A Ku Indeed!

Yi Ain’t No Junzi, That’s For Shu

Posted in Analects, Chinese Philosophy, Ethics, virtue ethics by Chris on June 2, 2008

Alexus has up an interesting post about a claim in Jijuan Yu’s book (Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of Virtue) up at his place (Unpolished Jade). Yu’s book is a pretty good read; I’m about 2/3 done with it myself, but I’ve had to put it down to prep my Asian Ethics course for the fall (rather read about Confucius, but the Dhammapada will have to do for now). In any case, Alexus takes Yu to task for his claim that yi is required for being a junzi. Alexus thinks yi is neither necessary nor sufficient. As it turns out, I agree with Alexus that it is neither necessary nor sufficient when “junzi” is read in what I’ll call a “non-narrative” manner, but when it is read in a narrative manner yi becomes necessary. I’ll also point out that whereas I agree in the end that yi is not sufficient (even for the narrative sense of junzi), it’s not for the reasons Alexus points out.

Alexus notes the problematic quote from Yu here:

for Confucius, being virtuous must involve an intellectual aspect, which he calls yi (義) a term which is etymologically related to yi (宜, ‘what is fitting’ or ‘what is appropriate’) and which I choose to translate as ‘appropriateness.’ Appropriateness is even said to be the most important factor for being an excellent person. In addition to Analects 4.10 […] Confucius also says: ‘for the excellent man it is appropriateness (yi) that is supreme.’ (17.23).” (Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle, p. 140)

Alexus disagrees, arguing that 17.23 should not be read in a way that implies that yi is “the most important factor for being an excellent person.” Here is 17.23 (taken from Alexus):


君 子 義 以 為 上 , 君 子 有 勇 而 無 義 為 亂 , 小 人 有 勇 而 無 義 為 盜 。
(trans: The junzi should take yi as of greatest importance. The junzi who is brave but lacks yi will be disorderly. The petty person (xiao ren) who is brave by lacks yi will be a thief.)


Alexus sees 17.23 here as clear evidence that it yi is clearly not a necessary condition for the junzi. This seems implied; the junzi here lacks yi. Also, Alexus sees the passage as arguing that yi is not sufficient, given that it seems to hold open the possibility that the xaio ren can possess yi, and the petty cannot be junzi.


Alexus brings up some very interesting points here, I think, and I think that it’s imperative that we try to hammer away at these conceptual connections as best we can.


Again, though these are just quick from the hip observations that I need to think through more, I think that Alexus is right that yi is not a NC or a SC for a junzi, when we are thinking in terms of a time-slice. I’ll try to lay out the case here:


1. Yi not a SC: it must be possible for an agent to exemplify yi on a particular occasion for the first time. Appropriateness has to start somewhere. But the junzi, as far as I take it, refers to more than an event or an occasion. It’s more of a “narrative property” of sorts. It refers to a stretch of time-slices unified through a realized commitment to jen (which includes yi). To say that someone is a junzi is to make a statement about that person that transcends the present.


2. Yi is not a NC: I suspect (though I am not sure textually, nothing is coming to mind) that Confucius is willing to call a person a junzi even if they fail on any particular occasion to exemplify appropriateness. Thus, in 17.23, the junzi who is brave without yi is disorderly. One inappropriate event does not shatter the narrative property, I would suspect, though continued failures of yi may in fact be so disruptive.


Still, I think that Yi is a NC for being a junzi, when junzi is understood as a narrative property. It is hard to see how a person could become a junzi without a historical commitment to realized appropriateness. So I think Alexus would be right here if junzi were understood not as a narrative property, but rather as a property of a person indexed to a single event. Since I don’t think junzi is best read that way, we have a disagreement on this point.


Further, although I agree again with Alexus that yi is not a sufficient condition for junzi, I don’t take 17.23 to be providing that evidence. In fact, I suspect that the passage may actually be saying exactly what Alexus doesn’t want it to say — that the xaio ren cannot be yi. Here, I think that Confucius is simply making a description: some xaio ren are brave, and given that no xaio ren are yi, this means that brave xaio ren are thieves (because they are more daring in their self-interested behavior).


