Volume 10, 2008
Human Nature, Mind and Virtue
The key issue of traditional theories of human nature in China is De or virtue, Yu or desire and their correlation. It leads to two developing currents: one is the old tradition since Xia, Shang and Zhou, the Three Dynasties which take desire as nature, another is the new tradition later Confucius initiated which take virtue as nature. So the understanding of human nature in early China experienced a process from desire to virtue, or from the instinct of human to the essence of human. Prior to Confucius, nature is desire and instinct. In that time, the theories of human nature has two themes, namely to manage nature by virtue and to explain nature by Qi. Since Lao Zi, virtue was taken as the inner essence of human. Later Confucius further to take virtue as nature directly, so completes the fundamental transformation of traditional theory of human nature. This is the source of the idea nature of reason and the origin of the theory nature is good. Zisi advocated “what Heaven has conferred is called the nature” to promote the new tradition, and named desire as “the inner”. The new excavated bamboo book Xing Zi Ming Chu not only developed the idea of “the inner” of Zisi, but also further to restore desire as nature, and constructed a unique system of outer moral apriorism for it. Shortly afterward, Mencius turns this trend and advocates none but the four beginnings is nature, desire only is impartment, therefore he develops the new tradition to extremes. Even though, before the period between Tang and Song dynasties, the mainstream of the theory of human nature in China was the old
tradition, and that the new tradition merely like a flash in the pan. In fact, the dualism of human nature in Song and Ming dynasties carried on the old tradition, and at the same time, succeeded the new tradition, and put them into a unified thought system.