Warp, Weft, and Way

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

Translate This!


I’m sure many of us have this practice: You see a new translation of a text that is near and dear to you, and the first thing you do is pick it up and flip to those handful of passages that you think are crucial in understanding the text to see how the translator has parsed them.  (I can’t be the only one, right?)

One such passage (for me, anyway) is 1.12 in the Analects.  Here it is:


Here are two ways of understanding the first part of this passage.

  1. The ‘social coordination’ reading.  According to this reading, what’s most valued in practicing ritual propriety is that it enables individuals to harmonize with one another.  No great difficulty in this reading.  After all, the rituals governed human interactions and allowed for structured, predictable exchanges between them.  This seems to be the reading of D.C. Lau in his translation: “‘Of the things brought about by the rites, harmony is the most valuable.”
  2. The ‘intrapersonal harmony’ reading.  According to this reading, what’s most valued in practicing ritual propriety is that it harmonizes the intrapersonal life of the individual.  The li serve to foster one’s emotional development, suppressing certain tendencies while strengthening others, until one eventually becomes so versed that one can ‘follow one’s immediate inclinations without transgressing norms’ (as it were).  This seems to be the reading of Ted Slingerland:  “When it comes to the practice of ritual, it is harmonious ease that is to be valued.”

It doesn’t seem that the remainder of the passage itself does much to settle things one way or another.  (I think it slightly favors the first reading.)  So, I’m curious as to how the readers of this blog would parse that passage.  Translate!  🙂

P.S.  I don’t think the readings are mutually exclusive.


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