulty, but I think there is an easy explanation of this seeming conundrum. Look back at the word ‘seriousness’ in the quote, the word ‘ching.’ If I remember correctly that word conjures up the idea of ‘effort’ of working hard at attaining something. This is the clue to Hsun Tzu’s meaning. Heaven is neutral, remember, no ‘Four Beginnings’, so we have to work at cultivating virtue. What ‘lies in himself’ is the product of one’s education and struggle to attain virtue. For example, some knowledge of Chinese philosophy now lies within you Fred. This is because you are making efforts to learn about it. What lies in you is a desire to improve yourself and work hard to attain wisdom. The inferior man does not delve into his internal resources to make this effort. He just expects to attain what he wants out of life automatically without making much effort, without seriousness. This is what Hsun Tzu means by saying the inferior man neglects what is in himself and just wants what comes from Heaven.”

“Well, that makes sense but seems a little forced to me. But lets proceed. Things will become clearer as we go along, I’m sure.”


“I think we are getting into his naturalism in these next quotes. ‘When stars fall or trees make a [strange] noise, all people in the state are afraid and ask, “Why?” I reply: There is no need to ask why. These are changes of heaven and earth, the transformation of yin and yang, and rare occurrences. It is all right to marvel at them, but wrong to fear them. For there has been no age that has not had the experience of eclipses of the sun and moon, unseasonable rain or wind or occasional appearance of strange stars.”

“It is obvious Fred, that Hsun Tzu doesn’t believe in portents and the like. There is no supernatural message to be conveyed by what happens in nature.”

“And this reinforces his views, ‘When people pray for rain, it rains. Why? I say: There is no need to ask why. It is the same as when it rains when no one prays for it. When people try to save the sun or moon from being eclipsed, or when they pray for rain in a drought, or when they decide an important affair only after divination. they do so not because they believe they will get what they are after, but to use them as ornament (wen) to governmental measures. Hence the ruler intends them to be an ornament, but the common people think they are supernatural. It is good fortune to regard them as ornamental but it is evil fortune to regard them as supernatural.’”

“Meaning that if you realize they are ornamental you are one of the educated people and have some idea as to how the world is actually constituted--otherwise you are hoi polloi and will be a manipulated fool for your whole life!”

“That is a bit strong don’t you think?”

“Not at all Fred. The common people have been manipulated by their rulers since the beginning of history by means of religion and other superstitious beliefs. Even today the government makes sure it has religious ‘professionals on its staff in the armed forces to reinforce and bolster up the superstitious ideas of the soldiers and other cannon fodder it recruits. You see religion being encouraged everywhere. Its a method for keeping people stupid and docile. Hsun Tzu realizes that and simply explains it so his fellow Confucians will be free from its baneful influence having as he says ‘good fortune.’ I needn’t tell you how stupid people can be manipulated by religion Fred, just look out of the window at our altered New York skyline!”

“Well, Chan says about the same thing but he is not as vitriolic as you Karl. His comment is as follows, ‘The influence of supernatural forces over man is completely ruled out by Hsun Tzu. What he called spirit is but cosmic change and evolution. To him, in religious sacrifice, whether there are really spiritual beings to receive them does not matter. The important thing is one’s attitude, especially sincerity, in the performance. The sacrifices are “ornaments,” or refined manifestation of an inner attitude.’”

“ I don’t know if that is really the ‘important thing’ i.e., a refined inner attitude. I don’t know what to make of that. I agree that attitude is important--the attitude of not really believing in the efficacy of the ceremonies. This is what Fung says re our passage. ‘We pray for rain, and divine before we make any important decision, because we want to express our anxiety. That is all. If we were to take prayer as really able to move the gods, or divination as being really able to make predictions about the future, this would result in superstition with all its consequences (p.150).’”

“There is a problematic quote coming up which Chan says looks like it contradicts what has gone before.”

“That is just great. There is nothing like an inconsistent opinion to knock over a nice tidy interpretation. Let’s hear it.”

"'If propriety and righteousness are not applied in the country, their accomplishments and fame would not shine. Therefore the destiny of man lies in Heaven, and the destiny of the state lies in propriety.’”

