The Unlikely Buddhologist: Tiantai Buddhism in Mou Zongsan's New Confucianism by Jason Clower (Modern Chinese Philosophy: Brill Academic) Mou Zongsan (1909-1995) was such a seminal, polymathic figure that scholars of Asian philosophy and religion will be absorbing his influence for at least a generation. Drawing on expertise in Confucian, Buddhist, Daoist, and modern Western thought, Mou built a system of "New Confucian" philosophy aimed at answering one of the great questions: "What is the relationship between value and being?" However, though Mou acknowledged that he derived his key concepts from Tiantai Buddhist philosophy, it remains unclear exactly how and why he did so. In response, this book investigates Mou's buddhological writings in the context of his larger corpus and explains how and why he incorporated Buddhist ideas selectively into his system. Written extremely accessibly, it provides a comprehensive unpacking of Mou's ideas about Buddhism, Confucianism, and metaphysics with the precision needed to make them available for critical appraisal.
Today we remember Mou Zongsan (1909-1995) as his century's most sophisticated, influential apologist for Confucianism. Though he began as an analytic philosopher in the mould of Russell and Whitehead, in middle age the Hong Kong-based Mou turned his Western tools to the study and revalorization of traditional Chinese thought. He believed that humanity urgently needs a rigorous metaphysical account of value and human dignity as a necessary companion to democracy, and that only Confucian philosophy has provided a completely adequate account. He emerged as one of the leaders of the "New Confucian" movement, which is now one of the most influential forces in Chinese-language philosophy and is also the focus of a group of North American religious philosophers and theologians such as Tu Wei-ming and the other "Boston Confucians."' By his death in 1995, the prolific Mou produced not only histories of all phases of Chinese philosophy and translations of Western philosophical masterworks (including all three of Kant's Critiques!), but also an original systematic philosophy that has shaped the course of philosophy in East Asia as deeply as Heidegger's did in Europe. "In fact," writes one observer, "many believe Mou basically solved the major metaphysical problems."'
The Problem of the Unlikely Buddhologist
Curiously, Mou chose to build his "New Confucianism" on Buddhist
foundations. He openly borrowed some of the central concepts for his
New Confucian "moral metaphysics" from Buddhism, and he even paid Buddhism the high compliment of conceding its superiority to Confucianism in theoretical matters.' Most surprising is the time and effort that Mou invested in understanding Buddhist scriptures and scholasticism. As the culmination of that effort, Mou wrote a two-volume Buddhist summa entitled Buddha Nature and Prajna (Foxingyu boruo , intended as nothing less than a comprehensive treatment of all Buddhist philosophy.
We should be surprised to see an eminent Confucian leader extol Buddhism this way. It is almost as if Karl Barth had honored Maimonides as the king of theologians. After all, historically Confucians' relationship with Buddhism was usually marked by enmity and polemics. This is not to say that Confucian scholars never appreciated or borrowed from Buddhists. On the contrary, they often sought the company of learned monks and exchanged essays, poems, and ideas. But over the centuries they spilt buckets of ink and even some blood over the very real differences between their Way and the Buddhist one. In contrast, Mou paid intellectual homage to Buddhism and immersed himself in Buddhist scholastic learning, something almost unprecedented among the great Confucians. In fact, one of Mou's
Buddhist reviewers marveled at this so much that he thanked him for reading so deeply into the Buddhist tradition at all.
What I am calling "the problem of the unlikely buddhologist" is simply this: Why did someone who was first and last a Confucian apologist care so much about Buddhist philosophy and make it the center of his work? Other figures had taken an interest in mobilizing specific Buddhist practices or developing on certain Buddhist themes, such as meditation or the Bodhisattva ethos, for the country's social and political improvement. But Mou spent years of his life combing systematically through the Buddhist canon and carefully appropriating its ideas into the classical Confucian tradition of learning. Why?
Regrettably Mou died without fully answering the question himself. He left his interpretation of Buddhist philosophy surrounded by question marks, so that even his students are hard-pressed to explain all his uses of Buddhist ideas. For example, one conundrum is why a staunch Confucian such as Mou took sides in Buddhist sectarian debates.
In Buddha-Nature and Prajna he spent over a thousand pages reviving hoary Buddhist intramural disputes on arcane matters such as the buddha-nature of inanimate objects, when it would seem to make no sense for him to have any opinion or stake in those affairs at all. A further puzzle is why, after Mou took this surprising interest in Buddhist disputations, then, out of all the possibilities available, he chose to go about reinterpreting Confucian philosophy in the little-understood terminology of Tiantai Buddhism, with all the travail that required. Why toil to recover the recondite ideas of long-neglected Tiantai commentaries and apply them to Confucianism, where they scarcely seem to fit?