On a separate (but related) point, I think 17.23 is interesting because it seems to serve as an example of something I was talking about in this other post, “Fake Virtues,” on Phillipa Foot. There, I noted that Foot believes that a virtue can be present “in” a person but not “act like” a virtue when it is exemplified (which seems to be the case for bravery in both cases in 17.23). What I noted there was that the missing element seems to be wisdom, which is, I think, what Yu would probably claim (seeing that he wants to link up yi to Aristotelean phronesis). Bravery without wisdom in a junzi would lead to disorder (given their antecedent desires), whereas bravery without wisdom in a person full of self-interested desires leads to thievery. I’m not suggesting here, by the way, that Yu is right to claim that yi is practical wisdom (I agree with Alexus that Yu pushes too hard to turn Confucius into Aristotle); still, I think the connection to Foot’s argument, and then by extention to Yu’s, is interesting.


Lastly, excuse the goofy title. I’m feelin’ a bit loopy lately.

(Sorry about the stupid periods between paragraphs — I can’t get the formatting in this post to work for some strange reason — it wants to run the paragraphs together).

19 Responses

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  1. Alexus McLeod said, on June 3, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Hi Chris–

    great observations on 17.23. In particular, the “time-slice” vs. “narrative property” views of the junzi are important to distinguish. I hadn’t thought along these lines before–but I think you’re right about this. As it happens, I’m in the middle of reading Joel Kupperman’s book “Character”, and was struck there by something very similar to what you propose here: that a virtuous person (for Joel a person with a good character, for Confucius a junzi) will be a person who generally acts (or rather has the disposition to act) virtuously, but will occasionally err as well. On Joel’s view, this doesn’t count against the virtue of the person in general, because one can have a character of type x without always performing acts of type x. This seems to me much more plausible than what Aristotle says, which holds the virtuous person (for him, the phronimos) to a much higher standard.

    If your view on the junzi in 17.23 is right, then, Yu’s view cannot be right, because he takes yi to be basically doing the same work as phronesis in Aristotle. The phronimos would not be a person committed for the most part to phronesis (and the other virtues) but who can also err (as on Joel’s and your own view)–rather, if a person errs in this way, this is proof that he is not a phronimos. This is part of what I suspect is motivating your own disagreement with Yu, and I think this is right.

    A couple of points on the necessary/sufficient condition debate on 17.23:
    –I think how we read 17.23 might turn on how independently important we take yi to be in the Analects in general, and what it means. As far as I remember, the arch-externalist Fingarette doesn’t even mention yi in his book. If yi is, as some have suggested, to be seen as conduct rather than disposition (A.C. Graham, for example, holds this view, which is why he points out the relation between yi義 and 宜 (“fitting”)), then one who reads Confucius as a virtue theorist (where virtues are something like dispositions) as Yu seems to should take it to be relatively unimportant to internal self-cultivation. In fact, Yu seems uncertain on how he wants to take yi. He makes the Graham point, relating yi to “what is appropriate” (conduct, external), but then he calls yi “appropriateness” (dispositional). He doesn’t justify his move from one to the other.

    If we read yi as relatively unimportant to development of good character but crucial to insure good outcomes, then one could be a junzi even in the “narrative property” sense and not realize yi. This would be, of course, because yi is simply not a feature of one’s character, but one of the acts or consequences produced by acts arising from the person’s character. Of course, I have no argument to show that this is the view of the Analects (and I don’t think it is), but it’s a possible interpretation, and one it seems difficult to avoid for advocates of an Aristotelian reading of Confucius if they take yi as appropriate conduct.

    On the other hand, if we read yi as dispositional and a virtue proper, then your view seems hard to resist, as you say: “Yi is a NC for being a junzi, when junzi is understood as a narrative property. It is hard to see how a person could become a junzi without a historical commitment to realized appropriateness.”

    Yi might be taken as dispositional and a virtue proper but still relatively unimportant–like the virtue of punctuality, for example–we might be inclined to say that having such a virtue is good but not crucial. Of course, 17.23 seems to rule this position out.

    One final point on the language of 17.23. I think your point about the passage saying that a xiao ren cannot be yi is an interesting one. This may indeed be what is going on in the passage. The only worry I have here is that it would make the first part of the passage linguistically awkward, given the parallel structure. Certainly parallel structures could have different meanings in the Analects (and elsewhere), but often they function by importing an understood sentence meaning to a new context. For example, we might say (even though the classical Chinese texts used this tactic far more than we do in contemporary English) “Old habits die hard, Faulty Governments die hard”, as a way to say “it’s very hard to change faulty governments.” The Analects and other Ru works seem to use this kind of indirect talk quite a bit, using bits from the classical texts, following their classical learning. Here, the familiar saying “old habits die hard” is used to say something about governments, and this particular parallel depends on shared meaning in the constructions, where “die hard” means “are difficult to change.” One might also say something like “Old habits die hard, young rabbits die hard”, in which the second ‘die hard’ has a different meaning than the first, the first being “are difficult to change” and the second “hard to capture or kill”.

