Analects 1.3

Man oh man. I’m finally back from my pseudo-vacation, and I’m trying to get back to work now. I promise I’ll be faster with my delivery of the Analects translation and commentary. I want to get at least through Book 6 or 7 by the end of the summer. Of course, I’m going to throw some other things on this page as well, especially as I begin to worry a bit more about Legalism, later Confucianism and the Han dynasty. But for now, here’s Analects 1.3:

(1.3) 子曰:「 巧言令色,鮮矣仁!」 

The master said: “Eloquent words and a commanding visage do not often (indicate one as) ren.

First, some explanation of my choices in translation. Ling se might be taken as “insinuating appearance” as Ames and Hall translate it, or as “ingratiating manner” as Slingerland renders it, which is close to Lau’s “ingratiating face.” I chose to use the “command” sense of ling because I think it lends to my sense of ren as an ideal social order rather than as “benevolence”, in the Mencian sense. Goodness and ren are surely not seperate, but it seems to me that having an “authoritative” stance is a key component of ren, which Ames and Rosemont seem to hold in their translation generally. This is why I am a bit confused that they translate ling se as “insinuating appearance”. If ren is “authoritative conduct” (as Ames and Rosemont translate it), then it seems more plausible that ling be given my translation of “commanding”. We might easily mistake someone who has a commanding appearance for being an “authoritative” person–one whose conduct is exemplary and who keeps steady control over every aspect of his or her life. Anyway, enough about this linguistic quibble.

There is another interesting problem in 1.3. Should we read the last section, the xian yi ren as marking accompaniment or indication? That is, is it that eloquent words and a commanding visage rarely accompany ren, or that they rarely indicate that one is ren (as I have above). This is an important distinction, because if the former is true, then it looks like eloquence and having a commanding visage are good indicators that one is not ren. If the latter is true, it may be that many people who are ren may also speak eloquently and have commanding appearances, but these traits have no necessary connection with ren, and thus cannot be used to spot those who are ren. Thus, though one may have these properties, they do not have them insofar as they are ren, that is, it is not their being ren that makes them have these properties. Of course, the passage could admit of both readings, in that such properties do not often accompany ren, and thus are not good indicators of ren. However, I think that Confucius would not have wanted to say that commanding appearance and eloquent words are incompatible with ren. If we read xian yi ren as “do not often (accompany) ren” it seems that we should take the xian as a rhetorical device to mean something closer to “never” than to “rarely” (which is a more literal translation). We can see in 1.2 that xian is used in this rhetorical manner. We have a similar tool in contemporary English (“you’re rarely going to see Jim being honest”…)

Thus, I think we should see Confucius as making the claim that there is no necessary connection between eloquent speech and commanding appearance and ren. After all, there is room in Confucius’s ethical system for various character types, many of which can be subsumed under ren or dao, as we see in 1.2.

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