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.