Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Thomas Riggins

After having to put up the John McCain/Sarah Palin saber rattling about Russia's "aggression" against Georgia last August (still grist for the mill with right-wing know-nothing radio big mouths) its nice to see the New York Times report (12-31-2008) on its front page that it was President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia who initiated the hostilities by "ordering an attack on separatists in South Ossetia."

He said he had to do so due to a "Russian invasion." The Times reports that since August "no evidence has emerged to verify the claim." Saakashvili tried to convince JOHN McCAIN that he didn't start the war and McCain's response was "I don't need proof." He would have made a swell president.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Thomas Riggins
Part Three
"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number IS Six hundred threescore AND six."-- Revelation 13:18

In the last part of his essay Engels explains that the purpose of the Book of Revelations (by John of Patmos) was to communicate its religious vision to the seven churches of Asia Minor and to the larger sect of Jewish Christians that they represented.

At this time, circa 69 AD, the entire Mediterranean world much of the of Near East and Western Europe were under the control of the Roman Empire. This was a multicultural empire made of hundreds of tribes, groups, cities and peoples. Within the empire was a vast underclass of workers, freedmen, slaves and peasants whose exploited labor was lived off of by a ruling class of landed aristocrats and merchants. In 69 AD the empire was in essence a military dictatorship controlled by the army and led by the Emperor (from the Latin word for "general"-- imperator).

At this time there were peoples but no nations in our sense of the word. "Nations became possible," Engels says, "only through the downfall of Roman world domination." The effects of which are still being felt in the Middle East and parts of Europe, especially eastern Europe.

For the exploited masses of the Empire it was basically impossible to resist the military power of Rome. There were uprisings and slave revolts but they were always put down by the legions. This was the background for what became a great revolutionary movement of the poor and the exploited, a movement that became Christianity. The purpose of the movement was to escape from persecution, enslavement and exploitation. A solution was offered. "But" Engels remarks, "not in this world."

Another feature of the work is that it is a symbolical representation of contemporary first century politics and John thinks that Jesus's second coming is near at hand. Jesus tells John, "Behold, I come quickly" three times (22:7, 22:12, 22:20). His failure to show up by now doesn't seem to pose a problem for Christians.

As far as the later Christian religion of love is concerned, Engels reports that you won't find it in Revelation, at least as it regards the enemies of the Christians. There is no cheek turning going on here: it's all fire and brimstone for the foes of Jesus. Engels says "undiluted revenge is preached." God is even going to completely blot out Rome from the face of the earth. He changed his mind evidently as it is still a popular tourist destination and the pope has even set up shop there.

As was pointed out earlier the God of John is Yahweh, there is no Trinity, it is He, not Christ, who will judge mankind and they wil bel judged according to their works (no justification by faith here, sorry Luther), no doctrine of original sin, no baptism, and no Eucharist or Mass. Almost everyone of these later developments came from Roman and Greek, as well as Egyptian
mystery religions. Zoroastrian elements from the Zend - Avesta are also present. These are the idea of Satan and the Devil as an evil force opposed to Yahweh, a great battle at the end of time between good and evil, [the final conflict] and the idea of a second coming. All these ideas were picked up by the Jews during their contact with the Persians before their return after the Babylonian captivity and transmitted to the early Christians.

Once we realize all this we can also see why Islam was able to rise to the status of a world religion as well. Those areas of the world that were not the home land of Greco-Roman paganism were open to Islam which spread in areas of Semitic settlement and where Christianity had been imposed by force, so could Islam be.

We will give Engels the last word, the Book of Revelation "shows without any dilution what Judaism, strongly influenced by Alexandria, contributed to Christianity. All that comes later is Western , Greco-Roman addition."

Friday, December 26, 2008



Part Two

Engels views on early Christianity were formed from his reading of what he considered "the only scientific basis" for such study, namely the new critical works by German scholars of religion.

First were the works of the TUBINGEN SCHOOL, including David Strauss ("The Life of Jesus"). This school has shown that 1) the Gospels are late writings based on now lost original sources from the time of Jesus and his followers; 2) only four of Paul's letters are by him; 3) all miracles must be left out of account if you want a scientific view; 4) all contradictory presentations of the same events must also be rejected. This school then wants to preserve what it can of the history of early Christianity. By the way, this is essentially what Thomas Jefferson tried to do when he made his own version of the New Testament.

