Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Nature of Man

Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Sin of Adam and Eve, The Fall of Man, Fresco at the Vatican, Sistine Chapel
But then, what exactly is evil? Is it really so easy and clear to define? Or is it simply a point of view? Evil is intentional. After all, predators kill prey for food, but we could never rightly say they are evil. Are humans inherently good or evil? Is evil made or born? Is good made or born? According to the Chinese philosopher, Wang Yang Ming, man is inherently good. He says, "when it [the mind] sees a child fall into a well it naturally knows what commiseration is. This is intuitive knowledge of good, and is not attained through external investigation. If the thing manifested emanates from the intuitive faculty, it is the more free from the obscuration of selfish purpose. This is what is meant by saying that the mind is filled with commiseration, and that love cannot be exhausted. . . ."

But, when we compare this philosophy to Christian theology, it is the complete opposite... man is a sinner because of original sin. Man is corrupt, selfish, and depraved, saved only by divine Grace.

What is interesting is that both philosophies (religion, philosophy, so closely linked...can we not call one the other and the other one?) speak of the passions of men. In Eastern thought, man is born whole, good, upright then corrupted by passions (from Wang Yang Ming):

"The mind is one. In case it has not been corrupted by the passions of men, it is called an upright mind. If corrupted by human aims and passions, it is called a selfish mind. When a selfish mind is rectified it is an upright mind; and when an upright mind loses its rightness it becomes a selfish mind. Originally there were not two minds. A selfish mind is due to selfish desire; an upright mind is natural law (is true to nature). . . .Someone said "All men have natural endowment (mind), and the mind is the embodiment of heaven-given principles (natural law). Why then do some devote themselves to virtue and others to vice? The mind of the evil man has lost its original nature. . . .There are no crises and problems beyond those of passion and change. Are not pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy passions of men? Seeing, hearing, talking, working, wealth and honor, poverty and lowliness, sorrow and difficulty, death and life, all are vicissitudes of life. All are included in the passions and feelings of men. These need only to be in a state of perfect equilibrium and harmony, which, in turn, depends upon being watchful over one's self. . . ."

So accordingly, evil is the result of not being watchful over one's self, yielding to the temptations that so readily present themselves in life whereas in Christian thought, evil is something we are born with and have to remove from our very souls by divine Grace... divine intervention?... that we will absolutely be doomed to evil... it's such a pessimistic view.


  1. The greatest crimes of modern times have been committed by optimists, those like Robespierre and Lenin, who believed in the perfectibility of humankind.

  2. I think there is nothing wrong with optimists... blame often lies in the interpretation of ideologies by governments who use them to justify oppression, invasion, war. "In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way." FDR

  3. Hi Elaine, It is very true in politics noting happens by accident!!
    Incidently I put your silkworm on De Profundis the other day. It is such a great article. I forgot your by line opps but inserted it today. also I put a small banner to Delineating Art on the side bar of my main site Carlsvilleproject Health about a month ago. Thanks for allowing me to do that. :)
    It is niice to see your are writing here again after a little vacation..I enjoy your prospective always.
    Take Care,

  4. Maybe we should consider it not 'original sin' but 'original blessing'. A precious new baby? Sin? Incongruous. God is love and showers us with blessings, originally and forever.