For that matter, scholars often cannot explain what key passages of Mou's book even mean. Mou does not write for clarity. Reading him, remarks one scholar, is "like reading academic German philosophy in Chinese," and even Chinese scholars must endure a wearying apprenticeship in order to learn Mou's esoteric, quasi-Kantian philosophical lexicon. Moreover, Mou has a penchant for dramatic-sounding claims that almost assure misunderstanding in readers who do not search carefully for the fine print. Mou frequently leaves out important steps in his chain of reasoning, stating his conclusions but not the premises and intermediate reasoning, or even the definitions of his key terms. As a result, he calls for active engagement and a memory that can span scores of hundreds of pages.
Readers can feel doubly stumped by Buddha-Nature and Prajna
because it supposes a special background which very few actual
readers possess. It assumes that the reader not only has acquainted
herself with Mou's difficult Confucian systematic philosophy,
peculiarly inflected by German idealism, but also is fully fluent in
the canon of Chinese Buddhist scholasticism. Such readers are very
scarce in the academy as it actually is. Scholars who invest the
necessary years to read Mou's work usually come from departments of
philosophy or Chinese studies, where Mou has the greatest influence,
and they are schooled in Confucian and Daoist philosophy far better
than in Buddhism. Buddhologists, for their part, rarely show any
awareness of Confucian philosophy, to say nothing of Mou's version
thereof. As a result Mou's book can scarcely find its ideal reader,
and actual readers describe
it in terms such as "the most difficult book in the modern Chinese
Thus no one has yet explained, step by step and at an architectonic
and comprehensive level, how and why Mou incorporated Buddhist ideas in the way that he did. Since Mou's death, the literature about his larger body of work has grown, but until recently, when the subject of his buddhology came up, works emerging from Mou's home territory in Taiwan and Hong Kong avoided trying to straightforwardly interpret what Mou might have meant by his more enigmatic statements, instead skirting them or dealing with them chiefly by means of quotation or paraphrase. Quite likely what has happened is that, within the intimate circles of Hong Kong and Taiwan philosophy, where Mou's works have been the common currency of philosophical publishing and seminar rooms the longest, such notions and terms have entered into the shared stock of "cliches" which are so ubiquitous that they are not felt to require much explicit explanation yet remain unclear to outsiders.9 Hence, a reader outside that community can feel disappointed and unenlightened by these works, which consist in effect of assemblages of representative quotations or restatement of Mou's own slogans, which are typically made up of ambiguous or opaque nomenclature, and even an insider such as Cheng Guying complains, "Mou Zongsan writes his essays in a very poor style, but some people use these terms and concepts created by Mou, which are extremely hard and difficult to read, and his disciples have made it a duty and a habit to ape these abstruse and half-understood words and concepts of their master."'
In the last decade, scholars such as Cheng Gongrang
Zheng Jiadong, and Yang Zebo viva, writing on the Chinese mainland, where Mou's influence is newer, have gone farther in asking basic interpretive questions about what Mou intends to say. However, other than Cheng's three topical articles," thus far these mainland scholars have devoted much more of their impressive energies to other facets of Mou's oeuvre, such as his reception of Kant, his basic ontology, and his ideas concerning democracy and political philosophy. Thus basic interpretation of Mou's buddhology is still at
an early stage.
To help fill the gap, I will attempt to explain Mou's mature opinions about the "what?" and the "so what?" of Buddhist philosophy, and thereby to answer the question of why he prized it so much as a boon to Confucian philosophers and indeed all philosophers."
The very short answer is this: Mou thinks Buddhists lead the way for Confucians. He abstracts from the Tiantai doxographic tradition a scheme with which he analyzes philosophical systems in terms of what they say about the relationship between ultimate value and the universe of objects, and he prizes those systems most highly which claim that the ultimate value is "paradoxically identical" to the universe of objects in some fashion. Tutored in such a scheme, Mou thinks, Confucians can solve one of their great intramural disputes and more clearly voice a truth which Mou takes to be unsurpassably important for human flourishing namely that in a certain sense we and our world are perfect just as we are—and which Confucians can use to solve a theodicic problem, explaining that even though the universe is stricken in some respects, it is entirely good and fortunate in
Why Mou Matters
Before I embark, however, I owe an explanation of why the reader ought to care about Mou's beliefs about the history of Buddhist philosophy and what goodness is, why I think it is necessary and feasible for me to interpret those beliefs for the reader, and how I have set about the work of reconstruction and interpretation.