“I see. This looks like the inferior man is right after all--to want what comes from Heaven since that is where his destiny lies.”

“So we do have a contradiction! “

“What does he say next? Maybe that will clear up this problem.”

“He lists six questions he thinks we should consider. I think these two are the most germane. ‘Instead of regarding Heaven as great and admiring it, Why not foster it as a thing and regulate it? Instead of obeying Heaven and singing praise to it, why not control the Mandate of Heaven and use it?’”

“This answers our question about a contradiction. Now I don’t see any. If we would view the rule of propriety to be the constitution of the state, then of course the destiny of the state lies in its constitution, in following its fundamental laws. In China these would be based on Confucian philosophy so we see where Hsun Tzu is coming from in this respect. Heaven or Nature also follows laws, what we think of as the ‘laws of nature.’ If we understand the laws of nature we can use them to enhance our lives, such as knowing how to control floods, have better agricultural yields, cure disease, etc. That is what he means by ‘the destiny of man lies in Heaven’, he means in the study of its laws, in what we call science. When he says the inferior man just relies on what comes from Heaven he means that kind of man does not see Nature as an object to study and manipulation but, as Spinoza said, prefers ‘to gape at it like a fool.’ When Hsun Tzu said the philosopher cares about ‘what lies in himself and does not desire what comes from Heaven’ he means he doesn’t just wait around to see what happens in Nature. Again, like Spinoza said, he ‘desires as a wise man to understand Nature.’ He doesn’t just sit around and ‘desire’ Nature. He works at trying to understand and manipulate it.”

“Yes, that must be the meaning for he goes on to say, ‘Therefore to neglect human effort and admire Heaven is to miss the nature of things.’ And Chan follows this up with the comment, ‘Nowhere else in the history of Chinese thought is the idea of controlling nature so definite and so strong. It is a pity that this did not lead to a development of natural science. One explanation is that although Hsun Tzu enjoyed great prestige in the Han dynasty, his theory of overcoming nature was not strong enough to compete with the prevalent doctrine of harmony of man and nature, which both Confucianism and Taoism promoted.’”

“I think we have solved this problem of a potential contradiction in the Hsun Tzu.”

“Now we have a quote which shows that situation ethics, which you used to explain some of Mencius’ views, won’t do at all with respect to Hsun Tzu. Listen to this: ‘The [moral principles] that have remained unchanged through the time of all kings are sufficient to be the central thread running through the Way. Things come and go, but if they are responded to according to this central thread, one will find that the principle runs through all without any disorder. He who does not know this central thread does not know how to respond to changing conditions. The essential nature of the central thread has never ceased to be. Chaos is the result of a wrong application of the central thread, whereas order is the result of a complete application of it. For what is considered good according to the Way, namely, the Mean, should be followed.’”

“We will be dealing with a work called The Doctrine opf the Mean later Fred, but even so I think this quote does not mean that Hsun Tzu and Mencius are not reconcilable. I said Mencius was not an absolutist and you think this passage shows that Hsun Tzu was, but it is more complicated than that.”

“How so? Hsun Tzu definitely speaks of unchanged moral principals--that sounds absolutist to me.”

“I think ‘absolutist’ should be used to describe positions that consider both the moral position AND its application as unchanging. Hsun Tzu says that there is a ‘central thread’ but also ‘changing conditions’ and that while the ‘essential nature of the central thread’ doesn’t change only the person who knows how to apply it in ‘changing conditions’ really understands it. Say for a Christian that practicing agape is the central thread. That would be the unchanging moral principle. Now take the idea of ‘abortion’. Is it right or wrong to have an abortion? The Christian thinker would have to look at the situation of the person involved. Following agape the Christian might recommend an abortion to person A and not to person B. The central thread and unchanging moral principal isn’t ‘abortions are bad’ or vive versa but what agape requires. This is situational and is exactly what both Mencius and Hsun Tzu would advocate, except that jen (ren) is substituted for agape. In fact,I would maintain that stripped of the mythological shell that has congealed around its essential heart, Christianity boils down to jen and there is a dialectical identity with Confucianism.”


