Wednesday, December 30, 2009



by Thomas Riggins

“Well, Karl, what do you know about the Legalists and Han Fei in particular?”

“I remember what Reese says in his dictionary. That he lived in the Third Century B.C., that he was the Prince of Han and committed suicide in 233 B.C. because the King of Ch’in woudn’t accept his services. He is the major philosopher in the Legalist School.”

“Pretty good. Chan calls this school the most radical of the schools for its rejection of Confucianism (morality) and Moism (religion). We have already talked about the Ch’in Dynasty (221-206 B.C.) and First Emperor. The dubious claim to fame of the Legalists is that they helped set up the ideological framework for the Ch’in. Han Fei was the most important of a line of Legalist philosophers. He also studied under Hsun Tzu and, unjustly I think some of his more ‘totalitarian’ tendencies have been read back into his teacher. Legalist predecessors were Kuan Chung (Seventh Century B.C.), Lord Shang, Prime Minister of Ch’in (Fourth Century B.C.), his contemporary, the Prime Minister of Han, Shen Pu-hai and ShenTao (c.350-275 B.C.). Chan notes that his fellow student with Hsun Tzu, Li Ssu, who died in 208 B.C. was behind the suicide of Han Fei. I can’t believe he killed himself just because he couldn’t get a job with the future First Emperor!.”

“That does seem strange. Here is some more info in Creel. It seems Li Ssu actually turned the King against Han Fei by telling him that he would not support Ch’in in a war against Han. Han Fei was tossed into prison and forced to kill himself by Li Ssu. That makes more sense.”

“It also makes Li Ssu a fake sage! That type of behavior seems completely against all the teachings of the philosophers we have so far discussed! Hsun Tzu would not have liked that at all. Why did he do it?”

“His motive makes it even worse. He new that Han Fei was a better philosopher than he and he was jealous that the King would prefer him. Li Ssu was already a minister in Ch’in when Han Fei came to offer his services.”

“So, are we ready to look at the Han Fei Tzu and see what this new philosophy was all about?”

“I’m ready, Fred.”

“Chan says Han Fei is most famous for his synthesis of Legalist views and for his discussion of the Tao which influenced all the Taoists of note. I will begin with Chan’s first selection ‘1. The Synthesis of Legalistic Doctrine.’ Han Fei starts by noting that Confucianism and Moism are the most popular philosophies and he attacks them for trying to pretend they represent the wisdom of the old sage kings. Han Fei is against using the past as a model for the present and future. He says, since no one can really tell what the the old sage-kings' true teachings were or how to apply them today, then, ‘To be sure of anything without corroborating evidence is stupidity, and to base one’s argument on anything about which one cannot be sure is perjury. Therefore those who openly base their arguments on the authority of the ancient kings and who are dogmatically certain of Yao and Shun are men either of stupidity or perjury.’ “

“Technically, while Mo may have mentioned Yao and Shun it was Wen and T’ang and Wu and Yu that he appeals to most of the time in the Chan extracts. But in principle Han Fei’s argument is against both Mo and Confucius.”

“This next quote shows that the Legalists were in favor a government of laws and not of men! ‘Although there is a naturally straight arrow or a naturally round piece of wood [once in a hundred generations] which does not depend oany straightening or bending, the skilled workman does not value it. Why? Because it is not just one person who wishes to ride and not just one shot that the archer wishes to shoot [so bending and straightening of wood is needed as a skill-tr]. Similarly, the enlightened ruler does not value people who are naturally good and who do not depend on reward and punishment. Why? Because the laws of the state must not be neglected and government is not for only one man. Therefore the ruler who has the technique does not follow the good that happens by chance but practices the way of necessity ....’ And Chan remarks, ‘In the necessity of straightening and bending, note the similarity to Hsun Tzu. The theory of the originally evil nature of man is a basic assumption of the Legalists.”

“I still say that Hsun Tzu was not like the Legalists. I pointed this out at the start of our discussion on the Hsun Tzu.”

“And I said I agreed with you. You will be happy to know that Chan also agrees with you and not with Fung who holds that Han Fei based his doctrines on those of Hsun Tzu.”

“Well, I like that! Just what does old Chan have to say about this issue Fred?”

“He says the bending and straightening in Hsun Tzu meant education and the like, but Han Fei only relied on rewards and punishments. Chan said, ‘Hsun Tzu had a firm faith in man’s moral reform but the Legalists have no such faith.’ And, he adds, ‘It is misleading, at least, to say, as Fung does, that Han Fei Tzu based his doctrines on the teachings of Hsun Tzu.’ This is because they ‘were utterly different in their attitudes toward man as a moral being.’”

“I’ll buy that. So, lets go on with some more of the Han Fei Tzu.”

“Sure. Han Fei Tzu says the enlightened ruler needs four things to ensure his success. Namely, the ‘timeliness of the seasons,’ the support of the people, ‘skills and talents,’ and finally a position of power. He says, ‘Acting against the sentiment of the people, even Meng Pen and Hsia Yu (famous men of great strength) could not make them exhaust their efforts. Therefore with timeliness of the seasons the grains will grow of themselves.’ In fact with all four conditions, then, ‘Like water flowing and like a boat floating, the ruler follows the course of Nature and enforces an infinite number of commands. Therefore he is called an enlightened ruler....’”

“Sounds like Taoism.”

“You couldn’t be more right Karl. Chan’s comment on that quote I just gave is, ‘Of all the ideas of the Legalists, perhaps the most philosophical is that of following Nature, which was derived from the Taoists.’ And, although he did not include it in his Source Book, Chan says that one of the chapters in the Han Fei Tzu is a commentary on the thought of Lao Tzu.”

“That’s excellent. Does he get more specific about law?”

“Try this. The important thing for the ruler is either laws or statecraft. A law is that which is enacted into the statute books, kept in government offices, and proclaimed to the people. Statecraft is that which is harbored in the ruler’s own mind so as to fit all situations and control all ministers. Therefore for law there is nothing better than publicity, whereas in statecraft, secrecy is desired....’”

“Sounds a little like Machiavelli.”

“He goes on, ‘Ministers are afraid of execution and punishment but look upon congratulations and rewards as advantages. Therefore, if a ruler himself applies punishment and kindness, all ministers will fear his power and turn to the advantages.’”

“Yes, I remember this. The ‘two handles’ of government--reward and punishment. Machiavelli says a prince is better off being feared than loved, and I see that Han Fei also goes in for the fear factor.”

“Yes he does. A minister gets punished if he does something small after having said he would do something big, but also if he expects to do something small and it turns out to be big. Han Fei says, ‘It is not that the ruler is not pleased with the big accomplishments but he considers the failure of the big accomplishments to correspond to the words worse than the big accomplishments themselves. Therefore he is to be punished....’”

“That certainly won’t encourage ministers to surpass themselves! That seems counter-productive. I understand your being punished for big talk and little deeds, but if you set to do only a little yet accomplish something big despite yourself, I think it is not wise for the ruler to punish you. Suppose you said you would delay the enemy while the ruler collects his forces and instead you are able to defeat the enemy. What is the sense of being punished?”

“I agree with you Karl but that is the way Legalists play the game. Here is what Chan says about it. ‘Like practically all ancient Chinese schools, the Legalists emphasized the theory of the correspondence of names and actualities. But while the Confucianists stressed the the ethical and social meaning of the theory and the Logicians stressed the logical aspect, the Legalists were interested in it primarily for the purpose of political control. With them the theory is neither ethical not logical but a technique for regimentation.’”

“Well that it is, but it will not really work in the interests of the ruler. In fact the Ch’in Legalist state fell apart shortly after the death of the First Emperor. Don’t forget that Han Fei had to commit suicide, a victim perhaps of his own Machiavellian position.”

“Here is a big attack on the Confucianists.”

“This should be good!”

“This attack is also directed at Mo Tzu so his doctrines were still around. ‘At present Confucianists and Moists all praise ancient kings for their universal love for the whole world, which means that they regarded the people as parents [regard their children].... Now, to hold that rulers and ministers act towards each other like father and son and consequently there will necessarily be orderly government, is to imply that there are no disorderly fathers or sons. According to human nature, none are more affectionate than parents who love all children, and yet not all children are necessarily orderly.’”

“So here come the ‘two handles’.”

“It seems to be the case Karl. Han Fei says that you have to have laws against the disorderly people in the state. He makes the point that ‘people are submissive to power and few of them can be influenced by the doctrines of righteousness.’”

“That’s the case in empirical states that haven’t been designed to conform to Confucian ideals. Why should we limit ourselves to these kinds of state?”

“Because that is being realistic. Look, Han Fei says, at what happened to Confucius in the real world. In the real world ‘Duke Ai of Lu was an inferior ruler. When he sat on the throne as the sovereign of the state, none within the borders of the state dared refuse to submit. For people are originally submissive to power and it is truly easy to subdue people with power. Therefore Confucius turned out to be a subordinate and Duke Ai, contrary to one’s expectation, became a ruler. Confucius was not influenced by Duke Ai’s righteousness; instead, he submitted to his power. Therefore on the basis of righteousness, Confucius would not submit to Duke Ai, but because of the manipulation of power, Confucius became a subordinate to him. Nowadays in trying to persuade rulers, scholars do not advocate the use of power which is sure to win, but say that if one is devoted to the practice of humanity and righteousness, one will become a true king.’”

“Just the view of Plato as well as Alfarabi. But you don’t have to tell me that Han Fei thinks that that is bunk.”

“With a vengeance! It looks to me that he wouldn’t support any of the Confucian policies and would rather see a big military state--Sparta rather than Athens! He says, ‘The state supports scholars and knights-errant in times of peace, but when an emergency arises it has to use soldiers. Thus those who have been benefited by the government cannot be used by it and those used by it have not been benefited.’”

“It does look look like a professional army would fulfill his ideas. But, that type of army is parasitical in times of peace and it makes oppression by the government so much the easier. I presume his reference to ‘knights-errant’ is a swipe at the Moists.”

