Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Thomas Riggins

Number 12 in a series of discussions on Chinese Philosophy

“Well Fred, what do you think of Tung Chung-shu?”

“He doesn’t seem to be as important as the thinkers we have looked at. Chan [Source Book in Chinese Philosophy] says he appears to be of little philosophical value but that he played an important historical role.”

“He’s right about that. Tung lived from around 179 to 104 BC and was a major player in getting the Han Dynasty to adopt Confucianism as the official philosophy of China in 136 BC.”

“I know. Chan says this lasted right up until 1905 AD. I think it was the emperor Han Wu-ti who established it.”

“Yes, and Tung was the mastermind behind it all. I’m looking at the Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion and it says Tung constructed his brand of philosophy synthesizing together three things.”

“Confucianism and what else?”

“He added ideas from the old Yin Yang School based in the I Ching mixed together with ideas about the five elements (wu-hsing)--i.e., water, fire, wood, metal and earth.”

“Sort of like Empedocles’ four elements in Ancient Greece-- only adding wood and metal and not having air.”

“This was originally a separate philosophical tradition based on the energy transformations of the five elements but by the time of the Han Dynasty it had been subsumed into the Yin Yang School.”

“Chan says he based himself on the Spring and Autumn Annals supposedly written by Confucius! His own work, a collection of brief essays on various topics, he called Ch’un-ch’iu fan-lu: Luxuriant Gems of the Spring and Autumn Annals. Chan says his fame as a great Confucianist lasted for hundreds of years.”

“Why don’t you read some of the quotes I see you have taken down from Tung’s Luxuriant Gems and we will see if his reputation is warranted?”

“OK, but don’t be disappointed if he isn’t up to snuff.”

“Get on with it!”

“Here goes. I'm beginning with Tung’s chapter 35 in Chan: ‘The Spring and Autumn Annals examines the principles of things and rectifies their names. It applies names to things as they really are, without making the slightest mistake. Therefore in mentioning [the strange event of] falling meteorites, it mentions the number five afterward [because the meteorites were seen first and their number discovered later], whereas in mentioning the [ominous event of] fishhawks flying backwards, it mentions the number six first [because six birds were first seen flying away and upon a closer look it was found they were fishhawks].’”

“Well, he right to emphasize the ‘rectification of names’. Like modern philosophical analysis, Tung thinks philosophical (and practical) problems will solve themselves by proper use of language. But, he violates the PRIME DIRECTIVE by saying Confucius does this ‘without making the slightest mistake.’ This sounds more like a quasi-religious faith commitment rather than a model for philosophical inquiry. And what's with the backward flying fishhawks?”

“Chan indicates that the original Annals recounts this as an omen-- i.e., that six backwards flying fishhawks flew over the capital of Sung in 642 BC.”

“I see. But that is well before the time of Confucius, so I don’t see how Tung could believe that Confucius, the putative author (real author unknown) of the Annals, wrote them without ‘making the slightest mistake.’”

“Next Tung says, ‘It is the mind that keeps the various evil things within so that they cannot be expressed outside. Therefore the mind (hsin) is called the weak (jen). If in the endowment of material force (ch’i) one is free from evil, why should the mind keep anything weak?.... Heaven has its dual operation of yin and yang (passive and active cosmic forces), and the person also has his dual nature of humanity and greed.... [The way of man] and the Way of Heaven are the same. Consequently as yin functions, it cannot interfere with spring and summer (which correspond to yang), and the full moon is always overwhelmed by sunlight, so that at one moment it is full and at another it is not. This is the way Heaven restricts the operation of yin. How can [man] not reduce his desires and stop his feelings (both corresponding to yin) in order to respond to Heaven? As the person restricts what Heaven restricts, it is therefore said that the person is similar to Heaven. To restrict what Heaven restricts is not to restrict Heaven itself. We must know that without training our nature endowed by Heaven cannot in the final analysis make [the feelings and the desires] weak.’”

“This doesn’t sound too bad. It is the typical Confucian emphasis on training.”

“Chan has a comment here. He says, ‘Tung’s own theory is unique: there is goodness in human nature, but it is only the beginning of goodness and it requires training to be realized. His whole emphasis is on education.’”

“I don’t see what is so unique about that. Mencius can be interpreted this way, maybe even Hsun Tzu.”

“As an analogy, Tung says, ‘Therefore man’s nature may be compared to the rice stalks and goodness to rice. Rice comes out of the rice stalk but not all the stalk becomes rice. Similarly, goodness comes out of nature but not all nature becomes good.’”

“Well I guess that is not Mencius. I think Mencius would say the rice stalk is good and that is why the rice is good, unless the rice is spoiled by lack of education or an inadequate social system.”

“Karl, I think Nature, Heaven, is neutral about ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ Here is Tung again: ‘If we inquire into principles according to their names and appellations, we shall understand. Thus names and appellations are to be rectified in accordance with [the principles] of Heaven and Earth.... If we say that nature is already good, what can we say about feelings [which are sources of evil]? Therefore the Sage never said that nature is good, for to say so would be to violate the correctness of the name.’”

“I think that proves your point Fred. Nature is neutral and education is needed. Is Tung more specific?”

“He goes on: ‘It is the true character of Heaven that nature needs to be trained before becoming good. Since Heaven has produced the nature of man which has the basic substance for good but which is unable to be good [by itself], therefore it sets up the king to make it good. This is the will of Heaven. The people receive from Heaven a nature which cannot be good [by itself], and they turn to the king to receive the training which completes their nature.’”

“Getting political here! This idea of the role of the king reminds me of the philosopher-king of The Republic. The king has political power but the Confucians will advise him so its not so much the philosopher-king as it is a ‘brain trust’-- a philosopher plus a king. The way it is expressed, however, looks like pandering to the Han emperors.”

“He continues: ‘Now to claim on the basis of the true character of the basic substance of man that man’s nature is already good [at birth] is to lose sight of the will of Heaven and to forego the duty of the king.... Now the nature of all people depends on training, which is external, before it becomes good. Therefore goodness has to do with training and not with nature.’”

“This is not Mencius! I think we can understand now why Hsun Tzu was more influential than Mencius until the Sung Dynasty when the Neo-Confucianists brought him to the fore.”

“You might be right Karl. We saw that Mencius thinks we are by nature good. Tung seems to deny this, yet he maintains that he is following Mencius! Listen to this quote and tell me if it sounds like Mencius or a mixture of things. ‘Heaven has produced mankind in accordance with its great principle, and those who talk about nature should not differ from each other. But there are some who say that nature is good and others who say that nature is not good. Then what is meant by goodness differs with their various ideas. There is the beginning of goodness in human nature. Let us activate it and love our parents. And since man is better that animals, this may be called good---this is what Mencius meant by goodness. Follow the Three Bonds [ruler-minister, father-son, husband-wife] and the Five Relationships [ uncles, brothers, fellow clansmen, teachers, friends]. Comprehend the principles of the Eight Beginnings [ feelings of commiseration, of right and wrong, of deference and compliance, of shame and dislike which lead to love, righteousness, propriety and wisdom]. Practice loyalty and faithfulness and love all people universally. And be earnest and deep and love propriety. One may then be called good---this is what the Sage meant by goodness.’”

“I think this is back peddling on Mencius position. Anyway, by the ‘Sage’ Tung means Confucius and this one way you could plausibly interpret him. The reference to ‘universal love’ recalls the position of Mo Tzu so it’s all very eclectic.”

“Chan notes that, ‘Ever since Han times, in the Confucian ethic, the ruler has become the “standard” of the ruled, and so forth. In view of the fact that to him [Tung] yang is superior to yin [rather than two equal but contrasting forces], it is logical to say that the ruler, who corresponds to yang, is superior to the ruled. The same is true of the other relations. Thus the double standard is put on a natural basis.’”

“That is too bad as these relations are socially conditioned with respect to the particular forms they developed in feudal China. They are ‘natural’ only in that sense, i.e., ‘natural’ to the feudal outlook. The influence of yin and yang is, I think, detrimental to this early Confucianism. To update it we would have to get rid of the male (yang) and female (yin) notions and replace them with something along the lines of human reason as yang and passions and instincts as yin (or vice versa if you like). That is to sublate the female-male dichotomy under the general concept ‘humanity.’ This eliminates the double standard as ‘natural.’”

“What does this remind you of Karl? Tung writes, ‘Confucius said, “A good man is not mine to see. If I could see a man of constant virtue, I would be content.”’”

“Cute Fred. It sound like Diogenes the Dog in Ancient Greece going about with his lantern searching for an honest man. A cute historical parallel.”

“Now Karl, here is the clincher for you that Tung is not following Mencius.”

“Lets hear it.”

“ Tung says, ‘My evaluation of life and nature differs from that of Mencius. Mencius evaluated on the lower level the behavior of animals and therefore said that man’s nature is good [at birth]. I evaluate on the higher level what the Sage considers to be goodness, and therefore say that man’s nature is not good to start with. Goodness is higher than human nature, and the sage is higher than goodness. The Spring and Autumn Annals is concerned with the great origin. Therefore it is very careful in the rectification of names.’”

“This is my position Fred. I said he was following the way of Hsun Tzu more than of Mencius. This just proves my point.”

“He even goes beyond both Confucius and Hsun Tzu according to Chan. Listen to this comment: ‘Tung Chung-shu actually departs from Confucius and Mencius in the matter of education. Early Confucianists emphasized self-education, although teachers and rulers are helpful and even necessary. But Tung insists that people by nature and by their very name are in the dark (in sleep) and cannot be good without instructions from the ruler. Then he offers human nature as a justification for authoritarianism. In this he goes even further than Hsun Tzu.’”

“ Well, there is the connection with Hsun Tzu. But now we see why Tung was so popular with the emperors! Confucius would never have perverted philosophy to justify absolutism, and Mencius even approved of getting rid of a ruler who oppressed the people (too much at least). Now we have Tung saying the Emperor is the Standard! This is just pandering to the Han emperor again. Definitely I agree with Chan that he may be of historical importance but is not really a world class philosopher. Fung isn’t as critical as Chan and he sums up Tung’s program as follows: 'What Tung Chung-shu tried to do was to give a sort of theoretical justification to the new political and social order of his time. According to him, since man is a part of Heaven, the justification of the behavior of the former must be found in the behavior of the latter. He thought with the Yin-Yang school that a close interconnection exists between Heaven and man. Starting with this premise, he combined a metaphysical justification, which derives chiefly from the Yin-Yang school, with a political and social philosophy which is chiefly Confucianist ( Fung, p. 192).'"

