Analects 2.3–Shame, Good Government, and Dao (Part Two)

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.  

7 responses to “Analects 2.3–Shame, Good Government, and Dao (Part Two)

  1. 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”

    There’s a series of articles on the concept of shame, all in dialogue with each other. I know Van Norden has one of them (I’m away from my study–in Qi on a consulting gig and no one in Lu can look it up for me), although they all center on shame in Mencius.

    I tend to see an ambivalence toward zheng in general, although admittedly I haven’t spent a lot of time looking into the issue (which is why my answers to my disciple’s questions seem to vary so much). The fact that Mencius has to qualify zheng with ren (仁政) alludes to the possibility that there are many different ways to ‘zheng’, some certainly better than others. FWIW, the right hand character–攴 (pu) is a pictograph of a hand holding an instrument used to prod or control (or perhaps beat?). Ren zheng of course is in Mencius and not the Analects, although Mencius is a much more faithful disciple than some; but do please keep on with your Xunzian reading of my tradition (I am 攴-ed up and ready to lay the smack down should it go too far).

  2. Master, I thought you could discuss even matters that the states could not document for you.

    Hi Alexus!

    You seem to say that the view of zheng in 2.3 differs from the view of zheng elsewhere. But you also say the word ‘zheng’ is used in different senses in the different places. So if I understand you, really you’re not really claiming to identify any disagreement between 2.3 and the other passages.

    I’m not sure what you take to be the significance of the point about the word. Do you want to say that the difference in ways of using ‘zheng’ is so great that the sentences are unlikely to have been uttered by the same person on the same day?

    (A separate point: I don’t know what reasons people have for thinking specifically that Bk 2 is later than Bks 12, 13. You seem pretty sure that 2 is later. Is there something in particular that convinces you?)

  3. Hi Alexus,

    As you mention, in 12.17 Confucius says: 政者,正也. 子帥以正,孰敢不正?

    Here’s how you and I translate that:

    McLeod: “Those who govern promote proper action. If you engage in promotion of proper action, who will dare to not to act properly?”

    Haines: “To govern is to be straight. If you lead with straightness, who will dare not to be straight?”

    I think that the English words I’ve chosen, like the Chinese words, are most naturally read as making roughly the same point that 2.1 and 2.3 make–despite the fact that “to govern is to be straight” might seem to a logician to imply “everyone who is straight is governing” and “nobody who governs is not straight.”

    The main translation issue seems to pertain to the three instances of the character zheng 正 in Confucius’ remark.

    The translations I have handy (which don’t include Soothill, Waley, Huang, or Watson) fall into three groups. They all take the 3rd instance to mean “be straight” (i.e. “act uprightly”), but they divide on the following grounds:

    (A) Some translators take all 3 instances to mean “be straight”: Lau, Leys, Ames&Rosemont, Slingerland, and me.

    (B) Other translators take the 1st and 2nd instances to mean “make straight” (i.e. “correct, rectify”): Legge and the Brookses.

    (C) If I understand you, you take the 1st and 2nd instances to mean “promote straightness” and the characters shuai yi 帥以 are not reflected in your translation.

    Here are a few points in favor of group (A)’s approach:

    First, only (A) makes the character mean the same thing throughout the remark. Not that that’s conclusive.

    Second, while the (A) approach makes the remark say something important and consonant with what Confucius says elsewhere, the (B) approach makes the remark fairly empty.

    Third, it seems to me linguistically odd to read zheng 正 as “make straight” when it isn’t immediately followed by an object, as (B) does. And it seems to me linguistically odd to read zheng 正 as “promote straightness, as (C) does. But I haven’t done the research to back up my sense of what’s odd.

    What points are there against (A)?

  4. Alexus, I would like to know whether you’re making the following proposal about 2.3, which I find very interesting: “Even people who do not yet have standards to distinguish acting well from acting badly will react differently to a ruler who behaves well than to a ruler who behaves badly. King Well will impart a sense of shame which in turn will give people standards for distinguishing acting well from acting badly, while King Badly will not manage to do those things.”

  5. By coincidence, just now I came across the following passage in the Li Ji (Book 24, Questions of Duke Ai 哀公問):


    Confucius was sitting beside duke Âi, when the latter said, 'I venture to ask, according to the nature of men, which is the greatest thing (to be attended to in dealing with them).' Confucius looked startled, changed countenance, and replied, 'That your lordship should put this question is a good thing for the people. How should your servant dare but express his opinion on it?' Accordingly he proceeded, and said, 'According to the nature of men, government is the greatest thing for them.'
    The duke said, 'I venture to ask what is meant by the practice of government.' Confucius replied, 'Government is rectification. When the ruler is correct himself, all the people will follow his government. What the ruler does is what the people follow. How should they follow what he does not do?'

  6. That was a descendant of 12.17. Here’s a descendant of 2.3, from early in Li Ji 30 (The Black Robes, Zi Yi 緇衣):


    The Master said, ‘If the people be taught by lessons of virtue, and uniformity sought to be given to them by the rules of ceremony, their minds will go on to be good. If they be taught by the laws, and uniformity be sought to be given to them by punishments, their minds will be thinking of how they can escape [the punishment;–Analects, II, iii]. Hence, when the ruler of the people loves them as his sons, they feel to him as a parent; when he binds them to himself by his good faith, they do not turn away from him; when he presides over them with courtesy, their hearts are docile to him.

  7. In my second comment on this string, I wrote,

    “it seems to me linguistically odd to read zheng 正 as “make straight” when it isn’t immediately followed by an object, as (B) does.”

    DC Lau and Bryan Van Norden each take Mengzi to be using zheng 正 as “make straight” when it isn’t immediately followed by an object, in this bit of 4A18. Looks like they’re probably right.

    教者必以正;以正不行,繼之以怒;… ‘夫子教我以正,夫子未出於正也’
    Lau: A teacher necessarily resorts to correction, and if correction produces no effect, it will end by his losing his temper. … ‘You teach me [says the son] by correcting me, but you yourself are not correct.’

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