“Here are some more of his ideas, ‘If in governmental measures one neglects ordinary affairs of the people and what even the simple folks can understand, but admires the doctrines of the highest wisdom, that would be contrary to the way of orderly government. Therefore subtle and unfathomable doctrines are no business of the people.... Therefore the way of the enlightened ruler is to unify all laws but not to seek for wise men and firmly to adhere to statecraft but not to admire faithful persons. Thus laws will never fail and no officials will ever commit treachery or de-

“You know Fred, I don’t think that this is an either/or type of situation. I’m sure the Confucians would also agree that the people should not be left out of consideration. They always advocated education. That doesn’t mean that just because you have the elementary schools you have to abandon the university--which is what Han Fei seems to be saying. His emphasis on ‘statecraft’--the secret machinations of the ruler’s brain seems to conflict with his confidence in the ‘laws’ and introduces arbitrariness into the system. As for officials never committing treachery or deception--look what happened to him. Either Li Ssu, a Legalist himself, committed treachery or Han Fei was engaged in deception and the future First Emperor was right to imprison him. But the consensus is that Han Fei was innocent, Therefore he was the victim of ‘statecraft’ and in this instance the laws failed. I think it was this contradiction in his system that led to its untenability in the long run and why Confucianism, which is more balanced and nuanced, somewhat succeeded. I would also like to point out that his stress on the ‘common people’ is probably due to the influence of Taoism and this influence is also the reason he failed to integrate popular education and ‘the doctrines of the highest wisdom.’ For him these doctrines didn’t exist in the Confucian or Moist sense.”

“I think you are right Karl. These next words have a real Taoist flavor. He says, ‘In regard to the words [of traveling scholars], rulers of today like their arguments but do not find out if they correspond to the facts. In regard to the application of these words to practice, they praise their fame but do not demand accomplishment. Therefore there are many in the world whose talks are devoted to argumentation and who are not thorough when it comes to practical utility.... In their deeds scholars struggle for eminence but their is nothing in them that is suitable for real accomplishment. Therefore wise scholars withdraw to caves and decline the offering of positions.’”

“Very Taoist! Too bad Han Fei did not take his own advice. If he had gone to live in a cave somewhere instead of going off to take a position in Ch’in, and struggling for eminence with Li Ssu, he would not have ended up having to commit suicide.”

“Here is the last quote from this section of Chan. ‘Therefore in the state of the enlightened ruler, there is no literature of books and records but the laws serve as the teaching. There are no sayings of ancient kings but the officials act as teachers. And there are no rash acts of the assassin; instead, courage will be demonstrated by those who decapitate the enemy [in battle]. Consequently, among the people within the borders of the state, whoever talks must follow the law, who ever acts must aim at accomplishment, and whoever shows courage must do so entirely in the army. Thus the state will be rich when at peace and the army will be strong when things happen.’”

“Wow! This is no good. ‘No literature of books’--this will result in a violation of the Prime Directive as the only views available will be Legalist and thus authority rather than reason will end up ruling people’s minds.”

“Chan says, ‘The advocation of prohibiting the propagation of private doctrines eventually led to the Burning of Books in 213 B.C. and in the periodic prohibitions of the propagation of personal doctrines throughout Chinese history.’”

“Chan wrote that before the ‘Cultural Revolution’, which was neither ‘cultural’ nor a ‘revolution,’ so we can see the bad effects of this doctrine are still alive. Not allowing ‘personal doctrines’ means only state sanctioned ‘truth’ is allowed, a sure condition for ending up as far away from being able to find ‘truth’ as you can imagine. I hate to seem critical of the Chinese government, especially as it has raised the Chinese people out of feudal despair and into the modern world, but they should heed Carl Sagan’s advice that ‘The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.’” I’m not singling out China. Every government in the world could do better in this respect.”

“Well put Karl, but now I’m going to go over the other section that Chan has in his Source Book, namely Han Fei’s discussion of Taoism, which Chan calls ‘one of the most important.’ Chan calls this section ‘Interpretations of Tao.’ Are you ready for this?”


“OK, here goes, ‘Tao is that by which all things become what they are. It is that with which all principles are commensurable. Principles are patterns (wen) according to which all things come into being, and Tao is the cause of their being. Therefore it is said that Tao puts things in order (li). Things have their respective principles and cannot interfere with each other, therefore principles are controlling factors in things. Everything has its own principle different from that of others, and Tao is commensurate with all of them [as one]. Consequently, everything has to go through the process of transformation. Since everything has to go through the process of transformation, it has no fixed mode of life. As it has no fixed mode of life, its life and death depend on the endowment of material force (ch’i) [by Tao]. Countless wisdom depends on it for consideration. And the rise and fall of all things is because of it. Heaven obtains it and therefore becomes high. The earth obtains it and therefore can hold everything....’”

“He seems to be following Lao Tzu fairly closely.”

“Yes indeed, as the following shows as well. ‘Whatever people use for imagining the real [as the skeleton to image the elephant] is called form (hsiang). Although Tao cannot be heard or seen, the sage decides and sees its features on the basis of its effects. Therefore it is called [in the Lao Tzu] “shape without shape and form without objects.”’”

“Sort of like ‘Gravity” with Newton. It couldn’t be seen or heard but the effects, as with the falling apple, led Newton to work out its features. The great law that controls everything, like Gravity, that is the Tao.”

“Han Fei goes on. ‘ In all cases principle is that which distinguishes the square from the round, the short from the long, the course from the refined, and the hard from the brittle. Consequently, it is only after principles become definite that Tao can be realized.’”

“But Tao is the basis of principle! To keep my Newton analogy going, I would have to say that it is only when objects are manifesting their attraction that Gravity can be realized.”

“It is the ‘eternal’ Tao that Han Fei is interested in. He says, ‘Only that which exists from the very beginning of the universe and neither dies nor declines until heaven and earth disintegrate can be called eternal. What is eternal has neither change nor any definite particular principle itself. Since it has no definite particular principle itself, it is not bound in any particular locality. This is why [it is said in the Lao Tzu] that it cannot be told. The sage sees its profound vacuity (hsü) and utilizes its operation everywhere. He is forced to give it the name Tao. Only then can it be talked about. Therefore it is said, “The Tao that can be told of is not the eternal Tao.”’”

“Does Chan say why this is ‘most important’?”

“Yes he does. He goes into this passage with a long comment. ‘This is one of the earliest and most important discussions of Tao. It is of great importance for two reasons. First, principle (li) has been the central concept in Chinese philosophy for the last eight hundred years, and Han Fei was one of the earliest to employ the concept. Secondly, to him Tao is not an undifferentiated continuum in which all distinctions disappear. On the contrary, Tao is the very reason why things are specific and determinate. This is a radical advance and anticipated the growth of Neo- Taoism along this direction in the third and fourth centuries A.D.’”

“That completes our treatment of Han Fei?”

“Yes, Karl, it does. Who or what should we tackle next?”

“I want us to discuss a little classic called the Great Learning. It is one of the ‘Four Books” along with the Analects, Mencius, and the Doctrine of the Mean that all Chinese had to read and study, especially those taking the exams for government service. It is there in Chan Fred. Look it over and we will discuss it next.”

“OK, I 'llcome over after breakfast tomorrow and we will begin.”

“See you then!”

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Seventh in a series of discussions in Chinese philosophy

by Thomas Riggins

After a restful evening, Karl and Fred were together again in Karl’s study for an early morning discussion of the philosophy of Hsun Tzu.

“I see you have Chan’s text of The Hsun Tzu open before you Fred. Are you ready to begin our discussion?”

“Ready and willing Karl.”

“Well then, let's begin.”

“What do you know about Hsun Tzu?”

“Only that he lived a couple of generations after Mencius. I remember that Mencius was born around 371 and died around 289 BC, while Hsun Tzu lived from about 298 to 238 BC. I also know that he is usually considered the anti-Mencius because. as opposed to Mencius’ view that people are born naturally ‘good’, he said they are naturally ‘evil’. And I do remember reading in Chan that ancient Confucianism is seen as developing along two different roads leading away from Confucius himself. Namely, the Idealist School or Road of Mencius and the Naturalistic School or road of
Hsun Tzu.”

“What else do you remember?”

“Let’s see. You better help me out.”

“Ok. Chan remarks that 1. His philosophy was dominate over that of Mencius up until and throughout the Han period--206 BC to 220 AD. He is also said to have been partially responsible for the Ch’in Dynasty and the repressive dictatorship of the ‘First Emperor’. That must be the first ‘modern’ emperor as we have those olden time emperors the sages are always talking about. The Ch’in Dynasty was short lived--221-206 BC....”

“Don’t forget we have Goodrich’s Short History here. First Emperor ( Shih-huang-ti ). The first one to unify China into a large empire--a unification that has lasted until modern times. He was a real tyrant and his empire was over thrown a few years after his death by the people who founded the Han Dynasty. He is, as I recall, best known to most people today as the the emperor who had all those terra cotta warriors made that are such a tourist attraction in modern day China. He also has an opera written about him!”

“That’s right Karl. And Chan says two of Hsun Tzu’s students Han Fei and Li Ssu were ministers of Ch’in.”

“I don’t see how Hsun Tzu can be tarred with the brush of Ch’in totalitarianism. He died before the rise of the Ch’in to total control of China. Anyway, he was honored as the greatest Confucianist until the end of Han times and the Han would never have allowed him that status if they considered him as an ideological forerunner of their mortal enemies the Ch’in.”

“That sounds right. But to continue. Chan points out that he was a native of Chao and moved to Ch’i when he was fifty so he could hang out with other scholars. Later he went to Ch’u, served briefly as a magistrate, taught students, and then dies there. He wrote his own book rather than relying on his students to make a compilation of his sayings. Chan writes that he ‘was contemporaneous with Mencius but there is no evidence that the two ever met.’”

“Which is not too strange as by Chan’s own dates for these two Hsun Tzu, would have been nine years old when Mencius died!”

