Ren Xing: Mencian’s Understanding of Human Being and Human Becoming

Dialogue and Universalism 25 (2):29-39 (2015)


“Ren xing shan”, or “Human nature is good”, is a famous thesis of Mencius. But it is questionable whether the Mencian concept of “ren xing” is an exact equivalent of the western concept of “human nature”, and whether Mencius really thinks that all human beings are naturally moral. This paper suggests that when talking about “ren xing”, Mencius actually refers to both human being and human becoming. “Ren xing” may have a root in the nature of human being, which is a “mandate” endowed by “Heaven”. But the complete notion of “ren xing” should be construed in terms of the process towards full human becoming. “Human Nature is good” does not guarantee complete virtue for individual human beings. However, the human being has the capability of pursuing the moral direction along life’s path, and should take the responsibility of maintaining the right moral direction of human becoming, and thus should avoid veering from this moral path. This interpretation may provide a more consistent understanding of the metaphysical foundation, theoretic system, and self-cultivation practice of Mencian ethics.

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