“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.”
In this my final commentary (at least for the present) on the 4 Axioms of the doctrine of Wang Yang Ming, I shall comment as to his final phrase: “the investigation of things is to do good and remove evil”.
As previously discussed, our original mind is neither good nor bad. No person is born (to our knowledge) with thoughts of actions which would classify as either, for we are seemingly born socially neutral.
Yet when the will arises then there is a definite distinction between the two, for once we develop desires we assert our will accordingly. Hence, once a person develops desires then right and wrong thinking leads to right and wrong actions. When the will initially develops, the young individual has a limited understanding of right and wrong, thus children require an adult to guide and direct them as to right and wrong.
Eventually, the individual develops to the extent that the innate knowledge of right and wrong is known intuitively, and thus the individual learns to distinguish right and wrong by their own experiences and intuition.
This is not to mean that morals and ethics are subjective in the sense that “anything goes”. To the contrary, most everyone has a natural sense of right and wrong, and it is amazing how folks of all times and different cultures agree as to the basics of actual ethics and morals.
Once the intuition is developed, the individual spends every moment of every day assessing situations based upon the intuitive knowledge which inclines us at the most spontaneous of all situations. Such is what Ming addressed when he spoke of “the investigation of things”.
The Chinese humanists have historically debated whether the investigation of things involves exterior learning, inner reflection, or both. Yet the Chinese for the most part are agreed investigating the principles which render social harmony and applying such so as to remove evil and to do good to that end is the natural function of humanity; both as individuals and as a society.
Wang Yang Ming was a key proponent of the School of the Mind (in fact it is oftentimes referred to as the Lu-Wang School in honor of not only Ming, but also of this predecessor in the theory in the person of Lu Hsian Shan (1139-1193).
The basic theory of the School of the Mind being that all that a person needs to know about right and wrong is already in the mind, and can be realized by the faculty of the intuition.
By no means is this a theory of the supernatural or the mystical, for the theory is that the intuitive sense of right and wrong are natural to all people.
I believe that for the most part the theory Lu-Wang school of the mind is sound and true.
Regardless though of whether our sense of right and wrong is purely conditioned; or known from within and developed by way of self reflection (as I tend to believe); it seems sound and correct to state that the investigation of things is to remove evil thoughts from our minds, so that evil words and evil deeds towards others never come to pass.
On an individual level, I assert that if a person takes Mings 4 Axioms to heart , and puts their own intuitive sense of right and wrong into daily practice, that the sphere of influence of that person would render his/her life one of personal tranquility and social harmony with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and even complete strangers.
On a social level, I assert that if leaders of all lands took Mings 4 Axioms to heart, and put such into practice in terms of policies, law, and global relations, then war would be a thing of the past, and social harmony on a global level (aka: world peace) would become a reality.