Author Archives: Bill Haines

The meaning of Analects 2.21

Someone said to Confucius, “Master, why don’t you engage in government?” The Master said, “The Book of Documents says, ‘Filial! But be filial, and a friend to your brothers, thus contributing to government.’ Why then do that other kind of ‘engaging in government’?”

或謂孔子曰:「子奚不為政?」子曰:「《》云:『孝乎惟孝、友于兄弟,施於有政。』是亦為政,奚其為為政?」

I’ll suppose for the sake of argument that the reported exchange is authentic, and argue that it is not significant evidence of Confucius’ views.  Confucius is not aiming to communicate his views here.

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Is Analects 1.2 about family?

Here are some reasons to think that Youzi did not regard family as the root of humanity or of the Way.  (I used to think he did.)

Most of my argument focuses on defending a view held by Soothill, Leys, Chin, and maybe Lau and Slingerland: that by 弟 in Analects 1.2, Youzi meant elder-respect, a virtue commonly associated specifically with life outside the family.  It would follow that according to 1.2, only one of the two parts of the root of humanity is specifically a family virtue.  If 孝 and 弟 have something relevantly in common for Youzi, family isn’t it.

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Did Confucius think our virtues are contagious?

Did Confucius think that if one of us has general virtue, or some particular virtue such as courage or filial piety, that general or particular virtue will have a substantial tendency to spread directly to the people around her, even if she holds no government position?

Here I’ll survey Confucius’ statements in the Analects and conclude that the answer is No. Confucius probably did not hold that view.  (I gave the opposite reading in both my published papers on Chinese philosophy.)

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"When two go together"

This post proposes a book project, for anyone who wants it.

Two kinds of serious conversation

By “serious” conversations I mean conversations that work toward knowledge (at least for one party), or good decision (at least by one party), or designing something complex.

The serious conversations glimpsed in the Analects are mainly between a master and student. The Mencius is more concerned with how an adept should counsel a king. 1A7 looks like a handbook for that.

These two kinds of conversation get their shape and point from inequalities: unequal wisdom and unequal power. Between master and student, one side has the wisdom and the power. Between counselor and king, one side has the wisdom and the other has the power. The point of both conversations, as understood by all parties, is to transmit  some wisdom from the wiser party to the other — within constraints imposed by the powerful party, such as limited time.

One could do a study of these two forms of conversation in Confucian literature: the varieties of each and the guidance on how to do them well. That’s not my main proposal here.

Is it fair to say that when early Confucianism thought about serious conversation, these two are the main kinds it thought about?

Diomedean conversation

The Western tradition saliently values another kind of conversation, aiming more at discovering or creating than transmitting. Continue reading →