Warp, Weft, and Way

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

New Analects Translation

Penguin has recently brought out a new translation of, and commentary on, the Analects, by Annping Chin. The Amazon page is here, at which one can get a good sense of the format and goals of this new translation. Considerable comentary is appended after each passage, with a combination of Chin’s own thoughts and comments from mostly post-Song (primarily Qing to the present) scholars. Chinese text is provided in an appendix. Anyone have any thoughts on this new translation?

October 30th, 2014 Posted by | Analects, Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucius, Translation | 18 comments

18 Responses to New Analects Translation

  1. Haven’t seen much of it yet, but from your description it sounds very useful! Given that commentaries used in English versions tend to be no later than Zhu Xi, it’s great to see a translation focusing on later commentaries for a change. From the bit I saw in the preview, she does include a good deal of the earlier stuff (the commentaries from the He Yan collection, etc.), but there definitely seems to be more concentration on Song-and-later commentary than we usually see.

    I often think, when I see new Analects translations, “do we really need another Analects?” But it seems like Annping Chin found a way to do something new with it here. Looks good. I’m going to get a copy of this, and I’ll let you know my thoughts when I finish it!

    • Paul R. Goldin says:

      Yes, like Alexus, when I see another translation of the Analects, I ask myself, “Do we really need another translation of the Analects?” Not in the philistine way–but as long as crucial texts such as Guoyu 國語, Yi Zhoushu 逸周書, Yanzi chunqiu 晏子春秋, and Fengsu tongyi 風俗通義 remain untranslated, I can’t help thinking that the next Analects or Daode jing or Mencius could wait just a bit longer.

      We still don’t even have a complete English translation of Yantie lun 鹽鐵論! (Esson Gale’s is not complete.) Or Baihu tong 白虎通, for that matter.

  2. Bill Haines says:

    Was it Manyul who said somewhere recently that we have translations adequate for anglo philosophers to look into Asian philosophy?

    We have translations of the Analects that can pique interest. I wonder if we have a translation of the Analects with apparatus, sufficient to allow Anglophone philosophers to encounter the text with a degree of closeness approaching what they’re used to in, say, translations of Aristotle or Kant. For Aristotle and Kant, there are some key terms such that scholars will want pretty consistent translation, accompanied by some commentary about the range of meaning of the term, so that the scholarly Anglophone reader has the necessary tools to construct hypotheses about what the passage might mean. The main ambiguities are of terms rather than syntax, and there aren’t so very many hard key terms.

    In the Analects there are very many passages that admit of several very different legitimate candidate readings.

    Most translators approach most of these passages simply by choosing an interpretation and building it into the translations without noting the possibility of alternatives.

    The philosopher reader wants to be notified and, further, wants adequate materials to use in considering the merits. At the very least she wants current scholarly opinion about the range of meaning of they terms and phrases involved, and the possible syntaxes where that matters.

    (What she doesn’t want, but we sometimes find in a philosophical translation, is a consistent rendering of a term of natural language as a specific complex of abstract ideas.)

    A brief “Look Inside!” inclines me to think that Chin’s book is a major advance, in these respects, over the other translations that have appeared in the last hundred years.

    But more extraordinary measures may be called for.

    Chin intersperses the commentary with the text in a way that strongly discourages the reader from skipping the commentary during any one reading – and thereby discourages the reader from giving Chin’s Analects many readings. But the Analects needs many readings.

    I suggest the following format instead:

    Virtually all commentary should be separated from the text by being on a different page or at the bottom of the page, and also in significantly finer print, so as to invite continuous reading that skips the commentary.

    But where there are two or three significantly different legitimate candidate readings (e.g. parsings) of a whole passage, there should be two or three translations, side by side. The commentary can give the arguments if any.

    Anglo philosophical readers are going to be interested first in the best scholarly interpretive opinion about the original meaning, not in knowing the historical origins of interpretive ideas, nor in knowing old interpretations that current scholarship comfortably rejects.

