BCC Intro Philosophy
Lecture on Confucius
As we have seen in the course so far, systems of thought are not simply dogmatic answers, but also cultures of questioning. We saw that Shamans go on vision quests to learn the sources of problems, and that in Egyptian wisdom proverbs there is questioning of social status, consumption (over eating and drinking), and everything else that becomes easy to see when you gather many nomadic tribes into settled city states.
Now, we move to China and examine one of the foremost ethical geniuses of world history: Grand Master Kung, or as he is known to us, Confucius (Kong Fu Tsu, or Grand Master Kong). Confucius was dedicated to the idea that the individual can obtain fullness and happiness by placing others before oneself, by recognizing the desires of others as equal to the desires one has for oneself.
Chinese Philosophy and The Period of the Hundred Philosophers/Schools:
One would like to think that times of peace and prosperity are good for systems of thought, but in fact we find that times of war and disintegration of empires is best for thinkers and systems of thought. Human beings only rethink problems when they are faced with them, and so in Confucius’ China there were great problems in the ‘Warring States period’ as many kings came and went, each calling themselves ‘mandated by heaven’. If heaven speaks for a king, it was thought the king would prosper. If the king does not follow the way of heaven, heaven or the All Lord stops speaking for the king, and someone else comes along. Each new king then claims that the old king was ‘no longer spoken for’, so the populations of Greece, India etc. find themselves wondering: who exactly does Heaven (the heavens) speak for, and why? Confucius and the Daoists we will examine next week proposed different solutions to this problem. The Daoists believed that going off into nature and rejecting human ways was best for cultivating the individual, while Confucius believed that the city, morality and study were best for cultivating human virtues. Thus, while Confucius and the Daoists were both questioners of individual desires and judgment, Confucius believed we should turn to society to realize our true nature and the Daoists believed we should turn away from society to realize our true nature.
The Period of the Hundred Philosophers or Hundred Schools, as it is called, came with the Warring States Period and ended during the Han dynasty which supported the studies of many of the schools that had their origins during the Warring States Period. This included the teachings of Confucius and the early Confucians such as Mencius and Hsun Zi as well as the Daoists including Lao Zi and Zuan Zi. It also included the legalists, the followers of Mo Zi and many other schools.
An interesting point to make about the evolution of systems of thought here is that Confucius, the Daoists and others speak of the ‘Mandate of Heaven’. In India, Greece, China, and many other places, we can see that first many tribes and their gods were drawn into polytheistic (many gods) systems (as we focused on last week), and then after this these were drawn into monotheistic (one god) systems. We can see that many gods with human like desires become one god with human like desires, and then this one god becomes more and more abstract. We see the same pattern in India and China, where polytheism grew into a monotheistic ‘Way’ or ‘Mandate’. Essentially, the All Lord becomes simply the mind of the universe or the ‘way’ or ‘order’ of things. Greek philosophers were individuals who were progressive, pushing beyond the polytheism of ancient Greece toward an All Intelligence that is order, goodness, and life in the world. Confucius follows this sort of pattern in using the ‘Mandate of Heaven’. Confucius does not speak of the Lord of Heaven, but the Mandate is the speech or order from the mouth of the All Lord.
