The Department of East Asian Languages & Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania is delighted to announce an interdisciplinary symposium in honor of Nathan Sivin at Perry World House, 3803 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104, on Oct. 14-15, 2017.
The symposium is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. Just click here if you’d like to attend:
Continue reading “Body and Cosmos in China: An Interdisciplinary Symposium in Honor of Nathan Sivin”
Michael (“Mick”) Hunter’s new book, Confucius Beyond the Analects (Brill 2017) has now been published. Congratulations, Mick! More information is here and below.
Continue reading “New Book: Hunter, Confucius Beyond the Analects”
The APA has announced the winners of its 2016 Op-Ed Contest — see here — and among them is Bryan Van Norden, writing on “Confucius on Gay Marriage.” Congratulations, Bryan!
Here and there I have argued that Confucius did not think family virtue is the root of ren 仁; far from it. In defense of that claim I’ll now try to answer the question: how then do so many scholars think he did?
Continue reading “The Roots of a Reading”
Confucius’ remark at Analects 1.6 is often cited to show that he thought proper moral development begins with filial piety and then extends that attitude to ever-larger groups of people (ever less intensely). I shall argue that the remark does not display such a view. Confucius did not in general envision moral progress as extension.
Continue reading “Analects 1.6, and how Confucius envisioned moral progress”
Many hold that for Confucius the family is the model for organized political society in some sense; that Confucius regarded the norms for relations beyond the family as largely based on the norms for relations with kin. Here I follow Joseph Chan in challenging that view.
Continue reading “Confucius on the family as model”
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’?”
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.
Continue reading “The meaning of Analects 2.21”
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.
Continue reading “Is Analects 1.2 about family?”
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.)
Continue reading “Did Confucius think our virtues are contagious?”
James A. Flath, Traces of the Sage: Monument, Materiality, and the First Temple of Confucius, Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press, 2016.
Traces of the Sage is a comprehensive account of the history and material culture of the Temple of Confucius (Kong Temple) in Qufu, Shandong.
Continue reading “New Book: Traces of the Sage”
A writer from National Geographic has contacted me with a question, and I wonder if anyone out there has a better answer than I have so far come up with. She is working on an article that uses a quote widely attributed to Confucius, and wants to confirm the attribution. It is: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” One source that I found on-line suggests that this is based on Analects 16:19 (“孔子曰：「生而知之者，上也；學而知之者，次也；困而學之，又其次也。困而不學，民斯為下矣！」”; ctext here.). This is indeed a listing of three ways of acquiring understanding or wisdom, but the rest doesn’t match very well.
Does anyone have any ideas? There are tons of Confucius quotations in other texts, and maybe this is one of them? Or maybe a loose/early version of that Analects passage? The writer’s deadline is 2pm EST tomorrow! Thanks for any help, which I will pass on.
A new three-part series from BBC Four. The first two episodes, on Buddha and Socrates, are available online. Just from watching the first few minutes, it seems like there is a heavy influence of Jaspers’ “Axial Age” theory. If you’ve seen the full episodes already, let the rest of us know what you think!
Bryan W. Van Norden comments here.
Jim Peterman’s Whose Tradition? Which Dao?: Confucius and Wittgenstein on Moral Learning and Reflection has been published; check it out.
Here is another in our occasional series of book reviews. Thanks to Mat for doing this, and comments are, of course, welcome!
Mathew A. Foust Central Connecticut State University
Review of Sam Crane, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Dao: Ancient Chinese Thought in Modern American Life (UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), xi + 201 pp.
Sam Crane intends this volume for “people who have an interest in seeing how ancient Chinese thought might cast new light on the present day but who are not yet familiar with the time-honored works” (3), with the belief that Chinese thought can “show us something about our world and ourselves that we might otherwise not see” (10). More specifically, Crane applies concepts and theories from Confucianism and Daoism to several contemporary issues dotting the American landscape. After a chapter explaining key concepts of Confucianism and Daoism, Crane explores how these teachings might be brought to bear on debates arising in virtually every sphere of human life, from birth (e.g., the issue of abortion) to death (e.g., the issue of euthanasia). Although his arguments are occasionally strained by inadequate textual support, his volume is largely able to achieve its stated objectives.
Continue reading “Review of Crane, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Dao”
The exhaustive and high-quality Dao Companion to the Analects, edited by Amy Olberding, has been released. Springer site is here; Amazon is here. Congratulations, Amy! The Table of Contents follows…
Continue reading “Olberding, ed., Dao Companion to the Analects is Published”
Penguin has recently brought out a new translation of, and commentary on, the Analects, by Annping Chin. The Amazon page is here, at which one can get a good sense of the format and goals of this new translation. Considerable comentary is appended after each passage, with a combination of Chin’s own thoughts and comments from mostly post-Song (primarily Qing to the present) scholars. Chinese text is provided in an appendix. Anyone have any thoughts on this new translation?
