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Courage…Maybe In This World: Philosophical perspectives”
Janelle Harrison Religious Studies 166A Professor William Powell Due: Tues. Nov. 17th, 1998
There are issues in every culture and, in every timeframe; from centuries before the birth of Christ to our modern contemporary era that have been discussed in the realm of philosophical debates of the intelligentsia, to the conversations of the common folk working in the agricultural fields. There is no doubt however, that the topic of humanity, that is, how to treat one another in a humane manner is the most widely, yes, the most frequently discussed of all. From the written works of our greatest Western thinkers of the past, such minds as Aristotle, Plato, Hume, Hegel, Kant and Decartes, to one of the greatest known philosophers of Ancient Eastern society, namely Confucius, humanity has been, and hopefully will continue to be a discussion topic and enacted ritual that invokes a temendous response within persons of every background and, from every society. In today’s context, in which we are now quickly approaching the turn of a century that is unfolding into a new millennium, the topic of humanity in the context of each individuals life within and outside of a “society” should be considered in its past form, as a reflective process. That is so that we may understand what humanity meant in the context of that era and, what it should (hopefully retaining the same connotation and meaning) mean for the future generations that will be sharing this planet as an “organismic whole”. There are of course different connotations attributed to the word humanity. Given that different cultures approach the subject in different fashions we need a clear understanding of the contextual setting of the word humanity. In the Webster’s Dictionary (a Western translation used widely in the United States) humanity is defined as the fact or quality of being human, human nature, human qualities or characteristics, especially those considered desirable; the human race, mankind, people. But in our
consideration the last definition: The fact or quality of being humane; kindness, mercy, sympathy, et cetera, is the definitional approach that most suitably fits into this discussion. Though it is a “Western definition” it does possess the qualities or characteristics of the humanity (ren) of Confucian thought. I believe the universal underlining of this term which reaches across all cultures can be explained in the sense that as humans we all are constructed, or formed from the same elemental factors (yes, animals are also, but at this time, trying to avoid the heavy philosophical debate of human consciousness I’ll just postulate that the creature known as a human (in form) has a consciousness, while animals do not (according to some scientist) ) and thus, one of them being human consciousness there is the need for that universal quality of humanity. In the following evaluation of humanity I will thus like to discuss several aspects which are vital in our understanding of it, and I propose a hypothesis which deals with the term humanity from a horizontal perspective as well as a vertical perspective. First, the several aspects of humanity that are the focus of this paper are the contextual underpinnings of East Asian culture, and more directly, Confucian thought. It is important to layout this discussion with some significant historical background of Confucius’ teachings, for he himself was a proponent of knowing history. Then the concept of “the self” (ji) must be discussed in order to evaluate the term (ren) humanity. Also, the concept of “the self” in relation to others and, to heaven (t’ien). These concepts are asserted by Ames and Hall in greater detail in their work Thinking from The Han: Self, Truth, and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture. Secondly, viewing humanity from a horizontal perspective (namely a class distinction) as well as a vertical perspective (that usually being culturally definitive) one may begin to ponder on what
humanity truly entails for all persons. Confucius was one to discuss humanity from the horizontal perspective. While today from the perspective of the Western Culture we tend to view it from the former as well as the latter (depending on a variety of factors). A brief example that I would like to note is the different ways each culture greets one another. The act of greeting is considered by society to be a ritual that expresses humanity, or the embodied act of it. In the Japanese culture two males put their hands together and bow, with some distance between each other. This is their humane way of greeting, and it is the proper way. In Italy, two males tend to greet one another by a strong embrace and, a kiss on the face. This is the Italian way of greeting one another humanely. If, the Japanese man were to encounter the Italian man and, the Italian man embraced the Japanese man and kissed him, the Japanese man would probably be quite offended. He would think (more than likely) that the Italian was vulgar. And conversely, if it were the Japanese man who greeted the Italian in his cultural the Italian would probably be offended from the lack of expression. Now, in searching for the humane, in reaching back through time to the period of chaotic social disorder in which Confucius lived, and reconstructing the historical context from which his thought arose, we find that critics of his sayings, (The Analects (Lun Yu) of Confucius) have found a profound philosophical perspective that reflects the Chinese idea of society. And yet, Confucius himself was not a recognized figure within his own time (Huang 1). It would not be until several centuries later during the Han dynasty that the Master’s sayings would truly be considered an “intellectual force” in Chinese thought, and a thought which consisted of political and ethical ideas that were meant to be “the moral code of the upper classes of China” (Eberhard 91).