For Western scholars, Mou Zongsan matters for both practical and philosophical reasons. Philosophicalally, the polymath Mou takes on an important and universal question—namely, what is the relationship between value and being?—and he does so with the resources of an extremely rare breadth of traditions, including not only the major
Chinese ones but also the Western philosophical tradition in its German idealist and Anglo-American analytic branches. If we wish to consider that question ourselves (and I can hardly think of a more important one) and to leaven our own powers of thought by consulting the opinions of reflective people from other places and times, then we can go to Mou Zongsan for a good deal of "one-stop shopping." We do not need to accept all his conclusions or even all his descriptions of past thinkers' beliefs—indeed, in greater China now much of the study of Confucian philosophy consists of spirited debates about Mou's history of Confucianism. However, if we were to invest in understanding only one modern Chinese philosopher's conclusions about value and being, it would probably be foolish to look anywhere else.
Beyond that, we have at least four practical reasons to care about Mou. The first is simple: he is too influential in too many places for us to ignore him. New Confucianism in general and Mou in particular have reshaped and dominated the study of philosophy and religion in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and on the Chinese mainland New Confucianism is regarded as "second only to Marxism in terms of its creative theoretical qualities, influence, and longevity." Mou appears in much of contemporary Chinese-language philosophy and Buddhist and Confucian studies as either a seminal influence or a major foil. It is no exaggeration to say that Mou re-wrote the history of Confucian thought in China, and he single-handedly rekindled Chinese interest in Tiantai Buddhist thought in his time. His ideas and expressions have penetrated into the common language of Chinese learning, much as Foucault's have done in North America. As for the Western academy, here New Confucian theologians and philosophers have long since entered into dialog with scholars in other fields about religious identity, Christian theology, cognitive science, and virtue ethics. And as Chinese scholars loom larger in the international study of philosophy, religion, and Confucian and Buddhist studies, they have Mou's thought in mind as one of their main points of reference. In order to talk effectively with them, we must spend at least a little time on Mou. As is now routinely said in the Chinese academy, one can agree with Mou or disagree with him, but to be a serious scholar no one can
Mother practical reason for us to take an interest in Mou is that he stands out like a crane among chickens (heli jiqun Wimp) in an important way. To wit, he knows both Buddhist and Confucian thought exceedingly well and comments frequently on their relationship. By contrast, other modern scholars who know one rarely know (or care) much about the other. Each group is equipped with a few second-hand generalizations about the other tradition and little else, and indeed they rarely try to find out more.
This is deeply strange. For most of Chinese history, the Buddhist and Confucian literary elite mingled constantly. They attended parties together, argued about many of the same issues, discussed many of the same essays, traded terms and ideas and ritual behaviors (whatever their disagreements and rivalries), and even exchanged poetry. They have left their fingerprints and footprints all over each other's
We can be forgiven for our incapacity for studying Buddhism and Confucianism alongside each other, because we could hardly have avoided it. Over the last century and more, scholars learning about Chinese Buddhism or Confucianism had little choice but to overspecialize in one or the other, both because of the sheer size of the two literatures and also because of the ravaged state of modern China. First, the Buddhist and Confucian canons are very different from one another, each composing a vast and formidable body of learning. And even though historically and philosophicalally speaking they should be read together, they each demand a separate training. Few people have had the time and the native gifts needed to be brilliant in both, even in imperial times, when our forebears enjoyed the advantage over us of early and unending immersion. Second and more notably,
between the 1860s and 1960s, Buddhist and Confucian learning both suffered terrible losses. Both traditions had their institutional bases all but annihilated by a solid century of repeated cultural convulsions and civil wars of apocalyptic proportions. (To give just two less famous examples, in the 1860s Buddhists had their great libraries razed in the Taiping rebellion, losing significant portions of their canon. And in 1905, the imperial dynasty decided to modernize the civil service, doing away with examinations in the classics, and the traditional institutions of Confucian education soon fell apart.) Together with the institutions went the intellectual networks that once fed off them. Scholars were scattered, distracted, or dead, and they were not conversing about their ideas and passing down their learning to students in anything like the numbers they once did. As a result, we lost a great deal of expertise and, in the twentieth century, the relatively few scholars who still cared about Chinese Buddhist and Confucian thought spent several generations salvaging lost intellectual capital by hyper-specializing, narrowing their focus to a degree which was, if unavoidable, also historically abnormal.
We have also come to this pass simply because of historical happenstance involving the way that, in both China and the West, we have drawn our disciplinary boundaries. In China, despite some fitful attempts in the 1800s, it has been centuries since Buddhist writings were assigned more than a marginal place in the canon of classical Chinese learning. As a result, even to this day, experts in sinology and Chinese philosophy receive little training in Buddhist matters simply because such learning is ruled not to be sufficiently Chinese. In the West, on the other hand, we have traditionally subordinated the study of Chinese Buddhism to a larger, pan-Asian "buddhology," reading its texts as a body of clues or puzzle pieces alongside Indic and Tibetan Buddhist writings in the hope of adding something to our extremely spotty understanding of the history of Buddhism in India. Because of this concern with Indian origins, we have only rarely read Chinese Buddhists' writings as half of a conversation with non-Buddhist Chinese.