A second school was based on the writings of BRUNO BAUER. What Bauer did was to show that Christianity would have remained a Jewish sect if it had not, in the years after the death of its founder, mutated by contact with Greco-Roman paganism, into a new religion capable of becoming a world wide force. Bauer showed that Christianity, as we know it, did not come into the Roman world from the outside ("from Judea") but that it was "that world's own product." Christianity owes as much to Zeus as to Yahweh.

Engels maintains that THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS is the only book in the New Testament that can be properly dated by means of its internal evidence. It can be dated to around 67-68 AD since the famous number 666, as the mark of the beast or the Antichrist, represents the name of the Emperor Nero according to the rules of numerology. Nero was overthrown in 68. This book, Engels says, is the best source of the views of the early Christians since it is much earlier than any of the Gospels, and may actually have been the work the apostle John (which the Gospel and letters bearing his name were not).

In this book we will not find any of the views that characterize official Christianity as we have it from the time of the Emperor Constantine to the present day. It is purely a Jewish phenomenon in REVELATIONS. There is no TRINITY as GOD has SEVEN SPIRITS (so the HOLY GHOST is impossible Engels remarks). JESUS CHRIST is not GOD but his SON, he is not even equal in status to his father. Nevertheless he has pretty high status, his followers are called his "slaves" by John. Jesus is "an emanation of God, existing from all eternity but subordinate to God" just as the seven spirits are. MOSES is more or less "on an equal footing" with Jesus in the eyes of God. There is no mention of the later belief in ORIGINAL SIN. John still thought of himself as a Jew, there is no idea at this time of "Christianity" as a new religion.

In this period there were many end of times revelations in circulation both in the Semitic and in the Greco-Roman world. They all proclaimed that God was (or the Gods were) pissed off at humanity and had to be appeased by sacrifices. John's revelation was UNIQUE because it proclaimed "by one great voluntary sacrifice of a mediator the sins of all times and all men were atoned for once and for all-- in respect of the faithful."

Since all peoples and races could be saved this is what, according to Engels, "enabled Christianity to develop into a universal religion." [Just as the concept of the workers of the world uniting to break their chains and build a world wide communist future makes Marxism-Leninism a universal philosophy.]

In Heaven before the throne of God are 144,000 Jews (12,000 from each tribe). In the second rank of the saved are the non Jewish converts to John's sect. Engels points out that neither the "dogma nor the morals" of later Christianity are to be found in this earliest of Christian expressions. Some Muslims would presumedly not like this Heaven, not only are there no virgins in it, there are no women whatsoever. In fact, the 144,000 Jews have never been "defiled" by contact with women! This is a men's only club.

Engels says that the book shows a spirit of "struggle", of having to fight against the entire world and a willingness to do so. He says the Christians of today lack that spirit but that it survives in the working class movement. We must remember he was writing this in 1894.

There were other sects of Christianity springing up at this time too. John's sect eventually died out and the Christianity that won out was an amalgam of different groups who finally came together around the Council of Nicaea (325 AD). Those who did not sign on were themselves persecuted out of existence by the new Christian state.

We can see the analogy to the early sects of socialists and communists, says Engels. We can also see what happened after the Russian Revolution (Leninists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, Bukharinites, Maoists, etc., etc.). Here in the US today we have the CPUSA, the SWP, Worker's World, Revolutionary CP, Socialist Party, Sparticists, and etc., etc.).

Engels thought that sectarianism was a thing of the past in the Socialist movement because the movement had matured and outgrown it. This, we now know, was a temporary state of affairs at the end of the 19th Century with the consolidation of the German SPD. The wide spread sectarianism of today suggests the worker's movement is still in its infancy.

Engels says this sectarianism is due to the confusion and backwardness of the thinking of the masses and the preponderate role that leaders play due to this backwardness. The Russian masses of 1917 and the Chinese of 1949 were a far different base than the German working class of the 1890s.

