Here and there I have argued that Confucius did not think family virtue is the root of ren 仁; far from it. In defense of that claim I’ll now try to answer the question: how then do so many scholars think he did?
I made my arguments about Confucius without taking into account Youzi’s statement at 1.2. I argued that the Confucius material in the Analects doesn’t see family virtue as the root of ren.
But most Confucius scholars assume that 1.2, as they understand it, is good evidence of Confucius’ views.
And normally the wide and longstanding consensus of scholars on a simple key point like that carries great authority. That might seem sufficient reason to dismiss my arguments about Confucius’ views.
There are several ways to reply.
One way is to give evidence and argument to show that Youzi was not a student of Confucius, and the two were probably not acquainted. I do that in my paper “The Purloined Philsopher” (PEW 58.4).
A second way is to give evidence and argument to show that Youzi did not imply that family virtue is the root of ren. I do that here. Still, Youzi comes closer to that view than the Confucius material does.
A third way is to give evidence and argument to show directly that the consensus of scholars lacks authority: I mean the consensus on the point that Youzi’s words are evidence of Confucius’ views. That’s what I’ll try to do now, in two Comments below this post.
I hope this project and the others linked above will be helpful also toward evaluating the authenticity of early records. To evaluate the authenticity of any given set of records, it is essential to reason as well as we can about what they and other records might say. Fortunately, there is potential for progress in that area.
A. The Primal Trauma of the Analects
Someone who approaches the Analects in the right way, the best way, will indeed come to think that one of Confucius’ core views is that family virtue is the root of ren.
Consider someone who comes to the Analects largely free of the influence of other interpreters. Imagine a young Westerner with a good mind, an aspiring intellectual, who is curious about Confucius. She reads the Analects, probably in translation, rather than secondary works, though she reads the translator’s introduction, and modest informational notes.
She finds the book a trackless mass of tantalizing bits. To get a decent general picture from the collection, she sees that she must steep herself in it. So she reads it over and over, trying to get a feel for what’s going on. It’s not a kind of thinking one does in logical order. It’s a slow absorption.
And it takes longer than she expected. Memory needs explanatory order, or narrative order, or human drama—or regular drill. There’s drama in the Analects, in some of the brief exchanges; but there is little intellectual order within the passages, and hardly any argument or narrative structuring any sequence of passages.
She persists in rereading, all the while shooting out small tentative lines of thought about connections or tensions between various bits. She can think about connections as soon as she knows the book well enough to recall, however vaguely, some passages not in view. But a general view can come together even without that. Slowly she weaves her web of understanding.
She wants more light on what’s at stake in each of the little dramatic interactions. She had expected at first that the dramatis personae other than Confucius would sort themselves out in her mind after a few readings. They didn’t. She sees that she must take extraordinary measures. So after a few readings she picks maybe two characters to focus on first, people whose names have shown some flash of personality. She reads through the collection looking only for them. Then she does it for other characters. After she has put some meat on maybe the six most dramatic names, she may feel she has got the main benefits of the exercise.
Each time she reads the collection, one of the first things she encounters is a clear and elegant little discourse on the importance of filiality and (in most translations) fraternity, by a disciple of Confucius (as the notes tell her). Little else in the book is as clearly explanatory (and thus memorable), and the passage explains something that she feels needs explaining: the book’s apparent emphasis on filial piety. (In 1.2, she will naturally notice filial piety more than she notices fraternity, which she will probably think of as filiality lite; and she will naturally assume at first that filial piety is especially the business of children or the young.) Any reasonable reader in her position would trust this early discourse as a guide to the outlook of the book as a whole, the outlook of Confucius. It sits there at the beginning like a formal prospectus following the cheery welcome mat of 1.1. If she is interested enough to keep re-reading the collection, there’s a good chance Youzi’s 1.2 is one of the main passages attracting her to Confucius. She will read Confucius’ remarks on filial piety in light of 1.2.
For example, she may project a story of organic growth into the sequence of the list in 1.6, because she knows that is the Confucian view. She may assume that 2.21 must reflect in some way the view she finds in 1.2. She will read the comments describing filial piety in Books 2 and 4 as elaborations of that view. Whatever difficulties she may have about other aspects of Confucius’ views, at least in connection with filial piety she feels she gets a coherent picture. Nothing she encounters in her first few dozen readings (or in the translator’s apparatus) raises a doubt about whether Confucius held the view she sees in 1.2. Youzi’s statement establishes a stronghold at the organizing center of her general picture of Confucius, as though it were the root or trunk of Confucius’ vision. In her mental network every mention of filial piety links directly to that view, as do many mentions of respect, of benevolence, and of the gentleman.
Now she feels she is acquainted with Confucius. The web she has woven is a general feel for the man, for the vision; it is not the kind of thing one can easily relinquish or even reconsider.