“Chan has translated three of the most important chapters of the Hsun Tzu which covers all the main points of Hsun’s philosophy. There are thirty-two chapters in the Hsun Tzu, but these are the big one’s for philosophy. Ready?”


“We begin with chapter seventeen, ‘On Nature.’ Hsun says, ‘Nature (T’ien, Heaven) operates with constant regularity.... Respond to it with peace and order, and good fortune will result. Respond to it with disorder, and disaster will follow.... If the Way is cultivated [followed?] without deviation. the Nature cannot cause misfortune. Therefore flood and drought cannot cause a famine, extreme cold or heat cannot cause illness, and evil spiritual beings cannot cause misfortune. But if the foundations of living are neglected and used extravagantly. the Nature cannot make the country rich.’”

“It is obvious that this is an advanced view for the times Fred. The laws of nature are invariable and if human beings learn them and work with them all will be well. Nature does not cause famines is a good example of this. We can figure out the cycles of Nature, knowing that droughts, etc., are common, that floods occur, etc., we make sure we plan on storing up food for the lean years. If we fail to take proper actions we will have a famine. It is not to be blamed on Nature but on our lack of foresight and knowledge.”

“That makes sense, he continues saying famines, sickness, etc., ‘cannot be blamed on Heaven: this is how the Way works. Therefore one who understands the distinctive functions of Heaven and man may be called a perfect man.’ But you know, this sounds like ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’”

“It certainly does. I think Hsun Tzu would agree with that. But note, since we know that people use guns to kill people and there are many irresponsible people, it would make sense to limit the gun supply. This would be knowing ‘the distinctive functions of Heaven and man.’”

“Chan’s comment is interesting. ‘Hsun Tzu’s concept of Heaven is obviously closer to the Tao of the Taoists than to the T’ien (Heaven) of Confucius and Mencius. Their T’ien is still purposive, and the source and ultimate control of man’s destiny, but Hsun Tzu’s T’ien is purely Nature so that in most cases the word has to be translated as Nature rather than as Heaven. The marvelous thing is that while he accepted the Taoists’ naturalistic view, he was not influenced by their intuitionism and mysticism. In Hsun Tzu, we have rationalism and empiricism instead.’”

"While there may be relics of ‘purpose’ in the T’ien of Confucius and Mencius it is nothing like we found in Mo Tzu. I think the position adopted by Hsun Tzu is the culmination of tendencies already at work in Confucius and Mencius. This naturalistic way of thinking has simply become more completely manifest in Hsun Tzu. His concept of Heaven is similar to Spinoza’s concept of God. Where Spinoza says ‘Deus siva Natura’, Hsun Tzu says ‘Heaven or Nature’."

“We see this naturalism pretty well in the next quote Karl. Hsun Tzu says, ‘Each of the ten thousand things [idiom for ‘everything’] attains its harmony, and thus grows. Each obtains its nourishment and thus achieves full development.... The heart (mind) occupies the cavity in the center to control the five organs. This is called the natural ruler.... The sage purifies his natural ruler, rectifies his natural organs, sufficiently provides for his natural nourishment, follows the natural government, and nourishes his natural feelings so as to bring to completion the work of Nature. In this way he knows what to do and what not to do. Thus he rules heaven and earth and directs the ten thousand things.’”

“Except for the usual ancient mix up of the heart and brain, this is well said: an appeal to the use of our reason to guide both our social life and our understanding of Nature.”

“He then goes on to say, ‘Therefore great skill consists in not doing certain things, and great wisdom consists in not debating over certain things.’ He illustrates this by pointing out that we should study the stars and the earth and the four seasons, the yin and yang, etc., in order to discover the regularities of Heaven/Nature. And Chan adds, ‘Most ancient Confucianists either emphasized humanity (jen) and wisdom equally or stressed humanity. Hsun Tzu, however, emphasizes wisdom. Obviously, inborn humanity has no room in his theory of the innate evil nature of man. As an acquired virtue, humanity is valued. But being a tough-minded realist, he relies on wisdom rather than such an idealistic quality in humanity.’”

“Please note that he is not saying that there are no inborn qualities, what today would be called instincts, but that the Confucian idea of jen is not inborn. Specifically he is rejecting the Mencian notion of ‘The Four Beginnings’.”

“Hsun Tzu also sounds very modern when he proclaims that Heaven’s laws are not designed with humanity in mind.‘Heaven does not give up winter because people dislike cold.’ And, ‘Heaven has a constant way of action, earth has a constant size, and the superior man has a constant personal demonstration of virtue. The superior man pursues the constant principle, but the inferior man calculates results.’ How does this jive with what you said in our Mencius discussion about Fletcher and situation ethics?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, does not the ‘constant principle’ put Hsun Tzu in the Kantian camp. Wouldn’t he have to be for ‘calculating results’ if he was for situation ethics? So this seems to be another big difference between him and Mencius.”

“Wait a minute Fred. I don’t want to concede this point. Let’s look a little more closely at this quote. I think it can be legitimately interpreted to show that Hsun Tzu and Mencius are not really in disagreement.”

“I’m all ears.”

“Hsun Tzu says what is constant is ‘personal demonstration of virtue’. This amounts to doing the right thing in every circumstance or situation. This is what he means by the ‘constant principle’. The non-philosopher ‘calculates results.’ I take this to mean that he looks for personal advantage not necessarily what is the right thing to do. Morality is not something you just look up in a book or some iron clad rule [never have an abortion, never mislead someone, etc.] it does depend on results. So when Hsun Tzu says the inferior man ‘calculates results’ he means how the ‘results’ relate to him personally or some plan of his that he wants to accomplish. It can’t mean that the philosopher does not also calculate results. He does. He calculates if his action furthers virtue or not.”

“What about this then? ‘As to cultivating one’s will, to be earnest in one’s moral conduct, to be clear in one’s knowledge and deliberations, to live in this age but to set his mind on the ancients (as models), that depends on the person himself. Therefore the superior man is serious (ching) about what lies in himself and does not desire what comes from Heaven. The inferior man neglects what is in himself and desires what comes from Heaven.’ I would think Hsun Tzu would say just the opposite. Heaven’s laws are constant or the same thing, Nature’s. We are part of Nature so we should follow what comes from Nature and just do it. This would be following the Way. The inferior man would try to get out of it and just do what he wants to do--what ‘lies in himself.’”

“Hmmm! I see the difficulty, but I think there is an easy explanation of this seeming conundrum. Look back at the word ‘seriousness’ in the quote, the word ‘ching.’ If I remember correctly that word conjures up the idea of ‘effort’ of working hard at attaining something. This is the clue to Hsun Tzu’s meaning. Heaven is neutral, remember, no ‘Four Beginnings’, so we have to work at cultivating virtue. What ‘lies in himself’ is the product of one’s education and struggle to attain virtue. For example, some knowledge of Chinese philosophy now lies within you Fred. This is because you are making efforts to learn about it. What lies in you is a desire to improve yourself and work hard to attain wisdom. The inferior man does not delve into his internal resources to make this effort. He just expects to attain what he wants out of life automatically without making much effort, without seriousness. This is what Hsun Tzu means by saying the inferior man neglects what is in himself and just wants what comes from Heaven.”

“Well, that makes sense but seems a little forced to me. But lets proceed. Things will become clearer as we go along, I’m sure.”


“I think we are getting into his naturalism in these next quotes. ‘When stars fall or trees make a [strange] noise, all people in the state are afraid and ask, “Why?” I reply: There is no need to ask why. These are changes of heaven and earth, the transformation of yin and yang, and rare occurrences. It is all right to marvel at them, but wrong to fear them. For there has been no age that has not had the experience of eclipses of the sun and moon, unseasonable rain or wind or occasional appearance of strange stars.”

“It is obvious Fred, that Hsun Tzu doesn’t believe in portents and the like. There is no supernatural message to be conveyed by what happens in nature.”

“And this reinforces his views, ‘When people pray for rain, it rains. Why? I say: There is no need to ask why. It is the same as when it rains when no one prays for it. When people try to save the sun or moon from being eclipsed, or when they pray for rain in a drought, or when they decide an important affair only after divination. they do so not because they believe they will get what they are after, but to use them as ornament (wen) to governmental measures. Hence the ruler intends them to be an ornament, but the common people think they are supernatural. It is good fortune to regard them as ornamental but it is evil fortune to regard them as supernatural.’”

“Meaning that if you realize they are ornamental you are one of the educated people and have some idea as to how the world is actually constituted--otherwise you are hoi polloi and will be a manipulated fool for your whole life!”

“That is a bit strong don’t you think?”

“Not at all Fred. The common people have been manipulated by their rulers since the beginning of history by means of religion and other superstitious beliefs. Even today the government makes sure it has religious ‘professionals on its staff in the armed forces to reinforce and bolster up the superstitious ideas of the soldiers and other cannon fodder it recruits. You see religion being encouraged everywhere. Its a method for keeping people stupid and docile. Hsun Tzu realizes that and simply explains it so his fellow Confucians will be free from its baneful influence having as he says ‘good fortune.’ I needn’t tell you how stupid people can be manipulated by religion Fred, just look out of the window at our altered New York skyline!”

“Well, Chan says about the same thing but he is not as vitriolic as you Karl. His comment is as follows, ‘The influence of supernatural forces over man is completely ruled out by Hsun Tzu. What he called spirit is but cosmic change and evolution. To him, in religious sacrifice, whether there are really spiritual beings to receive them does not matter. The important thing is one’s attitude, especially sincerity, in the performance. The sacrifices are “ornaments,” or refined manifestation of an inner attitude.’”

“ I don’t know if that is really the ‘important thing’ i.e., a refined inner attitude. I don’t know what to make of that. I agree that attitude is important--the attitude of not really believing in the efficacy of the ceremonies. This is what Fung says re our passage. ‘We pray for rain, and divine before we make any important decision, because we want to express our anxiety. That is all. If we were to take prayer as really able to move the gods, or divination as being really able to make predictions about the future, this would result in superstition with all its consequences (p.150).’”

