Is Han Feizi’s legalism really an “amoral” political system, designed with simply control and order of the state in mind? Or is a sophisticated form of a particular strand of Confucianism? More and more I am coming to think the latter. If one takes my earlier claims seriously, that the benefit of the state is the goal of the Confucian moral system, the “end in itself”, then it looks like the details of Confucius’s own program (as given in the Analects) are perhaps less important to Confucianism than the goal itself.
So there are a few questions we could ask of the Analects. Is ren necessary for the existence of the thriving society? Is li necessary? Or are these simply ways to bring about the thriving society from where Confucius himself sits? One might think that ren and li are sufficient to bring about the thriving society–Confucius may have thought they were sufficient to bring this about from his vantagepoint, but this does not mean that he held that ren and li were necessary conditions of a thriving society. Could he have thought that given a different vantagepoint, some other methods of achieving the thriving society might work better? That is, is Confucius really as rigid as daoists often made him out to be? Perhaps not. I suspect that Han Feizi’s legalism is not ruled out by Confucius, and that if Confucius was truly after the thriving society, as I argue, then he may have taken legalism to be a way of bringing this about. But I’m not sure of this, and at this stage, it’s mostly just speculation. I have yet to find evidence in the texts. But I’ll be looking, and if I find anything interesting, I’ll be sure to post it here.
The first question may be the simplest one: is there anything in either the Analects or in Han Feizi’s legalism that rules the other out?
Also: as the semester is finally over, and I’ve got some time now to really dig into this stuff, I’m going to be posting some commentary on the Analects, as well as translation. I’ve been wanting to get started on this project for some time, but things always kept coming up. What will follow is my translation of a passage of the Analects and commentary of it for each passage (or the ones I’m most interested in, at least), as well as some comparison with western political philosophy (which I’m also reading this summer).
Hope to hear what you think!