However, even if we got into this problem for good reasons, it is still a problem. Since China's Confucian and Buddhist traditions exerted centuries of influence on each other on the political, institutional, ritual, doctrinal, and literary and scholastic planes, we are missing literally half the picture when we are forced to study one in isolation from the other. It would be no more bizarre if we attempted to study the Protestant Reformation without reference to Roman Catholicism.
Happily, it is now becoming much more feasible for us to "cross train" in both traditions, if we choose, using the twin conveniences of digital text and the accumulated work of our teachers and grand-teachers. Having instant access to the ancients and further guidance from the moderns, we are saved a great deal of labor and can aspire one day to speak intelligently about Buddhist and Confucian thought in tandem. And since Mou Zongsan was one of extremely few moderns who has already managed do this, I propose that we begin with
A third practical reason to care about Mou is that with additional study, those of us who study Buddhism, Confucianism, and the history of Chinese thought in the anglophone academy can get enormous mileage and novel input from his research. For example, Mou is a particularly timely writer for Western students of East Asian Buddhism. Until recently we learned about Chinese Buddhism from Japanese mentors and unwittingly absorbed their peculiar prejudices which we are now trying to exorcise: blinkering sectarian biases, lopsided interest in the (alleged) forerunners of Japanese lineages, and peculiarities of Japanese historiography such as a tendency to national essentialism. Already seen by some as the examplar of a Chinese model of buddhology, Mou is a formidable historian of religious philosophy, with an immense body of work and a prodigious range, and he is one of
the most talented scions of a scholarly tradition quite distinct from our own)
The possibilities afforded by Mou's work have hardly begun to be examined in the West, and I regret that I have neither the time nor the
erudition to try to enumerate them all. It will likely require a number of collaborating and competing minds some time to accomplish that. Rather, "philosophical laborer" that I am, in this essay I must limit myself principally to a humble but necessary preliminary labor, which is simply to rehearse with the greatest possible combination of clarity and fidelity what Mou's beliefs about Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy were, so that we can criticize and perhaps appropriate them in an informed way.
I will wait until Chapter Seven to begin to evaluate credibility and adequacy of Mou's work, and out of necessity I will focus that portion narrowly on Mou's buddhology. I leave it to scholars more erudite than I am to try to venture informed critical positions on more distant questions such as the fidelity of Mou's appropriation of Kant, to say nothing of whether his overall system succeeds.'
Mou cares about such different things than buddhologists in our part of the world, and addresses such a different audience, that he can notice and enunciate things which we are apt to miss. He does history of philosophy in a mode which he calls "existential" (shengming, or what we might call "theological." That is, he picks up Buddhist and Confucian and Daoist writings because he is looking for serious guides in matters concerning ultimate ends. He reads them because he wants to know how to live; historicity is important and informative, but ancillary. Accordingly, he reads these texts in a way thus far seldom seen in our universities," and gives a formidable interpretation of the entirety of Buddhist philosophy which could hardly have come into being in the Western academy. And though we may not agree with Mou's theological commitments—I for one am not persuaded—these are merely the occasion of his description of Buddhist philosophy, the condition of its coming into being. Mou does not bankrupt his whole description simply because he might not "sell" us on his entire vision of human flourishing. One way or another, he has certainly noticed patterns that are worth hearing about.
For example, Mou identifies what he believes to be the defining commonalities and watershed differences in the philosophical commitments of different versions of Buddhism, namely what we might call their theories of "buddha-to-world relations," of what a buddha's
subjectivity is in relation to our subjectivity and to the objective universe. In particular, he thinks the major Buddhist philosophers agree about how the universe looks to a Buddha subjectively, and also that they agree to deny any ontologically primary being which could serve as an uncaused causer to other beings. Where they disagree decisively is in what they say about the causes of Buddhahood and exactly how buddhas' minds are related to everything and everyone else.
Mou follows these disputations in such voluminous detail because he is keenly interested in the problem that Confucians have in hashing out an analogous dispute, namely what the relation is between Heaven, sages, and ordinary humans. Mou is convinced that if we take an interest in the very good philosophical guidance available on this question, we can streamline our efforts to cultivate ourselves and live better lives. What we need is to begin with an awareness of the vast distance by which we are separated from Heaven, the source of our being, and then progress gradually to a more nuanced awareness of the subtle ways in which we also are identical to Heaven and play the role of its representatives on earth.