Does that sum it up Fred?”

“Pretty much so Karl. I’m glad you again brought out the point about the Yin and Yang metaphysics. There are a few more points to be made from Tung’s book but because of the outmoded metaphysic he uses I’m going to pass over what Chan has from Tung’s chapter 42, on the five agents, and his chapter 56, speculations about man’s correspondences to Heaven, if that’s all right with you that is.”

“That is fine with me.”

“Just to give you a taste, however, here are some of his views taken from chapter 57: ‘All things avoid what is different from them and follow what is similar to them. Therefore similar forces come together and matching tones respond to each other this is clear from evidence.... For example, when a horse neighs, it is horses that will respond, [and when an ox lows it is oxen that will respond. Similarly, when an emperor or a king is about to rise, auspicious omens will first appear [cf. Chan chapter 24 of The Mean] . Therefore things of the same kind call forth each other. Because of the dragon, rain is produced, and by the use of the fan, heat is chased away. Wherever armies are stationed, briers and thorns grow. All beautiful and ugly things have their origins and have their lives accordingly. But none knows where these origins are.’”

“This is really dated emperor propaganda! Anyway he forgot ‘opposites attract’ and that the neighing of horses and the lowing of oxen can just as well attract hungry wolves and bears.”

Chan makes the following remark: ‘The belief in portents is as old as Chinese thought. What is new in Tung Chung-shu is that he explains it in terms of natural law. Instead of expressions of the pleasure or displeasure of spiritual beings, portents are results of the cosmic material forces of yin and yang.’”

“That’s not good enough. Hsun Tzu was a part of this culture and he didn’t talk about omens and such stuff. That is, he regarded them as the product of yin and yang, as natural happenings but not as ‘omens.’ Remember he said that the so-called omens happen all the time and have nothing to do what happens to us. ‘Of things that have happened, human portents are the most to be feared.’ I remember that quote Fred”

“Yes, the whole discussion is on pages 120-121 of Chan.”

“This makes Hsun Tzu the major figure in philosophy that he was and underscores the view that Tung was only of historical interest and not really such great shakes as a philosopher.”

“Then what do you think of this Karl? ‘When the universe’s material force of yin arises, man’s material force of yin arises in response. Conversely, when man’s material force of yin arises, that of the universe should also arise in response. The principle is the same. He who understands this, when he wishes to bring forth rain, will activate the yin in man in order to arouse the yin of the universe. When he wishes t stop rain, he will activate the yang in man in order to arouse the yang of the universe. Therefore the bringing forth of rain is nothing supernatural. People suspect that it is supernatural because its principle is subtle and wonderful.... In all cases one starts something himself and other things become active in response according to their kind. Therefore men of intelligence, sageliness, and spirit introspect and listen to themselves, and their words become intelligent and sagely. The reason why introspection and listening to oneself alone can lead to intelligence and sageliness is because one knows that his original mind lies there. Therefore when the note of F is struck in the seven-stringed or twenty-one stringed lute, the F note in other lutes sound of themselves in response.’ So, what about that?”

“Well, he says this is not supernaturalism and that is a plus, but it is still prescientific. The idea that we can cause it to rain by activating our yin to resonate with the yin of the universe sounds like sympathetic magic to me. I think we should also note the term ‘original mind’ that Tung uses when he maintains that we can become sagely by introspection. This is not original Confucianism. Confucius liked to study and putter around in old books. This idea of introspection, perhaps even of meditation, has a mystical air about it. It seems Taoist or even Buddhist, although I think Tung is too early to have been influenced by Buddhists.”

“Oh yeah, I think so. Tung died around 104 BC. That’s a hundred years before Buddhism in China”

“Well then, only Taoist I guess.”

“Listen Karl, I disagree with you about the original mind. I think we can look at that concept as what we are potentially as rational beings. The sage should be able, as Hsun Tzu, to see what is our essential nature versus what we are by means of cultural construct. I don’t think this is too advanced a way of looking at things for really bright Confucians even if Tung himself may not have this in mind.”

“I can go along with that Fred.”

“Now Chan adds some extra sections from Tung’s book. This is from chapter 13 ‘The Origin’”:
It is only the Sage who can relate the myriad things to the One and tie it to the origin. If the source
is not traced and the development from it followed, nothing can be accomplished. Therefore in the
Spring and Autumn Annals the first year is changed to be called the year of yuan (origin). The origin
is the same as source (yuan). It means that it accompanies the beginning and end of Heaven and
Earth. Therefore if man in his life has a beginning and end like this, he does not have to respond to
the changes of the four seasons. Therefore the origin is the source of all things, and the origin of
man is found in it. How does it exist? It exists before Heaven and Earth. Although man is born of
the force of Heaven and receives the force of Heaven, he may not partake [of] the origin of Hea-
ven, or rely on its order and violate what it does. Therefore the first month of Spring is a contin-
uation of the activities of Heaven and completing it. The principle is that [Heaven and man] ac-
complish together and maintain the undertaking. How can it be said to be merely the origin of
Heaven and Earth? What does the origin do? How does it apply to man? If we take the con-
nections seriously, we shall understand the order of things. The Sage did not want to talk a-
bout [the behavior] of animals and such. What he wanted to talk about was humanity and right-
ousness so as to put things in order....

“The ‘One’! This is interesting metaphysics. Monism was popular in India and the West at this time too. Tung seems to say at the start that Confucius (the ‘Sage’) can relate the One and the ‘origin’ but he at last remembers that Confucius, like Socrates and Buddha, did not go into ultimate ontological questions-- ‘he wanted to to talk about... humanity and righteousness’-- i.e., he was interested in ethics and politics.”

“Well, Chan comments on that quote and says Tung was casting Confucius in the role that Jesus played in the West: ‘a bridge between god and man.’”

“That’s really stretching it Fred! In the first place, Christians don’t see Jesus as a ‘bridge between god and man,’ he is God! In the second place, there are many people who could be considered ‘bridges’ such as the prophets such as Moses, or John the Baptist, or Mohammed, etc. So I think it a little far-fetched to think Tung’s views of Confucius are analogous to Western views on Jesus.”

“Here is a quote on ‘Humanity and Righteousness’ from chapter 29. ‘Humanity is to give others peace and security and righteousness is to rectify the self. Therefore the word “humanity” (jen) means others (people, jen) and the word “righteousness” means the self. ... The principle of humanity consists in loving people and not in loving oneself, and the principle of righteousness consists in rectifying oneself and not in rectifying others. If one is not rectified himself, he cannot be considered righteous even if he can rectify others, and if one loves himself very much but does not apply his love to others, he cannot be considered humane....’

“An excellent quote Fred. It’s very good, very Confucian. I think this should be the motto of every would be sage. Tung has outdone himself here!.”

“Chan indicates that it is new with Tung. The view that jen = love he says, is characteristic of Confucianism in the Han period and it was introduced by Tung. Chan means the exclusive use of jen = love. He acknowledges that Mo Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Hsun Tzu and Han Fei Tzu used jen in that way too, but they also used it with other meanings. Chan says in Tung ‘it is the meaning.’”

“What else?”

“There are two selections to go. The first is on ‘Humanity and Wisdom’ from chapter 30. ‘What is meant by humanity? The man of humanity loves people with a sense of commiseration.... He does not do anything treacherous or cunning. And he does not do anything depraved. Therefore his heart is at ease, his will is peaceful, his vital force is harmonious, his desires are regulated, his actions are easy, and his conduct is in accord with the moral law. It is for this reason that he puts things in order peacefully and easily without any quarrel. This is what is mean by humanity. What is meant by wisdom? It is to speak first and then act accordingly. It is to weigh one’s wisdom whether to act or not and the proceed accordingly.’”

“At least for all his retrograde ideas compared to the classical Confucians, Tung has the proper attitude towards the type of conduct expected of a philosopher.”

“You like that eh? You think that is how philosophers should be?”

“I really do Fred. Don’t you think Socrates, Epicurus, and Spinoza, to name just three, would fit this bill?”

“But what about philosophers such as Schopenhauer or Heidegger who seem to have been rotten human beings with hardly a trace of jen? I don’t think they would live up to Tung’s expectations.”

“Well, yes. I shouldn’t be so exclusive I suppose. What I want to maintain is that this is the ideal of the philosopher - sage and one can be a great philosopher without also being a sage.”

“I see. I’m not going down that path with you Karl. I see no end of controversy along it. Chan ends with a quote from chapter 23 explicating Tung’s views on ‘Historical cycles’ but they are so time dependent on the prescientific outlooks of people in the Han Dynasty as to be of no philosophical interest to people today.”

“I agree. I read about his theory of history in Fung. He talks about the movement of history as the rise and fall of dynasties represented by colors-- the Black, White and Red ‘Reigns’ each with its own distinctive ‘powers’. These three reigns go in a cycle B-W-R-B-W-R-B etc. Thus Hsia Dynasty -- Shang Dynasty -- Chou Dynasty, etc. The changes come about due to the loss of the ‘Mandate of Heaven’ by one and its gain by another. This is very unilluminating, especially Fung’s musings on the theory whereby we might ‘say that Fascism represents the Black Reign, Capitalism the White Reign, and Communism the Red Reign (p.199).’ Fung adds however, this ‘is only a coincidence.’ But we really can’t use Tung’s mechanical theories today, unlike many of the theories of his great Confucian predecessors.”

“Lets go have lunch Karl, and come here in a couple of hours to discuss Wang Ch’ung and his ‘Naturalism’.”

“Fine by me, lets go!”

Chinese food OK?”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

THE I-CHING (from a Marxist viewpoint)

Eleventh in a series on Chinese Philosophy

Thomas Riggins

“That was a good dinner Karl, are you ready to begin going over the I Ching?”

“That I am Fred. Why don’t you start.”