    These readers are primarily interested in the best current commentary, not interested in old Chinese commentary for its own sake. If some old Chinese commentary is reported to them, they should receive a few warnings about old Chinese commentary in general, e.g. about the lack of a continuous tradition, the vast distances of time, limited concern for historical accuracy, the variety of other concerns, etc.

    • Avery says:

      Hey Bill, I believe the translation you’re looking for is this one:


      I’ve read selections from it and I think it does exactly what you say. However, I haven’t received my copy to review it yet. I will be getting it on Monday and will read through the passages that I’ve noticed consistently trip up translators.


      • Bill Haines says:

        Thanks! I hadn’t heard of this. I look forward to your report.

    • Paul R. Goldin says:

      Bill says:

      “Anglo philosophical readers are going to be interested first in the best scholarly interpretive opinion about the original meaning, not in knowing the historical origins of interpretive ideas, nor in knowing old interpretations that current scholarship comfortably rejects.

      These readers are primarily interested in the best current commentary, not interested in old Chinese commentary for its own sake.”

      And this is precisely why “Anglo philosophers” keep misunderstanding then misrepresenting Chinese philosophy. In order to understand an idea, you need to understand its history. I wouldn’t agree with the quasi-antiquarian position that ALL you need to do is understand its history; i.e. it’s a necessary rather than a sufficient condition. But you do need to understand the history; otherwise you can’t understand why the idea was important in the first place, let alone why it continued to be debated. And therefore Bill’s distinction between “the best scholarly interpretive opinion” and “knowing the historical origins of interpretive ideas,” far from being incompatible, are in fact inseparable from one another.

  3. Geoffrey Redmond says:

    I have a question I hope others will address. The amazon page calls this, “One of the most influential books in human history.” Lets ignore the redundancy of ‘human history.’ That this is true of ‘Comficianism’ is unquestionable. But is the influence really via the Lunyu or is the idea of Confucius through other sources: Sima Qian, Zhanguo exegesis of the Chunqiu! Zhu Xi etc etc.

    I suspect the latter but would wonder what Lunyu specialists have to say. My field is Zhouyi and here the influence is far less the early text than later projections onto it.

    • Paul R. Goldin says:

      I think the text really was influential. Remember that literati would have started learning it at an age when our children are in grade school, and it was long regarded as the most authoritative source for Confucius’s life and ideas. Many people would have known the text by heart. You’re quite right, however, that other texts were influential too; no one in traditional China ever advocated reading the Analects and nothing else. At most it was one of the Four Books–not something like The Book.

  4. Geoffrey Redmond says:

    Of course Paul is right that the Lunyu was highly influential. But considering that the Four Books replaced the 5 (or 6) classics relatively late I would modify my question to whether Confucius first became prominent because of the Lunyu or if the Lunyu became central because Confucius had already become an iconic figure via Sima Qian etc.

    For example do phrases beginning the master said in MWD and Guodian show influence of Lunyu? There may be evidence but if so I am not aware of it.

    This relates to what I consider the major enigma of the Yijing, my main interest, which is when and how the ‘Confucianization’ of Chinese philosophy began.

    • Geoffrey asks “do phrases beginning the master said in MWD and Guodian show influence of Lunyu?”

      I believe the answer is no. Mencius and Xunzi don’t share many passages with the Lunyu either, (though they have some).

    • Steve Angle says:

      Hi Geoffrey and Scott — There was some significant discussion of this at last year’s NECCT (see warpweftandway.com/2013-northeast-conference-on-ch…), with Mick Hunter arguing that the Lunyu was a Western Han text and that there was no evidence in Mencius of its existence, and Bruce Brooks and others arguing that all our evidence is best explained by the hypothesis that Lunyu was a private, school text that did exist in the Warring States period. Some if this conversation will continue at this year’s NECCT; Taeko Brooks is presenting a paper titled “Confucius Tradition in the Mencius” (see warpweftandway.com/necct-2014-schedule/).

