Analects 1.1

Starting at the beginning…

(1.1) 子曰:「學而時習之,不亦說乎?有朋自遠方來,不亦樂乎?人不知而不慍,不亦君子乎?」

The master said: “Studying and having time to practice what you study, is this not a happy thing? Having friends come from far away to see you, is this not joyful? Having others not know (you) but not being angered, is this not like the junzi 君子?

I italicize the final sentence because this is the meat of the passage. Here is, if not a partial definition, an attribution of certain properties to the junzi. The term is commonly translated “gentleman”; I prefer Ames and Rosemont’s “exemplary person”, but I will leave it untranslated, as it is a technical term, one which is important to the Confucian project in
general. The junzi is an attainable state, an exemplar of moral action. In the Confucian literature, emphasis is placed (as it is in Chinese ethics in general) on character types, rather than “virtues”. Virtues might be said to play a role, but the ultimate aspiration is to a character, rather than possession of a virtue. I believe, although this needs to be argued for, that there are not a set of necessary virtues that define the junzi (or any other of the exemplars of Confucianism, such as the sheng ren [“sage”]). Rather, there may be various sets of virtues possessed by different junzi, which have no single member in common. However, all junzi will of
neccessity possess multiple virtues. It the success of the virtues of the junzi in bringing about a kind of action that tends toward benefit of the state, the construction of “the thriving society” that determines one’s status as a junzi. You can clearly see from this how my thoughts from the
last post have developed about legalism being a development from this early Confucianism.

Anyway–here in 1.1 we have a description of one property of a junzi. The claim seems to be that one who is not angered at being unknown is a junzi. That is, having such a character is a sufficient condition for “junzi-ship.” But is it a necessary condition? This is a tricky question, and it depends on how we choose to read the final bit of the highlighted sentence of 1.1. The Chinese is 不亦君子乎 (literally, “not also junzi ?”). I’ve chosen in my translation to read it as marking the property of being unagitated by obscurity as a sufficient, but not necessary, condition for being a junzi. To read it as a necessary condition, one would be taking the bu yi junzi hu as marking a biconditional–one is only a junzi given such and such a condition. But given the parallel structure of the two sentences prior to the final sentence of 1.1, I think we should see the final sentence as having the same structure. The first two sentences are clearly giving sufficient but not necessary conditions. We can see that learning and practicing may
be a sufficient condition for happiness, but it seems odd that Confucius would have thought it a necessary condition. Likewise with having friends come from afar to visit. This could be a sufficient, but not a necessary condition for joyfulness. Surely one could be overjoyed at something other than friends coming from afar to visit. Given that the first two sentences
give us sufficient but non-necessary conditions, then, I believe the third also does.

The above considerations are more important for my program in general than they may first appear. It turns out that there will be very few necessary conditions for being a junzi (or another one of the Confucian exemplars), though there are many sufficient conditions. This does a number of things. First, it allows for people of very different character types to all aspire
to the height of morality. This is something I find unique about Chinese ethics, in opposition to much ethics in the western tradition, in which the exemplar will often be of a certain character type, which often seems to limit the “good life” to those who are naturally of such a character. Confucian ethics is more flexible than this, and this is a good example. I will point out this flexibility again in considerations of other passages. Second, it allows for variability in circumstance, and a way to tie morality to circumstance. More about this later.

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