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Eric Voegelin Society Meeting 2007
AS SPIRITUAL RHETORIC –
Copyright Kai Marchal
The subject of the following reflections is
language, as understood in the Confucian tradition. In the Western world, we
are used to consider language an important philosophical problem; particularly
since the 20th century, language constitutes a "ontologically"
distinct domain, which manifests human spontaneity, as well as human
historicity and the being of difference. Language qua interpretation has
become essential for contemporary philosophy, especially, of course, for
hermeneutics. Famously, Hans-Georg Gadamer has formulated the Heideggerian
thesis that "Being that can be understood is language". When we now turn
to the Chinese world, we cannot but remark a decisive difference: although
premodern Chinese civilization had a distinctive notion of philosophy and the
philosophical life, it was a world
without Platonism. Therefore, strictly speaking, we are not allowed to
understand Chinese reflections on language on the basis of Platonism or the
various philosophical world-views which tried to overcome Platonism (as f.ex.
Kantianism or Heideggerianism). It is quite difficult to imagine what Western
culture would look alike, if there were not the erotic speeches from the Symposium, or the famous remarks about the difference between the
written and the spoken word in the Phaidros.
But premodern Chinese thinkers found themselves exactly in this situation: to
think about language without any form of Platonism. And as Confucius (trad.
551-479 B.C.) turned away from the heavenly things and limited himself
entirely to the human things, language became not only subject of
philosophical reflection, but also the most important tool for ordering the
Chinese thinkers are still hardly accessible
in the Western world: as we do not yet have anything comparable to the Loeb
Classical Library for ancient
Chinese texts, the number of readers of Chinese texts is extremely low. In
this context, the fundamental question of translatability has been asked many
times; indeed, it seems highly doubtful whether there ever can be a truly
adequate translation from Chinese into a Western language.
On the other hand, when we try to engage different traditions, we always risk
becoming entrapped by them. Sinological research in the West tend to take
place outside the institutions of philosophical learning; thus, research on
Chinese thought often is not exposed to regular philosophical critique.
However, as the Chinese civilization has already become part of our daily
routine in the West and will certainly even more directly affect our political
practice in the coming decades, we cannot continue to overlook Chinese
thought; what we need is the beginning of a truly philosophical debate between
Chinese and Western thinkers. Only through this kind of free and open exchange
of ideas a global civilization, even a true "Unity of Mankind" (Eric
can take shape.
point of departure for this kind of enquiry is the question of language. In
the following pages, I will present some important Confucian thinkers, analyze
their ideas about language and discuss the philosophical framework these ideas
presuppose. What is language for Confucians? How did Confucians understand
language, its nature and purpose? And how do we have to interpret the
philosophical and political meaning of language in Confucianism? Roughly,
Confucians assume that a mature commitment to the moral ideal described by
Confucius requires political and practical action; thus, as we will see in the
following paragraphs, language was rarely understood in purely theoretical
terms by Confucians, but always in a political and practical context. I will
use the term "spiritual rhetoric" to sum up the decisive features of the
Confucian intellectual tradition.
Although we only rarely find comprehensive theories
of language in premodern Chinese thought, there is an extremely rich tradition
of scattered philosophical reflections on language. As I focus on the
Confucian tradition, I will not speak about the complicated and highly
philosophical theories of language in Daoism (for example Wang Bi's 王弼 interpretation
of Zhuangzi's 莊子 famous
metaphors of the "fish-net" and the "hare-trap") or in Buddhism.
My discussion will only
deal with the context of Confucianism, while also from time to time referring
to the Western tradition, especially to the writings of Leo Strauss and Hannah
Arendt, as I believe that these thinkers can foster our understanding of the
Confucian tradition: because they are highly critical of the mainstream of
Western modernity, while at the same time reaching back to the roots of our
philosophical heritage, they can help us understand how our own intellectual
tradition and the Chinese intellectual tradition possibly relate to each other
under the new conditions of global modernity.
SOME IMPORTANT FEATURES OF CHINESE LANGUAGE
The Chinese language is one of the most ancient and
certainly also most reliable communicative tools of mankind. But what is the
nature of Chinese language? In fact, its nature, the relation between Chinese
language and Chinese thought, the deeper meaning of the difference between
Chinese and Western languages are relatively popular subjects among
sinologists, linguists and even philosophers.
