Warp, Weft, and Way

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

Inner Chapters Passage Not Written by Zhuangzi?

This topic contains 15 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Bill Haines 5 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #132521 Reply

    David Klein

    Hello all. Been awhile since I’ve felt moved to post here, but in the course of refining my thoughts on the formation of the Zhuangzi, I chanced on something interesting. While the old consensus that the Inner Chapters were solely the work of Zhuang Zhou isn’t so solid these days, to the best of my knowledge those who believe that the Inner Chapters are an “anthology” of materials from multiple hands (Fraser, Perkins, etc.) haven’t yet attempted to sort out what in them should or should not be attributed to Zhuangzi himself, doubtless due to a lack of much concrete evidence regarding his beliefs. (The exception is Esther Klein’s recent article on the Inner Chapters, which argues that Zhuang Zhou wrote none of the Inner Chapters material. I find Klein’s arguments problematic for reasons I might elaborate on later if pressed.)

    However, I think I’ve found a passage from the Inner Chapters which strike me as almost definitely NOT the work of Zhuang Zhou, provided a characterization of Zhuangzi’s beliefs presented elsewhere in the book is a more or less accurate (if certainly stylized) source of guidance. The suspect passage appears in Chapter Four:

    Confucius said, “In the world, there are two great decrees: one is fate and the other is duty. That a son should love his parents is fate—you cannot erase this from his heart. That a subject should serve his ruler is duty—there is no place he can go and be without his ruler, no place he can escape to between heaven and earth. These are called the great decrees. Therefore, to serve your parents and be content to follow them anywhere—this is the perfection of filial piety. To serve your ruler and be content to do anything for him—this is the peak of loyalty…” (Watson, Complete Works, 59-60)

    I don’t think it’s been pointed out yet that the approving tone with which the passage discusses the virtues of “filial piety” and “loyalty” clashes rather badly with Zhuangzi’s own views on those exact subjects as presented in Chapter Fourteen:

    [Zhuangzi said,] “To be filial out of respect is easy; to be filial out of love is hard. To be filial out of love is easy; to forget parents is hard. To forget parents is easy; to make parents forget you is hard. To make parents forget you is easy; to forget the whole world is hard. To forget the whole world is easy; to make the whole world forget you is hard [….] Why all these deep sighs, this talk of benevolence and filial piety? Filial piety, brotherliness, benevolence, righteousness, loyalty, trust, honor, integrity – for all of these you must drive yourself and make a slave of Virtue. They are not worth prizing.” (Watson, Complete Works, 155-156)

    What do you guys think?

    #132536 Reply

    Paul R. Goldin

    “The exception is Esther Klein’s recent article on the Inner Chapters, which argues that Zhuang Zhou wrote none of the Inner Chapters material.”

    That’s an extremely misleading restatement of Esther Klein’s thesis. Rather, she claims that the most commonly proffered reasons for presuming that Zhuang Zhou wrote the Inner Chapters are unsound. More specifically, she claims that the pattern of citations in other sources does not bear out the notion that anyone in antiquity thought the Inner Chapters were more authoritative than the rest of the text.

    My view of this intractable problem is pretty simple: the textual history (which philosophers generally ignore) makes it very unlikely that we’re going to find any Zhuang Zhou core in a particular chapter or set of chapters. It’s even worth entertaining the possibility that Zhuang Zhou never wrote anything. I won’t expend much effort to defend that supposition, since there’s insufficient evidence. But it is quite remarkable that there’s no evidence of anything like our Zhuangzi from before the Western Han, isn’t it? In fact, if Xunzi hadn’t referred to Zhuangzi, we’d probably be inclined to think the whole thing is a Han-dynasty forgery.

    #132537 Reply

    Martin Kern

    Paul Goldin is exactly right.

    Beyond that, I find the entire issue brought up here (and in such a flawed way) astonishing. What exactly changes, in philosophical terms, if someone “proves” or “disproves” a “Zhuang Zhou” authorship for this or that chapter of the Zhuangzi text? Has this field yet to move beyond the most banal and trivial ideas about authorship, author function, and all the rest? For the last sixty years or so, a vast library has been compiled around the idea of “authorship.”

    The task at hand is not to dissect an individual’s mind but to contextualize a TEXT in its proper intellectual and social environment. For the Zhuangzi text, that environment seems very thin at best (basically limited to the reference in Xunzi) before the second century BCE.