“Delighted. I can tell you from Chan’s intro [Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy] that he says this book has had more influence in Chinese philosophy than any other classic. He also points out that it had its origin in divination. That is to say, something like tea leaf reading. Only instead of reading dregs in a cup of tea, the ancient Chinese tried to tell the future by tossing tortoise shells into the fire and then, after the fire and cracked them, pulling them out and ‘interpreting’ the meaning supposedly contained in the pattern of cracks. By the time we find it, as a classic, it has considerably evolved from these primitive beginnings. Did you find out anything about it Karl, or should I go on?”

“Just finish up Chan’s intro.”

“Well, the book is based on Eight Trigrams. Each Trigram is made up of a combination whole lines (-----) or broken lines (--- ---). These lines are symbols for such things as ‘Heaven’ or ch’ien which would be three whole lines one on top of the other or ‘Earth’ or k’un which would be three broken lines on top of each other. These Trigrams are put together two Trigrams at a time to make a total of sixty-four Hexagrams. Chan says, ‘When the Eight Trigrams, each containing three lines, multiply themselves to become sixty-four hexagrams, they are taken to represent all possible forms of change, situations, possibilities, and institutions. Thus a complex civilization is conceived of as a process of systematic and progressive development which can be traced to its simplest beginning.’”

“Fred, now I will point out that whatever the original use of this book, divination or whatever, by the time of the Han Dynasty all sorts of commentaries and ‘appended remarks’, etc., had been added which were of a philosophical nature. The book then became used as a philosophical text NOT as a tool for fortune telling. The philosophical comments were attributed to Confucius but were actually put into the book long after his time by his so-called followers. Let me read you some comments from Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy by Oliver Leamen. He says the Yi jing ‘can also easily be extended to provide a philosophy of history, which comes out as a kind of political humanism and organic naturalism. It is interesting how a book that deals with the occult structure of the world can have such important use in Chinese metaphysics and ethics.’ He adds, ‘...the Book of Changes has even been detected in the though of Mao Zedong, especially in his reflections that change is the only constant phenomenon in the universe.’ All this change is brought by the interaction of the two basic energy forces of the universe--the negative Yin and the positive Yang. These two forces are how the Dao [Tao] manifests itself. Leamen says, ‘the notion of dao is very different from that current among the Daoist philosophers. The version in the Book is of the multiple causes of change in the universe, and are the principles behind the various kinds of productions and creation in the universe. What makes one thing distinct from something else is its dao, which accords with a particular name.’ Please notice that this last implies the importance of the rectification of names which we have discussed before. Finally, he says, ‘Change is the basic feature of the universe, and the idea that the Yi jing values is that of balance and lack of excess [i.e., The Mean!].”

“Now lets turn to the text itself and see what we can make of it.”

OK, Fred., lets go!”

“Chan’s selections are in four parts. This is from the ‘Commentaries’: Hexagram No. 1, Ch’ien (Heaven). ‘Great is ch’ien, the originator! All things obtain their beginning from it. It unites and commands all things under heaven. The clouds move and the rain is distributed, and the various things are evolved in their respective forms. Thus the beginning and the end are profoundly understood, and the six positions of the hexagram [...the hexagram consists of two trigrams, it therefore consists of six lines in their six positions-Chan n.5] are achieved in the proper time.’ Hexagram No. 2, K’un (Earth) . ‘Being straight means correctness, and being square means righteousness.’ Chan’s comment is “The two complementary ethical formulae, seriousness to straighten the internal life and righteousness to square the external life, eventually became the keystone in the method of moral cultivation for many Neo-Confucianists, especially Ch’eng I (Ch’eng I-ch’uan, 1033-1107 A.D.).’ We will get to him later.”

“Well, I can see how the trigrams or hexagrams are being used as jumping off points for general philosophical points without any suggestion of their original use in divination. Its a cultural accident that the Yi ling is used to stimulate speculation rather than just having a treatise written on these subjects. We must be careful to reflect on the philosophical substance we find in the work and not be distracted by the historical circumstances of the form.”

“I can see that. Here are some views from ‘The “Appended Remarks,” PT. 1.’ ‘Ch.1. Heaven is high, the earth is low, and thus ch’ien (Heaven) and k’un (Earth) are fixed. As high and low are thus made clear, the honorable and the humble have their places accordingly. As activity and tranquillity have their constancy, the strong and the weak are thus differentiated. Ways come together according to their kind, and things are divided according to their classes. Hence good fortune and evil fortune emerge. In the heavens, forms (heavenly bodies) appear and on earth shapes (creatures) occur. In them change and transformation can be seen. Therefore the strong and the weak interact and the Eight Trigrams activate each other.’”

“Naturalism at work. Heaven’s laws determine the course of events here below. But this is just a way of saying that universal laws or interactions (yin and yang) are responsible for the development of the world. Heaven = yang and Earth = yin.”

“Chapter 4. ‘The system of Change is tantamount to Heaven and Earth, and therefore can always handle and adjust the way of Heaven and Earth. Looking up, we observe the pattern of the heavens; looking down, we examine the order of the earth. Thus we know the causes of what is hidden and what is manifest.’”

“This looks like the basis of the doctrine of the ‘investigation of things’ which we will see plays a big role in Neo-Confucianism.”

“The chapter continues, ‘The refined material force (ch’i) [integrates] to become things. [As it disintegrates,] the wandering away of its spirit (force) becomes change. From this we know that the characteristics and conditions of spiritual beings are similar to those of Heaven and Earth and therefore there is no disagreement between them. The knowledge [of spirit] embraces all things and its way helps all under heaven, and therefore there is no mistake. It operates freely and does not go off course. It rejoices in Nature (T’ien, Heaven) and understands destiny. Therefore there is no worry. As [things] are contented in their stations and earnest in practicing kindness, there can be love.... it penetrates to a knowledge of the course of day and night. Therefore spirit has no spatial restrictions and Change has no physical form.’”

“This is beginning to sound mystical. We know from the Analects that Confucius doesn’t philosophize about ‘spirits’ so this is faux Confucianism at work here Fred.”

“Chan says, ‘Exactly what is meant by “spirit” is not clear, but it is surely not the spirit of a deceased person that influences human affairs.... [H]ere it [means] the unfathomable force behind all transformations. Later in Neo-Confucianism it is to be understood purely as the spontaneous activity of yin and yang.’”

“That makes more sense. We should think ‘force’ instead of ‘spirit’.”

“The next quote, from chapter five, backs up what Chan says. ‘Change means production and reproduction. Ch’ien means the completion of forms, and k’un means to model after them. Divination means to go to the utmost of the natural course of events in order to know the future. Affairs mean to adapt and accommodate accordingly. And that which is unfathomable in the operation of yin and yang is called spirit.’”

“Please NOTE that by saying divination goes to the utmost in the NATURAL course of events that there is no supernatural claim being made. This is just what is done in science. We try to predict future events, the weather for example, by prognosticating based on previously studied Natural events. Xunzi could go along with this.”

“And Chan makes a small comment to alert us as to what is coming later. ‘The concept of production is new and will form an important part of Neo-Confucianism.’ But now we come to a passage in Chapter 11 which does seem to have an air of ‘fortune telling.’ Listen to this Karl, ‘Therefore k’un means closing and ch’ien means opening. The succession of closing and opening constitutes transformation.... Therefore in the system of Change there is the Great Ultimate. It generates the Two Modes (yin and yang). The Two Modes generate the Four Forms (major and minor yin and yang). The Four Forms generate the Eight Trigrams. The Eight Trigrams determine good and evil fortunes. And good and evil fortunes produce the great business [of life]....’”

“Granted that reading about the determination of fortune by the trigrams certainly implies using the I Ching like a tea cup, still we must remember this is really Han Dynasty superstition masquerading as Confucianism. Nothing in the Analects would lead you to believe Confucius would have written anything like that. Let me just quote one short passage from Fung’s A History of Chinese Philosophy, Vol I. ‘The underlying idea in [this] quotation is that all things in the universe follow a definite order according to which they move everlastingly.’ So no ‘fortune telling’ motive need be postulated.”

“OK, on to Chapter 12. Here we have, ‘what exists before physical form [and is therefore without it] is called the Way. What exists after physical form [and is therefore with it] is called a concrete thing.’”

“This reminds me of Hegel’s Logic. Hegel says, ‘This realm [Logic] is truth as it is without veil and in its own absolute nature. It can therefore be said that this content is the exposition of God [the Way] as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature [physical forms] and a finite mind.’ So this book shows the Chinese to have had a metaphysical bent they are not often given credit for!”

“And this brings us to ‘Selections from the “Appended Remarks,” PT. 2.’ I am only going to read some passages from Chapter 5 in this section. ‘It is said in the Change, “Full of anxious thought you come and go. [Only] friends will follow you and think of you.” The Master [Confucius?] said, “What is there in the world to think about or to deliberate about? In the world there are many different roads but the destination is the same. There are a hundred deliberations but the result is one. What is there in the world to think about or to deliberate about?” And Chan makes the following comment about this passage. ‘The idea of a hundred roads to the same destination is a direct expression of the spirit of synthesis which is extremely strong in Chinese philosophy. It is the Confucian version of Chuang Tzu’s doctrine of following two courses at the same time.”’

‘Yes, I remember that from our discussion on Chuang.”

“Let me read this last bit from Chapter 5. ‘The sun and the moon push each other in their course and thus light appears... The winter and summer push each other and thus the year is completed... Contraction and expansion act on each other and thus advantages are produced.’”

“Yes. The point being that we must understand transformation and change. Where do we go from here Fred?”

“This last little section in Chan. ‘Selections from “Remarks On Certan Trigrams.”’

“Well, lets hear it!”

“The first chapter in this section is full of nonsense about a ‘hidden spiritual intelligence’ that helps the sages in the efforts at divination, all of which we may put down to the credulity of the age. Into this mish- mash are woven the ideas of principle (li), nature and destiny. These concepts, although in this time period tainted with superstition and the ignorant notions associated with the trigrams as predictors of the future, will become the main focus of the later philosophers of the Sung Dynasty who create what we call Neo-Confucianism.”

“Maybe Fred, considering the great number of people who believe in astrology, numerology, Bible prophecy,etc., in our own time, we should not be too harsh in condemning the superstitions of the Han Dynasty.”

