Monthly Archives: December 2008

Is Analects Book 18 A Mencian Addition?

A question I’ve been concerned with, working more on this topic I’ll be presenting at the Pacific APA in March, on Analects 18.5-7 and the Yangist/Proto-Daoist debate with Confucius and Zilu.  Although this is not the topic of my paper on this, I thought of a possibly interesting angle the other day on this:  could it be that Book 18 is a later addition by Mencian Confucians?  I think it might be.  I don’t have a ton of justification for this, but here are the lines along which I’ve been thinking in the past couple of days:

So, in 18.6, Confucius responds to the argument of the Yangist/Proto-Daoist character who tells Zilu that it is best to steer clear of society or “the world” with these words:  

鳥獸不可與同群,吾非斯人之徒與而誰與? (We cannot group together with the birds and beasts–if I do not group together with persons, than who can I group together with?)

It seems here like Confucius is making an appeal to human nature.  The fact that he cannot group together with the birds and beasts has no force against the Yangist/Proto-Daoist argument if it is simply descriptive, of Confucius’ own attitudes, etc.  He has to be appealing to something through which the normative claim that “we should not group together with birds and beasts” can be grounded–and it seems like human nature (xing) is perfectly placed for this.  The way the above sentence is framed seems to point to human nature as something that contains the (presumably good) desire and tendency toward sociality.  It would be a hard case to hold 18.6 alone as establishing this, but it seems to me that the very next passage continues this argument, providing what one might think is an answer to a possible retort from the Yangist/Proto-Daoist to Confucius’ statement in 18.6.

So, the way I see the Yangist/Proto-Daoist answering Confucius in 18.6 is by saying something like: “if being in society is so central to human nature, how is it possible for me to be avoiding it and advocating that you do so as well?”

The answer, I think, comes in 18.7.  The Yangist/Proto-Daoist hermit character in this passage invites Zilu to stay the night with him, has a meal prepared, introduces him to his sons, etc.  In short, he engages in social ritual (li) on a small scale.  That the hermit goes on to then refuse to enter into larger social interactions involving the state, elicits the following response from Zilu:  

長幼之節,不可廢也;君臣之義,如之何其廢之? (If the distinction between old and young cannot be done away with, how can the correct relationship between ruler and subject be done away with?)

In other words, Zilu is claiming that the Yangist/Proto-Daoist character does recognize certain ritual requirements and engages in social interaction in the correct way in some, but not all cases.  So such people are not, contrary to the imaginary claim I constructed above, able to completely remove themselves from sociality, which is part of their xing.

The reason this sounds very Mencian to me (if my reading of the implicit argument is correct) is that the claim about xing Confucius offers here makes good tendencies (adhering to ritual and social interaction) present without cultivation, as in the case of the character in 18.7.  He follows established ritual with Zilu, but something gets in the way of his extension of this to the larger state, and it is here where the character goes astray.  This suggests that the view of 18.5-7 is close to Mencius, that there is goodness incipient in xing and that we must in a sense “get out of its way”, rather than Xunzi’s view that wei (willful action) is necessary to counteract our nature.  Book 18 is clearly a relatively late addition to the Analects, in part because 18.5-7 seem to be responding to views like those in the Zhuangzi, not covered elsewhere in the Analects–but it also might be a specifically Mencian school addition.

Any thoughts about this?  I’m not totally convinced yet that it’s Mencian, but there do seem to be some compelling hints.

Does Analects 12.1 Really Say Anything About Human Nature?

Bryan Van Norden seems to suggest (on p. 127 in his “Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy”) that Analects 12.1 presents us with a view of human nature relatively close to Xunzi’s.  Although Van Norden is careful to make clear that he thinks there is no worked out conception of human nature in the Analects, he does seem to think that 12.1 offers some hint that Confucius thought of humans as naturally “resistant to virtue” in something like the way Xunzi did.  Although I agree with Van Norden that there is no worked out view of human nature in the Analects, and that what we can glean from the Analects seems to make Confucius closer to Xunzi on what we ought to expect from humans in general (even aside from the issue of xing ), 12.1 doesn’t seem to me to suggest any particular view of human nature.  The key to this reading, I think, is the term ji 己.  If we read it as simply “oneself”, then it does seem to suggest a Xunzian view of human nature.  But I think there is reason (which I’ve been attempting to polish up arguments for in the dissertation) to see ji in 12.1 not as referring to the self, but instead as referring to certain features of oneself.  Zhu Xi suggests that the right way to read ji in 12.1 is as something like “selfish desires”  (The jizhu commentary on the line of 12.1 in question reads: 己謂身之私欲…).  I don’t take quite this line, but something relatively close.  “socially non-contextualized individual” might be closer to my own reading.  I take ji as representing oneself as isolated individual, which is the owner of desires and other features that can belong uniquely to individuals.  I take this isolated individual, however, as something less than a full person, because it is not socially contextualized.  Then, the issue becomes what human nature attaches to:  the isolated individual (ji) or the properly formed person (ren人)?  The Analects, although it does I think make this distinction, has no answer about which of these two human nature is involved with.  There are some really difficult issues surrounding this, which I’ve not sufficiently thought through yet.  What is clear, however, is that if ji is correctly read in either my way or Zhu Xi’s “selfish desire” way, then  turning away from one’s ji is necessary for moral development, but there is no hint as to whether humans naturally are concerned with this ji instead of with something else.  What is clear from 12.1 is that either 1) people focusing on ji to the detriment of ritual was a pressing problem among Confucius’ contemporaries–because if it were not, there would be no reason to mention it in giving an answer to how one achieves ren .; 2) paying undue attention to one’s ji was a potential or actual problem of Yan Hui’s , as the response (克己復禮爲仁 “Turning away from ji and returning/adhering to ritual is ren”) was given by Confucius in answer to Yan Hui’s question about ren  (Yan Hui was a great student, but he wasn’t perfect, after all); or 3) both 1 and 2 are true.  Regardless of whether 1,2, or 3 is true, however, 12.1 then does not suggest any particular view of human nature, without further information such as “not only do people these days pay too much attention to ji, but humans in general have a natural tendency to do so.”  1,2,or 3 could be true, that is, due to corrupting influences in the society which got in the way (as Mencius suggested) of human nature.  Any thoughts?