Since the French sinologist Marcel Granet has attributed some sort of magical
power to the Chinese language (he regarded the Chinese word as an "emblème"
of standardized behavior, which it immediately calls forth, simple by being
Western thinkers have been attracted by this alternative mode of Welterschließung (world-disclosure). In speaking about Chinese
language, the danger always consists in describing the various patterns of
Chinese as deficiencies which an
ostensibly inferior, non-morphological grammar entails for philosophical
thinking. Philosophers of language as Johannes Lohmann have claimed that
Chinese represents the "form of consistent ontological difference," the
"state of the primitive human language" which stands close to that of the
ape and the Neanderthal.
Furthermore, since Hegel, it has become a topos to speak of an ostensible
absence of "reflection" in China, and modern sinologists like Chad Hansen
have argued that the Chinese language has no place for autonomous reason or
individuality at all, and therefore – we could add – also no place for
philosophical enquiry independent of the established ethos.
As we know more about Chinese civilization and are less and less willing to
believe in a general superiority of Western civilization, these claims have
become highly dubious. In the following, I want to abstain from this kind of
general, reductive statements, but only want to describe some distinctive
characteristics of the Chinese language, which could be important for our
enquiry into the Confucian understanding of language.
Although the Chinese language, as every language, is
a spoken language, from very early time onwards a gap between spoken and
written Chinese has developed; as the sinologist Christoph Harbsmeier writes,
"Literary Chinese became increasingly (but never completely) an autonomous
Texts like the Analects , the Mencius
other canonical documents of the Confucian tradition, especially historical
and philosophical material from the Classical age, which originally probably
came very close to the colloquial language of their time, later on became a
kind of second language not identical with the spoken language (or the local
dialects) of later dynasties. However, the Chinese language never has been an
characters became an important medium of
communication (for example in philosophical or literary texts), but always
were secondary to the spoken language. We shall add, however, that –
although there are examples of persuasive speeches in front of a ruler – the
Chinese culture never estimated the public delivery of speech as high as for
example the Classical Greek culture; oral performance never counted as much as
an inspired memorial.
We do not find the high admiration for rhetors like Alcibiades or Pericles in
the Chinese civilization, and consequently rhetoric never became an important
stem of traditional knowledge.
THE SUBTLE NATURE OF THE MASTER'S SPEECH
In many ways, the historical Confucius had no
comprehensive doctrine at all. His legacy is more an attitude (and, quite often, a very erratic attitude), than a
distinctive doctrine, more a paradigm
of practice than a theory of
practice; later thinkers like Mencius or Xunzi tended to project their own
philosophical convictions into the words of this thinker, who was much too
humble to formulate an independent set of philosophical sentences, and much
too conservative to claim complete ignorance like Socrates. Still, this attitude
of the master predetermined the conceptual perspectives of later thinkers; as
thus, it functions very much like Plato's oeuvre: he left a legacy of common
questions. Thus, generally speaking, we can learn a lot about Confucius and the
Confucian world-view, just by focusing our attention on the distinctive
characteristics of the master's speech in the Analects and how it was understood by later generations – thus
repeating the experience of dozens of generations before us who read this text
in this way.
As we go
through the text of the Analects, we
immediately remark the high esteem the master had for the spoken and written
you do not know about words, you do not have what it takes to know about men."
Obviously, this high esteem for language influenced
Chinese civilization as a whole: reading and writing always played an
extremely important role, were even considered to be a value in itself, as
part of "culture" (wen 文), an expression of a cultivated man's inner self.
Later generations placed this high esteem on the master's speech itself:
although his sayings sometimes only seem to be fragments and dry, even
hackneyed assertions, they were seen as being a coherent whole, which
expressed the sum of his sagely wisdom. In other words, the rhetoric of the
sage never meant to speak in dialogues:
as the master never entered into a true dialogue with his disciples like
Socrates, where no statement can claim to be valid without a serious
philosophical verification, his speech always follows the master-disciple
pattern: the master speaks, the disciple asks for advice or just listens.
