Comparing Han Feizi And Mencius

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Be it the philosopher, the novelist, or the pondering youth, mankind often scrutinizes its own “nature” – that is, whether humans are innately bad, good, or somewhere in between the spectrum. Mencius and Han Feizi, two Chinese philosophers whose lives were separated by only nine years, ostensibly seem to take completely contradictory stances on human nature. Mencius maintains that humans are all born good, writing that “humans all have hearts that are not unfeeling toward others” and that all people have “sprouts” of goodness that must be cared for and maintained through ritual lest they wither and die, resulting in a person who is no longer good. Han Feizi, on the other hand, argues that humans are innately bad and require a strict system of rewards and punishments in order to mold them into goodness. On the surface, these views seem to be wholly at odds with each other. By considering the sources of this apparent disparity, however, one may determine that the differences in these philosophers’ views of human nature are a direct result of the differences in their end goals. In fact, Mencius’ and Han Feizi’s opinions on the matter can actually coexist without contradiction because the two have completely different standards of what is “good” and what is “bad”. Though it may seem counterintuitive that Mencius’s claim for mankind’s innate goodness and Han Feizi’s argument for the opposite are somehow congruous and compatible, if one were to take a step back examine their

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