“Except that in our time it is hoy polloi that believe such nonsense not our educated class.”

“I stand corrected!”

“Anyway, here is Chan’s comment on all this: ‘The three subjects of principle, nature, and destiny cover practically the whole philosophy of the Neo-Confucian movement. In fact, the movement is called the Philosophy of Nature and Principle. In essence, the teaching is no different from Mencius’ teaching of fully developing one’s mind, knowing Heaven, and fulfilling one’s destiny. But Mencius did not provide the metaphysical basis for Neo-Confucianism as does the Book of Changes. It is also to be noted that unlike the Taoists who require vacuity (hsu) of mind for one to become identified with Nature, here Confucianists advocate the fulfillment of one’s own nature to achieve the same objective.’”

“Its too bad they didn’t turn to Hsun Tzu instead of Mencius. The history of Confucianism might have been more progressive. On the other the hand, this is just an after the fact speculation. Historical circumstances no doubt dictated the turn to Mencius.”

“I will end with this--the complete Chapter 2 of Section 4: ‘In ancient times, the sages instituted the system of Change in order to follow the principle of the nature and destiny. Therefore yin and yang were established as the way of Heaven, the weak and the strong as the way of Earth, and humanity and righteousness as the way of man. [Each hexagram] embraced those three powers (Heaven, Earth, and man) and doubled them. Therefore in the system of Change a hexagram is completed in six lines. They are distinguished as yin and yang and the weak and the strong are employed in succession. Thus in the system of Change there are six positions and the pattern is complete.’”

“I see we are well past ‘Ancient Times’ by now. We have left the great classical and formative period of Chinese philosophy and will be dealing with those thinkers who developed philosophy up to the founding of the Neo-Confucian synthesis in the Sung Dynasty.”

“That’s right Karl. But I think this period may be interesting in its own light. We will have to plunge in and see!”

“With whom do we start?”

“With a philosopher called Tung Chung-shu and a movement Chan calls ‘Yin Yang Confucianism.’”

“Well, lets bone up on him and meet back here at my place tomorrow after breakfast. Say, about 10 AM.”

“OK Karl, see you then."

Friday, January 15, 2010


Tenth in a Series of Dialogues on Chinese Philosophy

Thomas Riggins


“Well, Fred, are you ready to begin with the Doctrine of the Mean?”

“Yes, but what is its background?”

“It is one of the ‘Four Books’ (Analects, Mencius, Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean) that Chu Hsi selected as the basis of Confucianism and was used in all the ‘civil service’ tests in China up to modern times. Chu was in the Sung (Song) Dynasty [960-1279 AD]. Just as the Great Learning it was originally part of the Book of Rites which, before Chu Hsi’s time was one of the ‘Five Books” which was the original canon of Confucianism (Spring and Autumn Annals, Book of Rites, Book of Changes, Book of History, Book of Odes.) Chenyang Li in Great Thinkers of the Eastern World, says the four main points in this work are 1) heaven and man are one; 2) following our heaven endowed nature constitutes virtue; 3) sincerity is the way of Heaven and of human morality; 4) the way to exemplify the Mean is to become a ‘superior person’ by following the moral ideal. I hope this agrees with what Chan has to say!”

“Chan is basically in agreement with that. He says ‘The Great Learning deals with social and political matters, while the Doctrine of the Mean is a discourse on psychology and metaphysics. The Great Learning discusses the mind but not human nature, whereas with the Doctrine of the Mean the opposite is true. The Great Learning emphasizes method and procedure, whereas the Doctrine of the Mean concentrates on reality. The Great Learning is generally rational in tone, but the Doctrine of the Mean is religious and mystical.’”

“From my point of view that makes it less important for our age since we must stress the rational at the expense of the religious and mystical. It is the religious and mystical that is at the root of all the present social upheaval associated with religious conflict and justifications for war. That is to say, the real economic factors responsible for the sad conditions of the present world order are obfuscated and hidden because so many people are under the darkness of religious and mystical beliefs. Therefore, I think the Great Learning is a much more contemporary book.”

“Interesting comment Karl. Now back to Chan. This is how ‘human nature’ is portrayed in the Doctrine of the Mean : ‘Human nature, endowed by heaven, is revealed through the states of equilibrium and harmony, which are themselves the “condition of the world” and the “universal path.” The Way of Heaven transcends time, space, substance, and motion, and is at the same time unceasing, eternal, and evident.’ And maybe you should not be so critical of it as Chan also points out that it ‘is a philosophical work, perhaps the most philosophical in the whole body of ancient Con-
fucian literature.’”

“You’re right. I spoke too soon. I should give my views after the discussion not at the start!”

“Well, some modesty at last! Note the Chinese title of this work: chung yung or zhong yong. Chan says chung-yung together is translated a ‘mean’ and separately chung means ‘central’ and yung means ‘universal harmony’. “

“So, this book could just as well be called the Central Universal Harmony . In fact, it has been given other names in translation. Chenyang Li mentions some of them such as The Golden Mean, The Golden Medium, The Mean-in-action, The Central Harmony, and my favorite, used by Ezra Pound, The Unwobbling Pivot.”

“Anyway, Chan says that these terms ‘taken together [mean] that there is harmony in human nature and that this harmony underlies our moral being and prevails throughout the universe. In short, man and Nature form a unity. Here is an early expression of the theory that was to dominate Chinese thought throughout its history.’”

“A big problem. It is true that humanity is a part of Nature so we are law governed as is everything else in Nature--that is the ‘harmony’--but our moral systems do not seem to be something in Nature in quite the same way. It remains to be seen how a moral system can base itself on the laws of Nature and use this for its justification.”

“Finally, Chan says, ‘It is obvious that the Doctrine of the Mean represents an advance over Confucius. It and the Great Learning seem to embody two different ancient Confucian tendencies, just as later Mencius and Hsun Tzu represented two different schools of thought.’”

“Or at least two different styles of Confucianism Fred. “

“We begin the book with a comment of Chu Hsi: ‘Master Ch’eng I (Ch’eng I-ch’uan, 1033-1107) said, “By chung (central) is meant what is not one-sided, and by yung (ordinary) is meant what is unchangeable. Chung is the correct path of the world and yung is the definite principle of the world.” “This work represents the central way in which the doctrines of the Confucian school have been transmitted.”’

“This is the Neo-Confucian view at least. But I will still consult the Analects for what I think is the original Confucian view!”

“This is from Chapter One of the book: ‘What Heaven (T’ien, Nature {vide Spinoza}) imparts to man is called human nature. To follow our nature is called the Way (Tao). Cultivating the Way is called education. The Way cannot be separated from us for a moment. What can be separated from us is not the Way. Therefore the superior man is cautious over what he does not see and apprehensive over what he does not hear. There is nothing more visible than what is hidden and nothing more manifest than what is subtle. Therefore the superior man is watchful over himself when he is alone. Before the feelings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy are aroused it is called equilibrium (chung, centrality, mean).’ Equilibrium is called the foundation of the world, and when the emotions are aroused they must be measured and kept in balance--this is called ‘harmony.’”

“This is just like Plato in the Republic, Fred. Only Plato calls it ‘justice’ rather than ‘harmony’, but the points are very similar.”

“The book goes on to show that these are the views of Confucius. ‘Chung-ni (Confucius) said, “The superior man [exemplifies] the Mean (chung-yung).”’ And, ‘the superior man maintains harmony [in his nature and conduct] and does not waver. How unflinching is his strength!’”

“This does not sound different from the Confucius we encountered in the Analects.” “Tzu-ssu, according to Chu Hsi, compared Heaven and the ‘superior man’ thusly, ‘Great as Heaven and earth are, men still find something in them with which to be dissatisfied. Thus with [the Way of] the superior man, if one speaks of its greatness, nothing in the world can contain it, and if one speaks of its smallness, nothing in the world can split it.’ This was from chapter 12, and Chu Hsi says this vein of thought (‘the Way cannot be departed from’) is the subject for the next eight chapters (through number 20).”

“So, read some of the highlights from these chapters and we will see if its so!”

“OK, from 13: ‘If we take an axe handle to hew another axe handle and look askance from the one to the other, we may still think the pattern is far away. Therefore the superior man governs men as men, in accordance with human nature, and as soon as they change [what is wrong], he stops. Conscientiousness (chung) and altruism (shu) are not far from the Way. What you do not wish others to do to you, do not do to them.’”

“I guess that is ‘the Way.’ Confucius’ version of the ‘Golden Rule’ must be followed not to depart from it!”

“This is said of the ‘superior man’ in chapter 14: ‘He rectifies himself and seeks nothing from others, hence he has no complaint to make. He does not complain against Heaven above or blame men below. Thus it is that the superior man lives peacefully and at ease and waits for his destiny (ming, Mandate of Heaven, fate), while the inferior man takes to dangerous courses and hopes for good luck.’”

“Actually, nothing ventured nothing gained. Who is this speaking anyway?”

“Tzu-ssu, the pupil of Confucius.”

“I thought so. He might be taking Confucius too literally. After all, Confucius did not live in Lu at peace and at ease but went off trekking all over China gathering students and teaching his doctrine!”

“A good point Karl. I would like to know what you say about this so called quote from Confucius given by Tzu-ssu.”

“Lets have it!”

“Its from chapter 17. Tzu-ssu quotes Confucius as saying, ‘he who possesses great virtue will certainly attain to corresponding position, to corresponding wealth, to corresponding fame, and to corresponding long life. For Heaven, in the production of things, is sure to be bountiful to them, according to their natural capacity.... Therefore he possesses great virtue will surely receive the appointment of Heaven.’”

“You can be sure, Fred, that whoever wrote this it was not Confucius but some boot licking functionary of the Court. After having been kicked around from feudal court to feudal court in his wanderings about China trying to find a position to put his social theories into practice, can you image his coming up with ‘great virtue’ leads to a ‘great position’? Or, after the premature death of his most beloved student, Yen Hui, would Confucius spout off about the rewards of ‘great virtue’ resulting in ‘long life?’ No! I am afraid that, as the Analects indicate, Confucius was all to familiar with the the tragic sense of life to have come up with this fabrication attributed to him by Tzu-ssu. And it is no good reflection on Chu Hsi that he passed over this without comment!”