"This confusion," Engels writes,"is to be seen in the formation of numerous sects which fight against each other with at least the same zeal as against the common external enemy [China vs USSR, Stalin and Trotsky, Stalin and Tito, Vietnam vs China border war, Albania vs China and USSR. ad nauseam]. So it was with early Christianity, so it was in the beginning of the socialist movement [and still is, peace Engels!], no matter how much that worried the well-meaning worthies who preached unity where no unity was possible."

Finally, for those fans of the 60s sexual revolution, Engels says that many of the sects of early Christianity took the opposite view of John and actually promoted sexual freedom and free love as part of the new dispensation. They lost out. Engels says this sexual liberation was also found in the early socialist movement. He would not, I think, have approved of the excessive prudery of the Soviets.

Stay tuned for part 3.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Frederick Engels and Early Christianity

Thomas Riggins

This is the season to remind all our Christian friends of the relationship between Christianity and Marxism-Leninism and the working class movement. Engels ("On the History of Early Christianity") tells us that there are "notable points of resemblance" between the early working class movement and Christianity.

First, both movements were made up of oppressed poor people from the lower ranks of society. Christianity was a religion of slaves and people without rights subjugated by the state and very similar to the types of poor oppressed working people that founded the earliest socialist and worker's organizations in modern times.

Second, both movements held out the hope of salvation and liberation from tyranny and oppression: one in the world to come, the other in this world.

Third, both movements were (and in some places still are) attacked by the powers that be and were discriminated against, their members killed or imprisoned, despised, and treated as enemies of the status quo.

Fourth, despite fierce persecution both movements grew and became more powerful. After three hundred years of struggle Christians took control of the Roman Empire and became a world religion. The worker's movement is still struggling. After its first modern revolutionary appearance as a fully self conscious movement (1848) it achieved a major impetus in the later part of the nineteenth century with the growth of the First and Second Internationals, and the German Social Democratic movement. It too is now a world wide movement with Socialist, Social Democratic and Communist parties spread around the world. [The rise and fall of the USSR was a bump in the road the consequences of which have yet to be determined.]

The Book of Acts reveals that the early Christians were primitive communists sharing their goods in common and leading a collective life style. This original form of Christianity was wiped out when the Roman Empire under Constantine imposed Christianity as the official religion of the state and set up the Catholic Church in order to make sure that the religious teachings of Jesus and the early followers of his movement would be perverted to protect the interests of the wealthy and the power of the state.

With few exceptions, all forms of modern day Christianity are descended from this faux version, based on a mixture of Jewish religious elements and the practices of Greco-Roman paganism, and only the modern working class and progressive movements (basically secular) carry on in the spirit of egalitarianism and socialism of the founder of Christianity.

Engels points out that there were many attempts in history (especially from the Middle Ages up to modern times) to reestablish the original communistic Christianity of Jesus and his early followers.

These attempts manifested themselves as peasant uprisings through the middle ages which tried to overthrow feudal oppression and create a world based on the teaching of Jesus and his Apostles.

These movements failed giving rise to the state sanctioned Christianity of modern times. Engels mentions some of these movements-- i.e., the Bohemian Taborites led by Jan Zizka ("of glorious memory") and the German Peasant War. These movements are now represented, Engels points out, by the working men communists since the 1830s.

Engels reveals that misleadership is also a problem in these early movements (and still today I would add) due to the low levels of education found amongst the poor and oppressed. He quotes a contemporary witness, Lucian of Samosata ("the Voltaire of classic antiquity"). The Christians "despise all material goods without distinction and own them in common-- doctrines which they have accepted in good faith, without demonstration or proof. And when a skillful impostor who knows how to make clever use of circumstances comes to them he can manage to get rich in a short time and laugh up his sleeve over these simpletons." The Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwell types have been around for a long time. I am sure readers can add a long list of names.

Stay tuned, part 2 coming up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Some Reflections on "Dignitas Personae"

Thomas Riggins

Mixing up science and religion usually does no credit to the cause of scientific understanding. The latest instruction from the Vatican on bioethical issues is a case in point. The Saturday New York Times, 12-13-2008, ("Vatican Issues Sweeping Bioethics Document" by Laurie Goodstein and Elisabetta Povoledo) has a report that illustrates this.