Her vision of Confucius crystallizes around Youzi’s statements before she quite notices Youzi as a distinct character. His is one of many blank names that one is gradually conditioned to pass over without thought. (If she is using Legge’s translation she has met the philosopher Yû, the historiographer Yü, and Yû, and Yü, and Yü, and Tsze-yû, and Tsze-yû, and Tsze-yü, and Tsâi Yü, and Zan Yû, and Yû Zo—eleven appellations for eight people, several of whom also have other names.) When she sees Youzi’s name she sees it either blankly attached to some statement that seems simply Confucian, or she sees it in a conversation that lacks Confucius, lacks drama, lacks Youzi’s usual appellation—and is about taxes. Even if she made a project of getting a feel for Youzi, as she did with Zilu and Zigong, she would not easily find anything. To find something distinctive about Youzi she might have to make a project of seeking philosophical discrepancies between one or more of his remarks and the whole of the rest of the book—but she is not likely to suspect such a discrepancy. She sees Youzi saying mainly just things that are (she thinks) central views of Confucius. Youzi’s name remains for her a blank, a name without meaning, one of the many names she passes over. Even the fact that 1.2 is by Youzi rather than Confucius may cease to register with her.
Then one day it happens. Has it happened to you? She mentions the filial root idea in a paper on Confucius, and she needs a passage to cite. The words of 1.2 ring in her head—she may have an excerpt in her notes. But if she looks at the passage in the book she sees Youzi’s name on it, so she looks for one of the other passages on this point, one where Confucius says it himself. He’s always going on about that. So she skims through for one. Where is it? She looks and looks. Somehow she can’t find anything that quite works. They have all disappeared! How can that be? Her failure to find a passage is a bit traumatic, and not just because of her deadline. How could she make such a mistake?
By taking the right and reasonable approach she has arrived at a major view about Confucius, a core view, for which, to her surprise, she can find no direct evidence.
For her paper, she may fudge a bit, to meet the deadline.
But after that – what should she do?
Would our imaginary reader have been saved from this traumatic moment by earlier and fuller reliance on the secondary literature?
The long Chinese commentarial tradition was reverential or protective toward the textual legacy in such a way as to avoid any question about whether Confucius held the view at 1.2. In fact, as early as the Xiaojing and the Shuoyuan, the Ru tradition was already putting versions of Youzi’s statements directly into Confucius’ mouth.
(Perhaps also some early shifts in language and Ru practice influenced how people understood Youzi and Confucius. For example, it seems to me that there is at least some indication that the meaning of di 弟=悌 shifted after Youzi, toward meaning the specific virtue of a younger brother (I’m still hoping for expert comment on that). For another example, perhaps there was a shift in the way people understood xiao 孝, a shift toward youth and childhood, perhaps alongside a shift toward younger trainees. Expert comment?)
As for current Anglophone scholarship, it seems on the whole to be stalled in repression of that primal trauma, spinning its wheels confusedly away from recognizing the fact of Youzi.
Scholars hunt for topics. But Youzi does not register as a potential topic. Consider how remarkable that is. His name is very prominent in the most prominent classic: the Analects, where three of the first thirteen passages begin, “Youzi said.” (The reasons for thinking the Analects unreliable about Confucius have far less application to these records of Youzi.) One or two of these “Youzi said” passages are widely known to the educated public in China today, and are almost universally agreed to be keystone statements in the history of Chinese philosophy—and therefore, we might add, in the history of human thought. (The third is, in my view, at least as profound and important as the others, and more innovative.) Further, according to Mencius 2A2, “You Ruo said” what seems on its face to be an ancestor of Mencius’ celebrated barley argument (Mencius’ version shown here). The fact that all these key statements purportedly spring from one source is surely worthy of note . At first glance, one might think, Youzi is really something.
Or nothing. Really nothing. Despite the clues, scholars commonly do not acknowledge, to themselves or others, that there was a Youzi who is worth a moment’s thought — a Youzi who said things, who might not be Confucius, who might have had thoughts of his own. I proposed above an explanation of how a scholar’s neglect of Youzi might begin; but persistence in the neglect can be explained only by active avoidance. Indeed there is ample evidence of such avoidance. In the recent literature on early Confucianism we find a panoply of weirdly unscholarly phenomena that are, I submit, symptoms of active avoidance of the fact of Youzi: denying him a moment’s thought. Let’s look at six or seven such oddities.
#1.___The Invisible Man
The AAS journal Education About Asia (Spring 2007) carries a lesson plan authorized by the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia, on “Confucianism: Understanding and Applying the Analects of Confucius,” supplemented by three classroom handouts still available on line from various school web sites. The handouts quote 1.2 in full twice, except that each quotation begins with “The Master said”. The handouts pose questions about what Confucius meant there.
