Xunzi: Basic Writings

Xunzi: Basic Writings

Xunzi: Basic Writings

Xunzi: Basic Writings

Synopsis

Xunzi asserted that the original nature of man is evil, differing on this point from Mencius, his famous predecessor in the Confucian school. In the most complete, well-ordered philosophical system of his day, Xunzi advocated the counteraction of man's evil through self-improvement, the pursuit of learning, the avoidance of obsession, and observance of ritual in life. Readers familiar with Xunzi's work will find that Burton Watson's lucid translation breathes new life into this classic. Those new to Xunzi will find his ideas on government, language, and order and safety in society surprisingly close to concerns of our own age.

Excerpt

Where does human goodness—insofar as there is such a commodity—come from? Is it inborn in the individual, only waiting to shine forth when the occasion presents itself? Or is it something artificially instilled from outside, the product of rigorous training and discipline?

Among Chinese philosophers, Xunzi is perhaps remembered primarily for the latter view, dourly asserting that human nature is basically evil. His fellow countrymen, who despite severe buffeting at the hands of history have over the centuries maintained a surprisingly optimistic outlook on life, have never really gone along with him in this. They prefer instead the opinion of his eminent predecessor, Mencius, that people are intrinsically good, or Buddhist assurances that all living beings have latent within them the “seeds” or potential for moral and spiritual perfection.

In Xunzi's philosophical system as a whole, his bleak assessment of human nature is probably of less interest today than are the highly sanguine hopes he holds out for the improvement of that nature through education and moral training, and particularly through the civilizing influence of rites and music. And, it should be noted, like many other Chinese thinkers, he believes . . .

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