Confusion and doubt, although not entirely absent, are never systematically
encouraged. Let us also not forget that Confucius' conversations with his
disciples imply a hierarchic understanding of communication: only the most
excellent disciples are thought to be receptive for the most philosophical
parts of the master's message (and even to his brightest disciple, the
famous, but unfortunate Yan Hui 顏回,
Confucius never revealed his whole teaching). In order to adapt to his various
audiences, Confucius often practices the art of dissimulation.
Second, contrary to the Socratic speech in the
Platonic dialogues, the master's speech is free of maieutic irony, erotic
attraction and madness.
Whenever the master speaks to his disciples, he develops his ideas about the
correct behavior as an official and personal cultivation; rarely we hear
cracking jokes by the master. Furthermore, with one exception,
only men have the opportunity to speak with Confucius, young serious men
seeking for advice. They are sober and devote in front of the master who, for
the most time, is fairly remote from his disciples;
the kind of ambiguous relationship which Socrates and Alcibiades share seems
totally unimaginable for Confucians – the wisdom, which the master wants to
share with his disciples, is in no need of "bodily proximity".
In one word, whereas the atmosphere of Plato's Symposium
stands for – as Leo Strauss writes – "perfect anarchy in the literal
sense of the term" (open doors, drinking, erotic love),
the Analects show us an atmosphere
of high civility and nearly perfect harmony; only rarely do the traces of
chaos and destruction lurk behind the surface of the text.
in Confucianism, in other words, is about reticence and sternness, not about
the relentless quest for divine madness.
Third, the master sometimes seems to share a
profound doubt whether words are an altogether effective means of expressing
the "Way", as language may distort the true nature of the "Way" and of
the sagely existence.
Nevertheless, because Confucius always was seeking political office and was
constantly trying to associate himself with political power, he seems to have
abandoned these doubts. Whereas Daoists escaped from this political reality by
abandoning language, he believed into language as an effective tool of
regulating behavior and governing people.
Another point needs out attention. Through the Analects,
Confucius promotes a rhetoric of frankness, unembellished and raw frankness;
the subject only has to speak out what the moral self thinks, in order to
achieve moral perfection. In other words, frank and persuasive speech are
identical. This could remind us of Socrates' imperative "Know thyself".
But there is an important difference: although the master often attacks "intellectual
garrulousness" (ning ), no sophist, i.e. a person with persuasive ability who does not care
about the truth or an argument, ever challenges him. In other words, Confucius
never has to stand up against sophistic rhetoric – the starting point, from
which, in the West, Socrates and Plato were to develop a notion of reasoning
and discursive philosophy.
As a consequence, Confucius uses simple arguments and speaks out his main
truths in short maxims, while never searching for something similar to the
logical architecture of a Platonic dialogue or of Aristotle's Organon.
Dialectic is essential to the logos
of Western philosophy: in this kind of conversation about opinions concerning
various things which leads towards the truth of things, language plays a
crucial part, as it is the very place of the discursive enquiry. In
comparison, the Confucian tradition seems to lack any complete notion of elenchos in which serious attempts at the refutation of preexisting
beliefs would be formulated, in which errors would be understood as necessary
steps towards a single and unified explanation of the subject matter, and "a
rationally grounded conception of goods and of the good which can claim the
status of knowledge" were to be the final goal.
The goal of Confucian thinkers was not to search for a rational justification,
but to furnish an authoritative account of the intentions of the sage
Confucius which, of course, did not entirely forbid the use of rational
justification. In one word, the philosophical activity was not about the soul conversing with itself, but about transforming the soul following the intentions of Confucius.
The last point is directly linked to the way how
Confucius used language in his daily life and to the pragmatic, hermeneutical
paradigm he has established. As the sinologist Yang Xiao has persuasively
argued in a recent article, the Confucian interpretative tradition can be
understood from a a speech-act perspective.
