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.

7 responses to “Is Analects Book 18 A Mencian Addition?

  1. Alexus,

    I read 18.6 as saying something like this: “I cannot be what I am in the presence of birds and animals only”. I suppose I don’t see any problem in reading this as a claim about nature, but I’m not sure how much to read into it from that point.

    For example, it’s not clear to me how to get from this point to the more controversial Mencian point of “human nature as something that contains the (presumably good) desire and tendency toward sociality.” I don’t see anything in there that points towards an incipient tendency towards anything, just perhaps a claim that in order to be what one is, one would need to associate with other people.

    I’m also not clear what you mean here:

    “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?”

    What exactly is the claim here? That if society is central to xing but the proto-Daoist avoids it, the proto-Daoist should not be capable of advocating such a stance? Why not? I might just be missing what you mean here.

    The snowfall against the backdrop of what looks to be Southern Utah red rock canyons is interesting, by the way!

  2. Hi Chris–

    I agree that 18.6 alone doesn’t make the case for a Mencian view of human nature, but if we read 18.7 as a response to the imagined Yangist/Proto-Daoist question, it starts looking like Mencius.

    Part of the problem here is that I’m reading self-cultivation in the Analects in general as social, as promoting selflessness in the sense that the way for one to become a virtuous person is simply to become integrated into a community in such a way that one forms a collective agency with the other members of the group. In other words, I don’t see Confucius as a classic virtue ethicist. But I have separate arguments for that–actually a whole dissertation surrounding that.

    Anyway–I read Confucius’ response in 18.6 as a more general claim about human nature because otherwise it would seem to be a weak response to the Yangist/Proto-Daoist character and their argument that one (Zilu, standing in for “everyone” in this case) ought to avoid the world, rather than dodging certain people as they say Confucius does. That Confucius responds to this in the way he does suggests that he means it as a universal normative claim about humans like “we ought not move about with the birds and beasts because we are humans, and we can only really have community with humans.” If it is about Confucius as a uniquely virtuous person, then it seems that the Yangists/Proto-Daoists can reply: “what you (Confucius) are is confused. We don’t deny that you can’t avoid being such, but this is just because you are so confused. But Zilu might be malleable enough to understand.”

    If what Confucius is saying is something more like “humans in general cannot (ought not? must not?) group together with birds and beasts”, than it seems that the only thing that could ground such a normative claim would be human nature. Or at least I can’t see anything else that would be able to ground it.

    The response I imagined from the Yangist/Proto-Daoist to this would differ depending on how strong we take the above claim of Confucius’, though. He can’t mean something like “we (humans) do not have the ability to group together with the birds and the beasts”, because these characters are doing just that. But if we weaken this a bit, and hold Confucius to be saying something like “we (humans) do not have the ability to fully group together with the birds and beasts, because sociality is inherent in our nature (xing),” then although the Yangist/Proto-Daoist might respond “but I’m doing just that–I’m grouping together with the birds and the beasts, so isn’t that a counterexample?”, then an excellent Confucian comeback to that would be what we see in 18.7, a kind of “no you’re not–see, you really respect ritual and are social after all, and can’t completely get away from it”. In fact, this seems to be just what Zilu says at the end of 18.7 when he wonders aloud how the old man in 18.7 can abandon the relationship between ruler and subject while still recognizing that between young and old. It’s mainly because this strikes me as a plausible response to my imaginary question that I see it as confronting the same issue, of what is inherent in nature.

    I guess it’s 18.7 then that I’d have to rely on most for the support for the “incipient sociality in one’s nature” claim, or at least what seems to be a nod in that direction. It just seems that all this is much more amenable to a Mencian interpretation than most of the earlier stuff in the Analects (at least on my own reading of it🙂 ), which on the whole seems to me closer to Xunzi, but silent on the issue of xing as a technical term that moves to center stage in the later debate. That’s why I smell a rat in Book 18–a Mencian rat, out to do away with some Zhuangzi (and Xunzi) types by including their view of xing and what is inherent in xing in the Analects.

    Maybe this is part of an explanation for why xing is not explicitly mentioned in 18.5-7. Maybe they thought it would be too obvious to start slinging around ‘xing’ in the contemporary (to Mencius) sense, so they tried to be more subtle with their arguments…? This much is hairbrained speculation, I know, but I don’t have much else to hang my hat on yet.

