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What Does Mencius Mean by “Human Nature”

2019-06-01 来源: 51due教员组 类别: Essay范文

下面为大家整理一篇优秀的essay代写范文- What Does Mencius Mean by Human Nature,供大家参考学习,这篇论文讨论了孟子说的“人性”。孟子认为每个人的自然禀赋都有一个器官,这个器官是心或大脑。同时,有四种道德行为是与生俱来的:同情心、羞耻感和厌恶感、顺从感和尊重感、是非感。对于孟子来说,这四种行为是与生俱来的,而不是外在强加的限制。此外,孟子认为,人性中存在着善的可能性,道德的发展就是从这些倾向中产生的。

What does Mencius mean by “human nature”? Reflection on human nature has been an everlasting subject, and it plays a significant part in China (Scarpari, 2003). People began the discussion as early as the Eastern Zhou dynasty, which was between the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. (Scarpari, 2003). Among them, Mencius’s theory is still of far-reaching significance, and influences people’s understanding of human beings. In this way, the paper will discuss the meaning of human nature in Mencius’s opinion. This paper will firstly go over the historical background and main claims of Mencius’s theory on human nature, and then it discusses current existing interpretations towards Mencius’s human nature through analyzing how they support their arguments. Finally, it draws out some more general conclusions.

The documents that will be cited in this paper are:

David Young. “Yang, Zebo, Study on Mencius’ Theory of the Goodness of Human Nature.” Springer Science Business Media 11. (2012): 415-418

Donald J. Munro, “Mencius and an Ethics of the New Century,” in Alan K. L. Chan, ed., Mencius: Contexts and Interpretations (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2002), pp. 305–315.

Irene Bloom, “Biology and Culture in the Mencius View of Human Nature,” in Chan, Mencius: Contexts and Interpretations (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2002), pp. 91–102

James Behuniak. “Naturalizing Mencius.” Philosophy East & West 61. 3 (2011): 492-515

Maurizio Scarpari. “The Debate on Human Nature in Early Confucian Literature.” Philosophy East & West 53.3 (2003): 323-329

Yu Jiyuan. “Human Nature and Virtue in Mencius and Xunzi: An Aristotelian Interpretation.” Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy V. 1 (2005): 11-30

In this section, I will take about Mencius’s concepts on human nature and how people interpret them differently. However, it is necessary to firstly go over the historical background that Mencius put forwards his opinions. Based on the opinion of A. C. Graham, Yang Zhu and other thinkers’ doctrines of the Individualists first posed the issue of human nature in relation to the will of Heaven, which ran counter to the claims of the Confucians (Scarpari, 2003). As for Graham, Yang Zhu expressed clearly that he was opposed to the claims of the Confucius. He paid particular attention to the existence of private interests. He argued that, it is important for human beings to take care of themselves and enhance the quality of life, since the life is bestowed by the Heaven. In this way, the most significant task for human beings is to protect the gift provided by the Heaven. What is more, Yang Zhu also pointed out that, what important is to follow one’s nature and satisfy their ambitions and desires, and political and social life are regarded as harmful to human beings for Yang Zhu. Yang Zhu’s opinions are almost totally different from the Confucius. For example, the Confucius argued that, there is a morality legitimated and inspired directly by the Heaven, which is treated to safeguard individuality. At the same time, the Confucius tended to ignore the existence of private aspects, and stressed the importance of being goodness.

In the context, Mencius put forwards his opinion on human nature, and he held that, there is an organ for every human beings’ natural endowment, which is called as heart or mind. In the meanwhile, there are four moral behaviors which are carried with the natural endowment, the heart of compassion, the sense of shame and disgust, the sense of compliance and respect, and the sense of right and wrong (Yu, 2005). For Mencius, the four behaviors are inborn rather than the externally imposed restraints. Furthermore, Mencius argued that, there exists the possibility of being good in human nature, and the moral development derives from these tendencies.