Confucius valued careful and serious speech. One passage in the Analects says that a person can be judged as wise or unwise on the basis of a single sentence. So how is it possible that for many Americans, the first thing they think of when they hear the name of the Chinese teacher is “Confucius say,” followed by a silly one-liner?
Continue reading “Why do many Americans still say “Confucius say”?”
An interesting take on Xi Jinping’s frequent expressions of reverence for China’s past.
With each published issue of Dao, we choose one article for discussion here on Warp, Weft, and Way, and Dao‘s publisher gives everyone free access to the article for a year. The next article to get this treatment is “Aristotle and Confucius on the Socioeconomics of Shame” by Thorian Harris. The article can be accessed here. Howard Curzer of Texas Tech is going to start off the discussion in a couple weeks with a précis; in the meantime, we encourage you to download and read the article, and then join in the discussion when it begins.
The latest entry in the New York Times’ Stone column. Discussion welcome!
The editorial board of Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy has concluded its two months long deliberation on 2013 Dao Annual Best Essay Award, and its winner is:
Amy Olberding, “Confucius’ Complaints and the Analects‘ Account of the Good Life,” Dao 12.4: 417-440.
Journalist Evan Osnos has a new article, “Confucius Comes Home,” in The New Yorker. Only subscribers will have access to more than the first few paragraphs, I fear. It’s a terrific and provocative piece!
The Confucius Institute and the U.S.-China Center at CCSU, in collaboration with Elihu Burritt Library, proudly present the exhibition:
Confucius – A life journey in pictures
The exhibit displays a series of stunning reproductions of silk paintings and woodcut prints from the Ming and Qing dynasties, depicting the life and travels of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. This exhibit is free, and open to the public. See here for more information.
There will be an Opening Ceremony on Tuesday September 10 @ 6:30pm. Mathew Foust (Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Central Connecticut State University) will deliver a keynote address, “Portraits of Confucius.” Light refreshments will be served. RSVP: email@example.com
The exhibit will run through September 30, during regular hours at the Elihu Burritt Library, 2nd floor.
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
2013.07.38 View this Review Online View Other NDPR Reviews
Erin M. Cline, Confucius, Rawls, and the Sense of Justice, Fordham University Press, 2013, 354pp., $65.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780823245086.
Reviewed by Bryan W. Van Norden, Vassar College
Continue reading “Van Norden Reviews Cline on NDPR”
The next session of the Columbia University Seminar on Neo-Confucian Studies will convene on Friday, April 12 (the second Friday of the month, a departure from our usual first-Friday format), from 3:30 to 5:30pm. We will meet in the Komoda Room in the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University.
We will have two presenters for this session (listed here in alphabetical order).
- Theresa Kelleher of Manhattanville College will present the paper “Looking at the Quotidian Dimensions of Neo-Confucianism: Excerpts from the Journal of Wu Yubi (1392-1469).”
- Zhou Zehao of York College will present the paper “Confucius and the Cultural Revolution: A Brief Comparison of the Two Anti-Confucian Campaigns during the Cultural Revolution.”
Copies of their papers will be distributed soon. All are welcome to attend. Please feel free to forward this message to interested colleagues. Please join us after the seminar for dinner at the Columbia Cottage restaurant, which is located on the corner of Amsterdam and 111th Streets.
Guest poster Andrew Komasinski offers us a review of Henry Rosemont Jr., A Reader’s Companion to the Confucian Analects (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). Please direct any comments to Andrew.
Henry Rosemont Jr.’s A Reader’s Companion to the Confucian Analects is a novel approach in the English-language world. Building on Rosemont’s forty years of professional knowledge and personal experience with the Analects, this text will be of great use for the right type of reader. Containing no footnotes and not structured as an argument, this is not a scholarly monograph and bypasses many issues primarily of interest to scholars. The text differs from the similarly titled Cambridge Companion series which provides a set of scholarly essays highlighting the contemporary debate or Routledge Philosophy Guidebooks that guide undergraduate students through complex arguments.
Continue reading “Review of Rosemont, Reader’s Companion to the Analects”
It has just come to my attention that Yong HUANG’s book Confucius: A Guide for the Perplexed (Bloomsbury 2013) has recently been published [publisher’s site] [Amazon link]. I have only had a chance to take a quick look at it, but it looks to be philosophically sophisticated and yet engaging and accessible. Rather than a systematic overview of Confucius’s teachings, Huang tackles a series of questions that arise “in our everyday life or moral reflection,” and argues that Confucius’s answers are the best — or at least, better than available alternative answers in the Western tradition. Enjoy!
