Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Fingarette's Confucius and Historical Contingency

I’m just going to post on Fingarette like I’m serving hors d’oeuvres. So, here goes.

So, according to Fingarette’s Confucius, the value of the individual can’t transcend the particular set of ceremonies in which the individual is embedded. On Fingarette’s reading, Confucius is committed, then, to the value of individuals being tied specifically to the Zhou ritual ceremonies. I don’t think Confucius could say something more Rorty-like–namely, that though the particular tradition is dependent on historical contingency, with a bit of irony and reflection, we can embrace the historically contingent and imbue it with value that we recognize to be contingent, since there isn’t any non-contingent value to be had in any case. In other words, Confucius could not think of the Zhou rituals, in so many words, as being historically contingent; he thinks they are absolutely valuable. That doesn’t mean Fingarette’s Confucius is committed, in so many words, to universal values; it means he doesn’t really think in terms of universal versus historically (or culturally) contingent values. His commitment to the Zhou is naively universalist in its assumption of superiority to the norms and mores of “the barbarians.”

I might have caricatured Rorty, or Fingarette for that matter. Comments welcome, as always.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Confucianism, Confucius | 4 comments

Fingarette, Confucius, and the Vessel

Continuing Fingarette-palooza, begun on Chris’s, Peony’s, and Sam’s blogs:

Herbert Fingarette, in Confucius–the Secular as Sacred, chapter 5, discusses something about the relationship between ceremony and the individual’s place within it that is far more radical than either of the alternatives that currently presents itself as the “correct” reading of the moral individual within Confucius’s thought (to the extent that we can reasonably reconstruct it). Fingarette argues, or suggests really, that for Confucius the ethical value of the individual can only be a “function” (p. 75) of the value of ritual ceremony. The idea, as Fingarette construes it, is analogous to the value that a ceremonial vessel has in the context of ritual ceremony: the ceremonial vessel’s value is merely a function of the value of the ceremony, which does not depend at all on the utility of the vessel outside of that context, but on its ritual significance within the ritual. So, the analogous value of the individual human being would be a mere function of the value that human ceremony (li 禮) has. And what kind of value does that have? That’s less clear. According to Fingarette:

The shapes of human relationships are not imposed on man, not physically inevitable, not an instinct or reflex. They are rites learned and voluntarily participated in. The rite is self-justifying. The beings, the gestures, the words are not subordinate to rite, nor is rite subordinate to them…. Although the individual must cultivate himself, just as the temple vessel must be carved and chiseled and polished, this self-cultivation is no more central to man’s dignity, in Confucius’s views, than the preparation of the vessel is central. Preparation and training are essential, but it is the ceremony that is central, and all the elements and relationships and actions in it are sacred though each has its special characteristics. (78)

What could this mean? I’ll say this. It does not mean that the cultivation of the virtues in humans is somehow valuable as a function of human good–the Aristotelian picture, broadly construed, of the virtues contributing to human flourishing, which flourishing is based on human nature–or, as Fingarette puts it, “imposed on man” or “physically inevitable.” On Fingarette’s view, that would put Confucius really at odds with a more Mencian view on which, if the rituals had any value whatsoever, it would be because of their role in expressing what was indeed “imposed on man” through his nature (xing 性) by Heaven.

On the other hand, Fingarette’s reading also implies that “role-based” value of humans does not quite get Confucius’s point narrowly enough. A role has to be indexed to some role-context. Most role-based readings of Confucius, I think, read that context as that of the family and, by extension, of the state through a broadening of the family relationship types to include state relationships. But I don’t think Fingarette’s Confucius thinks this way. If Fingarette is right, Confucius isn’t concerned as much with “the family” or “the state” generically construed, but with a particular ceremonialized version of those things. It is the role, very narrowly, that a person can play within the family or state, as ritualized through the Zhou dynastic rituals, that confers upon the individual (as a “vessel” within that ceremony) the kind of value that Confucius champions.