“There is a problematic quote coming up which Chan says looks like it contradicts what has gone before.”

“That is just great. There is nothing like an inconsistent opinion to knock over a nice tidy interpretation. Let’s hear it.”

"'If propriety and righteousness are not applied in the country, their accomplishments and fame would not shine. Therefore the destiny of man lies in Heaven, and the destiny of the state lies in propriety.’”

“I see. This looks like the inferior man is right after all--to want what comes from Heaven since that is where his destiny lies.”

“So we do have a contradiction! “

“What does he say next? Maybe that will clear up this problem.”

“He lists six questions he thinks we should consider. I think these two are the most germane. ‘Instead of regarding Heaven as great and admiring it, Why not foster it as a thing and regulate it? Instead of obeying Heaven and singing praise to it, why not control the Mandate of Heaven and use it?’”

“This answers our question about a contradiction. Now I don’t see any. If we would view the rule of propriety to be the constitution of the state, then of course the destiny of the state lies in its constitution, in following its fundamental laws. In China these would be based on Confucian philosophy so we see where Hsun Tzu is coming from in this respect. Heaven or Nature also follows laws, what we think of as the ‘laws of nature.’ If we understand the laws of nature we can use them to enhance our lives, such as knowing how to control floods, have better agricultural yields, cure disease, etc. That is what he means by ‘the destiny of man lies in Heaven’, he means in the study of its laws, in what we call science. When he says the inferior man just relies on what comes from Heaven he means that kind of man does not see Nature as an object to study and manipulation but, as Spinoza said, prefers ‘to gape at it like a fool.’ When Hsun Tzu said the philosopher cares about ‘what lies in himself and does not desire what comes from Heaven’ he means he doesn’t just wait around to see what happens in Nature. Again, like Spinoza said, he ‘desires as a wise man to understand Nature.’ He doesn’t just sit around and ‘desire’ Nature. He works at trying to understand and manipulate it.”

“Yes, that must be the meaning for he goes on to say, ‘Therefore to neglect human effort and admire Heaven is to miss the nature of things.’ And Chan follows this up with the comment, ‘Nowhere else in the history of Chinese thought is the idea of controlling nature so definite and so strong. It is a pity that this did not lead to a development of natural science. One explanation is that although Hsun Tzu enjoyed great prestige in the Han dynasty, his theory of overcoming nature was not strong enough to compete with the prevalent doctrine of harmony of man and nature, which both Confucianism and Taoism promoted.’”

“I think we have solved this problem of a potential contradiction in the Hsun Tzu.”

“Now we have a quote which shows that situation ethics, which you used to explain some of Mencius’ views, won’t do at all with respect to Hsun Tzu. Listen to this: ‘The [moral principles] that have remained unchanged through the time of all kings are sufficient to be the central thread running through the Way. Things come and go, but if they are responded to according to this central thread, one will find that the principle runs through all without any disorder. He who does not know this central thread does not know how to respond to changing conditions. The essential nature of the central thread has never ceased to be. Chaos is the result of a wrong application of the central thread, whereas order is the result of a complete application of it. For what is considered good according to the Way, namely, the Mean, should be followed.’”

“We will be dealing with a work called The Doctrine opf the Mean later Fred, but even so I think this quote does not mean that Hsun Tzu and Mencius are not reconcilable. I said Mencius was not an absolutist and you think this passage shows that Hsun Tzu was, but it is more complicated than that.”

“How so? Hsun Tzu definitely speaks of unchanged moral principals--that sounds absolutist to me.”

“I think ‘absolutist’ should be used to describe positions that consider both the moral position AND its application as unchanging. Hsun Tzu says that there is a ‘central thread’ but also ‘changing conditions’ and that while the ‘essential nature of the central thread’ doesn’t change only the person who knows how to apply it in ‘changing conditions’ really understands it. Say for a Christian that practicing agape is the central thread. That would be the unchanging moral principle. Now take the idea of ‘abortion’. Is it right or wrong to have an abortion? The Christian thinker would have to look at the situation of the person involved. Following agape the Christian might recommend an abortion to person A and not to person B. The central thread and unchanging moral principal isn’t ‘abortions are bad’ or vive versa but what agape requires. This is situational and is exactly what both Mencius and Hsun Tzu would advocate, except that jen (ren) is substituted for agape. In fact,I would maintain that stripped of the mythological shell that has congealed around its essential heart, Christianity boils down to jen and there is a dialectical identity with Confucianism.”


“Confucianism and Christianity are an identity in difference. They are the same in the same way that ice and steam are the same. They appear different but are really the same.”

“Well, that is a different conversation entirely Karl. But you have at least convinced me that Hsun Tzu is no absolutist in the way I originally thought.”

“That’s good.”

“Maybe we will get to your great theory after we finish with Chinese philosophy, but now there is one more point to be made regarding this chapter from the Hsun Tzu. Hsun Tzu makes a lot of comments about other philosophers both of his own times as well as the past. I’m not going into specific criticisms, the point to be made is the following observation by Chan. ‘that Hsun Tzu was the most critical of ancient Chinese philosophers. [And] that a great variety of thought and extreme freedom of discussion existed in ancient China, a situation comparable to that in ancient Greece.’”

“What is the next chapter in Chan’s translation?”

“The next one is chapter twenty two from the Hsun Tzu, Chan’s selection 2, ‘On the Rectification of Names.’”

“A major topic for the ancient Chinese. Please begin Fred.”

“ Hsun Tzu has reference to the olden days of the sage-kings when he writes, ‘Then the people were carefully led and unified. Therefore, the practice of splitting terms and arbitrarily creating names to confuse correct names, thus causing much doubt in people’s minds and bringing about much litigation, was called great wickedness. It was a crime, like private manufacturing of credentials and measurements, and therefore the people dared not rely on strange terms created to confuse correct names. Hence the people were honest.’”

“It looks as if this problem originally arose as a practical problem, a problem of the market place. Later, however, it became a more abstract philosophical problem of name rectification.”

“I agree. Hsun Tzu thinks that there are three issues involved here. He writes, ‘Should a true king appear, he would certainly retain some old names and create new ones. This being the case, [1] the reason for having names, [2] the causes for the similarities and differences in names, and [3] the fundamental principles on which names are instituted, must be clearly understood.’”

“What is the reason he gives for having names?”

“’ When different forms are separated from the mind and denote each other, and when different things are made mutually identified in name and actuality, the distinction between the noble and the humble is not clear and similarities and differences are not discriminated. Under such circumstances, there is bound to be danger that ideas will be misunderstood and work will encounter difficulty or be neglected. Therefore men of wisdom sought to establish distinctions and instituted names to indicate actualities, on the one hand clearly to distinguish the noble and the humble and, on the other, to discriminate between similarities and differences.’”

“That sounds like a good reason Fred. How does he account for the similarities and differences of names?”

“He says, ‘It is because of the natural organs. The organs of members of the same species with the same feelings perceive things in the same way. Therefore things are compared and those that are seemingly alike are generalized. ... The mind [actively] collects the knowledge of the senses. ...But the collection of knowledge must also depend on the natural organs first registering it according to its classification. If the five organs register it without knowing what it is, and the mind collects it without understanding it, then everyone says there is no knowledge. These are the causes for the similarities and differences in names.’”

“This sounds just like Hume’s theory of the ‘Association of Ideas!’ It is really amazing how philosophical traditions parallel one another!”

“What is this reference to Hume all about?”

“Hume thought that ideas also naturally associated. They would sort of stick together and the world would appear to us. Hume used Resemblance, Contiguity (in space and/or time) and Cause and Effect. But this even goes back as far as Plato. He spoke of Contiguity and Similarity [Resemblance] in the Phaedo [Reese, p. 443].”

“Well, based on this Karl, we come to the third point Hsun Tzu wanted to make. He continues, right after the last quote I read, ‘Then, accordingly, names are given to things. Similar things are given the same name and different things are given different names.’ But it is very important to note the following: ‘Names have no correctness on their own. The correctness is given by convention. When the convention is established and the custom is formed, they are called correct names. If they are contrary to convention, they are called incorrect names. Names have no corresponding actualities by themselves. The actualities ascribed to them are given by convention. When the convention is established and the custom is formed, they are called the names of such-and-such actualities.’”

“And yet, Fred, these conventions are not just arbitrary. If the conventions don’t somehow correspond to reality then names won’t be of much help!”

“Hsun Tzu next criticizes the ‘School of Names’--i.e., the so-called ‘Logicians.’ There are three big fallacies he wants to expose. So he begins. ‘”It is no disgrace to be insulted.” “The sage does not love himself.” “To kill a robber is not to kill a man.” These are examples of the fallacy of so using names as to confuse names.’“Mountains are on the same level as marshes. “The desires seek to be few.” “Tender meat adds nothing to sweet taste, and the great bell adds nothing to music.” These are examples of the fallacy of so using actualities as to confuse names.’ And now this famous example that you should remember from our previous discussion! ‘”A [white] horse is not a horse.’”Which he says is an example of the fallacy ‘of so using names as to confuse actualities.’ And finally the chapter ends with Chan’s comment about all this: ‘The rectification of names was a common topic of discussion among ancient Chinese philosophical schools. Only in Hsun Tzu, however, did it develop into some sort of systematic logical theory.... In fact, this is the nearest approach to logic in Ancient Chinese philosophy.’”

“Very informative indeed, Fred. So this brings us to the last excerpt from Chan, doesn’t it?”

“That’s right Karl. Chan’s ‘3. The Nature of Man is Evil’ from chapter 23 of the Hsun Tzu.’

“OK, lets get on with it. What are Hsun Tzu’s reasons for taking this diametrically opposed view to Mencius?”