At the very least then, Mou serves up plausible and minutely thought-out interpretations of individual Buddhist commentators and lineages that are different from what we already have. But beyond that, in keeping with a certain venerable Chinese tradition in intellectual historiography, Mou lives for the big questions and big narratives that are momentarily unfashionable in our profession and which, in my opinion, we are forgetting how to do well. For example, Mou offers his own take (influential among Chinese scholars) on the "sinification" question, namely "how and how thoroughly did Chinese people change the Buddhist traditions they inherited from their western neighbors?" which has been one of the perennial preoccupations of Western and Japanese buddhology from their inceptions. Mou's work spans almost a thousand years of Buddhist philosophy to give us an extremely detailed reading in which, when Buddhists such as Paramartha and Fazang (643-712) and Zhiyi generate novel-looking doctrines in China, such as that of a "Pure True Mind" (qingjing zhenxin), they remain loyal to what Mou takes to be the decisively Buddhist message, outfitting it with a more comprehensive theoretical expression that expands on Indian materials only to the point of supplementing the deficiencies in what they say about the buddhas' relationship to the rest of us. In this essay, one of my duties will be to spell out precisely why Mou thinks this is. What he takes to be the essential Buddhist message, and how it is that those thinkers are its faithful expositors.
What emerges is a very strange state of affairs in which Mou the apologist for Confucianism also emerges as one of the few well-known modern Chinese interpreters of Buddhism who defends indigenous Chinese systems of Buddhist philosophy (e.g. Huayan and Tiantai) as authentic vehicles of the Buddhist message. As Lin Chen-kuo VAN points out, in the twentieth century the highest-profile Buddhist intel- lectuals were "anti-traditionalists" who condemned the distinctively Chinese versions of Buddhist thought as fundamentally wrong-headed misinterpretations of the Indian tradition."
A final practical reason to look to Mou is that, by sharing his thoughts on the Buddhist-Confucian relationship, he can also help us with matters of broad contemporary relevance. In my generation's lifetime it will be necessary for some observers to undertake a new cultural critique of Buddhism, as it burgeons into a viable guide to living for an ever-growing number of people in greater China, Europe, and the Americas. Its adherents are drawn, very many of them, from influential segments of their societies, and its representative organizations include many which are well-funded, well-organized, well-publicized, and winningly evangelistic. However, as a prescription for living, Buddhism invites ethical doubts that do not long escape even casual observers—misgivings about its real or perceived vices of quietism, nihilism, individualism or solipsism, and amoralism. Hence, as Buddhism has grown in influence, we have seen such attempts at thorough-going reform movements as "engaged Buddhism," "humanistic Buddhism", "Buddhist economics," and "critical Buddhism" (hihan bukkyo ) in recent years,24 not to mention far more radical and tumultuous ones in earlier decades, in Republican China, colonial Korea, and Meiji Japan."
As we consider those misgivings, in order not to reinvent the wheel as it were, we would do well to consult the long Confucian tradition of intelligent, well-informed criticism of Buddhism. And once again, when we want mature reflections on Buddhist teachings by an eminent Confucian thinker, the first name on the list has to be Mou Zongsan.
Mou's Mature Writings
In one sense, when Mou joined together with these other forebearers of the New Confucian movement, he joined a community that would one day grow into a large circle of students and peers, an extended family in which Mou would be a central figure, respected and even loved by many. However, those days were still far off in 1960 when Mou moved to New Asia's campus in the rural part of the colony. He was lonely there. Unable to speak Cantonese, Mou felt socially isolated and so buried himself in his reading and research. He had always been a prolific writer, having written extensively on logic and epistemology while a war refugee. But over the next twenty-five years he poured out scholarship with amazing diligence—biographer Li Shan characterizes his as a "carpet bombing" style of research—and produced six magisterial monographs in ten volumes. These were the works on which Mou built his reputation, and which he endorsed as the true representatives of his mature thought.
He began a long-term project to compose histories of all phases of Chinese philosophy "in order to provide a foundation for his urgent calls for cultural reform."82 In 1963 he began by publishing Material Human Nature and Profound Principle, his study of Daoist commentators Wang Bi and Guo Xiang, followed five years later by a three-volume reinterpretation of the history of Confucian philosophy, Mind and
Human Nature. As he was completing it, Mou chanced to read Heide-. gger's Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (1962). Convinced that Heidegger had missed the crucial transcendent dimension to metaphysics, Mou felt spurred to correct the oversight.85 This was the impetus for his next two books, straightforwardly constructive treatises rather than historical monographs, Intellectual Intuition and Chinese Philosophy (1971) and Phenomenon and Thing-in-Itself (1975). It was in those books that Mou began taking Tiantai Buddhist philosophy as the floorplan for refurbishing Confucian thought. As Mou was writing the latter volume, he was already publishing journal articles on Buddhism which he would latter incorporate into Buddha-Nature and Prajna (1977), by far the most sprawling and loosely organized of his books. Here he attempted to make his definitive statement about the Buddhist philosophy with which he had now brought to the forefront of his philosophy. Finally, in what became Mou's last original monograph, he began trying to explain what he saw as the payoff of Buddhist thought for Confucianism in his Treatise on the Summum Bonum (1985),86 an extended commentary and meditation in Tiantai-inspired language on Mencius' dialog with Gaozi.
