Does He Really Know Where the Ford Is?

As is my habit, I’ve been thinking recently about topics that have almost nothing to do with my dissertation (or very little to do with it, anyway).  In particular, I’ve been reflecting on the exchanges between Confucians and the Yangist-types in Book 18 of the Analects.  Lots of interesting questions arise around these exchanges, and I thought I would just lay a couple of them out here.   I make some attempt to answer them, but I’m still not completely satisfied with these answers.  Anyway, here goes:

1) Who are the non-Confucian characters in 18.5,  18.6, and 18.7 supposed to represent?  The Madman of Chu, of course, appears also in Zhuangzi, giving almost the same speech to Confucius as he does in 18.5, with a Zhuangzi-style twist.  It seems likely that the Zhuangzi passage is later than this one, written as a reaction to Analects 18.5, as it has the same cast of characters and appears stylistically like a parody of the Analects passage, which is following with Zhuangzi’s style in general.  So, we should take 18.5, at least, as pre-Zhuangzi.  But how long pre-Zhuangzi?  
A.C. Graham thought that the passages may simply have shown us representatives of a more general tendency, derived from the folkish “shen nong” ideal, rather than a specific strain of philosophical thought such as Yangism, Laoism (for lack of a better term) or Zhuangism (ditto).  Although I don’t have a solid argument for this, it seems to me the characters in Book 18 represent a more coherent philosophical tendency than that of shennong idealism.  Actually, I think there are three distinct arguments here by the Confucians in Book 18.  My own view is that Book 18 is roughly contemporary with Zhuangzi, which is why Zhuangzi gets milage out of lampooning it.  In addition, the three key passages from Book 18 are meant to present arguments against three types of “Yangist-like” movements.  18.5 is against the “Laoist”, 18.6 is against the “Yangist/Zhuangist”, and 18.7 against the general “shennong idealist”.
This is more speculation than anything at this point.  I have no strong textual argument for this yet, but it’s based mainly on some hunches I get from looking at the responses of the non-Confucian characters in each of these passages.  In 18.5, for example, the Madman of Chu laments the weakening of de  and suggests as a remedy that we recognize  (things to come can be followed).  Notice the similarity of zhui  here to the “Laoist” use of dao.  This seems like a suggestion to follow the yin 陰 (low, weak, etc.) when necessary.

18.6 is more difficult, I think, and the root of my second question, so I’ll skip it for now.  18.7 shows a peasant farmer who takes in Zilu for the night and chides him for not knowing how to farm.  This person’s folk demeanor and care for the land rather than for lofty philosophizing seems to mark him as one who would be praised by those raising up the folk “shennong” ideal.

So this brings me to question 2, about 18.6 specifically:

2) What is meant by the response of Chang Ju in 18.6:   (“He knows where the ford is”)?   I’ve spent years wondering what the right interpretation of this response to Zilu is.  I still don’t have anything I’d be comfortable betting on, but here’s my best shot, for now:  this sounds like a very Zhuangist response.  Especially when we consider Zhuangzi’s position in the Xiaoyaoyou chapter, in which he talks about perspectivalism, and the fault of privileging certain perspectives over others.  Responding in this way to Zilu’s question asking where a ford in the river could be found suggests that Chang Ju’s criticism of Confucius’ way is that the Confucian takes himself to have knowledge based on the narrow concerns they occupy themselves with, but is actually missing the wealth of other concerns and perspectives in the world.  Thus Confucian knowledge is no knowledge at all.  Confucius doesn’t really know where the ford is, because he takes as complete knowledge that which deals with the narrow political concerns of human social groups.  Many things of nature fall outside of the ritual context, and so for Confucius are things that cannot be (and need not be) known.  Analects 11.12 is an example of this view:  “without being able to serve people, how could you serve the spirits?”…”without knowing life, how could you know death?”  Since Confucius restricts knowledge in this way to not only the human but the practical, Chang Ju criticizes him with a quip that seems equivalent to saying “if his knowledge is complete, he should know where the ford is. The fact that he does not know where the ford is shows that his narrow restriction of knowledge is inadequate for true understanding.”
Thus, we might take Chang Ju to be saying something like: “Does he really know where the ford is?”  Still, I’m not completely comfortable with this interpretation–as I said above, it’s more of a hunch than anything.  Personally, I’ve always found this reasoning to be the most effective “argument” against Confucianism, although it is merely suggestive.  I tend toward the Confucian mindset more than the Yangist/Daoist, but this passage from the Analects has always captivated me more than either Confucius’ response at the end (the “we cannot group with the birds and beasts” bit), or the arguments of the Zhuangzi or Laozi.

So, if this is the right reading of 18.6, does that mean that this passage is a response to Zhuangzi, and is later than 18.5?  Or does it show that some of Zhuangzi’s views on perspectivalism were already in the philosophical air at the time?  Or–is my reading just the wrong way to interpret 18.6?

2 responses to “Does He Really Know Where the Ford Is?

  1. Alexus, I think your inquiry about 18 is VERY interesting, as are your ideas about it. I have nothing to add yet, except to regret that your title wasn’t “Dude, Where’s My Ford?”

  2. Alexus McLeod

    Damn! Good one– I wish I’d thought of that!

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