Warp, Weft, and Way

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

Ruism and free speech

I’ve been giving some thought to this topic quite a bit, most recently spurred on by a response to an article by Daniel Bell that I’m writing for a Chinese journal. I won’t go into Bell’s argument in any detail, but I find significantly greater restrictions on speech accepted and even advocated by classical Ruists than in liberalism. On certain topics (criticizing the ruler/government) certain people (Ruists, or maybe the elite more generally) should speak out, though even here historically Ruists have generally accepted that they might be punished for doing so. On other topics, particularly those that might threaten social harmony and stability, they seem quite willing to ban certain kinds of expression.

Here are the clearest examples I can think of, in my off-the-cuff translations.

In Analects 15.11 as part of a discussion about governing, Kongzi says, “Get rid of the music of Zheng…the music of Zheng is licentious.”

In Mengzi 3B9 Mengzi is accused of being fond of disputation 好辯. His response is that he disputes because he has no choice, not because he wants to. He says, “The doctrines of Yang Zhu and Mozi fill the world. If the ways of Yang Zhu and Mozi are not stopped and the way of Kongzi is not proclaimed, then the people will be deceived by heterodoxy and benevolence and rightness will be obstructed. If benevolence and rightness are obstructed, this is to lead beasts to devour people and people to devour each other. Fearing this, I defend the way of the former kings and oppose Yang Zhu and Mozi to get rid of excessive words and make it so that heterodox teachings cannot arise. If they arise in the heart, they will harm one’s undertakings; if they arise in one’s undertakings, they will harm governing. When a sage arises again, he would not change what I have said.”

Now, Mengzi is a little more ambiguous. He refers to himself as opposing Yang and Mo with doctrines, not laws. But is that because this is how one should oppose them, or simply because he’s not in a position to ban them? He does use the same word 放 as Kongzi, which I have translated in both as “to get rid of,” and talks of making it so that heterodoxy cannot arise. That suggests legal prohibitions to me, though I’ll grant it’s not a slam dunk.

Interestingly, some contemporary mainland Ruists have a very similar view, distinguishing political expression from non-political expression, and being quite willing to restrict the latter if it is harmful. I’m not sure what neo-Confucians had to say. I have a vague recollection of Wang Yangming saying something that implied restricting expression, but I can’t recall where. If anyone can help me out with neo-Confucian views, that would be great.

It seems to me that a Ruist argument for free speech is going to be hard to make, unless one is willing just to reject outright some of the claims of classical Ruists. I’d love to hear people’s thoughts about this.

August 17th, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism, Democracy | 108 comments

108 Responses to Ruism and free speech

  1. Huaiyu Wang says:

    Very interesting issue, David!

    With regard to the word “fang 放,” I believe it should be best be translated as “to dispose of, to get away from” instead of “to get rid of.” Confucius in 15.11 does not argue to “ban” the folk music of Zheng – that interpretation comes from Zhu Xi’s (in my view, inappropriate) appropriation of Confucius’ words. One should only resort to the current version Book of Poetry, which is supposed to be edited by Confucius, and which contains quite a few poems from the Zhen that is not only licentious, but can be counted on as straight pornography today. In other words, these poems should be banned, or at least censored, today. And yet, Confucius has decided to include them in his edition of a classic simply for the purpose of respecting the local culture of the Zhen People.

    I think Ruist indeed does not support “free speech” “Unconditionally” as we do today – they seem to hold in general that one should be “responsible” for one’s speech and be cautious in speaking about an affair that is not within one’s knowledge or jurisdiction. But on the other hand, there are plenty cases that show the open and tolerant attitudes of the Ruists toward all kinds of speeches and criticisms

    True that Mencius disputes the teaching of the Daoist, but the later often did the same thing to the former. I think as long as both had their voices heard, no “right” of free speech has been violated 🙂

    • Bill Haines says:

      Hi Huaiyu!

      I think Ruist indeed does not support “free speech” “unconditionally” as we do today – they seem to hold in general that one should be “responsible” for one’s speech and be cautious in speaking about an affair that is not within one’s knowledge or jurisdiction.

      I think of liberal freedom of expression as the idea that people should not constrain what other people say, or anyway should not do so by force or through the state. It seems to me that personal responsibility harmonizes with freedom of speech; if such common-sense responsibility were opposed to freedom, the argument for freedom would be in trouble. I seem to remember that there’s a nice paper on this by Wilmoore Kendall in the Norton Critical Edition of Mill’s Utilitarianism; but I can’t find a better reference.

    • David Elstein says:

      Like I said, I didn’t do a lot of checking before doing my translation, but I don’t know of any uses of fang that mean “to get away from.” Certainly when used for people it means to banish or exile someone. A quick check of some other translations (Waley, Lau, and Slingerland) shows they also take it in this way. Maybe this is Zhu Xi’s influence; I’m not really sure. Personally, I wouldn’t take Kongzi’s supposed editorship of the Shijing as evidence that he didn’t think the songs of Zheng should be censored.

      About your last two points, what I’m really interested is whether there should be legal constraints on expression, not moral constraints. So it’s a slightly different issue.

  2. Bill Haines says:

    Great topic and post, David!

    A great variety of views have appeared in one place or another in the Confucian or Ru tradition, and there may be few views expressed by important Confucians that are not also opposed by other important Confucians. So I want to distinguish these two propositions, and propose that only the latter is interesting:

    A) Some important Confucians have in some places advocated limitations on one or another bit of material that would be protected by the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.
    B) There is something about Confucianism in general that tends to oppose full liberal freedom of expression.

    (B) involves the idea that we can pick out some features of Confucianism that count as core features, features of Confucianism itself, not just of this or that moment in this or that Confucian. But I don’t think a discussion of (B) has to come to any conclusions about what the core features are; it may be interesting enough to mention some good candidate core features and discuss which way they push on the question of freedom of expression.

    For example, one might hold that certain possibly core aspects of Confucianism – feudalism, avoidance of penal law, reliance on ritual – make it harder to maintain the distinctions between formal and informal constraints, or between state and private constraints, or between constraints on state expression and constraints on private expression, or between constraint by force and by suasion etc. But it’s distinctions like these that make “freedom of expression” workable, yes?

    On the other hand, insofar as Confucianism regards a concern for people’s welfare as fundamental, and insofar as it is a plain fact that the general welfare depends heavily on liberal freedom of expression, Confucianism may be unable to maintain its core commitments without embracing liberal freedom.

    • David Elstein says:

      Yes, I would suppose A) is hardly controversial, and not very interesting. B) is much more interesting I think. I’m curious about your last paragraph. Are you saying it is a plain fact that general welfare depends on freedom of expression? Or that if it were, Ruists would have to revise their core commitments to allow it? I suspect much of the controversy is going to be over whether freedom of expression (in the liberal understanding) actually is conducive to general welfare.

      • Bill Haines says:

        Hi David,

        I really did mean “insofar as,” not “inasmuch as”! I think the welfare value of liberal freedom of expression is not a perfectly plain fact, i.e. it isn’t so obvious that any reasonable person with a moderate familiarity with history of her own country absolutely has to see it.

        I said that insofar as the value of freedom is obvious Confucianism may be unable to maintain its core commitments without embracing freedom. In other words, I was saying that Confucianism has a core commitment that seems to require freedom. I wasn’t saying that that commitment (to the general welfare) is incompatible with embracing liberal freedom.

  3. Bill Haines says:

    On certain topics (criticizing the ruler/government) certain people (Ruists, or maybe the elite more generally) should speak out, though even here historically Ruists have generally accepted that they might be punished for doing so.

    That’s a case of Ruism in general being in favor of a certain limitation on freedom of speech, if by this last clause you mean that Ruists were in favor of policies of punishing criticism that would lead to some punishment of correct criticism. But maybe you just meant they regarded punishment for criticism as a fact of life, however regrettable?

  4. Justice&Mercy says:

    This question, like so many questions about Confucianism, depends on which scripture you subscribe to.

    If you (like me) reject the authority of 周礼 and see 荀子 as a heretic, then you would be more in favour of freedom of speech.

    I have discussed this question on other Confucian forums in the past. 东海老人 has written several good articles refuting the myth that Confucius executed 少正卯. I strongly recommend his articles on the Confucian view of freedom of speech.

    • Stephen C. Walker says:

      Justice&Mercy, I find your comment intriguing. When you say you reject the authority of the 周礼, do you mean the text of that name – or rather the rituals of the Zhou dynasty, as a practice or tradition?

      On what grounds do you consider Xunzi a heretic?

      • Justice&Mercy says:

        Many Confucians historically rejected Zhouli. There are two arguments against it:

        (1) It’s a forgery by Liu Xin.

        (2) Even if it was not a forgery, it was not part of the Scripture. This distinction is important – Scripture is Scripture, because it came from Sages. The contention here is that even if Zhouli came from the Warring States or earlier, it was not the work of a Sage.

        From the perspective of the New Text School, Zhouli is objectionable, because it was not passed down from the Sage. Moreover, Zhouli advocates a complex bureaucracy which centralises state power. To justify the creation of a welfare state, Wang Anshi relied on the authority of Zhouli. Su Shi (Su Dongpo) felt that Zhouli was not authoritative. Zhu Xi believed that Zhouli was valuable as a framework, but some details were not relevant. Kang Youwei, the ultimate New Text partisan, felt that the Old Text School was entirely in error.

        For me personally, the argument that there was an oral tradition linking Confucius to the Han Dynasty New Text School is convincing. Furthermore, the New Text theory for the relevance of Scripture is more coherent than the Old Text theory – In the New Text theory, Confucius was called by God to edit the Scripture personally to establish the constitution for ten thousand generations. This explains why some texts are scriptural while others are not.

        I do not accept the authority of Xunzi. In this, I disagree with some of my friends. For me, it comes down to this – Either Mencius or Xunzi is authoritative, but they can’t both be, since Xunzi attacked Mencius in his work.

        The Neo-Confucians extracted the Four Books to create a new core for Confucianism. This arrangement is coherent, because all four texts come from the same school of thought. Confucius taught Zengzi, who taught Zisi, who taught Mencius.

        Examining the teachings of Mencius, we see that Mencius has grasped the one thread of Confucius’s teachings. Xunzi has totally deviated from the Way.

        Xunzi made up the story about Confucius executing 少正卯, which had confused scholars throughout the ages. Only recently has this story been thoroughly discredited. If one reads Xunzi without a clear grasp of the Way beforehand, one will be led astray.

        Xunzi did not believe in God and the spirits. Mencius did, which agreed with the Five Classics. If Xunzi’s theory were correct, then Sages would not be possible. The fact is that throughout his confused ramble, Xunzi never explained why Sages could come into being according to his theory.

        Furthermore, Xunzi’s description of reality is false. For instance, Xunzi adheres to Malthusianism. If Xunzi had the true transmission, he would not have published such manifestly false doctrines.

        The only redeeming feature of Xunzi is that his work seems to have preserved some aspects of pre-Qin Confucianism. These aspects, so I’ve heard, are important for the New Text School and the Gongyang commentary. I don’t know much about the Gongyang commentary, and so I won’t comment on this.

        • Stephen C. Walker says:

          This draws attention to one of my particular interests: the concept of authorship. It seems that, the more critical textual and historical scholarship has become, the less tenable it looks to assume that traditional ascriptions of authorship are trustworthy. This goes for all old literary traditions, not just the Chinese. The landscape of authorial identity for, say, Greek and Hebrew classics looks very different to current scholars than it did a few centuries ago.

          In my own study of Warring States thought, I try to stay agnostic about who wrote what – the vision of Zhuang Zhou that we get from writings *about* him sometimes helps, and sometimes hinders, appreciation of the writings later attributed *to* him. In most cases it isn’t even evident what got attributed to whom until we get bibliographical notices in Han writers. (Sticking to Zhuangzi, it seems clear that the final compendium includes much material that was not initially taken to be Zhuang Zhou’s work.)

          Dropping the traditional ascriptions often allows for novel and philosophically fertile readings, since the writing is allowed to speak for itself rather than being pigeonholed under the biographies and intentions of the supposed authors. This certainly holds true for the Analects, on the plausible assumption that parts of it are influenced by Mohist and Zhuangist reactions to Ru teachings. Dan Robins’ work on xìng acknowledges the possibility that some Mencian teachings are reacting to Xunzi, and so postdate Meng Ke by decades. (The later dating, I think, makes the xìng material in both texts easier to understand and appreciate as philosophy.)

          The impulse to identify an author serves primarily to help us get a grip on the texts we confront. A personality is capable of uniting the manifold of textual evidence under intentions that we, as ourselves individuals with intentions, can understand. Also, the etymology points out, it is more psychologically persuasive to cite the authority of an author – a person, whom stories can invest with some unique personality and significance – than of “whatever group of people wrote and edited this book”. A person can also be identified as an ally or a foe, where nameless compilers cannot.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Well, I believe this is the difference between modern academic sinology and traditional Confucianism. In Christian terms, between religious studies and theology.

            I didn’t know about the new view on Mencius you mentioned. I would definitely be interested in reading it. Thank you.

      • Manyul Im says:

        J&M, interesting reasoning here. I have some questions:

        For me, it comes down to this – Either Mencius or Xunzi is authoritative, but they can’t both be, since Xunzi attacked Mencius in his work.

        1. Can’t you just judge their views piecemeal? Why is it necessary to reject the entirety of Xunzi — his “authority” — based on one or two disagreements — in this case, only one in which Mencius is explicitly mentioned?

        2. Why is it a question about authority and heresy in any case? As you indicate further below in your reasoning, your judgment is about agreement with Confucius. Again, this could be judged piecemeal. In some things Mencius agrees with Confucius, in others Xunzi agrees, in some both agree with Confucius, in yet others neither agrees with him. Seeing the works so broadly in terms of authority and heresy just seems unwise, or at best unsophisticated.

        Xunzi did not believe in God and the spirits. Mencius did, which agreed with the Five Classics. If Xunzi’s theory were correct, then Sages would not be possible. The fact is that throughout his confused ramble, Xunzi never explained why Sages could come into being according to his theory.

        3. By “God” do you mean Tian 天? Obviously Xunzi DID believe in Tian.

        4. If Xunzi’s theory were correct, the Sages were not only possible, they were actual. His explanation for how they arose is entirely naturalistic — they were the ones who thought things through in the best ways. How is that confused rather than just something you disagree with?

        Unlike you, I don’t have any personal stake in this, but it seems like if I did, I would find just these sorts of questions urgent for figuring out what I should believe.

        • Justice&Mercy says:

          With regard to your second point, the criterion is not whether someone agrees with Confucius. If a text merely repeats everything Confucius says elsewhere, then we wouldn’t need that text.

          The rationale for the Four Books as a coherent structure is transmission. (1) The Four Books not only illustrate each other, but (2) they come from the same line of transmission.

          Therefore, either an author has the true transmission or he has not. It’s something either/or. The story goes, Confucius taught Zengzi, who taught Zisi, who taught Mencius… This story is why Mencius is accepted over Xunzi.

        • Manyul Im says:

          Aren’t the Zhongyong and Daxue a couple of chapters from the Liji 禮記? In any case, it sounds like if transmission is the key rationale, strength of analysis or truth of a view takes second place in the assessment of an author’s worth. Thanks for clarifying.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Daxue is attributed to Zengzi. Zhongyong is attributed to Zisi…The choice for Four Books is not arbitrary – It is based on the idea of 孔门传授心法.

            Mencius said that even though Sages may appear to have acted differently from each other, this was only because of discretion. If they had exchanged places, they would have done what each other had done. Therefore, the argument that Mencius appeared to have taught doctrines unfamiliar to Confucius is invalid – They lived in different circumstances. If they had exchanged places, they would have done what each other had done.

            The key is to understand that Confucius, Mencius and people were not “philosophers” in the modern academic sense.

            A Sage perceived the pattern underlying the cosmos, because he has achieved spiritual clarity. This is why his words are authoritative – He is explaining things not normally accessible to the common man. His ideas are not “man-made” – He didn’t come up with these ideas. The truth is out there (or inside, e.g. human nature), it’s objective, and the Sage somehow found it.

            Therefore, for a text to be authoritative, it must be ultimately be traced back to a Sage. Otherwise, it is human invention, which is not authoritative.

            If you look at 刘师培’s 经学教科书, you will find that he spent basically the first half of the book talking about transmission. The basis of Confucianism is that 经 is fundamentally different from 子.

          • Manyul Im says:

            Well, you have far more religious zeal than I have patience for this sort of appeal to authority and lineage so I won’t be replying with requests for justification of your views any more.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Well, this is Confucianism as it was traditionally understood. For proof, one may refer to the preface to the Zhuxi commentary on any of the Four Books.