    • Paul R. Goldin says:

      Now the question becomes whether Geoffrey is talking about the Lunyu as such or the distinctive ideas in the Lunyu. If the former, then I agree that there can’t be much talk of influence before the Han dynasty because Mick–and of course several scholars before him, such as John Makeham and Mark Csikszentmihalyi–have made a compelling case that the text did not exist before then.

      If the latter, then there is probably a better basis for influence because subsequent Confucians did expand on ideas that are attested in the Analects, although some of the most important ones–such as moral judgment by means of zhong 忠 and shu 恕–are conspicuously absent from later discussions.

      (Mick, of course, would say that I have the chronology dead wrong by privileging material in the received Analects as early, but I have a long forthcoming response to that sort of argument, so I won’t chew my cud here.)

      Finally, words like “influence” and “influential” are probably too coarse for the type of conversation that we’re having.

  5. Bill Haines says:

    To Paul’s comment about understanding and the tradition (Hi Paul – always very interesting, thanks!) :

    Do Anglo philosophers misrepresent Chinese philosophy more than other people do?

    I was speaking of Anglo philosophers innocent of Chinese – thus mostly not the kind of people who have commented on Chinese philosophy to date. I’m not sure if Paul is talking about the same people I was. The context I had in mind was the Analects as a draw toward mainstream anglo interest in Chinese philosophy.

    As I wrote my comment I was mindful of the value of studying the later tradition, and hence wrote of what the philosophers “are … first” interested in, not of what they should only be interested in. An earlier draft warned more explicitly against the latter reading.

    Paul writes, “In order to understand an idea, you need to understand its history … it’s a necessary … condition.”

    I’m struggling to understand this. I’ll try to give it some import.

    Out of context one could think Paul is insisting on the importance of knowing the historical antecedents of the text in question, or texts that are direct evidence of the language, issues, and events behind the text. (And of course that is important, as I had mentioned here a few hours earlier.) Anyway it should be clear that the only kind of history at issue in Paul’s disagreement with me here is the history subsequent to the appearance of the text. That’s the proposed necessary condition I’ll talk about.

    Paul seems to say: to understand a text, one must understand what is said about it (and done with it) later.

    This principle can seem to imply that Confucius couldn’t understand his own remarks as he said them. He lacked one of the necessary conditions. (As may we, since the great bulk of the history of the use of Confucius’ sayings may lie in the future.)

    One might say in Paul’s defense that perhaps he only means that to understand a certain text at time T, one must understand what (if anything) was done with it up to time T. The future doesn’t count. Thus Confucius could understand himself after all.

    We might put the point another way: “To understand the meaning a text has had, one must understand what its reception and impact has been.”

    In other words, meaning changes over time, as history accrues. What Confucius could understand was the original meaning, but that was just the beginning.

    (And we must admit that even the further meaning the text would accrue after time T is to some extent predictable at time T.)

    But Paul seems to be opposing the idea of original meaning.

    Which would be a sensible position to take if by “meaning” one simply meant import in the sense of impact. An interesting thing about the words “import” and “meaning” and “significance” is that they can all be used simply to mean major consequences. In that sense, one might think, there was no original import to Confucius’s sayings. While he was saying them, they had yet had no impact, or no major impact. We know some of their import now, and we can predict more of the meaning of the Analects if we study Yu Dan’s sales figures. These, then, should have been reported by Annping Chin.

    In other words, perhaps Paul’s point is that to understand the historical significance of the Analects, one has to look at its reception and impact.

    But Paul isn’t saying something simple like that. If he were, he would have said “necessary and sufficient.”

    I’m struggling, myself, to get a handle on what he means. I think there are two key dimensions to think about. Crudely: how necessary is “necessary”? and what does he mean by “understand”?

    (A third might be, what does he mean by “idea”? I’ve been replacing that word by “text”, but not because of any doubt about the reality of ideas.)

    (i) How necessary is “necessary”?

    As texts go, the Analects is skimpy in the extreme. With this text especially, it is tempting to think that if we don’t have the reception and impact, we have nothing.