Hall and Ames write in Thinking Through Confucius (1987), p. 120:
They are in good company. It is perfectly ordinary for scholars and reference works to misattribute to Confucius—
—Youzi’s words at 1.2:
—Youzi’s words at 1.12:
—Youzi’s words at 1.13:
—Youzi’s words at 12.9:
(The lists above are limited to the period 1950-2015, and compiled mainly by internet searches. I’ll continue to add items as I become aware of them.)
If these were random careless errors, then we would see equally widespread careless error by this community of scholars on all equally obvious points, and greater error on all subtler points. Since careless error is not so pervasive, the cause of the misattributions must be special to this particular matter. There may be an interest in not recognizing Youzi as a distinct thinker, despite often seeing his name and the signs of his importance.
If that interest is strong enough to generate the errors we see here, it might be expected to generate even more pervasive error on subtler points in this particular area as well, such as misinterpretations of passages (e.g. 1.6 and 2.21), and overestimates of Confucius’ focus on the family as root and model. Errors in this particular area may have wide-ranging implications for the general quality of one’s interpretation of Confucius.
#2.___The Strong Fudge
Often Youzi’s words are presented in such a way that a reader would think she is supposed to understand an attribution to Confucius, though there is no absolutely explicit attribution. (I am talking about cases involving much stronger signals than simply a blank attribution to “the Analects,” though of course even this is likely to be taken as an implicit attribution to Confucius.) Any of these cases might be a simple error of attribution, or might reflect a last-minute correction, or simply careless writing. But I have found Youzi’s words cited in this way over sixty times in the literature, even three and four times in a single book. To all appearances, misdirecting readers about the source of Youzi’s words is a standard trope.
#3.___The Weak Fudge
Usually when Youzi’s words are quoted or closely paraphrased, the attribution is simply to “Confucians” or “Confucianism” or “the Analects,” without any definite suggestion as to whose words or ideas they might be.
In the essay “Family Reverence (孝) in the Analects : Confucian Role Ethics and the Dynamics of Intergenerational Transmission” (in Olberding ed. Dao Companion to the Analects: 2013), it discusses relevant remarks by Confucius, Zengzi, and Youzi (the latter on pp. 125ff and 134), comments at length on the root metaphor, and attributes the remarks of the three Masters consistently to Confucius, Zengzi, and the Analects. Why?
Similarly in Confucian Role Ethics (2011), though it quotes Youzi’s words on pages 88f., 176 (1.2), 170 (1.12), and 205 (1.13), and discusses them elsewhere, it never mentions Youzi’s name (though it attributes Zengzi’s statements consistently to Zengzi). Why?
To introduce a statement by Youzi, one might most naturally write
But regarding Youzi’s statements, scholars usually write e.g.
The intensifiers in the third set have the effect of compensating for the weak word ‘Analects’ – as when a politician, asked “But did you accept any actual money from Smith?” answers, “I have already said quite clearly that I did nothing wrong.”
(If our reason for talking about the Analects as a unit rather than about the real people in it is that long after the speakers had passed away the Analects we have was taken for a unit, and influential as a unit, then we will support our claims about what the Analects meant not mainly by citations from the Analects, but rather mainly by citations from those to whom the Analects meant those things; and we will generally avoid offering original readings of Analects passages or issues. But will we avoid all names?)
Sometimes what is veiled or replaced is not just Youzi’s name, but also his words. Sometimes, it seems, when a certain statement by Youzi is the motivation for a scholar’s claim, the scholar cites instead a plainly unapt statement by Confucius (or even by a fictional Confucius). I call this phenomenon the Switcheroo.
In Thinking from the Han (1997), p. 272, Hall and Ames seem to have switched out Youzi’s 1.12, replacing it with Confucius’ 13.23 without amending their account of 1.12’s content and unique status:
For 1.2, a bold but popular Switcheroo uses a remark by the character “Confucius” in Xiaojing 1, a remark that appears to derive from Youzi’s 1.2. The bold Switcheroo offers the Xiaojing remark simply as a statement by Confucius, without any mention of 1.2, nor of the fairly wide consensus (yes?) that the Xiaojing is not evidence of Confucius’ words (nor mention of the fact that this Xiaojing remark in particular adjoins another that appears to derive from Youzi). Examples of this bold Switcheroo:
Other Switcheroos for 1.2 stay within the bounds of the Analects. For example, in Focusing the Familiar (2001), p. 45, Ames and Hall write of 2.8:
Now, 1.2 talks of the virtue of a junzi, which is presumably the virtue for a ruler. In Remastering Morals (2007), p. 173, May Sim mentions
But 1.2 is sometimes held to speak only of the root of political docility. Yuri Pines says that Confucius “argued that teaching the people filiality and parental kindness would ensure their loyalty,” and cites only 2.20 (Foundations of Confucian Thought:2002, p. 198). Here is 2.20:
Ronnie Littlejohn in Confucianism: An Introduction (2010), p. 25, writes:
I mention the phenomenon of the Switcheroo not because it is very common, but because it is weird, and emblematic of reading Youzi’s views into Confucius in general. More commonly, when the 1.2 view is read into Confucius in unapt passages, 1.2 itself is cited nearby as well, so that there is no true Switcheroo.