It took six years for the Congregation of the Faith (formerly, and better known, as the Inquisition) to come up with 32 pages of dogma relating to human sexuality and procreation. The Vatican is opposed to in vitro fertilization, cloning of humans, pre-implantation embryonic gene testing, and research on embryonic stem cells the report says.

Why? Well, because "babies should only be conceived through intercourse by a married couple" and "every human life-- even an embryo-- is sacred." If you did not know the difference between an acorn and an oak tree you would not be a credible botanist. And if you can't tell the difference between a two celled conceptum and a human being you don't know much about biology either. This did not stop the Vatican from making pronouncements on the subject.

"Dignitas Personae" (misnamed "The Dignity of the Person") inveighs against "the morning after pill, the intrauterine device and the pill RU-486, saying these can result in what amounts to abortions." It is clear that the personhood and dignity of women and of the human beings that might develop from concepti are not taken into consideration.

If the Vatican ban on these birth control devices were to be carried out millions of women would suffer from unwanted pregnancies, not have the right to control their own bodies, and their personhood would trampled on in the name of unscientific religious dogma.

There would also be millions of unwanted children born into misery, poverty and short diseased ridden lives. Some "Dignity of the Person." All because some cranky old men who don't particularly like women (and may be overly fond of children) can't tell the difference between an acorn and an oak.

Why is the church against in vitro fertilization? The head of the Catholic Medical Association, Kathleen M. Raviele says "God creates through an act of love." But not always. What about rape? Is God creating through an act of love then?I don't think so. Raviele continues, in the lab "It's the technician who's creating. What in vitro does it separates the creation of a child from the marital act."

That is just ridiculous. If God does the creating he does all of it. The technician just facilitates the fertilization-- which is still a marital act if the people are married and want to have a child this way. And as far creating a potential person is concerned, its just as much an act of love when any two consenting adults arrange a way in which to have a baby.

Josephine Johnston of the Hastings Center (which does research into bioethics) is quoted as saying, "The idea that [in vitro] is not done within the spirit of marital love, I find very strange." Not so strange when you consider that religious dogmas are held out of irrational prejudices and not based of objective scientific criteria.

Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer in Rome stated the church issued "Dignitas Personae" in order "to give voice to those who have no voice." In other words, to give voice to two celled concepti on their way to becoming blastocysts. Too bad it doesn't give voice to the millions of poor and oppressed real persons living in poverty and war zones around the earth whose dignity and humanity would be preserved or restored by the very procedures the church seeks to ban.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A French Take on "Human Rights"

Thomas Riggins

French Foreign Minister Celebrates 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Junking Human Rights (when necessary).

According to the international press Bernard Kouchner the French foreign minister, and former human rights activist before joining the current right-wing French government, has decided that Human Rights has to play second fiddle when it comes to national interests.

"You cannot govern a country's foreign affairs only according to human rights," he says.

It is at least refreshing to see the French admit that the violation of people's human rights is sometimes necessary in the pursuit of France's foreign policy goals. At least its not as hypocritical as some other countries which boast that their actions are always motivated by the welfare of others, even when bombing and invading them.

Kouchner stated, "there is a permanent contradiction between human rights and a nation's foreign policy."

A "permanent contradiction!" Well, in a capitalist world order, yes. There is also a permanent contradiction between human rights and the government's own citizens and domestic policy. It's always "Profits Before People" under capitalism. But that doesn't mean some other system isn't possible, a system where human rights and policy won't clash.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Humanism and Republicans

Thomas Riggins

A recent article at (10-28-2008) reported on the research of Professor Kennon Sheldon (psychology, University of Missouri) on the relation of religious values and politics. He only asked Republicans and Democrats for their opinions (Marxists, not being religious, can't be judged by these findings).

He compared "extrinsic" versus "intrinsic" values-- i.e., worldly success [$$$, etc.,] versus humanistic concerns [personal growth, a desire to help people in need, closeness in relationships, etc.]

He got a profile of four different groups: religious and non-religious Republicans and Democrats. Members of all four groups gave lip service to the intrinsic values. But there were some differences. Non-religious and religious Democrats were just about equal in their support of intrinsic values. Non-religious Republicans veered off in favor of extrinsic values compared to the Democrats. So did religious Republicans but not to the extent of the non-religious Republicans.