    #132538 Reply

    Esther Klein

    Paul has characterised my argument very accurately, so there’s probably little more I need to say here. One thing in David’s post did particularly strike me though, because I spend a lot of time thinking about these issues. David, you wrote: “I think I’ve found a passage from the Inner Chapters which strike me as almost definitely NOT the work of Zhuang Zhou.” I would urge you to think very hard about the assumptions that underlie that statement, first and foremost, the assumption that you can form some stable conception of what the work of Zhuang Zhou is like. That conception must be based on something, and whatever that something is, it’s your “core Zhuangzi.” My argument involves becoming aware of the fact that this choice of core Zhuangzi might have historically been (and might even now be) quite arbitrary or at least highly subjective, and may well have nothing to do with authorship by a historical person Zhuang Zhou.

    All that said, I appreciate you taking the time to read and discuss my article, and I always welcome further debate and thoughtful critique. It’s a topic on which I am continuing to work and publish, and my aim is always to improve my arguments. So in short, you may consider yourself pressed, albeit in a friendly and collegial way: in what way do you find my arguments problematic? (taking into account, I hope, the correction supplied by Paul).

    As for the contrast you have identified, the Zhuangzi is full of these, but this is a good one. It’s also exactly what you would expect if the inner chapters reflected relatively more traces of conciliatory Han dynasty editing, while the outer chapters might be seen as belonging to a relatively more pristine stratum of earlier material. Note that various scholars you didn’t mention (Graham, Roth, Hoffert, etc.) have tried to categorise blocks of the Zhuangzi non-inner chapters into different “schools” or as being by different hands. I’m not sure I always agree with their respective pictures of the Zhuangzi‘s formation as a text, but their arguments are worth looking at because they are based on some very sensitive readings of the underlying ideological currents. One of them may also have something to say about the particular passages you have identified.

    #132540 Reply

    David Klein

    To Paul:

    Well, while I suppose there may yet come a day when I finally manage to avoid putting my foot directly in my mouth on this forum, I guess January 31st, 2017 was not it. You are absolutely correct that my reference to Esther’s article was a reductive characterization of her points; I truly regret that I was not more careful (I keep weird hours at my job and dashed that post off late at night without much thought.) It would have been much more accurate to say that Esther’s article implies that Zhuang Zhou did not write “the Inner Chapters”; others have pointed this out (Scott Barnwell’s initial blog post reacting to the article was titled simply “Zhuang Zhou Did Not Write The Inner Chapters,” if I remember correctly.) And I have entertained the possibility that Zhuangzi wrote nothing at all (interesting to think about!) At present at sure looks like there’s no way to definitively attribute anything in the Inner Chapters to any specific individual, which is why the problem may indeed be “intractable,” as you say. I just thought comparing the story about Zhuangzi with the content of the Chapter Four passage might be an interesting first step towards ruling something out, even if it obviously doesn’t constitute proof.

    To Esther:

    Surprised and delighted to hear from you! Again, I apologize for the clumsy initial characterization of your argument and will be more careful in the future.

    My post, in part, relates to a question you thought a lot about in your article: What evidence are we using to construct our portrait of “Zhuang Zhou” and what he believed? It would seem the only evidence we can use to construct this image are the stories about Zhuangzi found in the Zhuangzi itself, in addition to Sima Qian’s biographical note. I just found it intriguing that no one that I know of who maintained that the Inner Chapters were the work of Zhuang Zhou noticed that in one of those tales “Zhuangzi” clearly inveighs against the exact orthodox virtues advocated in the passage from Chapter Four. The conclusion which would seem to follow from this—provided that one takes the tale as a basically accurate report of the historical Zhuang Zhou’s attitudes—is that Zhuang Zhou would therefore likely not have written that particular passage (unless he held different beliefs at the point in his life when he wrote that passage, assuming of course he wrote anything to begin with.) I share your suspicion that it comes from a later, philosophically “conciliatory” hand.

    I’m not really trying to make any claim about the original “core Zhuangzi”, since I think it’s probably meaningless to characterize the early text in terms of an “original core” in the first place (who knows how many different copies of early passages were circulated, changed, added to, etc.?) I guess my view is that the proto-Zhuangzi was what Paul Fischer calls a “polymorphous text.” And I am very familiar with the tendency of Graham et al. to attribute different sections of the text to hypothetical “schools of thought;” I was preparing a paper for this year’s Midwest Conference on Chinese Thought that deals with just that question!

    As for the main problem I had with your argument, I just think you overlooked some relevant evidence. As Paul said, your contention that the Inner Chapters took shape relatively late compared to other parts of the Zhuangzi rests on your examination of the “pattern of citations” in other sources of the time. You write:

    My second premise is that the most robust type of evidence [for dating purposes] is to be found in citations or textual parallels. Accordingly I will focus on a careful analysis of parallels between the Zhuangzi and other pre-Han and early Han texts, as well as on the evidence in excavated fragments of the Zhuangzi.