Kong Fu-Tzu (Confucius) was a man who greatly admired the social structures of the past. His hero, the Duke of Chou, represents a period in Chinese history when the feudal lord system was intact. It was this feudal system that Confucius had hoped would once again unite Chinese society. This was probably because he himself “was fully conscious of his membership in a social class whose existence was tied to that of the feudal lords. With their disappearance, his type of scholar would become superfluous” (Eberhard 92). Here, it would be interesting to note that Confucius’s hero, the Duke of Chou had a son whom, in fighting to gain power in Shantung, established a feudal state called Luthe state of King Fu-Tzu’s birth (Hsu 123). It was the Chou’s military strategy, along with what they considered to be the Mandate of Heaven that empowered them to “invade, conquer, and reconstitute local structures by assimilating the local leaders into the power elite (152). Whether or not this stringent tactic was proposed in the Lun Yu is difficult to espouse, because Confucius is known more for his teachings of the Tao of ren (way of humanity), yi (righteousness), Li (rituals), zhi, ren, yong (wisdom, humanity, and courage), Zhong shu (wholehearted sincerity and like-hearted considerateness), zhong yong (The constant mean), xiao ti (filial piety and brotherly obedience), ru (the scholarteacher) and ren, min (men and people) (Huang 14-35). He taught many other virtues (de), but these tend to hold the most significance in the study of his work The Analects. Thus, if we viewed Confucius’s teachings in light of the Chou’s military strategy, the concern for humanity and its meaning takes a new context: because the Chou not only subjugated those less powerful then them, but they also enslaved them into the laborious class which supported the elite feudal system. If Confucius was in fact teaching the
upward mobility of the Ru, they would in turn have to also subjugate those less powerful (this being the power of knowledge according to Ru thought), and Confucius did teach that we should love men on a graded basis, and thus perhaps those most distant from him (in learning, not just blood) would be those persons. His system of teachings unfold into who is most worthy to rule, not who was born of nobility. Yet, this is why the subject of humanity was so vital in Chinese society as well as the rest of the world. Those who are worthy to serve in governmental positions should reflect on ren, and extend ren to all men. That is why Confucius said “To be able to practice the five things under Heaven constitutes humanity” (Analects 17:5) The concern here though is that enslaving those who could not learn the classics and take governmental positions may not seem humane in the eyes of everyone. This perspective was found in the writings of Mo Tzu. There is a contrast between the Mohist school of thought and that of Confucianism. Namely, “Confucius felt a sympathetic understanding for the traditional institutions, rituals, music, and literature of the early Chou dynasty”, and he tried to “rationalize and justify them in ethical terms” (Yu-Lan 49). Conversely, the Mohist questioned the usefulness and validity of The Classics (49). It is this divide between the Mohist school of thought that we can consider to be physically militant because they were an “organization capable of military action” and, Confucianism’s love of ritual and music which were “exclusively for the aristocrats” that imposes difficulty in making the assumption that Confucius had aggressive motives behind his teachings (50). But as I said before, this battlefield for Confucian thought and the Ru school was an educational one. While Confucius taught the advancement through education, Mohist could, if needed use “defensive war” tactics for the lower classes