            If one does not believe in the theory of 圣人 and 经典, then one is not really doing Confucianism. One may be doing an academic study of certain Confucian texts, but that’s hardly the same as Confucianism as it was traditionally understood. (I believe 皮希瑞’s 经学历史 is the best introduction to 经学, especially the New Text point of view. It has a moving exposition of how we should understand the Confucian canon.)

          • Manyul Im says:

            Though I do not call myself a Confucian at all, others who might may find disagreement with your proprietary use of the term. And really if you are not interested in academic study of Confucianism, you choose strange company by inserting yourself in discussions on this blog, which is a blog devoted to such an endeavor. It strikes me as a bit perverse.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Well, the question in the OP asks about the Confucian view on free speech. I have discussed this topic extensively with my Confucian peers. The way I see it, it basically comes down to which Scripture you subscribe to. I indicated this in my first reply, and when Stephen asked me why I subscribed to my particular view on Scripture, I gave the best explanation I could.

            I do not see my understanding of “Confucianism” as particularly proprietary. Even the post-May-Fourth New Confucians such as Mou Zongsan and Xiong Shili would agree with me that the basis of Confucianism is the idea that it is possible to become a Sage. They also believe in 孔门传授心法 as well as the importance of transmission. (Correct me if my understanding is wrong…I don’t read their stuff that often.)

            Actually, come to think of it…I don’t know a single self-proclaimed Confucian, academic or otherwise, who does not believe in the existence of Sages. I believe that Tu Wei-Ming also believes that the patterns underlying the cosmos are objective. (I read it in Chittick’s book on cosmology. Again, correct me if I’m wrong. I come across Tu Wei-Ming only when I read perennialists like Sachiko Murata.)

            What actually surprises me is the fact that you were not aware of the basis for Neo-Confucian organisation of the Four Books. Whether you agree with it or not, this information is basic to a proper understanding of Confucianism.

            Upon reflection, I believe the academia actually agrees with me more here – at least the self-consciously Confucian part of the academia…While many Confucian scholars in the academia may not agree with New Text scholarship, all of them more or less believe in 圣人之学.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Correction: Actually, I believe the term “objective” might be incorrect, because it implies a perceived and a perceiver. The correct explanation, so far as I understand, is an intuitive experience without perceived or perceiver.

            In any case, what I was trying to say is that the patterns underlying the cosmos are not arbitrary, conceptual, or man-made. So far as I understand, this is the mainstream Confucian understanding, academic or otherwise. (Well, at least in Chinese-speaking lands like the mainland, Taiwan, HK, etc. Not quite sure what American Confucians think about things…They don’t seem to be as into Neo-Confucianism as Chinese Confucians.)

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Lastly, the blog is in fact titled “A Group Blog of Comparative and Chinese Philosophy”.

            Chinese philosophy includes, of course, such things as 理学、心学、气学, etc. 熊十力、牟宗三 and people carried on this legacy and elaborated it in light of modern conditions. The basis for the 新儒学 of these people is that the 道统 began way back, skipped over everyone to 王阳明, and then arrived at their particular circle.

            You personally do not accept ideas about true transmission, etc. That’s fine – It’s your choice. But if everyone on this blog did things your way, then we won’t really have Chinese philosophy anymore. To reformulate excerpts from ancient Chinese texts in terms of analytic philosophy is in fact not Chinese philosophy – at least as Chinese philosophy is commonly understood.

            Moreover, it would not be comparative philosophy either. Comparative philosophy refers to what Tu Wei-Ming is doing. It refers to what Sachiko Murata is doing, e.g. comparing Islamic philosophy to Neo-Confucianism, identifying similarities and differences, etc. Reformulating excerpts from ancient Chinese texts in terms of analytic philosophy is in fact not comparative philosophy.

          • Manyul Im says:

            It’s not enough to call something “philosophy.” By my lights philosophical engagement, analytic or not, has to include a prominent role for critical self reflection. In Confucianism, there’s a long history of critical self reflection as one of the most important ideals of the junzi. To the extent that one keeps restating traditional authority to which one claims allegiance as the the end-all of justification for one’s views, without wilingness to entertain seriously questions about particular aspects of that tradition’s claims, it seems less like philosophy — analytical, Chinese, comparative or any other type — and more like dogma.

            Even working within a tradition’s inquiry, critical self-reflection is possible. There may be other ideas of philosophical engagement, but without a gesture toward delineation from dogma in one way or other I don’t see how useful the category can be. For example, declaration of Xunzi’s writings as beneath consideration based on classification of him as a heretic, which is further based on lineage and exogeny from that lineage, seems to ignore a potentially helpful foil for self-criticism and, through that, self-improvement. Likewise, ignoring lines of inquiry into the historical accuracy of textual authorship when they touch on the tradition’s canon, actually seems implicitly to deny the importance of lineage and the genuine authority of those texts by denying the need to ensure their status as such. That’s not even a concern limited to philosophical temperament; it also introduces topics of intellectual integrity and prudence.

            Actually, “the theory of 聖人” to which you refer derives authority for a text from its success at attaining an objective truth that is “out there” (see above). By your lights, the sage is a person who discovers that truth. So, the sage’s authority is actually based on epistemological success, though not success that is available to most people. Any time that is the basis for authority, there is the danger that claims to such authority or truth, either by a person or by those who profess allegiance to her, are insulated from critical questioning. Such insulation is a danger because it slips easily into blind allegiance and subsequently dogma. It is, however, an avoidable danger; one doesn’t have to give up the idea of a sage, but there does have to be some safeguard against the possible tyranny of unquestioned authority. Even the Roman Catholic pope, who is infallible ex officio, can be declared not to have been a genuine pope, upon sufficient criticism and reflection by enough cardinals (e.g. John Paul II and Paul VI). Such criticism could not be effective if any person with a reasoned criticism of a particular claim to sagehood or to truth were summarily declared heretical because of disagreement.

            I hope there is something we agree with here that proves constructive. Otherwise, there is a proverbial brick wall against which I would be foolish to continue banging my head.

            (By the way, though this nested string of comments may seem like a digression, the notion of “heresy” is very much in the vicinity of the topic of free speech, it seems to me. Free speech with sanctions against being taken seriously is a pittance.)

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            You say that there’s a long line of critical self-reflection in Confucianism.

            What do you mean?

            Confucianism has always been dogmatic and contentious. Neo-Confucians are some of the most disagreeable, narrow-minded people I’ve had the chance to read. Even amongst themselves, accusations of heresy were commonplace.

            There were attempts at textual studies. For instance, Zhuxi felt that Xiaojing was a forgery. Ouyang Xiu, I believe, was the first to prove that much of the Classics could have been forgery.

            The logic here is, again, as I have described. If a text can be traced back to the Sage, then it is authoritative. The only way to make a text not authoritative is to prove that it’s a forgery. This is why Kang Youwei “studied” the Classics to “discover” that the Old Text school was based on a forgery.

            I grew up in West, and when I first encountered this logic with Confucians in China, I was a bit surprised. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the right approach when it comes to Confucianism.

            I’ll explain why later on. I’ve gotta run.

          • Stephen C. Walker says:

            In light of what Manyul has been saying about critical inquiry, I can’t resist mentioning that some of the people or moods writing under the heading of “Zhuangzi” seem to have been quite sympathetic to Ru teachings, and tried to think through them at a level deeper than we often see in “official” Ru texts. (Much of the relevant material is in the Outer and Mixed chapters, so gets less attention than it deserves.) Some of the praise of Kongzi is unexpectedly strong and reads (to me, anyway), as genuine – without abandoning characteristic Zhuangist values like situational responsiveness, independence from convention, and even reliance on a mysterious supreme entity. There is also the repeated suggestion from Zhuangist writers that Kongzi had some unique insight into fate (mìng) and how to deal with it.

            One lesson I take from this is that some early writers may be a good source for reflections on and reworkings of Ru ideas, while systematically critiquing that tradition and not identifying as Ru themselves. Philosophy isn’t well-served by sectarianism, and I have no difficulty accepting that the best or most insightful “Platonists” might be people we’d never think of as followers of Plato.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            With regard to Stephen’s comment – In fact, there has always been a minority tradition within Confucianism which regarded Zhuangzi as possessing a true transmission from Confucius. 谭嗣同 said as much, but he was by no means the first.

            谭嗣同, incidentally, was strongly partisan against Xunzi.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Continuing where I left off about the role of authenticity in traditional Confucianism…

            To begin, it might be illuminating to look at some other traditions. Take Christian philosophy, for example. Now, there are many varieties of Christian philosophy. However, in the end, all Christian philosophy must be able to locate their basis in the Bible. If a philosophy cannot stand in terms of the Bible, then it’s not really Christian philosophy. It might be an excellent philosophy with great intellectual value, but it’s not Christian philosophy.

            The same goes for Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu philosophy. (Buddhist philosophy is a great example, because Neo-Confucianism developed in reaction to it. Buddhist philosophy fascinates many scholars, because it is systematic, logical, and philosophical. What some people don’t realise, however, is that Buddhist philosophy must be based on Buddhist scriptures. This is the sine qua non of Buddhist philosophy.)

            Confucianism is basically the same way. A lot of people don’t grasp this about Confucianism. Now, I’m not forcing anyone to accept the view that Confucianism is a religious faith. However, what is undeniable is that Confucianism shares a lot of commonalities with the great world religions – In this case, the commonality is the existence of a canon. The canon is the standard – This is why it’s called 经.

            For instance, 王阳明 went through a famous enlightenment experience – 龙场悟道. After the enlightenment experience, however, he still had to verify his experience against the Confucian Classics. The Classics is the touchstone for one’s spiritual and philosophical achievements. If your experience does not line up with the Classics, then you’ve had the wrong experience. You have two options: (1) Find out what you did wrong and have a new experience, or (2) leave the Confucian fold and create your own philosophy.

            The mainstream of Confucian philosophy today is what some people would call 心性儒学. It just so happens that 心性儒学 is based on the Four Books. For something to qualify as 心性儒学, you have be able to verify it in terms of the Four Books.

            You may think of it as a game. (This sounds a bit sacrilegious, but whatever.) The rules of the game are: the Four Books. If you want to be in the game, e.g. 心性儒学, you have to base your views in terms of the Four Books.

            There are other rules, too – For instance, the assumption that the Four Books form a coherent whole, that they reveal the core teaching of Confucius, etc.

            (This, btw, is also the mainstream traditional culture in contemporary Chinese society. Roughly speaking, mainstream traditional culture today is the convergence of three strands of thought – 心性儒学、内丹、禅宗. This convergence took place in the Ming and Qing Dynasty. In any case, if you mention Confucian philosophy, this is typically what’s referred to – the Four Books applied to modern circumstances.)

            If we go back to the Christian analogy, we see that the Bible has two components – the New Testament and the Old Testament. This analogy works for Confucianism, too – The Four Books are like the New Testament, whereas the Five Classics are like the Old Testament. This goes back to why one’s view of Scripture matters, because a lot of Confucians today will tell you that the Four Books outweigh the Five Classics, that the Five Classics should be understood in terms of the Four Books. (Personally, I’m on the fence for this one.)

            Clearly, someone who believes that the Four Books supersede the Five Classics would have a different view on free speech from someone who believes otherwise. The questions of (1) what are the Scripture and (2) how do the texts relate to each other, are fundamental for one’s “Confucian perspective”. Other questions include: (1) Does Confucius supersede the Duke of Zhou? (2) Is the Zuo commentary or the Gongyang commentary authoritative? (3) Should the Four Books be understood in light of Li or in light of Xin? etc.

            Pause for a moment – As you can see, everything I’ve said above, except for the bit about New Text scholarship, is absolutely standard fare in Confucian philosophy. You might not agree with it, but it’s “standard” Confucian philosophy. The belief that Xunzi is a heretic, by the way, is also standard if you subscribe to Neo-Confucianism (宋明理学) or New Confucianism (新儒家).

            The word, 异端, is in fact very suggestive – If you begin at the head of a wrong thread, you will be led to the wrong destination. The correct destination is becoming a Sage. Because Xunzi saw human nature as evil, he was unable to penetrate to the true reality of human nature and the cosmos. Therefore, his teaching cannot lead a student to spiritual clarity. Again, fairly standard stuff if you read Neo-Confucians…(This is why 王门后学 saw 程朱理学, or in their words, 俗学, as 异端. 俗学, or 记问之学 is unable to lead a person to become a Sage.)

            I’m going to talk more about the Zuo commentary and the Gongyang commentary later. One of them has to take precedence over the other. It makes a huge difference as to one’s view of the proper relation between the ruler and the subject.

          • Manyul Im says:

            I’m going to talk more about the Zuo commentary and the Gongyang commentary later. One of them has to take precedence over the other. It makes a huge difference as to one’s view of the proper relation between the ruler and the subject.

            Since I think of the ruler-subject relation as outmoded, it would be unnecessary to do this for my sake. Thank you in any case.

          • Bill Haines says:

            J&M:

            Clearly, someone who believes that the Four Books supersede the Five Classics would have a different view on free speech from someone who believes otherwise.

            That’s not clear to me. What would be the difference in views?

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Well, for one thing, 四书 does not directly address freedom of speech. (Correct me if I’m mistaken.) Therefore, an interpreter has greater latitude when offering a “Confucian perspective.”

            五经 does address these issues on several occasions. I’m not personally familiar with the Zuo Commentary. One case which bears upon freedom of speech, however, is when Confucius praised Zichan for not destroying the 乡校 for discussing the benefits and shortcomings of current politics. (左传·襄公三十一年)

            If one believes, on the other hand, that Xunzi is authoritative, then one would note that Xunzi said that Confucius executed 少正卯 for 五恶. Hardly a strong case for freedom of speech.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            I will also later illustrate the principal differences between someone who believes in the Zuo Commentary and the Gongyang Commentary. Issues which do not directly touch upon freedom of speech, but which touch upon the relation between the ruler and subjects.

          • Manyul Im says:

            Please, no thank you.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Well, you can choose not to agree with this stuff, but I assure you that it’s orthodox Confucian philosophy. Confucianism refers first and foremost to Confucianism as it is traditionally understood.

            And in the future it will only get bigger and bigger, due to all the 书院 and 私塾 we’ve got going on. I believe the wind is blowing our way, even in the academia.

            If you’re going to work in Confucianism, you will have to respect the fact that it’s a living tradition. If you can’t understand this, then what can I say…

            I’m actually surprised you don’t know this stuff, being a student of Chinese philosophy and all…What I’ve said should be basic knowledge. How can you not be aware of the Neo-Confucian basis for the Four Books…?

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Ah, I didn’t catch Manyul Im’s comment on ruler-subject relationship, and how he thinks this is outmoded…

            Well, Mencius said 无父无君,是周公所膺也. The Duke of Zhou smote those who recognised neither father nor lord.

            The ruler-subject relationship is central to virtually all Confucian texts. If you were into pure textual analysis, I can respect that. This does not seem like dispassionate academic inquiry at all. Manyul Im, are you sure you don’t have any personal stake in this?

          • Manyul Im says:

            Yes, I am sure.

          • Bill Haines says:

            J&M, if someone offered to tell me the right relationship between ruler and subject, I would listen only out of curiosity, because the whole concept of “ruler and subject” seems to me wrong and widely recognized as such — i.e. as outmoded.

            But that doesn’t mean I think there shouldn’t be officials with powers over other people. To me, the terms “ruler” and “subject” suggest permanent relative statuses (as e.g. in hereditary feudalism) and a relationship closely kin to ownership. Is that what you meant by the terms? I wonder what pair of Chinese terms you have in mind, and especially what term in the place of “subject.”

          • Bill Haines says:

            J&M, you wrote “Clearly, someone who believes that the Four Books supersede the Five Classics would have a different view on free speech from someone who believes otherwise.”

            I asked about this, and I think your whole answer was:

            四书 does not directly address freedom of speech. (Correct me if I’m mistaken.) Therefore, an interpreter has greater latitude when offering a “Confucian perspective.” 五经 does address these issues on several occasions.

            I take it your point is that given latitude, clearly we would in fact disagree with the 五经 views, i.e. the 五经 views are clearly untenable. Is that it?

  5. Justice&Mercy says:

    Another theme which occurred to me a while ago, is that Confucianism originated as a religion of protest – specifically, against the statist centralising tendency which emerged during the Warring States.

    Unfortunately, this original essence was eclipsed by the ascendancy of the Old Text scholarship in the middle of the Han Dynasty. I believe that both 蒙文通 and 蒋庆 (in 政治儒学) held similar views on this.