“If it is the case Tzu-suu is actually the compiler of the Doctrine of the Mean then I agree."

“That is true too. I don’t want to suggest that this passage was fabricated by the grandson of Confucius! This issue will crop up again when we get into discussions of philosophers in the Han Dynasty and the consequences of all that book burning we mentioned under the Ch’in dictatorship.”

“Here is a quote from chapter 20. Confucius allegedly speaking: ‘[G]overnment is comparable to a fast growing plant. Therefore the conduct of the government depends upon the men.... Humanity (jen) is [the distinguishing characteristic of] man, and the greatest application of it is in being affectionate towards relatives. Righteousness (i) is the principle of setting things right and proper, and the greatest application of it is in honoring the worthy.’”

“I think if we refer back to Mo Tzu we will see the problem with this concept of jen/ren which should be a little more universal than indicated. Couldn’t this formulation be a justification for nepotism rather than merit? Again, I doubt it is really from Confucius.”

“Chan makes the following comment about this passage. ‘The sentence “Humanity is [the distinguishing characteristic of] man” is perhaps the most often quoted on the subject of humanity (jen). In Chinese it is ‘jen is jen,” the first jen meaning humanity and the second referring to man. It is not just a pun, but an important definition of the basic Confucian concept of humanity, for to Confucianism, the virtue of humanity is meaningless unless it is involved in actual human relationships.’”

“I don’t get the difference between ‘humanity’ and ‘man’ in ‘humanity is man.’ That is like ‘a small step for man a giant leap for mankind.’ Its the same as A = A. But Chan’s comment is still useful. It at least points out how the Chinese think about the concept of jen/ren.”

“There is more to this chapter A. Confucian formulae as it were. Here is one, ‘...the ruler must not fail to cultivate his personal life, he must not fail to serve his parents. Wishing to serve his parents, he must not fail to know man. Wishing to know man, he must not fail to know heaven.’ And: ‘There are five universal ways [in human relations], and the way by which they are practiced are three. The five are those governing the relationship between ruler and minister, between father and son, between husband and wife, between elder and younger brothers, and those on the intercourse between friends. These five are universal paths in the world. Wisdom, humanity, and courage, these three are the universal virtues. The way by which they are practiced is one.’”

“These are certainly dated and show how Confucianism is embedded in the old feudal order. If we updated the ‘five’ to the modern capitalist order we would have the relationship between the rulers and the ruled, between employers and employees, between men and women, between family members, and between friends and strangers. Something like that I suppose. The three universal virtues would remain unchanged.”

“Very good. Now for something called ‘the Nine Standards’: ‘There are nine standards by which to administer the empire, its states, and the families [feudal lords]. They are: cultivating the personal life, honoring the worthy, being affectionate to relatives, being respectful toward the great ministers, identifying oneself with the welfare of the whole body of officers, treating the common people as one’s own children, attracting the various artisans, showing tenderness to strangers from far countries, and extending kindly and awesome influence on the feudal lords.’ And this position is further emphasized a few passages later: ‘There are nine standards by which to govern the empire, its states, and the families, but the way by which they are followed is one. In all matters if there is preparation they will succeed; if there is no preparation they will fail. If what is to be said is determined beforehand, there will be no stumbling. If the business to be done is determined beforehand there will be no difficulty. If action to be taken is determined beforehand, there will be no trouble. And if the way to be pursued is determined beforehand, there will be no difficulties.’ This can be summed up in the following five steps which Chan says ‘could have come from John Dewey.’ “Study it (the way to be sincere) extensively, inquire into it accurately, think it over carefully, sift it clearly, and practice it earnestly.’”

“It is interesting that Chan mentions Dewey the American pragmatist. Dewey was very popular in China in the early 20th Century. Let me read this passage from Reese [Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy] about Dewey’s five steps of inquiry and judge for yourself how these would apply to the study of how to be ‘sincere.’ ‘Inquiry, properly speaking, begins in situations which are indeterminate, disturbed, troubled, ambiguous, obscure, or full of conflict. It is the object of inquiry to transform the indeterminate situation into one which is determinate. Given such a situation, and such an outcome, the intervening steps outlined by Dewey are: (a) locating and defining the problem of the situation; insight is as important in stating the problem as in any subsequent step; (b) setting out the relevant possible solutions to this problem, an “either-or” stage; (c) developing the consequences of the possible solutions, an “if-then” stage; (d) relating these developed alternatives to further observation and experiment; (e) concluding with the alternative which unifies the situation.’[p.128]

“I can see how Chan might think Confucianism could follow these five steps except, perhaps, for experiment which doesn’t play much of a role in the Doctrine of the Mean.”

What’s next Fred?”

“This, from chapter 22, where we have the following sequence--being absolutely sincere = fully developing your nature = fully developing the nature of others = the same for the nature of things = if you can do those things, then you can help in the transformation and nourishing of Heaven and Earth--thus, ‘If they [they = those who became absolutely sincere et. seq.] can assist in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth, they can thus form a trinity with Heaven and Earth.’ All of this, Chan comments, is ‘another way of saying the unity of man and Heaven or Nature, a doctrine which eventually assumed the greatest importance in Neo-Confucianism.’”

“Well, Neo-Confucianism is still a way off in our discussions. But this points out the central importance of ‘sincerity’ (cheng). Again the equivalence of Heaven = Nature reminds me of Spinoza. “

“Now these next views I know you will not want to accept as genuinely Confucian, neither do I, because when we discussed the Analects we found no trace of popular superstition or unbridled mysticism.”

“What are these views?”

“In chapter 24 we find ‘Tzu-ssu’ speaking of omens and divination and such which the ‘sincere’ man will be especially able to interpret. ‘When calamity or blessing is about to come [for nations and families], it can surely know beforehand if it is good, and it can surely know beforehand if it is evil. Therefore he who has absolute sincerity is like a spirit.’”

“A spirit! The very sort of thing Confucius refused to speculate about! This is further evidence that original Confu-cianism has been corrupted in this work. We have to very careful in discussing a work like this so that we can discern the layers of bogus from authentic Confucianism.”

“Perhaps you will accept chapter 25 as more genuine. ‘Sincerity means the completion of the self, and the Way is self-directing. Sincerity is the beginning and the end of things. Without sincerity there would be nothing. Therefore the superior man values sincerity. Sincerity is not only the completion of one’s own self, it is that by which all things are completed. The completion of the self means humanity. The completion of all things means wisdom. These are the character of the nature, and they are the way in which the internal and the external are united. Therefore whenever it is employed, it is done right.’”

“I don’t see a problem with this. Except to note that Fung [p.176] wonders if, in the passage you read, the terms ‘humanity’ [jen/ren] and ‘wisdom,’ ‘should not be interchanged.’”

“Here is Chan’s comment: ‘In no other Confucian work is the Way (Tao) given such a central position. This self-directing Way seems to be the same as the Tao in Taoism. But the difference is great. As Ch’ien Mu has pointed out [in his Ssu-shu shih-i (Explanation of the Meaning of the Four Books), 1953], when the Taoists talk about Tao as being natural, it means that Tao is void and empty, whereas when Confucianists talk about Tao as being natural, they describe it as sincerity. This, according to him, is a great contribution of the Doctrine of the Mean. It should be pointed out that with Confucianists, “The Way is not far from man.” Contrary to the Tao of Taoism, the Confucian Tao is strongly humanistic.’ And I will end this passage with the first sentence of chapter 26: ‘Therefore absolute sincerity is ceaseless. Being ceaseless, it is lasting.’”

“So then, lets forge on to chapter 27.”

“That chapter goes thusly: ‘Great is the Way of the sage!... It waits for the proper man before it can be put into practice. Therefore it is said, “Unless there is perfect virtue, the perfect way cannot be materialized.” Therefore man honors the moral nature and follows the path of study and inquiry.... He is earnest and deep and highly respects all propriety. Therefore when occupying a high position, he is not proud, and when serving in a low position, he is not insubordinate.”’

“This is certainly pro-sage! But I think we can ignore the idea ‘perfect virtue’ and the ‘perfect way’ are involved with real sages or there wouldn’t be any! Fawning second rate Confucianists may go around thinking of Confucius as a perfect sage but we know that he made error and mistakes and would be the first to admit as much.”

“Your theory that the sayings of Confucius in this work are sometimes bogus, as you earlier mentioned, gets a big boost from Chan in a footnote to Chapter 28.”

“What do you mean Fred? Let’s hear it.”

“Well, Confucius is quoted as saying something to the effect that the world has standard measurements and standard characters for writing, etc. Chan points out that this was not true in Confucius’ time but happened as a result of the Ch’in Dynasty [221-206 B.C.]. This means that parts of the Doctrine of the Mean are not older than that time.”

“Yes, that backs up my view about the Confucius quote in Chapter 17 that we discussed. Once you get a ‘feel’ for the Analects you can tell when some so-called Confucian quote doesn’t sound right. Even the Analects has some problems of authenticity, but it is the oldest layer of Confucian thought and I think the ‘real’ Confucius is to be located within its pages in so far as that is possible.”

“In chapter 29 we are told that in order to get rules and regulations, ceremonies, etc., adopted the person who puts them forth must not be of humble or common origin. ‘The position not being honored does not command credence, and not being credited, the people will not follow them. Therefore the Way of the true ruler is rooted in his own person-
al life and has its evidence [in the following] of the common people.’”

“That isn’t too clear Fred. If the Way is rooted in personal life then ‘low position’ doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

“It goes on, ‘Since it [the Way] can wait for a hundred generations for a sage without a doubt, it shows that he knows [the principles of man]. Therefore every move he makes becomes the way of the world, every act of his becomes the model of the world, and every word he utters becomes the pattern of the world.’”

“That is just nonsensical ‘sage worship’ and is not in the true spirit of Confucius. This is obviously an attempt to establish Confucianism as some sort of official ideology in a post Ch’in world.”