What does this mean? As is well known, Confucius gave different answers to
different disciples (in Chinese: "giving different answers to the same
question" wen tong da yi ) because he wanted to transmit his message,
while taking into account the different temperament and receptivity of his
interlocutors. In other words, Confucius never only took into account the
propositional value of his words, but always carefully thought about their
practical purpose. He was "doing
things with words": he saw each utterance as an action. While reading
the Analects, we indeed discover
Now, we can also understand why later commentators of the Analects often focus not so much on the literal meaning of Confucius'
sayings, but on his intention in formulating this utterance, and why they
often try to take into account the broader context of a saying by the master,
the quality of its audience, its dramatic locale, its historical and practical
context. Although somehow resembling to the Socratic "maieutic art", the
Confucian speech functions differently: the goal is not to draw the
interlocutors into reflecting upon the implications of their uncritically held
opinions, but to correct their moral being, to transmit wisdom. Later thinkers
searched to express their vision of the Confucian teaching through some kind
of "reenactment" of the master's intentions; their point was, as the Mencius
states, that "the first to awaken" (i.e. Confucius) have the duty of "awakening
those who are slow to awaken" (later readers).
The rhetoric of the sage was psychagogic.
THE DOCTRINE OF "ZHENGMING"
concentrating upon the character of Confucius' speech in the Analects,
we also need to further reconstruct his notion of political language: as we have already mentioned, the rhetoric of
the sage was never thought to be purely theoretical, in other words, whereas
texts like the Republic, the Apology, and the Crito
emphasize an inescapable tension between philosophical speech and politics and
Socrates relentless questioning of any authority is ultimately subversive, the
tension between the language of the sage and the political world seems to be
of a different kind in Confucianism: the master seems to be ready to accept
office and to cooperate with rulers; he also strongly encourages his disciples
to accept office. In one word: the sagely language of Confucius ideally must appear
not only in the private discussion between master and disciple, but at the
court. Thus, what is the nature of the relationship between sagely language
and the political community?
first hint can be found in the doctrine of the "rectification of names" (zhengming ), which became one of the leitmotifs for the
Classical Confucian tradition. Its locus classicus is Analects
13.3; aside from this, "Zhengming" – "On the Correct Use of Names"
– is also a famous chapter in the Xunzi
The relationship of "names" and things (normally "object" shi ) was a problematic shared by many ancient
thinkers, as for example Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi, Zhuangzi, Laozi, Mozi,
Guanzi, Han Feizi, Shang Yang and others. What it originally meant in the
context of the Analects (or even to
Confucius himself) continues to be subject of interpretative controversy; some
scholars even contend that the term zhengming
is a later, probably legalist interpolation. As the dating of most of the
highly disparate chapters is debated, for the time being we have to accept the
traditional supposition that the "rectification of names" was indeed an
important idea of the historical Confucius.
analyze the passage in the Analects.
I quote D.C. Lau's translation which generally has been accepted as the most
said, 'If the Lord of Wei left the administration (cheng) of his state to you,
what would you put first?' The Master said, 'If something has to be put first,
it is, perhaps, the rectification (cheng) of names.' Tzu-lu said, 'Is that so?
What a roundabout way you take! Why bring rectification in at all?' The Master
said, 'Yu, how boorish you are. Where a gentleman is ignorant, one would
expect him not to offer any opinion. When names are not correct, what is said
will not sound reasonable; when what is said does not sound reasonable,
affairs will not culminate in success; when affairs do not culminate in
success, rites and music will not flourish; when rites and music do not
flourish, punishments will not fit the crimes; when punishments do not fit the
crimes, the common people will not know where to put hand and foot. Thus when
the gentleman names something, the name is sure to be usable in speech, and
when he says something this is sure to be practicable. The thing about the
gentleman is that he is anything but casual where speech is concerned.'
Of course, it
is possible to read this passage as a general (philosophical) statement on the
relationship between things ands words – this has been done by many
interpreters in the past. Thus, Confucius does not presuppose a theory of adequatio
rei et intellectus or anything similarly complex, but shares a
conventional understanding of the relationship between "names" and things.
Strictly speaking, however, this passage has a distinct political meaning, as
the master is asked by his disciple, what he would do once charged with the
administration of the state Wei. In other words, his statement gives us his
view on political language.
We do not need to discuss the details of the
exegetical history of this passage. Different interpretations of this passage
are possible and were wildly held among traditional Chinese scholars. The
conventional interpretation is that "names of various social, political and
ethical institutions were rectified so as to accord or conform with certain
immutable standards inherited from tradition."
In this case, "rectifying" essentially meant "describing", not "prescribing".
