This post marks the two-year birthday of A Ku Indeed. Cake below.
Archive for May, 2009
Apparently, a student-driven petition of the graduating MBA class at Harvard took a pledge this year. The report cites:
Nearly 20 percent of the graduating class have signed “The M.B.A. Oath,” a voluntary student-led pledge that the goal of a business manager is to “serve the greater good.” It promises that Harvard M.B.A.’s will act responsibly, ethically and refrain from advancing their “own narrow ambitions” at the expense of others.
Well you’d hope for more than 20% — does that mean that the other 80% are committed to the permissibility of advancing their own narrow interests at the expense of others? You’d hope not. That said, given that this was a student self-driven effort, it says something positive about tomorrow’s business leaders (hopefully).
Xunzi says (chapter 23 of the Xunzi, “Human Nature is Bad”):
In every case, people desire to become good becaue their nature is bad. The person who has little longs to have much. The person of narrow expereince longs to be broadened. The ugly person longs to be beautiful. The poor person longs to be rich. The lowly person longs to be noble. That which one does not have in oneself, one is sure to seek for outside. Thus, when one is rich, one does not long for wealth. When one is noble, one does not long for power. That which one has within oneself, one is sure not to go outside oneself for it. Looking at it in this way, people desire to become good because their nature is bad.
I happen to like Xunzi quite a bit (a lot more than Mencius, actually). But this argument is so bad, and full of such obvious falsities, that it’s hard to know what to do with it. At least he has other arguments for his claim about the origin of moral motivation! Does anyone out there have a charitable interpretation of this specific argument that seems remotely plausible?
In the Xunzi at the very start of chapter nineteen (“Discourses on Ritual”) Xunzi discusses the need for (and purpose of) rituals (li). Xunzi’s basic picture is clear enough: rituals serve as the “measuring sticks” that humans can use to understand themselves (through the drawing of and application of contrasting distinctions and differentiations). Xunzi thinks that only through this method of self-understanding can the finite resources of the physical environment be apportioned in a way that doesn’t lead to constant strife. Sons realize that they are not entitled to everything, but to this-or-that (proper to sons); fathers similarly restrain themselves (to what is proper to fathers), as do rulers and subjects, and so on. Ritual differentiation creates the method through which humans can divide up the finite “pie” and satisfy their basic (grasping) desires. Some of Xunzi’s points past this basic picture are not as clear.
Zhuangzi is always interesting to read (for me, anyway). Partly it’s because I get the feeling (as one often does in Nietzsche) that he’s baiting the reader, waitin to see if the reader bites the worm. Later the reader learns that he was poking fun at those who do just that. Partly it’s because he’s just a talented writer, and his descriptions of things are very engaging. Of course, I like the philosophy too, even if it is, as Huizi puts it, “big and useless.” More below.
In reading about Obama’s upcoming battle with respect to his selection for SCOTUS, this caught my eye:
“You have to have not only the intellect to be able to effectively apply the law to cases before you,” Obama said in an interview carried Saturday on C-SPAN television. “But you have to be able to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes and get a sense of how the law might work or not work in practical day-to-day living.” Obama also has said he wants someone who employs empathy, “understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles,” when arriving at decisions that could influence the nation for decades.
Obama is clearly asking here that a judge be capable of expressing shu – he wants judging to incorporate (a) empathy and (b) he wants the empathy to function in a way that it has the judge “put him/herself in the place of the other.” Although Confucius’ doctrine of shu was meant to apply to the application of ritual, I have no doubt that he would extend the use of that capacity also to fa (law). It’s pretty clear here that Confucius’ criticisms of his disciple Zigong — who knows ritual well, but is incapable or unwilling to flexibly apply it to others — would also function as a criticism of the position of contemporary conservativism on SCOTUS picks.
Analects 1.13 discusses the notion of virtues that “come close” to other virtues. It reads:
Master You said, “Trustworthiness comes close to rightness, in that your word can be counted upon. Reverence comes close to ritual propriety, in that it allows you to keep shame and public disgrace at a distance. Simply following these virtues, never letting them out of your sight – one cannot doubt that this is worthy of respect.
In Slingerland’s commentary on 1.13, he cites, with some approval, the interpretation of Qing Dynasty commentator Liu Baonan’s view on what it means to “come close to” in these two cases. I have some disagreements with Lin Baonan’s view, and by extension Slingerland’s, below.
Good traveling does not leave tracks
Good speech does not find faults
Good reckoning does not use counters
Good closure needs no bar and yet cannot be opened
Good knot needs no rope and yet cannot be untied. (DDJ, 27)
Is it possible for a good Confucian agent to knowingly choose what is bad or vicious without it reducing to a case of akrasia (being weak willed)? Or do all cases of wrongdoing in Confucius reflect a state of ignorance (affective or cognitive) in the person doing the wrong act?
In her 2006 piece, “Golden Rule Arguments,” Martha Nussbaum takes David Nivison to task for some comments he makes at the end of his own writings about the Confucian Golden Rule (henceforth CGR) in Ways of Confucianism. There, Nivison says of the Golden Rule that:
It is something more basic than this: It is the very ground of community, without which no morality could develop at all: it is the attitude that the other person is not just a physical object, or a (possibly hostile) animal, that I might use or manipulate, and that might shove or bite, but a person like myself, whom I should treat accordingly even in trivial ways, thereby reassuring both that person and myself of our common humanity.
Nussbaum has her doubts about Nivison’s claim that the CGR involves thinking of another person as “like myself” and that it reassures people of their “common humanity.” Nussbaum’s claim in the piece is that, as far as she can tell, there is no evidence that the early Chinese (Confucians) had what she calls the “Missing Thought” – and that without it, she can’t imagine that the CGR could be thought of in these (explicitly moral) terms.
I came across this interesting bit (below the fold) from Michael Walzer, a leading communitarian theorist. I thought it was interesting just on its own, for its directness, but what really grabbed me was the fact that Walzer is typically seen as a “moderate” voice in the communitarian-liberal debate. He’s seen as more open to liberalism than most communitarians. See the quote below to see what he says about the garden-variety liberal self. After that, you might ask: “with moderates like this, who needs extremists?”
I’m curious about 14.7 in the Analects. Here it is in its entirety, in both Chinese and English:
Here’s Sturgeon’s translation: “The Master said, “Can there be love which does not lead to strictness with its object? Can there be loyalty which does not lead to the instruction of its object?”
It’s the sentence that contains “love” that interests me here. Waley’s translation puts it in a different way, stating: “Can you love without exacting work on others?” There seem to be two different ways of reading this. I’ll lay it out below.
Given the current debate and discussion over the infamous “harsh” interrogation (read: torture) techniques used by the Bush administration at Guantanamo (and no doubt other places), I sometimes find myself asking: would Confucius have agreed to torturing in any situation? Most times, I think the answer is “no.” Sometimes, however, I’m not so sure. At the very least, there’s a prima facie tendency to say “never say never” in Confucianism – ethical matters and appropriateness tends to be dictated in situ. So maybe, perhaps – is there a Confucian argument for it?