#5.___See No Oeuvre, Speak No Oeuvre
Recall that there is much current disagreement about the meaning of Youzi’s words. Regarding 1.2, scholars disagree over whether it addresses childrearing or childhood “massively” or not at all, about whether its 弟 is fraternity or elder-respect (an old issue), and about how its “root” is supposed to be related to broader virtue. Regarding 1.12, one popular reading takes it to be about social harmony. A very different popular reading from Zhu Xi is the soul of Kupperman’s paper “Why Western Philosophers Should Study Confucius.” Still other readings take the passage to advocate a ritual focus on seasons, or on music. Regarding 1.13, two readings, each with ancient and modern champions, find very different views of the relation between trustworthiness and rightness (yi 義). And the passage’s conclusion is notoriously obscure. As Simon Leys writes, “Commentators and translators have twisted and tortured these few enigmatic words in the hope of pressing a few drops of meaning out of them.”
So on the one hand:
There is wide disagreement on the broad-strokes interpretation of each of Youzi’s three statements in Book 1.
On the other hand:
Scholars in the field regard two of those three statements as exceptionally important statements in the history of Chinese thought, and spend much ink on their exposition.
One should expect to see some genuine inquiry and argument as to what was meant in these passages.
And we know what that would look like:
Two of the most obvious and mandatory steps in any genuine interpretive effort are these:
(A) Notice who is the author, and
(B) Look at other material from that person.
Indeed some scholars do (A) in some sense—but to little purpose, because virtually nobody does (B) toward understanding any of Youzi’s remarks in the Analects or elsewhere. It’s as though nobody gives Youzi a moment’s thought, when thinking about his statements. As far as I have found, nobody to this date has ever, in discussing the meaning of a passage by Youzi, made even passing reference to any other statement by Youzi—except for me, and one retired Taiwanese businessman who thereby made major progress on the notorious puzzle of 1.13’s conclusion (Xiao Minyuan 蕭民元, Lunyu bian huo 論語辯惑. Taoyuan, Taiwan: Huaneng shiye gongsi, 1999; republished, Beijing: Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 2002, pp. 29-31). Please let me know of any cases I have missed.
Youzi’s oeuvre is small, and easy to find (see my “The Purloined Philosopher,” PEW 58.4). Its parts illuminate each other brightly – or at least, there are plenty of apparent resonances that are highly suggestive as to Youzi’s general view, as relevant to the controversies over the particular passages.
Why don’t people do (B) for Youzi? Let us take some time over this question; it’s important.
Every scholar knows that whenever we are interpreting a hard or disputed passage, (B) can help us get interpretive ideas, check for word usage or philosophical dissonance, and uncover a general vision unifying particular statements; and can maybe give unanticipated kinds of hermeneutic help.
Here’s an example of a specific hermeneutic benefit of (B) for Youzi that one might not anticipate. If you want to address the main controversial questions about the meaning of 1.12, it is important to know that the Liji and the Xiaojing each contain a paraphrase of the first half of 1.12. Each paraphrase immediately adjoins a paraphrase of another of Youzi’s remarks from the Analects. The Liji restates 12.9 and then 1.12, while the Xiaojing restates 1.12 and then 1.2. Now, if in reading those pages in the Liji and Xiaojing you are not primed to recognize the paraphrases of 1.2 and 12.9 as paraphrases of Youzi, you might miss the fact that 1.12 is being paraphrased there at all (indeed scholars seem to have missed it). Now, the two paraphrases of 1.12 speak directly and with one voice to the main controversies about 1.12 itself. Hence being mindful that a certain two statements are by Youzi is important for locating ancient evidence about the meaning of a third statement by Youzi. Further, the fact that we see Youzian statements on disparate topics clumped together in the Liji and Xiaojing suggests that Youzi’s ideas travelled in packs: that they might have been something like a school of thought with which some texts not bearing his name may be associated. This point may help us further to read the streams of the tradition.
Again: Why don’t people do (B) for statements by Youzi? Why study only his disassembled parts? Let’s look at four possible explanations:
One might think: Youzi was a disciple and his views were reputed to resemble Confucius’ views, so in interpreting one of his statements, there’s no more reason to look at other Youzi statements than to look at other Confucius statements. For example, in interpreting 1.2 we should focus only on other Analects statements on, say, filial piety or the junzi; never mind that none of them is by Youzi.
