Gentlemen Prefer Bronze

I thought I would post this string of comments that ended up under the “100 ways” post, since it is really a different topic–namely, how to translate “junzi” (often translated “gentleman”). It’s a topic that might be useful/interesting for others to join in on (the “ubermensch” references owe to a quip I made about Nietzsche, to which Chris replied, and which set this whole string of comments in motion):

The Tao has many turns and twists. What about “higher man” [instead of “superman”] for ubermensch? I find “gentleman” distracting for junzi as well. I can only think of someone wearing a suit from the nineteenth century; maybe that *is* the right association?

    Comment by Manyul Im | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 11:53 am –>

    I think “higher man” would run up against the bunch of actual folks in Zarathustra (the folks in part four) who are “higher men” but not “ubermenchen.” I’m actually partial to “overman”, simply because, in a sense, that’s really what it is — the ability to transcend man’s present state. But it is a bit odd as a term, I think.“Gentleman” is problematic, I think, for exactly the reason you say. I think it gives off too much of the impression — one that Confucius himself sees — of thinking that the “gentleman” is a cultured person. Not that they aren’t, but you shouldn’t associated a person of ‘high culture’ with the term, and that’s clearly the impression the translation gives off. Very 19th century, as you note.Not to mention the fact that it’s gender biased, and my women students don’t care much for that (well, me either) and I can’t blame them. Should a translation seek to wash out patriarchical elements that are, clearly, present in the historical and cultural context of the work? It’s a tough question. In part, a “yes” answer might be helped along by the work of those trying to show that Confucianism is not anti-woman as a philosophy (Chenyang Li’s work and others some to mind).I guess the same concern could be raised for Aristotle too.

    Comment by Chris | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 12:36 pm –>

    I just want to say that that’s a pretty cool way to stumble across the Bureau of Public Secrets. Well, that and, does anybody know of a translation of “junzi” that gets the social status about right, doesn’t imply culturedness, and that neither directly implies nor makes ridiculous the Confucian moralisation of that term? “Gentlemen” maybe fails on all three counts, but I haven’t been able to come up with anything better.

      Comment by Dan Robins | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 3:01 pm –>

      Let’s see; I think actually–and I meant to imply that above–that in some of the Analects passages, the association with culturedness and meticulous manners *is* the right association to have. I’m of two minds here; I think that’s because the concept is itself trading on two emphases. I agree with the part of Robert Eno’s assessment in *The Confucian Creation of Heaven*, that there must have been something slightly ridiculous about the ritual mavens who embodied significant aspects of what Confucius probably thought of as junzi-qualities (think of Analects Book 10). On the other hand, the concept seems ripe throughout the Analects for transcending that to something like “the morally noble.” That translation might capture the ambiguity just right, but it sounds clumsy, not to mention the problematic insertion of “moral” into the picture. Maybe just “a noble person,” or a “noble man” if we want to preserve the highly likely sexism of the period?Back to the Ubermensch for a second: I have seen some people use “the superior person” or “the superior man” for junzi. But that sounds more like the Ubermensch to me.

        Comment by Manyul Im | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 4:58 pm –>

        On the junzi, on the three counts Dan mentions, and to avoid the worry of sexism that Chris raises, I second Manyul’s “noble person”. Irene Bloom, for instance, prefers to use it for junzi.A very minor flaw is that “noble person” does not flow as trippingly off the tongue as “gentleman” (but then I’m not a native speaker of English, so I can’t be sure on this point). I don’t think the “gentleman” rendition is all that bad either. It has certain associations that junzi doesn’t convey, but when I immerse myself in the text I find that the English rendition picks up the Confucian associations, and blocks out the Western ones.

        Comment by Boram Lee | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 5:20 pm –>

        “Noble” might work on its own, I suppose. Remember: it’s not just the Confucian usage we want to capture, the Mohists also talked about junzi, and they mostly didn’t like them. (One possible disadvantage of “gentlemen” is that it might make the Mohists’ references to the junzi of the world sound ironic, when they probably weren’t; “noble” may be better on this point.)Manyul, wouldn’t culturedness and meticulous manners be specifically Confucian associations of the term? Then we want a translation that allows for that as a reinterpretation, without suggesting the associations too directly, I think.

        Comment by Dan Robins | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 5:41 pm –>

        I completely certainly agree that culture-mindedness is an important part of the Confucian ideal. I meant that you don’t want a term that gives off the impression that one could capture the “ideal” while being cultured without “native substance” as Confucius says. “Gentleman” to me fails in that sense. My issue with “noble” is what it implies in English. For me, it gives off an impression of economic strata, just as much as “gentleman” might (though in the latter case not as strongly). I understand that the etymology of “jen” traces it back to “noble” in the sense that Nietzsche implies “good” meant “noble” in ancient times (where it at least requires being part of a certain social class or strata). As far as I understand it, Confucius “hijacked” the term to give it more of a moral/ethical feel, making it more dependent upon character, and in doing extended the term to anyone, not just people of a certain class.Why not just “exemplary person” as A/R translate it? “Exemplary” to me can capture what “noble” is trying to get at in the sense of culture without sounding strata-specific, and it can also grab onto the moral/ethical elements (also avoids the sexism).

