How Did Han Feizi Interpret Human Nature?

Han Feizi believed that human nature was selfish. He expressed his view of human nature concisely: "the wisdom of the people is useless: They have the minds of little infants!" A third-century B.C. theoretician and the architect of the Chinese Legalist School, Han Feizi was a critic of Confucianism. His ideas concerning man and government pre-dated similar Western thinkers, such as Machiavelli.

Han Feizi was contemptuous of the "government through virtue" ideal common to Confucianism, believing instead that a wise ruler pursued self-interest and enforced order through the strict enforcement of laws and the application of harsh punishments and consistent rewards.

Han Feizi did not believe that a ruler could rely on the people to do good of their own free will. He believed that a sage ruler defined the concept of good and used law, not virtue, to extract good behavior from his subjects. He was opposed to scholarship because he believed that ordinary people were incapable of the reflection necessary to contemplate philosophy.

From taxation to military obligation, Han Feizi doubted that the average citizen could intellectually grasp the ideas of planning, delayed gratification and service that were required to animate such programs. In his view, human nature was simply too nakedly selfish.