“He says, ‘The nature of man is evil: his goodness is the result of his activity. Now, man’s inborn nature is to seek for gain.... By inborn nature one is envious and hates others.... If these tendencies are followed, lewdness and licentiousness result, and the pattern and order of propriety and righteousness disappear. Therefore to follow man’s nature and his feelings will inevitably result in strive and rapacity, combine with rebellion and disorder, and end in violence. Therefore there must be the civilizing influence of teachers and laws and the guidance of propriety and righteousness, and then it will result in deference and compliance, combine with pattern and order, and end in discipline. From this point of view, it is clear that the nature of man is evil and that his goodness is the result of his activity.’ And, he adds, ‘Crooked wood must be heated and
bent before it becomes straight.’”

“So much for the ‘Four Beginnings!’ But this is only assertion, just as in Mencius. Neither Hsun Tzu nor Mencius give any real arguments. Except that Mencius does give some examples such as preventing the child from falling into the well.”

“Chan points another big difference as well. ‘ In the Hsun Tzu, rules of propriety and law are often spoken of together, giving the impression that, unlike Confucius and Mencius who advocated propriety (li) as inner control, Hsun Tzu advocated it for external control. Thus rules of propriety shifted from being a means of personal moral cultivation to one of social control.’”

“Chan should have re-thought that one Fred. Propriety doesn’t just pop up in a person. These rules are culture specific and learned as we grow up. They are the result of the crooked wood being made straight. One of the ways that social control takes place is by having accepted rules of inner moral cultivation recognized as appropriate--i.e., this is what constitutes propriety.”

“I suppose you are right Karl. Now here is a frontal assault on Mencius! ‘Mencius said, “Man learns because his nature is good.” This is not true. He did not know the nature of man and did not understand the distinction between man’s nature and his effort. Man’s nature is the product of Nature; it cannot be learned and cannot be worked for. Propriety and righteousness are produced by the sage. They can be learned by men and can be accomplished through work. What is in man but cannot be learned or worked for is his nature. What is in him and can be learned and accomplished through work is what can be achieved through activity. This is the difference between human nature and human activity.”

“I see the distinction Hsun Tzu is trying to make, Fred, but I’m not sure this is really so different from Mencius! The Four Beginnings are, after all, potentialities that have to be cultivated by education. The seed has to be in the right soil.”

“Maybe this will make Hsun Tzu’s position clearer. In this passage he further contrasts Mencius’ views with his own. ‘By the original goodness of human nature is meant that man does not depart from his primitive character but makes it beautiful, and does not depart from his original capacity but utilizes it, so that beauty being [inherent] in his primitive character and goodness being [inherent] in his will are like clear vision being inherent in the eye and distinct hearing being inherent in the ear. Hence we say that the eye is clear and the ear is sharp.’ “

“So the question is, is this Mencian idea true or not. Left to his or her own devices a normal baby will grow up with “good” sight and “good” hearing. That is to say, normal senses. They won’t need any special training just to work and do their function. Hsun Tzu seems to think that Mencius’ view is that a baby will grow up morally ‘good’ as well because this kind of ‘goodness’, like the ability to see clearly, is just part of our ‘nature.’ But this is not a good analogy Fred. If you go back and look on page 66 of Chan you will find that Mencius says that when the Four Beginnings are properly developed they will work to protect you in life but if they are not developed they won’t.”

Fred flipped back some pages in Chan’s book. “Here is the quote, Karl. I’ll read it. ‘When they are fully developed, they will be sufficient to protect all people within the four seas (the world). If they are not developed, they will not be sufficient even to serve one’s parents.’”

“So you see the Four Beginnings are not like clear vision and sharp hearing. They have to be developed by outside means which can only be a Confucian educational program in the last analysis.”

“I am forced to agree Karl. But now let Hsun Tzu continue with his notion of ‘nature’ as he wants to contrast his own opinion to that of Mencius. ‘Now by nature man desires repletion when hungry,desires warmth when cold, and desires rest when tired. This is man’s natural feeling. But now when a man is hungry and sees some elders before him, he does not eat ahead of them but yields to them. When he is tired, he dares not seek rest because he wants to take over the work [of elders].... Deference and compliance are opposed to his natural feelings. From this point of view, it is clear that man’s nature is evil and that his goodness is the result of his activity.’”

“It is getting more complicated. Perhaps the word ‘raw’ should be substituted for ‘evil.’ Man’s raw uncultivated nature is egocentric and needs to be socialized. But this isn’t evil, its natural. I am surprised that Hsun Tzu, who is otherwise, a naturalist, is still animating Nature with a human moral concept! It is clear that by ‘activity’ he means edcucation. So the practical result of either his view or that of Mencius is that without education we are not going to get deference and compliance. The real question is , is education helped out, given a boost as it were, by something innate such as the Four Beginnings or Four Seeds, or how- ever you want to translate this conception.”

“We will have to go more deeply into Hsun Tzu’s thought to determine this Karl. I think he was aware of your kind of comment and has an answer to it.”

“OK then. Let’s hear some more of the Hsun Tzu.”

“'Someone may ask, “If man’s nature is evil, whence come propriety and righteousness?”I answer that all propriety and righteousness are results of activities of sages and not originally produced from man’s nature.’”

“And how did that come about?”

“He explains how that came about. ‘The sages gathered together their ideas and thoughts and became familiar with activity, facts and principles, and thus produced propriety and righteousness and instituted laws and systems.’ He goes on to point out the pleasures of the senses ‘are natural reactions to stimuli and do not require any work to be produced. But if the reaction is not naturally produced by the stimulus but requires work before it can be produced, then it is the result of activity. Here lies the evidence of the difference between what is produced by man’s nature and what is produced by his effort. Therefore the sages transformed man’s nature and aroused him to activity.’”

“I can see problems with this view Fred.”

“Just hold your horses. Hsun Tzu is going to give what he considers some evidence for his view. He thinks loving gain and profit is natural and talks about what would naturally happen if brothers have to divide up some property. ‘If they follow their natural feelings, they will love profit and seek gain, and thus will do violence to each other and grab the property. But if they are transformed by the civilizing influence of the pattern and order of propriety and righteousness, they will even yield to outsiders. Therefore, brothers will quarrel if they follow their original nature and feeling but, if they are transformed by righteousness and propriety, they will yield to outsiders.’”

“Are you done?”

“Not yet! I want to hammer this home as I think Hsun Tzu is on to something here. He says, ‘Now by nature a man does not originally possess propriety and righteousness; hence he makes strong effort to learn and seeks to have them. By nature he does not know propriety and righteousness; hence he thinks and deliberates and seeks to know them. Therefore, by what is inborn alone, man will not have or know propriety and righteousness. There will be disorder if man is without propriety and righteousness. There will be violence if he does not know propriety and righteousness. Consequently by what is inborn alone, disorder and violence are within man himself.’”

“Well, correct me, but didn’t Mencius only propose with his ‘Four Beginnings’ that the basis or potential for propriety and righteousness was inborn? He didn’t say propriety and righteousness were inborn. They are the result of edu-cation, which if neglected will lead to the greedy brothers Hsun Tzu speaks of.”

“Hsun Tzu obviously thinks Mencius had a stronger position, but I think you are right, at least from what we read in our Mencius discussion. Nevertheless,I want to continue with Hsun Tzu’s thought. I think you will discover that he anticipates your objection about the status of the Four Beginnings as mere potentialities.”

“So then, let us proceed!”

“He says, ‘Man’s nature is evil. Therefore the sages of antiquity, knowing that man’s nature is evil, that it is unbalanced and incorrect, that it is violent, disorderly, and undisciplined, established the authority of rulers to govern the people, set forth clearly propriety and righteousness to transform them, instituted laws and governmental measures to rule them, and made punishment severe to restrain them, so that all will result in good order and be in accord with goodness.”

“How nice. The Hobbesian rabble are running about unrestrained in a state of nature giving vent to their true inborn natures until they are domesticated by the sages. Only how did sages develop? How did they overcome their Hobbesian natures and arrive at propriety and righteousness? Who broke the natural order and taught them?”

“Before that can be answered, Hsun Tzu’s position must be further developed. ‘In any discussion, the important things are discrimination and evidence. One can then sit down and talk about things, propagate them, and put them into practice. Now Mencius said that man’s nature is good. He had neither discrimination nor evidence. He sat down and talked about the matter but rose and could neither propagate it nor put it into practice. Is this not going too far? Therefore if man’s nature is good, sage-kings can be done away with and propriety and righteousness can be stopped.’ And he goes on again about how bent wood has to be made straight while straight wood is naturally so.”

“These facile analogies go both ways. The bent wood could not be made straight if being straight was not potentially in it. Anyway, Hsun Tzu may have been correct about the propagation of Mencius’ view in his day, but as history developed the Mencian view trumped the view of Hsun Tzu. This is not an argument in favor of the truth of a view. Aristarchus of Samos developed what later became the Copernican view of the heliocentric solar system back in the Ancient World, but he could not propagate it and Ptolemy’s geocentric view won out until the time of the scientific revolution in the Seventeenth Century. Mencius did have evidence. Just remember the example of the child about to fall in the well--the most famous--and he gave other examples as well. So I don’t think this passage from Hsun Tzu holds water.”

“Now you will see,Karl, that Hsun Tzu was aware of your type of critique, but did not accept it. He says, ‘The questioner may say, “It is by the nature of man that propriety and righteousness [can be produced] through accumulated effort and hence the sages can produce them.” I answer that this is not true. The potter pounds the clay and produces the the pottery. Is the pottery [inherent] in the nature of the potter?... What the sages have done to propriety and righteousness is analogous to the potter’s pounding and producing the pottery.... With reference to the nature of man .... It is the same in the superior or inferior man.... As effort is aroused, propriety and righteousness are produced. Thus the relation between the sages and propriety and righteousness produced through accumulated effort, is like the potter pounding the clay to produce the pottery. From this point of view, is it by the nature of man that propriety and righteousness are produced through accumulated effort.... [Inferior men] are despised because they give reign to their nature, follow their feelings, and enjoy indulgence, and lead to the greed for gain, to quarrels and rapacity. It is clear that man’s nature is evil and that his goodness is the result of his activity.’”