“Mencius and an Ethics of the New Century”, a recent paper written by Donald J. Munro leads to people’s debate in terms of the meaning of Mencius’ human nature. For Munro (2002: 307), “‘human nature’ is derived from ‘Heaven’.” Consequently, Munro puts forwards that, it is necessary to take religious claims into consideration when draw inspiration from Mencius. However, some people express their opposed views. For example, Irene Bloom (2002) argues that, the word tian in Chinese shall be translated as “Nature” rather than “Heaven.” Facing with the debate in terms of Mencius, James Behuniak (2011) puts forwards his opinion on the issue. In the article, Behuniak (2011) argues that, people’s understanding of Mencius’s human nature is restricted to the library, time and place they stay. In other words, the meaning of Mencius’ human nature could be forever ambiguous. What is more, Behuniak (2011) believed that, the goal to read the Mencius is not to get it right at last, but take participate in a commentarial tradition that extends as far back as the text itself. However, on the other hand, Behuniak also mentions his own opinion in understanding Mencius’ human nature. He argues that, “it is prompted by and devised solely to defeat his adversaries”, “he means to defend the tradition of the Confucian Sages”, “the claim that Confucian virtues belong to ‘human nature’ is also a claim that Confucian virtues alone are qualitatively ‘human’.” In this way, for Behuniak, the reason why Mencius put forwards the theory of human nature is for the propaganda of the Confucian. In fact, the meaning of native activities is not native. In order to prove his argument, Behuniak takes John Dewey’s words as references. For instance, when it comes to demonstrate that the four sprouts are unlearned activities which are closely related to “family affection”, Dewey’s views are directly cited; “babies are defendant beings”, and the habits of babies are formed with the help of the adults. In other words, native activities are actually acquired. Furthermore, as Mencius held that the possession of four sprouts distinguishes human beings from other sorts, while Confucius virtues could make people human through the environment of family affection. Therefore, what finally important is not human nature but family affection or the compliance of Confucius virtues and values. Generally, Behuniak’s opinion has its rationality, since what people consider tends to depend on the position he (she) is staying. Facing with the challenged led by other theories such as Yang Zhu’s Doctrines of individualists, it is natural for Mencius to fight back. In addition, as Behuniak argues that, it is not possible to figure out the only right answer of the meaning of Mencius’ human nature, and even Mencius himself could have different opinions at different time or different standpoints.

On the other hand, Behuniak’s opinion also has limitations. For one thing, Behuniak does not directly explain the meaning of human nature, and he just points out that, goodness is not actually inborn but acquired through family affection. In “Human nature and virtue in Mencius and Xunzi”, Yu Yiyuan points out that, human nature in Mencius has two senses, on the one hand, it refers to whatever is inborn; for another thing, it refers to the inborn human characteristic. Mencius uses the second and narrow sense when he argues that goodness is human nature. Yu further explains the reason why he believes that Mencius uses the narrow sense when saying that goodness is human nature. He argues that, Mencius holds that there are various natures that human beings share with other animals. In other words, there are nature of cat and nature of rabbit. However, only the human beings who have four sprouts are treated to have good human nature. “Human nature is confined only to the four seeds, the flourishing of which makes a noble person (Yu, 2005: 13)”. On the other hand, it is difficult for Behuniak to explain Mencius’s concept of a pre-existent moral consciousness whose origin is validated by Heaven (Young, 2012). Mencius (6A6) points out that, “benevolence, dutifulness, observance of the rites, and wisdom do not give me a luster from the outside, they are in originally.” As Behuniak (2011) argues that, native activities are not native actually, and they are acquired through family affection. However, what Mencius describes is inborn rather than the influence of outside such as family members. In this way, the innate transcendent nature of moral consciousness seems to be difficult explained by Behuniak’s opinion. When facing with the problem, Yang Zebo, who published several books on the study of Mencius theory, argues that, “while the ethical mentality appears to be a strictly situational understanding of moral consciousness, it is also a quiescent orientation that all human beings possess (Young, 2012: 416).”

As for me, it is important to note that there are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand people's eyes. We are not Mencius; thus, we cannot figure out the true meaning of human nature in Mencius’s opinion. However, we could try to understand Mencius based on his situation at that time. Facing with the challenge brought by Yang Zhu and other thinkers’ doctrines of the Individualists, it is necessary for the Confucianism to fight back for the sake of maintain its social status. In this way, Mencius put forwards his theory of human nature. For Mencius, only the people who have four sprouts are treated as human beings, and all the people believe and follow the Confucianism have the four sprouts (Behuniak, 2011).

In conclusion, when it comes to demonstrate the meaning of Mencius’s human nature, it is important to note that there are two senses of human nature, one refers to whatever is inborn, and the other refers to the inborn human characteristic. Meanwhile, Mencius uses the second sense when he argues that goodness is human nature. What is more, based on the opinion of Behuniak, the reason why Mencius puts forwards human nature is to support the claims of Confucius. In addition, a final right answer of the meaning of human nature tends to be impossible, and people tend to have different understanding on different time and place.

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