But even if we had strong historical evidence that Youzi was a student of Confucius, or strong historical evidence that the early disciples believed that Youzi’s statements reflected only Confucius’ ideas—and does anybody think we have strong evidence for those points?— step (B) would still be obviously mandatory, on an important controversial passage. People’s idea that Youzi was a disciple and similar cannot explain their not trying (B).
One might think:
(i) If Youzi’s views are not reliable guides to Confucius’ views, they are unimportant.
(ii) If the meaning of Youzi’s statements can only be seen by comparing them to others of his statements, then Youzi’s views are idiosyncratic to him and thus not reliable guides to Confucius’ views.
(iii) We might as well operate on the assumption that there is no need for step (B).
But premise (i) is implausible: Youzi’s views could be philosophically interesting, or historically important otherwise than as evidence of Confucius’ views. And premise (ii) is obviously false.
Even if both premises were true, the inference to (iii) would be silly, for at least one reason worth noting. Suppose both premises are true, and suppose also that Youzi’s views are idiosyncratic and can only be understood as such by looking at his whole corpus. It would then be important to know that one or more of his views are idiosyncratic, so that we would know to stop taking Youzi’s words as crucial evidence about Confucius’ views. The impact on our understanding of Confucius could be enormous.
One might think: the Analects is simply not a reliable source. We don’t know where it’s been. We don’t know whose statements these are, and in any case they may all be distorted by memory.
But if a scholar were seriously considering neglecting Youzi’s other statements for that reason, then the following considerations should come quickly to mind: Youzi is not the same person as Confucius. Many of the reasons for defeatism about the reliability of the Analects for the historical Confucius do not apply to Youzi, or not in full force. The great bulk of the material attributed to Youzi in our Analects is together in the same Book, generally held to be at least a moderately early one. Its three “Youzi said” compositions are remarkably similar to each other in form and content, and similar to Youzi’s remark at 12.9 and to the speech Mencius attributes to Youzi at 2A2. And different from what we find from any other speaker in the Analects. Many scholars have thought that Youzi or his group was responsible for assembling the Book in which his main statements appear. And the intricate elegance of their construction should suggest that they were originally writings, or at least that remembering them would have been especially easy. (I argue in “Purloined” that many different kinds of consideration suggest that it was Youzi himself who assembled this material in written form; but that point is not relevant to the argument of this paragraph.)
Bruce and Taeko Brooks are the only scholars I know of who actually challenge or deny (as distinct from forgetting or concealing) that Youzi was the author of the words joined to his name in the Analects. They claim instead that Youzi authored the bulk of Book 6 (e.g. Original Analects pp. 45, 49, 289, but cf. 34, 31). For the basic rationale, see p.3 of “The Life and Mentorship of Confucius”.
Anyway, someone who skips step (B) for Youzi on the grounds that the Analects is an unreliable source in general, cannot be someone who thinks that 1.2 or 1.12 is significant evidence of the views of Confucius.
So maybe the reason virtually no scholars do (B) for Youzi’s statements is that scholars are simply invested in reading ideas they find in 1.2 and/or 1.12 into Confucius, and have found no other way to do so than by averting their gaze from the fact of Youzi, even at the expense of any genuine inquiry into the meaning of controversial passages that they hold very important.
If explanation (d) is right—that is, if scholars have found no adequate alternative way—that’s strong evidence about the views of Confucius.
In the same manner, all or most of the oddities on my list are evidence about the views of Confucius.
#6.___The Appeal to Baseless Reasons
There are two historical claims that scholars sometimes adduce to support their assumption that we can look at Youzi and see right through him to Confucius (有若无不若).
Sometimes when Youzi is quoted, his name is mentioned. And then the scholar almost always adds in no uncertain terms that (一) Youzi was a disciple of Confucius (or a “close” or “prominent” or “chief” disciple or “one of Confucius’ most prominent students” or “perhaps Confucius’ leading disciple”), as though scholarship knew that Youzi had studied with Confucius. The implication is that we can rest assured that if Youzi said something, Confucius believed it—though we do not think this of any other disciple.
The scholar may, further, allude to the longstanding idea that (二) among the people who knew both men, Youzi’s views were reputed to be extremely close to Confucius’ views. For example, Qingping Liu writes, “You Ruo, one of the most distinguished disciples of Confucius whose words have often been regarded to resemble those of the Master himself, makes this more manifest…” (PEW 2003:2, p. 236, and similarly in many other papers). In The Chinese Classic of Family Reverence (2009), Rosemont and Ames in one place attribute 1.2 to “the disciple Master Yu (sic ) …, who is known for reflecting accurately the views of Confucius himself” (p. 23). In The Anlaects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation (1998), they had written that “Master You … was said to resemble Confucius, probably in terms of what he had to say” (p. 230 n. 3).
The adducing of one or two of these traditional claims (一) and (二) today counts as an oddity if there is no serious scholarly basis for them.