Since Republicans are always talking about God and Country I wonder where Sheldon found his non-religious Republicans: not among the yokels that make up the base of the party I'm sure.

As a result of his research Sheldon "wondered whether the primarily economic-oriented values of Republican politicians can allow them to work for large changes that seem needed, such as shifting to an alternative and sustainable energy economy in the face of increasing climate change, or shifting toward greater inclusiveness in the face of increasing racial diversity."

I understand why Professor Sheldon is so cautious in his findings. I used to teach in Missouri and intrinsic values were pretty low on the totem pole. There are however signs of progress. Missouri went for W in both previous elections but McCain won the state by less than 1% of the vote. But I doubt it was humanistic concern for "help thy neighbor" as opposed to self interest that prompted the change of heart among so many former Republican voters.

At any rate progressives can draw the correct conclusions that Sheldon can only hint at: i.e., Republican politicians, for the most part, are a bunch of selfish, hypocritical, racist SOBs that only care about money and the rest of us can all go to the Devil.

Hey, that's not me, that's science!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

What's Your Poison?


Thomas Riggins

The tainted milk scandal in China is extensively reported on in the 28 November issue of Science: "Chinese Probe Unmasks High-Tech Adulteration With Melamine." Melamine is a deadly toxin but it is cheap. It mimics more expensive food additives in tests so you can make big bucks by adding it to food and pocketing the difference in the cost of the melamine. Last year it was pet food, this year baby formula. What's a few dead animals and babies?

The "High-Tech" in the title of the article is a reference to the fact that the people who perpetrated the adulteration had to have advanced scientific training to pull it off and fool the inspection agencies. Sanlu, one the biggest companies in China, was involved. The U.S. and Chinese governments are working together to insure the safety of Chinese food.

The problem is that food production under capitalism is for profit, not to feed people. Chen Junshi of the Center of Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing said, "Food adulteration is inevitable and will be with us for many years. The sophistication of the techniques will improve next time."

And just why is that? Li Shaomin, a professor at Virginia's Old Dominion University, provides the answer: "When millions of people experiment with new ways to make money without moral self-constraint, the chance of new products that can evade existing testing methods is pretty high."

Moral self-constraint has nothing to do with it. In an "its good to be rich" society, i.e., a society that fosters capitalist attitudes, the moral values that are stressed are those of making money and self-constraint is a contradiction to the prime directive of capitalism. Its not China. Just look at the product recalls every year in the U.S. and the refusal to test for Mad Cow Disease. Its the economy comrade!

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Thomas Riggins

The 12-5-08 issue of The Week has an interesting news report, "Bioethics: Should the Mammoth Live Again", detailing how scientists have just completed putting together the genome of the woolly mammoth, last seen on Earth around 8000 B.C. [except for a pigmy island subspecies that lasted a few thousand more years, into historic times.]

Thomas Jefferson thought the mammoth, known to him from bones alone, could not have really gone extinct and would probably be run across by Lewis and Clark. Sadly, they found no mammoths but scientists today could be planning to recreate this extinct species. The Week quotes biochemist S. Schuster: "It could be done. " It may take 10 or 20 years of research but it is within our grasp, but "should we do it?"

Well, it would be quite some scientific coup to pull off. In reality we don't seem to be able to preserve the whales and elephants we already have-- both of which are predicted to soon (within a century or so) become extinct due to our insistence on remaining capitalists and destroying the atmosphere and climate of the earth.

One writer thinks (tongue in cheek) we have a moral obligation to the mammoth since "our ancestors....hunted them to extinction in the first place." This was once a popular view but most scientists today think it was ancient climate change that did in the mammoths and the glacial ice age which was their environment.

We do have a moral obligation, however, to fight against the capitalist system whose relentless drive for profits, regardless of the human and environmental costs, will sooner or later, if not overthrown, put us on a par with the mammoth. Maybe we can broadcast our genome into outer space and hope some more advanced species will bring us back again. They will hopefully have more sense.

Saturday, November 29, 2008



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?”

Sunday, November 23, 2008


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.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


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."

Saturday, November 15, 2008


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!