To that extent Fingarette’s reading, I think, actually makes Confucius less relevant for contemporary concerns than he might wish to admit. Or perhaps he likes to think that we can return to the values of Zhou ritual…

Comments welcome, as always.

March 19, 2009 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism, Confucius | 7 comments

Book Review: James F. Peterman, Whose Tradition? Which Dao?: Confucius and Wittgenstein on Moral Learning and Reflection

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

2015.07.30 View this Review Online View Other NDPR Reviews

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July 23, 2015 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism, Philosophy of language, Reviews | no comments

A Report on “Philosophy of the Past: Early Chinese Philosophy in Context”

Philosophy of the Past: Early Chinese Philosophy in Context

Report by:

Tom Mazanec, Kay Duffy

On a chilly late-winter morning, as the sun pierced through leafless tree branches and the dotted snowscape melted into auguries of spring, a small band of scholars met in Princeton University’s Jones Hall to discuss methods for studying early Chinese philosophy.[1] Organized by two Princeton graduate students, Mercedes Valmisa and Sara Vantournhout, the conference drew approximately twenty-five attendees to hear four main presentations and several hours of lively debate. Martin Kern (Princeton) served as moderator for presentations by Carine Defoort (KU Leuven), Jane Geaney (University of Richmond), Mark Csikszentmihalyi (University of California, Berkeley), and Paul Goldin (University of Pennsylvania) on topics ranging across a wide variety of early texts, employing four distinct methodologies.

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February 25, 2014 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Methodology, Sinology | 8 comments

TOC Journal of Chinese Philosophy 37:2

Our own Hagop Sarkissian has a piece in this volume on “The Darker Side of Daoist Primitivism.” Continue reading “TOC Journal of Chinese Philosophy 37:2”

May 7, 2010 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Tables of Contents | no comments

Berthrong's Question

One of the things I just read (on my list of “things I should read before I run into this person at a conference”) is John Berthrong‘s “Boston Confucianism: The Third Wave of Global Confucianism” (Journal of Ecumenical Studies 40, nos. 1-2 (Winter-Spring 2003): 26-47). In it, Berthrong discusses at length questions about “the contested definition of Confucianism” (26) and the extent to which Confucianism can be “a portable intellectual tradition in Boston as well as Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Kyoto, and Tokyo” (ibid). At the end of the piece, he asks an intriguing question:

…wherever the Confucian Dao was seriously entertained as a philosophical and religious teaching, it was studied assiduously in the classical Chinese written language. The great Ruist scholars of Korea, Japan, and Vietnam all wrote in classical Chinese. The question before the modern Confucian community is whether there can be a Ruist movement without a mastery of the communication medium of classical Chinese. …Can a person who does not read classical Chinese be said to be a part of the Confucian Way? If not, why not? Or, if so, why so? This is an important question that should engage anyone interested in the revival of Confucianism in the twenty-first century. …[It] will be up to the Confucian community of scholars to give a reasoned answer to the question of the necessity of linguistic competence for membership as a real twenty-first-century Ruist scholar. (46-7)

Well, I’m not sure I’m a Confucian or a Ruist scholar — though I write about Confucianism/Ruism — but this seems like an interesting question to try to answer. By the way, this is tangentially relevant to Fingarette-palooza, since Fingarette is one of Berthrong’s examples, along with Robert Neville, of contemporary philosophers who “have written important works about Confucian thought” (38) but who were not “trained formally as a Sinologist although each relied on the best scholarship about Chinese thought available in their times” (ibid). Not only that — Berthrong adds more strongly that they “wrote works that often illuminated Confucianism more insightfully than did professional students of the history of Chinese thought” (39).

What say ye?

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism | 12 comments

Some Modes of Subjection

I want to take up a suggestion I made in the previous thread (here).

In the second volume of his History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault introduced a way of thinking about ethics that might be helpful in thinking about early Chinese ideas. He set aside questions about the content of the ethical code in question (for us, that would be a dào), and asks instead about the ways in which individuals are expected or invited to become ethical subjects.