“The problem with Hsun Tzu’s position here is that it cannot explain how the sages originally got going. If the nature of man is evil then all humans would be evil and self indulgent and no one would be putting out any accumulated effort to develop propriety and righteousness. We would still be running around like animals. Mencius’ position, however, allows for the show to get on the road. If the Four Beginnings are there waiting to be developed, then we can have a primal horde running about, splitting up into other hordes and the individuals finding themselves in all sorts of different existential situations some of which begin to trigger the Four Beginnings which by accumulated effort lead to being a sage and promulgating propriety and righteousness. But I can’t see how this can come about without the Four Beginnings in the first place. They have to be there as Mencius indicates in potentia, so Hsun Tzu is just wrong about this. The Four Beginnings must be accepted as a logical prerequisite to get the Confucian system started.”

“With regard to what you have just said Karl, listen to Hsun Tzu’s explication of the following old saying. ‘”Any man in the street can become (sage-king) Yu.” What does this ancient saying mean? I say that Yu became sage-king Yu because he practiced humanity, righteousness, laws, and correct principles. This shows that these can be known and practiced. Every man in the street possesses the faculty to know them and the capacity to practice them. This being the case, it is clear that every man can be Yu.’”

“Well there you have it. The Four Beginnings are just the faculty that we have to practice the ‘good.’ I will grant this to Hsun Tzu. That while he is wrong to say the nature of man is evil, Mencius is also wrong to say that the nature of man is good. They should have both said that man has a nature that has the capacity to be good or evil depending on the circumstances. Listen to these observations from Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics. He says, ‘Virtue, then, is of two kinds, of thought and of character--of thought comes thru experience and time and is the result of teaching, while virtue of character is the result of habit. Clearly, therefore, by nature, we get none of the virtues of character [1103a15]. The virtues do not arise in us either thru nature or contrary to nature. But we can by nature attain them and achieve complete perfection by means of habit [1103a25].’ And Aristotle also holds that what is by nature cannot be overcome by habit so that if people were either good or evil by nature nothing could make them different from what they are. Habit can be inculcated by education. So, this dispute on the nature of humans between Mencius and Hsun Tzu is a non issue. Neither of our sages has the right answer. We have the capacity to be either ‘good’ or ‘evil’-- which are social determinations anyway (for the most part). But they are both right as they believe that it takes (Confucian) education to bring about the ‘good’. Their positions are really the same and their so-called dispute is just one of words not of actualities. I think, therefore, we can keep the expression the ‘Four Beginnings’ in our philosophical termminology, but not in the sense that it implies man is ‘innately good’.”

“I can’t disagree with you Karl. I think you have hit the nail on the head! Just a few more quotes from Hsun Tzu, now, to answer the question that if everyone can become sage why don’t they do so. Hsun Tzu’s reply is, ‘An inferior man can become a superior man, but he does not want to. A superior man can become an inferior man, but he does not want to. It is not that they cannot become each other. They do not do so because they do not want to. It is possible for every man to become Yu, but it does not follow that every man in the street is able actually to do so. However, the fact that he is not able actually to do so does not destroy the possibility of his doing so.’”

“I don’t think this is wrong, and it does not contradict my views at all. It is all of a piece with Mencius’ view that every man can be like Yao and Shun, also sage-kings from the past.”

“Finally, Hsun Tzu concludes, ‘There is a great difference between what is possible on the one hand, and what is actually able to be done on the other.’”

“Amen. If that is the end of our discussion of the Hsun Tzu, then I propose we next discuss Han Fei Tzu and the legalists.”

“That’s fine. Lets go have lunch at The Violet and come back here in a couple of hours.”

copyright 2008 by Thomas Riggins

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Alan Greenspan Today


Thomas Riggins

The melt down of the world financial system is a good back drop for these reflections on the introduction to Alan Greenspan's 2007 memoir. His book THE AGE OF TURBULENCE is subtitled, “Adventures In A New World.” The “New World” that Greenspan now finds himself in is, however, not the world of his dreams but the old world found in the pages of DAS KAPITAL.

Greenspan makes an interesting observation with respect to the brief panic that ensued after 9/11. The worst result of the attack could have been the collapse of the financial system, which he thought “highly unlikely.” He writes that, “The Federal Reserve is in charge of the electronic payment systems that transfer more than $4 trillion a day in money and securities between banks all over the country and much of the rest of the world.” Greenspan was worried because “We’d always thought that if you wanted to cripple the U.S. economy, you’d take out the payment systems.”

Well, Mr. Greenspan didn’t have to worry about al-Qaeda taking out the financial system since it was brought down, unlike the Twin Towers, by an inside job. If he had paid more attention to Karl Marx than to Ayn Rand he would have known that the financial collapse of world capitalism will be brought about by its own internal contradictions (the greatest of which is the private control of socially created wealth) not by attack from without.

It's the economist and political leader Sam Webb, not Alan Greenspan, that hits the nail on the head when he writes, "The prevailing ideologies and practices that have driven U.S. capitalism for the past three decades have run up against their own contradictions and conjured up new and old oppositional forces both domestically and internationally."--PEOPLE'S WEEKLY WORLD, Oct. 4-10, 2008

A few pages further on Greenspan makes this announcement about the 9/11 attacks. “President Bush rallied the nation with what will likely go down as the most effective speech of his presidency. ‘America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world,’ he said. ‘And no one will keep that light from shining.

What is wrong with this is, besides the fact Bush and his bipartisan Congress are the ones most responsible for dimming the light of freedom, it misrepresents the reasons for the attack. Al-Qaeda listed specific aspects of American foreign policy that led it it to attack the U.S. It objected to our troops being stationed in Saudi Arabia (and Bush moved them out) and it objected to our Middle East policies including our uncritical (except for some window dressing) support of Israel and of unrepresentative dictatorial regimes in the region.

Bush’s speech was vapid propaganda designed to mislead the American people and lay the foundation for invading Iraq, an enemy of al-Qaeda in the region, in order to try and control its oil reserves. With the obliging cooperation of the mass media the American people were in fact misled.

At any rate, Greenspan thinks the post 9/11 world is a "new world." It is "the world of a global capitalist economy that is vastly more flexible, resilient, open, self-correcting, and fast-changing than it was even a quarter century earlier." His book, he tells us, "is my attempt to understand the nature of this new world."

Well, his book came out in 2007 and here we are in 2008 with Greenspan's resilient and self-correcting "new world" pretty much on the scrap heap. In fact we have to go back three quarters (not a quarter) of a century to be able to understand the "global capitalist economy."

Needless to say, when Greenspan tells us that at the end of his book he "will bring together what we can reasonably conjecture about the makeup of the world economy in 2030," he has taken the fatal plunge taken by all utopian thinkers trying to see into the future. If you can't see from 2007 to 2008 I doubt that you have anything to say about 2030. The Oracle has run out of gas.

I don't mean to rub it in, but this "Introduction" still has a lot of juice to squeeze out. He says, for example, "The defining moment for the world's economies was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, revealing a state of economic ruin behind the iron curtain far beyond the expectations of the most knowledgeable Western economists." Careful, Alan, de te fabula narrantur, as the exact same words could be applied to the fall of the American housing and mortgage markets in 2008.

He also tells us, "Central planning was no longer a subject for debate.... it was dropped from the world's economic agenda." Well guess what? The debate is coming back. It was lack of planning that led to the current mess and it the lack of some central plan that prevents us from seeing the best way out of it. The international collapse of the financial system has also flummoxed European and Asian powers because they can't agree on a way forward. They seriously need some central planning.

Greenspan is just warming up! We are told, "The reinstatement of open markets and free trade during the past quarter century has elevated many hundreds of millions of the world population from poverty. Admittedly many others around the globe are still in need, but large segments of the developing world's population have come to experience a measure of affluence [he's talking about $2.00 a day] long the monopoly of so-called developed countries."

What a difference a year makes. These gains are being wiped out by the current crisis and the spiraling cost of food. Where the gains remain strongest, and where most of them occurred, is in China whose "socialist market economy" does not qualify yet, by Greenspan's economic philosophy, as an "open market"-- it is too regulated. [He has a whole chapter on China, #14, which I hope to review later.]

"If the story of the past quarter of a century has a one-line plot summary," Greenspan writes, "it is the rediscovery of the power of market capitalism." But this time the past is not prelude, as the story of the next quarter century will be the rediscovery of the power of regulated capitalism, moves towards economic central planning and the growth of socialist and communist parties moving towards the eventual socialization of the means of production as the only way to eliminate global poverty and environmental destruction.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

John Searle: Common Sense and Marxism

Thomas Riggins

John Searle is a well known Oxford educated American philosopher who has been writing and publishing for over fifty years. His latest book is a small tome (128 pages) entitled “Freedom and Neurobiology” and these remarks are based on David Papineau’s review in the TLS of 18 January 2008 (“How We Fit In”). Papineau tells us it is a good lead into Searle’s current philosophical concerns.

We are told that these concerns are to find “a place for humanity within the world described by basic science.” This concern is not unlike that of Wilfrid Sellars whose views I posted in an earlier blog.

Back in the 50s Searle was brought up in the school of linguistic philosophy practiced at Oxford. Ordinary language “embodies the accumulated wisdom [and one might add the foolishness] of past generations.” By the 1980s, according to Papineau, he had moved away from the philosophy of language to that of mind “with language merely the medium by which we make thought public.”

Papineau points out that Searle’s goal of telling us how we “fit in” to the world described by science would not be supported by most practitioners of Oxford philosophy as they are “deeply unscientific” and don’t see how science can help us understand people’s daily activities. This is very unlike Marxism, by the way, which looks to science to explain our relation to the universe and everyday life.

Although Searle has moved beyond Oxford philosophy he shares with it a reliance on "common sense" outlooks over those of complicated philosophical theories. This is just a preference according to Papineau, and it can "sometimes look little more than refusal to address real questions."