(which is what they were constituted). And it is their enslavement that would be called into question for the aristocrats to live a luxurious lifestyle. Advancing now from the Chou dynastic period, and past Confucius’ own time era (which saw the dissolution of the feudal lord system) we find his teachings finally taking root in the Han period when “the gentry (in which the same way as the European bourgeoisie) continually claimed that there should be access for every civilized citizen to the highest places in the social pyramid, and the rules of Confucianism became binding on every member of society if he were to be considered a gentleman” (Eberhard 93). It was during the reign of Emperor Yang DI (605-618) that the imperial examinations of the classics of the Ru school were incepted as a selective mode for those who wanted to serve as officials in the Chinese government (Huang 10). The examinations were the basis of China’s hierarchical society until 1905 when Emperor Guang-xu abolished them (10). Master Kong’s ideology formed the basis of Chinese life for over eleven hundred years. Realizing that one man could have such a great influence over a country and its governmental system as large and powerful as China’s, a more in depth look at some of his philosophical positions about social and political behavior, which must be encompassed within the concepts of jen (human-heartedness) and li (ritual) (for both are vital in the Lun Yu) is the direction I would like to move into. This approach to Confucian thought from an analytical perspective is fundamental in evaluating the heterogeneous aspects of Confucianism, as opposed to the varieties of Chinese schools and to our own Western ideology. It was Mencius, whom in his writings formed the idealistic wing of Confucianism. Mencius debated heavily about jen (human-heartedness) and li (ritual); evaluating the
original goodness, which he said, was innate in human nature. Having this jen innate in each and every person within Confucian philosophical teachings was the underlining element of humanity that I espoused at the beginning of this paper. Once again, if we contrast Confucianism and more specifically Mencius’ theory of jen with the Mohist perspective that humans are innately bad the philosophical debate of humanity once again is taken into a contextual mode. In Confucian thought, humanely treating one another is possible for everyone if they cultivate themselves to fit into society. In the Mohist school of thought, which states human-nature for all is innately bad there maybe some who, with all their effort could not cultivate the jen needed for all-embracing love and that is, in Chinese society a valued aspect of humanity. Mo Tzu even questioned why someone should even try and cultivate all-embracing love at all, stating that it was in fact false. That is quite the opposite of Confucian thought. In contemporary theory however, Confucian philosophy takes a completely different perspective in the analytical approach of humanity, and what it meant for Confucius. In Peerenboom’s discussion of the Anthropocentric Pragmatism of Confucius, he relates the differences between pragmatic coherence and foundational correspondence theories. The difference in these theories is somewhat of a bifurcation of philosophical thought. It is the former he notes that is “understood in terms of postmodern hermeneutics rather than traditional epistemology in Platonic-Enlightenment-Kantian sense” (112). Foundation correspondence in his view is an “attempt to reduce all rival claims to a single, privileged discourse and to postulate a neutral algorithm capable of adjudicating between all such claims” (112). Foundational correspondence brings all thought to closure, while hermeneutics brings all thought not to a rational closure but a
“consensual agreement” (112). Here, Peerenboom's thesis begins to synthesize with a portion of this discussions earlier argument which, stated that the concept of humanity is contextual. His statement below is one example of the similarities:
To this extent it [being the consensual agreement] guards against dogmatism and promotes, rather than stifles, creativity and the exploration of new avenues. It is this focus on the creative possibilities for interpersonal achievement that typifies the Confucian social and political project in which exemplary persons strive to realize a humane state through the harmonizing of the disparate interests of the many members of society” (113).