    This does seem to me like the right approach to the problem. But the catch in my view is that by restricting your search for textual parallels with the Inner Chapters to “other pre-Han and early Han texts” and archaeological finds, you overlooked some parallels or “citations” that can be found in other chapters of the Zhuangzi itself. Here are a few I located (forgive me for not providing exact page number citations, it’s getting late):

    Chuang Tzu has said, “This Teacher of mine, this Teacher of mine – he passes judgment on the ten thousand things but he doesn’t think himself severe; his bounty extends to ten thousand generations but he doesn’t think himself benevolent. He is older than the highest antiquity but he doesn’t think himself long-lived; he covers heaven, bears up the earth, carves and fashions countless forms, but he doesn’t think himself skilled.” This is what is called Heavenly joy.

    (From Ch. 13, parallels Ch. 6)

    The understanding of the men of ancient times went a long way. How far did it go? To the point where some of them believed that things have never existed – so far, to the end, where nothing can be added. Those at the next stage thought that things exist. They looked upon life as a loss, upon death as a return – thus they had already entered the state of dividedness. Those at the next stage said, “In the beginning there was nonbeing. Later there was life, and when there was life suddenly there was death. We look upon nonbeing as the head, on life as the body, on death as the rump. Who knows that being and nonbeing, life and death are a single way? I will be his friend!”

    (From Ch. 23, splices together material from Ch. 2 and Ch. 6)

    There is that which makes things acceptable, there is that which makes things unacceptable; there is that which makes things so, there is that which makes things not so. What makes them so? Making them so makes them so. What makes them not so? Making them not so makes them not so. What makes them acceptable? Making them acceptable makes them acceptable. What makes them not acceptable? Making them not acceptable makes them not acceptable. Things all must have that which is so; things all must have that which is acceptable. There is nothing that is not so, nothing that is not acceptable.

    (From Ch. 27, restates material from Ch.2)

    These passages are exactly the sort of evidence you were looking for, and I was quite surprised that you didn’t address them in your article (in particular the first lengthy Chapter Six parallel, which was noted by both Graham and Liu and is even attributed to Zhuangzi, not that I think that means much.) I think the passages as they appear in the Inner Chapters are the earlier versions, since they rest naturally in argumentative and narrative contexts which the “citations” appear to have been ripped from. So, I think these parallels can be used to at least make the argument that some material from chapters two and six is genuinely early, which in turn would seem to take some of the force from your conclusion that “from the point of view of compilation, I argue that we should see the Inner Chapters as last, rather than first, to take fixed shape.” (Given the lack of conclusive evidence about who compiled the text and when, it seems to me like there is nothing that could give us the conviction that any portion of the text was compiled earlier or later than any other, other than evidence that seems to hint at whether that portion first existed earlier or later than any other? Correct me if I’m wrong? Just writing that out was confusing…)

    Like you, I am always looking to improve the clarity and rigor of my thinking (which means I find it doubly embarrassing when I screw up like I did in the original post.) If you feel like picking my argument apart, please do!

    To Martin:

    You’re right that the question of whether Zhuang Zhou wrote or did not write a given part of the Zhuangzi makes absolutely no difference in philosophical terms. And it will probably always be impossible to prove an argument on this question one way or another. I just enjoy wondering about who might have written what is possibly my favorite book, regardless of whether or not it is frivolous, sentimental, or “state of the art” to do so. But I have to admit that I was actually startled by the tone of your comment (not the content, which is well reasoned and thoughtful.) The purpose of this site is supposedly:

    “to promote and stimulate discussion of Chinese philosophy and cross-tradition inquiry among scholars and students of philosophy, whatever their level of training.”

    So, given the stated aims of the site—which I assume technically welcomes those with no training whatsoever—why should the fact that I posted a “flawed” question in this space be “astonishing” to you? To give you some background, I have a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies and took a seminar course on Zhuangzi with Aaron Stalnaker, where I was I introduced to the secondary literature (and disabused of some nasty habits of mind.) As of yet I have no Classical Chinese, I am not a member of “the field,” and I have to say your response has quite nearly cured me of my desire to become one. To put the question your response raised in my mind plainly: Is this site actually a forum where all are truly welcome to discuss Chinese philosophy and related issues, no matter their level of training? Or is it a preserve for Ph.D’s and their colleagues to talk shop, while interested amateurs like myself will be eviscerated the moment we post “flawed” questions or have the temerity to float “banal and trivial ideas” regarding the authorship of a text? I’m sure you didn’t intend for me to take your response personally, but I found it difficult to avoid doing so all the same; perhaps the fault is mine. That said, I have no desire to escalate things, and I hope this forum remains a place where discussion and disagreement can continue to take place in a courteous manner.

