Nature versus nurture

棘子成曰:「君子質而已矣,何以文為?」子貢曰:「惜乎,夫子之說君子也,駟不及舌!文猶質也,質猶文也;虎豹之鞹,猶犬羊之鞹。」
Ji Zicheng said: “Nature determines whether or not you are a leader. What use is culture?” Zigong said: “What a pity you have chosen to describe a leader in this way. ‘A team of horses cannot catch up with a tongue.’ Culture is nature, nature is culture. Without their hair, the pelts of tigers and leopards are just the same as those of a dog or a sheep.”

Nature versus nurture: we’re still no nearer to finding a definitive answer to this question 2,500 years later though Zigong provides a pretty robust response to Ji Zecheng’s question.

The original meaning of the Chinese character for culture (文/wén) was “patterns”: hence the reference to the pelts of tigers and leopards. Ji Zecheng was a grandee in the state of Wei, probably with a noble lineage given the opinion he expresses here.

Confucius voices a similar opinion to Zigong in Book 6, Chapter XVIII.

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