Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Analects, Books XIII-XV


Book XIII is largely on the subject of government, and, as usual, Master Kong's approach to it is in terms of moral authority; the rulers and ministers acting properly leads to the people acting properly (13.6, 13.10, 13.11, 13.12, 13.13). At 13.3 we get the famous passage about rectification of names, which Master Kong gives as his answer to the question of what the most important thing in administering a government is. Zilu is baffled by this, but Master Kong dismisses his bafflement. Names must be right for what is said to be intelligible; the intelligibility of what is said is required for accomplishing things effectively. One needs to accomplish things effectively in order for rites and music to work as they should (cp. 13.5). Rites and music, of course, are the primary instruments of moral authority in government, since they set examples and teach the skills involved in imitating those examples (cp. 13.4; 13.6). The coercive power of the state to punish is peripheral to the cultivation of rites and music, being used to correct only those whom rites and music have not helped. If rites and music are not working as they should, then, punishments are not being applied as they should be, and the people will suffer for it. This correction of names, however, is not a mere matter of words. (13.15 seems to imply well enough that words alone do not suffice.) It is a matter of viewing and describing things correctly, so that things can be communicated correctly. Government is a matter of communication. Without correct communication, there can be no correct government.

The reason Confucius puts such emphasis on moral authority in government is the same reason Plato does: because the primary activity of government is not force but education and its prerequisites (13.9). Even military power is primarily a matter of education (13.29-30). The great enemy of all good government is people thinking that they can simply decide as a matter of will what things are and whether they count as good or bad; this will mean, among other things that people poorly suited for government will be given the powers of government, that people will not have a clear path to follow, and that rulers and ministers will not take proper advice. All of these are issues that regularly come up in Master Kong's discussion of government. If people treat moral matters as matters of mere will, they cannot have reasonable priorities. We see this in Master Kong's biting remarks about a system of government in which sons are expected to inform on their fathers (13.18) and his contemptuous dismissal of those currently in government (13.20).

Book XIV

In addition to the more abstract method of profiles, a significant feature of Confucian pedagogy is reflection on ancient deeds. Much of Book XIV is concerned with this. At 14.5 we get a discussion of the superiority of moral influence over strength or military skill, in the form of a comparison of great heroes. There is some discussion of matters related to the powerful Duke Huan (e.g., 14.15), particularly of his advisor Guan Zhong (14.9; 14.16; 14.17). Duke Huan was the ruler of Qi at one of its major military high points. Guan Zhong was one of his prime ministers, and is often credited with a considerable portion of the greatness of Qi in his day; one of the things Master Kong is doing is analyzing his success as a statesman.

A particularly interesting analect is 14.19, in which Master Kong argues that even if a ruler does not follow the Tao, his work may be maintained by sufficiently competent ministers. We also get a variety of analects that give us a different picture of Master Kong, including his occasional mistreatment by others (14.25; 14.32, in which he is not addressed respectfully; 14.39) and some rather sharp criticisms of others (14.43; 14.44).

Book XV

Book XV is notable for having a number of especially striking aphoristic sayings by Master Kong. I will just note a few of them.

The Master said: 'Not to talk with people although they can be talked with is to waste people. To talk with people although they can't be talked with is to waste words. A man of understanding does not waste people, but he also does not waste words. (15.8)

The Master said: 'If a man avoids thinking about distant matters he will certainly have worries close at hand.' (15.12)

The Master said: 'I can do nothing at all for someone who does not say "what shall I do about this, what shall I do about this?"' (15.16)

Zigong asked: 'Is there a single word such that one could practice it throughout one's life?' The Master said: 'Reciprocity, perhaps? Do not inflict on others what you yourself would not wish done to you. (15.24)

The Master said: 'If one commits an error and does not reform, this is what is meant by an error.' (15.30)

The Master said: 'In words the purpose is simply to get one's point across.' (15.41)

One of the other analects in this book has had an especially important history; in 15.3, Confucius denies that is the sort of thing that remembers many things that he has studied, saying that instead he strings everything together with "one thing". He does not specify, but there appears to be a long tradition, mentioned by several commentators, of linking this analect with 4.15, which makes the "one thing" the thread of loyalty and reciprocity (and notably both loyalty and reciprocity are clarified in this book).

A number of analects here also have to deal with words and their proper role (15.6; 15.8; 15.11; 15.17; 15.22; 15.23; 15.24; 15.25; 15.27; 15.40; 15.41). This issue of language comes up too often to be plausibly ascribed to coincidence.

to be continued

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