On the other hand, reformist interpretations were shared by many interpreters
in the past: according to them, the "names" were highly normative concepts
resembling more an utopian image of the future than of the historical or
In other words, the real value of names was to prescribe, and not simply
describe the socio-political reality. It is difficult to reconstruct Confucius'
original intention; obviously, he reacted in this passage to the terminological
confusion of his time which was provoked by the decline of Zhou culture and
which is documented f.ex. in Analects
16.14 (about the correct naming of a ruler's wives and
Presumably, he also realized that language has an important
function in organizing and regulating human behavior and tried to restore the
orthodoxy of the Zhou dynasty. According to Zhu Xi
(1130-1200), however, Confucius, while making
his claim about the "rectification of names", had another very concrete
goal: at the moment of the conversation between the master and Tzu-lu (Zi Lu
), many of his disciples had already become officials at the court of Wei 衛;
the ruler of Wei, Prince Ling ,
also wanted to employ the master himself and asked him – through Zi Lu –
for advice. However, the master was highly critical of the entourage of Prince Ling, especially of his wife Nanzi , who seems to have been involved in the
power struggle about the succession to her husband.
Thus, we can say that in this passage, where Eros unexpectedly plays a hidden
role in the person of Nanzi, Confucius directly critized the powerful of Wei
and asserted that the wrongly chosen dauphins of Prince Ling had to be "rectified"
(as their behavior did not correspond to their social role). It is very
tempting to wonder whether Confucius in this situation did not assume the role
of the unironic, "radical critic" of his community.
Also, by formulating his critique against the community and by still being
deeply embedded in this community, Confucius tended to loose his relationship
with its other members and to become marginalized – because of the sternness
of his words, his critique does not seem to have had any chance of success at
Now, we also understand why later Confucians often risked getting lost in
hypocritical debates about how to correctly describe political matters from a
rigidly moralist perspective: as Confucius was a sage, he was unable to speak
about political reality on its terms, but necessarily tried to transcend it.
At this point, we have to concentrate on the prior question that we already
have been tracking in the third part of this paper: what exactly is the status
of the sage and of sagely language? What is the relation between sagehood and
ZHU XI AND THE QUEST FOR SAGEHOOD
any doubt, Zhu Xi was one of the few Chinese philosophers who placed emphasis
on the discursive function of language, thus standing apart from many thinkers
who tended to prefer the moment of silent enlightenment to the endless
repetitions of human speech.
Furthermore, Zhu Xi deeply transformed traditional Confucianism and
created the new philosophical and cultural phenomenon of "Neo-Confucianism".
He did not replace the traditional notions of Confucian thought, but found a
new balance which proved particularly convincing for later generations. But
two distinctively new features can be highlighted in his thought: the interiorization and universalization
To a new degree, sagehood became the most important
problematic in Zhu Xi's interpretation of this classical text; according to
John Makeham, Zhu, in his commentary to the Analects,
the Collected Annotations on the
is very much preoccupied with the question whether (and how) ordinary people
can learn to become sages.
What, than, does sagehood mean and what does it stand for?
Sagehood denotes a state of the mind in which man and the "Way” (Dao ) become one; following the texts of The
and the Mencius,
which in Zhu Xi's interpretation became truly orthodox for the first time,
the inner self plays a new role: it has to undergo a long process of
self-cultivation which is characterized by the more "empirical” dimension
of book learning and the more ascetic (transformative) dimension of the
purification of one's "vital power” (qi
In general, everybody shall begin this process of
self-cultivation; however, the most important actor is the emperor himself. As
text of The Great Learning claims,
the political transformation of the empire has to happen exactly in the same
way, as the moral transformation of the inner self happens. Only when the
emperor will be able to directly embody the "Way” and when the language of
the sages (primarily Confucius, secondarily the
mythical sage-rulers of antiquity
we understand why there is a new need for "spiritual rhetoric": as Zhu Xi to a new degree believed in the unity of the inner self and the
outer world (including the political, social, and natural realm), the most
essential question is how the ideal of sagehood can be spread through
political language, how, in other words, the perfection of the inner self
could effectively achieve a perfection of the outer world. Probably for the
first time in Confucianism, the idea of a strong unity between inner and outer
realm was systematically developed: an integrated order took shape, in which
the spiritual and political existence are identical. Political language had to
embody the notion of sagehood entirely: rulers, exactly in the same ways as
ministers, fathers and all individuals, have to speak the language of
Confucius – only then, the empire would be rectified.