    To recover this original essence, therefore, one must go back to texts surviving from the Han Dynasty which documented the doctrinal disputes between the Old Text and New Text schools.

  6. Huaiyu Wang says:

    Thanks Bill & David for your helpful comments and all other good insights on this important issue.

    !) I guess the meanings of the word fang are indeed tricky, here is a good source/dictionary on the internet (in Chinese but with helpful English translations): http://www.zdic.net/zd/zi/ZdicE6Zdic94ZdicBE.htm.
    Apparently, the most original meaning of the word (according to Shuowen) is exactly to put someone in exile – ie to put sb./sth away. I think the translation “to get rid of” is correct in the sense that it suggests the meaning of “to put sth away” though the tone of the phrase might be a little bit too strong – for what you put away is not to be destroyed or banned (senses not contained in the word fang) – you just distance yourself from it. This is evidenced by the word “yuan” that was used in parallel with the word “fang” in this context, which means to “distance oneself from the obsequious small persons.”

    2) IN general, I guess how we “formulate” the question is also important so that we don’t get into some kind of prejudice to start with by imposing a modern standard upon ancient people. For me, what is interesting when studying comparative philosophy or ancient thoughts is that it also put some critical questions on our unconditional commitment to such modern values as “freedom of speech.” It might be more interesting to ask to what extent “critical/unorthodox opinions and speeches” are tolerated and regulated in Confucian and modern Western societies and then compare the pros and cons of their distinctive approaches and regulations. That is to say, not to start with an unconditional endorsement of modern values and use it as an absolute norm to measure all other civilizations…

    My two cents,…

    • Justice&Mercy says:

      Yes, the second point is correct.

      A correct Confucian perspective would agree that freedom and equality are sometimes appropriate. However, these values must be kept within proper limits. They are subordinate to ultimate values: With regard to individuals, becoming a Sage; with regard to society…Well, there are several views on what the ultimate value is with regard to society.

    • David Elstein says:

      Oops, I had a comment all written out but lost it. Oh well. I’ll just say I completely agree with your second point. I did not intend at all to suggest liberal free expression is the standard Ruism should measure up to. At this point, I’m just interested in whether a case can actually be made that Ruism and liberalism converge on this question, as I’ve seen some people argue. So far, it seems “probably not” or only with substantial revision. Whether liberal free expression is a good thing is another question entirely, and that would be a separate discussion.

    • Bill Haines says:

      Hi Huaiyu,

      not to start with an unconditional endorsement of modern values and use it as an absolute norm to measure all other civilizations…

      Did I seem to be doing that someplace above?

      • Huaiyu Wang says:

        No, Bill. I think your point for the responsibility for one’s words in modern conception of freedom of speech is very relevant and good analogy to Confucian understanding – only that these responsibilities are too often neglected in the practice of modern people…

  7. kaimarchal says:

    Hi David,

    thanks for bringing up this interesting topic! While scrolling through your remarks, I thought of three other famous passages in the Analects (in the edition of the Four Books):

    (1)
    子曰:「不在其位,不謀其政。」程子曰:「不在其位,則不任其事也,若君大夫問而告者則有矣。」(Analects 8:14)

    (2)
    子曰:「不在其位,不謀其政。」重出。
    曾子曰:「君子思不出其位。」此艮卦之象辭也。曾子蓋嘗稱之,記者因上章之語而類記之也。范氏曰:「物各止其所,而天下之理得矣。故君子所思不出其位,而君臣、上下、大小,皆得其職也。」(Analects 14:26)

    (3) (…) 天下有道,則庶人不議。」上無失政,則下無私議。非箝其口使不敢言也。此章通論天下之勢。(the very last line of Analects 16:2)

    All passages appear to suggest negative restrictions on the so called “freedom of speech”. Slingerland explains the character 議 in the last passage as meaning either “express opinion, debate“ or, in a more negative sense, “criticize”. Interestingly, Zhu Xi, in his commentary, seems to be opposed to any attempt of using force in order to suppress criticism. But does this amount to a defense of “free speech”? Only partially, I would say: he repeatedly claims that people have to realize the truth (of the “Right Way”) on their own terms or even “independently from others” (zide 自得), thus he rejects attempts to impose his teachings on the people. And yet, as his reading of the other two passages demonstrate, there is no equivalent to the freedom of thought and speech, but he naturally thinks that thought and speech have to follow objective, often hierarchically defined standards which cannot be questioned (and I would guess that he was willing to write down these philosophical standards as binding legal or ritual rules).

    On a more personal level, I think comparing liberalism and Classical Confucianism (or Neo-Confucianism) is much more difficult than some scholars suggests. Also, we have to ask ourselves to what use these comparisons are brought forward – ultimately, as you write, “Ruist argument for free speech is going to be hard to make”, or even worse, we could end up with a distorted understanding of what “free speech” actually means in Western societies (not only in the US).

    • David Elstein says:

      Hi Kai, thanks for the information on Zhu Xi. My copy is currently somewhere between Taiwan and the US (I hope), so that’s very helpful. I find the point that people must come to the truth independently very interesting. You see that argument in Xu Fuguan, and I didn’t realize he probably got it from Zhu Xi. That has some interesting implications.

      I agree on being cautious comparing Ruism and liberalism, though I’d say comparison is inevitable when these are commonly depicted as being the two main alternatives for China going forward. As you probably remember, I’m suspicious of a lot of the attempts to find commonalities between them, particularly traditional Ruism (New Confucianism is another story). But people do it, and I want to try to evaluate the particular claim that Ruist free expression and liberal free expression end up being very similar.

  8. Bill Haines says:

    Justice&Mercy,

    I first got into philosophy, before college, because I found (as I saw it) that the world around me was full of people who believed ridiculously goofy things about the world in general, things one could not believe after a little serious thinking. In that way philosophy seemed potentially powerful and important. I’m referring specifically to theism in the main form in which I knew it: Christian or Judaeo-Christian theism. I still can’t see how that’s not ridiculously goofy, and something one cannot but disbelieve after a little serious thinking, if one has a decent general education. (It’s not just that there’s no significant evidence for it; it’s that the views are incoherent on many levels.) I can’t see how it’s not that way, — but on the other hand some of the smartest and best-educated people I’ve known have been or at least seemed to be quite serious believers (and an essential part of what I mean by “serious” is not relying on “faith” as admittedly a wildcard license for irrationality), so I’m in a puzzle that looks permanent for me. I enjoy beating my head against it: arguing with people who’ll argue back.

    One of the things that has attracted me about early Confucianism is that the early Confucians seemed to me not to be very literal-minded about the existence of God or to believe in the need for God’s direct word (by “direct” I mean as distinct from what one might learn about the world and people from engaging with the world and people).

    If I understand your view, it involves these ideas: A) God uses some people, Sages or Prophets, as comprehensive authorities for the rest of us. God gives messages to the Sages, who transmit it by preparing texts to be Scriptures, and by training followers (who may in turn prepare texts to be Scriptures or train followers, et cetera ad … infinitum?). But that isn’t the only way we’re in contact with divine truth. B) There’s also intuition, which I imagine is supposed to help fill the gaps in the bare (A) picture, such as questions about how it can be sensible and not irresponsible to to believe in the authority of putative sages and their scriptures. Is that right so far?

    I myself accept a somewhat similar picture. Some people are much wiser than others; they generate wise books and train pretty-wise people. The rest of us can pretty much tell which people and books are especially wise, independently from recognizing the wisdom of each particular thing the person or book says. We have that somewhat intuitive faculty. So the leadership of the wise is to a significant extent possible, real, and desirable. Civilization depends on our having a certain amount of that.

    Your view might differ from mine as one jpeg picture differs from another when the one picture is generated from the other by increasing the Contrast. That is, where I think there are many wise people each with some authority, you think there are a very few super-wise people with all the authority. Yes?

    • Justice&Mercy says:

      I’ve give a full reply longer.

      First, a caveat: There are several different theories about how the Classics work. The one I will offer below is standard for 心性儒学.

      There is a reality underlying the universe, which is called 理. This reality is accessible through our hearts. However, most people’s hearts are covered by turbid qi. Therefore, this reality becomes inaccessible to them.

      Some people, either by birth or cultivation, had purified their hearts. The underlying reality became accessible to them. They set down what they discovered in the Classics.

      One observation to be made here is that the underlying reality is not something “made-up” or “invented”. It exists whether we know about it or not.

      As common men, our heart is not purified. As a result, we do not know the underlying reality. Therefore, we must rely on the Classics to guide us and verify our experiences. (This is why I brought up the example of 王阳明. Even though he achieved enlightenment, he still had to verify his experiences using the Classics.)

      It just so happens that for 心性儒学, the standard is the Four Books.

      As for transmission – The important fact, once again, is that our hearts are not purified. If a person’s heart is not purified, then his words are unreliable with regard to the underlying reality. Only a Sage has the requisite knowledge. However, the Sage may pass down the underlying knowledge to people who are not Sages. In these cases, their words are also reliable.

      From another perspective, we have the phenomenon of 判教. The Neo-Confucians were influenced by Buddhists in their way of thinking. In particular, they relied upon genealogies of philosophical positions to determine orthodoxy. For instance, Mencius was seen as possessing the orthodox transmission of 心性儒学. Xunzi was seen to have deviated, because he viewed human nature as evil.

      The argument that Mencius taught doctrines not found in the Analects is weak. First, the Analects, as a record of Confucius’s sayings, was intended as a supplement to the Five Classics. It was never meant to contain the whole or even the majority of Confucius’s teachings. Second, more importantly, the basis of Neo-Confucianism is that Confucius taught doctrines to his disciples which were not fully expressed in either the Analects or the Five Classics. This is what is called 孔门传授心法. The Neo-Confucian theory is that Confucius taught this 心法 to Zengzi, who passed it onto Zisi, who then passed it on to Mencius. Unfortunately, after Mencius, this 心法 was never passed on. It was rediscovered a thousand years later by the Neo-Confucians.

      This is the basic framework for 心性儒学, which is the mainstream of Confucian philosophy today.

      The New Text theory is a minority position. The theory here is that Heaven raises a Sage-King every five hundred years. When Confucius came along, he was supposed to be King. For whatever reason, Heaven did not intend Confucius hold actual power. Instead, he was to be the Uncrowned King. Therefore, he took the royal prerogative of editing 春秋, in which he set down the constitution for ten thousand years.

      Because Confucius’s true teachings were hidden in 春秋, most people who read 春秋 did not have access to it. Only those who possessed Confucius’s oral teachings could decode the message. This was the mainstream of Han Dynasty Confucianism up until the ascendancy of the Old Text school.

      In the middle of the Qing Dynasty – I believe one or two generations before the Opium War – there was a New Text revival. This culminated in Kang Youwei’s philosophy. (However, 廖平 is seen to be the most grounded and magisterial expositor of the New Text school, because Kang Youwei is seen to have been too mixed up in politics and too loose in his interpretations.)

      The rivalry between the New Text and Old Text schools continued into the middle of the Republican Era. Today, its main expositor is 蒋庆.

      The Old Text school relies upon 左传. The New Text school relies upon 公羊. Their exegetical and political positions are completely different. For instance, the Zuo Commentary, so far as I understand, teaches that the Son of Heaven is of the same status as Heaven. He transcends, therefore, the system of aristocratic titles. The Gongyang Commentary teaches that the Son of Heaven is merely the highest of aristocratic titles, and that the ultimate cause of the chaos during the Spring and Autumn Era was that the Son of Heaven usurped the position of Heaven – Therefore, the solution is to lower the Son of Heaven so to raise up Heaven.

      With regard to monarchy, the Zuo Commentary sees monarchy as an eternal institution. The Gongyang Commentary sees monarchy as appropriate for some times and places but not others.

      As you can see, depending on which Scripture you subscribe to, the “Confucian perspective” you end up with will be completely different.

      During the Late Qing, the Conservatives accused the Reformists of heresy, because the Reformists did not believe in the Zuo Commentary and believed that monarchy was not an eternal institution.

      The New Text school does rely upon Xunzi for his explanations of Kingly institutions. From the perspective of 心性儒学, however, Xunzi missed the mark as to 圣人之学.

    • Justice&Mercy says:

      I’m going to put my replies to your other replies elsewhere here. It’s too inconvenient to have many layers of nested comments.

      With regard to ruler-subject relation, I used to like the idea of republicanism, too. However, Mencius was clearly in favour of an aristocracy headed by a King. Therefore, after reading Mencius, I reflected upon the merits and shortcomings of a monarchy. I am now of the opinion that, at least in theory, a monarchy based on a semi-hereditary aristocracy would be a recommended system.

      There are, of course, a lot of reasons why we should not adopt this system at the moment. Some reasons can be found in 礼运, which can be interpreted in one of two ways – (1) 大同 was better than the 小康 which came after it, but since we are in 小康 now, we should live in accordance with it (e.g. we can’t achieve 大同) or (2) we can achieve 大同, and the ultimate goal of the state is to achieve 大同 gradually.

      The New Text view is that we can achieve 大同, even if it will take a while. However, since I’m not personally familiar with the Gongyang Commentary, I’ve decided to stick with Mencius, which is in favour of monarchy.

      Since we don’t seem to be anywhere near 大同 at the moment, I do not believe monarchy is an outmoded institution. In fact, I believe that monarchy should be restored wherever possible. Mencius said, 无父无君,是禽兽也. Hierarchy is a natural part of human society, and respect for hierarchy is a part of human nature.

    • Bill Haines says:

      Thank you, Justice & Mercy! This material is new and fascinating to me.

      I’m not sure whether you’re saying the view you’ve offered is your own view –? Your view is what I’m most interested in.

      Maybe I can help make the task of the longer fuller reply more manageable by listing some of the large and small questions I’m most concerned about, in my ignorance.

      1. Is there some conception of God that contributes to your conception of the authority of Sages and Scriptures? For example, the idea that God is all-good and all-knowing would imply that we should take God’s messages as authoritative.

      2. I think you said something long ago that led me to think that you think Confucius’ Sagely authority is mainly for China; is that your view? And there have been other Sages for other places?

      3. Do you think humanity arose by natural selection?

      4. Is there non-circular reason – that is, is there reason – to believe in Sages and Scriptures?

      5. Taking for granted the view that there are Sages and Scriptures, is there non-circular reason to think Confucius qualifies?

      6. You wrote, “For me, it comes down to this – Either Mencius or Xunzi is authoritative,” and I wonder why you think so. I mean, granting for the sake of argument that Confucius was a Sage.

      7. I argued (PEW, Oct. 2008) that Youzi probably never studied with Confucius. Can that idea fit in your worldview?

      8. Analects 19 seems to show that schools from the same father can disagree. Is that a problem for your worldview?

      • Justice&Mercy says:

        My personal views are somewhat different from the ones I presented above. (I was merely describing how Confucianism was traditionally understood above.)

        In response to your third question – No, I do not believe in natural selection, at least not in the atheist blind-chance version.

        To begin with, I never believed in secular humanism. (1) Growing up in a Chinese family, I was as a kid exposed to beliefs and practices such as internal alchemy, traditional medicine, feng-shui, etc. (2) I also had several spiritual experiences – These experiences convinced me that secular humanism was wrong. (My experiences agreed with the experiences recorded by Daoist cultivators from long ago.)

        I also didn’t like how evolutionists portrayed anyone who disagreed with them as ignorant. Plato did not believe in evolution. I trust Plato rather than modern atheist evolutionists.

        (Modern science only observes a narrow range of phenomena in the sensible realm. If its instruments can’t observe something, then it declares it to be non-existent…While modern science can be useful in an instrumental sense, its claim to explain reality is misleading. Secular humanism results from mistaking modern science, which is an useful instrument if used correctly, for a guide to reality, which it is not.)

        Anyway, I was always sympathetic to the intelligent-design people, even though I disagreed with Christianity.

        A while ago, I read some essays by the perennialists, including an essay from Titus Burckhardt critical of the theory of evolution. Titus’s ideas seem plausible to me and would probably agree with Daoism. (By Daoism, I mean the one with alchemy and immortals, not the “philosophical Daoism” invented by the May-Fourth people.) I also liked how Titus Burckhardt was a scholar of alchemy. He probably correlated his theories with his knowledge of Chinese alchemy.

        In the end, I’m not a biologist. Therefore, I’m not really qualified to give an opinion on evolution from the perspective of modern science. (My personal beliefs are mostly Daoist, which include a range of creationism and emanationism. One must keep in mind, however, that some creation accounts are probably meant symbolically.) However, if anyone asks – I don’t believe humans arose from natural selection.