    I think 17.23 would have to be an example of the second kind of parallel structure to work in the way you suggest, because if the second part of the passage 小 人 有 勇 而 無 義 為 盜 (the xiao ren who is brave but lacks yi will be a thief) is meant to say that brave xiao ren are thieves (as they by definition have no yi), the parallel to this in the first part of the passage 君 子 有 勇 而 無 義 為 亂 (the junzi who is brave but lacks yi will be disorderly) means that brave junzi will not be disorderly (the parallel here being that yi is subordinated to its different roles in the respective character types–present in the junzi and absent in the xiao ren). But then, if this is the meaning, why isolate yi in the way 17.23 does? It becomes a point not about yi but about the difference between the junzi and the xiao ren concerning bravery. Even if we consider that this IS the point of 17.23, and that the purpose is to explain that yi is the property that makes the brave junzi orderly and the lack of which makes the brave xiao ren a thief, then a normative focus of the passage becomes curious.

    Things get difficult here: we could, given the wording, read this passage as either normative or descriptive. If we read the ‘yi wei 以 為’ in the first part of the passage as “should take as” rather than “does take as”, then it becomes plausible that the next part should be read as “the junzi who is brave but lacks yi will be disorderly”, which is how I translate it and makes the passage normative. If we take the latter reading of ‘yi wei’, the following bit should probably read counterfactually: “if the junzi were brave but lacked yi they would be disordered”. The fact that this is impossible would not be so problematic for the counterfactual: even though this is controversial–I can make true counterfactual claims like “if this square were circular, then there would be circular squares.”

    I think the right way to read 17.23 is the normative way–but I have no linguistic evidence for this from 17.23 itself. That’s one of the reasons it’s so difficult–the passage could be justifiably read either way. But it doesn’t seem that it could be read BOTH ways, because the descriptive would have to be meant as a lesson for non-junzi, to show them what junzi are like, while the normative would be meant as a lesson to junzi, to show them how to further cultivate themselves. But, as I’ve argued above, this normative sense makes the parallel structure awkward.

    Whew. Sorry for the overly long response–your comments have given me much more to think about in connection with 17.23, and I’m not sure these quick reflections hit the mark. By the way–I think the title of the post is pretty cool–I have a thing for silly titles myself.

  2. Chris said, on June 3, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Thanks for the reply – lots of things to think out! I’ll number because I get lost easily.

    1. Joel’s characterization seems like a good comparison. My only concern – only because I haven’t thought it through enough – is that I’m not entirely sure I want to equate “junzi” with “character”. Surely this is part of the story, but I suspect that Confucius has a thicker conception of the junzi. For one, I wonder whether realized appropriateness is required for the junzi. I would assume that for Joel, having a character state X isn’t determined or in any way reliant upon success. A courageous person, say, could consistently fail at what the disposition aims at in the world. I suspect Confucius might not agree on that, but that’s a separate point. All in all, the comparison seems fair enough. (By the way, I remember my first year there, in 1996, people hounded me “take Joel, he’s gunna retire! You better take him now, he’ll be gone soon enough!” [I did, 1997] and here it is, 2008, and he’s still there. More power to him, of course!). I wonder, by the way, whether Aristotle would hold to a similar view for the “great-souled man”? Is this a better linkage? I’m not sure.

    2. You’re right that Yu wants yi to function as practical wisdom. My Aristotle is a bit rusty here, so I’ll go with your description. It sounds as if (not sure, correct me here) that you’re suggesting that Aristotle has a narrative-property view of “phronimos” but holds to a stronger linkage to practical wisdom – the phronimos always displays it, and only becomes a phronimos after multiply successive applications of the ability (making it narrative). If that’s right, then the yi-phronesis connection would come apart right there, in my view.

