I’ve been making by way through Benjamin Schwartz’ The World of Thought in Ancient China (1985). I’m currently moving through the chapter on Mencius and Xunzi, and found an interesting little section that deals (albeit quickly) with the issue of choice-theoretic models of selfhood, which was the subject of my post below this one on Fingarette and Confucius. Schwartz agrees with Sam (see comments in post below this one) that Mencius differs from Confucius on the centrality of choice. See below the fold.
Peony at her blog asks a very good question: just how similar would Confucius be to Kierkegaard? More pointedly – is Confucius just an ancient version of Judge William from Either/Or, imploring the reader to get off his or her butt and finally make a choice or a leap into the authentic life of being socially embedded within roles? I find this to be a fascinating question and I’d like to think a bit more about it here. I’ll do it by situating the question within the context of Herbert Fingarette’s writing. Fingarette, I believe, upon hearing this question would take his shoe off and slam the table with it like Khrushchev while repeatedly yelling “NO! NO! NO!” Let’s walk this through below the fold and see how it shakes out.
I’m in the middle of getting my syllabus organized for my Chinese Philosophy course. I’m trying something new this time. Typically, I just have students read each book from cover to cover, and we try as a class to undergo the messy business of constructing the text’s meaning as we move from chapter to chapter (messy but fun!). This time I’m going to try a thematic approach, just to see how it works. So, in the Analects, perhaps one day we’ll read a collection of aphorisms on ren, and another day we’ll do the same for xiao (and so on for other key concepts).
Now, I have a firm grasp of what passages link up with what themes within the Confucian authors, but I’m less skilled at this for Taoism. So I need the help of the Taoists lurkers. See below:
I’m working my way though the Mozi (I’m doing some course preparation on it). Of the people I know who have read it, many of them complain about its style, but I rather like it. Sure, it lacks the poetical flair of the Analects, but Mozi was a different kind of guy, representing a different set of interests. In any case, I’m going to try to make note here of aspects of the work that stick out to me for one reason or other. One of the first things to jump out at me is in Chapter 16, on “Impartial Caring.” This is a central plank in Mohist ethics, but I’m having a tough time getting my head around some of the fundamentals here (at least those below the immediate surface).
I’ve been reading Mozi this week (prepping a course I’ll be teaching), and when I started taking notes to the section “Rejection of Destiny” Mozi’s discussion of how to justify or confirm the truth of a belief (or practice) made me think of Daniel Bell’s way of talking about justifying the normative standards within cultures (how many people have reminded me of Bell lately?). I’ll explain below.
I’ve been a bad boy. I jumped ahead and read the last chapter of Bell’s book, where he lays out his own recipe for “Chinese Democracy.” I don’t feel qualified to suggest whether his proposal would work in the contemporary Chinese context, but the idea itself is an interesting one. I am at least certain of one thing: it would have just about every good, down-home, corn-fed anti-intellectualist American (the majority of them) running screaming for the exits.
An unmistakable sense of lightness has come over me. I wonder: am I no longer chained to the wheel of samsara? Have I achieved enlightenment? In alignment with the Tao? Seamlessly integrated into my role-ethical obligations? Nothing so grandiose, but somewhat analogous: I’m on sabbatical for the calendar 2009 year. I have a lot planned for the year — research articles, specifically — but first things first. A lot of cool reading! Below the fold I’ve listed the books that are in front of me in the “sabbatical pile” that has been building up for the last few weeks (regular and steady arrivals from Amazon mostly). I’m curious to know if anyone has an opinion on any of these books. Which one would you start with?
I must admit, Barack Obama has me intrigued. He’s making me pay attention to him. His selection of cabinet members – and now his selection of Rick Warren to serve on Inauguration Day – is very interesting. It makes me wonder: is Obama reflecting a bit of what might be required of the Confucian Junzi?
So far, one hundred pages into East Meets West, it strikes me that the one “drive home” point Bell wants to make is this one: the particular trumps the universal. Many of Bell’s other points about appropriate East-West discourse and human rights advocacy seem to rely on this fundamental principle. If this is indeed the “engine” that drives the car, it makes sense to start here and pop open the hood so we can take a look around (as Ross Perot might say).
If you are not aware, we’re trying to start up a virtual “reading group” on Daniel Bell’s 2000 work, East Meets West. Virtual reading groups are a new thing to me (Peony too) so we’ll see how it goes (well, we hope!). In any case, I’m through the first hundred pages and enjoying the book so far. Hopefully there are some of you out there reading along as well. So let’s get this conversation started! Peony has put up the first post, “East Meets West in Constantinople” at her place, Tang Dynasty Times. See you over there (look for the next post to be put up here in a few days)!
Sam Crane has an interesting post up at Useless Tree on the subject of Confucianism and abortion. Sam raises a number of thoughtful questions, and his post has led me to think a bit more about this issue. I haven’t reached any conclusions at all, but it has led me to ask a few questions myself about how to frame a discussion of this issue.
Since I’m too busy grading to post anything worthwhile, I’ll point folks to worthwhile stuff “coming through the tubes” on “teh internets.” (1) Alan Baumer at Frog in a Well has two interesting posts up on Xunzi and ritual, here and here, (2) Alexus McLeod at Unpolished Jade puts forth a thesis regarding the Confucian self and Analect 12.1 here, and (3) Peony at Tang Dynasty Times has very cool post up on ritual (with an intersting picture attached!) here. Exercise that mouse clicking finger and check them out.