        P.S. If you read 北溪字义 by 陈淳, then you will find an account correlating a human as microcosm to the universe as macrocosm. Out of all creation, only humans reflect the universe perfectly. Therefore, only humans have access to the Principle. (At least, this is what I remembered of it. My explanation may be coloured by the Islamic Neo-Confucian texts I’ve been reading lately. Sufism, e.g. Ibn Arabi, and Neo-Confucianism have roughly the same view as to the mutual reflection between humans and the universe.)

        This makes sense to me. I don’t see how this can square with evolutionism. I’m pretty sure the principle of mutual reflection between microcosm and macrocosm is true, and so I’m inclined to believe that natural selection by blind chance is false.

        • Bill Haines says:

          Hi J&M,

          Sorry, it might look as though I’ve dropped the discussion. You mentioned a full reply to my earliest questions, and I’ve thought I should wait for you to address them. In the meantime I added more questions above, a numbered list. You did respond to one of these: my question whether you think humans arose by natural selection, and your answer is no. But it’s not quite clear to me what your reasons are, or even whether your answer is meant in all seriousness, so I’m unsure how to respond. Of course you don’t owe me any answers.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Dear Bill Haines,

            I thought you dropped the discussion, and so I didn’t continue. Would you like to discuss the questions one by one? (If it were just me replying to all of your questions at once, it might become a rather self-indulgent display of my “personal views”.)

            With regard to the natural selection question, I’m predisposed to disbelieving it for reasons:

            (1) Human consciousness, for which natural selection does not offer a satisfactory explanation. Even if different states of consciousness could be correlated with different combinations of chemicals, this would still not explain consciousness in-and-of-itself.

            One must understand the difference between “explanation” and “observation”. To explain something must go further than observing it as mere phenomenon (e.g. as something perceived) and making theories correlating different observations.

            I do not agree with the view that consciousness is an “emergent property” of material interaction. It appears to me that consciousness is something more basic than matter, and that what is lesser must come from the greater (in this I agree with the perennialists).

            (2) Personal spiritual experiences, which incline me to agree with mystical traditions like Daoism and Buddhism. But if these mystical traditions are true (or at least point to the truth), then it would be difficult to synthesise their insights with natural selection. Even if such a synthesis were possible, the product would not be natural selection as is commonly meant today.

            I do not expect you to acknowledge my personal experiences, and so perhaps we should focus on the first point right now.

            Do you believe that there is true knowledge beyond observation?

          • Bill Haines says:

            Hi – thanks!

            You ask, “Do you believe that there is true knowledge beyond observation?”

            I think you’re not asking exactly how I’d characterize what might be called analytic truths or empty tautologies (“A chair is a chair”) or, say, the truths of arithmetic.

            You might have in mind “intuition.” To my ear that word indicates a kind of perceptive (hence observational, i.e. experiential) faculty, not perfectly reliable, just as sight and smell are not perfectly reliable. (You mention your mystical experience.) (Even for simple observations of numbers on dials in a lab, we have learned that we need confirmation from other labs if the experiment itself is unusual.) I sketch my rough tentative views on how intuition works, or anyway how some intuition works, in my paper, “Confucianism and Moral Intuition,” that has just come out in Ethics in Early China: an Anthology, HKU Press.

            Finding yourself convinced of something, I think, doesn’t count as “knowledge,” even if the thing also happens to be true. What else is needed for the thing to be knowledge? One thing seems to be this: the process that has you believing the thing has to track the truth on that sort of topic in some sort of general way. That’s a very vague answer (which I get from Robert Nozick), and I might be able to add detail in response to particular cases, but I haven’t worked out a more developed general view (that I can recall just now!). So for example, if an omniscient god created a race of Martians and deliberately created them full of true opinions about the history of Spain, and made the Martians incapable of doubting their opinions about the history of Spain or acquiring any false views on that topic, then I think it might be fair to say that those Martians know lots of things about the history of Spain. That knowledge wouldn’t be by observation.

            I imagine that rabbits are afraid of snakes, and I think it might be fair to say that a certain rabbit knows that the snake she sees is worth avoiding, not because of observations the rabbit has made, but she acquired and keeps that view by a process, natural selection, that gives her fairly accurate general attitudes on the topic of snakes and other such threats.

            Humans might have some knowledge like that. But there’s a special obstacle, for us, in the way of having such knowledge. We can doubt the things that we’re hardwired to be predisposed to believe. And once I doubt one of those things and start thinking about whether it’s true, the process that has me believing the thing is no longer limited to my evolutionary history. It also includes my thinking processes, which might be bad enough to fail to track the truth on that sort of topic, so that even if I decide to keep the view, and the view is true, it’s not knowledge anymore.

            I’m working on a response regarding natural selection. I don’t think it would not be self-indulgent of you to answer now some of my other questions about your views. 🙂

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            I believe the Martian example is analogical to Neo-Confucian teachings on this subject: Humans are born with innate knowledge. However, because of various obscuration, we have forgotten this innate knowledge. Once we clear away the obscuration, then we will rediscover this innate knowledge.

            I believe that mathematics is a good example of knowledge which does not come from observation. I have never studied analytical philosophy, and so I’m not sure how Kant or other people characterise mathematics.

            ……

            If natural selection were true, however, then knowledge as commonly understood would not be possible. We would be forever trapped within our evolutionary history. For instance, it may well be that our faculty of reason is inherently flawed, and that by relying on our reason, some or even most conclusions which seem certain to us are wrong.

            It may well be that our observations are all wrong, too. We make these observations because we evolved this way, and no one ever got the wiser because everyone makes the same mistaken observations.

            If natural selection were true, then one plus one equals two is true for us only because of our evolutionary history. Some other species may have evolved for whom one plus one equals three.

            (I’m under the impression that Nietzsche said something similar. The theory of natural selection came about at the same time as Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche – people who doubted some of the premises of the Enlightenment. Marx believed that different social classes thought differently – There is a bourgeois science, and there is a proletarian science, etc. I believe that the Enlightenment faith in reason doesn’t really square with natural selection.)

            ……

            My view is like that of certain religious thinkers: Although our reason can theoretically work perfectly, because of various obscuration, it has become tainted, and so even if some conclusions seem certain to us, they may still be wrong. Therefore, reason needs to be checked by other faculties, such as intuition, feeling, revelation, spiritual experiences, etc. In turn, reason also checks other faculties.

            ……

            It is interesting that the modern mentality privileges empirical knowledge, when many pre-modern thinkers would have things the other way around. Observation only works for phenomena – how things appear to our senses. As such, it can never get to things as they truly are. It is also approximate, because phenomena in our world are always imperfect. (For instance, there is no perfect circle in nature.)

            Reason, which mathematics is based on (so far as I understand), can provide certain knowledge…I’m not quite sure how the different areas of knowledge work. I would enjoy rereading Plato someday.

            In any case, a proper analogy is this: Imagine a person is interested in martial arts. He reads books about martial arts everyday. This person might be very knowledgeable about martial arts, but he does not really know martial arts. Only a person who has practised martial arts know it from within. This kind of “knowing from within” is what I mean by knowing things as they truly are.

            Spiritual thinkers in both East and West have promised us, since ancient times, that it is possible to know things as they truly are. Observations may be, up to a degree, true or false, but they can never bring us to understand things as they truly are.

            A spiritual path is also like martial arts in another sense: A teacher can tell us a lot of about a particular spiritual path, but unless we travel along this path, we can never claim to really know. However, in order to know, we must first commit ourselves to traveling this path, at least for a while. It happens that once we travel this path, we start knowing things we did not know before. However, it would be difficult to transmit this knowledge to someone else – simply because they haven’t traveled the path themselves.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            If you’re particularly interested in this topic, I recommend Chittick’s “Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul”. Chittick specialises in Islamic philosophy. However, he is close with Tu Wei-Ming (so far as I understand). Many ideas he mentioned in “Science of the Cosmos” are relevant to Neo-Confucianism or Confucianism in general.

            The book talks about the difference between transmitted and intellectual knowledge. Intellectual knowledge is what I talked about above – knowledge which you don’t really know unless it is 自得. Transmitted knowledge is knowledge which other people tell you. Modern science is, in fact, a form of transmitted knowledge rather than intellectual knowledge in this schema.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            In this schema, then, the Four Books are aids to intellectual knowledge. They are designed to assist us on the path to know things as they truly are.

            The Five Classics, e.g. 礼记 and other stuff, are transmitted knowledge. The Sages know things as they truly are – Because they possess this knowledge, they wrote books to help those who don’t know things as they truly are, but these books are not primarily designed to help those who want to know things as they truly are.

          • Bill Haines says:

            I’m not sure how Kant or other people characterise mathematics.

            One view is that mathematics consists of empty tautologies, like “a chair is a chair” and “a chair and another chair amount to two chairs.” That is to say, true statements in math are true just because of the meanings of the terms and syntax. Math is hard because some of the empty statements are complicated. A complicated statement can be an empty true tautology without being obviously true; for example, “A chair and another chair and another chair and another chair and another chair amount to five chairs.” There are difficulties with this view of math, but maybe we can set all that aside.

            If natural selection were true, however, then knowledge as commonly understood would not be possible. We would be forever trapped within our evolutionary history. For instance, it may well be that our faculty of reason is inherently flawed, and that by relying on our reason, some or even most conclusions which seem certain to us are wrong.

            I think it is obviously true that our faculties are flawed, and that there’s always some risk of error. And I imagine that you think that someone with a clouded heart might fail to recognize that her heart is clouded, so that your view doesn’t solve the problem of the possibility of error.

            If natural selection were true, then one plus one equals two is true for us only because of our evolutionary history. Some other species may have evolved for whom one plus one equals three.

            That doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t mean I disagree with it; I mean it doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t yet grasp what you’re saying. If someone in that other species has a chair and just one more chair, she therefore has three chairs?

            My view is like that of certain religious thinkers: Although our reason can theoretically work perfectly, because of various obscuration, it has become tainted, and so even if some conclusions seem certain to us, they may still be wrong. Therefore, reason needs to be checked by other faculties, such as intuition, feeling, revelation, spiritual experiences, etc. In turn, reason also checks other faculties.

            I agree with that, except for two sorta peripheral qualifications to your main point here: (a) in my opinion there isn’t any divine revelation, and (b) I think you may be using ‘reason’ more narrowly than I usually do. I think of reason as involving (including) checking our views against our experience (sensory or otherwise), etc.

            Observation only works for phenomena – how things appear to our senses. As such, it can never get to things as they truly are.

            Why don’t you count non-sensory experience of things as observation?

            [Observation] is also approximate, because phenomena in our world are always imperfect. (For instance, there is no perfect circle in nature.)

            I don’t see the connection between premise and conclusion there. Are you suggesting that if phenomena were perfect (and I’m not sure what you mean by this), sensory observation wouldn’t have to be approximate?

            I would enjoy rereading Plato someday.

            Plato is a blast. Alas, he seems to have changed his mind on fundamentals a few times. But it’s hard to know, because in the writings we have he rarely tells us what he thinks about anything.

            In any case, a proper analogy is this: Imagine a person is interested in martial arts. He reads books about martial arts everyday. This person might be very knowledgeable about martial arts, but he does not really know martial arts. Only a person who has practised martial arts know it from within. This kind of “knowing from within” is what I mean by knowing things as they truly are.

            Here it sounds like maybe you’re talking about the distinction between “knowing-that” and “knowing-how,” that Yong Huang discusses in his recent post. The kind of thing we can know in that way is a skill, technique, or practice, such as martial arts. But regarding that kind of thing, it seems very odd to use the locution “know things as they truly are.”

            Do you also or mainly have in mind the knowing of other sorts of thing than skills and practices? Things such as numbers or tables or people or the universe or God or texts? If so, then I’m not sure I understand you. Your point might be that we don’t know things well if we rely mainly on language rather than experience. On this, you might see my comment here:
            http://warpweftandway.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/is-there-something-more-than-knowing-how-and-knowing-that/#comment-5787
            I’m thinking especially of my point there about the role of non-linguistic signs in articulating our knowledge of things.

            The distinction you report between transmitted and other knowledge would seem to be based on a distinction between language and other stuff.

            A spiritual path is also like martial arts in another sense: A teacher can tell us a lot of about a particular spiritual path, but unless we travel along this path, we can never claim to really know. However, in order to know, we must first commit ourselves to traveling this path, at least for a while. It happens that once we travel this path, we start knowing things we did not know before. However, it would be difficult to transmit this knowledge to someone else – simply because they haven’t traveled the path themselves.

            Whether it’s impossible is hard to know without trying. Since our faculties are limited, there is also this question, granting for the sake of argument everytyhing you say in the above paragraph: Is it irresponsible of someone who has not traveled Path P to begin? One’s spiritual cosmology would seem inelegant if one can’t answer with a resounding No. But if, pre-path, the costs are plain and the benefits are ungraspable, then it seems there’s no resounding No.

            In this schema, then, … The Five Classics … are transmitted knowledge. … are not primarily designed to help those who want to know things as they truly are.

            Do you think that’s a plausible view of the 詩經?

          • Bill Haines says:

            Intellectual knowledge is what I talked about above – knowledge which you don’t really know unless it is 自得. Transmitted knowledge is knowledge which other people tell you. Modern science is, in fact, a form of transmitted knowledge rather than intellectual knowledge in this schema.

            I guess modern science would be “transmitted knowledge” for people who are not part of it, not engaged in it, but simply consumers of the results. But it seems to me that the essence of the thing (science) is that it is a pursuit of knowledge from experience. Because it’s much more reliable if it’s a collective enterprise, and because it has in fact been pursued very collectively, some trust in the reports of others is important to it.

            Part of being reasonable and responsible, I think, is being careful about who is a real (reliable) authority, and over what. I think if you’re not justified in trusting Authority X, but you do trust her and she happens to be right, what you have is lucky correctness but not knowledge.

          • Bill Haines says:

            This earlier discussion seems related to our present one:
            http://warpweftandway.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/chinese-philosophy-in-the-new-york-times/

          • Bill Haines says:

            Regarding natural selection:

            0. BACKGROUND QUESTION

            A background question though: have you chosen among the following four scenarios, or not?

            a. Evolution happened as the biologists say, accounting for the shapes and movements of our bodies in line with the laws of physics. But that story doesn’t involve or account for the element of Consciousness, which was added at some point (or gradually, perhaps with the development of humans or mammals or the kingdom of Animals) by some extra divine act.

            b. Evolution happened as the biologists say, but only because God, omniscient and omnipotent, deliberately set up physics so that it would happen, e.g. making each subatomic particle have some aspect or part of consciousness so that when the particles are suitably arranged, there’s consciousness.

            c.The fossil record is not the footprints of a process of natural selection; it’s the footprint of the gradual creative workings of an intelligence. One species developed from another by way of intelligent divine nudging.

            d. The fossil record is a red herring; you agree with many Christian fundamentalists on the broad view that the history of biology on earth didn’t follow anything like the progressive path that the biologists talk about; species didn’t evolve out of other species by natural selection or by intelligent divine nudging.

            1. CONSCIOUSNESS

            I don’t know how to think about consciousness or mind. I haven’t worked much on the problem. I’m inclined to think of it as a compound of two radically different aspects, though this approach seems problematic.

            A) One aspect is what I think of as intelligence: aspects whose arising by natural selection and possession by silicon-based machines isn’t all that hard to accept.

            B) The other aspect is qualia, or simple building-blocks of experience: red, sweet, etc. I don’t know how to fit those, as I think of them, into the physics of matter and energy and spacetime (or superstrings or whatever).

            The idea that consciousness or mind is a compound of these two suggests the following: that there could be an android that can do all the intellectual tricks I can do – making laughing-sounds at the same jokes, etc – and who would differ from me only in that it lacked (B) and so was in some sense unconscious. That view bothers the empiricist in me. I don’t have any idea how one could distinguish a conscious being from an unconscious being of that sort, even if one could examine it inside and out.

            One way people from Descartes to Dennett have tried to address this sort of philosophical predicament is to argue (or suggest) that category (B) is in fact illusory; there’s nothing in (B) that doesn’t turn out to be just something in (A), i.e. patterns of some sort. (For Descartes’ suggestion, I have in mind the diagram in Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Rule XII.)

            Thus, for me, (B) is the problematic stuff. But I think maybe the aspect of consciousness that moves you against natural selection is the stuff I file under (A). So maybe my philosophical worries have no relevance to your reasons for thinking consciousness can’t be explained by natural selection?

            2. MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE

            Can you say just what are your ME-based views that oppose modern biology?

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            CONSCIOUSNESS

            No, I was thinking about (b) – and not just experiences such as redness or sweetness, but the common quality which underlies all experiences. (I believe that the perennialists would object to the word “quality” in this context, but I’m speaking in a rough sense.)