    I am unsure, in a detailed way, how Aristotle views the self. Of course there’s all the business about the soul and its parts, but mean I’m unsure whether Aristotle sees dispositions or character states as situational, or fixed. What I’m getting at is this: I wonder if Yu could escape this problem by suggesting that yi-phronesis is situationally dependent for Confucius, but not for Aristotle. That forces him into a minor retreat, but one still consistent with the main meat of his thesis. Hence he could argue that in certain contexts, say, agent A’s disposition of courage acts as a virtue (the relational context is one in which that virtue is nurtured in just the right way) whereas in other relational contexts, for whatever reason, A’s disposition of courage fails to act as a virtue (I’m thinking of Foot here, see my other post on “Fake Virtues”). Thus, perhaps Yu could argue that phronesis-yi works similarly, and argue that a Confucian junzi/phronimos is an agent for whom, when the right relational contexts favorable to practical wisdom obtain, does what is appropriate. This would allow for slip ups while maintaining the more rigid Aristotelian requirements. I’m not sure here – just thinking from the hip.

    3. On the centrality of Yi, I take myself to be a brainwashed Hall/Amesian, so I see yi as fundamental and central (unlike Fingarette, for whom li and zhi [understood as will or resolve] seem central). I am not sure how exactly I want to read yi with respect to its status as “furniture”. This is a hard one. At the very least, for me, it seems as if yi is neither inner nor outer, but both in a sense. It’s not just good outcomes (seems to be Lau’s take), but rather seems to be a way in which the agent successfully unifies what is particular to the person with what is particular to the situation (of course, these are not easily cleaved, but speaking roughly). And taking what is particular to the person to the situation is more than just an outcome – it must be deeply infused with just the right mental states, intentions, and so on. But I don’t have enough of an argument here to make this clear as of yet.

    In any case, if something similar to what I’ve described is right, then a junzi (narrative) could fail to be yi on any particular occasion. Still, it would not be possible to reach junzi status without a sufficient number of yi-events reaching the threshold limit for the narrative property to come into existence.

    This is a hard element of Confucianism to nail down. Even in Hall and Ames, who view it in the way I have described but add “aesthetic creativity” as the central element, yi seems to be a bit of a “black box” (much the same way, incidentally, phronesis always seems to look, to me at least). It does what you want it to do, but you have a hard time saying exactly what it is!

    4. I think you are right that my reading of the back part of 17.23 makes it linguistically awkward, at least from one angle. Still, I must admit that I always read it that way, and it seemed perfectly natural to me. I’ll need to think of another analogous sentence that works similarly, but I’m drawing a blank at the moment.
    On your second point, I would guess that 17.23 is making two points. First, that the way bravery (or any virtue, I suppose) is realized is a function of the presence/absence of yi, but also secondly on the way in which the desires/passions of the person exhibiting bravery are characteristically organized. The junzi, even when not yi, still has a specifically pruned set of desires, and as a result yi-absence leads to disorder, whereas the xiao ren, with a very differently pruned (or rather, unpruned) set of desires, will in the absence of yi aim at thievery.

    Not sure if that helps.

    On your translation points, I must confess that my Chinese is non-existent (outside of Ni hao!). 
    Still, if I’m reading you right, when you say…

    “If we take the latter reading of ‘yi wei’, the following bit should probably read counterfactually: “if the junzi were brave but lacked yi they would be disordered”. The fact that this is impossible would not be so problematic for the counterfactual: even though this is controversial–I can make true counterfactual claims like “if this square were circular, then there would be circular squares.”

    …it sounds as if you’re suggesting that it would be an impossible counterfactual because the junzi cannot be brave without yi. According to my suggestions far above, however, this isn’t impossible – if we read junzi in the narrative sense. You would merely have an event (as opposed to a narrative) where the junzi lacks yi, but possesses the virtue of bravery alongside the kinds of pruned desires/intentions normally characteristic of the junzi. Unless I misread you here at the end, which is possible — after typing so much my mind starts to turn to jell!

    What do you think?

    Great exchange, by the way – these exchanges are great stuff.

  3. Bill Haines said, on June 3, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Excellent discussion! I’m still busy, but couldn’t resist.

    “I’m sorry, Johnny, a captain goes down with her ship. A captain who doesn’t go down with her ship is a piece of crap.”

    This isn’t a contradiction. In the first clause but not the second, ‘captain’ is, as it were, short for ‘proper captain’. That’s not because ‘captain’ is ambiguous, exactly. It’s rather because role words are commonly flexible in this sort of way. I think the fact that they are is part of how a word like ‘noble’ can slide over the years from meaning something feudal to meaning something moral.