    #132542 Reply

    Bill Haines

    Amen to David about the openness of this forum. And I think it means we should try make our comments accessible to people with little or no training.

    Martin asks,

    What exactly changes, in philosophical terms, if someone “proves” or “disproves” a “Zhuang Zhou” authorship for this or that chapter of the Zhuangzi text?

    I’ll try to answer. In one sense, of course, no philosophical question—no big basic question about “life, the universe, and everything”—hangs on any questions of interpretation of any philosopher (or text). I don’t know if that’s Martin’s point. Or maybe his point is that just that the name of a text’s author is of no philosophical interest. But there are reasons why in some cases philosophers should care whether two texts were written by the same person.

    Premise: Philosophers as such have some reason for interest in the interpretation of texts and philosophers insofar as there is prima facie reason to expect to get good philosophical ideas from interpreting them better than has been done.

    That’s true if by “better” we mean more accurate, and it’s true if we mean something else instead.

    So the question is: on what sort of grounds might we hope that interpreting X better than we have so far done is likely to give us good philosophical ideas? That is: why might we think that this is more likely than interpreting Y or Z, or doing something else entirely? The usual grounds for such hope among anglophone philosophers are about authorship. Here is the most familiar line of thought, in stark oversimplification:

    1. X and Y are the considered products of the same author.
    2. Y is philosophically hot stuff.
    3. The author of X was philosophically hot stuff. (1,2)
    4. There’s a good chance X is philosophically hot stuff (3)
    5. We can’t yet see how X is philosophically OK.
    6. There’s a good chance that more accurate interpretation of what the author meant by X will give us good philosophical ideas. (4,5)

    X and Y could be two books, or two paragraphs; or Y could be a book and X a paragraph in it; or X could be a pair of statements in different places that we do not yet know how to reconcile.

    In brief: some impressive work of an author gives us grounds to hope that other of her work that we don’t yet see as impressive is in fact impressive and worth understanding.

    Of course “what the author had in mind” is a vague idea. We represent things to ourselves with various degrees of articulation or clarity; we generalize over normal cases while being deeply unaware, as Confucius was, of the kind of case that will be normal to later readers; etc. That’s understood, and it means that the idea of accuracy in author-centered interpretation is a vague idea. There’s a certain leeway for elegance or qualifications beyond what the author was all ready to say. But vague here doesn’t imply wrong.

    (If my reason for interpreting X were precisely that I was a well-paid employee of some unknown party whose only instruction for me was “Interpret X” or “describe the meaning of X,” then it would be reasonable for me to shape my project mainly on the basis of general considerations about what “interpretation” or “meaning” is. When else?)

    The idea of “what the author had in mind” (and interest in that thing) will make more or less sense for different kinds of philosophical text, as it makes more or less sense for different kinds of non-philosophical text. It makes more sense insofar as the philosophical text springs from a gongfu of articulation of academic-style theories and arguments. But even where the practice is different the idea can still make sense; we can still ask whether Confucius thought family relations are roots or models for all relations, or held no view of that sort.

    The less sense “what the author has in mind” makes, the less cogent is the above formal argument for philosophers to be interpreting X more accurately. What other kind of argument might there be?

    Here are two kinds.

    One says: work on any kind of intellectual puzzle can give us ideas. For example: pick two or three statements from two or three old Chinese masters texts, and develop an elegant general view that gives each of them a major role. You’ll get philosophical ideas that way, and if you’re good they’ll be good ones.

    Another starts from the longstanding rough consensus among moral thinkers from Socrates to Korsgaard that philosophical theories about e.g. ethics are at some level grounded in the idea that our ordinary judgments in that area are not completely out to lunch; that we have something like ethical perception or sensibility that is in some way connected to the ethical truth, though like any perception it is flawed, and some people do it better than others, and one issue is how that works. So we test our theories in part against our working practical judgments. We might expect to improve our judgments and theories by immersing ourselves in wise relevant work like great novels. And if we find a big batch of workaday watchwords that looks impressive to us in the aggregate, we might try testing our theories against those—understanding that they are not theories—as a kind of proxy for testing our theories against wise practical judgments. So long as the watchwords strike us as good watchwords, we need not concern ourselves about their origin. But we’ll still face something like interpretive questions, about e.g. the golden rule, that are sort of “how can we articulate this as a correct theory?” and sort of “what have we (or I as our proxy) been understanding by this?”