Given the other oddities on this list, we might wonder whether scholars have taken any care to vet the two claims (一) and (二). Scholars hand them down, but do the claims reflect adequate scholarly consideration? Any at all? Where can we find the scholarly evaluation of the evidence?
(一): Youzi was Confucius’ student?
Currently, to the best of my knowledge, scholarship is unanimous on this question. That is to say, of all the scholars who have discussed this question in light of evidence, rather than merely pronouncing upon it, we both conclude on similar grounds that Youzi was not a student of Confucius. For references and arguments see “Purloined.”
It is improper in a scholarly work to tell a reader that Youzi was a disciple of Confucius as though that were a known fact. Scholarship has arrived at no such view.
(二): We have ancient testimony that in general, Youzi’s views were exceptionally similar to Confucius’ views?
I shall argue here that (1) the two ancient texts taken as testimony for doctrinal similarity between the two men may neither of them refer to doctrinal similarity at all; and separately, (2) one of the two texts cited as testimony for similarity is plausibly read as evidence that those witnesses thought Youzi had views beyond those of Confucius. Also (3) regarding the associates who supposedly testified for similarity, another record tends to imply that those associates later held the opposite view; and (4) there is testimony from other contemporaries against similarity.
The ancient testimony for similarity is found in two passages, one in the Liji (Tan Gong I) and one in the Mencius (3A4). See the appendix to Lau’s Analects, and my “Purloined.”
The Liji passage shows Youzi inquiring about Confucius’ views on losing office, and learning from Zengzi a remark of Confucius that Zengzi and Ziyou had known for some years. (Hence it seems clear that if Youzi was ever an associate of Confucius, he was Zengzi’s and Ziyou’s distinct inferior and junior in that respect.) Zengzi replied that Confucius had said,
Youzi replied that this doesn’t sound like something a gentleman would say; that there must have been a special context. Indeed it doesn’t, and there was—two points Zengzi showed he had not appreciated. Ziyou praised Youzi’s judgment about this to Zengzi, exclaiming “Youzi speaks so very like the Master!” (甚哉，有子之言似夫子也).
That’s the testimony. It appears to be an exclamation in response to Youzi’s statement. But Youzi’s display of insight here was not spectacular. What was Ziyou thinking? What did he mean?
If Youzi were a newcomer from outside, Ziyou’s exclamation would make easy sense. Youzi could have been surprisingly insightful for an outsider (especially if Ziyou meant only that Youzi was insightful here about Confucius–that his words here about Confucius really reflected or presented 似 Confucius). Such an exclamation would not suggest that Youzi’s statements in general closely tracked Confucius’ views in general—more closely, say, than did the statements of Ziyou himself, et al (whose “similarity” scholars do not note).
But if, on the other hand, Youzi were a longstanding insider, someone Ziyou and Zengzi had long known, could one unspectacular and merely negative remark possibly prompt an exclamation that Youzi’s words in general reflect Confucius’ views distinctly better than the words of Confucius’ other students?
If it could, that would only be because Ziyou had a motive. However he meant the exclamation, it scored a point over Zengzi. Zengzi had shown that he did not see the moral and factual problems with his understanding of the Master on this topic. Ziyou’s response underlines and disavows those errors, and thus would seem to serve Ziyou’s competitive interest as against Zengzi—even if Ziyou had not been the one to introduce Youzi to the group, as the Brookses plausibly suggest that he was.
Let us turn to the other text cited as ancient testimony for doctrinal similarity. Mencius (3A4) says the reason Ziyou, Zizhang, and Zixia wanted to follow Youzi as Master was that they found him “similar to Confucius” (似聖人).
The point might most naturally be taken to be about similarity in wisdom, commitment to teaching, and loose doctrinal similarity. Still, the underlying idea might originally have been very close doctrinal similarity. Suppose it was. Now, similarity is offered here as a distinguishing feature of Youzi, sufficient to give him great authority over the others. The idea would have to be that he was doctrinally much closer to Confucius than the others were. One wonders how those others might have come to such an opinion. Are we to think that they noticed that they disagreed with their old master on many questions, and wanted a master with whom they could disagree on those same questions?
Mencius gives this report in the course of a conversation, and he gives it to make a point. He is rebuking someone for turning to a new, independent, and very different master after his first master has died. Mencius’ explicit purpose in telling the story is to cite as a precedent Zengzi’s correct rejection of Youzi as Master. Mencius says Zengzi justified his refusal on the grounds that nobody could improve on Confucius’ teachings. Thus, as Mencius tells the story, it would seem that Zengzi thought the other three disciples were proposing Youzi not as a good doctrinal copy of Confucius, but rather as someone similar to him in sagacity, someone from whom Confucius’ good students might actually have something to learn—that is, something new to learn. Thus, Mencius seems not to be reporting that the three disciples thought Youzi’s views were a close copy of Confucius’ views. But he does seem to be suggesting that Zengzi thought Youzi held some views beyond what Confucius had taught them. Thus this passage suggests that Ziyou, Zizhang, Zixia and Zengzi all thought Youzi had significant things to say beyond what they had learned from Confucius.