Palgrave Macmillan has recently published A Reader’s Companion to the Confucian Analects by Henry Rosemont Jr. Further details can be found here.
Macmillan is interested in offering a free electronic version of this title to a scholar interested in posting a review of the book here on Warp, Weft, and Way. If you would like to pursue this, please contact Katie Gordon (Palgrave Macmillan Marketing Executive; firstname.lastname@example.org) and also let one of the blog administrators know. (If you’re not an official contributor, we can arrange to post the review as a guest post.)
The next session of the Columbia University Seminar on Neo-Confucian Studies will convene on Friday, March 1, 2013, from 3:30 to 5:30pm. We will meet in the Board Room on the first floor of the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University. Please note the earlier starting time.
Our presenter for this session is Deborah Sommer of the Department of Religious Studies at Gettysburg College. Her paper is titled “The Body of Confucius in Han Apocrypha.” The paper was originally scheduled for November 2012 but was postponed due to Hurricane Sandy. Please contact one of the organizers if you would like a copy.
Continue reading “Friday’s Neo-Confucianism Seminar at Columbia”
When Confucius criticizes Zhu Xi and more stories…
I have had the chance to come across fascinating interpretations of the Great Learning in a book titled Daxue zhengshi 大學證釋 (Evidential Interpretation of the Great Learning). To be more accurate, the striking part of the story lies less in the philosophical originality of the interpretations than in the identity of the commentators.
In this volume, the original Daxue text is commented upon by a series of sages (liesheng qishu 列聖齊述) including Confucius, Yan Hui, Zengzi and Mencius… Zhu Xi was also a contributor to this volume and wrote a nice self-criticism piece about his problematic Song-dynasty interpretations of the text. He finally admitted that he got it completely wrong with his former discussions on the “extension of knowledge lying in the investigation of things” (zhizhi zai gewu 致知在格物), etc… Among the other contributions, the one of Confucius was interesting but I doubt that Zhu Xi enjoyed it much because it happens that he was wrong again ! Kongzi’s line of argument was the following: basing himself on Zhu Xi’s edited introductory sentence of the Daxue (大學之道，在明明德 , 在親民，在止於至善) he criticized Zhu’s replacement of the original 在親親 , 在新民 by 在親民 (understood as: 在新民). He posited that these changes did not reflect “the entirety of Confucian doctrine” (fei rujiao jiaoyi zhi quan yi 非儒教教義之全矣) and highlighted the fact that ideas such as “ruling the country primarily requires to regulate the family” (zhi guo bi xian qi jia 治國必先齊家) or “the foundations of the country lie in the family” (guo zhi ben zai jia 國之本在家) all originated from the “affection to the kindred” (親親), that is, from characters cut off by Zhu Xi….
I will skip my comments on these comments and concentrate on some background information that might be more interesting. Continue reading “When Confucius criticizes Zhu Xi and more stories…”
Our thoughts go out to those in the New York area recovering from Hurricane Sandy! Happily, the lights stayed on in Middletown where I live, though 650,000 people are without power in Connecticut and many more in New York, New Jersey, and beyond.
Update, 10/31: The Nov. 2 Seminar has been cancelled, and will be re-scheduled at a later date.
The next session of the Columbia University Seminar on Neo-Confucian Studies will convene on Friday, November 2 from 3:30 to 5:30pm. We will meet in the Common Room in the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University. Please note the earlier starting time.
Our presenter for this session is Deborah Sommer. Her paper is titled “The Body of Confucius in Han Apocrypha.” A copy of her paper can be obtained from any of the Co-Chairs (see below).
Continue reading “Nov. 2 Neo-Confucianism Seminar”
Bloomington, Indiana was the site of the 8th Midwest Conference on Chinese Thought, which took place last Friday to Sunday. Our hosts at the University of Indiana (primarily Aaron Stalnaker, Maichel Ing, and Cheryl Cottine of the Religious Studies Department) organized things very well. The group was small enough that everyone was able to participate, but large enough that there was a critical mass to discuss a wide range of topics intelligently. As compared with the more narrowly philosophical conferences that I have mostly been attending, there was a refreshing dose of sinology (details of texts, less-well-known authors, etc.); too bad that the AAS doesn’t seem to be more open to broad discussions of Chinese thought, because it might then be more of a forum for conversations like this one. Two of my personal highlights were Esther Klein’s paper “Sima Qian’s Confucius and the Western Han Lunyu,” which both reviewed recent research on the possible Western Han composition of the Lunyu and presented her own research into citations of the Lunyu in Shiji; and Frank Perkins’s “The Mohist Daodejing,” which explored parallels between the last 16 chapters of the Daodejing (which are unattested in the Guodian texts) and Mohism. Both papers hint at further ways in which our understanding of early Chinese thought may continue to change in dramatic ways in years ahead!