Goals of Mou's Philosophy
Lest we lose our way in the coming thicket of details about Mou's philosophy, I should first make clear what Mou was striving to accomplish throughout those many years and many volumes.
One reason that Mou can be difficult to interpret is that even though he often speaks with perfect confidence about the most arcane questions, such as the very structure of mind itself, he is often nebulous about the reasoning by which he arrived at these very certain conclusions and the reasons that he holds them with such unshakeable confidence. Often we have to work to supply the underlying logic.
However, one help is that we know where Mou wants to go, so to speak. He makes no secret of his agenda. As he sets about synthe- sizing his reorganized system of Confucian philosophy, he demands
:hat it serve a number of purposes. First, it must establish the worth of Chinese philosophy as a whole, raising it to equal standing with Western philosophy and integrating a philosophy of science into its repertoire. Second, it should kindle a civic-minded and anti-Commu- nist patriotism in China's young people. Finally, it must underwrite a metaphysical optimism about the oneness and underlying goodness of an imperfect world.
Vindicate Chinese Philosophy
As we have seen, New Confucians in general share a conviction that there is something worthy and valuable in Chinese philosophy, and it is deeply important to Mou not just that he produce a metaphysics that satisfies all the requirements which we will learn about later in this book, but also that he generate it out of Chinese resources. Even if Mou could create a completely satisfactory metaphysics "out of thin air," as it were, without obvious kinship to earlier Chinese philosophies, he would not be entirely happy. He wants his final product to wear the toolmarks of earlier Chinese philosophers and thus engender respect for their wisdom.
Even where Mou disagrees with one of the traditional thinkers, he wants to highlight points on which that thinker was correct and to honor such advances as he might have made. And in particular Mou wants to praise the great Buddhist and Daoist thinkers and acknowledge them among the important ancestors of. Chinese philosophy, right alongside (though still a step below) the Confucians. Hence, in addition to his great four-volume history of Confucianism, he also writes an appreciative study of Daoism in Material Human Nature and Profound Principle and an extraordinarily detailed and sympathetic survey of Buddhist philosophy in Buddha Nature and Praia
We will notice, then, that Mou attaches a somewhat special meaning to the phrase "Chinese philosophy." He is not using it as a catchall label for any and all speculative thought ever generated in China. He is referring to a family of philosophical claims which he thinks are true and important for the business of human cultivation, and wide-
spread and uniquely well-developed in Chinese tradition. So for
ple, on Mou's construal, the Legalists are a poor example of "Chinese
philosophy" because they are base and unedifying. Zhuangzi belongs, but Mou has little to say about any of the work attributed to him except for the non-dualist essay "Discourse on Seeing Things as Equal" (qiwu lun). The really exemplary figures are ones such as Daoist commentator Guo Xiang, or Buddhism's "Sakyamuni of the East," Tiantai Zhiyi, and his successors, and above all Mencius and the Confucian thinkers Mou dubs his authentic heirs, such as Cheng Mingdao, Hu Wufeng, and Liu Jishan .
Join Chinese and Western Philosophy in Common Enterprise
Like his other New Confucian confreres, Mou hopes to marry Chinese philosophy to Western philosophy in a common enterprise, something in which Chinese philosophy can showcase its special value and contribute importantly to the Western cultures threatening to eclipse iti
Among New Confucians, Mou is especially anxious to demonstrate the unique value of Chinese philosophy for the whole world, and not merely assert it. Generations of traditionalists had sloganeered about an East-West intellectual synthesis in hopeful, vague terms, but no Chinese philosopher or philosophy had yet emerged to fulfill these great expectations. Mou follows up more diligently than anyone and strives to acquire enough expertise in many branches of Chinese, Anglo-American, and German thought to put them into disciplined, detailed dialog.
Mou himself respects the systematic rigor and precision of a number of modern Western philosophers, and he is not satisfied to settle for a nebulous assurance that Chinese and Western philosophy each have their strengths. Nor, he certainly notices, will he impress Confucianism's many detractors with this kind of bromide. No, if he and others are to take the New Confucian claims seriously, he needs to produce a single, unified theory of how certain Western philosophers and Chinese philosophers have excelled in understanding different but related aspects of being. He needs a Chinese-based philosophy detailed and complex enough that it can mesh gears with Western thinkers of recognized importance on their own terms and sublate them into a larger system that recognizably supplements some particular deficiency in them. He has to make Confucianism able to address Western philosophy in its own language and advance it further.