What are the main features of this sagely language?
Roughly, some features are similar to the account in the original Analects,
some are different: words do not have a propositional meaning (that is why the
question of propositional truth is irrelevant), but a transformative power in
the process of one's moral cultivation and we have to pay attention whether
words are "correct” in the sense of their moral value.
The rhetoric of the sage claims that the language of the sages directly affects the listeners by the emotive
power of "sincerity/wholeness" (cheng 誠).
Sagely language does not include any notion of coercion: only the coercive
moment of the experience of self-cultivation is essential. Thus, Confucians
systematically avoid speaking about violence, power politics, chaos, etc.;
the language of the
sage has to be harmonious and shall not be distorted by any sign of anger. Zhu
Xi expresses this clearly when he designates Confucius as the true sage and
Mencius only as "worthy": according to him, Mencius was not able to
control his language as well as Confucius; therefore, in his dialogues with
rulers, he showed signs of anger and aggression.
for Zhu Xi himself, the
language of the sage was about the creation of a tightly knotted community of moral actors, we
cannot but mention a fundamental difficulty of this kind of "spiritual
rhetoric": because only the individual itself can ever know for sure what
its intentions are and whether they meet the standard of moral "rectification",
this new interiorization of Confucian speech always risks ending up in moral
solipsism. When we analyze how Zhu Xi, at the climax of his political
career, failed to convince Emperor Ningzong
(reg. 1194-1224) and did not understand how his language about sagehood was manipulated by
the hidden motives of the emperor, we understand why later Confucians should
never escape the solitude of the wise; their political projects would
constantly fail and they were unable to enter into a true dialogue with the
political power (only into some kind of dialogue
des sourds). As Hegel says: "The heroism
of silent service becomes the heroism
The Confucian notion of language has played a decisive part in this tragedy.
CONFUCIUS, MACHIAVELLI, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF "SPIRITUAL RHETORIC"
At the end of
these reflections, it can be said that inside the Confucian tradition the
relation between language and action was fare more important than that between
language and objects. Language does not serve primarily to refer to a world of
objects, but is an expressive medium for actions. As David L. Hall and Roger
Ames write: "That is to say, the Chinese are more concerned with the effects
of language in behavioral terms than with questions of meaning as grounds for
the truth or falsity of propositions."
Thus, the conflict between
truth and politics is replaced by the antagonism between sagehood and the
In this context, we could also think of Hannah Arendt's famous distinction
between "rational truth" and "factual truth".
In Confucianism, the notion of "factual truth", of course, is important
for the political discourse, too; however, lacking the epistemological pattern
of mathematics or science, the notion of "rational truth" was absent or,
more generally speaking, relatively weak. It seems that a notion of inner
sagehood took its place in which frankness ("sincerity/wholeness") was one
Of course, this rhetoric of frankness was very
difficult from Immanuel Kant's "modern rhetoric of frankness" (Stanley
Neither did it depend on scientific evidence and logical argumentation, nor
did it presuppose the public use of reason (resp. the famous "principle of
publicity") or the notion of progress. Confucians also never had an
agonistic notion of public speech and political language. Furthermore,
although Confucians had the idea that their actions would be remembered and,
thus, would be judged by posterity, they do not seem to have had a
philosophical notion of public glory, nor the passion for "emulation" ("let
us be seen in action"), which Hannah Arendt, following John Adams, has
famously described in her book On
Confucians, while talking about the public goal, had to speak a language which
was essentially centered around the inner self. Under this condition, it was
extremely difficult to develop a notion of political representation.
Immanuel Kant has played an extremely important, but
also highly ambivalent role in the encounter between Confucianism and Western
philosophy in the 20th century.