    By the way, excellent geography skills!–yep, it’s Monument Valley in Utah. I think those red mesas out there are really cool. And the southwest in general is an awesome geological treasure trove. I thought the snow would be a nice touch. I should have put southern California in the background, that would have been even better!

    By the way, have you made the trip to Beijing yet?

  3. Alexus,

    Can you explain briefly to me why you think collective agency/integration is inconsistent with classic virtue ethics? I think we’ve spoken about this before, but I’m forgetting what the reason is. Is it because classic VE can seem selfish — oriented towards the cultivation of individual virtue or excellence? (by the way, I’d love to read some of your dissertation at some point)

    I agree with your second paragraph, actually. I think Confucius is saying that is it our xing to actualize our humanity, and that this is why life with the birds and beasts is not advisable. I think where I differ here is on the Mencian next step: to suggest that we have incipient tendencies towards this or that. I don’t see any of that here. It also seems to me that Xunzi could accept these passages as well — which to me is more evidence against a Mencian reading. Xunzi might say: “it is ugly to live among the birds and beasts, for one fails to cultivate the aesthetic beauty that is potential in all of us, and which is actualized through communal ritual life. So why would one do such a thing?” Here “xing” might be read as “that which we are capable of” (in this case, communal ritual integration) — and Xunzi surely thinks that we are and beasts are not. So the difference here is that Xunzi thinks of xing as incipient tendencies, and those are beast like. But he also thinks we are capable of ritual community, which is a different sense of xing (potentiality, perhaps).

    So I guess although I agree with you generally here, I don’t see any compelling reasons to give a strong xing reading that would drive a wedge between, say, a Xunzian interpretation and a Mencian one.

    I see your next point — that if the Confucian is saying “you can’t group with the beasts” (due to xing), then the proto-Daoist will say “but I am!”, to which Zilu can reply, “no, you’re not, you are engaged in ritual right here.”

    It’s a good point, and I think a perfectly valid reading (and it has the virtue of pulling the two sayings together). At the very least, it’s an interesting way to read the “but then why are you here even partially in society, then?” question one might feel urged to ask the proto-Daoist.

    I think my concern, again, is on pushing the Mencian angle. I still think it is consistent with Xunzi to have Zilu reply “it is clear that you recognize the aesthetic beauty involved in at least truncated participation in ritual; but given that you recognize or have an appreciation for the artistic, how can you reject these other works of art (further rituals)?” Here Zilu’s argument would be one of asking for a consistency response from the proto-Daoist that the Daoist likely doesn’t have. However, this response from Zilu leaves open the possibility that there are, indeed, some Daoists who are really out there living in the woods fully (which I suppose the Mencian reading closes off). They simply never actualize their potential aesthetic natures, and so are “ugly.”

    I’m not sure if that makes any sense. Does it?

    I spend some time hiking in Utah years back — the memories are ingrained in my head. Beautiful land! The snow does make it pretty amusing.

    We’re not in Beijing yet — I still have finals to proctor! We leave at the beginning of February, actually. Paige needs to get her last shot at the start of that month before we can go, and that was, given her birth, the earliest we could schedule it (you need three shots spaced out 8 weeks apart).

    But we’re looking forward to it!

  4. Pingback: Blog Love « A Ku Indeed!

  5. Hi

    re: Alexus: “But if we weaken this a bit, and hold Confucius to be saying something like “we (humans) do not have the ability to fully group together with the birds and beasts, because sociality is inherent in our nature (xing),” then although the Yangist/Proto-Daoist might respond “but I’m doing just that–I’m grouping together with the birds and the beasts, so isn’t that a counterexample?”, then an excellent Confucian comeback to that would be what we see in 18.7, a kind of “no you’re not–see, you really respect ritual and are social after all, and can’t completely get away from it”.”
    — Well, the recluse never said he ever wanted to. Do we believe one must be either 100% social or 100% antisocial? And can one not be social with things other than humans? A “Daoist” hermit need not reject simple pleasant habits of treating guests.