    For more on the significance of authorship, see here.

    Martin adds,

    The task at hand is not to dissect an individual’s mind but to contextualize a TEXT in its proper intellectual and social environment. For the Zhuangzi text, that environment seems very thin at best (basically limited to the reference in Xunzi) before the second century BCE.

    I don’t quite understand the account of the task that is here advocated as THE task. That historians as such should consider only the Zhuangzi as a whole rather than e.g. with some part of it as evidence for something political or cultural or linguistic? That philosophers should not try to understand what the author (if any) of any particular passage meant, but rather should look only at what the text as a whole meant to particular other people? Presumably Martin doesn’t mean that the text existed in the time of Xunzi but lacked a social environment. What task is being advocated, and on what grounds is it supposed to be the only or main one for us?

    #132545 Reply

    Martin Kern

    I apologize for coming across as too harsh; I really didn’t mean so (well, … I just strayed here from the Early China field! 🙂 )

    To me, the issue really is the following: when we talk about philosophical “authors,” wouldn’t we hope to take into account the very extensive discussion of that very topic (which requires neither a Ph.D. nor Classical Chinese)? In this spirit:

    Bill, how do your points look to you in light of Foucault’s “Quest-ce qu’un auteur?” (1969)? And after that, perhaps when thinking about Alexander Nehamas’s “What an Author is” (1986)? Can I assume that we have such readings as our common ground (which is not say that we have to agree with them, or on them)? Your six points about what the notion of a particular author can do for us seem already be answered in Foucault’s basic recognition of the author function as (a) “the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning” and as (b) the very tool by which we construct coherence and consistency within and between texts.

    And then, as a historian (and a historian of texts): Bill’s thinking goes to the point that we can actually identify at least something about the historical Zhuang Zhou, or, at a minimum, about someone who wrote some parts of the Zhuangzi in Warring States times. The only way to gain such knowledge is through meticulous linguistic/philological/historical criticism. So from these perspectives: what exactly within or outside of the Zhuangzi points us to a purported Warring States author “Zhuang Zhou” from where we could then, perhaps, draw conclusions about different parts of the Zhuangzi? On the preponderance of linguistic/philological/historical evidence: how good is your case for a Warring States Zhuang Zhou versus a mid-second century compilation and shaping (if not indeed authoring) of good chunks (or all) of the text at the court of Liu An?

    In literature, most people nowadays think of the “author” not so much as the origin but as a “function” of the text and a function of the text’s reception. That seems very different in philosophy? Interestingly, literary texts, if anything, are prone to express more, not fewer, “personal” sentiments, if compared to philosophical writings? Do I need “Qu Yuan the author” to read the “Li sao”? I don’t think so; to the contrary, I think such an assumption would limit instead of open the text (“the principle of thrift”), and it would blind me to the text as the product of cultural memory (strictly and technically in Assmann’s sense) and the representation of an idealized past.

    Finally, just as an aside to clear up a slight misunderstanding: I would be the very last person to “consider only the Zhuangzi as a whole.” I think I’ve spent the last decade or so writing ad nauseam the exact opposite about early Chinese texts. An easy summary could be found in the Cambridge History of Chinese Literature (2010).

    #132553 Reply

    Paul R. Goldin

    “In literature, most people nowadays think of the ‘author’ not so much as the origin but as a ‘function’ of the text and a function of the text’s reception.”

    Not to pile on, but Martin is completely correct about how the concept of authorship is treated by scholars of literature today, and, as an outsider to both fields, I’ll permit myself to say that philosophers ignore the relevant theoretical literature at their own expense. Even that statement seems borderline surreal, since both Foucault and Nehamas are actually philosophers.

    #132554 Reply

    David Klein

    Thanks Bill for the support (and for introducing me to Salada Tag Lines!) and thank you Martin and Paul for the food for thought. I’ll see if I can get around to brushing up on Foucault and Nehemas’ reflections (waaaay too many things to do these days) and will make sure to do so in case I return to the topic of authorship in the future.

    #132557 Reply

    Bill Haines

    I had hoped to reply yesterday, and now I hope to reply in a day or two. One brief point: any day Martin visits our garden is a good day for the rest of us here.

    #132628 Reply

    Bill Haines

    [I’m having trouble posting my reply. Maybe if I try in small chunks…]

    I apologize for the delay. And I apologize for answering quick comments as though they were carefully considered discourse.


