Is human nature inherently good or bad?

Yang Xiong's The Fayan collects dialogues and aphorisms on a wide variety of philosophical questions

Yang Xiong
  • Yang Xiong

Yang Xiong

As for the sage’s governance of all under Heaven, he uses li and music as the standard. If there were no li and music, then people would be the same as beasts. If li and music were different, then people would be like the barbarian tribes of the north. I have seen philosophers slight li and music, but I have not seen a sage slight li and music. Who has writings that are not produced by the brush, or words that are not produced by the tongue? I see Heaven’s Constants as the brush and tongue of emperors and kings.

– from The Fayan by Yang Xiong

Yang Xiong (53 BC-18 AD) was a Chinese poet of the Han Dynasty and one of the Warring States philosophers. Unlike Mencius, he did not believe that human nature was inherently good but he did not believe it was inherently evil either. Rather, he believed it came into existence with a mixture of both good and bad. The Fayan (or “Model Sayings”) is his most notable work, a collection of dialogues and aphorisms on a wide variety of philosophical questions, including those on the nature and purpose of the Dao (or Tao), that is, a principle which humans must intuit to discern the proper order of things, philosophically, morally, politically and otherwise.

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