NDRP has just published a very nice, charitable-and-yet-challenging review of Amy Olberding’s recent book, Moral Exemplars in the Analects: The Good Person is That. Myeong-seok Kim lauds the subtle insight that Olberding is able to extract from her attention to the Analects‘s “narrative depictions of Confucius in diverse circumstances,” while raising questions about her framework of “exemplarism.” Highly recommended!
As part of some commentary on Paul Goldin’s new book Confucianism, Bill Haines has noted the centrality of the idea of moral perfection in Goldin’s characterization of the basic convictions of the Confucian philosophical orientation. In a subsequent comment, he questions to what degree the ideal of moral perfection was actually held by Confucius. With Bill’s permission, I’m re-posting his comments on this latter subject here, because I think they deserve more attention than they may get buried deep in a comment string. Read on, and please direct your comments to Bill, the author of what follows. Continue reading “Moral Perfection in the Analects (and Beyond?)”
FYI, Sam Crane has a great post over on his blog about the “Q Confucius” contemporary art exhibit in Shanghai.
A recent article in T’oung Pao 97 (pp. 160-201) might be of interest to many readers of the blog. In “Recent Monographs on Confucius and Early Confucianism,” Oliver Weingarten of SOAS considers the following books:
- Il confucianesimo: i fondamenti e i testi. By Maurizio Scarpari. Turin: Einaudi, 2010. vi + 300 pp.
- Confucius: A Life of Thought and Politics. By Annping Chin. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. xiv + 268 pp.
- Confucius. By Rémi Mathieu. Sagesses éternelles. Paris: Entrelacs, 2006. 271 pp.
- Lives of Confucius. By Michael Nylan and Thomas Wilson. New York: Doubleday, 2010. 304 pp.
- Sang jia gou: wo du Lunyu. By Li Ling. Revised edition. Two volumes. Taiyuan: Shanxi renmin chubanshe, 2007. 2 + 11 + 390 + 120 pp.
- Qu sheng nai de zhen Kongzi: Lunyu zongheng du. By Li Ling. Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 2008. 13 + 7 + 302 pp.
- Confucius. Spiritualités vivantes, vol. 198. By Jean Levi. Paris: Albin Michel, 2003. 322 pp.
Continue reading “Review Article on Several Books on Confucius”
I’ve been recently thinking about an issue that comes up in both the Daodejing and the Analects. DDJ 63, specifically, is commented on in Analects 14.34. In the two texts, we see different positions concerning how one should respond to enmity 怨 yuan. DDJ 63 reads:
為無為，事無事，味無味。大小多少，報怨以德。圖難於其易，為大於其細；天下難事，必作於易，天下大事，必作於細。是以聖人終不為大，故能成其大… Continue reading “What Does It Mean to "Respond to Enmity with Excellence"?”
Actually, both parts of that conjunction are false: I am far from virtuous, and I probably don’t hate you. (Really I don’t.) But say I were virtuous: what would be the problem with me hating some people? Would feeling hatred toward some individuals detract from my overall moral standing? And forget about poor old un-virtuous me. What about someone who, by all accounts, really was virtuous–Confucius. Would it detract from his moral standing if he hated some people?
Continue reading “I am virtuous, and I hate you.”
Our thanks to fellow blogger, Chris Panza, for the heads up.
Rodney Taylor enlightens the Huff Post readership on what Confucianism really is HERE.
Just to get you interested, here’s something Taylor says in the piece:
By emphasizing the learning of the sages of antiquity, Confucius believed rulers ruled by the Mandate of Heaven. Confucius thus supported the theocratic nature of the Chinese state. More importantly, however, he supported the religious authority associated with T’ien as a principle of “purpose.” Because of T’ien, the universe had a purpose and that purpose was exercised on behalf of the state. For the Confucians, this “purpose” of Heaven was seen as a greater authority than the power of rulership itself. The ruler only ruled because of Heaven’s Mandate, and the Mandate could be taken away. To hold the Mandate, the criterion was the moral conduct of the ruler. In Confucian thought, much is made of the distinction between a ruler, wang, a true ruler of moral worth, and a tyrant, pa, one who exercises power only for his own personal aggrandizement.