    Paul, when you say “philosophers ignore the relevant theoretical literature at their own expense,” by “philosophers” I guess you mainly mean people in philosophy departments interpreting old Chinese texts? That is, insofar as you mean to suggest an objection to what people are doing, you’re not objecting to the way anyone does philosophy, nor to the way philosophers interpret Aristotle or Mill (though you may expect your point has application to the way philosophers read Plato or Nietzsche)? I’m asking. For my part I think philosophy faculty’s publications on Chinese texts are often inattentive about authorship to a degree that cannot easily coexist with a scholarly interest in who thought what, while making claims that seem to focus on just that sort of question. I gather that this approach is sometimes self-aware, and based partly on what I think is not an ideal strategy for making progress in philosophy itself. I don’t think this is an effective way to encourage respect for Chinese philosophy, though that might be one of the motives.

    A different worry, about other philosophers, might be that nonspecialists go wrong by trusting the literal statements specialists about who said/wrote what, and who thought what, in early China?

    Paul seems to suggest that the Foucault and Nehamas papers could alleviate the problems he has in mind. I don’t understand how those papers would be relevant to any of the problems I’ve just sketched. But I agree that there are issues in all these areas that need careful sustained attention and discussion on all sides.

    Paul, in your book on Confucianism, the chapter on Confucius paints a picture of his views that seems to me unusual, for which the main explicit case consists in highly speculative readings of a few passages, despite foregrounding 11.22. Of course, for a scholar deeply and almost uniquely steeped in all the texts of the time, much of the solid basis for any given interpretive claim is presumably not such as could easily be formulated at all, much less laid out in a very brief and accessible text for beginners. But if your case really is based on bold readings of a few passages, I’d like to ask what conception of interpretation would fit that kind of approach.

    #132629 Reply

    Bill Haines


    Martin, thanks for your reply! And thanks for directing us to the Foucault and Nehamas pieces. I wasn’t familiar with them, though I may have read the Foucault piece long ago. Having read them I’m still not at all sure what mistake of mine these pieces address, so after a couple of introductory bits I’ll just sketch my view, saying things that I assume are mostly already agreed by everyone here, in the hope that at least one of the things will turn out to be a significant point of disagreement.

    To this:

    [Bill’s] six points about what the notion of a particular author can do for us
    seem already to be answered in Foucault’s basic recognition of the author function …

    The question I was addressing was Martin’s hypothetical one: if we could establish solid positive or negative authorship claims about Zhuangzi chapters, how would that aid the project of philosophy? I’m not sure whether Martin means that Foucault rebuts my answer, or only that Foucault rebuts the hypothesis. But insofar as Foucault’s point is that the project of using a text to find out what the author thought or meant is but one of many things we can do with a text, and there is a wild profusion of other possible uses, I wildly agree . That doesn’t mean it isn’t one legitimate use, or for philosophers’ purposes the main worthwhile use of a given text.

    To this:

    Bill’s thinking goes to the point that we can actually identify at least something about the historical Zhuang Zhou, or, at a minimum, about someone who wrote some parts of the Zhuangzi in Warring States times.

    The thinking I set out doesn’t go to that. I only sketched in general terms why it would matter to the project of philosophical interpretation and to philosophy whether two bits of text, e.g. parts of a chapter, came from the same person as each other. I offered a schematic form of argument (with six blank parts) meant to describe how philosophy can (and commonly does) benefit from knowing that two bits of text have the same author. Who or when that person was historically is another issue, though that knowledge too can help philosophy if we can get it, as I’ll discuss below. If Martin’s question was really only about the Zhuangzi, then my reply was too general; special features of the Zhuangzi, such as its heavy use of more or less overtly fictional narrative, might indeed exempt it to some degree from my thoughts above. Anyway I haven’t really studied the Zhuangzi. Here I’ll continue to pursue the general question, how might philosophy benefit from knowledge (or reasonable surmise) about who wrote which bits of old text? But I’ll talk also about the possibility and value of identifying the writer or speaker historically.

    I assume that when Martin used the word “author” in his hypothetical question’s hypothesis, he meant what David meant in the claim Martin was asking about, what Nehamas calls the “writer.”