    Re: Chris: “At the very least, it’s an interesting way to read the “but then why are you here even partially in society, then?” question one might feel urged to ask the proto-Daoist.”
    — To which Zhuangzi would reply, “True Man of old … His being one was one and his not being one was one. In being one, he was acting as a companion of Heaven. In not being one, he was acting as a companion of man. When man and Heaven do not defeat each other, then we may be said to have the True Man.” (ch. 6, Watson).

    Re: “A person cannot flock together with the birds and the beasts. If I do not associate with the followers of men, then with whom would I associate? If the Way were realized in the world, than I would not need to change anything.” (Slingerland)
    — Do we know what “Ren Zhi Tu 人之徒” means? It could be referring to the “ruling class” and not the “ruled class” (Min 民). I wonder why the Tu 徒. Didn’t Confucians also take the position that one could/should leave a state that lacked the Way?

  6. Chris–

    You’re probably right that there’s no strong justification here for a Mencian reading, mainly it just strikes me as stylistically similar to what Mencius would have said. Even on my rendering of the argument, Xunzi’s view would be consistent with the Confucian argument here, but it just strikes me as something one with a Mencian view would say, while it might be awkward for a Xunzian to express the argument this way. It doesn’t seem quite as neutral as some of the earlier bits of the Analects, which don’t even touch on the xing issue. If Book 18 dates from the xing debate period, then my hunch would be to throw it in with the Mencian view advocates, rather than the Xunzian view advocates. This doesn’t amount to much more than a hunch, though, given the argument. Mainly, it’s the absence of 僞”wei”(deliberate effort) in the Yangist/Proto-Daoist’s ability to appreciate sociality in certain contexts (which is, according to the author, good) that seems to me to make it lead Mencian. Xunzi seems to think that without 僞, we can’t transform our evil original nature. The Yangist/Proto-Daoist seems to represent, for the author(s) of 18.5-7, the person who does not put forth deliberate effort (僞), so the fact that they’re not completely corrupted, given this complete absence of wei, seemed to at least hint at a Mencian view. Though I agree with you that this isn’t very strong. Mainly a hunch.

    Also–if you’ve got some time (maybe when you get to Beijing?), I’ll send you some of the better parts of the dissertation, to see what you think. I sympathize with your exam proctoring/grading. I just finished with that last week. The pain….the pain….

    Bao Pu–
    I actually agree with you here. I don’t think the Confucian argument is strong, just that it seems to be the one being made in these passages. That’s one of the things that has always fascinated me about 18.5-7—it always seemed to me that the Yangist/Proto-Daoists gave the better arguments, and that they were not presented as the typical straw men of partisan polemic (whether it be by Confucians, Daoists, Mohists, or whoever). That initially led me to think that maybe 18.5-7 were later insertions to the Analects by daoists, who purposefully make the Yangist/Proto-Daoist position fairly strong, and give Confucius a relatively weak response. But then I started thinking along these Mencian lines, in which the argument seems to be similar to ones Mencius makes against the Daoists, and then it began to seem to me more like a forced attempt to place Mencian arguments into the context of the Analects, without much of the theoretical apparatus that helps Mencius’ view. Of course, I disagree with the Mencian view, and think there are good arguments against it. I also agree with you here that the Daoist could make the response you offer. Mainly, I’m just trying to reconstruct the argument I think 18.5-7 is making, even though it’s not a very compelling one.

    By the way—the 人之徒 bit; it’s hard to understand exactly what class of people he means by this. 徒 人 generally seems to have the sense of “followers” in the Analects in terms of students, students of Confucius, etc. But then the issue becomes what the 人 is referring to. It’s unlikely, given the hierarchical picture of this time, that it would have meant something like the followers of the 民 (this is just too Marxist)– but I also suspect 人 doesn’t refer to the ruler, or ruling class, or something similar. (otherwise why not use 寡人, 王, or something like that) I just take it to be something like “those who follow other people in society”, or those who form into society, group together as humans. So then it wouldn’t be referring to a social class, but rather a type of set based on activity—the set of those committed to community, rather than the set of those committed to abandoning community, such as the Yangist/Proto-Daoist types have. At least that’s the best I can do with it. It’s a hard one to understand in this context. Maybe Slingerland’s rendering is the best way to do it, because it leaves it pretty neutral and close to the literal sense.

  7. Pingback: A Ku Indeed! » Archive » Blog Love

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s