Mencius’ View On Human Nature

Mencius is best known for his view that human nature is intrinsically benevolent. Its ingredients are ‘benevolent knowledge’ and ‘benevolent ability’ in Mencius’ terms. They are imbedded in us the time when we were born. Confucius said in the Doctrine of the Mean, “An accordance with Nature is called Tao. Tao may not be left for a moment. If it could be left, it would not be Tao.” To demonstrate the Tao within us, Mencius used the example of witnessing a child falling down a well. He said, “If people witness a child about to fall down a well, they would experience a feeling of fear and sorrow instantaneously without an exception. This feeling is generated not because they want to gain friendship with the child’s parents, nor because they look for the praise of their neighbors and friends, nor because they don’t like to hear the child’s scream of seeking help.” Mencius asserted that it’s because all people have a mind that cannot stand to see others to suffer.

He continued to say, “Therefore, it can be suggested that without a mind of commiseration is not human, that a person without a mind of mortification is not human, that a person without a mind of conciliation is not human, and that a person without a mind of discernment is not human. The mind of commiseration is the driving force of benevolence. The mind of mortification is the driving force of righteousness. The mind of conciliation is the driving force of propriety. The mind of discernment is the driving force of wisdom. A person has these four driving forces, just the same as he has four limbs.”   

The Tao within us embraces all four driving forces. They come within us just as naturally as our four limbs. They cannot be sought from outside. Mencius asserted that if people say they don’t have the four driving forces, they are deceiving themselves.