    (Nehamas strongly distinguishes between “writer” and “author,” calling the latter a theoretical construct or fiction. Regarding that fiction, factual questions such as those posited in the question’s hypothesis would seem not to make sense. Nehamas as good as calls this theoretical device empty, and it seems to me basically unmotivated (that is, motivated only by the mistaken view—no, the strange and unattractive conceit—that meaning characterizes only intentional actions, indeed actions of individuals). Now, as Nehamas says, Foucault seems to use the term “author” differently. True, on the one hand Nehamas seems to aim to be talking about the “author” that Foucault is talking about, answering Foucault’s title question “What is an author?” with his own “What an author is.” But on the other hand, not so fast; for Nehamas plausibly proposes that Foucault is (a) partly eliding “author” with “writer” and is otherwise (b) using “author” to refer to a crucially differently directed sort of construct from what Nehamas means by his new technical term “author.” Foucault’s aim may be to describe the practice of critics who elide the writer with something very different from the writer, critics using a term embodying a false assumption. Anyway Foucault seems to me here powerfully, valuably suggestive, and disarmingly noncommittal. Reading Foucault one learns that he means nothing literally, so one can’t claim that he is misusing the word, or culpably introducing a technical term that shares its mark but not its meaning with a main common term in the same field, and so promises to mislead. I don’t see how Nehamas escapes that charge.)

    #132630 Reply

    Bill Haines


    The Real Issue

    The real issue is what point there is, especially for philosophers, in a concern about who said what, among early Chinese texts. A concern about whose remarks are being reported and how accurately, whose are being compiled and how representatively.

    My short answer comes down to this. For some early Chinese texts there may be grounds for reasonable surmise about whose words we are more or less seeing, whose outlook is being more or less evidenced. Reasonable surmise on that matter makes a legitimate difference to how a text should be interpreted, and also to how far the text can merits the interpretive effort of people and institutions whose ulterior concern is the doing of philosophy. (And philosophers don’t characteristically make mistakes about the relation between texts and writers.)

    Let’s start with examples. I’ll put some skin in the game.

    I’ve been trying to investigate Confucius’ views and Youzi’s views, and I mean those actual people. Of course certain knowledge about that is unavailable. But I think we don’t yet know that reasonable surmise is unavailable. I’ve been working toward reasonable surmise.

    Of course the Analects is an unreliable source for what Confucius said, and for the kinds of things he would say. Any passage in it might have been made up out of whole cloth long after the putative speaker (if any) was dead. Spoken words taken out of context could be very misleading; written records made on the spot may significantly alter the spoken words (I gather there is disagreement about how far this was unavoidable); records may have been altered by many hands; terms and constructions may have varied in meaning from place to place and time to time; the selection even of accurate records might be strongly unrepresentative; and I don’t know what else. So the project is challenging enough to be fun even though there may in the end be no payoff for philosophy.

    I think the records may well suffice for reasonable surmise about some big questions like these two questions of mine: (1) Did Confucius think the family is the real and proper model for social and political relations generally? (2) Did Confucius think great cardinal virtues for lives of high aspiration grow from analogous humbler virtues of direct interaction, by a gradual expansion of their scope? I think the records lean strongly toward particular answers (No and No, but that doesn’t matter here). It’s important that the case I make is not built on just one or a few supporting passages; the case is insensitive to small or middling differences in how reliable we take the collection to be as a record. I gather that the main distorting forces we can reasonably surmise to have been operating in the generation of our text would have tended to weaken the collection’s support for my answers, not strengthen it (though I’m not really qualified to have an opinion on that).

    We don’t know how distorted and false the Analects is, as a record of Confucius’ remarks. Somewhat, but how much? If I’m right that (a) the Analects gives us a clear and definite picture on my questions, and that (b) the main likely distorting forces would probably tend to work against that picture, then it seems to me that points (a) and (b) together should increase our estimate of the reliability of the Analects’ reports of what Confucius said. They weigh on that side.

    My overall interpretive argument does involve close attention to a few passages, not to use them as positive support but rather to show that they are not significant counter-evidence.

    My arguments depend heavily on associating particular passages with particular people: Youzi and Confucius.

    For Youzi, I make interpretive arguments about e.g. Analects 1.12 (on ritual and harmony), arguments that to some extent rely on, and defend, the idea that the other four big statements attributed to him in ancient texts, one in the Mencius, really do give his words. (And I assume against the Brookses that he did not “author” the whole of the “original” Book 6, in which he is not mentioned, even in the odd sense in which I gather they are using “author” there.)

    To defend the attributions to Youzi, I argue that the five passages share many features of form and content with each other, and not with any other statements in the Analects. To defend my reading of 1.12, I hypothesize that Youzi had a general vision of moral psychology that neatly fits all three of the statements attributed to him on that topic, on my reading of 1.12 (and not rival readings). To defend my reading of 1.12 in another way that depends on attributing the other Analects statements to Youzi, I show that the Xiaojing and the Liji each have passages that paraphrase 1.12 in ways that distinctively fit my reading, right next to paraphrases of other statements the Analects attributes to Youzi. Those juxtapositions add weight to the paraphrases of 1.12 as evidence about how Youzi meant 1.12.