To Mou it seems most important to hold these conversations with. Like other New Confucians, he finds that Kant resembles the Confucian thinkers of the Song and Ming, who also emphasized the metaphysics of mind and an ethics of duty.89 Among the Western phiosophers, Mou thinks, Kant understands morality best, namely as coextensive with a function of reason itself, and hence Kant is most amenable to being tutored by Confucian thought. Moreover, Mou
inks Kant can supplement the main deficiency in Chinese philosophy, its inattention to empirical knowledge, with his detailed and (Mou thinks) largely correct philosophy of mind.
Assert Morality in Matter and the Moral Mission of Science
Mother of Mou's grand aims is to join a theory of moral realism and the theory of empirical knowledge comfortably under one large tent. He wants to give philosophical muscle and precision to the New Confuians' insistence that moral value is every bit as real as matter and
gravity. After all, for some this is not an easily thinkable idea in the modern age, when most of us are philosophical materialists in most of our moods and distinguish routinely between mere values and full-blooded factsi What would it even mean for us to say that value is built right into the universe? Mou sets this question high on his agenda.
So as his first concern, Mou aims to show that when we feel moral intuitions, we are experiencing full-fledged knowledge, even more than in the case of empirical knowledge. And why does he feel so certain of this? Because surely, he believes, "there is an isomorphism between thought and nature; otherwise, we would have no reasonable explanation for the application of mathematics to physics." In other words, it seems evident to Mou that the structure of mind mirrors the structure
of all of nature. So he takes it as a significant fact about nature that our minds experience a moral coloring in things. We have notions of right and ought, and Mou believes these moral notions tell us as much about the universe as our empirical observation and reasoning, If anything, they are more important!
However, Mou must also signal clearly that he is a friend and admirer of science. He knows he can never be taken seriously in the twentieth century if his philosophy seems to vault into the heavens and slight concrete particulars. So even as he elevates and extols the facticity of morality, he must do this in a way that honors science. For Mou's purposes as a metaphysician, this means that he wants to integrate his theory of moral value as solid, knowable reality as completely as possible with an epistemology of empirical knowledge.
In this way Mou can enhance not only the credibility of his philosophy but also its comprehensiveness. He will not only stake out a place for science in his metaphysics but also deliver a teleological message about the moral mission of science. To wit, our empirical knowledge (our capacity to see, hear, think, and to imagine and our resulting ability to do works great and small) is directed toward a recognizable natural purpose, which is the exercise and perfection of our moral capacitiesis.
Help Regenerate China Morally and Politically
Through all his metaphysical writing, Mou has a very practical goal in mind. By persuading China's young people that morality is a real thing (indeed, the most real thing), he wants to embolden them to act accordingly in a way that will save their country from ruin, and in particular from Communism.
For Mou, as for the other New Confucians, the proximate form that his regenerated China should take was democracy. But for someone trying to transform his country, Mou was disengaged from politics. One biographer calls him "the man who walked out of history," remarking that, "Mou Zongsan, it could be said, had no connection to any of the important historical events. He was not a historical per-
"94 That is unlike many notable Chinese philosophers and personage
thinkers of his time, such as his teacher Xiong Shili and his contemporary Feng Youlan Mou was not a public figure. In fact he
sneers at the leading intellectuals of his day such as Hu Shi, Zhang Junmai, Zhang Dongsun, Feng Youlan, and Liang Shuming, whom he thought dirtied themselves too much with politics and current affairs, and were too "this-worldly" (rushi AR) or engage.
Nonetheless, like his mentor Xiong Shili, Mou thinks he is doing his part for the common weal by his philosophizing. Mou thinks philosophers play an indispensable political role. In ordinary times the Chinese ship of state is crewed by learned people, and the philosophy that prevails in their education and absorbs their attention is what supplies them with their ideas about the correct goals and means for their personal and political efforts. Hence we find Mou full of opinions about how China's philosophical mistakes had led it to political disasters. Even though he confines his monographs mostly to logic, epistemology, ontology, and axiology, in his lectures Mou likes to show his students the links between bad philosophical thinking and political degradation and disaster. He teaches that Tang philosophers missed a chance to arrest the dynasty's slide into decadence because of their interest in Buddhism, which Mou pooh-poohs as a poor stimulant to public service. Sidetracked into Buddhist thought, he explains, China's leading men held no ready supply of answers to the country's problems until the gradual reworking of Confucianism that began in the
Song. He reviles the Qing dynasty's achievements in text-criticism and philology, which some see as an indigenous Chinese birth of the modern spirit of critical inquiry, as pusillanimous flight from moral philosophy into inconsequential folderol and textual puzzles. The resulting vacuum of moral leadership was ultimately was filled by Marxism.
