Faculty Mentor

Christopher C. Kirby

Document Type

PowerPoint or Text of Presentation

Publication Date

Spring 2022




Xunzi [298-238 BCE] is one of the major Confucian philosophers from the Warring States period of ancient Chinese history and is widely recognized as the poster child for the “naturalistic” branch of Confucian philosophy. Xunzi is often contrasted with another Confucian thinker, Mencius. Whereas Mencius is characterized by his belief that human nature is inherently good, Xunzi is primarily identified with his belief that human nature is bad. Xunzi is also known for his theory of ritual, one of his greatest contributions to Chinese thought. In his discussion of ritual, Xunzi adopts the lens of an intriguingly psychological perspective to explain why and how rituals were created by ancient Sages as a vehicle for humans to fulfill their nature. This paper argues that the benefit of Xunzi’s theory of ritual is captured in the notion that rituals serve to satisfy the psychological needs and desires of humans. Xunzi says that formal rituals, such as marriage and funerals, allow humans to fully develop and express their natural emotions. Xunzi’s belief that ritual was created by past Sages as a way to adorn human life provides an explanation for practicing ancient traditions without appealing to any theological reasoning. Focusing on Xunzi’s insights concerning his theory of ritual, this essay argues that people are better off addressing their psychological challenges without appealing to supernatural beliefs.

McCalden 2022 Presentation.pdf (144 kB)
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