The problem of "consciousness" is an example. Papineau points out that Searle rejects both of the commonest current views on it, namely MATERIALISM (consciousness is just what goes on in the brain) and DUALISM (consciousness is "an additional non-physical element of reality": the brain may be responsible for consciousness but our subjective awareness is not the same as chemical reactions in the brain.)

Searle thinks both views go against common sense but he doesn't come up with a coherent alternative third view, according to Papineau, and this suggests that "common sense is leading us astray somewhere." Searle has a similar problem trying to explain "free will" in terms of "common sense." It seems that we have a free will and this means determinism must be wrong somewhere along the line. Searle appeals to quantum mechanics to explain how consciousness can make choices as a result of the indeterminacy principle working on the quantum level in the brain.

Papineau explodes this theory by pointing out that in quantum mechanics "the probabilities of physical effects are always fixed by prior physical circumstances." Papineau doubts that physicists are going "to start looking for violations of quantum mechanics inside the human skull."

Searle has some strange, for Marxists, theories about politics which he discusses in this book. Papineau reports that he says "political power derives from the duties, obligations, permissions and privileges that come with the collective ascription of 'status functions.'" Thus Searle writes that political power "comes from the bottom up." He means that as long as the governed believe that the rulers should have the status they have as rulers they will have it.

This boils down to "rulers rule because the people accept being ruled by the rulers." Papineau thinks these ideas are developed "with originality and flair" but I can't agree. I don't think Searle has said anything meaningful at all. The Pharaoh rules in Egypt because the Egyptians think the Pharaoh should rule, therefore political power comes from the bottom up. That doesn't tell us anything about how the power of the Pharaoh came about, how it was maintained, how the people were led to believe in it, and what social forces and levels of production brought it about and made the ideology that supported it prevail.

How did the rulers of the USSR and of apartheid South Africa lose their power. Searle writes, "In both cases, as far as I can tell, the key element in the collapse of the system of status functions was the withdrawal of acceptance by large numbers of people involved." The key question for Marxists is not THAT people withdrew support of "status functions" but WHY. In the case of the USSR it is even doubtful that they did as in the only so called "free" election (by Western standards) before the collapse the majority expressed a desire to maintain the USSR and not dissolve it.

Papineau laments the fact that Searle's political philosophy rests too much on his own "common sense" and that he ignores the insights of thinkers in the sociology tradition [not to mention Marx and Engels]. Searle mentions in passing Simmel, Durkheim and Weber but remarks the he doesn't think they had much to say about the unique status of institutions. Papineau begs to differ and says, for example, Weber concerned himself with this aspect of political philosophy, citing Weber's definition of the state as an example: The state is a "community that successfully claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force."

Again, for Marxists the question is: what is that claim based on, what is its justification? Papineau himself recognizes that "legitimacy need only be successfully claimed, not endorsed." This would seem to conflict with Searle's "bottom up" views.

All criticism aside, Papineau concludes that Searle is well worth reading as he has made philosophy accessible to the non specialized reading public. He states, truthfully, that "philosophy has become a dry technical business" and that the majority of philosophers "write only for other philosophers about issues that can accurately be termed scholastic." Since understanding philosophical propositions is basic to understanding Marxist thought anyone who demystifies philosophy should be appreciated and Searle at least does that. When we propose Marxist alternatives to some of his ideas we at least have his ideas clearly stated and argued for. But, Marxism leavened by common sense is still the best tool for understanding the complexities of the modern world.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Thomas Riggins



“So, Fred, are you ready to begin our discussion of the Logicians of ancient China?”

“Yes, I am. First thing we should note is what Chan says about this school [Source Book in Chinese Philosophy]. He points out that ‘logic’ as a special subject was never in vogue in China. No Chinese Aristotle ever developed logic as a separate science. The school we call the ‘Logicians’ (primarily the two thinkers Hui Shih and Kung-sun Lung) was the only one devoted to what we might call ‘logic’ per se and ‘it constituted one of the smallest schools and exercised no influence whatsoever’ on the later development of philosophy in China.”

“Let me add a few words from Fung Yu-lan [Short History of Chinese Philosophy], Fred. He says the school was founded by the ancient Chinese ‘lawyers.’ Like all lawyers, winning one’s case was more important to them than some abstract ‘truth.’ While the two thinkers you just mentioned were the most famous, there were many lesser lights associated with this movement. They seem to have formed a group analogous to the Sophists in Ancient Greece. What is interesting is that Fung describes the contemporary opinion about one of these (Teng Hsi) with almost the same words used in the indictment of Socrates as recorded in Plato’s Apology. That is, Teng Hsi ‘succeeded in changing right into wrong and wrong into right, until no standards of right and wrong remained, so that what was regarded as possible and impossible fluctuated from day to day.’ And Plato wrote that Anytus charged Socrates by saying ‘he makes the worse into the stronger argument, and he teaches these same things to others’ ( Apology 19b).”

“Chan tells us also that Hui Shih (c. 380-305 B.C.) used to hang out with Chuang Tzu. Hui was a relativist holding just the opposite position of his fellow ‘sophist’ Kung-sun Lung who was an ‘absolutist.’ This shows there was no uninimity in this school. The Chinese call it ‘The School of Names’ as the members seem to be squabbling over what names to apply to things. Not much of Hui’s works have survived, just some quotes in other people’s works, especially Chuang’s. As a result of this we can’t make any sense of his writings since was has come down to us are a lot of paradoxes but none of Hui’s reasons or explanations of them. Their writings are so corrupted that it is almost impossible to figure out what they meant.”

“Fung makes the same point.”

“Here is what Chuang Tzu said: ‘Hui Shih had many tricks. His books filled five carts. His doctrines are contradictory and his sayings miss the truth.’”

“Before going any further Fred, I want to point out what Fung says is the root of the problem that these thinkers were dealing with. This is the distinction between two Chinese words meaning ‘name’ (ming) and ‘actuality (shih). If we remember that Confucius was interested in the ‘Rectification of Names’, we can see that philosophy must deal with the proper relation between language and reality so that we will not misunderstand the nature of the world by being misled by the use of language to incorrectly describe reality.”

“Well, Karl, here are some of the statements of Hui Shih that have survived. The first one, there are thirty one preserved in the Chuang Tzu, has a Taoist flavor: ‘The greatest has nothing beyond itself: it is called the great unit. The smallest has nothing within itself; it is called the small unit.’ I will now quote a few more of these propositions from Chan. I have selected those that I think we can make some sense out of in discussion.”

“Lets hear them.”

“Here goes: ‘5.) A great similarity is different from a small similarity; this is called the lesser similarity-and-difference. All things are similar to one another and different from one another; this is called the great similarity-and-difference. 6.) The South has no limit and yet has a limit. 10.) Love all things extensively. Heaven and earth form one body. 21.) Take a stick one foot long and cut it in half every day and you will never exhaust it even after ten thousand generations.’ That's it Karl.”

“That's it? Only four out of the thirty one?”

“If you don’t believe me I’ll give a few examples of the remaining quotes. They are are more or less just like these. But first note that the quotes are in two groups of 1-10 and 1-21.All the above quotes except the last come from the first group. The ones I’m giving now come from the second. ‘1.) The egg has hair; 5.) The horse has eggs; 10.) The eye does not see; 15) The shadow of a flying bird never moves; 20.) An orphan colt has never had a mother.’”

“In other words, most of what remains doesn’t make any sense.”

“That's right Karl, and Chan leaves it at that basically. He then moves on to The Kung-sun Lung Tzu.”

“Before we go there, perhaps Fung Yu-lan can throw a little light on Hui Shih. In his Short History he maintains that what Hui is trying to do is articulate a theory of relativism. He is, I might add, like Heraclitus ‘the obscure’ whose fragments are also often unintelligible--because they are fragments. Anyway, Fung gives some interpretations, of which I will quote a few, to back up his view. He also leaves many of the positions unremarked, however. Here is what he says about #5 in the first group. If we take people, for instance, (we could take anything) they are similar--being part of the ‘universal’ concept ‘human being’ but also different in each being an ‘individual.’ “Thus since we can say that all things are similar to each other, and yet can also say that all things are different from each other, this shows that their similarity and difference are both relative. This argument of the School of Names was a famous one in ancient China, and was known as the “argument for the unity of similarity and difference”[Fung:1948:86].’”

“Most interesting.”

“Wait, there is more. Look at #6 above, about the limit of the South. Fung points out that the ancient Chinese didn’t know much about the South. They thought it just ‘went on’. Hui Shih probably knew better. At any rate its a good example of Fung’s relativity interpretation as , ‘Most probably, however, it means to say that the limited and the unlimited are both only relatively so.’ Also #10 in the first group, about loving all things equally. ‘Hui Shih argues that all things are relative and in a state of flux. There is no absolute difference, or absolute separation among them. Everything is constantly changing into something else. It is a logical conclusion, therefore, that all things are one, and hence that we should love all things equally without discrimination [Ibid., p.87].’ Of course the trouble with this is that everything is also not one (to be a consistent flux- relativist) so we should love everything both equally and with discrimination! To op for just one of the alternatives is to make an absolutist commitment. There, Fred, I have just set you up for Kung-sun Lung!”

“The Kung-sun Lung Tzu is very brief, only six confusing chapters. I’m going to go over what I got out of it and you can use Fung to explicate what's really going on.”

“I’ll give it a shot.”

“The book is in a question and answer dialogue form just like our discussion. ‘A’ asks questions and ‘B’ gives the answers of Kung-sun Lung. By the way, he lived around 380 to 305 B.C. just like Hui. His most famous pronouncement is ‘A white horse is not a horse.’ All the quotes are from Chan’s translation. This is from !) ‘On the White Horse.’ And the reason he says this is,”Because “horse” denotes the form and “white denotes the color. What denotes the color does not denote the form. Therefore we say a white horse is not a horse.’ But since all horses have color ‘A’ asks if there are no horses in the world. He gets this response, ‘Horses of course have color. Therefore there are white horses. If horses had no color, there would simply be horses. Where do white horses come in? Therefore whiteness is different from horse. A white horse means a horse combined with whiteness. [Thus in one case it is] horse and [in the other it is] a white horse. Therefore we say that a white horse is not a horse.’ “

“its beginning to make sense, sort of.”