    Hence I agree with Alexus that the point of the opening clause of 17.23 is normative, but I take this to mean that ‘junzi’ is being used normatively, more than it is later in 17.23. The opening clause is descriptive about the highest kind of junzi, normative about broader kinds.

    So I think 17.23 is best read to say that insofar as we take ‘junzi’ to mark a high ideal, a “junzi” sticks to yi (at least when the choice is between yi and courage).

    I’m inclined to drop the parenthesis, but Alexus showed me on his blog that I don’t have strong grounds within 17.23 for confidence about that.

    An advantage of this reading is that it makes sense without appeal to distinctions about time slices, externality, etc.

    I hadn’t thought of taking junzihood as a narrative property before. I gather this is different from taking it to be a disposition. Chris, is it 1.2 that drives you to take junzihood as a narrative property—because there the junzi seems to be described as doing something to prepare for the birth of her virtue?

  4. Chris said, on June 4, 2008 at 11:45 am


    I didn’t have any specific passage(s) in mind, to be honest. I’m sure I could rummage some up, but it’s more of a general feel I’ve always had about the use of the term in the work. At the very least, 1.2 I think points to the resoluteness I was referring to earlier (commitment).

    It surely seems — to me, anyway — that junzi have cultivated dispositions or passions (this is what, as I suggested earlier, I think makes the lack of yi + the presence of bravery turn out differently for her than it does for the xiao ren), but it seems that they also have a kind of moral effect. So the way I read the term, it would be too narrow to simply think of it as something referring to an internal quality of a person.

  5. Bill Haines said, on June 4, 2008 at 11:53 pm


    Aristotle notes in passing, and perhaps not very seriously, that a disposition might in principle lead to no action, for one might never encounter the relevant circumstances: one might spend one’s life asleep. But realistically, one’s dispositions or character traits will show in action (and in other ways as well). The metaphor of internality somehow suggests otherwise (despite the fact that inner things can have effects), but maybe that’s just a problem with the metaphor. What do you think?

    Since (so far as I’ve noticed) the distinction between a disposition and a practice is never flagged by Youzi or Confucius, maybe it’s better to think of the Confucian “virtues” as practices or rather than dispositions. But still a practice conception of a junzi would be different from a narrative conception–yes?

  6. Bill Haines said, on June 6, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” –Plutarch, quoted in J. K. Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard, which is worth listening to:

  7. Chris said, on June 11, 2008 at 3:09 pm


    Right — the “sleeping” thesis in NE. Of course, for A (as I mention in my above post), sleeping virtue has no connection to happiness understood as a product of activity.

    Of course, for C, the impression is that true virtue is always manifested, and that other than sleeping agents there aren’t any cases of dormant virtuous dispositions (abstracted from the suggestion that virtuous action would have to be successful in its aim, say, for the disposition to be truly present — but that’s a really austere reading).

    I agree that C doesn’t make the distinction between virtuous disposition and activity. I don’t see the distinction anywhere. My only concern with “practice” is that it may sound too external or behavioral. Perhaps (though my Aristotle is rusty here) there’s the difference between “action” (which must have a certain hexis support and intentional structure) and “production” (I can’t remember if that’s the word he uses) is proper. For example, making a house can rely on certain productive movements which have as a result a certain end (the house) whereas virtue cannot merely have that sort of structure – it must stem from a fixed state, have the right intentional structure, etc.

    I suppose if “practice” were defined in a certain way to rule those problems out, and make the necessary contrasts with other types of behavior, it would fit nicely. I certainly see the point you’re making, I just can’t think of just the right word to fit.

  8. Bill Haines said, on June 11, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    Hi Chris,

    Sorry about the sleeping.

    If memory serves, there are two distinctions in Aristotle like the production/action distinction you draw.

    One is between praxis and poesis – action and production – and (I think) it’s about whether the end is in a product distinct from what one is doing. (Since a poesis therefore has an end, I guess it isn’t purely external.)

    The other is between a kinesis and an energeia – movement/process and activity – and the difference here is complex and controversial. Building a house is a kinesis, getting from point A to point B is a kinesis, but contemplation and happiness are energeiai. A kinesis can be fast or slow; an energeia can’t. If I’m doing a kinesis, it’s not true of me at the same time that I have done that very kinesis. But it can be true for energeiai, and commonly is.

    Aristotle says happiness requires a complete life, which makes it sound as though happiness has a kind of internal structure over time (or “trajectory”, someone somewhere has said), and that’s the sort of thing I thought you had in mind when you said junzi is a “narrative” idea. (I don’t know how to reconcile that idea of happiness with Aristotle’s claim that happiness is an energeia.)