        Comment by Chris | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 6:04 pm –>

        Dan and Chris, I think we want something that straddles that line between the older meaning of junzi, which is probably more strata-specific (”a lordly one” or “one of noble stock”), and the emerging meaning (”one of noble character”), which is more like a strata-independent category. “Noble person” strikes me as having just that quality of ambiguity, though I suppose the further we move away from the late Middle Ages the less strata-specific it will seem.And it’s not just Confucius (i.e. he of the parts of the Analects that are oldest) who clings to the older meaning, I think. A few generations down the line, when Mencius is portrayed saying that the junzi stays away from the kitchen, in 1A7, there still seems to be at least a hint of apologetics on behalf of class: only the lower sort would be around while someone is butchering animals, but junzis have a reason not to be in there anyway (they don’t want to feel compassion for livestock; that presumably would interfere with ritual/ceremonial slaughter and consumption of animals).

        For Dan: I don’t really see why we ever need to attribute non-ironic use to the Mohists; the junzi isn’t admired in the least by them.

        For Chris: I don’t think “exemplary” captures any of the older meaning so to that extent I don’t like it all that much.

        Comment by Manyul Im | February 3, 2008

        Feel free to join in with comments!

        24 replies on “Gentlemen Prefer Bronze”

        1. It seems to me that junzi has always been a stratifying concept, even after it undergoes Confucian moralization. Even when the term is used to denote moral status, there is always the implied contrast with xiaoren or “petty people” (suitably moralized as well), whose behavior is beneath that of the junzi.

          I don’t know much about Nietzche, but Chris’s comparison between “good” and “noble” seems apt, perhaps illuminating. The junzi/xiaoren contrast seems to fall along the lines of the good/bad distinction, rather than the good/evil distinction?

          Though I think “noble person” is best, Ames and Rosemont’s “exemplary person” also has its merits. The junzi is meant to represent the moral norm (but far from being the statistical norm, since the junzi are so rare), in contrast to the sheng or the sage, who represents the moral ideal.

        2. Oops… I meant to add that “exemplary person” brings out the sense that being a junzi is a moral norm that ought to be followed. Being a sage is the ultimate goal, but also much harder, kind of like trying to approach the speed of light.

        3. Actually I was thinking that if you put up a post on “junzi” it would give us a good opportunity to talk about the dao.

          I agree that the Mohists didn’t much like the junzi of the world (that’s actually the central theme of a paper I’m madly trying to finish). But that makes their use of the term “junzi” ironic only if the term normally implied a positive evaluation, and I don’t think it did. (Compare the Mohists’ references to the shi4 / officials of the world; are they ironic?)

          I’d go further than you do about that line from MC 1A/7: it positively drips with class consciousness.

        4. Are any of these statements incorrect or obviously misleading?

          1. The junzi, for Confucius, is about nobility of character *not* nobility of blood.

          2. In principle, anyone can aspire to be a junzi.

          3. Any would-be junzi is immersed in both the Five Classics and the arts of wen.

          4. While the junzi may in fact come from the class of shi, he need not.

          5. Only a junzi or a sage has the ability to recognize a true junzi.

          6. The junzi exercises magical-like power (de) on those around him. This allows those “less-than-a-junzi” to infer the possible presence of a junzi: yet see 5 above (The intra- and interpersonal dynamics of such power are well-described in the section, “Developing Self and Others” in Nozick’s Philosophical Explanations, 1981: 510-515.)

          7. The junzi in fact aspires to be a sage (i.e. he remains committed to the perfectionist aspiration to self-development/cultivation). Better, Confucius presents us with a “perfectibilist” ethic in the Godwinian sense: “By perfectible, it is not meant that he [i.e., man] is capable of being brought to perfection. But the word seems sufficiently adapted to express the faculty of being continually made better and receiving perpetual improvement; and in this sense it is here to be understood. The term perfectible, thus explained, not only does not imply the capacity of being brought to perfection, but stands in expression to it. If we could arrive at perfection, there would be an end to our improvement. There is however one thing of great importance that it does imply: every perfection or excellence that human beings are competent to conceive, human beings, unless in cases that are palpably and unequivocally excluded by the structure of their frame, are competent to attain.”

          8. If the juniz is or becomes a “stratifying concept” it no longer reflects what Confucius meant by the term.

          9. For the most part, the notion of a junzi reflects an aspirational ideal, embodied junzis are in fact quite rare.

          10. A junzi need not hold political office of any sort.

          11. Although both the manner in which the virtues are acquired (similarities with Aristotelian habit and Greek paideia generally; cf. especially the discussion of dance and play in Plato’s *Laws* by Steven H. Lonsdale’s Dance and Ritual Play in Greek Religion, 1993) and the way they are exercised call to mind conspicuous features of Western virtue ethics, Confucius presents us with a *spiritual* portrait of the junzi, not simply an ethical characterization. (On the meaning of ‘spiritual’ here, see John Haldane’s ‘On the very idea of spiritual values,’ in Anthony O’Hear, ed., Philosophy, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, 2000: 53-71, and John Cottingham’s The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value, 2005).