            This is why I always tell my friends that modern science will never solve the mystery of consciousness, because it’s something fundamentally not open to empirical investigation.

            I also do not believe (b) can be reduced to (a).

            BACKGROUND QUESTION

            I’m not a biologist, and so ultimately my opinion comes down to what I find most plausible based on my knowledge and experience.

            In general, if a person holds radical beliefs in one area, he is likely to hold radical beliefs in another area. This is the case with me.

            If Titus Burckhardt is correct, then modern science has radically misinterpreted the nature of fossils. Titus Burckhardt’s views seem most congruent with my pre-existing views in other subjects. Therefore, I’m interested in the possibility that he is right.

            I’m open to (a), however. I don’t have strong beliefs about natural selection.

          • Bill Haines says:

            CONSCIOUSNESS

            Are you aware of a solution to the mystery?

            BACKGROUND QUESTION

            I’m not a biologist, and so ultimately my opinion comes down to what I find most plausible based on my knowledge and experience.

            I’m not a biologist, so I have to rely to a large extent on the authority of biologists.

            You seem to be saying, “I’m not a biologist, so I have to not rely to a large extent on the authority of biologists.” Yes?

            Anyway, so far as I can see, while the authority of the science of biology asks us to oppose the Book of Genesis, the authority of the science of biology does not ask us to reject (a): the view that natural selection happened as the biologists say, and God added consciousness at some point. Offhand, though,that view seems to me implausible.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            CONSCIOUSNESS

            I believe that the major mystical traditions such as Sufism, Vedanta, and Buddhism all had a lot to say about consciousness.

            BACKGROUND QUESTION

            No, no – I’m saying, given my experiences and knowledge in other areas, I’m inclined to disagree with evolutionism. However, since I’m not a biologists, I have not considered, to a great extent, their evidences for evolutionism. There are, however, people who are deeply familiar with the evidences for evolutionism but yet still rejected it.

            Have you ever considered that the Book of Genesis is meant symbolically?

          • Bill Haines says:

            OK – then if I understand your position overall, it’s that (a) you’re agnostic on the question of whether humans as physical entities came about through natural selection, but (b) there’s an aspect of us that doesn’t affect our physical movements (e.g. the flapping of our tongues and fingertips), called consciousness, that you think couldn’t have come about by natural selection. Also (c) you say consciousness has been discussed elsewhere, but (d) you haven’t said you’re familiar with any (other) satisfactory explanation of consciousness.

            If that’s what you’re saying, then I think you’ve answered to my satisfaction my question about whether you think humans came about by natural selection.

            I haven’t taken very seriously the idea that the Book of Genesis is not meant literally, though histories can be meant literally and symbolically at the same time.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            With respect to Genesis, at first I was like you in thinking that its literal meaning preceded its symbolic meaning. After reading several very convincing perennialist explanations of it, I’m beginning to think that there might be more to Genesis than I’d originally thought.

            With respect to consciousness, I’ve read a variety of Buddhist and Hindu texts about this. However, since I do not specialise in their traditions, I don’t have a strong grasp on their theories. I’ve tried reading some of Rene Guenon’s writings on the subject, but they seem to presuppose a deep knowledge of scholasticism, Sufism, and Hinduism. While I learnt a lot from his works, I cannot say I have a strong grasp on them either. I’m unfamiliar with range of Daoist views on the subject, and so I can’t comment on them either.

            It’s not something I’m particular interested in at the moment, although eventually I might have to get around to it.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            You may perhaps say I’m like a person who believes in evolutionism. Such a person might not be an evolutionary biologist and perhaps might not be able to explain evolutionism in detail, but he’s more or less inclined to it.

            I’m more or less inclined toward traditional metaphysics as understood by Vedanta and Chan Buddhism, given all the evidence at my disposal, even though I can’t explain it in detail.

            If you really want to study this problem, I would recommend you pick up a book about Vedanta – preferably Rene Guenon’s book, since I’m aware that many publications about Vedanta on the English market are watered down.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Incidentally, almost all of my questions — the ones on the numbered list and the ones in the last and third-from last paragraphs of my top-level Comment #8 — are at least superficially yes/no questions, so one might be able to give them very quick superficial answers.

          • Bill Haines says:

            EXPLANATION

            J&M, You write, To explain something must go further than observing it as mere phenomenon (e.g. as something perceived) and making theories correlating different observations. […] It appears to me that consciousness is something more basic than matter, and that what is lesser must come from the greater (in this I agree with the perennialists)

            It seems to me that what is greater stands in greater need of explanation than what is lesser. “How did X come to be?” is a bigger problem when X is greater. In general, explaining X by introducing a Y that explains X reduces our explanatory problems when Y is lesser than X, and expands them when Y is greater. This is a familiar issue in connection with “intelligent design” or the teleological argument for the existence of God, as summed up in the rhetorical question, “Then what explains God?”

            If the way you explain consciousness is by saying that it derives from a consciousness, that doesn’t seem to me like explanatory progress; and saying that it derives from a greater consciousness seems like the opposite of explanatory progress.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            If you accept that there are other realities which underlie the visible reality, then you will believe that explanations can go in several directions:

            (1) Reductionism, where one sensible phenomenon is explained with reference to another sensible phenomenon.

            (2) Traditional metaphysics, where sensible phenomena are explained with reference to the realities which underlie them. For instance, Plato explained circles in nature with reference to the circle as a Platonic form.

            We can take another step – If one level reality depends upon another, then the first reality becomes in effect a veil to the second. The second is “what is really going on”, where as the first is “what appears to be going on”.

            In this case, (2) would be truly explaining things, whereas (1) would be walking in circles in a labyrinth – We cover more and more ground, but we never manage to stand above the labyrinth and discover what’s really going on.

          • Bill Haines says:

            If you accept that there are other realities which underlie the visible reality,

            I don’t mean to be difficult, but I don’t think I operate with the category “the visible reality” (or, similarly, “sensible phenomena”). I wouldn’t know where to draw the line around it. (Visible by whom? me? Bees? Any life forms with sight, here or in galaxies invisible to me? I can only see a few sides of what’s nearby, on a certain scale, in certain respects. Or I can see the earth (as I look down or sideways) and the universe. I can see the wind, in a way; and my cat’s anxiety. Are atoms visible? Piles of them are. Is time visible? Yes, in a way.)

            then you will believe that explanations can go in several directions:
            (1) Reductionism, where one sensible phenomenon is explained with reference to another sensible phenomenon.
            (2) Traditional metaphysics, where sensible phenomena are explained with reference to the realities which underlie them. For instance, Plato explained circles in nature with reference to the circle as a Platonic form.

            My memory of Plato is weak, and I was never impressed by the forms stuff, so I didn’t pay close attention — but I don’t recall his offering anything that could be called an explanation (of natural circles on the basis of the form of circle) any more than a cat could be called a horse. I think alleging that one thing explains another doesn’t count as offering an explanation. What passage do you have in mind? I don’t remember any passage where he sets out a putative circle explanation.

            We can take another step – If one level reality depends upon another, then the first reality becomes in effect a veil to the second. The second is “what is really going on”, where as the first is “what appears to be going on”.

            I think the smoke rising from behind a neighbor’s fence isn’t something that conceals the fire; it’s not a veil. Rather it’s something that reveals the fire; it’s something whereby I can see that there’s a fire. It makes the fact of the fire a visible fact. Similarly, I think my visual sensations make my desk visible to me; I don’t think they conceal it. I think the movements of the branches show the wind; they don’t conceal it.

            In this case, (2) would be truly explaining things, whereas (1) would be walking in circles in a labyrinth – We cover more and more ground, but we never manage to stand above the labyrinth and discover what’s really going on.

            I don’t see anything in your account of (1) that would seem to support this negative claim about (1). I don’t see any circularity in explaining one sensible phenomenon by a different one, though I grant that a proposed explanation of the very existence of a class of phenomena on the basis of other phenomena in the same class would be unsatisfactory or incomplete. Similarly, I think that trying to explain everything on the basis of something would be unsatisfactory or incomplete. Hence I think it is impossible in principle to have a satisfactory or complete explanation of everything.

            I think I have responded in further detail to (1) and to (2) in the comment immediately preceding this one of yours. Specifically: (i) if your thought is that the very existence of consciousness is to be explained on the basis of other consciousness, that looks like the sort of circle you’re unhappy with here; and (ii) if your thought is that Level A reality is to be explained by positing Level B reality, then that gives us a new and perhaps greater problem.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            As a working definition, visible reality means that which is accessible to our five senses.

            Individual atoms are not visible, but they are measurable. The measurement is visible. The common man accepts the existence of atoms, because modern science says so. Modern science says so, because modern science takes things which are measurable as possessing some degree of reality.

            Alternatively, visible reality is the translation of Mingjie – e.g. the realm we humans dwell in. Mingjie is opposed to Youjie, which is the realm of ghosts and spirits.

            You should apply the first definition in the context of this discussion.

            ……

            I made the circle analogy up, but it’s what I understand of Platonism. Plato was not a philosopher in the modern western academic sense. His works hinted at a level of reality inaccessible to the common man, cf. Plato’s cave.

            The people looking at the shadows were the scientists of his day (insofar that there was science before modernity). Scientists confine themselves to what is detectable by their instruments – What is detectable by instruments is like the shadows in the cave. To the extent there are patterns to the movement of the shadows, scientific theories can up to a certain degree be true or correct. However, no matter how good one becomes at observing shadows, one cannot discover “what is really going on”. To discover “what is really going on”, one must turn to the fire, and then walk out of the cave. The fire is a level of reality deeper than the visible reality. The sun is what sets one free – After going above ground, everything in the cave seems false and irrelevant – in effect, a prison.

            (This is not to disparage the work of all scientists, but to maintain that scientific work ultimately cannot transcend the narrow boundaries it has set for itself (a narrow slice of visible reality – e.g. what is measurable by scientific instruments).)

            ……

            All phenomena are at once veils and openings. Insofar they are understood to point to a deeper level of reality, they are openings. Insofar they are taken as self-subsistent or pointing only to another phenomenon at the same or lower level, they are veils.

            ……

            Reductionism would be explaining the movement of a shadow on the basis of another shadow. Traditional metaphysics explains shadows in terms of the fire.

            ……

            Traditional metaphysics is not a “complete system in-and-of-itself”. Rather, it points to the summum bonum, which is the ineffable yet certain knowledge of reality. (Cf. Plato’s discussion of the role of dialectics.)

            Language is inherently circular. Traditional metaphysics is not circular, only because it points to the summum bonum.

            Reductionism is circular, even though it refers to phenomena (which are not language). This is because one phenomena can only be explained by another as long as we don’t understand the deeper reality beneath phenomena.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Different traditions have different definitions of consciousness. Often the apparent conflict is in the wording and not the substance.

            Let’s talk instead of the Absolute (e.g. Dao ke dao, fei chang dao). The Absolute cannot be explained. We make up names for it in order to point to it. Nothing can be greater than the Absolute, and so all things (including consciousness as is usually understood in common English) should be explained with reference to it (if we’re working with traditional metaphysics).

            To demand explanatory progress with regard to the Absolute is to miss the point. The Absolute cannot be explained. One can, however, attain knowledge of it as far as humanly possible. (The Chan saying goes, “Only the drinker knows coldness and warmth of the drink.” – This is what is meant by it. Imagine a new flavour completely unlike all existing flavours. A person tasted the new flavour, and then all his friends asked him about it. How can he possibly explain the new flavour, given that it is completely unlike any existing flavour? The same is with the Absolute. The Absolute is completely unlike any phenomenon. Therefore, it cannot be explained with reference to phenomenon. However, knowledge thereof can be attained through experience. (Experience might be the wrong word here…))

            The goal of traditional metaphysics is to lead the student to a knowledge of the Absolute. Therefore, the Absolute is not explained with reference to phenomena, but all phenomena are explained with reference to the Absolute. (The greater cannot come from the lesser.)

            (I hope I didn’t get anything wrong in the preceding paragraphs. It’s basically my understanding of perennialism.)

            Reductionism can generate theories about the modifications of consciousness (e.g. happiness and sadness). It is certainly incorrect, however, to reduce consciousness to reductionist theories.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Thank you for all this. I would like to come back to these issues on another occasion. For now, I think I have your answer to my question 3! Perhaps we could proceed to my initial question or one of the central subquestions/follow-ups for now?

      • Justice&Mercy says:

        4. Is there non-circular reason – that is, is there reason – to believe in Sages and Scriptures?

        Let’s use Daoism as an example.

        One time, I was talking with a Quanzhen Daoist on a Confucian forum. I suggested that the Classics are not necessarily infallible. He sternly rejected my view – For him, the infallibility of the Classics is fundamental to religion. He said, “The Classics may be insufficient, but they are never wrong.” I’m not sure if this is the standard Quanzhen view.

        On the other hand, my Daoist primer (a Qing Dynasty text) said that we should not get fixated on words.

        There is, of course, a difference between literalism and infallibility. Literalism means we should interpret all statements literally – I don’t know anyone who holds to this view with regard to Daoist and Confucian Scripture. Infallibility means that Scripture is never wrong, but some passages may be symbolic. There is a hierarchy of passages, such that some passages are more important than others. Then, there is the possibility that we interpreted the passages wrongly.

        ……

        I believe that faith begins with testimony. For instance, I might read about the testimony of a Daoist master – e.g. his experiences and accomplishments on the path. Even though I don’t completely understand his testimony, something within me resonates with it. Now intrigued by the promises of Daoism, I decide to follow the Daoist path. Depending on which sect I enter, I’m prescribed a set of Daoist texts. The path requires that I take these texts as Scripture. Having faith in the Daoist path and realising that the path requires me to take these texts as Scripture, I start reading them. Certain passages might be obscure to me, but I take them on faith as of now. As I progress on the path, I experience some of the signs described in the texts. My faith in the texts therefore increases. Some obscure passages also become clearer to me. Others I understand now more deeply.

        Without a small amount of faith to begin with, it is impossible to enter the path and know for oneself. The further one travels on the path, the more one can verify for oneself the truth of Scripture.

        It’s important not to doubt the Scripture excessively. (This is what the Quanzhen Daoist told me.) Our understanding is limited to begin with. If we think a passage is wrong, it might be because its meaning is closed to us at the moment. If we sincerely cultivate ourselves, then its true meaning will gradually open to us. Some passages have multiple levels of meaning. Enlightenment rationalism would like to reduce all statements into true-or-false propositions. This is not how Scripture works.

        The underlying reality is accessible to humans. We cannot access it because our understanding is obscured. We retain, however, a vague intuition about spiritual truths. This intuition is activated when we come into contact with something spiritually real. This is the beginning of faith.

        ……

        With regard to the Four Books and Confucianism, I recommend the Rodney Taylor’s book, “Religious Dimensions of Confucianism”. It analyses the spiritual journals of scholars following the Neo-Confucian way and describes their spiritual breakthroughs.

        • Bill Haines says:

          I think your answer is “Yes there is reason but even those who have it can’t say what it is.” But I’m not sure the question you’re answering Yes to is the question I asked.

          My question was not whether there is reason to trust in this or that guru or text. My question was much more specific: whether there is reason to believe that there are Sages and Scriptures in the specific sense: that I spelled out as follows: “God uses some people, Sages or Prophets, as comprehensive authorities for the rest of us. God gives messages to the Sages, who transmit it by preparing texts to be Scriptures, and by training followers (who may in turn prepare texts to be Scriptures or train followers, et cetera ad … infinitum?).”

          I should hope that I wouldn’t confuse literalism about a text with a belief in its infallibility; they aren’t similar! Etc.

          In many places it’s unclear to me whether you are reporting your own views or just reporting other people’s views which may or may not be your own.

          The path toward belief that you describe, and the reasons for faith that one acquires along the way, seem to me like the sort of thing that could very easily take place in connection with highly flawed texts and guides. One seems to see it being done all the time for money.

          Anyway I’m not sure I have your answer to my question yet, because I think maybe you were answering a somwhat different question.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            The human body corresponds perfectly with the universe. Therefore, we may infer that humans are God’s perfect representative on Earth. However, this perfect representation is only potential, because the human heart is mixed with turbid qi. Therefore, to actualise this perfect representation, one must purify one’s heart.

            From the above design, it may be inferred that the universe contains an implicit purpose – to actualise perfect representation. Because of turbid qi, humans cannot rely on themselves to achieve perfect representation. It would make sense, therefore, for there to be a channel by which humans may be led to perfect representation.

            With Confucianism, the belief is that the teachings of the Sage, especially as explicated in the Four Books, form a reliable guide to perfect representation.

