Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Selections from Xunzi VI

Scott Bradley

All quotes are from Xunzi: Basic Writings; Burton Watson (Columbia Univ. Press, 2003).


"It is easy to unify the people by means of the Way, though one cannot expect them to share in the process of direction."

"Beings that possess desires and those that do not belong to two different categories — the categories of the living and the dead."

"When men acquire something, they never get only what they desire and nothing more; when men reject something, they never only rid themselves of what they hate and nothing more."


"Man's nature is evil; goodness is the result of conscious activity." (This introduces one of his more cogent arguments. He is replying to Mencius who thought the contrary. 'Original nature' (instinctual behavior) is contrasted with 'conscious activity' (cultivation), the eternal nature vs. nurture debate. Though he addresses the question of why conscious activity is not also man's nature (a more holistic approach), I find his arguments less than convincing. The idea that man's nature, like that of other animals, might be neither good nor evil, does not seem to have occurred to him.)

"A warped piece of wood must wait until it has been laid against the straightening board, steamed, and forced into shape, before it can be made straight; . . . Similarly, since man's nature is evil, it must wait for the instructions of a teacher before it can become upright . . ." (The Church of Pernicious Oneness has a new motto: "Warped by nature." Compare Laozi's "If you would be straight, be crooked.")

"Every man who desires to do good does so precisely because his nature is evil. . . . Whatever a man lacks in himself he will seek outside."

Quoting 'an old text': "'If you do not know a man, look at his friends.' Environment is the important thing! Environment is the important thing!" (So ends the Xunzi. If Zhuangzi is a 'naturalist', Xunzi is a 'nurturist'. Somewhere in all this there must be some balance; but isn't this what life does — balance things out without our needing to “add” anything to it?)

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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