    (Indeed, there’s even a difficulty about what history counts as being “after” the text, since the selection and to an unknown extent the composition of the parts occurred at various unknown times after Confucius’ death. Anyone interested in original meaning has to distinguish between the meanings of various different kinds of entity here. But let’s abstract away from that point today, since we’re mainly talking about Zhu Xi versus Olberding, both way later.)

    The Analects is skimpy enough to make us feel we need to look elsewhere. But Paul isn’t talking only about the Analects. He seems to be making a claim about any and every “idea” or bit of text. He seems to intend a principle independent of the degree of skimpiness of the text. Surely most bits of text – say, most of today’s newspaper – are pretty easy to understand in broad strokes (or fine) by relying only on other material in the same and earlier publications, without waiting for next week’s paraphrase.

    Assuming Paul agrees, it’s tempting to think he means only that later reception and impact can be helpful in improving our understanding of a text – can be more or less helpful or crucial, depending on, say, how much contemporary text we have and how much later reception.

    That’s uncontroversial. Paul doesn’t think I was opposing it, directly or indirectly. So it can’t be his main point here.

    Also it doesn’t fit Paul’s emphasis on “necessary” over “sufficient.” For even if a text is wholly lost, good commentary might give us a pretty good understanding of what it meant. (For example, suppose all we had of Kant’s Groundwork was the paraphrase section of Paton’s edition.)

    So I suppose what Paul means instead is that the later reception and impact of a text is in principle partly but not wholly determinative of the text’s meaning. His point isn’t epistemological (about the evidence we need); it’s about what understanding is, what meaning is.

    I think to get a better handle on whether he can really mean “necessary,” we have to look more closely at what he means by “understand.”

    But I’d like to pause here to say that Paul’s paragraph leaves just a bit open the possibility that his claim is not meant to be about all texts (ideas); instead it is only about all the ones in Chinese philosophy. I’ll return to this point.

    (ii) What does he mean by “understand”?

    Here we could worry about matters of degree: Is Paul saying that we can’t have complete understanding of the text itself unless we have complete understanding of the reception? Is he saying we can’t have even minimal understanding of the text itself unless we have at least minimal understanding of the reception? Or that we can’t have complete understanding of the text unless we have minimal knowledge of the reception? Or … ?

    But instead of worrying about degrees, let’s worry instead about “meaning.” I’m going to assume that it’s right to rephrase Paul’s point as I did above: “The later reception and impact of a text is in principle partly but not wholly determinative of the text’s meaning.”

    Now, I’ve mentioned that “meaning” can mean impact or consequences.

    We also tend to think it can mean something else. (For example, one might want to identify sentence’s “meaning” in one sense with its “truth conditions,” or “fulfillment conditions” (insofar as it is an imperative); or with an idea somebody has. I’m not going to take a position on any of this.)

    Paul seems to mean that “meaning” can’t sensibly mean something wholly other than impact or consequences.

    (Here I digress to illustrate some differences among things one might mean by the consequences “of a text.” In Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose, the third book of Aristotle’s Poetics caused several deaths, because the corners of the pages were poisoned. And surely it is possible for a text to have certain results by being misunderstood, or by being too easily misunderstood. If we talk about the effects of “ideas” in the text, and their possible transformation, are we granting original meaning? I suppose an “idea” can have results by being too easily misunderstood. Now back to our program.)

    To argue for that holding, one could begin from the idea that the meaning of a word is not a feature of the issuer, it’s a convention. It’s a feature of the community of givers and receivers of the word. So how people take a certain word in general is “partly determinative” the meaning of the particular statements you make with the word. And how your hearers receive your particular remark is indeed “partly determinative” of how people take the word in general. Therefore, by the transitivity of partial determination, how your hearers eventually receive your particular remark is partly determinative of what you meant by it – or at least, partly determinative of the meaning of the remark.

    (It would be interesting to digress here on whether partial determination is really transitive.)

