Xun Zi, a Chinese Confucian philosopher


Xun Zi (312–230 BCE) was a Chinese Confucian philosopher who lived during the Warring States Period and contributed to one of the Hundred Schools of Thought. Xun Zi believed man’s inborn tendencies need to be curbed through education and ritual, counter to Mencius’s view that man is innately good. This is similar to Thomas Hobbes’s idea that men are naturally evil, and they have to be led by a greater power to stop competing each other.
He believed that ethical norms had been invented to rectify mankind. Educated in the state of Qi, Xun Zi was associated with the Confucian school, but his philosophy has a more pragmatic flavour compared to Confucian optimism. Some scholars attribute it to the divisive times.Xun Zi was born with the name Xun Kuang, courtesy name Qing. Some texts recorded his surname as Sun instead of Xun, either because the two surnames were homophones in antiquity or Sun was selected due to Xun being a naming taboo at some point in history.
The name “Xun Zi” is just a title that means “Master Xun”. The early years of Xun Zi’s life are enshrouded in mystery, since he was first known at the age of fifty, around 264 BC, when he went to the state of Qi to study and teach. Xun Zi was well-respected in Qi, with the King Xiang of Qi (齊襄王) honouring him as a teacher and a libationer. It was around this time that Xun Zi visited the state of Qin and praised its governance, and debated military affairs with Lord Linwu in the court of King Xiaocheng of Zhao. Later, Xun Zi became slandered in the Qi court, and he retreated south to the state of Chu, where Lord Chunshen of Chu, the prime minister, gave him a position as Magistrate of Lanling. In 238 BC, Lord Chunshen was assassinated by a court rival and Xun Zi subsequently lost his position. Xun Zi remained in Lanling, a region in what is today’s southern Shandong province, for the rest of his life and was buried there. The year of his death is unknown. Of his disciples, the most notable are Li Si (prime minister to the first Qin emperor) and the Han state royal Han Feizi, who developed the quasi-authoritarian aspects of his thought into the doctrine called the School of Law, or Legalism. Because of Li Si and Han Feizi’s staunch anti-Confucian stances, Xun Zi’s reputation as a Confucian philosopher has often come into question.While Xun Zi’s doctrines was influential in forming the official state doctrine of the Han Dynasty, his influence waned compared to Mencius during the Tang Dynasty.

The Xunzi
Unlike the aphoristic style of the Analects and Mencius, Xun Zi was a more rigorous thinker and wrote elaborately argued essays, which were collected into the book called Xunzi (the single word spelling indicates the book). He distinguishes what is born in man and what must be learned through rigorous education. These essays are often critical of competing schools, such as Daoism and Mohism, as well as rival schools within Confucianism. Some of the more significant chapters are:

* “Discussion of heaven (天 tian)” rejects the Mencian notion that heaven has a moral will. Instead, Xun Zi asserts that heaven is simply the natural world; thus people should focus on the human, social realm, rather than dealing with heavenly ideas.
* “Discussion of Ritual Propriety (li),” discusses rules of individual and social conduct (decorum). * “Dispelling Obsessions,” being too focused on only one aspect of a situation, one often loses sight of the larger purpose.
* “Proper Use of Terms” (正名 zhengming): A name becomes proper for a situation through conventional usage, but once this is fixed, it is improper to deviate from these norms. Thus he adopts a conventional view for the origin of the sound-to-meaning mapping, although the objects signified by the term remain real. The term Zhengming often appears in the English literature as “The Rectification of Names”. This is a misleadingly narrow translation of the Chinese title. In classical Chinese, the phrase “正名 (zhengming)” could be interpreted either as “rectifying names” or as “correct/right names”.
* “Human Dispositions are Detestable” (xing e): Rejects Mencius’ claim that people have a natural inclination toward goodness. Confucius, who simply said that people are similar by nature, was not clear on the matter. Xun Zi holds that man is naturally inclined towards selfishness and evil, and that if these inclinations are not curbed, human societies would devolve into anarchy. He views morality as a social construct, emphasizing the difference between nature and nurture.

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