    Anyway I still have two questions:

    When you said you think of junziosity as a narrative thing, I thought you meant it has a kind of temporal trajectory or plot, like building a house or a visit to the dentist. Is that what you meant?

    Since dispositions have effects, why not say that for Confucius, virtues are dispositions?

  9. Chris said, on June 12, 2008 at 8:10 am


    1. Actually the “sleeping thesis” phrase comes from Yu — that’s what he calls it in his book. 🙂

    It’s the praxis/poesis distinction I was thinking of. Thanks!

    2. On narrative properties: I’m still figuring this one out, and it’s mostly intuitive at this point. Here are some quick thoughts.

    I think an analogy with Aristotle could be drawn here, as you point out. On the one hand, being a junzi could be understood in the way that A attributes happiness to a life well lived. In this sense, it is a property that applies to a span of a life. Of course, like A, it could also be applied to action. A says that happiness is the result of virtuous activity as well, so there seem to be “life well lived” and “action well performed” aspects to that (eudaminia) description.

    When applied to a life, I would guess that it must be composed of at least these things:

    1. A sufficient number of “action well performed” descriptions. Just as a person cannot have a happy life if they have not engaged in virtuous activity, a junzi cannot exist (as a life) without sufficient numbers of exemplary conduct.

    2. Focus towards the future with respect to the goal of jen. So, perhaps, one might suspect that a junzi’s life has been “organized” in terms of the achievement of some aim or end that requires (or is constituted by) the attainments of some internal goods. Perhaps, or so I would suspect, that internal aim is yi.

    3. The resolve to attain that end (yi) is then focused back onto the past (history) in order to understand how to achieve the goal. So, the junzi is focused with resolve on yi, and takes the material from which yi is achieved to be historical exemplars, say, and also of course the li, understood as the “corpus of yi” that constitutes one’s ancestors as a whole.

    4. States or hexis that accord with jen (as a general property). This comes naturally with (1), it would seem.

    In a way, I suppose I am suggesting here that (1) – (4) paint a picture of the junzi (narrative) as an agent on “a mission” and embodying the varying components that we would require before we said that a person was truly walking such a path (dao).

    3. I don’t have a problem with virtues being understood to be dispositions; it just seems to me that they are more than just that. At the very least, courage itself as a disposition is not sufficient to do truly courageous things; as a result, true virtue seems to require something more. No?

  10. Bill Haines said, on June 12, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    Thanks Chris, that’s a very interesting conception. It gives me much food for thought.

    I’m not sure what you mean by saying “courage itself as a disposition is not sufficient to do truly courageous things.” Maybe your thought is that occasions for courage are so rare that it is possible to have the disposition without acting on it? That might be true for a specifically Aristotelian conception of courage (as being mainly about what to do in battle) in the modern world, but the conception of courage seems too narrow to me. Confucius doesn’t seem to think of courage in that narrow way (e.g. 2.24: “To see what is right and not do it is lack of courage”; also 5.7, 9.29, 17.23), though Mencius does.

    Aristotle says happiness is excellent activity; I don’t think he says happiness results from excellent activity.

    (When he says happiness requires a complete life, I suspect that’s because he’s using happiness as a name for the complete final end, and if you have a happy year you’ve fallen short of complete success; not because he thinks happiness essentially has a whole-life structure. I haven’t pored over the text with this question in mind, but the point is strongly suggested by his kinesis/energeia distinction.)

  11. Chris said, on June 12, 2008 at 8:48 pm


    You’re right on happiness being virtuous activity, not a result of it — quick typing at work there, I’m afraid.

    I’m not sure if the analogy with Aristotle is a good one (narrative junzi vs happiness pertaining to a life). It may not be. At any rate, I wouldn’t want to suggest that “junzi” applies to a complete life. Rather, it would be a property that (at minimum) belongs to a life span that has been organized (in the above fashion) in just the right way.

    On courage: I just mean there that part of courage as a virtue is a state, or a way of being motivationally directed towards the world. Courageous people tend to be pulled towards and not away from danger (say). But this state itself can’t be virtue, because you can be pulled in this way towards the wrong things (C notes this himself — Zilu might be a paradigm).