Continue reading “Rodney Taylor on Confucianism on Huffington Post”
Here’s a couple of links to news stories (one English, one Chinese) on the establishment of the 大成至聖先師孔子協會, or “Association of the Most Sage and Venerated Late Teacher Confucius,” announced yesterday in Taiwan. There aren’t many specifics yet about what they plan to do and I haven’t found a website for the association itself yet, but I’ll post more information if I come across any.
UPDATED and moved to top: As Steve Angle reported in comments a couple of days ago, apparently the statue has been moved inside the museum! Confucianism revivalists are up in arms. Information about why this was done — whether long-planned, or not -– is contradictory. The English-language press is now reporting this, though they don’t have much information, either!
Here’s a New York Times piece about it from yesterday: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/23/world/asia/23confucius.html?_r=1
If you hover over the Times picture, it shows you a dramatic(?) before and after shot. Note this interesting quote from the piece:
Guo Qijia, a professor at Beijing Normal University who helps run the China Confucius Institute, said that only Confucian teachings could rescue China from what he described as a moral crisis.
“Students come home from school and tell their parents, ‘One of my classmates got run over by a car today — now I have one less person to compete against,’ ” he said. “We have lost our humanity, our kindness and our spirit. Confucianism is our only hope for becoming a great nation.”
Continue reading “Confucius on Tiananmen Square – UPDATED”
The current Chronicle of Higher Education has this piece, available to non-subscribers for a few days, on worries raised about academic freedom introduced by the proliferation of Confucius Institutes on university campuses.
Continue reading “Confucius Institutes – Chronicle Discussion”
Here are the substantive parts of the paper I presented, “Gentlemen Prefer Bronze: Aesthetic Sensibility as Moral Sense in the Analects” at the recent Pacific Division APA meeting in San Francisco. Continue reading “More Aesthetic-Moral Fusion”
I get nearly the same question about the cult of ancestry every time I teach the Analects, but I’ve never been able to answer it to my own satisfaction, much less to my students’. The question is bascially, what background assumptions and beliefs about the dead are in play for Confucius and his followers when they place such heavy emphasis on the continuance of filial piety for their parents and prior ancestors, post mortem? Of course, there’s this famous exchange with Confucius in 11.12, in which he seems to say that one should remain agnostic about death:
Ji Lu asked about serving the spirits of the dead. The Master said, “While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve their spirits?” Ji Lu added, “I venture to ask about death?” He was answered, “While you do not know life, how can you know about death?” (Legge translation)
We could take some agnosticism about death seriously here, or we could imagine that Confucius is simply deflecting for the sake of getting Ji Lu to think more about the problems of the living. Continue reading “Cult of Ancestry”
Happy (Gregorian) New Year, all. I don’t suppose they’ll consider remaking “Alexander,” only with Liam Neeson playing Aristotle and making the whole plot revolve around him. But that’s what someone’s done in China with Confucius, starring Chow Yun Fat as Confucius:
(Thanks to my cinephile friend, Lee, for the notice. ) Comments welcome, of course…
Following up on some things we discussed about filial piety on a previous post, I’ve had some thoughts about the nature of family relationships and their moral relevance, particularly with respect to filial piety, but with some hopes for expanding the thoughts more systematically to other aspects.
The Confucian ideal seems to be that the duties and obligations deriving from family bonds are central, in at least two ways:
1) The duties and obligations deriving from family bonds are overriding — they override any duties or obligations that derive from other relations, be they standing relations (subject and ruler, ruler and minister, subject and subject, etc.), or incidental ones based on circumstances (sheep-thief and sheep-owner, chariot-driver and someone run over by chariot-driver, etc.).
2) The duties and obligations deriving from family bonds are paradigmatic — they provide the paradigm, or model, for thinking about what our other duties or obligations are like and how we should think about them. So, for example, the ruler should think about his relationship to his ministers or to his subjects in ways that are modeled on the parent-child relationship.
That represents, I think, a common portrayal of the Confucian view. The questions I have are about how such a view might be justified. There are so-called “special relationships” that some contemporary moral theorists like to talk about, that are based on more or less standing relationships we find ourselves in, sometimes not entirely out of choices that we may have made. But these relationships can involve important moral aspects like trust and deep emotional bonds based on instinctive and cultivated care. The most obvious relationship like this is the parent-child relationship. But in that relationship, it’s always seemed to me like there’s an important asymmetry. As parents, we bring children into the world and it is most often out of some choice or other that we made. But of course the children had no such choice (that’s not the asymmetry I’m interested in) and for many years of their lives, they are in most ways “at our mercy” — they tacitly trust us to take care of them and to prepare them for a relatively happy adult life. Most parents love their children and so the point about trust might seem to without saying, but that’s not always the case and even loving parents don’t always feel particularly fond of their children. So, care is something that we owe to our children, as Kant (through Barbara Herman, among others) might say, even when we don’t on occasion feel like caring for them.
