“In the original substance of the mind there is no distinction of good and evil. When the will becomes active, however, such distinction exists. The faculty of innate knowledge is to know good and evil. The investigation of things is to do good and remove evil.”
The 4 Axioms of the doctrine of the Chinese humanist Wang Yang Ming (1472-1529) has been the subject of my commentary on two previous posts. By way of review:
The original substance of our thinking is neither good nor bad, for we were all born socially neutral. Then, there comes a time when the person develops desires and feelings, and it is then that right and wrong actions ensue from right and wrong thinking. Yet when our desires and feelings initially arise, our knowledge as to right and wrong is so limited that we require the guidance and the direction of an adult to distinguish right and wrong on our behalf.
The development of every individual reveals innate qualities which require time and experience to develop, our senses of right and wrong being no exception. For example, most every person is born with the innate ability to walk, yet that quality does not become actualized until our motor skills develop to the extent that we can take those first steps which are the experience of walking. Even then, the toddler may require a supportive hand throughout those initial months before the skill of walking is fully developed. Yet, with time and experience, the person is able to fully exercise their innate ability to walk, and then they no longer require the helping hand that aided them in their early developmental stages of the experience of walking.
In similar fashion, the innate ability to distinguish right and wrong requires time and experience to develop. And, as previously mentioned, in the interim the young human requires the guidance and direction of adults in order to distinguish right from wrong on their behalf. But just as the time comes when the person can let go of the adult hand, and walk on their own, so the time comes when the person can (and should) exercise their innate knowledge of right and wrong, and learn to distinguish such based upon the natural feel of their intuitive senses.
As to whether the natural sense of right and wrong can be developed separate from adult instruction, such is a matter of debate.
Regardless, it seems to me that Ming is correct in stating that the faculty of our innate knowledge is that by which we distinguish right from wrong. Hence, our intuitive sense of right and wrong is that by which the individual governs their desires and feelings.
In my final post, I will comment as to the practice and exercise of our intuitive senses of right and wrong.