Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Confucius Analects Book 1

 "As though cut, as though chiseled, As though carved, as though polished" quote from the Poetry.  This is found in the Analects. (1.15)

The junzi (noble human) is as a sculpture, chiseled, carved, polished.  He polishes himself, creates himself as a work of art.  "To be poor but joyful; to be wealthy and love li." (1.15)  The junzi achieves joy through this process of self-creation in which the civilized arts (li) are encountered with love. 

"A junzi is not concerned that food fill his belly; he does not see comfort in his residence."  (1.14)  The junzi is no crude aesthete in the sense of being concerned with good food and a comfortable home.  But consider the rest of the saying.  "If a person is apt in conduct and cautious in speech, stays near those who keep to the dao and corrects himself thereby, he may be said to love learning."  The alternative to the narrow aesthete is someone who loves learning.  But this is not necessarily literal love of reading and writing.  It is sufficient to conduct oneself well, speak carefully, and choose friends who follow the dao. Still, all of this can be done in an aesthetic way, understood more broadly.

Another passage that concerns aesthetics:  "In the practice of li, Harmony is the key.  In the Dao of the kings of old, This was the beauty."  (1.12)  Li is translated usually as ritual, but this is ritual considered broadly.  Ritual can be seen as a kind of aesthetics of daily life.  One tries to achieve harmony and beauty in one's actions. So, even in small matters one should follow this path.  But do not "act in harmony simply because one understands what is harmonious."  To do this would be to pursue beauty for beauty's sake.  Rather one must "regulate one's conduct according to li." (1.12)  What would that be?  Think of li as a broader aesthetic that takes the shaping of relations in society as intrinsic. 

Much of the first two books is devoted to virtues, for example trustworthiness, righteousness, reverence, and filial piety.  It is said we should not depart from our father's way after he passes, for three years. What sense can be made of not departing from one's father's way?  (1.13, 1.11)  The father's way might not be the way of one's literal father.  It could be symbolic for the proper and ethical way of tradition.  But even tradition has its sell by date. 

We are all concerned that others will give us credit.  But "do not be concerned that no one recognizes your merits."  It is better to worry about recognizing the merits of others.  This is like the golden rule.  (1.16)  People think too much about their personal honor.  Recognizing the merits of others is a constant project.

"If a person treats worthy people as worthy and so alters his expression..." (1.7), and does various other moral things he is "learned" although perhaps not in book learning.   What one says is one thing but how it appears in one's face is another.  The look of disgust shows no respect.  "The look" is a central part of our moral/aesthetic space.

"exerts all his effort when serving his parents"  (1.7)  A moving period of my life was when my parents were still alive, both having dementia.  I didn't exert all of my effort to them, but it was a major project.  I felt better about myself and felt good about paying them back care for care.  "exhausts himself when serving his lord"  (1.7)  Being naturally a rebel in my teens and twenties, it took me a while to see the advantages of being a good servant, a second-in command sometimes to the chair of my department.  "is trustworthy in keeping his word when in the company of friends"  (1.7)  Here trustworthiness is associated with friendship:  of course it extends to non-friends as well.  But if you are engaged in creating a harmonious lifestyle, this is central.

"if a junzi is not serious he will not be held in awe.  If you study you will not be crude."  It takes a long time to realize how important it is to be serious.  It takes a long time to realize how important it is to really study.  Refinement comes with serious study.  (1.8)  But again, you need someone to share this with.  For me, it has been my wife, with whom I constantly study the arts and domestic harmony, my colleagues both in my department and in my specialization (aesthetics), my students, and my oldest friends.  "Take loyalty and trustworthiness as the pivot and have no friends who are not like yourself in this." (1.8)  And then, of course, "if you err, do not be afraid to correct yourself."

"pursue respect for the distant dead"  (1.9)  Is the serious study of Kant, Hume, Confucius, Chuang Tzu, and so on, anything less than pursuing respect for the distant dead.  It is the philosophy teacher's way of devoting "care to life's end."  

"[T]o study and at due times practice what one has studied, is this not a pleasure" (1.1)  There are two pleasures here.  Study is one.  We philosophers read a lot of philosophy.  But also you need to stand back a bit and see how these ideas might fit one's life.  That too is a source of pleasure.  And note that Confucius, although not a hedonist, does not ignore pleasure.  For also, "when friends come from distant places, is this not joy?"  Pleasure, as we have seen, is not just a solitary thing.  Joy comes with the best moments of friendship.  But again, what about the worries that haunt us:  am I successful?  Well "to remain unsoured when his talents are unrecognized, is this not a junzi?" (1.1)

"the junzi works on the root - once the root is planted, the dao is born." (1.2)  Study until you find the root.  But the root is not just previously there.  You need to plant the root.  The dao is not just a pre-existent path, it is something that is born, flourishes, declines, and possibly dies away.  "Filiality and respect for elders, are these not the roots of ren." (1.2) Ren is commonly translated as humaneness.  There are not only the wise masters of the past, Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir, etc., but also one's seniors in the profession, one's personal teachers, one's elders.  To respect them is to listen to them carefully, gain inspiration from them, and show gratitude.  Hard thing to do.  

He who "does not like opposing his ruler" does not raise a rebellion.  Sure, and yet not opposing one's ruler (and we need not think of political leaders here) is a matter of showing respect, of studying seriously.  (1.2)  

What is ren?  Well "those of crafty words and ingratiating expression are rarely ren."  You do not show respect in this way. (1.3)

And then sometimes you get to rule yourself.  On a couple occasions I got to be chair of my department.  It was not a "state great enough to possess a thousand war chariots" but I still had to be "attentive to affairs and trustworthy...regulate expenditures and treat persons as valuable."  And that was an important part of my education, even though it happened late in life.  (1.5)  One also had to "employ the people according to the proper season" which is to say, find the right way to handle the community of the department, fitting person to task, and so on.  

As I have mentioned, in the first book there is much focus on ethics and yet some mention of the aesthetic dimension as well.  In 1.6 it is said that we should be filial at home (respect for parents) and "respectful of elders when outside."  One should also be "careful...trustworthy...caring of people at large" and, as said before, be friends with those who are ren.  All good things.  "If he has energy left over, he may study the refinements of culture (wen)." But isn't there some ambiguity here?  It seems at first that study is superfluous but, as we have seen, it is central.  And it is significant that the comment comes at the end of the passage, where often the most important issues are addressed.  

Each of the key terms in Confucian thought is defined by all of the others.  We cannot separate ren from wen, humaneness from culture, in the end.  And neither of these from li (ritual).

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