The moral asymmetry, I think, is when we look at the relationship from the side of the children. What is it that they owe to us? (Or, more pressing for many of us, what do we owe our parents?). I’m not so sure how to answer that. One way to characterize the Confucian view is that children owe their parents obedience, allegiance/loyalty, and gratitude — as I suggested about Analects 13.18 in the aforementioned post. Continue reading “Special Relationships, Duties and Obligations”
Analects 15.24 is often cited as the “Reverse Golden Rule” and it’s easy to see why:
Zigong asked: “Is there a single teaching that can be practiced to the end of one’s life?” Confucius replied: “It is reciprocity! What you don’t desire for yourself, do not desire for others.”
The Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is found in the Gospels, in Matthew 7:9-12 and Luke 6:27-31. In the latter context, the “rule” follows a discussion of how one ought to treat one’s enemies, while in the former, it is more general.
15.24 is interesting because it raises the question of just what status this “rule”–or better yet, “teaching” (for 言)–has among the many sorts of teachings found in the Analects. In some important ways, it rubs against the idea that for early Confucianism moral virtuosity is somehow incapable of codification, or somewhat stronger, incapable of adequate articulation. Is this a rule? a principle? an articulation of the Confucian dao by the author(s) of this passage? If not any of those, then what? Those who favor a virtue-emphasis reading of the Analects tend to focus on the term for reciprocity, shu 恕, and treat it as a virtue term, though the explanation in terms of the “rule” seems added to present something like a definitional equivalence. (Here, I’m thinking of Van Norden’s discussion in “Unweaving the ‘One Thread’ of Analects 4:15”)
In 5.12, Zigong and Confucius have an exchange that is slightly different, on which Zigong comes off looking a bit too confident in himself:
Zigong said: “What I do not desire people to do to me, I also desire for it not to be done toward people.” Confucius said, “Zigong my dear, it is not you who has gotten that far.”
The phrasing, 一言, in 15.24 seems to indicate that there is something important, something on the order of a single principle, for which Zigong is asking. I wonder if there other, similarly explicit principles to be found in the Analects, if indeed 15.24 provides an explicit principle.
I saw this (Associated Press) article about the son of the Holocaust Museum shooting suspect:
WASHINGTON – The son of a white supremacist accused of killing a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said Monday the shooting was unforgivable and he wished his father had died instead.
Erik von Brunn told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he and his father James didn’t like each other. The interview followed ABC’s release Sunday of comments by the son that his father had long burdened their family with his white supremacist views and that James should have died in the attack.
“I loved my father. But what he did was unforgivable,” Erik von Brunn, 32, said.
James von Brunn, 88, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of 39-year-old Stephen T. Johns, who was black.
ABC played a short video of Johns’ mother Jacqueline Carter reacting to Erik’s statements about his father.
“I hope that in time his son will be able to forgive his dad and find some peace within his heart also,” Carter said.
In response, Erik von Brunn told ABC, “Forgiveness is very difficult right now.”
“You know, the only bond we had was father and son. We didn’t like each other very much.” …
Something about this didn’t feel right. I can understand condemning the father’s actions–maybe condemning the father as a person, too. But the idea of wishing that one’s father had been the one killed in the tragedy seemed morally strange to me. That got me thinking about the famous (infamous?) Analects passage, 13.18:
The Duke of She informed Confucius, saying, “Among us here there are those who may be styled upright in their conduct. If their father have stolen a sheep, they will bear witness to the fact.” Confucius said, “Among us, in our part of the country, those who are upright are different from this. The father conceals the misconduct of the son, and the son conceals the misconduct of the father. Uprightness is to be found in this.” (Legge translation)
This passage has always struck me as indefensible from the point of view of contemporary ethical theories (though, if anyone wants to give it a go, have at). But something like it lurks about, at least in my consciousness, that makes it seem like one should–as a son–have some extra pity, compassion, or something of the sort toward one’s father, deeply disturbed and hateful an anti-Semitic as he may be.
I have two related questions here:
I. Is the Analects view, as expressed in 13.18, defensible by some contemporary moral theoretic approach?
II. Would it make sense to read Confucius ironically here? By that I mean, would it make sense to read Confucius here as using ‘直’ (“upright”) ironically, in an oblique indictment of his own locality’s standards? (I can’t think of anyone who’s taken that reading…)
A fun bit of frivolity: Brian Leiter has been running various “top philosopher” polls among his blogizens. Surprise! Confucius somehow got voted into the top ten among “Most Important Philosophers of the Pre-modern Era.” I was surprised because the (very large) blogizenship of Brian’s site, which consists of mostly professional philosophers, probably knows far, far less about Confucius than any of the other philosophers on the poll list. My guess is that most were voting on reputation. There’s currently a “Most Important Philosophers of All Time” poll running, so go cast your vote if you have time to burn (if you’re blogsurfing, you at least have some time to burn… ).