          12. The portrait of the junzi, indeed Confucius’ philosophy in toto, is in many respects “utopian” vis-a-vis the prevailing socio-political order, used here in the sense outlined here by William Galston in his 1980 book, Justice and the Human Good: “Utopian thought attempts to specify and justify the principles of a comprehensively good political order. Typically, the goodness of that order rests on the desirability of the way of life enjoyed by the individuals within it; less frequently, its merits rely on organic features that cannot be reduced to individuals. Whatever their basis, the principles of the political good share certain general features: First, utopian principles are in their intention universally valid, temporally and geographically. Second, the idea of the good order arises out of our experience but does not mirror it in any simple way and is not circumscribed by it. Imagination may combine elements of experience into a new totality that has never existed; reason, seeking to reconcile the contradictions of experience, may transmute its elements.Third, utopias exist in speech; they are ‘cities of words.’ This does not mean that they cannot exist but only that they need not ever. This ‘counterfactuality’ of utopia in no way impedes its evaluative function. Fourth, utopian principles may come to be realized in history, and it may be possible to point to real forces pushing in that direction. But our approval of a utopia is not logically linked to the claim that history is bringing us closer to it or that we can identify an existing basis for the transformative actions that would bring it into being. Conversely, history cannot by itself validate principles. The movement of history (if it is a meaningful totality in any sense at all) may be from the most desirable to the less; the proverbial dustbin may contain much of enduring worth. Fifth, although not confined to actual existence, the practical intention of utopia requires that it be constrained by possibility. Utopia is realistic in that it assumes human and material preconditions that are neither logically nor empirically impossible, even though their simultaneous co-presence may be both unlikely and largely beyond human control to effect. Sixth, although utopia is a guide for action, it is not in any simple sense a program of action. In nearly all cases, important human or material preconditions for good politics will be lacking. Political practice consists in striving for the best results achievable in particular circumstance. The relation between the ideal and the best achievable is not deductive. [….] Thus, the incompleteness of utopia, far from constituting a criticism of it, is inherent in precisely the features that give it evaluative force. As has been recognized at least since Aristotle, the gap between utopian principles and specific strategic/tactical programs can be bridged only through an inquiry different in kind and content from that leading to the principles themselves. If so, the demand that utopian thought contain within itself the conditions of its actualization leads to a sterile hybrid that is neither an adequate basis for rational evaluation nor an accurate analysis of existing conditions.”

        5. Patrick,

          Interesting and challenging list. I have mainly questions about a few of the statements–for you or anyone else who has an opinion:

          About (1) and (2): Nobility of blood is certainly not sufficient for being a junzi, but I’m not sure what the evidence is for Confucius thinking that *anyone* could aspire to being one. Is there good evidence for that? This also raises the issue of whether, class aside, Confucius thought that women could become junzis.

          About (5) and (6): To “recognize a true junzi” seems ambiguous to me. Both in the Analects and the Mencius, it seems like the common people can recognize a junzi at least in the sense that they are influenced by him and drawn to him, no? You hint at this in (6); maybe you’d like further to qualify (5)?

          About (7) and (9): This is a really interesting point, but it makes me wonder if sagehood is something Confucius thought one could really aspire to. Why have the junzi as an ideal then? Or, following Dan, should we say that this is reason to think being a junzi isn’t really an ideal–the concept is not normative?

          About (8): I think as Boram astutely notes above, even if we are only considering the “nobility of character” understanding of “junzi,” the latter still retains a stratifying conceptual vestige, if only in that the junzi is clearly of a higher moral stratum than the little people (xiao ren 小人). Confucius himself is portrayed saying in 12.19 that the junzi’s virtue is like wind and the little people’s virtue is like grass–and when the wind blows, the grass bends.

        6. Manyul,

          I’m curious why you think nobility of blood is a necessary condition for junzi (if that’s what you’re saying). What evidence is there for this in the Analects? Although some of Confucius’ students are clearly nobility, I take it that Yen Hui (for one) is not of noble blood (his coffin surely doesn’t indicate it). I’m not saying he _is_ a junzi, but I don’t see any textual reason to suspect that Confucius thinks he couldn’t become one.

          On (8), there’s no doubt (to me) that junzi introduces a kind of strata; but the difference, as far as I see it, between hsaio jen and junzi is one of character (at the very least, the presence of different characteristic motives).

          Unless there’s a linkage I’m not seeing between character and social strata (which is a different distinction). Perhaps the closest connection I can think is one between min and jen, where min is perhaps ‘the common people’ (as opposed to the noble). But here I’ve always taken “common” to be “typical”, again not interpreted in terms of social strata. I’ve always read the connection between min and hsaio jen to be a pretty tight one, though I could be wrong.