“Confucianism and Christianity are an identity in difference. They are the same in the same way that ice and steam are the same. They appear different but are really the same.”

“Well, that is a different conversation entirely Karl. But you have at least convinced me that Hsun Tzu is no absolutist in the way I originally thought.”

“That’s good.”

“Maybe we will get to your great theory after we finish with Chinese philosophy, but now there is one more point to be made regarding this chapter from the Hsun Tzu. Hsun Tzu makes a lot of comments about other philosophers both of his own times as well as the past. I’m not going into specific criticisms, the point to be made is the following observation by Chan. ‘that Hsun Tzu was the most critical of ancient Chinese philosophers. [And] that a great variety of thought and extreme freedom of discussion existed in ancient China, a situation comparable to that in ancient Greece.’”

“What is the next chapter in Chan’s translation?”

“The next one is chapter twenty two from the Hsun Tzu, Chan’s selection 2, ‘On the Rectification of Names.’”

“A major topic for the ancient Chinese. Please begin Fred.”

“ Hsun Tzu has reference to the olden days of the sage-kings when he writes, ‘Then the people were carefully led and unified. Therefore, the practice of splitting terms and arbitrarily creating names to confuse correct names, thus causing much doubt in people’s minds and bringing about much litigation, was called great wickedness. It was a crime, like private manufacturing of credentials and measurements, and therefore the people dared not rely on strange terms created to confuse correct names. Hence the people were honest.’”

“It looks as if this problem originally arose as a practical problem, a problem of the market place. Later, however, it became a more abstract philosophical problem of name rectification.”

“I agree. Hsun Tzu thinks that there are three issues involved here. He writes, ‘Should a true king appear, he would certainly retain some old names and create new ones. This being the case, [1] the reason for having names, [2] the causes for the similarities and differences in names, and [3] the fundamental principles on which names are instituted, must be clearly understood.’”

“What is the reason he gives for having names?”

“’ When different forms are separated from the mind and denote each other, and when different things are made mutually identified in name and actuality, the distinction between the noble and the humble is not clear and similarities and differences are not discriminated. Under such circumstances, there is bound to be danger that ideas will be misunderstood and work will encounter difficulty or be neglected. Therefore men of wisdom sought to establish distinctions and instituted names to indicate actualities, on the one hand clearly to distinguish the noble and the humble and, on the other, to discriminate between similarities and differences.’”

“That sounds like a good reason Fred. How does he account for the similarities and differences of names?”

“He says, ‘It is because of the natural organs. The organs of members of the same species with the same feelings perceive things in the same way. Therefore things are compared and those that are seemingly alike are generalized. ... The mind [actively] collects the knowledge of the senses. ...But the collection of knowledge must also depend on the natural organs first registering it according to its classification. If the five organs register it without knowing what it is, and the mind collects it without understanding it, then everyone says there is no knowledge. These are the causes for the similarities and differences in names.’”

“This sounds just like Hume’s theory of the ‘Association of Ideas!’ It is really amazing how philosophical traditions parallel one another!”

“What is this reference to Hume all about?”

“Hume thought that ideas also naturally associated. They would sort of stick together and the world would appear to us. Hume used Resemblance, Contiguity (in space and/or time) and Cause and Effect. But this even goes back as far as Plato. He spoke of Contiguity and Similarity [Resemblance] in the Phaedo [Reese, p. 443].”

“Well, based on this Karl, we come to the third point Hsun Tzu wanted to make. He continues, right after the last quote I read, ‘Then, accordingly, names are given to things. Similar things are given the same name and different things are given different names.’ But it is very important to note the following: ‘Names have no correctness on their own. The correctness is given by convention. When the convention is established and the custom is formed, they are called correct names. If they are contrary to convention, they are called incorrect names. Names have no corresponding actualities by themselves. The actualities ascribed to them are given by convention. When the convention is established and the custom is formed, they are called the names of such-and-such actualities.’”