            The above is an explanation based on natural reason. The following are proofs from within Mencius.

            天生蒸民,有物有則。民之秉夷,好是懿德。

            All things are guided by principles. Humans, however, have the choice to disobey principles. Yet only by embodying principles can a human realise his potential for perfect representation.

            天之生此民也,使先知覺後知,使先覺覺後覺也。予,天民之先覺者也;予將以斯道覺斯民也。非予覺之,而誰也?

            Some people are awoken earlier than others. Some people are born with knowledge. Their task is to awaken others, who would otherwise have no chance to realise their potentials.

            天降下民,作之君,作之師。惟曰其助上帝,寵之四方。

            True authority comes from Heaven.

            Human nature is pre-Heaven. As such, it is an immutable reflection of Heaven. The mind is post-Heaven. As such, it is mixed with feelings and desires. It is possible, however, to restore the mind to pre-Heaven and realise the potential implicit in human nature.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Justice & Mercy, what you’ve said just above seems to aim at sketching some of your views, and that’s interesting, although e.g. I don’t know what you mean here by “correspond to” or “represent.”

            Regarding “perfect correspondence”, consider: each of my books corresponds perfectly to some set of pebbles, because there is a perfect 1-1 mapping between them. In fact there are many such 1-1 mappings between my books and the same set of pebbles.

            Regarding “represent” — this word can mean symbolize, be evidence of, speak for, act for, depict, etc. etc. — I don’t see any hints in what you say as to which of the word’s many possible imports or combinations of them are what you intend here.

            Etc.

            Another thing I’m not getting: is your comment here meant as part of an answer to one of the questions I’ve asked? (And if so, which one?) And do you have a reply to my comment immediately preceding yours here?

            Thanks,
            Bill

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            I was responding to your view: “I think your answer is “Yes there is reason but even those who have it can’t say what it is.” But I’m not sure the question you’re answering Yes to is the question I asked.”

            It then occurred to me that the problem is that I was relying on a modern framework. For a truly traditional Confucian, the perfect correspondence between the human body and the cosmos would be obvious. In fact, 北溪字义 begins with this proposition.

            I think “perfect correspondence” cannot be proven the way modern philosophy requires something to be proven. (I suspect that you are not an adherent of traditional Chinese medicine.) However, all human societies, including Islamic, Christian, Greek, Indian, and Confucian, accepted this proposition – that the human body is a reflection of the cosmos.

            If you accept this proposition, then everything else follows. Humans have a special place in the universe, because only humans can perfectly reflect the Absolute. Most humans do not reflect the Absolute, because their hearts are clouded by turbid qi. Arguing teleologically, it would make sense that there is a channel by which humans can clarify their hearts. In fact, there is – the teachings of the Sage.

            This is to answer your question on whether there is a non-circular basis for accepting Sages and Scriptures.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Btw, you should really read this: 徐复观《论孔子诛少正卯》
            http://www.sinovision.net/blog/index.php?act=details&id=83584&bcode=qba

            This relates perfectly to the topic of free speech.

            To summarise, 王制 contains certain untypical segments on punishing dissenters. After investigating relevant texts, 徐复观 determined that these are spurious doctrines inserted by later writers.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Thanks!

            My problem about (e.g.) correspondence at this stage is not at all about the lack of proof, but rather about what your claim is : what you mean by “corresponds.”

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Well, here is the quote from 北溪字义:

            人物之生,不出乎陰陽之氣。本只是一氣,分來有陰陽,陰陽又分來為五行。二與五只管分合運行,便有參差不齊,有清有濁,有厚有薄。且以人物合論,同是一氣,但人得氣之正,物得氣之偏,人得氣之通,物得氣之塞。且如人形骸,卻與天地相應,頭圓居上,象天,足方居下,象地;北極為天中央,卻在北,故人百合穴在頂心,卻向後。日月來往只在天之南,故人之兩眼皆在前。海,堿水所歸,在南之下,故人之小便亦在前下,此所以為得氣之正。如物則禽獸頭橫,植物頭向下,技葉卻在上,此皆得氣之偏處。人氣通明,物氣壅塞,人得五行之秀,故為萬物之靈。物氣塞而不通,如火煙郁在裏許,所以理義皆不通。

            If you look at traditional Chinese medicine, particularly the variety not eviscerated by Marxism, the correspondence between the human body and the universe is always emphasised.

            Daoist meditation manuals also emphasise this. I’m not familiar with these manuals, but I would suggest 黄庭经 if you want to investigate this.

            Basically, the universe and the human body are built with the same blueprint. Whatever is contained in the universe is also contained within the human body. For instance, there are five planets. In the human body, there are also five planets. There is a Kunlun mountain in the universe. There is also a Kunlun mountain in the human body. (I’m not sure how these correspondences work exactly. I’m just making suggestions on the basis of my limited knowledge. I would suggest 淮南子 if you want to investigate further.)

            The five phases are a well-known set of Chinese correspondences – e.g. five tastes, five tones, five phases, five organs, etc. However, only the human body corresponds exactly with the universe. All other creations only exhibit a partial correspondence.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            If you really think about it, to accept the idea of correspondences, you have to accept the idea of a deeper reality.

            For instance, metal, autumn, and sourness appear different to us in the visible realm, but they are in fact reflections of the same thing on a deeper level. That’s why they can be said to correspond to each other.

            Having taken this conversation thus far, I believe our basic philosophical difference comes down to this – You subscribe to the modern worldview, where all things are reduced to phenomena. I subscribe to the traditional metaphysics, which is hierarchical – There are deeper levels of reality upon which the visible realm depends.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Now, regarding the word “symbolise” – The modern mentality believes that symbols are arbitrary. If people agree on it, then anything can be a symbol of another thing.

            The traditional mentality believes that symbols are not arbitrary. A true symbol either derives from or points to a deeper reality.

            For instance, according to the Chinese way, the King sits facing the South. A modern person might mistakenly imagine this symbolism to be arbitrary – Someone made up this symbolism, and that’s why we’re stuck with it. A traditional person would perceive the hidden relation between things and realise that the symbolism is the perfect representation of a deeper reality.

            Personally, I’m not skilled enough in the traditional sciences to explain how symbolism works. However, I have no doubt that true symbolism must be anchored to a deeper reality.

          • Bill Haines says:

            EXPERIENCE

            1

            Having taken this conversation thus far, I believe our basic philosophical difference comes down to this – You subscribe to the modern worldview, where all things are reduced to phenomena. I subscribe to the traditional metaphysics, which is hierarchical – There are deeper levels of reality upon which the visible realm depends.

            That’s not my view, and I think it’s not “the modern worldview.”

            One of the motivations for empiricism and phenomenalism has been the view that people (including very smart people, e.g. some kinds of metaphysician) often use words without meaning, thinking they have views when really they don’t. So some kinds of empiricism try to work out tests for whether a statement is meaningful at all.

            The idea that you sometimes use words without meaning, thinking you have views when you don’t (e.g. about “correspondence”), is an idea that I find increasingly plausible. (On this topic I recommend chapter 2 of Mill’s “On Liberty.”) But I don’t hold any particular empiricist view about meaning, and I haven’t tried to appeal to any such view in discussion.

            Empiricism about meaningfulness has often led to a phenomenal metaphysics: the idea that all things are reducible to experiences: nothing is real except experiences. That’s not quite the same as the idea that everything real is experienceable.

            Another issue in empiricism is about justification: the idea that if holding a view (other than an empty tautology) is to be reasonable, the view must be supported by experience (observation). And of course there are all sorts of further requirements if a view is to be reasonable, and the requirements may differ for different kinds of view.

            I haven’t put forth or relied on any of these views in “the conversation thus far.” I don’t have definite overall views on these topics.

            2

            You have said atoms are not visible (at least individually) but are measurable, and of course you are right. Your point was that by “visible” in “visible realm” nobody really means “visible.” Right again. Nobody does. When talking about “realms” and meaning and justification, nobody puts all her eggs in the basket of sight, leaving out sound, touch, taste, smell, … . Instead, people talk about experience. Various kinds of empiricism and phenomenalism stress experience in one way or another; none, I think, stresses any particular list of qualities or kinds of experience.

            Let’s talk for a little bit about the concept of a visible – or rather, experienceable – realm.

            To simplify, let’s stick to vision for a moment. What is it to be visible?

            When one asks that, the first idea is to distinguish between seeing something directly and indirectly. By way of various machines, I can see a tennis match thousands of miles away, or a dance move performed before I was born, or a single molecule. By way of an artist I can see roughly what a certain city street looked like centuries before I was born.

            The apple in my hand: do I see it directly or indirectly? On the one hand, one might think, I see it only indirectly, by way of sensations in my head or in my mind, which I see more directly. Someone could in principle create such sensations in me without the presence of the apple (as in the movie The Matrix); my belief in the apple is based on something like inference, like my belief in the reality of thetennis players I see on TV. On the other hand, one might think, I see those sensations only indirectly. Normally I don’t even notice them; I can attend to them only by way of staring at the apple and then taking up a certain abstract point of view. Similarly, normally I don’t attend to the color patches on the TV screen; I attend to the tennis. It’s hard to attend specifically to the patches on the screen; it’s hard to see specifically those.

            I conclude that while (a) on the one hand it is clear that we often see one thing by way of another, (b) it is unclear that there is such a thing as directly seeing something; anyway I have no clear concept of direct seeing. One might be able to define different kinds of directness in seeing.

            Hence I have no way to define a realm of things that are “directly seen.” As for things indirectly seen, there seems to be no limit to the kinds of things that can be seen by way of other things. I can see in Mary’s face that she is upset; in a chart I can see statistical relationships. In the periodic table I can see that the atomic number of lithium is 3. By my watch I can see the passage of time.

            Offhand, the same seems true of hearing and other kinds of experience, though vision allows more detail than e.g. taste. There will be limits to the degree of complexity of things that we can taste; for example it’s pretty hard to taste statistical relationships, though I suppose it could be done by way of charts to be tasted rather than seen. And normally, of course, different channels of experience work together, not separately.

            I haven’t done a survey, but my guess is that what I’ve said here in section 2 is the standard view on these topics at the present moment in Western philosophical history. I don’t know who in particular has put it forth; I think it passes for background common sense. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t people who take different views.

            Are atoms experienceable? Yes and no.
            Is your “deeper level” experienceable? Yes and no.

            What’s the difference?

            4

            For instance, 王阳明 went through a famous enlightenment experience – 龙场悟道. After the enlightenment experience, however, he still had to verify his experience against the Confucian Classics. The Classics is the touchstone for one’s spiritual and philosophical achievements. If your experience does not line up with the Classics, then you’ve had the wrong experience

            It is unclear to me whether you intended to be saying these things, or just saying that some people think these things. (Regarding your contributions to the blog, it is often, perhaps usually, unclear to me whether you mean to be saying X or just saying that some people think X.)

            In any case, note that the view you lay out here involves the idea that one can have a wrong “enlightenment experience.” When we think we are in touch with the root of the cosmos, we might be mistaken. I completely agree.

            Similarly, while a few empiricist armchair philosophers have thought there are infallible experiences, by which they have usually meant insignificant little experiences like “what I am sensing now is redness,” I suspect nobody has thought that as a practical matter in science any significant experiences are infallible. The credibility of science depends on checking by others; and more broadly, depends on a whole institutional structure that holds out rewards for successfully refuting established views. Things get checked. Things also get checked by whether the predictions come true and the machines work. That’s what make science credible, because without strong checks, we humans commonly fall into collective bullshit, with its own strong self-perpetuating reward structures. Empiricists and scientists generally don’t believe that a few experiences, or one person’s experiences, justify any large conclusions.

            From things you say above, I gather you think such standards apply to spiritual experience as well. Yes?

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            Your reply was far too long. Therefore, I might need a few days to read it.

            I will first reply to two points.

            First, with regard to correspondences. You are incorrect in saying that they have no definite meaning. I did not wish to put forth a definite meaning, because each traditional science had its own way of explaining this, and because I’m personally unfamiliar with the traditional sciences. Generally, speaking, however, if two things correspond to each other, then on a deeper level of reality, they reflect the same thing. Clearly, the presumption here is (1) that reality is hierarchical, (2) that deeper realities are more important than superficial realities, and (3) that superficial realities reflect deeper realities.

            I don’t see anything so hard to grasp or “meaningless” about this. The applications are plentiful in traditional medicine, feng-shui, divination, etc. For instance, “father” and “Heaven” are both represented by Qian – This is because they hide the same pattern within them – e.g. Although they appear differently in the visible reality, they in fact share the same seed in the unseen reality. When an expert diviner casts a hexagram involving Qian, then he would use his intuition to determine whether “father” or “Heaven” is symbolised here.

            I’m just personally unfamiliar with the details of these fields.

            With regard to why I mentioned 龙场悟道, and whether I was putting forth my own views – I was, in fact, not putting forth my own views in that passage. (It was common knowledge about why 王阳明 wrote 五经臆说.) The reason I sometimes put forth my own views and sometimes don’t, is because I didn’t come to this forum to put forth my own views. I started posting, because most commentators seemed unaware of the most basic facts about Confucianism – e.g. the goals of Neo-Confucianism, the organisation of the Confucian corpus, etc.

            (To be frank, I’m surprised by the level of knowledge in this forum. How can a person possibly do Chinese philosophy without a most basic understanding of the goals and theories of Neo-Confucianism…I used to harbour a presumption of respect for Western scholars – Livia Kohn, Kristofer Schipper, James Miller, Michael Saso, Russell Kirkland, these were my heroes. I’m definitely going to be more careful when I read Western scholars in the future…)

            However, after you kindly invited me to explain my own views, I did so. I will respond to your points one by one later on. However, I would request that you keep in mind that I am a religious believer, and that you should use more respectful language as we continue this conversation.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Hi J&M,

            There’s certainly no rush. I had said the same things more briefly earlier, and it seemed I needed to be clearer. You have written a great deal in the latest and earlier comments that I have not yet responded to at all.

            Of course there’s nothing wrong with sometimes giving one’s own views and sometimes reporting others’ views.

            The applications are plentiful in traditional medicine, feng-shui, divination, etc. For instance, […]

            Do you mean to say that in your view the applications you itemize are correct?

            First, with regard to correspondences. You are incorrect in saying that they have no definite meaning.

            I didn’t say anything about correspondences, and I didn’t say your claims about them have no definite meaning. I said didn’t know what you mean by “correspond,” and I said I was finding increasingly plausible the idea that you didn’t mean anything by such statements as “The human body corresponds perfectly with the universe.”

            I did not wish to put forth a definite meaning, because each traditional science had its own way of explaining this, and because I’m personally unfamiliar with the traditional sciences.

            I didn’t mean to ask why one should believe in correspondences, nor to ask for your explanation of how they work. Before asking those things I would want to know what you mean, what the view of yours is that you expressed to me in those words.

            Suppose I make for you a diagram with two sets of things on opposite sides of the page, and between these is a set of lines, each from one thing on the left to one on the right. It might or might not be obvious what the lines mean. For example, if the things on one side are names, and the things on the other side are photos of faces, you’ll assume you mean that each line means “this is the name of the person who has this face.” Or if the things on one side are kinds of dog and the things on the other side are brands of dog food, you might guess that the lines mean “X should eat Y” or “X should not eat Y” or “X was fed Y in our experiment,” etc. If the things on one side are kinds of melon and the things on the other side are kinds of radio, you won’t have a guess about what my lines mean. Since I made the diagram, you’ll expect that if you ask me what I mean by the lines, I’ll just tell you; and my answer won’t be a general account of the meaning of lines in diagrams.

            I think the word “correspond” is just exactly like that. It’s not a hard or obscure word, but by itself it means almost nothing.

            Still, when you ask me about the lines in the melon radio diagram, I might not be able to tell you. I might have copied it from a diagram I found in a respectable textbook that I trust, so that I believe that the diagram is true, even though I don’t know what it means. And I might be right to trust the textbook and right to believe that the diagram is true – still without knowing what the author means. And then I wouldn’t be able to mean anything by the diagram, except that there is some relation between those kinds of radios and those kinds of melon. (The actual relation might turn out to be that each kind of radio was stuffed inside that kind of melon in some experiment.) In showing you the diagram, I wouldn’t mean anything. Or rather, I would mean next to nothing. I would mean that each kind of melon “corresponds” in some way to a kind of radio; but that statement by itself is approximately empty of meaning.

            You aren’t like that. You have answered:

            Generally, speaking, however, if two things correspond to each other, then on a deeper level of reality, they reflect the same thing. Clearly, the presumption here is (1) that reality is hierarchical, (2) that deeper realities are more important than superficial realities, and (3) that superficial realities reflect deeper realities. I don’t see anything so hard to grasp or “meaningless” about this.

