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« Confucius as Contemporary Art | Main | The Limits of Confucian Revivalism in Korea »

January 23, 2012


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David McCraw at University of Hawaii has suggested the translation "mana" for 德. I like it, although it's not appropriate for translating a book.

You ask very good questions, once again. I would hesitate to say that charisma resides within virtue (德). As we can see from XII.19, a junzi's virtue is different from a xiaoren's virtue; hence 德 is better understood as one's 'natural' character (which will be virtuous if the person is so). Integrity, as consistency, comes close to this, but in my opinion, integrity seems to be the fitting translation for 德 mainly in certain Guodian texts (where it is often written as 悳) only.

You are absolutely right that a Confucian focuses on action. Here I am reminded by Rosemont's translation for 仁 as 'authoritative conduct'. I have never quite seen the point of that particular translation, but you made me see that Rosemont is actually talking about charisma, or at least, charisma which is the result of one's actions. Therefore, your "virtuous charismatic action" is actually 仁, is it not?

Hi Sam, Carl, and Jyrki, just a couple of quick thoughts:

First, I think Confucians didn’t contemplate doing away with legislation and other policy measures entirely.

Second, there are several different kinds of way in which a ruler’s virtue might be expected to be effective:

Examples helps us understand and appreciate virtue. Virtue is recognizable as good, before we think through why; and we naturally tend to like what is good. So the presence of a virtuous person tends to lead people to emulate the constituent virtues.

Analogy: By showing a child some good paintings, one might inspire her to want to make a painting that has a certain kind of look, and also show her how to generate that look (for she can see, at least to some extent, by examining the examples).

This dynamic is in principle independent of the fact that the person is ruler. But the fact that she is ruler can help by making her character more visible.

People might in general tend to emulate the characters of their rulers, somewhat independently of whether those characters are good or bad.

This might be because the position of ruler is a prima facie mark of the community’s approval, so that the community’s authority seems to endorse whatever character the ruler has. Or it might be because part of the ruling ideology is that the rulers are especially good. Or it might be because power is naturally impressive, or because the thought that the powerful are bad is an uncomfortable thought. Or it might be because everyone has an interest in sucking up to the powerful. See also C.

It is natural (it makes evolutionary sense) for us to want to reciprocate good or bad treatment. Hence, for example, Confucius finds it odd that Zai Wo would not want to repay with honor and respect the kindness and care he received from his parents (17.21). The care and respect in the policies a ruler chooses, and the general attitudes of care and respect she shows in that and other ways (thus in effect promising future good policies), will inspire people to:
i) be well-disposed toward the ruler,
ii) respect and obey the ruler’s wishes generally,
iii) side with the ruler in case of conflict.

A ruler whose policies ensure the people’s security from war and want will thereby give the people the basic requirements for healthy moral development.

Too little reading too long ago left me with the impression that the traditional idea of the power of De, before Confucius, was mainly about (C) – about kindness and karma, if you like. I could be mistaken.

Analects 9:24 and several passages in Mencius (1A7, 6A10, 6A15) seem to suggest that "moral knowledge will not motivate without an additional act. Moral knowledge will not motivate unless we maneuver a proper moral orientation into place" (as Bryan Van Norden puts it on p. 7 of his introduction to Nivison's Ways of Confucianism. Xunzi, Wang Yangming, and Dai Zhen seem to go even further and assert that moral knowledge ensures moral action. My sense here is that most classical Confucian thinkers share with Plato (in the Republic, at least) the view that "Knowledge is virtue, and invulnerable to weakness of will, only insofar as the kind of knowledge meant is wisdom.” (Kenneth Dorter, “Weakness and Will in Plato's Republic,” in Weakness of Will from Plato to the Present, ed. Tobias Hoffmann [Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2008], 17)

To my mind, this view of moral knowledge as character or virtue dovetails nicely with the older view (doubtless influential on the development of the concept in Confucian traditions) of dé德 as a kind of moral-magical charisma. Confucian dé would seem to be both moral (insofar as it is a function of one's character as a virtuous person) and magical (insofar as it is a property of one's person as one who has developed his character sufficiently). Virtuous personalities radiate magical charisma and perform moral actions. I don’t see where and how “the trouble comes” in this case.

Hi Jeff,

I'm not sure I understand the line of thought in your comment. Two examples:

I don't see yet how Sam's general question about de, or my partial response, would raise the question whether moral knowledge is inherently motivating.

Also I can't decide whether to think that the second half of your first paragraph is accepting or rejecting the readings (the seeming suggestions) mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph.

Sorry for being so slow (in both senses)! Help, please? :)

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