    Regarding attributions of bits of philosophical text to particular people, and perhaps with exclusive reference to the Zhuangzi, Martin writes,

    The only way to gain such knowledge is through meticulous linguistic/philological/historical criticism.

    For the Zhuangzi I agree that those studies are necessary conditions. But I think that’s not an adequate list of the salient essential fields. There’s also philosophy, or attention to the content of the texts. To quote from a famous title by Slingerland, “philosophy is not ‘extra.’” David’s argument above, for example, made salient use of philosophical considerations, in a way that is in principle relevant. And distinct linguistic differences needn’t imply different authors. Linguistic differences among sections of the Analects could conceivably reflect differences as to who remembered and then recorded the remarks. Scholars of Plato use variations in the frequency of grammatical particles to help order his works chronologically. That makes a difference to philosophical interpretation. Scholars of Aristotle do the same. I gather they make a good case. But on philosophical grounds I can’t accept their conclusion that the Eudemian Ethics was later than the Nicomachean.

    Here’s a way in which my readings of Confucius and Youzi depend on the century of composition and thereby on roughly who did the composing. Toward interpreting Youzi’s statements, I’m concerned about what he meant by his words, and for that it matters what century the statements were composed in. For example, when he talks about 孝弟 at 1.2, what is he talking about? What does he mean by 弟? Relating properly to one’s older brother? Respect for elders generally? Something involving both ideas? Or something even more general such as孫=遜? So far as I can tell, by Youzi’s time people sometimes used弟to mean something specifically pertaining to relations outside the family, something that was regarded as a companion virtue to 孝; but I haven’t found any case of the use of 弟=悌 before, say, 491 BC, to mean relating in the right way to one’s older brother. Alas that I lack both the skills and resources needed to do an adequate job of research on that question. (Martin? Paul?) If Youzi’s 弟is not a “family virtue,” then family may not be the operative idea in Youzi’s孝弟, so that even if 1.2 gives Confucius’ view, that doesn’t refute my interpretive thesis about Confucius on the family.

    Toward answering my main questions about the views of Confucius, I have to be concerned about how far Youzi’s statements (especially Analects 1.2) are evidence of Confucius’ views, so I have tried to evaluate the historical evidence on whether Youzi was Confucius’ student, and tried to evaluate the historical evidence on whether Youzi was in fact reputed, among several people who knew both of them well, to have views exceptionally close to those of Confucius, not going far beyond them.

    Toward answering my main questions about the views of Confucius, I am concerned about biographical questions such as when his parents and brother died, and the timing of his travels and employment, because, regarding one statement (at 2.21), those details help me argue that even if we suppose the statement is authentic, scholars are wrong to regard it as evidence against my claims. Though I think my argument on that passage is strong, it would be stronger if the passages in the Analects that suggest that the leading feature of Confucius’ career was a search for high government office were not mainly outside the parts of the collection that are regarded as the best candidates for being the very oldest. And regarding this same passage, my argument hangs in part on live interpretive issues regarding a number of other passages, about the contagiousness of virtues, on the assumption that the remarks reported in those passages are Confucius’ own. (Though if we didn’t have those passages at all, the idea that someone could hold the strong view about contagion that is needed to support a common reading of 2.21 should and presumably would be regarded as a non-starter.)

    #132631 Reply

    Bill Haines


    What do Foucault and Nehamas say or suggest against any of this?

    Their primary focus is on the interpretation of literary texts, e.g. novels and written plays. In very crude brevity I’ll say: fiction.

    Martin writes,

    To me, the issue really is the following: when we talk about philosophical “authors,” wouldn’t we hope to take into account the very extensive discussion of that very topic …?

    I don’t think these two papers focus on, or demonstrate that there is extensive or any significant discussion on, the specific topic of philosophical “authors” in a special sense of “author”. (I gather Derrida wrote a lot about philosophical texts as such.)

    Staying crude: It seems to me pretty obvious that the difference between fiction and nonfiction (the latter including most philosophy good and bad) makes a radical difference to how sensible it can be to infer what the writer thinks from the text she has written: how bad a mistake it can be to think that we can do this or should try. (I haven’t just now said that e.g. the remarks in the Analects are “nonfiction.”)

    (A) On the whole the interpretive appreciation of works of fiction should not aim mainly or even in large part at describing the writer’s views or sentiments.

    (A) seems to me true. (I gather from attacks, but I do not otherwise know, that there have been times when academic critics mistakenly thought criticism should have this main aim.)

    #132632 Reply

    Bill Haines

    [I seem to be stuck in mid-5, and there are 7. I hope to have better luck after a while.]

    #132643 Reply

    Bill Haines
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