It is this creativity that allows the two scholars Hall and Ames to assert that Confucian philosophy can best be understood “as having an aesthetic rather than a logical order” (113). By viewing Confucian thought from a non-conformist perspective as Ames and Hall has in Thinking Through Confucius, my earlier postulation of a contextual setting for the meaning of humanity (ren) is thus substantiated. But it also helps to substantiate a conceptual polarity to our discussion of the self as it is to the other, and to heavenaspects which I said were fundamental to Confucius’s teachings. It is conceptual polarity that “requires one aspect to explain the other (Peerenboom 114). In other words, “yin can be explained only by reference to the yang” (114). This thought is contrary to the traditional viewpoints of Confucian philosophy, but because Confucianism lacks a transcendental source of order with a distinct separation between heaven and human, mind and body, which forms a dualistic traditional view, Hall and Ames are able to espouse this theory (114). The aesthetic order of Hall and Ames is also “a viable and attractive philosophical position” which is “closely intertwined with the tenability of the pragmatists epistemological position (115). For this reason, Peerenboom’s pragmatic coherence view and, Hall and Ames aesthetic view will help to promote the contextual meaning of humanity, the self, the other (or society) and heaven. Rather than a
foundational perspective of the concepts (I use the word concept instead of terms to note that this discussion is not focusing on absolute definitional meanings per se, but rather, ideas which evolve or transform in their contextual setting). In the first portion of this discussion, when giving a definitional meaning to humanity I thus began to touch on the issue of what a human is, presupposing that all humans have what we call a consciousness (this separating us from the animal kingdom). When we juxtapose this idea of humans as a biological species having “privileged rights” because they are biologically distinct from animals with Confucius’s idea of a human being we find the contextual differentiation which superimposes problematic meanings between the Enlightenment concept of the West and his (Peerenboom 128).
Confucius, however, draws a distinction between human beings qua members of a biological species and humans qua social beings. The well- publicized and much debated distinction between masses (min) and persons (ren) as well as that between the small person (xiao ren) and the exemplary person (jun zi) suggests that one must earn the benefits granted to one and guaranteed by society by achieving some minimal level of personhood, of humanity (128).
This then, gives humanity a contextual meaning that has to be viewed in relationship to society. This relationship is a conceptual polarity given that the self, being of humane nature, can only be humane in relation to a society, or other. This point of view is distinctive from other Chinese concepts of humanity. The Taoist perspective, which is that of a recluse, is quite the opposite. In a summarization of Confucius’s opinion, these recluses needed to be dealt with in a proper manner; “for society to aim at securing a minimum level of basic rights for alienated individuals unable or unwilling to participate cooperatively in collective living is to admit failure” (129). He states in The Analects: “Lead the people with edicts, keep them in line with penal law, and they will avoid punishments but will have no sense of shame. Lead them with virtue, keep them in line
with the rites, and they will not only have a sense of shame but will order themselves harmoniously” (Analects 2:3). Here, Confucius is speaking in terms of an ideal society. One governed by the traditional adherence to rituals and rites (li) of the dynastic systems (Hsia, Shang, and Chou) that were prior to his own, and the texts which were produced in those eras: The Classics. Persons are lead by an exemplary person (jun zi) who possesses a charismatic power (de) that will lead to the harmonious functioning of society (Peerenboom 128). In Confucius’s philosophy of the Tao of humanity, rituals (li) and rites are the threads that would unite the people in a harmonious order. By each person knowing and understanding the five classics a person could know how to perform ritual ceremonies and know not only the past, but also the present and, the future in that respect. The performance of rituals in the traditional form presented in The Classics were an underlining, unchanging concept that united the Chinese society throughout time. So no matter how much intellectual thought evolved over time, changing the everyday values and customs of the Chinese people, the rituals would thus remain constant giving a sense of stability in a society which for Confucius was in disorder. The person then, had a role to perform within society. The role to cultivate oneself in the way of ren, to perform rituals, and to function in a harmonious unity with the rest of society. Halls and Ames clarifies this in a statement which also shows how humanity, embodied by ritual is contextual to the society one is in. Though it does not mention humanity, but rather the body, it’s the role the body plays in these rituals (embodiment) which cultivates humanity.
These ritualized roles and practices, never separate from the physical body, shape and are shaped by the community with both its identity and its character. The term for body (ti) and ritual (li) are cognate, sharing as they do the core idea of articulated form (32).
