Xun Zi

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Human nature is evil; its goodness derives from conscious activity.
Learning proceeds until death and only then does it stop.

Xún Zǐ or Hsün Tzu (荀子; born Zhao c.312 BC - 230 BC) was a Chinese Confucian philosopher.


  • The person attempting to travel two roads at once will get nowhere.
    • Quoted in: Errick A. Ford (2010) Iron Sharpens Iron: Wisdom of the Ages, p. 48.
  • In order to properly understand the big picture, everyone should fear becoming mentally clouded and obsessed with one small section of truth.
    • Quoted in: Joan Klostermann-Ketels (2011) HumaniTrees, p. 96.
  • Human nature is evil, and goodness is caused by intentional activity.
    • Quoted in: Fayek S. Hourani (2012) Daily Bread for Your Mind and Soul, p. 336.

An Exhortation to Learning

  • Learning proceeds until death and only then does it stop. ... Its purpose cannot be given up for even a moment. To pursue it is to be human, to give it up to be a beast.
    • Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy (2001), p. 258
  • The learning of the gentleman enters through his ears, fastens to his heart, spreads through his four limbs, and manifests itself in his actions. ... The learning of the petty person enters through his ears and passes out his mouth. From mouth to ears is only four inches—how could it be enough to improve a whole body much larger than that?
    • Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy (2001), p. 259
  • The gentleman knows that whatever is imperfect and unrefined does not deserve praise. ... He makes his eyes not want to see what is not right, makes his ears not want to hear what is not right, makes his mouth not want to speak what is not right, and makes his heart not want to deliberate over what is not right. ... For this reason, power and profit cannot sway him, the masses cannot shift him, and nothing in the world can shake him.
    • Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy (2001), p. 260

"Cultivating oneself"

  • One whose intentions and thoughts are cultivated will disregard wealth and nobility. One whose greatest concern is for the Way and righteousness will take lightly kings and dukes. It is simply that when one examines oneself on the inside, external goods carry little weight. A saying goes, "The gentleman makes things his servants. The petty man is servant to things."
    • Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy (2001), p. 263
    • A similar phrase to the saying is found in the 3rd millennium BCE Sumerian text Instructions of Shuruppak by Šuruppak: "You should not serve things; things should serve you."[1]
  • If an action ... involves little profit but much righteousness, do it.
    • Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy (2001), p. 263

Human nature is evil

  • Human nature is evil; its goodness derives from conscious activity. Now it is human nature to be born with a fondness for profit. Indulging this leads to contention and strife, and the sense of modesty and yielding with which one was born disappears. One is born with feelings of envy and hate, and, by indulging these, one is led into banditry and theft, so that the sense of loyalty and good faith with which he was born disappears. One is born with the desires of the ears and eyes and with a fondness for beautiful sights and sounds, and, by indulging these, one is led to licentiousness and chaos, so that the sense of ritual, rightness, refinement, and principle with which one was born is lost. Hence, following human nature and indulging human emotions will inevitably lead to contention and strife, causing one to rebel against one’s proper duty, reduce principle to chaos, and revert to violence. Therefore one must be transformed by the example of a teacher and guided by the way of ritual and rightness before one will attain modesty and yielding, accord with refinement and ritual, and return to order.
    • Sources of Chinese Tradition (1999), vol. 1, pp. 179-180
  • A person who is transformed by the instructions of a teacher, devotes himself to study, and abides by ritual and rightness may become a noble person, while one who follows his nature and emotions, is content to give free play to his passions, and abandons ritual and rightness is a lesser person.
    • Sources of Chinese Tradition (1999), vol. 1, p. 180
  • A questioner asks: If human nature is evil, then where do ritual and rightness come from? I reply: ritual and rightness are always created by the conscious activity of the sages.
    • Sources of Chinese Tradition (1999), vol. 1, p. 180
  • A person who is shallow aspires to depth; one who is ugly aspires to beauty; one who is narrow aspires to breadth; one who is poor aspires to wealth; one who is humble aspires to esteem. Whatever one lacks in oneself he must seek outside.
    • Sources of Chinese Tradition (1999), vol. 1, p. 181
  • The straightening board was created because of warped wood, and the plumb line came into being because of things that are not straight. Rulers are established and ritual and rightness are illuminated because the nature is evil.
    • Sources of Chinese Tradition (1999), vol. 1, p. 182
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