    My A is very rusty; perhaps this is the ‘natural virtue’ vs ‘real virtue’ distinction? I can’t recall. In any case, it seems to me that a virtue must be more than just directional “pull” in a sense. Perhaps this is the added role of phronesis, or yi — to fine tune the pull towards the right things. I’m not sure.

  12. Bill Haines said, on June 12, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Oh – then I think it was just vocabulary getting between us. I tend to take the claim that virtue is a “disposition” as the claim that virtue is a “dispositional property.”

    That is, to say that virtue is a “disposition” (i.e., as Aristotle says, toward certain actions and feelings) to be precisely the claim that under circumstances C, the virtuous person will do those actions and have those feelings.

    Incidentally, Confucius never actually says that Zilu is courageous. He says Zilu loves courage more than Confucius does. Manyul Im argues that for Confucius, courage isn’t a virtue:
    And maybe he’s right, though I think what such questions bring out is the variety of things we might mean by “virtue”.

  13. Bill Haines said, on June 12, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Here’s a fixed version of the second paragraph of the preceding comment:

    That is, in my lexicon, to say that virtue is a “disposition” (i.e. toward certain actions and feelings, following Aristotle) is precisely to say that under circumstances C, the virtuous person will do those actions and have those feelings.

  14. Chris said, on June 14, 2008 at 9:37 pm


    We can agree on that definition of disposition. Still, to say that courage (say) is the disposition to have the associated feelings and be pulled towards certain actions (and, I suppose, to see things “as” one way or the other) is perhaps too narrow (though I’m not sure if this is so in Confucius at this point).

    I’m thinking of the (perhaps tired) example of the Nazi soldier who exhibits all of these qualities. He feels the right way at the sight of the enemy, he sees them “as” objects to be defeated, as the route through which honor is achieved, etc, and follows through in action on that motivational pull.

    Is this courage? Of course, this is the age-old question of unity, nothing new here. I don’t have a solid position on this at this point. Intuitively, however, I am pulled towards “no.” Perhaps these are similacrum.

    You are right to point out that the literal claim is that Zilu loves courage, not that he is courageous. This goes will with 15.32, where a similar structure is laid out for a number of virtues, or specifically what happens when you “love virtue X” but without some other necessary quality (hsueh) without which the similacrum is not true virtue.

    Perhaps this is it — Confucius is not suggesting that these agents possess virtues, but rather that they possess some similacrum of the virtue, a reality (and danger) that he highlights by noting what happens typically when the necessary extra features required for virtue are absent (as is laid out in 15.23 and in other places, and of which Zilu is a prime character himself).

  15. Bill Haines said, on June 14, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    Hi Chris,

    I don’t see how the problem with the Nazi has anything do do with dispositions v. practices v. narrative trajectories. Rather the problem with the Nazi seems to be that she has arguably not quite the right disposition or practice or narrative trajectory. Maybe that’s your point; I’m not sure.

    You write, “to say that courage (say) is the disposition to have the associated feelings and be pulled towards certain actions …”. Why the disposition to “be pulled toward” the actions, why not the disposition to *do* the actions? This seems like just the difference between your and my usages that I was trying to highlight.

    By “15.32” and “15.23” I think you mean “17.8” and “17.23”, respectively. (I see that you were writing late Saturday night!) The simulacrum idea has a little harder time with 8.2.

  16. Chris said, on June 14, 2008 at 10:38 pm


    LOL — yes. Late Saturday night on the analect numbers!

    The Nazi problem: I think it depends on how much you pack into the disposition. Let’s start with our agreement — we agree that dispositions are composed of feelings and actions and interpretation.

    From here the question is: to have the disposition do these components need to have the right object? I suppose my way of thinking of “disposition” says “no” but that’s one reason why I resist calling virtues merely dispositions. The Nazi, or Zilu, may have the dispositions, but they do not have the right objects (whatever they turn out to be).

    Let’s hold off on practices and narrative trajectories for now — might be best to get this point settled first before we complicate matters!

    I agree 8.2 presents a difficult for simulacrum interpretations. I’d need to drum up all the relevant text that talk this way. Offhand I can’t remember — does the text seem to slip between the two types of readings (sometimes suggesting that you can have courage even if it lacks the right object, as in 8.2, and some in which it suggests that you cannot?). I’ll have to make my way through and see what I can find.

    I think this is an interesting question — I’m honestly not sure textually how it is resolved.