“And yet, Fred, these conventions are not just arbitrary. If the conventions don’t somehow correspond to reality then names won’t be of much help!”

“Hsun Tzu next criticizes the ‘School of Names’--i.e., the so-called ‘Logicians.’ There are three big fallacies he wants to expose. So he begins. ‘”It is no disgrace to be insulted.” “The sage does not love himself.” “To kill a robber is not to kill a man.” These are examples of the fallacy of so using names as to confuse names.’“Mountains are on the same level as marshes. “The desires seek to be few.” “Tender meat adds nothing to sweet taste, and the great bell adds nothing to music.” These are examples of the fallacy of so using actualities as to confuse names.’ And now this famous example that you should remember from our previous discussion! ‘”A [white] horse is not a horse.’”Which he says is an example of the fallacy ‘of so using names as to confuse actualities.’ And finally the chapter ends with Chan’s comment about all this: ‘The rectification of names was a common topic of discussion among ancient Chinese philosophical schools. Only in Hsun Tzu, however, did it develop into some sort of systematic logical theory.... In fact, this is the nearest approach to logic in Ancient Chinese philosophy.’”

“Very informative indeed, Fred. So this brings us to the last excerpt from Chan, doesn’t it?”

“That’s right Karl. Chan’s ‘3. The Nature of Man is Evil’ from chapter 23 of the Hsun Tzu.’

“OK, lets get on with it. What are Hsun Tzu’s reasons for taking this diametrically opposed view to Mencius?”

“He says, ‘The nature of man is evil: his goodness is the result of his activity. Now, man’s inborn nature is to seek for gain.... By inborn nature one is envious and hates others.... If these tendencies are followed, lewdness and licentiousness result, and the pattern and order of propriety and righteousness disappear. Therefore to follow man’s nature and his feelings will inevitably result in strive and rapacity, combine with rebellion and disorder, and end in violence. Therefore there must be the civilizing influence of teachers and laws and the guidance of propriety and righteousness, and then it will result in deference and compliance, combine with pattern and order, and end in discipline. From this point of view, it is clear that the nature of man is evil and that his goodness is the result of his activity.’ And, he adds, ‘Crooked wood must be heated and
bent before it becomes straight.’”

“So much for the ‘Four Beginnings!’ But this is only assertion, just as in Mencius. Neither Hsun Tzu nor Mencius give any real arguments. Except that Mencius does give some examples such as preventing the child from falling into the well.”

“Chan points another big difference as well. ‘ In the Hsun Tzu, rules of propriety and law are often spoken of together, giving the impression that, unlike Confucius and Mencius who advocated propriety (li) as inner control, Hsun Tzu advocated it for external control. Thus rules of propriety shifted from being a means of personal moral cultivation to one of social control.’”

“Chan should have re-thought that one Fred. Propriety doesn’t just pop up in a person. These rules are culture specific and learned as we grow up. They are the result of the crooked wood being made straight. One of the ways that social control takes place is by having accepted rules of inner moral cultivation recognized as appropriate--i.e., this is what constitutes propriety.”

“I suppose you are right Karl. Now here is a frontal assault on Mencius! ‘Mencius said, “Man learns because his nature is good.” This is not true. He did not know the nature of man and did not understand the distinction between man’s nature and his effort. Man’s nature is the product of Nature; it cannot be learned and cannot be worked for. Propriety and righteousness are produced by the sage. They can be learned by men and can be accomplished through work. What is in man but cannot be learned or worked for is his nature. What is in him and can be learned and accomplished through work is what can be achieved through activity. This is the difference between human nature and human activity.”

“I see the distinction Hsun Tzu is trying to make, Fred, but I’m not sure this is really so different from Mencius! The Four Beginnings are, after all, potentialities that have to be cultivated by education. The seed has to be in the right soil.”