    Of course, semantic conventions change. Can we argue in the above way that the meaning of a remark necessarily depends partly on interpretations (if any) invented a thousand years later? Can we say that what you meant by the remark depends on that?

    Well, arguably that depends on the language game. Consider the writing of a law, such as the U. S. Constitution. Suppose the job is wholly contracted out to you. You understand, as you write the law, that it will be interpreted in ways you do not and cannot anticipate, by judges whose interpretations will become what the law means (albeit defeasibly). That’s the convention; that’s the game. It’s a special game (though there is room to debate how special).

    One might think that the Chinese philosophical tradition, more than other philosophical traditions, always meant to be playing a game like that. Indeed, a further analogy would be that like some early Chinese philosophy, most law is a collective product. Most law is compromise language, such that even at the moment of passage it need not express the preference of any person, and there is no fact of the matter about what the legislator meant.

    (Thus a book like Ronald Dworkin’s Law’s Empire might be a useful thing to read toward thinking about Chinese philosophy.)

    And it’s possible that all Paul means to do here is to assert a principle for Chinese philosophy, not to assert a principle for all ideas or texts (no matter how we take it). And then his point would be a description of a particular history, not directly a point about the nature of meaning in general.

    Note that if we argue for a focus on commentators based on the law analogy, the most directly relevant commentators, in case of disagreement, would be the most recent ones. But perhaps not foreign ones.

    Did the compilers of the Analects mean to be playing that kind of game? Maybe some did and some didn’t. Maybe some of them revered Confucius as a sage and wanted to preserve as much of his wisdom as possible for posterity – which seems to me like an incompatible game. Maybe some of them wanted to use him – and assumed a context of one kind of game, or the other. Maybe some of them wanted to embarrass him.

    Did the disciples mean to be playing that kind of game when they were remembering and then recording? Perhaps embellishing? I don’t know – but it seems relevant.

    Did Confucius mean to be playing that kind of game when he was conversing? I am inclined to think he did not; he did not intend to be creating shared texts whose meaning would be hostage to inventions two thousand years later.

    But even if he did, it can still make perfect sense to say of the general run of later interpretations that they got him completely wrong, no matter how influential they were.

    Similarly, it seems to me quite possible that if the writers and ratifiers of the Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution heard what would become of it, they could correctly say, “What a travesty! We never meant to authorize any such thing!” And even as they admit that they have to accept it as an outcome of the game they freely entered into, they can still fairly insist on the independent existence of something called What They Meant. And if in 2025 we discover new troves of old letters clarifying the original meaning, judges don’t have to be hard-core Originalists to conclude that today’s judges were mistaken.

    For a particular example, consider the line “small and great follow it” (小大由之) in Analects 1.12. This is Youzi, not Confucius, but the issues are similar. (Not identical, I think, since I suspect Youzi compiled Analects 1 and wrote this for it.) Here “small and great” could mean “all aspects of ritual (or life)” or “people of all statuses.” I think which of these Youzi meant here is discoverable independently of commentary, and (if I recall correctly) the old commentators all got it wrong. And I think the disagreement over that phrase makes a big difference for the broad-strokes interpretation of the whole of 1.12. Discussion here:

    I submit that there is a fact of the matter about which Youzi meant here, and that the commentarial tradition is not partly determinative of which he meant.

    Is it possible to confuse the question “What did Confucius mean?” with “What did his text come to mean to people?” Is it possible to think that the former question, once distinguished, is not interesting?

    A slightly complex position

    One can at the same time grant that the two questions are distinct and distinctly researchable, while holding that as between the two, the second question is simply the better one for Anglo philosophers to pursue in reading the Analects. That slightly complex position isn’t the position Paul takes here. But it’s worth considering. It’s quite possible, at least in theory, that the Analects as later interpreted is simply a better philosophy book, a more philosophically interesting set of ideas, than the aggregate of sayings as originally intended (so far as that can be determined, which we never finally know). So a translator who wants to invite mainstream anglo philosophy to get into Chinese philosophy should start by making that point, and translate and comment accordingly. I seem to recall that Slingerland does something like that, but memory is vague.