Zigong is reported to have said, apparently after Confucius’ death, that there was nobody remotely like Confucius: Mencius 2A2, Analects 19.25. (If Youzi had been a prominent student of Confucius, Zigong would have known him by then.)
(If I am right that Youzi joined the group after Confucius died, the supposed testimony for similarity comes from quite early in the witnesses’ acquaintance with Youzi. But you may reject the premise.)
The Shiji says that the disciples of Confucius who went on to follow Youzi lost faith in him definitively when they informed him of something Confucius had said about predicting the weather by the heavenly bodies, and Youzi could not explain the thinking behind it. (Here again Youzi was the one who had to be told what Confucius had said.) If they forsook him over this, presumably his recent performance as a copy or sage was in other ways falling short. Perhaps the Shiji account is better evidence of the general point that he did not do well as a copy or sage, than of the details of the final moment? Either way we seem to have a report that any supposed witnesses in favor of his similarity changed their minds on better acquaintance.
In sum, there is no serious basis for the idea that those who knew both men thought that Youzi held no views beyond what Confucius also held. (There is serious basis for the opposite.)
#7?___Fabricating Masters in History?
Here I am guessing; I don’t exactly have evidence to offer.
A scholar who wants to attribute a view to Confucius on the strength of a statement by Youzi might escape the fact of Youzi, the fact that there was a Youzi distinct from Confucius, by altering her concept of “Confucius” to define that fact away, or by altering her concept of the nature of her scholarly project to free it from facts. The distinction between these two stratagems is subtle.
A certain book, in large part about the Analects, attributes Youzi’s 1.2 to Confucius in a late chapter. (The book might or might not be included in one of my lists above.) Near the end of the book, deep in the book’s first endnote, is the claim that Confucius’ name refers throughout the book to an amalgam of thinkers and ideas associated with the Analects. But the endnote’s claim is not true, for each of two reasons. First, often throughout the book, the name simply cannot be read as referring to a philosophical amalgam. Someone who tried to read it that way would be continually corrected by the text. It’s not what the author had in mind. Second, the main text does not hint at the special usage (as it would have if the author had wanted the name to be understood in the new sense). A pre-existing name’s actual reference doesn’t depend on the user’s unpromulgated fiat: the name does not succeed in referring to the amalgam if the main text lacks an adequate signal. In another work by the same author, if we consider only the main text we see three solid examples of the Strong Fudge for 1.2, and one explicit misattribution to Confucius, all within a span of 12 pages. If we look at the endnotes we find again the claim that Confucius’ name refers to an amalgam throughout. Now, 1.2 is important for the argument of both works; no other remark by a pseudo-Confucius is important. So I cannot help wondering whether the claim in the endnotes is motivated mainly by the reliance on 1.2. Of course, it could be wholly motivated by a concern to warn the reader that the Analects may not reflect the ideas of the one man Confucius.
Even if the special usage of the name were consistent and well-flagged, such re-appropriation of a historical name would in my opinion be inappropriate in a scholarly publication. It seems to invite illusion. We have such terms as ‘Confucians’, ‘the earliest Confucians’, ‘the Analects’. If those have the wrong scope for a particular claim, a scholar can compose others that are not misleading. I speculate that the odd usage of Confucius’ name is a move in the intentional construction or perpetuation of a kind of collective fantasy, an imaginary master in the history of philosophy.
Such a fantastic project is also the only context I can think of in which another common scholarly practice could be thought to make sense: the practice of basing a significant interpretive claim about “Confucius” on a bold reading of a single passage.
I have the impression that creative interpretation has been somewhat popular in the Chinese commentarial tradition, as perhaps in Confucius’ own comments on the Odes and Documents. One explicates tendentiously, to give a good philosophical picture the authority of ancient sages and ancient texts. Such an approach to Confucius could be justified on the grounds that one sees the philosophical truth oneself, as Confucius did, so one has a direct line to what he must have meant. Or more modestly, one might suppose that charity of interpretation makes every decent philosophical argument a similarly decent hermeneutical argument about Confucius. Or less modestly, one might imagine that it is legitimate for scholarship to tell noble lies about Confucius for the good of society.
I suspect further that today some prominent Confucius scholars in the West (in several camps) think or at least hope that it is legitimate for them to proceed in some such way, on the grounds that that is what it is to participate in the Confucian tradition. Of course that would be a non sequitur.
Indeed some of the Confucian tradition would seem to be uncomfortable with this sort of thing. Wisdom is to know what one doesn’t know, and there was a time when historians would leave blanks. (Confucius not Confucius! Confucius?! Confucius?! Let Confucius be Confucius, and Youzi Youzi. Otherwise the people will not know where to put their money.)