            For an initial answer I think that’s very clear and detailed. Thank you.

            If I understand you, you’re saying that the correspondence relation you’re talking about in such statements as “The human body corresponds perfectly with the universe” is precisely this:

            *that the two things each reflect the same third thing that is on a deeper level of reality.*

            For clarity’s sake, I’ll call that relation Korrespondence. (So if my asterisked attempt to paraphrase you is an inaccurate paraphrase, then Korrespondence isn’t what you meant.) I’m trying to understand what it comes to. Here are some thoughts I have about it.

            1.
            Korrespondence is defined in terms of two other relations: a reflection relation between things (A reflects B) and a deeperness relation between groups or levels of things (Level C is deeper than Level D). I think I have some rough idea of what you mean by these.

            a)
            I think “being deeper than” has something to do with causing, or with the practice we call “explaining.” (But big area of uncertainty for me about what you mean by “deeper” is this: When you speak of a hierarchical conception, are you thinking that (i) reality is neatly divided into distinct realms or levels, as a building is divided into stories? Or do you just mean that (ii) some things are deeper than others, so that we can speak loosely of all the things that are at about the same depth as constituting a “level,” and it might or might not turn out that reality is neatly divided into distinct levels?)

            b)
            I guess that X’s reflecting Y is supposed to amount to something roughly like this: “X is similar to Y, and X is caused by Y.”

            c)
            If X reflects Y, does that imply that each part of X reflects Y? My guess (b) above suggests that the answer is No. (A picture may resemble my whole face even though it is not true that every part of the picture resembles my whole face.)

            d)
            I’m guessing that the reflection relation is supposed to be transitive. That is, if X reflects Y, and Y reflects Z, then X reflects Z.

            e)
            You have said that everything that isn’t on the deepest level reflects something on a deeper level, and I guess you think everything that isn’t on the shallowest level is reflected by something shallower.

            f)
            Guess (e) suggests that insofar as there are lots of Korrespondences, deeper levels of reality have fewer things. For a Korrespondence relates two things on one level to one thing on a deeper level.

            4.
            Do I think there are in fact any Korrespondences?

            I don’t know, partly because I don’t know enough about what you mean by “deep” to know whether or not I believe there are levels or groups of things that are “deeper” (as you mean “deep”) than other levels or groups, as you mean “deep.” That’s not a criticism of you: we just haven’t gotten there yet.

            Suppose that I learn enough about what you mean by “deep” to know that I think the laws of physics constitute a “deeper” level than the (detailed) cosmos and than my body. Then I would think my body Korresponds to the cosmos if I thought body and cosmos each “reflect” the laws of physics. Do I think they reflect the laws? If reflecting is being caused by and being similar to, then I guess I don’t think they reflect the laws, because I don’t think my body and the cosmos are similar to the laws. So I guess I don’t think my body Korresponds to the cosmos.

            Suppose there is a great spinning blob that shoots off some smaller blobs. Maybe these smaller blobs correspond to each other, because maybe the one grand blob is a slightly deeper thing than the smaller blobs it causes and resembles. We would explain the smaller blobs by reference to the larger blob. A more complete explanation would presumably go by way of the larger blob.

            5.
            Taken together, guesses (c) and (d) above suggest pretty directly that almost everything Korresponds to almost everything else. For example, consider the deepest level of reality, if there is a deepest. If it involves just one thing, then everything shallower reflects that one thing, then everything (other than that one thing) Korresponds to everything else (other than that one thing). Or suppose the deepest level of reality is five things. They can’t Korrespond to each other. Still, in speaking of “the deepest level of reality,” we’re talking about the thing that is composed of those five things. And perhaps everything shallower reflects that. If so, then everything (other than the things on the deepest level) Korresponds to everything else (other than the things on the deepest level).

            6. Your statement “the human body corresponds perfectly with the universe” involves the idea that some correspondence relations are more perfect than others. Correspondence admits of degrees.

            If my guesses about “reflect” and “deep” are not far off, then clearly Korrespondence admits of degrees. According to my guesses, the following is at least roughly true: two things Korrespond insofar as they are caused by and similar to a third, deeper thing. On that view, the two things Korrespond better or worse if they are caused more completely or less completely by the third thing. (The third thing might only help cause them, as my face helps cause a photo by provoking it.) And on that view, two things Korrespond better or worse if they are more or less similar to the third thing. Complete or perfect Korrespondence would imply complete or perfect similarity.

            And that’s an apparent problem about my guess (b)! For I imagine that you don’t think that my body and the cosmos are each completely and perfectly similar to some third thing. They are not, after all, completely and perfectly similar to each other.

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            I’ll respond point by point to your most recent post.

            Yes, I believe the applications of correspondences in traditional medicine, feng-shui, and divination are correct.

            Manifest reality, including both seen and unseen aspects, is not divided into discrete realms. There are many ways to divide manifest reality.

            The deepest level is beyond one thing and cannot be conceptualised. The next deepest level is one thing. (In this, I agree with Zhou Dunyi and the Daoists against Zhuxi.)

            Yes, ultimately, everything corresponds with every other thing, because they all come from one thing.

            Ah, okay, we get to the root of the problem here. You believe that the body and the cosmos do not appear to correspond to each other. With respect to traditional beliefs, especially Daoist beliefs, they do. On appearance, the body differs significantly from the cosmos. However, cultivators with particularly deep insight into things have observed their own body on a deep level – They discovered that the body is really like the cosmos. For instance, on a deep level, one can discover the four seasons, lakes and rivers, the sun and the moon, etc. in the body. (Again, keep in mind that this is on a deep level, inaccessible to modern scientific instruments.)

            For minerals, vegetables, and animals – While they do reflect the cosmos to some degree, the reflection is imperfect.

            Now, one can get to the problem of why one should trust the testimony of these cultivators. But that’s a whole other problem. To an extent, one does not really know until one has had the same experiences. However, the correspondence between the human body and the cosmos is found in virtually every mystical teaching I have encountered.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Thanks for those careful replies and for the further informative remark about plants and animals. That’s helpful.

            1.

            Manifest reality, including both seen and unseen aspects, is not divided into discrete realms. There are many ways to divide manifest reality.

            Thank you. By “manifest” here I’m guessing you mean experienceable, including fairly deep things experienced by special spiritual experience. Please correct me if I’m wrong. (I wonder then whether by “manifest reality” you mean all but the deepest level, or all but the two deepest levels. But it’s not an urgent question.)

            2.

            Ah, okay, we get to the root of the problem here. You believe that the body and the cosmos do not appear to correspond to each other.

            I said I don’t yet know enough about what you mean by “deep” etc. to know what beliefs I have about what Korresponds or “corresponds” to what.

            The relevant point that I do believe is that the human body and the cosmos are not completely similar to one another. They are not exactly alike in every way. These two things, which you say are shallower than a third thing that they both reflect, are not exactly alike. That’s my belief about these allegedly shallow things.

            But as I explained, my guess (b) about what you mean by “reflect” strongly suggests that two things can Korrespond perfectly only if they are perfectly similar. Thus my guess (b) suggests that the body and the cosmos don’t “perfectly correspond,” as you said they do.

            (And that suggests that my guess (b) about what you mean by “reflect” is wrong – and wrong by a long way, since offhand it seems that similar guesses would generate similar problems. But I hope you can see that my guess (b) was a reasonable good-faith effort to guess well about what you might mean by “reflect.” Was my guess wrong? If so, can you say what you meant?)

            But I think you may be offering a reply to that line of thought, which I’ll here paraphrase in my own words: “The shallow cosmos and shallow body may not be completely similar, but the deeper entities are completely similar. Like this: suppose Godzilla is buried under the mountain, and only a bit of tail is showing and a bit of claw. Different sizes and colors. You look at them and don’t know what they are; you say they are not similar. But someone who recognizes what they are will know that they are basically the same thing. That’s Godzilla. Since everything is exactly similar to itself, of course that thing (you point at the claw) is exactly similar to that thing (you point at the tail). It’s Godzilla!”

            I think that reply is not correct, even if the body and cosmos do reflect the same deeper thing. Here’s the problem: When you propose that the body and cosmos correspond, i.e. reflect the same third, deeper thing, your claim is precisely and essentially about the body qua shallow thing, and the cosmos qua shallow thing, and how they relate to a third deeper thing.

            Analogy: Even if I recognize that that’s Godzilla (pointing toward the claw) and that that’s Godzilla too (pointing toward the tail), that doesn’t mean I can’t say (pointing at one and then the other): “These things are the parts of Godzilla that are sticking out of the mountain, connected by more Godzilla parts bigger than either of them.” If I spoke that quoted sentence, and by “these things” I meant the deeper entity Godzilla, my statement would be simply false. I have to mean the shallow bits only, in order for my statement to be true. (And it would certainly seem that one can mean just those things.)

            3.

            Yes, ultimately, everything corresponds with every other thing, because they all come from one thing

            What about the apparent exception I mentioned? Do you think the one thing corresponds with anything? And that anything corresponds with it?

            4.

            The deepest level is beyond one thing and cannot be conceptualised.

            You can see how one might think it is impossible to assert those words meaningfully (like the words “It is impossible to have any thought about the star I see before me” or “There can be no sentence that mentions scorpions”). On the one hand, the words seem to say one can’t have a concept of a certain thing. It would follow that one can’t have a thought that is specifically about that thing; one can’t have the concepts needed for such a thought. And yet the words also seem to say something about that thing. Hence it would seem that one cannot accept these words without misunderstanding them. (One can, however, meaningfully deny them quite easily, as one can deny the statement, “There can be no sentence that mentions scorpions.”) There doesn’t seem to be any necessary paradox here.

            5.

            Here are two little puzzles. I don’t know if either would seem like a problem to you, but I’m trying to think my way into an understanding of correspondence as you see it, based on the acount you’ve given, looking it up and down and kicking the tires, and these things have occurred to me. They’ll take a few paragraphs to set up.

            The account of “correspondence” you offered doesn’t suggest on its face that “correspondence” between A and B has to do with a set of relations between the parts of A and the parts of B. The account doesn’t suggest that in order to correspond, A and B have to have parts.

            But I think that when you said “The human body corresponds perfectly with the universe,” your point was that there is a relation or mapping of some sort between the parts of the body and the parts of the universe. So I’m guessing that your sentence about perfect correspondence was shorthand for something like this: “The body and the universe are each completely composed of a certain number of parts such that each of those parts of the body Korresponds to one of those parts of the universe (and vice versa).”

            Note that in putting it that way I’ve avoided 2 apparent problems, which I wouldn’t have avoided if I had put it this way: “Every part of the body corresponds to just one part of the universe (and vice versa).” For every part of the body is a part of the universe, so (1) it would seem the universe has to have more parts than the body, so there can’t be a perfect one-to-one Korrespondence unless there is infinite divisibility, or unless everything Korresponds to everything else anyway; and (2) if the human head Korresponds in a certain way to part P of the universe (that is, they both reflect deep thing T), then my head Korresponds in exactly the same way to everybody else’s head, so there are parts of my body that correspond to more than one part of the universe, and vice versa.

            The way I chose to phrase it instead, above, avoids both apparent problems, because it doesn’t speak of every part no matter how we cut. It just proposes that there is some one list of parts (maybe three, maybe a hundred) that adds up to the whole body, and some other list of the same number of parts that adds up to the whole universe (none of which need be a part of a human body), and that the two sets of parts Korrespond exactly one-to-one.

            But maybe my way of avoiding the problems isn’t available. For it’s natural to guess that if things A and B can each be divided into a thousand parts that Korrespond, that’s a more “perfect correspondence” between A and B than if they can each only be divided into two or three parts that Korrespond. Completely perfect correspondence would then seem to involve “all” the parts, which brings us back to both apparent problems (1) and (2).

            6.

            The account of Korrespondence seems to rely heavily on the notion of “one thing.” As an anglophone non-metaphysical philosopher, I’m habitually suspicious of that idea. I mean, suppose I’m holding hands with two people. Are they both “touching the same thing”? They’re touching different hands, but they’re both touching me. Now the people go off to different continents or different planets. Are they both “touching the same thing”? Sure, they’re both touching the earth, or the universe. The idea of two people “touching the same thing” doesn’t mean much unless we introduce some special notion of “thing” or “one thing.” We might make similar points about the phrase “being caused by the same thing.” “The two events were caused by the same cosmos …”

            Thus it would seem offhand that the idea of two things reflecting the same deeper thing has to depend on some special notion of “thing” or “one thing.” If A reflects the north half of the moon, and B reflects the south half of the moon, do they both reflect the moon? Do they reflect the same thing?

            So my worry is that unless you or I have some special idea about what counts as one thing, or reflecting “the same thing,” the concept of Korrespondence as defined above doesn’t mean much.

          • Bill Haines says:

            For minerals, vegetables, and animals – While they do reflect the cosmos to some degree, the reflection is imperfect

            Here you seem to be contrasting those lower thing with humans. Humans, you had said, “correspond perfectly” with the cosmos. As for the other things, “While they do reflect the cosmos to some degree, the reflection is imperfect.”

            So I wonder whether by “reflect” you mean the same thing as “correspond,” so that the definition of “correspond” you offered earlier doesn’t capture your meaning. Alternately, in your remark about plants, you may simply have slipped momentarily, saying “reflect” when you meant “correspond.”

            Either way, your point seems to be that rocks, plants, and cats do not correspond perfectly to the cosmos.

            And that’s a puzzle for me, because when I look at other things I guess you think, they seem to add up to an argument that each plant etc. does correspond perfectly to the cosmos. So my guesses about what you think can’t all be correct, but I don’t know which ones are wrong. Here’s the argument; each premise is something I guess you think.

            (A) All things are wholly explainable. (premise: I guess you think this)

            (B) A thing’s being wholly explainable is that the thing is explainable by something deeper, and ultimately that the thing is wholly explainable by the deepest one Thing. (premise: I guess you think this)

            (C) Every thing is wholly explainable by the deepest one Thing. (implied by (A) and (B))

            (D) If X is wholly explainable by Y, X perfectly reflects Y. (premise: I guess you think this)

            (E): Every thing perfectly reflects the deepest one Thing. (implied by (C) and (D))

            (F): Every two things Korrespond perfectly. (seems to be implied by (E) and the account of Korrespondence)

            (G) Every mooncake Korresponds perfectly to the cosmos. (implied by (F))

            ?

            (In the above argument, wherever I use the term “thing” or “things” without explicitly saying “the deepest one Thing,” I mean to be referring only to things other than the deepest one thing, and not saying anything one way or the other about the deepest one Thing.)

          • Justice&Mercy says:

            With regard to the body and the cosmos – One must understand that the body as it appears is only one part of the greater human being. In fact, it is a miniscule part.

            There is the body as visible form. Then, there are the deeper aspects of the body. The visible form of the body appears different from the cosmos. However, the deeper aspects of the body correspond perfectly with the cosmos. For instance, some cultivators, who possessed special vision, were able to find the Kunlun mountain, and other mountains and grottos within the body.

            Illustrating this with a diagram,
            the visible body <- deeper aspects of the body <- the Source
            the cosmos <- deeper aspects of the cosmos <- the Source

            You may wish to look up Neijing Tu on Wiki.

            With regard to the thing which is beyond one thing – Yes, any statement about it is bound to be misleading if taken absolutely. All statements about it should be understood as pointers.

            I'll think about what you said about the "one thing", as in the two problems you have come up with. However, to clarify – The one thing is without parts. In fact, when we get to a certain level of depth, e.g. the formless realm, things do not have form – Therefore, they don't have parts.

          • Bill Haines says:

            I propose that we continue the discussion at the highest comment level and mostly stay at the highest level: (a) for mechanical convenience of posting, and (b) to make it possible to refer to earlier comments by number, and (c) so that in case other threads are active, one can still find out without great difficulty whether a comment has been posted to this conversation since the last time one looked.

            So I’ll now post top-level Comment #15, continuing the present conversation.

    • Justice&Mercy says:

      The following quote is from 熊十力’s 读经示要. I haven’t actually read it – I was skimming the first bits just now to get a feel for it.

      This illustrates what I meant when I said that spiritual and philosophical achievements, if they are to qualify as Confucian, must be verified by Classics.

      易道晦塞,二千余年。余造新论,自信于羲皇神悟之画,尼山幽赞之文,冥搜密查,远承玄旨。真理昭然天地间。悟者同悟,迷者自迷。余非敢以己意说经,实以所悟,证之于经而无不合。

      ……

      The analogy with Christianity I alluded to above is also correct. Qing Dynasty 考据学 tended to dissolve 经学, in the same way higher and lower criticism tended to dissolve Christian theology. 六经皆史 foreshadowed the dismemberment of the 经学 system, because the basis of 经学 was that 经 belonged to a different category from 史、子、集.

