Confucius knew almost everything about the live, but his own life is very little known. It makes our attempts to understand his personality very hard, but many works of Confucius allow us to analyze their author’s thoughts and views, helping to find the right decision in particular cases. Confucius as any philosopher had his own thoughts about human nature and we are going to explore them in this paper. Thus, the main aim of this paper is to explain Confucius view at human nature, using different evidences for the acknowledgement of the thought that Confucius’ views about human nature are correct.
First of all it is necessary to mention that Confucius directly spoke about human nature very little that led to the following remark given by his disciple, “There may be access so as to hear the Master’s literary discourses, but when he is treating of human nature and the way of Heaven, there may not be such access” (Confucius, 5:12). This statement may be explained in the following way: one can taste the enlightenment of the teacher, but the words about human nature and the Way of Heaven will be hidden from the person because the teacher would never say them.
In the context of the previously mentioned words we can mention that exactly stinginess of Confucius’ judgments about human nature has created a ground for very different theories in later Confucianism. However, despite the paucity of detailed allegations of human nature, it becomes clear from the sayings of Confucius that people have a free will in some areas of life. According to Wilhelm and Danton, Confucius was sure that although we can not control our destiny – we can not, for example, to define own social status or duration of the life, but we are free to deny the morality or to follow it and behave appropriately (Wilhelm and Danton, 1931). In other words, Confucius mentioned that people are free to resist the dictates of Heaven, or conform to its norms and rules which are the very source of virtue. Explaining this fact, it is necessary to mention that Confucius, recognizing that people may not have a significant impact on the circumstances of the life they lead, has pointed that people have a choice about how to live in any given situation.
In this paragraph it is necessary to mention that Confucius was very optimistic on the question of what the person can achieve. In fact, the Chinese philosophy basically aims to help people become holy, perfect and wise. The remark made by Confucius about the sky that is a hero of our virtue, demonstrated his belief in people who have access to the higher reality of the Heavenly morality (Wilhelm and Danton, 1931). Every person for Confucius was potentially saint, perfect and wise; this means that there is a person acting with the utmost benevolence.
To the acknowledgement of the above said words we can use the following quotation which helps to understand that exactly person define the right path of own life: “Is the philanthropic spirit far to seek, indeed?’ the Master exclaimed; ‘I wish for it, and it is with me!” (Confucius, 7:29). In other words, explaining previous statements we should note that all people can cultivate virtue, and bring self into compliance with the dictates of Heaven.
Confucius made it clear that the result of following the Way of Heaven is a subjective experience of pleasure (Creel, 1960). Optimism about human possibilities, however, does not mean optimism about the current state of human affairs. The truth, according to Confucius, is in the fact that the holy sage is a very rare person in human life (Creel, 1960). We can quote the following as an acknowledgement of this fact: “It is not given to me,’ he said, ‘to meet with a sage; let me but behold a man of superior mind, and that will suffice. Neither is given to me to meet with a good man; let me but see a man of constancy, and it will suffice. —It is difficult for persons to have constancy, when they pretend to have that which they are destitute of, to be full when they are empty, to do things on a grand scale when their means are contracted!” (Confucius, 7:25). These words mean that Confucius even did not expect to meet the man of perfect wisdom. It is obvious that Confucius believed that all people have a potential of this perfect wisdom, but most of them were in a terrible condition.
Dwelling on the fact that Confucius did not give a detailed definition of human nature, he insisted that people are inherently equal. All differences between people come from different lifestyles: “When you go forth from your door, be as if you were meeting some guest of importance. When you are making use of the common people (for State purposes), be as if you were taking part in a great religious function. Do not set before others what you do not desire yourself. Let there be no resentful feelings against you when you are away in the country, and none when at home” (Confucius, 12:2). This statement means that the nature brings people to each other, while the habit, vice versa, distances people. As a continuation of this explanation we can add that people are extremely susceptible. According to Confucius, people can become almost everything, because they are unfinished and receptive, moreover, they need the constant formative influence in order to achieve their ultimate goal of moral excellence (Creel, 1960).
In this part of the paper, it is necessary to demonstrate that Confucius, like modern sociologists and psychologists, made it clear that the environment and way of life largely determines our character. Hence, his great interest in the exemplary personalities as well as to the role they play in the organization of an ideal human being is determined by the wish to understand true essence of things. It is a fact that human life brings disastrous results without a carefully shaped culture.
In addition, in connection with the ideas of Confucius about human nature we should address two issues. Firstly, the ideal of moral person to Confucius is a ‘noble man’. This is clearly a ‘male’ term. In some cases, it can be applied to both sexes, but Confucius used it in the narrow sense. He said little about women and did it only in the scornful tone. Secondly, although Confucius said that human nature is fundamentally united, he did not explain whether this is a good nature, so people should protect it, or bad, and it requires major changes. As a result, exactly the uncertainty on this issue has generated a lot of heated debates in the late Confucianism.
In conclusion, we have explained Confucius view at human nature, using different evidences for the acknowledgement of the presented facts and explanation of their meaning. We have proved that Confucius gave a lot of evidences to show that his views about human nature are correct.
Confucius. Confucian Analects. Translated and annotated by William Jennings. George Routledge and Sons, 1895.
Creel, H. G. Confucius and the Chinese Way. Harper Torchbook, 1960.
Wilhelm, R. and Danton, R. Confucius and Confucianism. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1931.