“It gets better. ‘A’ now says, ‘[Since you say that] before the horse is combined with whiteness, it is simply a horse, before whiteness is combined with horse it is simply, and when the horse and whiteness are combined they are collectively called a white horse, you are calling a combination by what is not a combination. This is incorrect. Therefore it is incorrect to say that a white horse is not a horse.’ Chan says this sentence is unclear.”

“His translation makes sense, but not the logic. It seems as if it means whiteness is not a combination, nor is horse, so you can’t make a combination from two non-combinations but this is just going against the way the word ‘combination’ is used in language.”

“A also makes this critique, “[When we say that] a white horse cannot be said to be not a horse, we are separating the whiteness from the horse. If [the whiteness] is not separated from the horse, then there would be a white horse and we would not say there is [just] a horse. Therefore when we say that there is a horse, we do so simply because it is a horse and not because it is a white horse.’ And the reply by ‘B’ is, ‘The term “horse” does not involve any choice of color and therefore either a yellow horse or a black one may answer. But the term “white horse” does involve a choice of color. Both the yellow horse and the black one are excluded because of their color. Only a white horse may answer. What does not exclude [color] is not the same as what excludes [color]. Therefore we say that a white horse is not a horse.’”

“He is making a distinction between universals. The universal ‘horse’ is different from the universal ‘white horse.’ That is clear. Horse is one universal [general idea] and white horse is a combination of two universals, ‘white’ and ‘horse.’ I get this from Fung’s comments on the Platonic universal which he says is what Kung-sun Lung has in mind.
This was in his discussion of Chan’s ‘2. On Marks (chih) and Things.’”

“I didn’t go over it because Chan says the text is so corrupt no one can figure out what it actually means.”

“What do you want to go over?”

“This from ‘3. On the Explanation of Change.’ You tell me what is anyone to make of the following pronouncements? ‘A horse has a mane but both a ram and an ox have none. Therefore I say that a ram and an ox together are not a horse. By that I mean there is no horse [in this case]. As there is no horse, neither a ram nor an ox is two, but a ram and an ox are two. Consequently it is correct to say that a ram and an ox together are not a horse.’ And this is also note worthy. ‘When we speak of an ox or a ram’s leg [as such], it is one. But when we count their [particular] legs, they are four. Four and one put together make five. This a ram or an ox have five legs while a fowl has three. Therefore I say that an ox or a ram together are not a fowl. There is no other reason that [an ox or a ram] are not a fowl.’ And if this not enough, there is this gem from a discussion about colors. Here he is explaining why white and green don’t mix to become yellow. They have different positions. Here is green, here is white. So they can’t mix because left and right cannot be mixed, ‘Therefore it is impossible to unite [white] with green, nor is it possible to unite [green] with white. Then where does yellow come in? Yellow is a standard color, and can be given as a correct case. This is likethe relation between the ruler (corresponding to white) and the minister (corresponding to green) in the state (corresponding to yellow). Hence there are health and long life.’ So what do you make of all this?”

“You know Fred, these paradoxes have often been compared to those of Zeno in Ancient Greece. You know, the arrow can never hit the target because it first has to go half way, but first it must go one quarter way, but first one eighth, etc., ad infinitum so it never gets to go anywhere.”

“So the moving arrow doesn’t move, as Kung-sun Lung might say.”

“Exactly. These people were just beginning to fool around with logic and the literal meaning of words and the relations of concepts to things. As you noted, formal logical studies never got off the ground in China. If these statements seem nonsensical it is because they are, but not simply due to their being nonsense. These are aborted attempts to come to grips with the relation between language and reality. As Bertrand Russell said in another context ( a critique of Plato’s theory of Ideas): ‘Such troubles are among the infantile diseases of philosophy ‘(Russell:1945, p. 129 of HWP).”

“The next section, number 4 in Chan, is called ‘On Hardness and Whiteness.’ Using the logicians now familiar way of speaking, Kung-sun Lung is asked if hardness, whiteness and stone make three. The answer is they don’t. Stone and whiteness make two as do stone and hardness. Why? Because different senses are involved. Hardness doesn’t exist for seeing nor whiteness for touch. He says, ‘Whether one perceives the whiteness [of the stone] or perceives the hardness [of the stone] depends on whether one sees or not. Seeing and not seeing are separate from each other. Neither one perceives the other, and therefore they are separate. To be separate means to be hidden.’ I guess that means ‘hidden’ from the other senses. We should also note that he says hardness and whiteness are common to many things not just the stone. He adds, ‘As it does not have to be combined with things to be hardness, it is hardness by necessity of its being hardness.’”

“This sound like a universal to me Fred.”

“He becomes more obscure. ‘If whiteness is necessarily white, it is then white not because it is the whiteness of a thing. It is the same with yellow and black. However the stone is no longer there. How can we speak of a hard stone or a white stone? Therefore they are separate.’”

“Fung has some interesting comments on all this.”

“OK, but save them. Chan has comments on Fung’s comments, but there is one last interesting section, and this one I can even understand (sort of).”

“Well then, by all means, lets hear it.”

“It’s Chan’s number 5, ‘On Names and Actually.’ Kung-sun Lung says, ‘Heaven, earth, and their products are all things. When things possess the characteristics of things without exceeding them, there is actuality. When actuality actually fulfills its function as actuality, without wanting, there is order. To be out of order is to fall into disorder.To remain in order is to be correct. What is correct is used to rectify what is incorrect. [What is incorrect is not used to] doubt what is correct. To rectify is to rectify actuality, and to rectify actually is to rectify the name corresponding to it.’ He goes on about the ‘this’ and the ‘that’, like the Hegel example you used in the beginning of our discussion on Chuang Tzu, but we don’t really have to go there.”

“I like this passage Fred. It is the good old ‘Rectification of Names’ program we have seen so many times before. If we use words correctly we should not have too many philosophical or practical problems that we don’t understand. This program for the rectification of names is similar to Wittgenstein’s idea that the purpose of philosophy was to show ‘the fly the way out of the fly bottle.’ Which is to say, that we can’t get out of philosophical predicaments until we start using the proper meanings for
words and concepts.”

“You said Fung had some comments you wanted to present.”

“Just for the record. Then you can give Chan’s comments on Fung.”


“This is from the section ‘Significance of the Theories of Hui Shih and Kung-sun Lung’ from his chapter on the School of Names in the Short History. Fung says, ‘In Chinese philosophy a distinction is made between “being that lies within shapes and features,” and “being that lies beyond shapes and features.” “Being that lies within shapes and features” is the actual. the shih. For instance, the big and the small, the square and the round, the long and the short, the white and the black, are each one class of shapes and features. Anything that is the object or possible object of experience has shape and feature, and lies within the actual world. Conversely, any object in the actual world that has shape and feature is the object or possible object of experience.’ In the above quotes from Kung-sun Lung, he was discussing what lies beyond shapes and features, because, says Fung, ‘the universals he discussed can... not be objects of experience. One can see a white something, but one cannot see the universal whiteness as such.’”

“Chan objects to Fung’s use of the term ‘universal’ in Kung-sun Lung’s philosophy. Chan maintains the word at issue (chih) which he renders as ‘marks” as in ‘Marks are what do not exist in the world, but things are what do exist in the world’ ( #2 ‘On Marks (chih) and Things’) is a better translation than ‘Universals are what do not exist in the world, but things [particulars] are what do exist in the world.’ Chan says, ‘The word chih has so many meanings that scholars have found it easy and even tempting to read their own philosophies into Kung-sun Lung.... But the text is simply too corrupt to enable anyone to be absolutely sure [of the meaning of chih].’ Chan thinks Fung is guilty of falling into this temptation. He says Fung ‘is reading the Kung-sun Lung Tzu in the framework of the Neo-realists to who particulars exist while universals subsist.’ But again it all hinges on the uncertain meaning of chih.”

“That's very interesting. Here is a bit of info from Reese [Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion] with respect to ‘existence’ and ‘subsistence.’ ‘In chapter nine of Problems of Philosophy [Bertrand] Russell discussed [these] two categories. We say of objects that they exist, he suggested, and of universals that they subsist, i.e., have a timeless being (Reese, 1980:555).’ But I don’t want to get into Neo-realism. We will eventually get to Fung’s philosophy itself. Here, I only want to say that Fung’s interpretation is one possible interpretation and it has only its usefulness in interpreting the history of Chinese philosophical development in its favor. The School of Names, however, is not an end but a beginning to these problems. I am going to give Fung the last word in this discussion. “Hui Shih spoke of “loving all things equally,” and Kung-sun Lung also “wished to extend his argument in order to correct the relations between names and actualities, so, as thus to transform the whole world.” Both men thus apparently considered their philosophy as comprising the “Tao of sageliness within and kingliness without.” But it was left to the Taoists fully to apply the discovery made by the School of Names of what lies beyond shapes and features. The Taoists were the opponents of this school, but they were also its true inheritors.’”

“So it's Taoism rather than either Moism or Confucianism that the School of Names people had the most influence on.”

“It would seem to be so, according to Fung. Yet Kung-sun Lung’s discussion on the rectification of names is, I think, fully in accord with the ideas of Confucius. But this doesn’t mean Fung’s assessment is off base. I think it shows that the School of Names was influenced by Confucius and tried to give a more technical account of what might be involved in name rectification.”

“This was the shortest discussion so far, Karl. We can knock off early and start fresh tomorrow with your favorite Confucian.”

“Hsun Tzu! Its about time.”

“See you after breakfast. How about back here at 10:00AM?”

“See you then.”