          Also, I take it that the hsaio jen are like grass because they do not have stable internal characters. They are moved by what is external to them in a way that signifies pettiness and, if anything, internal weakness. They have little “authoritativeness”.

          Great thread, by the way. Good conversation!

        7. [1] Patrick, those are some choice passages you have on perfectibility and utopia. When I characterized attaining sagehood as trying to approach the speed of light I meant (in my own inchoate way) to be noting the perfectibility dimension. The only point that doesn’t seem to apply to Confucian perfectibilism is this: “By perfectible, it is not meant that he [i.e., man] is capable of being brought to perfection.” In descending order of optimism (as it seems to me), Mencius, Confucius and Xunzi seem to believe that one CAN become a sage.

          [2] Chris, here’s what little I know. The Brookses (in their ORIGINAL ANALECTS), add the following comment to 4.11 on xiaoren and min:

          “Between gentleman (junzi) and common folk (min) come the ‘little people,’ the mobile middle group of artisans and traders. Like the min, their values are based on self-interest; unlike them, they turn up at court, competing with junzi elite for position….”

          If that’s right, then the “little people” seem to be the same middle group from which the Mohists are drawn (according to A. C. Graham), a group that begins to flourish with the rise of cities.

          [3] When I wrote that junzi is also a morally stratifying concept, I had in mind the many passages in the Analects explicitly contrasting junzi with xiaoren. I also had in mind Xunzi’s distinction between social glory/disgrace on one hand, and moral glory/disgrace on the other hand. The moralized version of junzi, as Xunzi points out, may suffer social disgrace, but would be ashamed of moral disgrace.

          The junzi does not engage in immoral behavior because one will be punished for doing so (by ghosts and spirits, by law, by society’s judgment, or by guilt feelings), but because one hates it, more specifically is ashamed to sink to such base conduct.

          [4] The moral stratification does not imply social stratification, and especially in the Mencius. Even a beggar has a sense of shame, and thinks certain things beneath him. See also 6A16~17, IMHO two greatest neglected passages in the Mencius.

          [5] Like Chris, I enjoyed this thread. This blog is a bit too addictive!

        8. Interesting comments, Boram. No such thing as blog addiction…

          I think you mean to say in [3] “The junzi does not *refrain from* immoral behavior because one will be punished for doing so…but because one hates it” No need to post an acknowledgment if I’m right about that.

          Chris, I don’t mean that nobility of blood is a necessary condition for becoming a junzi. But I’m still not sure Confucius would agree to: “anyone can [reasonably] aspire to be a junzi.” I need to think some more about why I’m not sure about this, though.

        9. Manyul-

          Maybe the feeling that not just anybody can aspire to be a junzi is an importation of of Zhu Xi’s gloss on the Confucian/Mencian tradition. I seem to recall Zhu speaking of different qualities of qi which provide the raw material to be molded by moral education. Some people have, if you will, less “refined” qi than others and they find it more difficult to probe the principle in things. In theory at least this would entail that there might be some people so deprived in their natural endowment of qi that they cannot aspire to the status of junzi.

          Apart from that, the standard set for the junzi by Confucius is quite high (fearless, at ease with himself, only concerned with virtue, etc.) that anyone who reads the Analects at least leaves with an impression that becoming an junzi is very difficult if not impossible.

        10. I have no doubt that Thomas is right, this is clearly the impression that Confucius gives (that becoming a junzi is difficult if not impossible). I’d also agree with Manyul’s intuition that “not everyone could” if that meant suggesting that given the presence of certain kinds of early life-training (with respect to one’s ways of seeing and being disposed to the world), different people are very differently situated with respect to the “real” possibility of better approximating the junzi ideal. If I am raised in a community of hsaio jen, my chances are pretty low. If I’ve raised around the benevolent, they are better. Thus is the element of luck.


          Thanks for that information. What is interesting to me here is whether there’s a suggestion that being a member of a certain social strata (the min, say) entails moral strata (hsaio jen). I can imagine a Confucian suggesting a correlation (though it’s not very PC), but hardly a logical relationship (again, Yen Hui?). I am not sure about how this plays out in Xunzi, but I’d say that in the Analects hsaio jen are portrayed simply as a character type defined by certain patters of motivation (self-interest, profit, etc).

          On the great conversation: what’s great about these sorts of blogs (a great start here, Manyul) is that many times we find ourselves “spread out” without people to regularly converse with on these issues. I’m at a 4yr liberal arts college. No one studies Confucius but me. So blogs open up the great opportunity for similarly “spread out” people (like me) to virtually come together. All you need then is the right mood of respect and mutual collegiality – and I think that mood has been set here, to Manyul’s (and the various commentators’) credit.