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.
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.
I’m going to piggyback on some discussion to which I was party at Peony’s and Sam’s because I wanted to see what might come up further from this blog’s clientale (patrons? target audience?). My apologies to both of the other bloggers for cloning their concerns over here, but I offer them admiration as propitiation.
The issue concerns how to understand Analects 9.18 and 15.13. In both places Confucius is quoted saying: “吾未見好德如好色者也,” widely translated as something like “I have never met one who likes virtue as much as he likes sex.” A slight variation in that is to translate se 色 as “beauty” or “the beauty of women.” I’ve never really liked this way of understanding Confucius’s point. So, here is a proposal for how to understand the sentiment in 9.18 and 15.13. (Some of this is cut and pasted from various comments I made on the other blogs):
I think se 色 really can’t mean something as narrow as sex or lust; its meaning is much broader, expressing a broader more central concern in the Analects. The “sex” translation seems flat out wrong for the following reasons. There really isn’t any independent evidence that sexual license was a temptation Confucius worried over. Nor does it seem that concubinage was an option for anyone other than the emperor or possibly a very powerful warlord (any ancient Chinese concubinage experts should correct or corroborate me on this). This line of translating seems to be a projection of much later genres of moralizing texts onto the Analects. But those issues about sexual desire and practice don’t really determine the issue as much as consideration of a more central concern for Confucius. In Analects 2.8 Confucius uses se in a context that I think is much more helpful in setting our understanding of se in the right direction:
“Zixia asked about filial piety. The Master said: ‘[Mere] appearances (se) are the difficulty. With matters to be tended, younger brothers or sons offer their service; with drink and food one partakes in order of birth. Can this really be filial piety?'”
I think this is representative of a concern that Confucius has throughout the Analects with contrasting mere, or rote, behavior that mimics real filial piety (or righteousness, benevolence, ritual, etc) and genuine possession of those characteristics. It’s his concern that the “form” of such activity be filled out with deeper content or correct context. I think that transfers also to distractions that form a category of “surface” pleasure. Appreciation of beauty, in particular, is not a mere surface pleasure for Confucius. So translation of se as ‘love of beauty’ also makes a mistake–the real trouble for Confucius is not appreciating beauty; instead it is enjoying “cheap” delights that merely mimic appreciation of beauty.
The sensibility that Confucius expresses does not concern one arena or type of activity as opposed to a wholly other type–for example, in antiquity, between ritualized life and licentious free-for-all, or something of the sort. I think the sensibility tracks the difference between more closely related activities, namely the “real” or “deep” enjoyment/practice/performance of ritual, filial piety, music, beauty of women, and so forth, and the disingenuous or shallow enjoyment/practice/performance of that same range of things. Confucius’s concerns are focused on a declining empire, but not like the Roman decline as represented in “Caligula.” The decline lies in the loss or threatened loss of coherence, or perhaps integrity, of what he considered to be high culture (in the moral/social/aesthetic mashed-up sense). In effect, it is a type of snobbery but perhaps with less pejorative connotation. It’s like bemoaning the loss of integrity that, say, the ascendence of Kenny G represented for the true jazz aficionado. Kenny G’s performances lack “soul” or something like that, so they are se.
So, if I had to give a translation of the quote from Confucius, it would be something like: “I have never met one who prefers the deeply powerful activity as much as the easy semblance of it.”
As always, comments welcome.
Here’s an issue that I think is relevant to any view about “flourishing” attributed to early Chinese philosophy. If the basic idea of flourishing is some idea about faring well, or “welfare,” we can ask what it takes conceptually to have such an idea. What comes to mind for me is that there has to be some notion of a person’s good, where that good is construed in some way independent of acting correctly–i.e. it has to be a notion of a person’s “non-moral” good. Even as I write that, I’m not quite sure what the reason for that is, but it seems important to me to keep welfare distinct from rightness. I might be totally wrong, but my philosophical instincts whisper otherwise.