What then could tempt modern scholars in this direction?
Much of the explanation may be the sheer difficulty of knowing the truth about old Chinese texts (a vicious circle perhaps!), combined with the aspiration to publish something philosophically valuable. Still, my guess is that a significant part of the explanation is that many people’s core vision of Confucius is unsupportable from the Analects unless we suppress the plain facts on the page, especially the fact that Youzi was distinct from Confucius. I speculate that the vogue (if any) of truthiness about Confucius is in some significant part a symptom of the undigested trauma described above.
That’s the end of my prepared Comments.
For further discussion of the project of reading as though X wrote Y, see the string here:
And for more on reading to find what old thinkers actually thought,
see the string here:
D. J. Munro may not mean to exalt the seminal importance of Youzi when he says on p. 327 of his new paper “My ‘Investigation of Things’” (Dao September 2016),
By the way: I wonder whether it is right to stress love over respect in translating 弟 = 悌 into English, as in the translation “fraternal love” favored by Munro and some others. In “Purloined” I said I thought that by filial piety Youzi meant love and respect for parents, as an undifferentiated attitude of service, or putting others first. I was anxious to think that his ren 仁 is not mainly willing obedience.
A love-centered conception of the virtue of subfraternity might suggest that when 弟 = 悌 is taken to mean not subfraternity but a way of relating to non-kin (which is how Confucius seems always to use the term), it should be understood as love for elders. But there seems to be some reason to think that the term 弟 for “younger brother” or for a way of relating to people derives from the idea of “lower rung” or “next one down.” That image naturally links to the idea of respect; but should it specifically link to the idea of love or compassion?
Granted, it is far more natural to be observant of, and therefore empathetic to, those with power over us than those over whom we have power; but I gather the Confucian tradition stresses the balance of upward respect + downward care as the main principle of social organization almost as much as Aristotle does.
It would be interesting simply to try to describe and catalog the many ideas in the neighborhood of respect and care in the Chinese (and other) traditions (things like rank, reverence, attention, service, empathy, protection, etc.), and see how they have been related to each other. This could be a big contribution to East-West communication, since so much of Western moral philosophy has seen itself in the past century as a kind of struggle between care and respect.
I have come across what appears to be the Chinese text from which Munro was quoting Cheng Yi, in Ames’ Confucian Role Ethics, p. 283f. n.5. In this text Cheng did not write “Therefore, Confucius said”; he wrote “故曰”.
In a recent paper in another journal, Li Zehou is reported as attributing 1.2 to Confucius. We aren’t told where. I believe Li Zehou did not make this mistake.
Youzi’s speech at the end of Mencius 2A2, apparent ancestor of Mencius’ celebrated barley argument for human equality, is usually attributed to Mencius when it is mentioned—apparently always simply as an oversight, not as a rejection of Mencius’ attribution of the speech to Youzi. I offer here an exhaustive survey (so far as I can determine) of the Anglophone literature on that speech, outside of “Purloined.”
The closing words of Youzi’s speech are casually attributed to Mencius by
Several other authorities simply quote Youzi’s line and cite “Mencius 2A2.”
Peter Bol’s essay whose title simply quotes Youzi’s concluding words at 2A2 (“There has never been one greater than Confucius,”), analyzes Mencius’ purposes in (the rest of) 2A2 but never mentions Youzi or any other part of Youzi’s speech (in P. Yu ed. Ways with Words: Writing about Reading Early Texts from China (2000), pp. 49-54).
Granted, Mencius himself makes a similar comment earlier in 2A2. But there is an important difference, as I discuss in “Purloined”—one that is commonly obscured in translation.
Carsun Chang quotes from another part of the speech without mentioning Youzi, and says simply that it displays Mencius’ “emphasis on classification” — in “The Significance of Mencius,” PEW (1958:1/2), p.44. (Someone else’s 2014 MA thesis does almost exactly the same.)
The entire speech is ascribed to Mencius and paraphrased in detail, with the observation that it harmonizes with some things Mencius says elsewhere, by Joanne D. Birdwhistell, in Mencius and Masculinities: Dynamics of Power, Morality, and Maternal Thinking (2007), p. 122.
The speech is quoted with the framing material “You Ruo said,” simply to show that a certain Buddhist’s mention of Mount Tai and Mount Song is an allusion to the Mencius’ mention of Mount Tai here, and therefore indicates an extreme superlative, by Alexander Beecroft, in “When Cosmopolitanisms Intersect: An Early Chinese Buddhist Apologetic and World Literature,” Comparative Literature Studies (2010:3), p. 277.
My on-line resources have some gaps, so there may be something significant I have missed.
[I missed a bunch. More later. -1/23]