        11. In reply to the thoughtful responses to my (hastily assembled) list:

          As to anyone “in principle” (this qualification seems to have been missed) aspiring to be a junzi: Was it not said that even (from memory here) “a dried piece of meat” was a sufficient gift to receive instruction from Confucius, implying, I take it, that not unlike Socrates in the agora but unlike the Sophists, Confucius was willing to accept as a “student” anyone with the requisite will or motivation to learn. So I’m not saying that, in fact, anyone could be a junzi should they want to, just noting that if socio-economic conditions are propitious and one is sufficiently motivated, the opportunity is there. Of course after Confucius this assumes finding a proper teacher, some minimal level of formal education and so forth. Being in several respects a Marxist (see the respective comments to Belle Lettre’s posts ‘The Random Five’ and ‘It Started As A Comment: Why I Am Not a Marxist’ at her Law and Letters Blog:, I’m rather dispositionally inclined to be sensitive to issues of socio-economic stratification (talk of moral strata I find less interesting because given and uninformative, assuming that people are at varying levels of moral development and awareness and that, generally speaking, we all possess the capacities and potential for significant and open-ended moral growth; I subscribe more or less to Martha Nussbaum’s account of what constitutes a minimal core of ‘human capabilities’: see the list in her Frontiers of Justice, 2006: 76-78). In short, there’s an obligation here to establish the socio-economic conditions which enhance the opportunity for individuals to make the choice to aspire to be a junzi. As the late David L. Norton wrote, “To say that self-development is voluntary is to say that it is optional. If it has necessary conditions, then self-development [or Confucian self-cultivation] is an option only when these conditions prevail. And this is to say that for the option of self-development to exist, supply of its necessary conditions is mandatory. To be sure, supply of the necessary conditions that are to be self-supplied by individuals falls within the option of self-development and is not mandatory. But conditions that must be furnished to individuals by external agencies do not partake of the voluntary character of self-development. Recognition that their presence is mandatory commensurates the provision of them with the coercive nature of government, while respecting the voluntary nature of individual self-development: individuals remain free to avail themselves, or not, of the provided conditions. It is mandatory, of course, that individuals contribute (notably through taxes) to the government that provides the necessary conditions that individuals cannot self-supply….” (see Norton’s Democracy and Moral Development: A Politics of Virtue, 1991).

          I don’t think “common people” necessarily recognize the junzi qua junzi, only that they bend from the power of de (of course they might infer the presence of a junzi, assuming they’re fully aware of the effects of this individual on their lives, but I think true recognition of a junzi can only reliably issue from other junzis or a sage).

          I’m ambivalent about the sagehood thing, if only because it seems to function as a nostalgic ideal for Confucius, in other words, he seems skeptical that such an ideal is achievable in his day. Nonetheless, that does not preclude holding up the figure of a sage as an ideal to aspire toward, and would seem to help by way of preventing complacency, hubris, arrogance, what have you, on the part of a junzi (of course egoistic focus on the fact that one is a junzi would seem to be a pragmatic contradiction). Again, in principle, one CAN become a sage, it just seems that Confucius thought it unlikely (at least during his time and place). Pedagogically speaking, the junzi is a more immediate (hence realistic) ideal figure to aspire toward as Confucius can illustrate examples of same. However, once a junzi, the possibility in principle opens up for one becoming a sage.

          Again, and by way of a pedagogical strategy, I think it’s prudent to at least pretend that there is no terminus ad quem to moral and spiritual development, even if, technically speaking, the ideal of the Sage is, in principle, attainable.

        12. Patrick,

          I tend to strongly agree with much of what you say here. Specifically, where you write “In short, there’s an obligation here to establish the socio-economic conditions which enhance the opportunity for individuals to make the choice to aspire to be a junzi” I’d agree, though I think that the demands of shu (relational reciprocity) go further: one seeks in relationships (communal, family, or otherwise) to create the conditions for virtue with respect to those towards whom one stands in role-bearing relationships. Economics is one issue at hand, but there are others (too many hsaio jen lead to more hsaio jen; I have a responsibility to be jen towards others to create the circumstance for their own virtue to flourish — bad parents tend to produce bad children, that sort of thing).

          It for these reasons that although I’d be receptive to hearing arguments that economic/social strata realities can create hard difficulties for the attainment of junzi status, I’d find it hard to believe that those difficulties would be insurmountable.

        13. Chris,

          In turn, I agree with you in the sense that the need to generalize the requisite socio-economic conditions in no way absolves us or others of individual ethical obligations (what Hindus call dharma) arising from the various roles we in fact inhabit. As I state at the end of a discussion of jen in a study guide for Confucianism: “It is traditionally argued that there are two indispensable parts to jen: shu (‘reciprocity,’ or the negative formulation of the Golden Rule: ‘do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire’) and chung (loyalty). These concepts seem applicable to the various hierarchical roles one is involved in daily life (the argument of David S. Nivison), with the considerations of shu applicable to one in a ‘superior’ position or rank, and chung applicable to one in a ‘subordinate’ position or rank. Of course one is typically involved in roles of both types, for example, the (superior) relation of the father to the son in the family, while the father at his place of employment may have a manager or boss, in which case he is now in a subordinate relation. Empathy appears to be fundamental to both shu and chung, and of course both can be no less appropriate to roughly equal relations as well. And shu in no way exhausts the plenitude of jen!