Foucault’s analysis picks out as especially important the ethical substance (that in us which must be worked on in order to make us ethical subjects), modes of subjection (ways in which we conceive of ourselves in relation to the ethical code), the ethical work (practices of self-cultivation), and a teleology (the sort of being that one aims to become; the gentleman, the benevolent person, or the sage, perhaps).

My suggestion in the last thread was that appeals to human nature in the Mencius might be best thought of as implying a mode of subjection, and not, for example, an argument in favour of a Mencian dào. The idea is that Mencian ethics invites us to think of the dào as natural for us. (How exactly this gets spelled out differs from passage to passage; one important version is that goodness is in some sense already within us, and we just have to release it, a process that does not require force.) Reading the Mencius this way puts appeals to human nature in the context of an account of the psychology of virtue.

One question I have about modes of subjection in early Chinese thought concerns the extent to which they address individuals as individuals. The Mencius seems to do this. So perhaps does the Analects; a while back Patrick referenced an excellent paper by Herbert Fingarette that is easily read as implying that the Analects offers a mode of subjection that addresses individuals as individuals, in order to bring them into relation to a dào that gives no weight to individuality. (Patrick’s reference is here.)

We find something quite different in the Mòzǐ and, I think, in the Xúnzǐ. The Mohists ask us to see ourselves first and foremost as members of a social order (this is clearest in their arguments in favour of conforming upwards and caring inclusively). Xúnzǐ adds to this, for example he adds the idea that the social order is a response to a constant and non-purposive natural context, but like the Mohists he implies an ethical self-understanding that relates us to the dào as members of a social order, not as individuals.

(I wonder—do we have here the beginnings of an explanation of why scholars whose own assumptions about ethics are individualist tend to prefer the Analects and the Mencius over the Mòzǐ and the Xúnzǐ?)

Does this seem like a useful way to set up questions about early Chinese ethics? What other questions and answers does it suggest? I’m particularly interested in what if anything it might lead us to say about the Zhuāngzǐ. (My first ever paper in Chinese philosophy was an attempt to talk about Zhuāngzǐ in something like these terms.)

March 9, 2008 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学 | 3 comments

Reverence, the Spiritual, and the Sacred in Confucianism

These themes seem to have come up in a few different posts, so I thought we might try to tie together some of the strands. I know it’s asking for a lot, but is there any way to get some clarity on how these concepts operate within the history of Confucianism?

I’m assuming there is some close network of meaning within which each of these can be used to understand each of the others–e.g. “the sacred” is something that calls for reverence; reverence is to be distinguished from a purely socially understood concept of respect because reverence is tied to value of a spiritual sort; and so forth.

[Brief digression: I’m sure many of you know more about Durkheim than I, but it seems like “the sacred” is some sort of indefinable, basic concept on his view; I’ve never found that very helpful (someone correct me, please, if I’m totally misreading Durkheim). I only bring Durkheim up because of Fingarette’s clear use of Durkheim’s template in allowing that “the secular” (as opposed to “the profane”) could be part of the sacred–Fingarette’s book on Confucius is called Confucius: the Secular as Sacred, for those who might not know.]

I think if we look at the instances of jing 敬 in the Analects, Mencius, Liji, and other pre-Buddhist texts, it seems to me like it could easily be translated as “respectfulness” rather than “reverence.” I think the main question, whether it is about translating jing or understanding the junzi’s pursuits as in some sense spiritual, is going to be about what the larger template of analysis is that makes the texts “speak to” spiritual or sacred concerns. I think I can see what that template is for understanding the neo-Confucians in that way: reaction to and partial assimilation of Buddhist concerns that are more clearly driven by soteriological goals. I’m not sure what the template should be for the early Confucians–despite having read Fingarette more than a few times. And I don’t know as much as I should about the New Confucians to understand how they would see themselves addressing issues of reverence, the spiritual, or the sacred.

Well, that’s what I’ll start with. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from responses to this post.