  17. Bill Haines said, on June 15, 2008 at 7:01 am

    Oops! I think maybe I’ve been seriously misinterpreting some of the issues in this string. I thought the main issue in the latter part of the string was whether there’s something wrong with regarding Confucian virtues as dispositions as distinct from practices or narrative trajectories. That is, I thought it was about whether e.g. courage (the disposition) is sufficient for *courageous* action.

    Now I think maybe the issue has been something completely different: roughly, whether on Confucius’ conception the virtues are sufficient by themselves for *morally right* action, or whether they need to be supplemented (by yi/phronesis, ritual, or love of learning). And the word ‘dispositions’ was maybe serving as a label for the idea that the virtues need to be supplemented.

    The new issue isn’t one I’ve really investigated, so I don’t have a ready comment. My guess is that Confucius’ usage of the names of the virtues was not determinate on that matter. That is, my guess is that when he said “courage without ritual leads to mischief,” if you then asked him whether he meant that (a) full courage needs to be supplemented by ritual, or (b) there isn’t full courage without ritual, he would probably say, “Hmm! Interesting question!” and he might add, “Does it matter which we say?”

  18. Chris said, on June 15, 2008 at 7:29 am


    No, let me take the blame. In threads I tend to follow along with points made by posters and so I tend to entertain new points and directions leading away from the thread’s main issue.

    I took the main thread issue to be: is yi action (broadly understood) sufficient for a person to be a junzi? Moreover, if a person is a junzi, is yi action necessary?

    My take was that yi is not sufficient, but necessary. A person can be a junzi but fail on occasions to be yi, but that a sufficient number of yi acts are required to deserve the title, where those yi acts now speak more of a narrative trajectory that the life of that person has taken on.

    I think we turned down the other path, I believe, because this discussion is so similar to that of virtue — you can ask the same about them, individually. Namely, is right action X necessary or sufficient for virtue X? That and because I think the question was raised whether “being a junzi” had, as a part of its description, the presence of internal dispositional patterns (which I accept — my intuition is that the “target” of the property “junzi” is wide and broad, and has dispositions as one target, but not the only one).

    I think that’s how we ended up here (that and probably because the above is the subject of some of the other threads I’ve started, so maybe the subjects started to carry over), unless I’ve misread something myself.

    A few questions:

    1. You mentioned somewhere that goodness is a matter of degree, I think. Can you say a bit more about that?

    2. On your last comment: I’m not sure what he’d say. For us it might matter, though, since it seems to seriously impact his stance on ‘unity of the virtues’ type questions, no?

    By the way, thanks for sticking with the long conversations here and in other threads. Your comments help me to clarify what I’m sure is muddled thinking in my own head. 🙂

  19. Bill Haines said, on June 15, 2008 at 9:34 am


    In the third comment under “Jen: An event or a character?” I wrote: “Goodness, I think, is a matter of degree. What counts as a “good knife” or a “good person” or a “good result”? Well, the standard is higher or lower depending on the context. We assume a higher or lower standard depending on what we’re talking about and why. That is, the word ‘good’ is inherently flexible in that dimension, just as are such words as ‘exemplary’ and ‘wealthy’.”

    One point is that for any two comparable things (I mean, say, two knives or two persons, not a knife and an equation) it makes sense to say that one is better than the other or that they are about equally good – independently of whether we’d judge either of them good at all. That is, goodness admits of degrees.

    Also I think goodness is a matter of degree in the sense that there is characteristically no sharp line between the good and the bad (or more specifically, between being a good knife, a good person, a good movie, good at math … and being not good in the respective ways). And I think that’s at least partly because goodness is at bottom relative to alternatives. Which is probably because goodness is a term for use in choice. (A hug is good, as opposed to a kick, but not as opposed to a kiss.) Whether you’d call a given person “good at math” depends on what range of relevant alternative math-doers you and your interlocutor have in mind. I suppose that whenever we use ‘good at math’ we have some range of alternatives in mind. For at least that reason our standard for applying the phrase ‘good at math’ will be higher on some occasions than others. And a similar point applies for other kinds of use of ‘good’, across the board, I think. Such as ‘good person’ or ‘good character trait’.

    So I think we should expect evaluative terms such as ‘courage’ or ‘junzi’ to be essentially at least somewhat flexible in respect of how high the standard is.


    I wonder why questions about the unity of the virtues should matter!

    And I wonder whether there is any reason to think the idea of the unity of the virtues has crossed Confucius’ mind! It has always seemed to me a strange and implausible idea.

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