“If you think that then you will love this encomium to the sage from Chapter 31:
All embracing and extensive as heaven and deep and unceasingly springing as an abyss!
He appears and all people respect him, speaks and all people believe him, acts and all people
are pleased with him. Consequently his fame spreads overflowingly over the Middle Kingdom
(China, the civilized world), and extends to barbarous tribes. Wherever ships and carriages
reach, wherever the labor of man penetrates, wherever the heavens overshadow and the
earth sustains, wherever the sun and the moon shine, and wherever frosts and dew fall, all
who have blood and breath honor and love him. Therefore we say he is a counterpart of Heaven.

So there you have it Karl..”

“I see. This is the basis almost of a religion. There will be no sages like this. Maybe the Buddha would qualify but this work is too early for Buddhism to have influenced it.”

“I am going to finish up now with some quotes from Chapter 33. Get out your Book of Odes Karl, because there are some quotes from it in these passages.”

“I have it right here Fred.”

“'The Book of Odes says, "Over her brocaded robe, she wore a plain and simple dress, for she disliked the loudness of its color and patterns. Thus the way of the superior man is hidden but becomes more prominent every day, whereas the way of the inferior man is conspicuous but gradually disappears."’”

“This Ode (number 57) says just the opposite of what you read Fred, so some liberty was taken in this quote. Waley translates the passage as ‘A splendid woman and upstanding;/ Brocade she wore, over an unlined coat....’ It is reversed but this does not undermine the philosophical point.”

“’The Book of Odes says, “Although the fish dive and lie at the bottom it is still quite clearly seen.” Therefore the superior man examines his own heart and sees that there is nothing wrong there, and that he is not dissatisfied with himself.’”

“This is number 192 Fred:
The fishes are in the pond,
But they still cannot be happy,
For the deeper they dive,
The clearer they shine.
My grieved heart is deeply saddened
Thinking about the state’s vicious ways.
Maybe there is more here than meets the eye. Is this an indication that the Confucian philosopher is not really happy serving an unjust state but still tries to do his best to live up to Confucian ideals? But it would be better to withdraw--or would it. This is the problem of giving up your post to protest injustice, but then having no influence, or staying in the hopes of being able to do a little good that otherwise would never get done.”

“’The Book of Odes says, “Though the ceiling looks down upon you, be free from shame even in the recesses of your own house.” Therefore the superior man is reverent without any movement and truthful without any words.’”

“That ode, Fred, is No. 256. In itself it is not as good as the use to which it has been put in your quote. Waley has:
When receiving gentlemen of your acquaintance
Let your countenance be peaceful and mild;
Never for an instance be desolute.
You are seen in your house;
You do not escape even in the curtained alcove.
Do not say: ‘Of the glorious ones
None is looking at me.’
A visit from the spirits
Can never be forseen;
The better reason for not disgusting them.
The quote you gave suggests that the philosopher should be upright both in public and private. This is just the proper attitude to have. The ode suggests that you should be so because the ‘spirits’ may be watching! This is a very primitive view and would not be consistent with what we know about Confucius’ attitude toward such supernatural balderdash. There is another part of this long ode that I like so I will share it with you. It is good advice and for the right reason this time. ‘Be always mild and good tempered./ A scratch on a scepter of white jade/ Can be polished away;/
A slip of the tongue/ Cannot ever be repaired.’”

“’The Book of Odes says, “Throughout the sacrifice not a word is spoken, and yet [the worshipers are influenced and transformed] without the slightest contention.” Therefore the superior man does not resort to rewards and the people are encouraged to virtue.’”

“This is ode 302 Fred, and a la Waley the quote is ‘Because we come in silence/ Setting all quarrels aside,/ They [the ancestors] make safe for us a ripe old age....’ I can’t see anything in this ode that makes it relevant to your quote. It is all about ‘rewards’ and sacrifices to the ancestors to get them to do things for the people making the offerings. The conclusion regarding the behavior of the ‘superior man’ and the resulting ‘virtue’ of the people just doesn’t seem related to the subject matter of the ode!”

“It seems odes are quoted out of context just to make a point Karl. At any rate our last quote goes ‘The Book of Odes says, “He does not display his virtue, and yet all the princes follow him.” Therefore when the superior man is sincere and reverent, the world will be in order and peace.’”

“Again, Waley’s version is somewhat different. ‘None are strong save the men of Zhou,/ Every land obeys them./ Nothing so glorious as their power,/ All princes imitate them.’ The power or virtue is on display, else how could they be imitated? Anyway, we are not going to have world peace and order because of the imitation by others of some role model! Are you done with Chan?”


“OK, here is the closing quote from Chenyang Li on the work. ‘The Doctrine of the Mean presents a Confucian system of moral metaphysics and philosophy of moral practice. This work has helped shape Chinese civilization for more than two thousand years, and there is no doubt that it will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.’ But I hope people will be a little more critical of some of its views along the lines I have suggested in this discussion.”

“What should we turn to next Karl?”

“I think we should spend some time on I Ching [Yi Ching] or Book of Changes. I know Chan doesn’t devote a lot of space to this work but it is very popular and we should read and discuss it.”

“It is short. Lets go have dinner and come back and discuss it this evening.”

“Fine by me. Lets go!

Sunday, January 10, 2010



Thomas Riggins

“Well Fred, I see you are ready to start our new discussion. You seem to have a lot of notes from the Chan book.” [Source Book in Chinese Philosophy]

“That I do, Karl, but what is that big black book you have?”

“This is very useful for anyone interested in Eastern philosophy. Its edited by Ian P. McGreal and its called Great Thinkers of the Eastern World, published in 1995 by Harper Collins. It gives a good outline of the Great Learning and I thought I would go over it before we went over the actual text.”

“That’s fine with me. Its better sometimes to have an advance outline of what’s coming up before you read the actual text itself. What does your book have to say?”

“This section is by Chenyang Li and he gives the Major Ideas in this book as the following: we have to look for the three aims and the eight steps.”

“Yeah? Well, what are they?”

“OK, ‘The three aims are manifesting one’s luminous virtue, renewing the people, and abiding in perfect goodness.’ While, ‘The eight steps are the investigation of things, extension of knowledge, sincerity of will, rectification of the heart, cultivation of the personal life, regulation of the family, national order, and world peace.’”

“That sounds pretty good Karl.”

“It would take ‘Great Learning’ indeed to do all this. But you know, making allowances for time and clime, these aims and steps could be adapted for our own times, of course with different cultural content in some instances.”

“Now I’m going to turn to Chan, but feel free to break in with anything from Chenyang Li’s presentation whenever you feel like it.”

“Thanks, I will.”

“Chan points out that this work really became important in Neo-Confucianism, that is in the Sung [Song] Dynasty--that’s 960 to 1279 A.D.--so we have jumped several centuries into the future from our B.C. philosophers, but this is an old book, it was originally chapter 42 of the Book of Rites but now has an independent existence--its very short-- because the greatest of the Neo-Confucianist thinkers, Chu Hsi [Zhu Xi, 1130 to 1200 A.D.] saw it as the epitome of Confucian thinking. As we said last night, it became one of the Four Books as a result. The ‘three aims’ (Chan calls them ‘items’) and the ‘eight steps’, which make up this book, are called by Chan ‘the central Confucian doctrine of humanity (jen) [ren] in application.... The eight steps are the blueprints for translating humanity into actual living.’”

“Now Fred, I want to bring up this observation. That Chu Hsi was a really good Confucian because he wanted all the people to be educated. ‘Zhu Xi believed that the Great Learning was a text not only for the ruler, but for the common people as well.’”

“It should be pointed out that the Chinese title, Ta-Hsueh [Da Xue] really means ‘adult education.’ Chan, in a note, says, ‘It means, therefore, education for the good man or the gentleman, or using the word in the sense of “great”, education for the great man.’”

“I see, Fred. I also want to note that Chu Hsi thought this was the FIRST book to be read when beginning to study Confucianism, so we really messed up our discussion order!”

“We should be ok, Karl, just think what a good background we now have!”

“You’re right. Lets get on with it!”

“It gets a little complicated now, Karl, as the Confucianists emphasize learning but ‘have never agreed on how to learn,’ as Chan says. As a result, he writes, ‘the different interpretations of the investigation of things in this Classic eventually created bitter opposition among Neo-Confucianists. To Chu Hsi, ko-wu meant to investigate things, both inductively and deductively, on the premise that principle (li), the reason of being, is inherent in things. He believed that only with a clear knowledge of things can one’s will become sincere. He therefore rearranged the ancient text of the classic [oops!] to have the sections on the investigation of things appear before those on sincerity of the will. Wang Yang-ming (Wang Shou-jen, 1472-1529 A.D.), on the other hand, believing that principle is inherent in the mind, took ko to mean “to correct,” that is, to correct what is wrong in the mind. To him, sincerity of the will, without which no true knowledge is possible, must come before the investigation of things. Therefore he rejected both Chu Hsi’s arrangement of the text and his doctrine of the investigation of things, and based his whole philosophy on the Great Learning, with sincerity of the will as its first principle.’”

“Lets not get too far ahead of ourselves, Fred. After we do this discussion there are still several centuries to go over before we get near to Chu Hsi and Wang.”

“True enough. I’m going to start the Great Learning , Chu Hsi’s edition and with his ‘comments’ now instead of Chan”s.”

“And of course with my pertinent interruptions with Chenyang Li!”

“Of course!”

“So, start!”

“Here are the three aims: ‘The Way of learning to be great (or adult education) consists in manifesting the clear character, loving the people, and abiding (chih) in the highest good.’ “

“I see that Chan’s translation is a little different than that in my book, Fred. This is one of the little inconveniences we will have to put up with. I don’t think it really hinders our understanding.”

“No, it is easy ti make these little translation adjustments. If there is a BIG difference in meaning we will certainly have to have a discussion about it. Shall I continue?”

“By all means!”

“’Those who wished to being order to their states would first regulate their families. Those who wished to regulate their families would first cultivate their personal lives. Those who wished to cultivate their personal lives would first rectify their minds. Those who wished to rectify their minds would first make their wills sincere. Those who wished to make their wills sincere would first extend their knowledge.’ Now come the eight steps. ‘The extension of knowledge consists in the investigation of things. When things are investigated, knowledge is extended; when knowledge is extended, the will becomes sincere; when the will becomes sincere, the mind is rectified; when the mind is rectified, the personal life is cultivated; when the personal life is cultivated, the family will be regulated; when the family is regulated, the state will be in order; and when the state is in order, there will be peace throughout the world.’ And then follows a ‘democratic’ admonition that Mencius and all good Confucians would want to support. ‘From the Son of Heaven down to the common people, all must regard cultivation of the personal life as the root or foundation.’”