Confucius and his System of Thought
Just like we had with Egypt last week, Confucius(550-480 BCE)believes that the heart is the center of the human being. Notice that this ‘center’ is both mental and physical, fitting with cosmology, psychology and medical practices (these, of course, not being separated in ancient times and cultures). Confucius is often understood as a champion of order and ritual, as he is a proponent of society against the Daoists. However, it is clear from the Analects that Confucius believed it was more important to have right intentions than right actions, i.e. ‘one’s heart is in the right place’. Confucius believed that ritual was the strength of a society and so one should perform the rituals to the ancestors, but he also believed that the worst thing was not to simply avoid ritual but to do ritual without the proper intention. We could say that Confucius would say to a churchgoer today: it is more important to enjoy your church than to attend your church, for if you do not enjoy it whole heartedly you should not go. Empty ritual, ritual simply for the motions rather than authentic love for and continuity with one’s society, is the worst thing, and thus it would be better in such a case to avoid false ritual and simply not perform the ritual at all. This point is often lost when people focus on Confucius’ great love of ritual and city culture. A good example of this point is Analects 5.5 (and yes, these are standardized so no matter the translation, ‘5.5’ is always the fifth aphorism of the fifth chapter or book, just like the Bible and Koran are standardized with numbers): Confucius says that Ran Yong does not need eloquence (civilized speech) if he is not good. Another good example is 11.10, where Confucius is grieving ‘inappropriately’ for his favorite student, and tells us that genuine love is more important than being polite or pleasant (right intention trumps right outer form). However, the best example is clearly 3.26, “Authority without generosity, ceremony without reverence, mourning without grief, these things I cannot bear to contemplate”.
Also like we had with Egypt last week, Confucius was a great champion of scholarship. Confucius believed that scholarship was necessary for developing the heart, and the ‘gentleman’, Confucius’ word for the great person, developed love for others and knowledge through study of the classic texts. Needless to say, Confucius’ Analects became just such an object for devoted study in Chinese society, and Confucius became an ancestor revered by devotees with ritual. Confucius is credited as the father of China’s civil service system, a system in which anyone who tested well, regardless of their position in society, was given a government position. This is similar to the development of types of scribes in Egypt. It is just such a development that we call ‘the middle class’, the individuals who through study and work can rise or fall in position to fit the many niches required to run large cities and systems. In combination with the last point, this means that Confucius hates scholarship for show without genuine love of learning and discovery of human nature. A good example is 4.9, ‘if a scholar is ashamed of his shabby clothes or poor food, he is not worth listening to’.
The last and central point that I want to make about Confucius as you read the Analects is this: Confucius was a genius at seeing himself as equal to everyone, and he encouraged this attitude as the path to Goodness itself. Most of us have likely heard the ‘Golden Rule’, which is paraphrased from Confucius: ‘treat others the way you want to be treated’. My favorite example is 7.22: Confucius says that if you put him with any two people at random, he can take their strengths as a model to follow and their faults as a warning. Clearly, Confucius believed that we all share the same set of strengths and faults, no matter how talented (or horrible) we happen to individually be or where our talents are. I love this point, and I believe it is central for examining other cultures with an open mind, a mind beyond the simplistic idea that ‘the West is rational’ or ‘scientific’. Confucius teaches us that NO ONE is perfect, not even himself, but there is good in everyone and everything, and we had best remember that we will never loose any of our connection to our fellow human beings if we only remember to look hard enough for it.
Again, an example: “When you see a worthy man, seek to emulate him…When you see an unworthy man, examine yourself”.
Confucius’ Followers and Neo-Confucianism
Confucius had two followers who became the famous two poles of interpretation of the Analects. Mencius (370-290 BCE) or Men Zi, the second in command of Confucianism by popular consent in the tradition, believed that Confucius taught that the human being is basically good and develops the heart, growing and developing the virtues through love. He argued that because the human individual is essentially good, we need ritual to guide our growth but love is the true essence. Hsun Zi, the third in command of Confucianism, a cynic and conservative, argued that the human being is essentially evil and without the rituals and tradition to hold our nature back we would be selfish and uncivilized. This remains the major split in Confucian thought.
About 1100 CE, Confucianism merged with Daoist and Buddhist ideas to form a Confucian revival called Neo-Confucianism by scholars. Buddhist metaphors such as the pearl at the bottom of the muddy lake and the sun emerging from behind the clouds were reinterpreted in light of Confucianism and Daoism. The major figure of this revival was Chu His (1130-1200 CE), who believed that all three traditions were teaching the same truth but that Confucius was the superior and primary teacher.
Confucius shows us a brilliant development of the skepticism of individual and state that we have already seen develop elsewhere. When people gather, they can see each other and see groups, and are questioning and skeptical of themselves, other individuals, and group organizations.