“Maybe this will make Hsun Tzu’s position clearer. In this passage he further contrasts Mencius’ views with his own. ‘By the original goodness of human nature is meant that man does not depart from his primitive character but makes it beautiful, and does not depart from his original capacity but utilizes it, so that beauty being [inherent] in his primitive character and goodness being [inherent] in his will are like clear vision being inherent in the eye and distinct hearing being inherent in the ear. Hence we say that the eye is clear and the ear is sharp.’ “

“So the question is, is this Mencian idea true or not. Left to his or her own devices a normal baby will grow up with “good” sight and “good” hearing. That is to say, normal senses. They won’t need any special training just to work and do their function. Hsun Tzu seems to think that Mencius’ view is that a baby will grow up morally ‘good’ as well because this kind of ‘goodness’, like the ability to see clearly, is just part of our ‘nature.’ But this is not a good analogy Fred. If you go back and look on page 66 of Chan you will find that Mencius says that when the Four Beginnings are properly developed they will work to protect you in life but if they are not developed they won’t.”

Fred flipped back some pages in Chan’s book. “Here is the quote, Karl. I’ll read it. ‘When they are fully developed, they will be sufficient to protect all people within the four seas (the world). If they are not developed, they will not be sufficient even to serve one’s parents.’”

“So you see the Four Beginnings are not like clear vision and sharp hearing. They have to be developed by outside means which can only be a Confucian educational program in the last analysis.”

“I am forced to agree Karl. But now let Hsun Tzu continue with his notion of ‘nature’ as he wants to contrast his own opinion to that of Mencius. ‘Now by nature man desires repletion when hungry,desires warmth when cold, and desires rest when tired. This is man’s natural feeling. But now when a man is hungry and sees some elders before him, he does not eat ahead of them but yields to them. When he is tired, he dares not seek rest because he wants to take over the work [of elders].... Deference and compliance are opposed to his natural feelings. From this point of view, it is clear that man’s nature is evil and that his goodness is the result of his activity.’”

“It is getting more complicated. Perhaps the word ‘raw’ should be substituted for ‘evil.’ Man’s raw uncultivated nature is egocentric and needs to be socialized. But this isn’t evil, its natural. I am surprised that Hsun Tzu, who is otherwise, a naturalist, is still animating Nature with a human moral concept! It is clear that by ‘activity’ he means edcucation. So the practical result of either his view or that of Mencius is that without education we are not going to get deference and compliance. The real question is , is education helped out, given a boost as it were, by something innate such as the Four Beginnings or Four Seeds, or how- ever you want to translate this conception.”

“We will have to go more deeply into Hsun Tzu’s thought to determine this Karl. I think he was aware of your kind of comment and has an answer to it.”

“OK then. Let’s hear some more of the Hsun Tzu.”

“'Someone may ask, “If man’s nature is evil, whence come propriety and righteousness?”I answer that all propriety and righteousness are results of activities of sages and not originally produced from man’s nature.’”

“And how did that come about?”

“He explains how that came about. ‘The sages gathered together their ideas and thoughts and became familiar with activity, facts and principles, and thus produced propriety and righteousness and instituted laws and systems.’ He goes on to point out the pleasures of the senses ‘are natural reactions to stimuli and do not require any work to be produced. But if the reaction is not naturally produced by the stimulus but requires work before it can be produced, then it is the result of activity. Here lies the evidence of the difference between what is produced by man’s nature and what is produced by his effort. Therefore the sages transformed man’s nature and aroused him to activity.’”

“I can see problems with this view Fred.”

“Just hold your horses. Hsun Tzu is going to give what he considers some evidence for his view. He thinks loving gain and profit is natural and talks about what would naturally happen if brothers have to divide up some property. ‘If they follow their natural feelings, they will love profit and seek gain, and thus will do violence to each other and grab the property. But if they are transformed by the civilizing influence of the pattern and order of propriety and righteousness, they will even yield to outsiders. Therefore, brothers will quarrel if they follow their original nature and feeling but, if they are transformed by righteousness and propriety, they will yield to outsiders.’”

“Are you done?”

“Not yet! I want to hammer this home as I think Hsun Tzu is on to something here. He says, ‘Now by nature a man does not originally possess propriety and righteousness; hence he makes strong effort to learn and seeks to have them. By nature he does not know propriety and righteousness; hence he thinks and deliberates and seeks to know them. Therefore, by what is inborn alone, man will not have or know propriety and righteousness. There will be disorder if man is without propriety and righteousness. There will be violence if he does not know propriety and righteousness. Consequently by what is inborn alone, disorder and violence are within man himself.’”

