Well, it’s been a while since I posted part one of this two-part post on Analects 2.3, and there have been lots of excellent comments on both my translation and interpretation of 2.3 from part one. So, in what’s becoming an outrageously long multi part post on 2.3, I’m going to expand this post into a few more parts, to discuss both the rest of the issues I promised I’d say something about in part one, and also to spend a little more time making the case for a situationist reading of 2.3. I’ll also say some more things about my translation choices, as there were a couple of excellent comments on this also. This stuff becomes more complicated as I work through it, which is part of the reason it’s taken so long to get new posts up. I’ll try to be better with finishing this series on 2.3 off in a timely fashion, though.
Anyway: in this second part, I’ll be discussing
1) Ambivalence about zheng
Part of what I think is going on in 2.3 is a denial that zheng is really such a great thing after all. This is markedly different than what we see in Book 12 and 13, which may have been written earlier than Book 2. This strikes me as a movement away from a positive view of zheng. In particular, I’m thinking here of 12.7, 12.11, 12.17, 13.1, 13.2 as passages which seem to give a highly positive view of zheng, and link it with the kind of shame and standard that 2.3 claims flows from using de as a way to dao zhi (either thought of as guiding the people or establishing dao in the state–though I’m not so sure the two renderings differ as far as the point made–more on that below).
The above passages from Book 12 and 13 generally take the form of a student asking a question about zheng, and the master answering in a way suggesting that various virtues are part of zheng, and are required for it. This is the reason I translate it as ‘proper governance’ rather than just ‘system of government’, or something like that. The normative element seems built into the concept, in the way it’s used in 12 and 13 (in most places). One might argue that the use in 2.3 is simply an older type of use, and there is no normative element contained in this, but that the zheng passages from 12 and 13 reflect changed understandings of zheng in which the normative element was increasingly built in, similar to the Confucian transformation of the noble title junzi. Alternatively, one could argue that zheng is used in a non-normative sense in 2.3 and the passages from Book 12 and 13, and it is just the context in the 12 and 13 passages that adds the normativity to the discussion. This would be to claim that 問 政 (wen zheng “asking about governance”) has implicitly a normative dimension that zheng by itself does not, so that the wen here is doing the work–when one asks about a certain activity, he is asking “how ought one perform this activity.”
There are a couple of reasons I want to avoid this. First, it doesn’t seem to be the case that wen is normatively loaded in this way in many of its uses in the Analects, where it looks to be more of a neutral “inquiring into”. Second, some of the responses Confucius gives seem to suggest that he is thinking about zheng in certain passages as including the normative element. In 12.17, for example, in response to a question from Ji Kangzi about zheng, 問 政 again, Confucius says:
政者，正也。子帥以正，孰敢不正？ Those who govern promote proper action. If you engage in promotion of proper action, who will dare to not to act properly?
[This is a tough passage to translate, and really requires highly interpretative translation. Some alternative translations might take the first two uses of zheng as the same as the final, so that “acting properly” is what the person who governs does, rather than “promoting proper action”. Some read this as connected to the “rectification of names” bit. I don’t really buy that, because the final zheng here would not make sense. Also, it would just be too easy to say zheng ming instead of zheng, and I can’t see any pedagogical reason Confucius would have avoided using ming here if he really meant to talk about the rectification of names. Zheng has too commonly used a sense to be linked with zheng ming without strong evidence. And in the context, taking zheng in its more common sense fits, and seems to make for a reading of the passage keeping with other things the Analects says about government. Certainly, 13.3 is relevant in connection to this passage, but I think it’s a reach to take them as discussing the same thing.]
In 12.7 it looks to me like zheng is meant to include the normative element. Governing badly would not be an example of zheng. Although not all the uses seem to contain the normative element, for example 13.6. Another place we see a use of zheng clearly without the normative element is 2.1, which talks of “using virtue to govern” (為政以德). See–that pesky Book 2 messing things up again! See also 12.19, where “wei zheng” is used: 子為政，焉用殺?
Anyway–back to the main point here–in 2.3 we see that zheng is represented as inferior to de as a way to “establish dao” (or, alternatively, “guide the people/state”). The suggestion is that zheng is inferior because it does not instill the people with the right internal guide or standard of action. As I read the Analects, this standard of shame works as a way of keeping people in line and focused on the right way without the constant attention of the ruler, “ordering themselves”, as some translations of 2.3 have it. The reason I translate the ge here as ‘standard’, then, is I take it to refer to a mechanism by which the people become orderly spontaneously and of their own volition, not just the fact of their doing so. It is connected to the chi, “shame”, that is mentioned just before it. The people will have shame, and it is this shame that serves as the standard by which they see what is right and wrong, and align themselves accordingly. Without this shame, they cannot be said to have a knowledge of right and wrong. The ruler has given them no standard for judging it. (Fingarette’s book has an excellent discussion on shame in the Analects, by the way, and Cua also discussed this in his article “The Ethical Significance of Shame”). I know, you may be thinking “that ruler giving a standard stuff sounds more like Xunzi than the Analects“. If so, then you’ve discovered my Xunzi-bias on Analects interpretation. I generally see Xunzi as pretty close to the thought of the Analects, certainly closer than Mencius is (though that’s an argument for another day).
So, back to the negativity about zheng bit. Given that, in passages like 12.17, zheng is equated with proper conduct, and in the Book 12 and 13 passages in general, lots of other goodies are offered as included in zheng, including “the trust of the people” 民信 (12.7)–a big one, and relevant to 2.3, which might be read as claiming that the trust of the people comes with de, not with zheng, 2.3 seems a bit down on zheng in comparison. In the estimation of the Confucius of 2.3, it’s not quite hitting the mark. And this seems like a movement from the views of Confucius on zheng in Books 12 and 13.
Anyway–just some initial thoughts about it, refined a little bit since last time I thought about this, but still really rough, and likely problematic.