“I would like to say that despite all the references to ancient Kings and sages we have been thus far exposed to, and taking notice of the objections to this made by the Legalists, it is obvious here that the Great Learning, and thus Confucianism, by stressing the extension of knowledge implies that old models are not really the best models. As knowledge is extended through the investigation of things then society as whole becomes more educated and the people and the state more perfected. This is a completely modern idea. One which the current quasi-Marxist Chinese state could well subscribe to. Chenyang Li says, ‘It should be noted that, in the Confucian view, the state is not a mechanism for balancing various pressure groups of conflicting interests. Rather, it is an enlarged family with mutual trust among its members.’”

“What do you think of that Karl?”

“It is wrong of course. But remember, this is the self-consciousness of the feudal elite living under a totally different type of class system than that produced over the last few centuries by industrial capitalism. States today are so obviously mechanisms for class rule that the Great Learning can not be taken at face value based on the outmoded views of the state that underlie it. Nevertheless, the essential philosophy it delineates can be adapted to modern times. I think, therefore, Confucianism can be harmonized with Marxism. They do not have to be antagonistic. Those Confucians who refuse to see this have turned their back of the common people, the main concern of Confucius, and are just functioning as mealy mouthed spokespeople for continuing class repression. That how I think at any rate.”

“I’m almost sorry I asked! But here is a quote that sort of backs up your interpretation. ‘The Book of Odes says, “Although Chou is an ancient state, the mandate it has received from Heaven is new” Therefore, the superior man tries at all times to do his utmost [in renovating himself and others.]’”

“That’s ode 235 King Wen. He is the King who overthrew the Shang Dynasty. I have Arthur Waley”s translations [The Book of Songs, Grove Press., NY, 1996]. The ode also says, ‘By Zhou [Chou] they were subdued;/Heaven’s charge is not for ever.’ So if you don’t extend knowledge and renovate the people--look out!”

“This is from chapter 6: ‘What is meant by “making the will sincere” is allowing no self-deception, as when we hate a bad smell ot love a beautiful color. This is called satisfying oneself. Therefore the superior man will always be watchful over himself when alone.... For other people see him as if they see his very heart. This is what is meant by saying that what is true in a man’s heart will be shown in his outward appearance. Therefore the superior man will always be watchful over himself when alone.... Wealth makes a house shinning and virtue makes a person shinning. When one’s mind is broad and his heart generous, his body becomes big and is at ease. Therefore the superior man makes his will sincere.’”

“This idea of sincerity is linked to the Confucian ideal of ‘humanity.’ A Confucian pursues jen with single-mindedness, self-cultivation and moral effort. Sincerity comes about by such single-mindedness and that leads to the self cultivation which allows for the perfection of jen. I remember this from Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy by Oliver Leaman (Routledge, 1999).”

“Good memory. Chapter 8 is a little bit hard for me to understand. ‘What is meant by saying that the regulation of the family depends on the cultivation of the personal life is this: Men are partial toward those from whom they have affection and whom they love, partial toward those whom they despise and dislike, partial towards those whom they fear and revere, partial towards those whom they pity and for whom they have compassion, and partial toward those whom they do not respect. Therefore there are few people in the world who know what is bad in those whom they love and what is good in those whom they dislike. Hence it is said, “People do not know the faults of their sons and do not know (are not satisfied with) the bigness of their seedlings.’”

“I think it means that if one cultivates his or her own personal life, that is if he/she rectifies his/her mind according to Confucian philosophy then that person won’t be blinded by these partialities. We should note it was just these kinds of partialities that Mo Tzu thought could only be eliminated by means of universal love, so he probably had the Great Learning in mind when he composed his own philosophy.”

“Now for chapter 9: ‘What is meant by saying that in order to govern the state it is necessary first to regulate the family is this: There is no one who cannot teach his own family and yet can teach others. Therefore the superior man (ruler) without going beyond his family, can bring education into completion in the whole state.... (Sage emperors) Yao and Shun led the world with humanity and the people followed them. (Wicked kings) Chieh and Chou led the world with violence and the people followed them.[I think the context demands a ‘did not follow’ but you judge Karl.] The people did not follow their orders which were contrary to what they themselves liked. Therefore the superior man must have the good qualities in himself before he may require them in other people.... There has never been a man who does not cherish altruism (shu) in himself and yet can teach other people. Therefore the order of the state depends on the regulation of the family. The Book of Odes says, “His deportment is all correct, and he rectifies all the people of the country.” Because he served as a worthy example as a father, son elder brother, and younger brother, therefore the people imitated him.’”

“Let us not forget that the large extended Chinese families of this time were very unlike our own shattered nuclear groups that have come about to facilitate the mobility of the work force so necessary to the capitalist as opposed to the feudal system. That quote was from Ode 152 The Cuckoo which Waley renders as ‘The cuckoo is on the mulberry-tree; /Her young on the hazel./ Good people, gentle folk--/ Shape the people of this land./ Shape the people of this land./ And may they do so for ten thousand years!’ Besides a big difference in translation, I think it curious that the cuckoo should be selected as an example of a good family bird.”

“Maybe it was a Confucian cuckoo.”

“What’s next?”

“We come now to chapter 10 the one explaining how to get world peace. ‘When the ruler treats compassionately the young and the helpless, then the common people will not follow the opposite course. Therefore the ruler has a principle with which, as with a measuring square, he may regulate his conduct.... The Book of Odes says, “Lofty is the Southern Mountain! How massive are the rocks! How massive is the Grand Tutor Yin (of Chou)! The people all look up to you” Thus rulers of states should never be careless.’”

“They don’t look up to Grand Tutor Yin with much hope Fred. That is Ode 191 High-Crested Southern Hills and Waley renders the verse as:
High-crested are those southern hills,
With rocks piled high and towering.
Majestic are you, Master Yin,
To whom all the people look.
Grief is burning in their hearts.
But they dare not even speak in jest.
The state lies in ruins,
Why do you not see this?

It appears that Grand Tutor Yin has been careless. The point is that rulers should be looking out for their subjects!

When your cruelty is in full form,
We will indeed meet your spears;
But if you are constant and kind to us,
Then we shall pledge ourselves to you.”

“The Great Learning agrees with that. With respect to rulers it says, ‘by having the support of the people, they have their countries, and by losing the support of the people, they lose their countries. Therefore the ruler will first be watchful over his own virtue.”

“This is obviously the source of Mencius’ view of the ‘Mandate of Heaven’ and his views on the right to remove bad rulers.”

“Chapter 10 continues, ‘Virtue is the root, while wealth is the branch. If he [the ruler] regards the root as external (or secondary) and the branch as internal (or essential), he will compete with the people in robbing each other. Therefore when wealth is gathered in the ruler’s hand, the people will scatter away from him; and when wealth is scattered (among the people), they will gather round him. Therefore if the ruler’s words are uttered in an evil way, the same words will be uttered back to him in an evil way; and if he acquires wealth in an evil way, it will be taken away from
him in an evil way.’

“This is very good advice. This is a practical handbook on how to rule and stay in power. Machiavelli is supposed to have composed the first such handbook, The Prince, and its pretty good, but the Great Learning isn’t that bad and I venture to say applying its maxims would keep one’s power just as well.”

“It probability wouldn’t hurt to have them both on the night stand.”

“A good idea. One always needs a fall back position.”

“This is next--its from the ‘Oath of Ch’in’ but long before First Emperor. If First Emperor had been more aware of it Li Ssu would have been in hot water. ‘In the “Oath of Ch’in” it is said, “Let me have but one minister, sincere and single minded, not pretending to other abilities, but broad and upright of mind, generous and tolerant towards others. When he sees that another person has a certain kind of ability, he is happy as though he himself had it, and when he sees another man who is elegant and wise, he loves him in his heart as much as if he said so in so many words, thus showing that he can really tolerate others. Such a person can preserve my sons, and grandsons and the black-haired people (the common people). He may well be a great benefit to the country. But when a minister sees another person with a certain kind of ability, he is jealous and hates him, and when he sees another person who is elegant and wise, he blocks him so he cannot advance, thus showing that he really cannot tolerate others. Such a person cannot preserve my sons, grandsons, and the black haired people. He is a danger to the country”’.”

“This describes the relation that came about between Han Fei and Li Ssu. One wonders if Han Fei had lasted and been an influence on First Emperor instead of Li Ssu, if the emperor would have behaved better and thus his empire would have outlived him for more than just a few years.”

“I don’t know Karl. But First Emperor obviously violated this last precept from the Great Learning, to wit, ‘To love what the people hate and to have what the people love--that is to act contrary to human nature, and disaster will come to such a person. Thus we see that the ruler has a great principle to follow.’”

“Or, as Machiavelli would say, This is what he must SEEM to follow. Now if we have finished with the Great Learning, I want to suggest what we should go over next.”

“Which is?”

“Another one of the ‘Four Books.’ This one, also from the Book of Rites, is called the Doctrine of the Mean.”

OK, lets go have lunch then come back in a couple of hours and go over this new work.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Part Three of Russell on German Social Democracy (Conclusion)

Thomas Riggins

Russell thinks that “the most cardinal point” of Marx’s system is the “law of concentration of capital.” Russell gives a long quote from Chapter 32 of Das Kapital (“The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation”) which boils down to this: as capitalism develops it grows and solidifies into larger and larger companies by way of concentrating wealth as a result of competition (“One capitalist always kills many.”) As capitalism grows so does the working class which it exploits. This is a social development and the end result is the big corporations are in effect socialized industries owned by private interests. Eventually you have a small percentage of capitalists controlling the wealth of the world vs a hugh gigantic population dependent on the means of production they control for their livelihoods and existence. Finally, the masses will take over the means of production themselves, since the private management leads to speculation and crises effecting the whole world and billions of people, and run them in a cooperative manner to provide for human need not private profit. This will be possible when the concentration of capital and reached such a massive scale that it becomes possible, under cooperative ownership, to provide the necessaries of life for all.

