Finally–moving along. I’ve been away from home for the past few days, so I haven’t had so much time to post. At this rate, it will take me the rest of my life to get through the Analects. So I’m going to pick it up. I’ll have much more time once I get back to Connecticut (I’m in vacation mode now), but a little bit of Analects is always good, even on vacation. So here’s 1.2.
TRANSLATION: Youzi said: “Those who are filial and brotherly (toward others) but also enjoy committing offenses against their superiors are few (indeed). Those who don’t enjoy committing offenses against their superiors but (go about) creating disorder are non-existent. The junzi attends to the root. When the root is established, right action grows therefrom. Those who are filial and brotherly are getting at the root of humane behavior!”
COMMENTARY: okay, time to defend this seemingly odd translation. The translation I give here is not literal, but that’s alright, I think. In one of my earlier posts, I mention that we ought to make translations in general that are as close to literal as possible, but my goal here on this reading of the Analects is to give a rich interpretation–so I’m admitting right up front that these translations will be mostly interpretive. Therefore, I would not recommend them for someone with no previous knowledge of the Analects (I don’t want to beg the question against different intepretations).
So–the part of this passage that has struck me as the most interesting is the ben li er dao sheng bit, and it is just this bit that I have translated in a very interpretive way. A more literal translation of this would be “When the root is established, the way is born”, but I’ve translated it “when the root is established, right action grows therefrom.” Allow me to explain. I think that dao thought of as “right action” gives insight into Analects 15.29, which has to me always been one of the more problematic Analects passages (as it has been for some others), but which I now think is one of the more interesting and useful passages in the Analects, especially concerning the prospect of importing Confucian considerations to contemporary “western” ethics.
I suppose I ought to give a quick translation of 15.29, with my reading of dao. 人能 弘道，非道弘人。 (“The person has the ability to enrich right action; it is not right action that enriches the person.”)
The natural actions of the one who has established the root (ben) is what gives meaning and all significance to right action. One cannot adopt right action as a way to enrich oneself–that is, one cannot take a list of ethical rules and hope to be enriched in any significant way by following them (this I take as a disagreement with many western ethicists). Rather, right action will be defined by the natural action that flows from one’s character when one has established the root. This sounds very daoist, but we must remember that part of establishing the root is adhering to li (“ritual”, for lack of a better word)–as Confucius says in 1.2 that filiality and brotherhood constitute (at least in part) the root, and acting in accord with li is part of this. Right action follows from the establishment of the root–so we are going about ethical cultivation in the wrong way when we worry about what actions are right actions–Confucius seems to claim that right actions just are the actions of those who have successfully established the root. But these actions will be different depending on different character types. This is why the person can be said to enrich right action. The dao flows from one’s own character–it is the good character that determines right action, rather than the other way around. It is this that right action is dependent on the individual character, even though in each case right action will conduce to establishing the thriving society.
more to come…