      At its simplest, 经学 presupposes that 经 form a reliable guide to some aspects of reality, and that the information sought after can be extracted with a variety of hermeneutic assumptions (such as 以经解经) and exegetic techniques (such as 微言大义). (Most of these assumptions and techniques also feature, of course, in Christian theology and Islamic philosophy.)

      Let me quote again 读经示要:

      考据不本于义理,则唯务支离破碎,而绝无安心立命之地。

      吾幽居深念,未尝不太息隐撼于清儒之自负讲明经学者,实所以亡经学者。

      清儒所从事者,多为治经之工具,而非即此为经学也。

      There are also quotes about how 学者 must put effort into 文字之外 to grasp 圣人之意.

      (It may be unfair of me to quote 读经示要, since I haven’t actually read it. I’m just skimming at the moment. However, I’ve read similar stuff before – The ideas aren’t new to me.)

      ……

      I do not dispute the value of modern scholarship. I read modern scholarship often, too. However, people should respect Confucian philosophy as it’s traditionally done (and is still done).

  9. Bill Haines says:

    Here’s the passage from the Zuo Zhuan that J&M mentioned above (左传·襄公三十一年):

    The people of Zheng used to discuss the state administration when when they gathered at leisure in the village schools. The Zheng official Ran Ming said to Zi Chan, “How about abolishing the village schools?” Zi Chan replied, “What for? In the morning and evening when the people are at leisure or have finished their work, they gather to discuss the good and bad points of my administration. The points they approve of I encourage, and those they criticize I correct. They are really my teachers. Why should I abolish them? I have heard of wiping out resentment by loyal service [忠] and good work. But I have never heard of stopping it by force. True, one can cut it off for a time. But it is like damming up a river – when there is a major break in the dikes many are bound to suffer. If the people’s resentment were to break out in the same way I would never be able to save the situation. It is bettter to leave a little break in the dikes for the water to drain off. It is better than I hear the people’s complaints and make them my medicine.” Ran Ming said, “Now I understand that you are indeed capable of managing affairs, and that I am truly a person of no talent. If you will, in fact, proceed in this manner than everyone in the State of Zheng will benefit, and not only a few officials like myself. When Confucius heard of this incident, he remarked, “People say that Zi Chan was not a good man. But judging from this, I find it impossible to believe.” (Translation from the Wisdom of Chinese Culture series)

    This passage addresses the occasional criticism of particular individuals or policies, but doesn’t address general constraints in the interest of public morals, such as limitations on heretical views, pornography, or wrong music.

    *

    A general Confucian argument for freedom of expression might be constructed from the idea that if the ruler is personally virtuous, everyone else will fall into line.

  10. David Elstein says:

    One way I look at the difference between liberal and Ruist freedom of expression is the degree of paternalism. I think all liberal societies try to limit expression generally considered potentially harmful to public morals. So in the US, you have to be 17 to get into R-rated movies and 18 to purchase pornography. But once you’re considered an adult, you’re free to corrupt yourself if you want to. In On Liberty Mill says something to the effect of society has the chance to influence people’s morals and sense of judgment when they are children, and once they are adults they can exercise their own judgment to do what they want. There’s a strong streak of paternalism in Ruism and other Chinese philosophies, which considers most people to be impressionable like children even after they are adults. So pornography, for example, could be banned entirely because the only adults who should be able to consume it (the junzi or sages) wouldn’t want to, and everyone who would want to could be corrupted by it. I think that’s similar to Mengzi’s argument against heretical doctrines.

    I’m not saying this is wrong (given the influence of Fox News, I sometimes think Mengzi has a pretty good point), just I find that it helps illuminate the difference. This also ties in nicely with the above discussion about following authority versus evaluating ideas for oneself. If only very few people are capable of the latter, it makes sense to emphasize the former.

  11. Bill Haines says:

    Hm. Yes, it’s one thing to say that there’s a super-big difference between the wisest and the rest, and another thing to say that this is because some people are super-wise. It could be instead that most people are fools. (OK maybe it’s not another thing, but never mind.) Kant thought that whether most people are fools tends to depend on whether they have a government that leaves them free to discuss (“An Answer to the Question, What is Enlightenment?”). So if the Confucian view is as you say, then under the kind of government Confucians have mainly been familiar with, their view may indeed be correct.

    I wonder whether the Fox problem is because an increase in choice of channels (in tv and elsewhere) is undermining the existence of genuinely public discussion, dissolving the agora. Too much freedom?

    • Bill Haines says:

      I do think liberal freedom of speech encourages and depends on a general ethic about discussion. The personal responsibility involved is not just that of being quiet when one doesn’t know. It’s also that of engaging with others with whom one disagrees, to help the best ideas win out: to persuade or be persuaded.

      • Stephen C. Walker says:

        On my reading of the classical philosophers, this “ethic about discussion” that you mention is not particularly advocated – or even articulated. If anything, it is subjected to repeated suspicion and dismissal. This is a fairly cavernous topic requiring that we process a lot of textual data. One of the generalizations I’m comfortable making is that none of the leading Confucian or Daoist writers elevates the ideal of free discussion involving the advancement of contrasting theses and the scrutiny of reasons, among parties accorded at least roughly equal respect. Disagreement and diversity of opinion is handled in various discursive ways: the “pedagogical” and “rhetorical” win out strongly over the “dialectical”. That people like Mengzi and Xunzi may debate competently does not indicate that they think that debating competently constitutes an important intellectual virtue or practice – except insofar as it helps the good guys beat the bad guys.

        • Bill Haines says:

          Hi Stephen, I didn’t mean to say that the advocates of freedom of speech appealed to such an ethic a long time ago. I just meant that liberal freedom of speech encourages and depends on a general ethic about discussion. Not by everybody of course.

        • Bill Haines says:

          Huaiyu had mentioned the responsibility to be taciturn about matters on which one is not qualified to speak, and beyond saying that I think such responsibility is pretty much universal common sense, especially important when the freedom to speak is great, I wanted to add a kind of simple flip side to that: the responsibility not to cover one’s own ears and mouth to avoid challenge. If you think you may be right about something important, and others don’t share the view you think is right, you should speak up. Whether that’s controversial depends on details and degrees, and I don’t have any particular details and degrees in mind. But it seems to me that as it becomes ever easier for us all to avoid engagement with different views (if that is happening), the responsibility increases. Part of what prompted me was some turns of phrase in David’s recent comment, which might be read (unfairly, I am sure) to say that liberal freedom aims to make people uninfluenced by each other.

        • Justice&Mercy says:

          It’s quite clear that a competent presentation has nothing to do with the truth of a particular position.

          The dialectical, as common practised, is merely a mode of the rhetorical.

          This, I believe, is also Plato’s real position. It’s not that Sophists cannot debate competently. Instead, they have not grasped the essentials. Dialectics is not a replacement for truth. The purpose of dialectics is to reveal the summum bonum, which cannot be expressed in words.

          Because the summum bonum cannot be expressed in words, words which refer to it can only ever reveal a part of the truth. This is why Confucius never settled on one definition of Ren – Instead, he gave answers according to the needs of each disciple.

  12. David Elstein says:

    Another perspective on the question of suppressing heterodoxy from Wang Yangming: “What was wrong with the first emperor’s burning of the books was that he did this out of a selfish motivation, and it was improper to burn the six classics. If at the time his intent had been to make clear the way and to burn all the books that opposed the classics and violated principle, then his actions would have been proper and would happen to have conformed to [Kongzi’s] ideas about editing and transmitting [the classics]….The reason the world is not well ordered is simply because [superfluous] writing has increased so dramatically while actual practice has declined.”

    This is from Wang’s Chuanxi lu; translation is Philip Ivanhoe’s from his Readings in the Lu-Wang School of Neo-Confucianism (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2009), 152.

    • Manyul Im says:

      That’s really interesting, David. I hadn’t thought of purging through conflagration as really akin to purging through editing. I suppose editorial cutting and “emendation” in the transmission process can have similar effects as burning. Wang accepts “making clear the way” as an acceptable rationale for either burning or editorial cutting. From a modern freedom of speech point of view, “muddling the way” might be acceptable in the larger pursuit of a more democratic epistemology — allowing individuals to consider all writings themselves and find their own way to the way, as it were. Democratic epistemology is like other democratic institutions — it’s messy but it upholds some principle of individual self-determination as an understanding of the value of autonomy. Understood that way, even the value of knowledge — of discovering truth — is secondary to the value of autonomy. You set people out to graze on whatever they wish and hope for the best, or more earnestly, try to pepper the grazings with one’s own efforts to persuade people toward what one takes to be evidential and true. But ultimately, you don’t try to restrict what people consume. That can sound crazy to someone who values most the dissemination of truth or who values most doctrinal agreement and, hence, social cohesion and order.

      There’s a perspective issue here. Someone who’s temperamentally very certain of her beliefs might value dissemination of truth much more than someone who tends to be less sure about whether she has successfully acquired the truth. The latter sort will want opportunities to examine evidence and claims with fewer restrictions and with more access to potential sources of truth. One question to ask is whether Ruists are more of the former sort, and if so, why.

      Quite separately, it strikes me that as an intellectual tradition, Ruist practices of doctrinal criticism — criticisms of their intellectual opponents — often pull in two directions. On the one hand, they address what they take to be the fatal weaknesses of their opponents’ views — either in terms of evidence for them or practical results of following them. On the other hand, they express cautionary fears that if/because their opponents views are widely believed, the world falls into chaos — perhaps invoking calls for censorship. These seem to pursue divergent convictions: the former that exposing weaknesses in a view defeats it and removes much of its threat of widespread adoption, the latter that acceptance of weak and unpersuasive views will be widespread unless they are censored. So, another question to ask is whether the former conviction — that exposing weaknesses defeats a view and makes it less likely that it will be adopted — is a resource evident enough in Ruism to tap it for making Ruist arguments for free speech.

  13. Bill Haines says:

    Hi J&M, you ask, Would you like to discuss the questions one by one?

    You seem to mean, exhaust each question [from #8 above] before you have addressed the others at all? I have no choice I’ll continue doing that, or try to. But no, I wouldn’t like that. If we’re going to go one by one, I’d prefer to hold you first to your offer of a full reply to my initial question, or at least to start with something not very peripheral to it. My initial question and most central follow-ups are, here again in the same words:

    INITIAL QUESTION:

    If I understand your view, it involves these ideas: A) God uses some people, Sages or Prophets, as comprehensive authorities for the rest of us. God gives messages to the Sages, who transmit it by preparing texts to be Scriptures, and by training followers (who may in turn prepare texts to be Scriptures or train followers, et cetera ad … infinitum?). But that isn’t the only way we’re in contact with divine truth. B) There’s also intuition, which I imagine is supposed to help fill the gaps in the bare (A) picture, such as questions about how it can be sensible and not irresponsible to to believe in the authority of putative sages and their scriptures. Is that right so far?

    MOST CENTRAL FOLLOW-UPS:

    2. I think you said something long ago that led me to think that you think Confucius’ Sagely authority is mainly for China; is that your view? And there have been other Sages for other places?

    4. Is there non-circular reason – that is, is there reason – to believe in Sages and Scriptures [I mean, to believe they exist as characterized in the overall question above]?

    5. Taking for granted the view that there are Sages and Scriptures, is there non-circular reason to think
    Confucius qualifies?

    Maybe these questions will lead us quickly back to questions about biology; maybe not. I asked about biology to get some orientation to your views on the above matters.

  14. Bill Haines says:

    But putting it that way isn’t very nice and isn’t what I mean. You’re doing the heavy lifting in this conversation; we should proceed as you like. Sorry. Besides, the evolution conversation above is moving toward some of the other issues.

  15. Bill Haines says:

    Continuing from here http://warpweftandway.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/ruism-and-free-speech/#comment-6008

    A

    You wrote
    I’ll think about what you said about the “one thing”, as in the two problems you have come up with. However, to clarify – The one thing is without parts.

    and I think you may have been referring to where I wrote

    6.
    The account of Korrespondence seems to rely heavily on the notion of “one thing.” As an anglophone non-metaphysical philosopher, I’m habitually suspicious of that idea. I mean, suppose I’m holding hands with two people. …

    But there I was not specifically talking about the One Thing, what you say is at the second-deepest level. Rather I was referring to the idea in your definition of “correspond,” that for two things to “correspond” is for them each to reflect the same third thing, hence some one thing.

    B

    In explaining what you mean by your statement that “the human body corresponds perfectly with the universe,” you’ve given me a little more than a diagram, but as I’m still pretty much in the dark about what you mean by “deep,” and you haven’t confirmed or denied that my rough guesses about what you mean by “deep” and “reflect.”

    Here is a report on my effort to guess what (if anything) you mean by “deep.”

    Sometimes recently by “X is deeper than Y” you seem simply to mean “X causes Y.”
    On the other hand, it looks like that can’t be quite what you mean, because (if I recall) you said that your view differs from some Westerners’ views in that they think a thing’s cause can be at the same level as that thing, while you think the cause must be something deeper. If by “X is deeper than Y” you just meant “X causes Y,” then the thing I’ve just italicized would be saying precisely this and nothing more: “They think Y’s cause can be something that isn’t Y’s cause, while you think its cause must be something that can be its cause.” That would attribute to the Westerners something transparently self-contradictory, and attribute to you a mere empty tautology, so that the whole statement would just be silly and false. Rather, it seems that you think two people who have views about the cause of Y can disagree in this way: Smith thinks the cause of Y is something no deeper than Y, while Jones thinks the cause of Y is something deeper than Y. If you think that’s a possible disagreement, you must think that not only does “X is deeper than Y” not mean simply “X causes Y,” you must also think that it is possible to think that X is deeper than Y, as you mean deep, without thinking that X causes Y.

    Separately, I suppose that you think two things A and B can be at the same depth while B causes a shallower C and A does not cause C. If you think that’s possible, then you think B is deeper than C while B does not cause C. So it looks as though for you, “X is deeper than Y” does not imply “X causes Y.” But the only idea I had about what you might mean by “deep” was that it had something to do with causing. So I seem to be wholly out of ideas about what if anything you might mean by “deep.” It’s now just a vertical axis on a diagram for me, without meaning.

    C

    You seem to have been willing to accept, at least for the sake of discussion, my guess that by “X reflects Y” you mean roughly “X is similar to Y and Y causes X.” Also you seem to have been happy with this conclusion from that guess: that if X perfectly reflects Y, X is exactly similar to Y.

    I said that you would then seem committed to the view that the human body is exactly similar to the universe, and you said that you do indeed think so, except that in saying so you are not saying that the shallow body is just like the shallow universe, you’re saying that the deep body is like the deep universe, while these are still not the same object.

    (i) That leaves open, then, the question whether in your view the shallow body corresponds to the shallow universe.

    (ii) And it’s somewhat obscure to me how, if the deep body and the deep universe are exactly similar, exactly alike, they could have such radically dissimilar shallow versions.

    (iii) Indeed if the deep body and deep universe are exactly similar, it would seem to me that we could speak of things of that kind, and say that with each new human being born there are more things of that kind. More deep bodies. More deep universes. (Those last two claims would seem to come to the same thing, according to you, since you seem to say there are no differences between things of that kind: a deep body, the deep universe.)

    D

    Earlier I laid out an argument to show that several things I guess you think seem to imply that everything (even a mooncake) perfectly Korrespnds with everything else. (Search “mooncake” to find the argument.)

    On the way to that conclusion, the argument arrived at the following intermediate conclusion (from three other things I guess you think):

    (E): Every thing perfectly reflects the deepest one Thing.

    Here I just want to point out that if you accept that conclusion, you would seem also to have to accept that everything is exactly similar to the One Partless Thing. (I mean, given what I said at the beginning of section C of the present comment.)

    And that would seem to imply that nothing has parts. (For if X has more parts than Y, X is not exactly similar to Y; and the One Partless Thing has no parts.)

    And yet you seem to envision the correspondence between the deep body and the deep universe as a relation between their parts.

    E

    I wonder whether the mystics who see Mt. Kunlun in the body see in the body any of the main features of the cosmos, such as galaxies. I wonder if they see in the universe any features of the body, such as the nerves. Is it somehow more correct or more insightful to see Mt. Kunlun in the body than to see the spleen in the cosmos?

    One might imagine that if the deep body is just like the deep cosmos, things like the spleen and Mt. Kunlun aren’t going to show up in the deep body or the deep cosmos.

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