Small and Great: Follow It!
I just finished reading an article, “The Purloined Philosopher: Youzi on Learning by Virtue” in the latest Philosophy East and West (58, 4) by a frequent commenter here at A Ku Indeed, Bill Haines. It’s a very good article, especially if you don’t know much about Youzi (and I don’t myself). There are a lot of things I’d like to comment on in it, but I have family visiting here at the moment and grading is piling high, so for now I’ll pick out a small piece from the article to talk about that I found interesting. The subject is ritual (li).
One of Bill’s overall claims is that book one of the Analects contains a number of fragments or sayings that are more the work of Youzi than they are of Confucius (setting up potential contrasts between them, and also potential tensions within the work as a whole). I won’t focus on that argument, but rather one of the passages that Bill attributes to Youzi, 1.12. It reads (Bill’s translation):In the value of ritual, harmony is the great thing. In the way of the ancient kings This is the beauty. Small and great follow it. There is something that will not work: To practice harmony by an understanding of harmony, without regulating it by ritual, this will indeed not work.
This is one of my favorite sayings in book one, so Bill’s treatment of it caught my eye. What I’m most interested in here is the last four lines, the claim about what “will not work.”
Of course, Youzi’s claim here is that there are certain ways of putting harmony into play that will fail, so to understand the claim first we need to have a better understanding of harmony itself. Bill suggests that harmony (he) is “social harmony” and a kind of “cooperation without sameness, or singing together.” It is, as he puts it nicely, “the happy combining of different things.”
Next, we need to understand the relationship between li and he, because the “failure” here has to do with “ritual regulation”. Bill suggests that Youzi’s thinking is that the main function of li is to promote he. He writes that “harmony is the great and the small following a way together. They manage this by following ritual together.” Moreover, Bill suggests that the kind of cooperation between unequals that takes place without coercion “needs mutual confidence and an agreed plan.” Ritual provides this by embodying a social plan, and the coordination of ritual dance provides, in part, the mutual confidence.
Part of what I like about Bill’s point here about the function of ritual (li) is that it points to the need for a kind of, if you can pardon the analogy, “ownership society”. This comes out in Bill’s suggestion — which I think is right on target — that the various forms of instantiated inequality should not be cast or seen as a way in which a “conflict of interest that threatens both parties” comes to be settled at any point in time. Instead, and this is the point that I take away from this, each party should be seen as “owning” the ritual framework that they participate in. Without this sense of ownership, I suppose, what will be left is the sense of coercive power structures, and mutually inconsistent ends and wants. Thus, without ownership we get conflict.
This brings me to the last four lines of 1.12:There is something that will not work: To practice harmony by an understanding of harmony, without regulating it by ritual, this will indeed not work.
How, then, should we understand the “not working” part here? What does it mean to say that “ownership” has not taken place?
Let’s start at the beginning. The first line, I think, can be understood in terms of Bill’s point and my way of further construing it: “not working” means “not leading to harmony” which means “leading to a framework that instantiates a conflict of interest threatening both parties.” This, in turn, means a failure in “ownership” on one or both sides of the inequality within a given relational framework.
The next lines are interesting, reading “To practice harmony with an understanding of harmony, without regulating it by ritual, this will not work.”
The way the line is written brings up some interesting points. First, literally read, the remainder seems to make no sense. The claim appears to argue that regulation by ritual is necessary for harmony. Indeed, this appears to be some of the earlier story; namely, that only through an agreed upon framework that embodies a united social plan can harmony come into existence, and such a framework is instantiated via ritual interaction whose intelligibility is “owned” by both parties.
I’m left thinking that Youzi is thinking here rather something like this: “to attempt to practice harmony by means of simulacrum of ritual, will not achieve harmony.”
This leads us to ask what a “simulacrum” of ritual would look like. When isn’t it the real McCoy? What types of forms would such simulacum take? One way to think of this would be to consider two ways in which rituals could, in fact, be owned. There are at least two forms I can think of:
1. Owned ritual forms are “embodied” with just the right sets of emotions. 2.7 comes to mind as a specific instance of a failure of this kind of ‘ownership’, where caring for parents without the proper reverence is seen as inappropriate (bu-yi).
Although (1) is important, it’s not the kind of failure that Youzi seems to be talking about, at least in light of Bill’s comments about the function of ritual and harmony. Instead, it seems to imply:
2. Owned rituals are the result of negotiation between entities who are different, such that these differences must be ‘recognized’ on some level in the ritual behaviors for harmony to take place.
And (1) and (2), as far as I can tell, brings us headlong into a contrast within understanding Confucianism itself, where (1) sounds more like Fingarette and (2) more like Ames. This contrast itself, though I am not sure, may turn partially on the claim about “what is different”. Bill’s claim earlier is that harmony requires ‘cooperation without sameness’, though he doesn’t say (unless I missed it) what the “sameness/difference” contrast amounts to.
We could think of this contrast as referring to unequals. The teacher and the students are different; they play different roles within the same relationship, and these differences must be maintained for the common social goal of “learning” to take place. So a good harmony does not mix up those differences; we don’t want to treat students like teachers, nor expect teachers to act like students. Such a reading would be entirely consistent I think, with (1), and doesn’t seem to require (2). A student within this relationship would not sense “ownership” of the rituals if the roles if it were not clear what behaviors were expected from whom.
Or: we could understand “difference” as a difference of an individual within a role. So, it’s not just that students are different from teachers, but also that students are different from one another. So, a harmony between a teacher and a student that does not recognize — through the actual embodiment of ritual forms — those differences will reduce to a conflict between parties with different interests.
A reading of difference in this way is more inclusive; it encompasses (1) as well, as it is not inconsistent with it, and very well might require it as a necessary part.
But it’s being more inclusive doesn’t make it right. Youzi (or Confucius) may not mean for a “big tent” sense of harmony, or of “difference”.
Which is it? Bill doesn’t say; at the same time, that’s not his target in the piece. But we can ask the question here. Clearly, it seems to me, (1) and (2) imply a different “metaphysics” of the individual, so a lot hangs on the answer. (1) implies an individuality that, as Rosemont often puts it, is “a mere sum of its roles to specfic others.” The individual is exhausted by his/her functional relations to others. (2) requires role-relations as consitutive of individual identity, but holds out that it cannot be fully reduced to it. Instead, individuals are tropes of a sort, and that basic tropism must be embodied in the ways that rituals are performed.