        14. Patrick,

          Agreed. I have had some disagreements with Nivinson’s take on shu for a while now, though (in short: his focus on the negative formulation of shu). I don’t want to hijack this good conversation, though, so I’ll put up a post on it at my own place as soon as I get some time. I’ll call attention to it when it’s up.

        15. Personally, I am wont to interpret the junzi’s relationship to the xiao ren as one of “auctoritas” rather than “potestas” (to use the old Roman politico-juridical concepts). So interpreted it is not necessary that the junzi (or “auctor”) be of a higher moral stratum than the xiao ren, only that the junzi by being a junzi can affect the behavior of those around him. Unfortunately, I can only think of unflattering examples of the exercise of “auctoritas” such as Emperor Augustus’ “suggesting” one successor or another. I suppose this is why I have some partiality to the terminology in AmesRosemont of “exemplary person” and “authoritative conduct.”

          If I am correct this would apply further to the difficulties in rising to junzi status. Unlike “potestas” which is a power which may be earned, “auctoritas” derives from the person him or herself. To be a junzi would to posses “De” to such self-integration as to render formal recognition of one’s virtue uneccesary.

        16. Thomas,

          That sounds about right to me, especially if we understand auctoritas to apply to *both* the intimate realm of daily life, in addition to the larger arena of collective or (conventionally understood) political conduct. Indeed, I think Confucius, like Gandhi in our time, presents us with a nice alternative to the regnant doctrine of “double moral standards.” Cf., for instance, the following from Raghavan Iyer’s nonpareil examination of Gandhi’s moral and political thought:

          “[It is a] common contention that there are two levels or types or standards of morality, one for the individual in his private life and in his immediate surroundings, the other for political life and collective conduct. This standpoint has been stated plausibly over and over again, from Aquinas to Maurras, Kautilya to Tilak, Jowett to Niebuhr. Prudentia politica or niti is held to be the charioteer of other virtues, and adapts the natural law or dharma to raison d’état or artha. Politics may be subordinated, but it must not become subservient, to morals. [….] It was absolutely and continually fundamental to Gandhi to reject this dominant doctrine of double standards, with its varying sources of support, types of formulation and methods of justification. It is not that Gandhi failed to distinguish between fact and value, or even between what men must ideally do and what they can practically achieve. He recognized that in politics as in life, we continually search for a middle term in our attempt to mediate between the desirable and the possible. Nor did he fail to see that politics, like medicine, requires immediate action based upon incomplete knowledge. Every act according to the Gita, inevitably contains an element of error in this imperfect world. This may be truer of politics than of personal life, though this is by no means self-evident. What Gandhi denied was that in politics we must make more allowances, or even need more elbow room, than in the personal moral quest in the company of men of varying and even conflicting human aspirations. It is because Gandhi took very seriously, and regarded as highly complex and dilemma-ridden, the process of moral growth, choice and decision, for the sensitive individual, that he regarded politics as altering the sphere, but not the moral value or validity or culpability of human action.”

          One virtue of this denial of the doctrine of double moral standards is that it rules out facile or convenient appeals to “dirty hands”…but that’s a large subject perhaps not best addressed here.

          Finally, I think the question of “recognition” is largely germane (and thus confined) to the (pedagogical) dialogues between Confucius and his students, so your point is well taken.

        17. Patrick,

          I must confess to a contradictory fascination with both Gandhi and Machiavelli. It strikes me that I had never considered what a dialogue between the two would reveal about their respective positions.

          It seems to me the Machiavelli is a proponent of something quite like the doctrine of double moral standards you describe. He was largely reacting to the (Ciceronian) view that the standards of personal virtue applied to the political realm. Machiavelli was of the opinion (although this is as debated as Confucius’ views) that a ruler must sometimes do unpalatable things in politics to preserve the state. He judges actions based on their ability to stabilize or destabilize the state. However, the ruler should also at least strive to appear virtuous. So while it may be politically necessary to do “evil” things is also necessary to appear “virtuous” to the populace.

          Am I correct that this is a species of the doctrine you allude to in your comment? If so it would appear that Machiavelli and I have much to discuss.

          I have long been troubled with this “necessary hypocrisy” in Machiavelli’s thought. By natural bent or education I tend more to the Ciceronian and perhaps Gandhian view. “We must be the change we wish to see.” Seems to have a truthful ring, yet I am at a loss on how to justify this resonance. My “auctoritas” interpretation of Confucius has provided me with a way of attempting just such a justification. Perhaps our influence with others is a moral as well as political one. I would love to see this empirically tested.