The reason this seems important to me vis-a-vis early Chinese philosophy is that it seems like the non-moral good is featured in the Mohist idea of benefit, li 利. But li is not taken as theoretically central or even relevant in the Analects and the Mencius. Maybe it is important in the Xunzi, but I think that is because the Xunzi has a consequentialist view like the Mozi. If any of this is on the right track, then there is not in fact any virtue ethics in early China, in the sense that Van Norden and others think there to be. A lot rides on the idea of flourishing as relying on that of the non-moral good, and hence as being construed independently of rightness, so I wonder what can be said in favor of or against that…
Thanks to Yuri Pines for the link.
Parents call on Confucius for exam good fortune
By Cao Li (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-06-05 08:12
The Temple of Confucius in the center of Shanghai’s old town was unusually full Wednesday morning.
Crowds of people, most of them in their 40s and 50s, burned incense, lit candles and prayed in and around Dacheng Hall where there is a sculpture of Confucius and also where national exams were held during the times of the imperial dynasties.
The good luck notes they hung on the trellises and trees outside the hall gave away their reasons for being there. Most read something like, “Dear Confucius, please help my son/daughter in the college entrance exam”.
A visitor hangs a good-luck tablet on a shelf at the Temple of Confucius in Beijing June 3, 2008. [Asianewsphoto]
With the national examinations starting on Saturday, a growing number of parents have turned to Confucius, as a way to ease the pressure.
A cleaner at the temple, surnamed Xu, told China Daily that local people hardly ever visit the temple, but in the past week, hundreds of them had been.
“There are so many visitors coming these days, all the oil and incense burners keep filling up and I have to empty them several times a day,” Xu said.
Visitors pay 12 yuan ($1.75) for a piece of notepaper, incense sticks, two candles and a length of red ribbon.
At the Temple of Confucius in Beijing, visitors have to pay 188 yuan for a wooden tablet on which to write their wishes, although the shelf on which these are then placed is now full, the Beijing Youth Daily reported Wednesday.
One of the visitors at the Shanghai temple Wednesday was 47-year-old Ye Qing. She said she was making a wish for her son who is hoping to study telecommunication engineering at East China Normal University.
“It will work if I am sincere enough,” she said.
About 100,000 Shanghai students will sit the college entrance exam between Saturday and Monday, and their parents are doubtless all hoping for the same good fortune.
Many, like Ye, have booked hotel rooms close to the test venues.
Staff at several hotels in the city’s Minhang district said they have been taking bookings since the beginning of last month, and many are now full, the Xinmin Evening News reported.
Sun Yu, a teacher at the Shanghai Foreign Language School, said parents are prepared to do whatever they can to help their children succeed, including enrolling them in expensive, extracurricular classes.
High school student Vicky Yang said all her classmates spend at least 500 yuan a month on exam-related books and extra lessons.
“Some pay up to 20,000 yuan a semester for classes that promise to help students secure a university place,” she said.
Apart from books and classes, parents also buy their children special tonics to drink, Yang said.
“If you collected up all the empty bottles of tonic my classmates have drunk, you could make a small hill.”
Picking up on something very interesting that Justin Tiwald said in the Tu string:
“I don’t think the defenders of Yili learning explicitly embraced the slogan ‘the classics comment on me’ (經注我). Still, there are a number of neo-Confucians who made statements in the neighborhood of this slogan. Lu Xiangshan is known for the shocking assertion that the ‘Six Classics are my footnotes’ (六經皆我註腳).”
We’ve all heard that Whitehead thought western philosophy has been just a long series of footnotes to Plato. It’s easy enough to imagine someone echoing Lu Xiangshan, saying, “Plato’s writings are just a series of footnotes to me.” (Who would that be? I could imagine Russell saying that over a cocktail.)
(Totally unrelated aside: Whitehead also said, and this is my favorite Whitehead quote, “A traveller who has lost his way should not ask ‘Where am I?’ What he really wants to know is, where are the other places?”)
It occurs to me that Lu Xiangshan’s assertion is really just a more strident way of describing “constructive” engagement with Confucianism, where Confucius and others are merely inspirational starting points for some new views, with Confucius providing some quotes and footnotes. Maybe the sort of projects that New Confucians are engaged in would fit this mold; maybe Van Norden’s suggestion for a neo-Mencian virtue ethics; maybe much of the comparative philosophy work that is out there where the author is using the past and trying to make it relevant to the present.
I have to ask, because in most respects, it is what I do for a living (aside from corrupting the youth), is there any independent point or value to investigating history–or more pointedly, Confucius, Laozi, et. al.–as an end in itself? I’m not exactly sure I understand the dictum to “revere the past,” or to “understand the past accurately,” as a worthwhile end in itself (unless, of course, it is on the order of stamp collecting). I used to be qualm-less about that as an endeavor, but I’m starting to have doubts (maybe I’ll have a blog-induced career crisis). Any thoughts?
(from the sacred to the profane)