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« Listen to the Mothers | Main | The Tao (or would it be the Te) of "The Wrestler" »

March 02, 2009


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Hi Sam,

I don't have much to say, but your mention of "bad people" made me think of:

DDJ 27:

DDJ 49:

Bao Pu

Bao Pu,
Thanks for the comment.
Yes, there are "good people" - 善人 - and "bad" people - 不善人 - but not a consistent, universal (or universalizable) human nature....Way includes them all....


Here is a real life example: Enron (I know of them on the first hand. Of course, you can exchange Enron with Citigroup, AIG, and all the major names on the Street) had a code of ethnics that is so beautifully put together that you can shame all the sages of the world and it was so thick it can be used to knock its employees unconscious if needed. I am sure Enron paid quiet a small fortune for it, maybe they paid a college B-School professor to write it. I am not so sure Ken Lay had the time to read through it once but anyway it didn’t prevent him from doing what he had done.

I was laughing two weeks ago when I were listening the sale pitch of a the B-school professor selling his M.B.A. program for having a strong corporate ethics course where he is teaching. Somebody does recognize a business opportunity when there is a disaster. I am pretty sure Lay get his code of ethnics from his Sunday school and his P.H.D. program, but what credential that said professor can present to his prospective students that he is better than Ken Lay (before the fall). From the mid-western farm boy to the C.E.O. of Enron, he has come a long way, he can’t get there without some de (integrity) like do his homework and not to cheat on the exams but boy he can cheat on a larger scale. (Of course he will disagree on that).

What about the employees who had faithfully served Lay's every whim with integrity? Are they living in a higher moral sphere than Lay than the ones that steal from Enron? How about the professors who justify the system on which Lay and his equivalents are playing, are they living on a higher moral sphere than Lay ?

Well, one has to laugh to think that Laozi foresee this dilemma thousands of years ago. Will Havard and Yale B-schools teach Laozi for a change? W might have learn something in Yale if they did teach Laozi. But again, can one teach ethics, can one wisdom?


Hi Sam,

I needed time to be able to respond to your highly interesting post!! You are probably wondering why I am sticking to virtue and not switching to Integrity? It is strictly intuitive on my part. Integrity, to me, is too focused on a person's character. It's not that I cannot understand your point because I do understand why you would feel this is a preferable translation-- and yet...I hesitate....(that is, while I do not disagree with you, something keeps stopping me).

I Guess I feel somehow that your integrity still comes closer in meaning and feeling to 誠 in terms of action, and to 仁 in terms of personhood. This is my hesitation. Especially with regard to Confucius...

My other issue, with compound kanji terms is that when you put 2 kanji together, it is not that the 1st kanji serves as an adjective to the 2nd kanji. So that, 美徳 or 善徳 does not mean "beautiful virtue" or "good virtue"... or does 悪徳 or 暴徳 mean "bad virtue" or "violent virtue" but rather these form new words; ie "a virtue" or "a vice"

Now, just by this alone, you can see we are not any longer talking about a person. It is more something referring to action or person-in-context (in terms of possible action). So, I still do not think we are talking of "bad virtue" or "bad integrity" but rather "a vice" or a person who potentially performs a vice.

This is based on Japanese and I went ahead and asked my translator friend his opionion--- which he backed me up. However, while he is Chinese, he is coming from a comfort zone of Tang poetry-- so take this with a pinch of salt as we are still 1000 years away. I could be wrong and indeed, often am wrong! (You can read his comments in the virtue and dostoevsky post if you are interested)

The same can probably be said, though, for your example above too 上徳 versus 下徳。 I think according to 老子 (is that who the quote is by??) 下徳 is a reference not to " lower integrity but to Confucius' 仁、義、礼... is that possible? So what the quote could mean is something like true "virtue" comes not from a commitment to 仁、義、礼 but rather to a person's natural state. That is, things proceed according to the dao when one does what feels natural and "right" to them at that moment in time in that context...

People who act according to their natural talents or natural "taste" 個性 tend to just naturally act in accordance to the dao while those relying on outside normative principles (too much yi, ri or jen) tend to act unnaturally and out of accordance with dao...

Bau Pu's example-- too-- is about how one "practices" being an exemplery model, right? That is to say it is another knock against confucian understandings of 聖人
First of all, it should have started with a 故 "therefore" so unless we read the entire proceeding passage, we cannot say with any certainty hat these two lines mean...

How about something like this 牡丹訳?

Therefore from the perspective of the Sage (from the "eyesight" of the sage):
"The good person (person's actions) can serve as the teacher of the bad person. But also, the bad person can serve as the food for thought for the good person."

That is how I read it.

I have to work today but hope to hear from you. When do you leave? I think Notes are a must.

Hey Peony,

Can you tell me what you mean by "virtue"? What is virtue?

No, I can't Bao Pu... I am way too busy to even try and guess what you mean by that question. Except that virtue would be used as a technical word as a translation for 徳。 So just like with any other translation it would be a... translation. In the same way if I said, "regards" is a translation for "yoroshiku" and then you asked me what does "regards" mean. How should I answer that question? I mean really...

Well, OK, "regards" in this situation is standing in for "yoroshiku" with the understanding that it is imperfect but with the tentative feeling that I am unable to find something better yet. Replace Virtue for Regards and Toku for yoroshiku and shazam. There is my answer. Other than that, I go by wikipedia for the English term itself (which I could care less about).

Hi Peony,

I was referring to the English word. I just wanted to make sure I know what you mean when you say "virtue." Wikipedia says "moral excellence." So, you believe De is moral excellence. Good. Thanks.

Good health,
Bao Pu

No, Bao Pu, that is not what I think de means. There is no english word that maps on to the meaning of "de" Hence the debate. Indeed, I have repeated so many times that "virtue" is not right. My problem-- maybe everyone's problem-- is coming up with something more persuasive. At first I thought that Integrity was perhaps more persuasive... but now, I hesitate. Manyul has suggested Latin Virtus... I like it. Ivanhoe has "moral power"... which could be closer but I really am not crazy about the sound of that.... so that is all. I am a translator so the question of translation would of course interest someone like me. If I wanted to really understand the concept, however, I would approach it via Chinese and Japanese sources as much as possible (that is, I would try and completely bypass the english altogether in my thinking as I think I would be more successful). But just to repeat, no, I do not think de is "moral excellence" (but that is certainly, I would hope, part of "de")...

Like my example with "yoroshiku" 宜しくwhatever english word you choose, it would only ever be "filling in" for the Japanese word as no english word could ever perfectly map to that Japanese concept. Which I surprisingly learn Ames/Hall believe is connected to the Chinese 義 "yi"... now that is interesting.

This is a debate that is never to be settled. It is an open question. I like "integrity" generally, perhaps because of the connotations in English that "virtue" or "moral power" conjure. There is a way in which "integrity" might be more morally neutral than the others....Anyway, thanks for the great comments....

Integrity comprises perceived consistency of actions, values, methods, measures and principles
Integrity in ethics

In discussions on behavior and morality, one view of the property of integrity sees it as the virtue of basing actions on an internally-consistent framework of principles. ... One can describe a person as having integrity to the extent that everything that that person does or believes: actions, methods, measures and principles — all derive from the same core group of values.

Would one consider Bush Junior as one with intergity? Would oen consider him to be one with "de"? Who i deny that Bush as
a person as having integrity to the extent that everything that that person does or believes: actions, methods, measures and principles — all derive from the same core group of values."


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