First we look at the criticism of the individual, clearing the individual heart and putting oneself in tune with the Way. Then we look at criticism of the state, and see that the same shape applies.
Second, notice the passages where Confucius is criticizing sages who go to nature and do not study. Pay attention to this for next week, as these are early Daoists who have different opinions than Confucius about the cultivation of the human individual.
Criticism of the Individual:
Confucius puts the Good and the Heart over all else, including pride, whether the pride and judgment is for the state or for the individual.
Right act/conduct is important, but it is empty without intention
Heart over ritual/act, both important
Intention and Action, Mind and Body, the worst is the lower empty of the upper.
(4.12) He who acts out of self interest arouses much resentment.
(5.5) ‘Ran Yong is good but not eloquent’- I don’t know if he is good, but he certainly does not need eloquence if he isn’t.
(11.10) Yan Hui died. ‘Master, this grief isn’t right’ C; ‘What sort of grief for such a man is right?
Criticism of Luxury:
(5.18) Master said: Zang Sunchen built a house for his tortoise, with pillars in the shape of mountains and rafters decorated with duckweed. Has he lost his mind?
(7.16) Even if you have only coarse grain, water and your arm for a pillow, you may still be happy. Riches and honors without justice are to me as fleeting clouds.
Ritual without Virtue:
(3.26) authority without generosity, ceremony without reverence, mourning without grief, these things I cannot bear to contemplate.
(4.13) If one cannot govern by observing ritual and showing compassion, what is the use of ritual?
Scholarship without greed or want of career:
(4.9) If a scholar is ashamed of his shabby clothes or poor food, he is not worth listening to.
Haven’t seen someone who studies without any thought of career.
Good is at Hand (7.30) but no one is perfect (7.26)
Says again and again that he is not perfect, nor has he met perfection…
(7.33) My seal is as strong as anyone’s, but I have not succeeded in living nobly.
yet: ‘Is goodness out of reach? As soon as I long for goodness, goodness is at hand.’
(7.34) I make no claims to wisdom or to human perfection- how would I dare? Yet my aim never flags and I never tire of teaching people.
Disciple: ‘This is what we fail to follow.’
The amazing insight for continuous becoming:
(And a major lesson of this class)
Whatever one’s position, you always share the faults and talents of everyone.
Thus, you have to work to compare self with others, as not intuitive.
You should compare yourself to others, reflect yourself through others no matter how you judge them to be, and work to get over selfishness and become compassionate and balanced (the way of heaven, opposed to selfish desire for lower).
Confucius values joining all of humanity, not being selfish.
(7.22) Put me with any two people at random- they will invariably have something to teach me. I can take their qualities as a model and their defects as a warning.
(9.8) Am I knowledgeable? No. A Bumpkin asked me a question, and my mind went blank. Still, I hammered at his problem from all sides, till I worked out something.
(1.16) Don’t worry if you don’t recognize other’s merits: worry that you may not
(2.13) Practice what you preach.
(4.17) When you see a worthy man, seek to emulate him. When you see an unworthy man, examine yourself.
(5.12) Zigong ‘I do not want to do to others…’ C: you’re not that far yet…
(11.4) Yan Hui is of no help to me: whatever I say pleases him.
(9.28) It is in the cold of winter that you see how green the pines and cypresses are.
(15.23) A gentleman does not approve of a person because he expresses a certain opinion, nor does he reject an opinion because it is expressed by a particular person.
(15.24) ‘Single word to guide one’s life?’ C- Reciprocity: do not do to others…
(19.21) A gentleman’s mistake is like an eclipse of the sun or moon.
When happens, everyone notices, and when corrected everyone looks up in admiration.
Good as Unknown, Beyond Judgment and Opinion
(5.19, and one cut off before 5.9) Openness, Being without Arrogance or Prejudice. Clear Heart as without blockage, Light without shade, Consciousness without judgment.