Russell does see a tendency at work causing firms to become larger and larger-- but for different reasons than Marx. Marx overlooks the value of "the head work of capitalist management" because of his "glorification of manual labour." The capitalist needs time to think and be creative and this could lead to "management of all technically advanced businesses by a central authority, with no duties but to study the general conditions and the technical possibilities of the business in question." Russell, it would seem, is giving a premature argument for the central planning system of the future Soviet state.-- except the clever capitalists will be replaced by representatives of the working class.

By and large, Russell sees capitalism becoming more and concentrated and concedes, except for the working class taking over, that "Marx's law seems true." Russell thinks as science advances and business technique becomes more complex and refined the great concentrated business firms and corporations and their operations will "become co-extensive with the State." There doesn't seem to be any change in class relations as businessmen will be running the show (workers are not clever enough by half.)

But Russell had it backwards. He thinks monopoly concentration, that is the issue, will make businesses more profitable, and: "As soon as a business has reached this phase of development, State-management in general becomes profitable, and is likely to be brought about by the combined action of free competition and political forces."

But, what we have seen, at least in the workings of American capitalism, is that "free competition" leads to economic collapse and that political forces are called upon when corporations, etc., become unprofitable and even then State-management is resisted. Of course, if the working class in the U.S. were to take over the big corporations, banks, etc., in conjunction with a working class led government, State-management would be used to rationalize the economy and provide for human needs rather than putting profits before people.

Russell, of course, didn't see it that way because he didn't see a contradiction between the interests of the capitalist state and the workers. Russell does, however, make an interesting observation. The concentration of monopoly capitalism and the use of more and more machinery leads to the creation of a middle class "foremen, engineers, and skilled mechanics-- and this class destroys the increasingly sharp opposition of capitalist and proletariat on which Marx lays so much stress."

This leads us to the question of EMBOURGEOISEMENT of parts of the working class and also that of the adoption of false consciousness by some workers. We note that some 40% of unionized workers supported McCain in the general election. In any event, this is a problem for a separate paper. Interested readers should check out the article on the "aristocracy of labor" to be found in A DICTIONARY OF MARXIST THOUGHT edited by Tom Bottomore et al.

In a footnote Russell suggests that the growth of large industries leads to a socialization of production and while Marx noticed this "it does not seem to occur to him" that this could lead to a peaceful transition "to collective production." It is worth noting that Engels, in the Preface to the English Edition of Das Kapital (1887) wrote that after a lifetime of study of the English economy Marx thought that in England "the inevitable social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means." So Russell was also wrong about this.

After some really outdated comments about agriculture, Russell finally concludes that, for the reasons he has given, "Marxian Socialism, as a body of proved doctrine, must therefore be rejected." This paper has attempted to show that all the reasons given by Russell were based either on a misreading of Marx or a misinterpretation of his theories.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Part Two of Russell on German Social Democracy

Thomas Riggins

Russell presents Marx's theory of value as follows. Commodities have exchange-value and can exchange with each other so they have something in common. What they have in common cannot be intrinsic to any given commodity qua commodity so it must be something they all share in common This is that they are products of human labor, not any specific human labor but by "undifferentiated human labor"-- i.e., abstract human labor. So the value expressed in commodities is the value of human labor measured in units of labor time. Labor time has value as well, the labor time it takes to produce it-- that is to produce the necessaries of life needed to keep the worker (and his family going). So we are talking about the cost of labor power and this cost is what accounts for wages.

How does the capitalist get his profit. Russell says suppose the worker works 12 hours for his wages and makes in six hours enough goodies for the capitalist to sell which equals his wages, then the capitalist gets to keep all the money he gets by selling the products of the last six hours. So the capitalist exploits the labor power of the worker to get his profit by making him work twice as long as necessary to get the value of his wages. This exploitation will only end by production by society for society (and not for private appropriation)--i.e., with socialism.

This in a nutshell is Russell's view of Marx's theory of value. Russell says Marx's theory is FALLACIOUS [the kiss of death for logicians!] as to both METHOD and SUBSTANCE. Let us look at the reasons given by Russell.

First, Russell says "the value of a commodity is not measured by the quantity of labour involved." This is because by "mere abstraction of differences" we can't know that we found the only COMMON feature they share or even that it is the "relevant one." So, his method is bad. Also the substance of the conclusion is bad because Marx overlooked "another common quality" that all commodities share, i.e., "utility" which is "the power of satisfying some need."

This second objection is very strange as the very first section of Das Kapital is called "The Two Factors of a Commodity: Use Value and Value (the Substance of Value and the Magnitude of Value)" Here Marx writes "The utility of a thing makes it a use value.... Use values become a reality only by use or consumption: they also constitute the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of that wealth." All commodities have use values or "utility." How Russell ever arrived at the idea that Marx was unaware of, or ignored, this feature of commodities when he proposed his theory of value I cannot understand. It almost seems as if he never read the first chapter of Das Kapital and that his knowledge of Marx's theory was gotten second hand.

What about the first criticism, that by abstraction we can't know if we missed other features common to all commodities. This is a standard bourgeois criticism of Marx brought about by using formal logical principles to his argument. Here the problem is that Marx and Russell are approaching the concept of a "commodity" from two different philosophical positions.

This is pointed out quite clearly by Simon Mohun in his article "value" in the second edition of A Dictionary of Marxist Thought. Mohun writes that "Marx does not provide a formal proof of the existence of value by arriving at some (arbitrary) abstract property common to our experience of all the heterogeneous commodities that exist." This is just what Russell thinks Marx was doing and his first criticism would have some merit if this was Marx's method. That is the way an empiricist would approach the problem, but Marx came out of the Hegelian tradition.

This is what Mohun says Marx was up to: Marx "analyses the typical relation between people that actually exists in bourgeois society-- the exchange of one commodity for another-- because, first, the categories of political economy are a necessary reflection of particular relations of production, and hence, second, it is through a critical examination of these categories and the forms they take that the content of bourgeois relations is developed and revealed."

The method used by Marx is the dialectical method he and Engels developed by giving a materialist spin to Hegel. Russell's criticism, as we shall more clearly show below, misses this dimension to Marx's thought, and relies on formal logical analysis which is alien to the dialectical logic of Marxism. "A formal, non-dialectical analysis," Mohun writes, "will always miss Marx's analysis of value because it will have no intrinsic connection with the concrete relationships involved." It is Marx who is studying the real world and Russell who is dealing with logical abstractions.

Having decided that Marx has a messed up theory of value, Russell tries to present what he thinks is a better formulation. He basis his formulation on Ricardo without, apparently, realizing that Marx's theory was an improvement over that of Ricardo. Russell sees problems with Ricardo and attempts to reformulate the theory in his own words so that it is "logically valid." Note here that Marx has based his theory on the actual study of the economic reality about him while Russell is engaged in a totally abstract endeavor to make the economic categories used by Ricardo logically consistent with one another. Its as if once the theory is logically consistent reality will follow. This is the way of thinking usually, and falsely, attributed to Hegel. Of course, Marx never read Russell, but a remark he made in a letter to his friend Kugelmann expresses exactly what he would have thought of Russell's efforts. "All this palaver," Marx wrote, "about the necessity of proving the concept of value comes from complete ignorance both of the subject matter and of scientific method."

This is Russell's version of Ricardo's theory that value is measured by labor-time:
"In a state of free competition, the exchange-value of an article whose production can be indefinitely increased will. in the long run and apart from fluctuations, be measured by its cost of production; its cost of production must--- since capital is only accumulated labour --- consist, abstracting from interest on capital, of wages alone; now wages are proportional to labour-time, therefore exchange-value is measured by labour-time."

This is, for Russell, the correct argument. Marx's mistake is that he leaves out "wages are proportional to labour time" yet retains the conclusion "exchange value is measured by labour-time." He leaves out that necessary premiss because he thinks wages are determined by "cost of the labourer's necessaries."

If Marx is correct about that then it must be false that value is measured by labour time, Russell maintains, for "what is to hinder competition from lowering the price to the point where a business is only just profitable?" He also thinks "supply and demand" is overlooked by Marx (it isn't) and this flaw vitiates his theory of value " and "the whole materialist theory of history"!

Russell has, I think, made a mess of Marx's position. Russell is correct to note that the cost of production is involved in a determination of the value of a commodity. Marx treats the labor-power of the worker as a commodity on the market place which the capitalist bargains for-- and its value, like any other commodity, is determined by its "cost of production" and also its cost of reproduction, and for labor-power this is just the "cost of the labourer's necessaries."

Russell is simply wrong when he states that Marx doesn't take "cost of production" into account but only "labor-time" when he determines value. In Das Kapital Marx writes, "The value of labour power is determined, as is the case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction , of this specific article."

Labor-power is a unique commodity because its cost of production measured in wages may be recouped by the capitalist in one part of the working day and yet he can still benefit from the use of that labor power in another part of the working day-- thus appropriating "surplus value" which he keeps for himself.

Russell later pooh-poohs the notion of socially necessary labor time (as opposed to just labor-time) and the concept of surplus value so that his presentation of Marx's theory is one confused mangle of misrepresentation. It is this mangle he is trying to refute, not Marx. He also confuses "price" with "value" and doesn't seem to recognize that "price" can fluctuate around "value" and that indeed competition can lower "the price to the point where a business is only just profitable"-- or indeed unprofitable as US auto makers are finding out in the big crisis of 2008. It is Russell's position, not Marx's that "cannot therefore be held to have any theoretical validity whatever."

Summary: Russell gives a fair outline of the Marxist theory of value. But his attack on it is wrong headed. He thinks Marx ignored use value when he did not. He thinks Marx arrived at the concept of "undifferentiated human labor" as a result of faulty logical analysis when he actually arrived at it by a concrete analysis of the actual workings of the capitalist economic system. In this sense Marx was more of an empiricist than the empiricists. Russell doesn't understand that "cost of production" and "value of wages" are the same with respect to labor-power as "cost of the labourer's necessaries". Russell confuses "price" with "value." These confusions are the basis of several other anti-Marx positions he takes in this section. I did not go over every objection as they are based on the faulty premisses above mentioned.

In the next section of this article I will go over Russell's second critique of Marx, the critique of his theory of the concentration of capital.