        18. Indeed, and perhaps more tellingly, Machiavelli seems to be the archetypal apologist for “dirty hands.” Allow me to quote once more from Norton, this time on Machiavelli:

          “To Machiavelli the prevalence of political disorder demonstrated the hopeless inadequacy of previously relied-upon sources of order, that is, Christian and Aristotelian teleolgy.[….] [He] employed the categories of Greco-Roman thought that suffused the Florentine and Venetian republics as well as the Milanese imperium of his time. Accordingly he employed the term ‘fortuna’ for disordered matter, and ‘virtu’ for immaterial form. Then in the ‘typical motif of the Renaissance’ (Garin), *virtu vince fortuna*, the meaning is that matter is ordered by the infusion of form. In the same way that Machiavelli perpetuated the ‘mirror for princes’ genre but radically departed from its traditional content, so he perpetuated the *virtu vince fortuna* motif but with astonishing transformation of its meaning. The ‘form’ by which ‘matter’ was to be ordered lay not in a transcendent world, but in the ‘matter’ itself. Here begins what Pocock calls Machiavelli’s ‘drastic experiment in secularization.'”

          Motivated by the “failure” of transcendent (classical Greek and Christian, [although this passes over Stoic naturalism]) sources of order (cf. quattrocentro Italy), Machiavelli effectively politicized morality or reduced it to a politics in conjunction with a moral philosophy that more or less takes people as they are (or, in the words of J.S. Mill, ‘are capable of speedily becoming’), in other words, it puts few if any ethical demands on the citizenry or no stock whatever in the potential or possibility for moral development (although in their personal lives, people may in fact demonstrate adherence, say, to Christian virtues), whatever the civic obligations happen to be. To continue:

          “Transcendental sources of order lay too far beyond human beings ‘as they are;’ the ‘new realism’ must be founded in immanent sources, sources available to every because they are *in* everyone. In his words, ‘The gulf between how one should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather than self-preservation. Machiavelli sought principles of order in fortuna itself–the mundane world of flux and transitoriness–and at the same time endeavored to disarm Christianity and Aristotelian ethics by secularizing both.” And now for what I take to be the heart of the matter in light of Confucian ethics:

          “In Pocock’s wording, Machiavelli ‘enters the realm of moral ambiguity’ [perhaps put too mildly and feebly!] by making use of the polysemy that attended the term ‘virtue.’ To the Greek eudaimonists, *arete* connoted moral excellence based in commitment to the actualization, conservation, and defense of certain objective values, and implying strength of character. To the ancient Romans, *virtus* connoted the strength to ‘deal effectively and nobly with whatever fortune might send.’ In Christianity under the influence especially of Augustine and Boethius, virtue becomes purity, understood as the absence of defilement by the world, and submission to Fortune, which is now understood as Providence. ‘Virtue’ in Machiavelli retains the idea of strength in the Roman meaning, but undermines the Greek idea of objective goodness by associating strength with effectiveness and expediencey. In Pocock’s words, ‘*Virtu* took on the double meaning of the instruments of power, such as arms, and the personal qualities needed to wield these instruments.'” Norton proceeds to elaborate upon Machiavelli’s contribution to what he calls the “moral minimalism” of modernity (by way of contrast to Hellenistic ethics or eudaimonism). This miminalism asks of us “very little in the way of developed moral character.”

          Of course much, much more could be said, and I’m not at all dismissing Machiavelli as a political thinker but it helps to be clear at least about *these* aspects of his “political philosophy” (in quotes owing to the fact that he was not a systematic political philosopher)including the radical re-formulation of terms like *virtu.*

          We’re on a slippery ethical slope that soon brings us to Hobbes. I’ll close with a nice summary from C.A.J. Coady:

          “[O]ne may readily concede that some areas of life lead to more frequent clashes between moral and non-moral values but we need to recall both that precisely which areas these are is a matter of historical contingency, and that frequency of confrontation need not correlate with frequency of justified overriding. Politics may be very bland as, I imagine, in Monaco, and private life can be a maelstrom of agonizing conflicts, as in a black ghetto or an Ethiopian village during famine. Moreover, where politics is morally perturbing it doesn’t follow that decisions against morality will necessarily be legitimate. Some area may be morally dangerous than another without being less morally constrained. Politics may often be sleazier than housekeeping without this fact licensing fewer moral constraints in politics. On the contrary, the more frequent temptation is, the greater, we might naturally suppose, the need for stern attachment to moral standards and virtue. (This was indeed the view of Machiavelli’s famous humanist contemporary, Erasmus, in his The Education of a Christian Prince.)”

        19. Patrick,

          Well put.

          I suppose we might posit in brief that bone of contention between these two “Warring States” thinkers is whether overriding or overreaching is legitimate in turbulent times. Machiavelli, even in the Discourses, argues for the exceptionalist position. Confucius, as I understand him, would argue that it is in just such turbulent times that the junzi is needed most. During a drought or famine we must not abandon the farm for rapine and pillage but should seek to adapt our agricultural methods to the changed conditions. The junzi’s unwavering stance is prudent perseverance and not rigid conformity to outdated morality.