It is this formalization of ritual that in Confucian terms brings about humanity. Hall and Ames begin with the body which as they stated “shapes” the performance. Now what role than does all of this play in relationship to heaven (t’ien)? Confucius himself never liked to speculate too much on metaphysical questions, yet he does state “…at fifty I realized the ming of t’ien” (Analects). In all respects, the characteristics of t’ien in Confucius’s thought was one of an anthropocentric conception that was given earlier by Peerenboom. It was t’ien that made sage kings and determined the social status of all (“Confucius” Ames 200). Since it is a power that has the capacity to understand human beings to such an extent that they cannot deceive it, we do well to stand in awe of it” (200). In fact: “Where one offends against t’ien, he has nothing to which to pray” (206). T’ien (heaven) helped in each persons enlightenment and perfection. By perfecting oneself (inner and outer) there is a conceptual polarity between the perfectionist and t’ien.
While perfecting oneself, one must also see that others are likewise perfected. One cannot perfect oneself while disregarding the perfection of others. The reason is that one can develop one’s nature to the utmost only through the human relationships, that is, within the sphere of society. This goes back to the tradition of Confucius and Mencius, that for self-perfection one must practice chung, shu, and jen; that is, it consists in helping others. To perfect oneself is to develop to the utmost what one has received from heaven (Yu-Lan 176, 177)
This idea of perfection corresponds to Hall and Ames perspective of the body, while at the same time emphasizing Confucianism’s inner self-cultivation in learning and jen, along with all of the other virtues that constitute humanity in Confucian thought. T’ien has a conceptual polarity between persons cultivating ren and, the society which embodies the humane aspects of Chinese culture. T’ien’s anthropocentric role in determining one’s status is a relationship allegorical to the self and society. If the self is cultivating ren it will function well in society. If the self is functioning in harmony with
t’ien than the cultivation of ren is possible. It are these relationships which govern most of Confucius’s philosophy. It is a philosophy that espoused the Way (Tao) of humanity, the way of humanity through numerous doctrines in his sayings Lun Yu This discussion has covered a variety of issues that deal with the concepts of humanity. The main focus was a concentration on the Chinese perspectives postulated in Confucian thought. There was a contrast between Mencius and the Mohist School which, helped to highlight the differences in Ancient Chinese thought. But Western ideologies and modern contemporary perspectives were also evaluated to round out philosophical perspective of the past with modern thinking and theory. Viewing Confucius’ teachings in light of its historical context enabled this discussion to find a firm grounding to which, the theories of contextual meaning of ren were formed. Also, it was theories such as Hall and Ames aesthetic view verses the logical view of Confucian thought that helped to substantiate the goals in this discussion. Peerenboom's anthropocentric pragmatism, and the differentiation between foundational correspondence and pragmatic coherence was vital in formulating a thesis which allowed an evolutionary process of the concepts of the self, society, and t’ien. Without these various points of view contrasted to early Enlightenment thought of the West it would be impossible to understand Confucius’ way of approaching humanity through politics and social order. Confucius was an example for most of the Chinese culture. The fact that his philosophies dominated Chinese thinking for over eleven hundred years may attest to that. By placing wren in the context of today’s society, across all cultures, and realizing that we are approaching a new century with an ever changing social structure, and developing modern technology that affects the way the world communicates we must ask
if the sayings in the Lun Yu could form a foundation for a world “society” for those within and outside of its cultural context? Many affirm this statement, but it is a contextual meaning that we must keep in mind.
WORKS CITED Eberhard, Wolfram. Confucius and the Chinese Basic Values. (Reader 91-98). Hall, David L., and Roger T. Ames. Thinking Through Confucius. New York: State University of New York Press, 1987. Hall, David L. and Roger T. Ames. Thinking From The Han: Self, Truth, and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture. New York: State University of New York Press, 1998. Huang, Chichung. The Analect of Confucius. New York: Oxford Press, 1997. Hsu, Chu-Yun, and Katheryn M. Linduff. Western Chou Civilization Yale University, 1988. Peerenboom, R. P. Law and Morality in Ancient China: The Silk Manuscripts of HuangLao. New York: State University of New York Press, 1993. Yu-Lan, Fung. A Short History of Chinese Philosophy. New York: The Free Press, 1948.