(9.17) The master stood by a river and said: ‘Everything flows like this, without ceasing’
(2.17) Master said: Knowledge is to take the known as known and unknown as unknown.
(pre 3.14) (quoted by Wittgenstein) About what we don’t know we must keep silent.
(5.13) Our master’s views on culture can be gathered, but you can’t hear his views on the nature of things or the Way of Heaven.
(7.21) The master never talked of miracles, violence, disorders, spirits.
(7.35) Confucius is ill, student: ‘pray to spirits above & spirits below’
Con: In that case, I have been praying for a long time already.
(note not a rejection of the spiritual, but a knowing unknowing)
(11.12) Asked how to serve spirits, says: You have not yet learned how to serve man, how could you learn to serve the spirits?
Death: You do not yet know life, how can you learn about death?
Middle Way: (Buddha, Heraclitus)
(6.17) Who would leave a house without using the door? Why do people seek to walk outside the way?
(6.29) The power of the middle way is supreme, and yet it is not found among the people anymore. (notice restore the golden age)
Reform the old, bring in the new:
(2.11) He who by revising the old knows the new is fit to be a teacher.
(2.12) A gentleman is not a pot.
(Pre 3.4 cut off) each generation has added and dropped from the ritual, so we know what people will look like 100 generations from now (they will add and drop)
In pursuit of virtue, do not be afraid to outpace your teacher (15.36)
Criticism of the State:
Confucius is not a compliant sheep when it comes to the state.
His criticism of individual judgment and pride is matched by criticism of the state.
(11.17) Rich student tyrant: C- attach him: you have my permission.
Sees private interest trapped in the state (nobles disunifying Zhou court, into warring states). (passage?)
A tyrant must work for the good of all people
(13.15) asked by Duke: Is there a single maxim/rule that could ruin a country?
C- The prince should never suffer contradiction. When in error, prince should be told.
(13.24) ‘What if everyone likes a man?’ C- Not enough
‘What if everyone hates him?’ C- Not enough: Good should love, bad should hate.
(13.20) ‘present politicians?’ Those puny creatures are not even worth mentioning.
Free will of all:
(9.26) One cannot deny the humblest man his free will.
Criticism of Daoism and its sages retreat into Nature:
Just as Confucius appears in Daoist texts as an ally but inferior rival, so do proto-Daoist sages in the Analects.
This is very much like Buddha vs. the Jains, in that other group isn’t mentioned by name, but found not to be in balance but extremists. Daoists wanted to escape into nature, while Confucians believe in the value of the city and embracing not escaping humankind.
Believe in balance, like Daoists, but seek to balance the city, not escape into the perfect balance of nature from the city. Daoists are more skeptical of society.
(Similar to hippie communes in remote areas all over country- rejection of society)
Criticism of Escape from Humanity as opposed to transforming/reforming Humanity.
(vs. the sages of 18.6, 18.7 and 18.8)
(18.16) One cannot associate with birds and beasts. If the world were following the way, I would not have to reform it.
It is not right to be a hermit, and discard human relationships to preserve one’s purity.
(18.18) (Shaolain is the Daoist who had a monastery that became famous taken over by martial arts Buddhists)
C- I do things differently. I follow no rigid prescriptions on what should or should not be done.
(4.1) It is beautiful to live amidst humanity. It is hardly wise to live in a place destitute of people (don’t be a Daoist hermit).
Criticism of Meditation (D and later B), to Confucians not as good as study
(15.31) I once to meditate went without food for a day and a night without sleep.
It was no use. It is better to study.
Numerous criticisms of inactivity, inferior to activity, study and effort.
(2.1): At 15, I set my mind upon learning. At 30, I took my stand. At 40 I had no doubts. At 50, I knew the will (mandate) of heaven. At 60, my ear was attuned. At 70, I follow all the desires of my heart without breaking any rule.
(4.2) A good man rests in his humanity. A wise man profits from his humanity.