Mengzi and Zhuangzi belong to a class of philosophers known as the innatists. The two believe that at birth, people are close to their pristine nature and living a good life involves returning to their pristine (perfect) nature. Although this is the case, Mengzi’s and Zhuangzi’s idea of the perfect nature is different. This paper aims at discussing their divergence and how each of their differences affect their positive program in relation to recovering the pristine nature.
As explained in the introduction, Mengzi and Zhuangzi have something in common, both believe in the existence of human nature. Also, both believe that a perfect human nature exists and both also believe that there is a distorted form of that perfect human nature. Mengzi, for example strongly argues against philosophers who claim that human nature should be violated. He does this by arguing that humans should not violate this nature, but they should be inclined to its perfect form. Similarly, Zhuangzi argues that the natural world exists and that it is both happy, peaceful and healthy. Like Mengzi, he presupposes that people should return to this perfection by being at ease or giving up the businesses in worldly existence and by retiring to the natural settings found in the mountain.
Although the two philosophers agree on this, their idea on perfect human nature is different, Mengzi’s idea of human nature seem related to moral psychology, ethical ideal and virtues, which is observed in his philosophical arguments in this perspective. On virtues, Mengzi supports such things as righteousness, compassion, love and peace in disfavor of evil such as strong desire to profit and war. He specifically addresses the virtues that a king should have, which include good characteristics like care and kindness. On ethical ideals, Mengzi mentions righteousness, humanness, wisdom and rites observance as the perfect human nature. He believes that these are related to the heart or mind and on the heart/mind, he believes in the steadfastness of purposes.
He also explains love as part of this perfect human nature and in relation to this, he argues that we should be moved by other people’s suffering. We should also be reluctant to cause harm to others and we should also not tolerate causing pain to others. On morals, Mengzi asks the king to treat his elders as elders and children as children.
He therefore, urges the king to return to the perfect human nature by saying, “simply return to the fundamentals”. The reason why human nature is never in its perfection, according to Mengzi is because it can be destroyed by a bad environment. It can also be destroyed by failing to cultivate oneself. Another thing that leads to failure to cultivate this nature is lack of basics needs as it hinders the development of this nature. Developing one’s perfect nature, according to the same philosopher can also be affected by lack of the ability to be wise, as this ability is not present in everyone. This is why Mengzi presents one way of perfecting this nature, which is by being educated under a wise teacher. In fact, the king is willing to return to perfection with the help of Mengzi. He tells him that he is ready for the master to redirect his resolution, enlighten him and instruct him. Apart from these methods, Mengzi also argues that upholding righteousness and putting behind the desire for unrighteousness also acts a way of perfecting the nature because vices like excessive desire for profit endangers the state’s life.
Zhuangzi perfect nature, on the other hand, is not related to virtues or morals and return to perfection does not take the same course as the one explained by Mengzi. His perfect human nature is related to the natural world and natural life where one lives peacefully and full of health. Zhuangzi’s perfect human nature is related to Dao, which is the active operation of the world-structure as a total. However, a partition of this whole system exists, according to this philosopher and the outcome of this is thinking based on human language and non-natural. To return to the whole system, to perfect human nature, we have to sidestep the illusive divided world, which we see, but does not exist and eventually recapture the Dao. In simpler terms, Zhuangzi argues that people need to disengage presumptions that prevent them from seeing events and things in new ways. People need to grasp they can structure and reorganize the restrictions of things and this can only be done by wandering beyond the confines of the familiar. By freeing our imaginations to renew ourselves, the things which we relate and our worlds, we start to comprehend the deeper trends of the natural alterations that we are constituted and which affects us. Through this loosening of the bonds of our fixed presumptions, we grow accustomed to the powerful and dynamic natural way, which is the (dao) of things.
Apart from being different in its meaning and interpretation, Mengzi’s and Zhuangzi’s idea of the perfect nature is different in the way they consider animals. Mengzi does not see virtue as only related to humans. Instead, he argues that some of these good treatments should be shown to animals. In short, the philosopher argues that a perfect nature does not only bear the suffering of humans, but also fails to bear the suffering of animals. In short, this attitude is not only restricted to the humans. He uses an ox as an example to illustrate this.
Zhuangzi, on the other hand, only explain about some few animals when explaining about the perfect nature in order to show how humans are close to these animals. At times, he Zhuangzi empathizes with living things other than humans. He does this to emphasize that we ought to model our actions on living systems and the nonliving systems such as rivers, rocks, storms and seas.
Mengzi’s perfect human nature claims also seems to be interested or applicable in leadership and kingship. This is why he addresses the king, at one given time who in turn acknowledges his wisdom and ability to instruct ones towards perfection of the self. In addition to this, Mengzi’s claims are different from Zhuangzi’s as Mengzi considers the attitudes that people have towards their parents. He argues that this attitude, should surpass one’s attitude towards common people and should go beyond one’s attitudes towards other living things. This confirms that Mengzi’s concern is not only for humans, but for parents and animals too.
In conclusion, although Mengzi and Zhuangzi believe that at birth, people are close to their pristine nature and living a good life involves returning to their pristine (perfect) nature, their idea of the perfect nature is different. Mengzi’s idea of human nature seem related to moral psychology, ethical ideal and virtues as he supports such things as righteousness, compassion, love and peace in disfavor of evil such as strong desire to profit among other vices. Zhuangzi’s ideas, on the other hand, are related to the natural world and natural life where one lives peacefully and full of health. Zhuangzi’s perfect human nature is related to Dao, which is the active operation of the world-structure as a total.