February 20, 2008 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism, Confucius, Religion | 13 comments

A Way without a Mental State

Picking up on Dan Robins’ comment in the previous post:

“On a more substantive point, I tend to accept Chad Hansen’s thesis that early Chinese philosophers (as well presumably as lots of other people) did not work with belief/desire folk psychology because (in effect) they did not think of human thought as propositional. So I wouldn’t agree that belief/desire folk psychology is universal.”

That gives me a chance to post about both Hansen and Fingarette, two of my favorites. On this topic, Hansen gives an interesting and very different defense of Herbert Fingarette’s thesis in “A Way without a Crossroads” (ch. 2 of Confucius: the Secular as Sacred).

Fingarette famously argues there that in the Analects, the language of an “inner life” with respect to choices and responsibilities is conspicuously absent. That isn’t to say that the notions of choice and responsibility are lacking, but that they are, significantly, not spelled out in terms of what we might call inner “mental states” (not Fingarette’s terminology–he refers variously to “inner shape and dynamics” of choice, “looking inward,” “inner life,” and “inner crisis”). Instead of the “choice-responsibility-guilt” complex that implies an inner life, Fingarette argues that for Confucius, the idea of acquiring the Way is of an edification process that provides a correcting and civilizing influence on a person through the rituals, study of poetry, history and so forth. As I understand it, that means that in Fingarette’s view, if there is an idea of moral agency in Confucius, it is not at all concerned with the agent as rational chooser, but the agent as performer, or perhaps “traveler,” of the Way.

In A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought Hansen takes up something very much like Fingarette’s point. Hansen’s argument for it, though, is grander and more far-reaching. Here, I’m going to try to summarize quickly what his argument is in pp. 75 – 78. Because of the pictographic nature of Chinese written language, Confucius and others of the era thought of language as conventional and public. They did not see the need for a private “language of thought”–or “mentalese”–which Western philosophers have thought necessary for making sense of meaning and translation (they need to suppose each of us has a private language of thought into which any conventional language must be translated in order for us to understand it; this would be a pure language of concepts along with logical apparatus of rationality, or something like that). That provides a plausible explanation, Hansen argues, for why Confucius “offers neither psychological nor other explanations” (77) for the meaning and significance of ritual gestures. And the conventionalism, as opposed to language-of-thought-ism, about language and meaning is why Confucius and those like him would not have been engaged in, because they did not require, the folk-psychology of beliefs and desires to explain the meaning or value of people’s behavior, or the guides (daos) for it.

I realize that might gloss over details a bit from either Fingarette’s or Hansen’s views. But, what’s a blog for anyway, if we don’t do that sort of thing?

I have some worries about whether either of their arguments have anything to do with the folk-psychology of belief and desire, however. First a confession: I’m not really very well trained in philosophy of mind/language issues, so I’ll probably need some rectifying at your hands. I thought belief and desire folk-psychology was something fairly basic and theoretically “thin” that we could attribute to anyone who attributes thoughts and desires to others or to themselves. That’s part of its status as folk-psychology–average Dude doesn’t care about mentalese, language-of-thought, propositional content, or translation; Dude just attributes thoughts and desires to people using language like: “She wants…” “She thinks…” “I guess…” “I’m afraid that…” etc. But that just is the use of belief-desire folk-psychology, isn’t it? If so, isn’t it clear that Confucius and everyone else we’re concerned with engages in it? Attributing a desire and a belief doesn’t have to be so elaborate. Maybe the folk-psychology isn’t in the foreground of explaining the meaning or value of people’s behavior, but that might just have to do with pedagogy. How do you teach people to do right or value the right things? You have to change their beliefs and desires, but how do you do that? You might put at the center some kind of nearly rote behavior which is key to coming to a realization of the value of the activity. Then you wouldn’t say much about changing their beliefs and desires because that just goes without saying.

I could say more, I suppose, but let me see what you think.

February 11, 2008 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism, Confucius | 31 comments