“Well, correct me, but didn’t Mencius only propose with his ‘Four Beginnings’ that the basis or potential for propriety and righteousness was inborn? He didn’t say propriety and righteousness were inborn. They are the result of edu-cation, which if neglected will lead to the greedy brothers Hsun Tzu speaks of.”

“Hsun Tzu obviously thinks Mencius had a stronger position, but I think you are right, at least from what we read in our Mencius discussion. Nevertheless,I want to continue with Hsun Tzu’s thought. I think you will discover that he anticipates your objection about the status of the Four Beginnings as mere potentialities.”

“So then, let us proceed!”

“He says, ‘Man’s nature is evil. Therefore the sages of antiquity, knowing that man’s nature is evil, that it is unbalanced and incorrect, that it is violent, disorderly, and undisciplined, established the authority of rulers to govern the people, set forth clearly propriety and righteousness to transform them, instituted laws and governmental measures to rule them, and made punishment severe to restrain them, so that all will result in good order and be in accord with goodness.”

“How nice. The Hobbesian rabble are running about unrestrained in a state of nature giving vent to their true inborn natures until they are domesticated by the sages. Only how did sages develop? How did they overcome their Hobbesian natures and arrive at propriety and righteousness? Who broke the natural order and taught them?”

“Before that can be answered, Hsun Tzu’s position must be further developed. ‘In any discussion, the important things are discrimination and evidence. One can then sit down and talk about things, propagate them, and put them into practice. Now Mencius said that man’s nature is good. He had neither discrimination nor evidence. He sat down and talked about the matter but rose and could neither propagate it nor put it into practice. Is this not going too far? Therefore if man’s nature is good, sage-kings can be done away with and propriety and righteousness can be stopped.’ And he goes on again about how bent wood has to be made straight while straight wood is naturally so.”

“These facile analogies go both ways. The bent wood could not be made straight if being straight was not potentially in it. Anyway, Hsun Tzu may have been correct about the propagation of Mencius’ view in his day, but as history developed the Mencian view trumped the view of Hsun Tzu. This is not an argument in favor of the truth of a view. Aristarchus of Samos developed what later became the Copernican view of the heliocentric solar system back in the Ancient World, but he could not propagate it and Ptolemy’s geocentric view won out until the time of the scientific revolution in the Seventeenth Century. Mencius did have evidence. Just remember the example of the child about to fall in the well--the most famous--and he gave other examples as well. So I don’t think this passage from Hsun Tzu holds water.”

“Now you will see,Karl, that Hsun Tzu was aware of your type of critique, but did not accept it. He says, ‘The questioner may say, “It is by the nature of man that propriety and righteousness [can be produced] through accumulated effort and hence the sages can produce them.” I answer that this is not true. The potter pounds the clay and produces the the pottery. Is the pottery [inherent] in the nature of the potter?... What the sages have done to propriety and righteousness is analogous to the potter’s pounding and producing the pottery.... With reference to the nature of man .... It is the same in the superior or inferior man.... As effort is aroused, propriety and righteousness are produced. Thus the relation between the sages and propriety and righteousness produced through accumulated effort, is like the potter pounding the clay to produce the pottery. From this point of view, is it by the nature of man that propriety and righteousness are produced through accumulated effort.... [Inferior men] are despised because they give reign to their nature, follow their feelings, and enjoy indulgence, and lead to the greed for gain, to quarrels and rapacity. It is clear that man’s nature is evil and that his goodness is the result of his activity.’”