It is, indeed, tempting to reconsider which role the Confucian tradition could
play in the age of global Enlightenment. Probably, the "friendly alliance
between philosophers and princes" whose most famous representative in the
West, according to Leo Strauss, was Machiavelli,
has happened at a very early stage in Chinese history. Whether it was a true
alliance, is debatable; the fate of Enlightenment in the East may depend on
this question. The question which role the Confucian "spiritual rhetoric"
could play in an open, rational society, is extremely difficult to answer.
For a detailed discussion of the problem of translatability see
Robert Wardy, Aristotle in
See "World-Empire and the Unity of Mankind", Published Essays, ed. by Ellis Sandoz, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin (
On Wang Bi compare Rudolf G. Wagner, Language,
Ontology, and Political Philosophy: Wang Bi's Scholarly Exploration of the
Dark (Xuanxue) (
See f.ex. Wilhelm von Humboldt, "On the Grammatical Structure
of the Chinese Language," in: T.Harden and D.Farrelly, eds., John
Wieczorek and Ian Roe, trsl., Essays
on Language / Wilhelm von Humboldt (Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang, 1997);
Y.R. Chao, "Notes on Chinese Grammar and Logic," Philosophy
East and West 5/1 (1955), 31-41; Chad Hansen, Language
and Logic in Ancient China (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
1983); Chad Hansen, "Chinese Language, Chinese Philosophy, and 'Truth',"
Journal of Asian Studies Vol XLIV
(May 1985), No. 3:491-519; Zhiming Bao, "Language and World View in
Ancient China," Philosophy East and
West Vol XL (1990), No. 2: 195-210; John Makeham, Name
and Actuality in Early Chinese Thought (Albany: State University of New
York Press, 1994); Mark Edward Lewis, Writing
and Authority in Early China (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY, 1999); and Hans-Georg
Moeller, "Chinese Language Philosophy and Correlativism." Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 72 (2000):98-103.
See Marcel Grant, La
pensée Chinoise (Paris:
Quoted in Heiner Roetz, Confucian
Ethics of the Axial Age: A Reconstruction under the Aspect of the
Breakthrough toward Postconventional Thinking (Albany: State University
of New York Press, 1993), 13.
Heiner Roetz has rightly criticized Chad Hansen's claim that Chinese lacks a "built-in
principle of individuation", as Chinese nouns are "mass nouns" (not
"count nouns" as in Indo-European languages) and never denote
individuals of a class or of a kind; therefore, Chinese thought lacks the
idea of human beings as by nature rational agents (cf. Heiner Roetz, Confucian Ethics of the Axial Age, 13-7). It seems highly dubious to
describe structural features of the Chinese language and, than, make general
statements about the Chinese culture, ignoring for example the fact that
Chinese philosophers often have used their language as a tool to dissociate
themselves from this very culture.
See Christoph Harbsmeier,
Language and Logic. 7, part I of
Science and Civilization in China (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1998), 44.
H.G. Creel has described what he called the ideographic
conception of the Chinese characters, which regards Chinese characters as a
kind of natural Begriffsschrift or
an "alphabet of thought” (Leibniz). Specialists in modern Chinese
linguistics, however, now generally share a logographic conception of
Chinese characters: characters stand for pronunciations of morphemes and,
only secondarily, have autonomous dimensions of their own (see Harbsmeier, Language
and Logic, 34).
Some examples of persuasive speeches at the court can be found
in the Stratagems of the Warring
States (Zhanguo ce; third
For an analysis of the complicated effective history of this
text see John Makeham, Transmitters
and Creators: Chinese Commentators and Commentaries on the Analects (
See Analects 20.3. All
quotations from the Analects refer
to the book and passage numbers in Yang Bojun , Lunyu
yizhu (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1980), the modern standard edition of
this text in the Chinese world. The English translations are mostly by D.C.
Lau (see D.C. Lau, transl., Mencius,
revised edition (
Compare also Mark Edward Lewis, Writing
and Authority in Early China.
True dialogues where the participants exchange their views on
one topic are extremely rare in the Analects;
also, Confucius rarely ever self-reflectively talks about his goal in
speaking to his disciples (see especially Analects
See especially Analects
One rare exception would be the famous passage wu yu Dian (Analects 11.26).
Only one woman appears in the Analects,
Nanzi , who was said to be a lascivious woman (Analects
therefore, Confucius' disciple Zi Lu criticizes
the master for visiting her.