          I always worry, however, that this is a misinterpretation of Confucius. Confucius as reactionary has at least as much textual support as Confucius as Stoic pragmatist (assuming such a conjunction makes sense). Do I read too much of Aristotle’s praise of prudence into the master’s character? Again and again I return to the question of whether or not Confucius recommends blind application or prudent adaptation as in Aristotle’s description of equity:

          [quote]Hence the equitable is just, and better than one kind of justice–not better than absolute justice but better than the error that arises from the absoluteness of the statement. And this is the nature of the equitable, a correction of law where it is defective owing to its universality. In fact this is the reason why all things are not determined by law, that about some things it is impossible to lay down a law, so that a decree is needed. For when the thing is indefinite the rule also is indefinite, like the leaden rule used in making the Lesbian moulding; the rule adapts itself to the shape of the stone and is not rigid, and so too the decree is adapted to the facts.[/quote]

        20. Hi,

          I found this site by pure coincidence and being mentioned in Sam Crane’s blog.

          Regarding this particular ‘junzi’ discussion, I’m very surprised that no mention whatsoever has been made regarding such concept, and it its numerous appearances, in the text of the Yijing. This is a subject of innumerable discussions regarding the proper translation of the term among serious Yixue students. I believe Richard Wilhelm, in his translation of the classic, spoiled our collective Western mindset by translating it as “Superior Man”. A more contemporary translation among Yixue students gears towards the consensus of “Jun1 zi3” meaning “noble one” and/or “young noble,” both of these carrying its own interpretation depending on the context of the hexagram, one being used as an adjective and the other as a noun. Of course, we thread on thin ice when trying to properly translate a term with a very ancient conceptual use. It isn’t as simple as picking up a dictionary and looking for the characters’ meaning. We must try to discern its original contextual meaning, going back more than 2500 years.

          In the overall text of the Yijing (as opposed to the bare Zhouyi) somebody recently made an interesting observation and pointed to an otherwise obvious distinction–and thus hard to notice–between the term appearing in the Yaoci of many hexagram lines and the term appearing in the Da Xiang:


          The second is surely the confucian «person of noble character», but the JunZi of which you’re speaking is earlier and less perfect. (the one in the Yaoci; my note)


          All the best and I’ll bookmark your site.


        21. Welcome, Luis; that’s an interesting addition to the discussion. It seems likely the title carries more social-hierarchic meaning than moral, the earlier the usage. What’s the source for the quote you give?

          We do get, on the other hand, in Mencius 3B9, a morally neutral use: in contrast to the junzis of old, “…the junzis of today transgress and continue to do so…” (今之君子過則順之).

          In fact, I’m surprised the 3B9 passage didn’t come up earlier in this string, particularly when Dan Robins was arguing that junzi doesn’t normally imply a positive evaluation (see comment 3). Anyone have further thoughts about Mencius 3B9, or other Confucian texts early on that seem to use the term in a way that is clearly evaluation-neutral?

        22. I think a lot of people are applying a capitalist notion to Confucius’s thought, which creates problems. Remember, in pre-capitalist times, wealth was not necessarily associated with status (though it certainly generally was). Look at Confucius and how he was presented in the Analects: dirt poor. But that doesn’t change his shi status. So, when Confucius says that people are alike at birth and it is only through repeated practice that they diverge or that he’ll train anyone for some dried meat, I think we have to ask ourselves what he meant by “person”. Personally, I think it is fairly reasonable to think that the kind of “person” he was talking about there had a last name. People of lower social strata weren’t necessarily excluded out of malice, but simply because of the time he lived in — it would be almost unthinkable for someone in a society as stratified as Warring States period China to accept that commoners would be able to become a junzi because, well, why would they be able to? Things like that wouldn’t enter into their minds. I mean, look at what Confucius has to say about farmers and other laborers: nothing good. It isn’t that he thinks they don’t perform a useful function, he just doesn’t see them as being able to morally cultivate themselves. This is in contrast to merchants who’ve actually started going in the opposite direction and are losing whatever cultivation they may have had in the course of their occupation.

          That is why I think that Mencius and other later scholars are so important in developing Confucianism (which appeals to other discussions going on here with respect to fidelity vs. applicability of a tradion). Mencius invited the very important idea that class isn’t everything (he had heard about killing Robber Zhi, but had heard nothing about regicide). But he still denied the fullness of ren to the lower classes, after all, while he advised King Xuan to stay out of the kitchen, he said nothing of the Butcher’s humanity; indeed, he can be seen as denying it. That is why other thinkers like Yangming later on are necessary to expand this idea even further to encompass everyone (making one body with humanity).

          Given that development, I think that “gentleman” or “noble person” works. Personally, I like “gentleman” just because that is what I’m most used to seeing, but “noble one” also opens it up to more modern ideas which I think is essential.

        23. Hi Manyul,

          The quote comes from a friend in Buenos Aires and is from post #8 in this discussion at Clarity (I hope links are allowed…):

          Although most of the thematic nature of the site/forum is geared towards divination, some, like myself, are more interested in discussing the history and philosophical implications of the Yijing as a respected Chinese classic. Besides being the in-house jokester (I write as “Sparhawk” and you may notice a certain lighthearted pattern if you read a few of my posts…), I contribute quite a bit of information and articles to the site.

          Best wishes,

        Leave a Reply

        Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

        This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.