“The problem with Hsun Tzu’s position here is that it cannot explain how the sages originally got going. If the nature of man is evil then all humans would be evil and self indulgent and no one would be putting out any accumulated effort to develop propriety and righteousness. We would still be running around like animals. Mencius’ position, however, allows for the show to get on the road. If the Four Beginnings are there waiting to be developed, then we can have a primal horde running about, splitting up into other hordes and the individuals finding themselves in all sorts of different existential situations some of which begin to trigger the Four Beginnings which by accumulated effort lead to being a sage and promulgating propriety and righteousness. But I can’t see how this can come about without the Four Beginnings in the first place. They have to be there as Mencius indicates in potentia, so Hsun Tzu is just wrong about this. The Four Beginnings must be accepted as a logical prerequisite to get the Confucian system started.”

“With regard to what you have just said Karl, listen to Hsun Tzu’s explication of the following old saying. ‘”Any man in the street can become (sage-king) Yu.” What does this ancient saying mean? I say that Yu became sage-king Yu because he practiced humanity, righteousness, laws, and correct principles. This shows that these can be known and practiced. Every man in the street possesses the faculty to know them and the capacity to practice them. This being the case, it is clear that every man can be Yu.’”

“Well there you have it. The Four Beginnings are just the faculty that we have to practice the ‘good.’ I will grant this to Hsun Tzu. That while he is wrong to say the nature of man is evil, Mencius is also wrong to say that the nature of man is good. They should have both said that man has a nature that has the capacity to be good or evil depending on the circumstances. Listen to these observations from Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics. He says, ‘Virtue, then, is of two kinds, of thought and of character--of thought comes thru experience and time and is the result of teaching, while virtue of character is the result of habit. Clearly, therefore, by nature, we get none of the virtues of character [1103a15]. The virtues do not arise in us either thru nature or contrary to nature. But we can by nature attain them and achieve complete perfection by means of habit [1103a25].’ And Aristotle also holds that what is by nature cannot be overcome by habit so that if people were either good or evil by nature nothing could make them different from what they are. Habit can be inculcated by education. So, this dispute on the nature of humans between Mencius and Hsun Tzu is a non issue. Neither of our sages has the right answer. We have the capacity to be either ‘good’ or ‘evil’-- which are social determinations anyway (for the most part). But they are both right as they believe that it takes (Confucian) education to bring about the ‘good’. Their positions are really the same and their so-called dispute is just one of words not of actualities. I think, therefore, we can keep the expression the ‘Four Beginnings’ in our philosophical termminology, but not in the sense that it implies man is ‘innately good’.”

“I can’t disagree with you Karl. I think you have hit the nail on the head! Just a few more quotes from Hsun Tzu, now, to answer the question that if everyone can become sage why don’t they do so. Hsun Tzu’s reply is, ‘An inferior man can become a superior man, but he does not want to. A superior man can become an inferior man, but he does not want to. It is not that they cannot become each other. They do not do so because they do not want to. It is possible for every man to become Yu, but it does not follow that every man in the street is able actually to do so. However, the fact that he is not able actually to do so does not destroy the possibility of his doing so.’”

“I don’t think this is wrong, and it does not contradict my views at all. It is all of a piece with Mencius’ view that every man can be like Yao and Shun, also sage-kings from the past.”

“Finally, Hsun Tzu concludes, ‘There is a great difference between what is possible on the one hand, and what is actually able to be done on the other.’”

“Amen. If that is the end of our discussion of the Hsun Tzu, then I propose we next discuss Han Fei Tzu and the legalists.”

“That’s fine. Lets go have lunch at The Violet and come back here in a couple of hours.”

copyright 2008 by Thomas Riggins

1 comment:

Fred Goddard said...

The statement:1) 'White horse is not horse' is a Synecdoche. (a) neither Analytic nor Synthetic.E.g., neither Subject nor Predicate. (b1) Horse is a correct name. (b2)White is a name mis-used as the modifier of (b1) correct name. In XUNZI's Rectification of Names rhetoric is disallowed. "splitting terms".(figures of speech)arbitrarily creating names(White horse) Fallacy of using names to confuse actualities.But XUNZI breaks his own rule: a)(nature of)man.b)Man('s nature) Terms created to confuse actualities!
We may conclude that during the days of the Sage-kings Rhetoric was illegal. But Fred & Karl never picked up on this law of correct speech. So Novelists were prosecuted! Free speech?
Fred Goddard