    That is consistent with the view that there should be some scholars focusing on the original meaning, and that no matter what game Confucius meant to play, these scholars should not think commentators have partially determinative authority (as distinct from epistemic authority) about what Confucius meant. If in fact Confucius meant to play a game that involved generating language that could be read in different ways in different conditions, then that is what he meant, and we might ask what range of meanings and conditions he might have had in mind, even if he expected that there would be some he could not have imagined.

    I said I thought most anglo philosophers who could be drawn to read Confucius by a good scholarly translation-with-helps would want first to look at the original meaning, rather than at what the text came to mean to people. I think this preference would be a strong one.

    Why would they have that preference? For good reasons? If that interest is wrong, is it easily redirected by some advice from – from people who strike them as philosophically impressive?

    I think I will have a lot to say about this, if I think about it far more carefully than I have time to do today. I probably won’t be back here until Friday.

  6. Paul R. Goldin says:


    According to my word processor, your reply to me comprises 2,660 words. I cannot respond to 2,660-word posts online. Generally, I don’t really think 2,660-word posts are suitable for a blog like this one, and, more specifically, I simply don’t have the time to read and respond to a post of that length with the care that it would deserve. (I have a full day of classes ahead of me tomorrow, for example.)

    If you could reduce the size of your posts by about 90%, perhaps we could have a conversation. (I can’t help pointing out that your response was to a message of mine that comprised just 170 words–58 of which were in a quote that came originally from you.) But maybe it’s best if we just agree to disagree.

  7. Bill Haines says:

    Ha! Me busy too ouch.

    I’m glad there’s no simple easy answer about what you meant; that would be disappointing. I’m interested at whatever length. I don’t want to agree not to talk.

    I don’t know if I disagree with your comment; I don’t understand it. We agree that somewhat later documents are sometimes important (depending on what else we have), as evidencing the language of the day, events before the text, longstanding concerns, etc.

    Suppose a text anywhere, then a break, then 1000 years, then some tendentious commentary dominant for 500 years but not endorsed by current scholarship, then another 1000 years to us. Is that commentary therefore necessary for our understanding the original text, even where that seems clear otherwise? Indispensable on issues such as whether Youzi’s “small and great” meant matters or people? or which it means now? Enough to displace the dissenting recent scholarship? Because it was once dominant?

    If an idea demonstrably arose just by miscopying or intentional distortion, would that be necessary for “understanding” the original in every sense of understanding you’re addressing above?

    The task of philosophy departments is to do philosophy. When they address old philosophy they address it not as history but as philosophy (or basic training, or helps for later material: the use of Thales and arguably Descartes). That’s their game; it needn’t contradict historians of influence (each can use the other). If Smith’s main interest in the Analects is Confucius’ ideas rather than their historical impact (say, for philosophy), are you saying that stops her from understanding his philosophy (activity or views)?

    • Paul R. Goldin says:


      Now you’re talking about something different. In your first post, you said that Anglo philosophers are not interested “in knowing the historical origins of interpretive ideas, nor in knowing old interpretations that current scholarship comfortably rejects.” Since I’m not an Anglo philosopher, I can freely disagree with both of those claims. I don’t believe that anyone has truly understood an idea if he or she doesn’t understand its historical origins, and I wouldn’t be so self-assured as to reject out of hand whatever current scholarship rejects (comfortably or otherwise).

      Now in this latest post, you seem to be interested in something else: whether Neo-Confucian interpretations (in the particular case of the Analects) are relevant today to understanding the original ideas. Of course they’re not–and I never said otherwise. I’m not prepared to dismiss them entirely because they constitute a philosophical interpretation in their own right, but, more to the point, I have to wonder why the question even comes into play, because it sounds like a straw-man argument. There are very few Western interpreters who would seriously argue that Neo-Confucian commentaries constitute direct evidence of the original context of the Analects.

