A Psychological Perspective Comparing The Views Of Dai Zhen (戴 震) and Zhu Xi (朱 熹) On Human Nature

Ali Far


The objective of this paper is to provide a psychological perspective on Zhu Xi (ZX) and Dai Zhen (DZ) views about human nature, by comparing the potential implications of their views on an agent's moral cultivation. To help frame this objective, I will ask and answer the following question: if one commits to ZX who holds the view that human nature is innately good, although obscured, versus if one holds DZ's view that while human nature has the potential for good but it is unformed or unknown (i.e., no original nature) then what are some of the possible implications for self love, sympathy, hope, forgiveness, and spontaneity that are relevant considerations, some of which have been noted by ZX and DZ, for the advance of an agent's moral cultivation.
The implications of ZX's commitment to human nature being innately good could entail the following: despite an agent’s obscurities, because his nature is good, he is lovable and he can be hopeful that he can shed off his obscurities via proper moral cultivation. Spontaneity is encouraged as an integral part of an agent's moral self-cultivation. His self-responsibility, hinges on his ability to use the instrumentality of moral cultivation, for which he would need the assistance of a moral teacher. There is a greater capacity for forgiveness because of the presumption that the human nature is inherently good. He can sympathize and extend concern for others, in part, because others' nature is also good. ZX's view may potentially carry a risk of excess and a risk of expecting mainly the good, but not the unknown.
Alternatively, implications for DZ's commitment to no original human nature, entails the following: DZ's view is likely more conducive to expecting and embracing the unknown, which potentially makes DZ's philosophy more practical, because we live in a world where we often encounter unknowns and unfamiliar people. Self-love is a prerequisite to know love before one can love others. A moral agent can be hopeful because his potential is good, and it will not be a lost opportunity in light of the constitutive essence of moral cultivation. Despite DZ appearing to be against spontaneity, he is only against the kind of spontaneity that could be hurtful to others as does ZX. Lastly, I argue that DZ's view could result in a broader and more practical commitment to sympathy. Compared to ZX, I argue that DZ’s view could have a potential risk of lower self-responsibility and risk of resistance to self-forgiveness, which does not arise out of DZ’s views about the human nature per se, but rather stems from DZ's bias towards externalized morality.


Philosophical Psychology, Self Love, Sympathy, Hope, Forgiveness, Oneness, Tranquility, Neo-Confucianism, Confucianism, Dai Zhen, Zhu Xi, Chinese Philosophy, Moral Cultivation, Human Nature

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