Class #34

Xunzi on Human Nature

Reading:  Burton Watson, trans., Xunzi, pp. 161-174: "Man's Nature is Evil"

Lecture PowerPoint Deck

The Xunzi has been famous in China for attacking Mencius' claim the human nature is innately good. It does this explicitly in this chapter, but the claim that human nature is not good is made repeatedly in other chapters as well. Only in this chapter is it said that our nature is "bad"; elsewhere it is simply not good, and it is best not to lay too much stress on the word "evil," which includes a sense of "sinister" in our tradition. The Xunzi's point is simply that at birth we are not moral in any way, but are inherently self-regarding (or naively selfish), and that our "natural" dispositions do not provide us with guidance for becoming good. Obviously, an important issue is to set a standard for distinguishing what is "natural" from what is not natural. Where does the Xunzi draw the line? How does its line-drawing compare to that of the Mencius, the Guanzi, the Dao de jing, and the Zhuangzi? How well does the Xunzi defend its choice of where to draw the line?