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« Daniel Bell: A Chinese Confucian Party? | Main | East Asia is not Confucian »

February 23, 2010


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I think the ability of 德 to have an impact on others, to cause them to act in certain ways, implies a kind of externally expressed power that is lacking in the word "integrity." "Integrity" seems like it can be a self-contained trait. When we say someone has "fierce integrity" we're often talking about things they DON'T do (take bribes, compromise their own moral standards, etc.). "Integrity" also has a sense of keeping something internally whole. When Zengzi turns down the offer of a fiefdom because he doesn't want to be beholden to another, Confucius says this is 足以全其節也. "Integrity" works well for 節 here with its sense of purity.

But take the famous Lunyu line 君子之德,風;小人之德,草;草上之風,必偃。」 It seems that one wouldn't talk about "integrity" having this kind of power, and the morally suasive power it exudes is a key aspect of 德.

Not sure why Hinton translates 長 as "timeless" either, but that's another story...

I agree that a Confucian understanding of 德 may well be more socially interactive. But might a Daoist view be more self-contained?

There is a sense in parts of Zhuangzi that some aspect of 德 is hidden from ignorant observers. This is clear in the 德充符 chapter. The ignorant focus only on external appearances and conventional notions of beauty and worth, missing what really matters.

But there is also a way in which this 德 in 德充符 inevitably leaks out has a strong effect on others. When Duke Ai tells Confucius about Ugly Tuo, he says, "丈夫與之處者,思而不能去也。婦人見之,請於父母曰『與為人妻,寧為夫子妾』者,十數而未止也." The effect here on people is clear. They want to be around him, though they don't necessarily understand why. He doesn't really appear to *do) anything (and perhaps this is the internal aspect). But it just seems somewhat off to me to envision women telling their parents that they'd rather be his concubine than another man's wife because of his "integrity." Here we really see 德 as something closer to "charisma" without the occasional fake and sleazy associations the word can sometimes have in contemporary English (though there's obviously something vaguely sexual in this Zhuangzi passage). Perhaps for Zhuangzi, 德 is something one can develop and cultivate in a non-social context (which is not really the case for Confucius), but that it will always have social effects when it is at its full strength (and this chapter is, after all, called "signs of the fullness of 德").

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