Compare Analects 7.24,
See Leo Strauss, On Plato's Symposium, edited and with a
Foreword by Seth Benardete (
Leo Strauss, On Plato's Symposium, 32.
For example in Analects
15.2, when hunger afflicts the master who has just left the state of Wei.
See especially Analects
See f.ex. Analects 5.5
and 16.4; compare Harbsmeier, Language
and Logic, 96; compare The
Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol.
15, Order and History, edited with an introduction by Athanasios
Hereby, I don't want to say that there were no profound arguments and true debate in
the history of Chinese thought; however, it is widely admitted that Chinese
thinkers rarely tended to formulate their thoughts in a discursive manner.
Christoph Harbsmeier has described some important forms of arguments in
Chinese thought like syllogism, modus tollens, modus ponens, etc. (see Language
and Logic, 278-86).
Compare Alasdair MacIntyre's notion of "rational enquiry"
(Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice?
Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press,
1988), 73; 79-81).
See Yang Xiao, "How Confucius Does Things With Words: Two
Hermeneutic Paradigms in the Analects
and Its Exegeses,” The Journal of
Asian Studies Vol. 66, No. 2 (May) 2007: 497-532.
Like ask a question (Analects
12.20), to make an assertion (1.1, 1.3), to tell a joke (17.4), to express a
wish (5.7), and to quote an important saying (3.12) (compare Yang Xiao, "How
Confucius Does Things With Words”, 504).
See Cheng Shude , Lunyu
Zhonghua shuju, 1990), 885-96.
A huge amount of secondary literature on the "rectification of
names” exists in Western languages; see f.ex. David L. Hall and Roger T.
Ames, Thinking Through Confucius (Albany:
State University of New York Press, 1987), 268-75; John Makeham, Name
and Actuality in Early Chinese Thought (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994),
35-47, 163-5; Christoph Harbsmeier, Language
and Logic, 52-3; Carine Defoort, "Ruling the World with Words: The
Idea of Zhengming in the Shizi."
Bulletin of the Museum of
Far Eastern Antiquities 72
(2001):217-42; and one important monography in German: Robert H. Gassmann, CHENG
MING, Richtigstellung der Bezeichnungen, Zu den Quellen eines Philosophems
im antiken China, Ein Beitrag zur Konfuzius-Forschung (Bern, Frankfurt
a.M., New York, Paris: Peter Lang, 1988).
See John Makeham, "Zheng ming",
RoutledgeCurzon Encyclopedia of Confucianism, ed. by Xinzhong Yao (
Confucianism always had the potential for reformism and
conservativism at the same time, as f.ex. exemplified by the opposing views
of Sima Guang (1019-86) and Wang Anshi (1021-86) in the Song dynasty.
Compare also Analects
6.25; Mencius 1B/8 and 6B/9.
See Zhu Xi, Sishu zhangju
and sentence commentaries and collected annotations on the Four Books) (
See Alasdair MacIntyre, Three
Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, Encyclopedia, Geneology and Tradition (Notre
Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), 168.
This point has already been made by later scholars who were
critical of Zhu Xi's
See John Makeham, Transmitters and Creators,
Chapter 6 and 7.
See f.ex. Kwong-loi Shun, Mencius
and Early Chinese Thought (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997),
This becomes clear in Zhu Xi's interpretation of Mencius
See Zhu Xi on Analects
7.21, Sishu zhangju jizhu, 98.
See Mencius 4B/3, Sishu
zhangju jizhu, 290-1.
G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology
of Spirit (
David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Thinking
Through Confucius (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987),
263; see also Language and Logic,
Of course, I do not want to say that Chinese thinkers never were
preoccupied by questions of meaning and truth (on this question see f.ex.
Angus Graham, Later Mohist Logic,
Ethics and Science (Hong Kong and London: Chinese University Press,
See Hannah Arendt, "Truth and Politics," in: The Portable Hannah Arendt, ed. with an introduction by Peter Baehr
See Hannah Arendt, On
Revolution (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 127.
The courageous passion of inner sageliness which identified
morality and politics, but failed to dominate the political and physical
world, came to clash with the sober reticence of modern philosophy à
See Leo Strauss, Persecution
and the Art of Writing (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1952),