      There have been some useful studies of commentarial history and how to assess it today:

      MAKEHAM, John. Transmitters and Creators: Chinese Commentators and Commentaries on the Analects. Harvard East Asian Monographs 228. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003.

      IVANHOE, Philip J. “Whose Confucius? Which Analects?” Confucius and the Analects: New Essays. Ed. Bryan W. Van Norden. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. 119-33.

      We’re not complete pioneers in this area.

  8. Bill Haines says:

    Thank you Paul.

    I had thought you were making a comment about anglo philosophers, not just drawing out an implication of something I said.

    To this:

    Now you’re talking about something different. In your first post, you said that Anglo philosophers are not interested “in knowing the historical origins of interpretive ideas, nor in knowing old interpretations that current scholarship comfortably rejects.” Since I’m not an Anglo philosopher, I can freely [have both interests].

    Anyone can. I meant this:

    “[In looking into X, choosing an edition of X] Anglo philosophical readers are going to be interested first in the best scholarly interpretive opinion about the original meaning [of X], not in knowing the historical origins of interpretive ideas [about X], nor in knowing old interpretations that current scholarship comfortably rejects.” [emphasis added]

    (“Going to be” indicates subordination to a hypothesis given by the context.)

    (I didn’t make clear that I had in mind especially philosophers with little prior exposure to Chinese philosophy, in the context of the broader question what kind of responsibility the A-Phil mainstream has to take the initiative to begin to study Asian philosophy. But I endorse the remark without that qualification.)

    I think any philosopher interested in the views of entity Z would certainly be interested in Z’s reading of Y, good or bad. And surely anybody qua human being will tend to acquire some interest, some curiosity, about influential readings of a text, once she has studied the text closely herself.

    To this:

    Bill’s distinction between “the best scholarly interpretive opinion” and “knowing the historical origins of interpretive ideas,” far from being incompatible, are in fact inseparable from one another.

    Space limitations make incompatibility. But if you mean that one fine way to report best current opinion about X is to report an old opinion and indicate that it is among the best current views – e.g. by simply endorsing it, or by making clear in the Intro (and back cover) that the readings one lists are current best candidates) – then I agree.

    Also I agree that in practice, understanding a statement (e.g. of political ideology or even of scholarly interpretation) can depend to an indefinite extent on knowing the history of it. That is, understanding a small phrase (e.g. “equal rights”) can require big history, indeed political history. I don’t think that has much practical relevance to whether an edition should displace a current view by a superseded old one of similar length.

  9. Bill Haines says:

    Oh, I neglected your question:

    “I have to wonder why the question [“whether [superseded] Neo-Confucian interpretations … are relevant today to understanding the original ideas”] even comes into play, because it sounds like a straw-man argument.”

    It’s because I thought that’s what you were saying.

    I meant to be saying that English editions meant to appeal to anglo phil folks giving a glance to Chinese philosophy, should have as their standard for including an interpretive idea that it is a currently live candidate, not that it is old or was influential, because that’s what the target audience wants in fact.

    I thought you were saying that’s a wrongheaded wish because knowing the history of an idea is necessary for understanding the idea.
    – – – Which would be a non sequitur unless the idea were that knowing what people have gone on to make of an idea in a text is necessary for understanding that idea.
    – – – I.e., knowing the influential later commentary is necessary for understanding Confucius’ ideas.

    Two contributing reasons why I didn’t reject this reading of you are:

    1. The fact that the claim would be true if we were talking about the historical meaning (significance, import) of Confucius’ ideas or his sayings, and it seems to me something can be said for the idea that the ambiguity of these terms (“meaning” etc.) is not a coincidence, so you might well be thinking along those lines.

    2. I get the impression that some important current scholars are at least sorely tempted by the idea that since Chinese philosophy has been a game of collective construction by tendentious interpretation not flagged as such, it’s appropriate to continue to play that game. (That’s the law analogy.) And one could imagine someone who rejected idea that out of hand being accused of therefore “misunderstanding … Chinese philosophy.”


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