Mou seems to think that philosophers serve their country best as educators. On the one hand he shares the conventional Chinese assumption that educators are responsible for the moral education of the country's intelligentsia. They must ensure that the students who will one day decide the fate of the nation will be people of responsibility and conscience. And in Mou's opinion, educators cannot long succeed in this vocation of inculcating a public-minded moral code in students unless some of them, such as the philosophers, show the students how that code is a necessary, unalterable truth, built into the nature of the universe, just as much as the laws of matter and mathematics. Hence the philosophers are contributing a clear political good, and we could say that they are politically "engaged" in that sense.
Moreover, Mou does not seem to think that he contributes less to national salvation than any other educator even though he concentrates on metaphysics. To his way of thinking, it is merely that philosophers are specialists whose work on theoretical, abstract matters helps to guide concrete (social and political) practice. In something like
tile same way, we might say, scientists doing basic research in chem- and physics produce knowledge that is necessary and beneficial for
practice of medicine and engineering, but those scientists are
usually not themselves practicing physicians or engineers. They spend their time and energy on something else, something more general and theoretical than seeing patients and drafting designs, in order to help the actual practitioners do their jobs better.
Indeed, a standard complaint about New Confucians like Mou is that by not participating in the politics of the day, they stopped practicing the "unity of knowledge and action" (zhixing heyi QT7 ft-) of their hero Wang Yangming. However, as defenders point out, they practiced very energetically in their role as educators.' Traditionally a Confucian's moral practice is to be conducted through the medium of certain well-known relationships, such as those between monarch and minister or husband and wife. Modern times abolished the monarchic relationship and the acids of modernity changed family relationships as well, meaning that the practice of Confucian moral cultivation in these contexts had to change almost beyond recognition, as those such as Joseph Levenson who prematurely mourned the tradition's passage were quick to point out. However, the teacher-student relationship was not fundamentally discredited as the political, parental, and marital relationships were. And it was here that the New Confucians exerted themselves most. In fact, the number and loyalty of influential players in Taiwanese and Hong Kong society who were Mou's disciples is a testament to the intensity of his "moral practice" in this respect.
Proclaim Metaphysical Optimism
It is curious that twentieth-century champions of Confucianism so often could philosophize in a buoyant, up-beat voice, even in a country beset by war, starvation, and atrocity. At least in modern times, optimism seems to be required of Confucian spokesmen. Thomas Metzger comments on it in Mou's colleague Tang Junyi, accusing him of "Panglossian optimism." "His philosophy," Metzger writes, "has the cheerfulness of a kind of metaphysical YMCA."'°' We find a similar
optimism in Mou himself. One of his non-negotiable demands for a complete philosophy is that it teach that however disappointing the universe may seem to us, it is actually a friendly place where good.. ness reigns. And against Heidegger, who is preoccupied with man's finitude, Mou protests that man is connected directly to infinite Being and can himself be infinite.
Conceivably, someone who draws inspiration from Confucian works could adopt a more tragic posture and concede to modern materialism that even if he feels very strongly in a subjective way that there is a right and a wrong, there is no indication that the universe itself feels the same way, and indeed no good theory by which it would even be possible to say that a moral value could be a real, substantial quidditiy. And in fact, modern Confucians in general have had to concede a great deal in this vein and quietly downsize their expectations of the sage. Since they could not persuade even themselves, for example, that anyone exerts kingly power over nature and the world of men by virtue of his sageliness, as Mencius teaches, they have had to content and console themselves with the thought that it is enough to retain one's integrity and live as an "inward sage" (neisheng 1J2). Mou, too, quietly repudiates much of the mystique surrounding sagehood and shrinks it down to a very modest size.
However, even though Mou can disclaim much of the traditional Confucian mythology about the sage, as we know, he goes aggressively on the offensive to assert the full-blown reality of moral value. For him it would not be nearly enough to posit a moral law and accept it as a mere projection onto a frigid universe of dumb matter and no sympathy. He insists that morality and goodness must be built-in features of the universe. Mou also requires that the universe actively support us in living moral lives. Aside from endorsing moral value as a "reality" (zhenshi A4),' it also has to reward us for conforming ourselves to it. If virtue does not always lead to happiness, Mou feels, it would be "too tragic; people's feelings could not be at peace."
Mou's solution will be to look for a philosophy which is fundamentally "idealist," in the sense that its foundation is our minds, and in particular its moral sensibilities. This is what Mou means when, early 0 his mature career, he calls his philosophy a "moral idealism." What 'makes things count as "existing" in the decisive sense is the fact of their being involved with our moral mentation. Mou's ultimate goal will be to show, or at least claim, that if we dig deep enough, we will fold that both reason and existence, which are the stuff of science and empirical knowledge, are actually aspects of morality. He would like to keep a hard-nosed philosophy of science which fully respects concrete particulars and the study of matter and motion, but he also wishes to incorporate it into a larger theory that establishes moral value as fact.
The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of Virtue by Jiyuan Yu (Routledge Studies in Ethics and Moral Theory: Routledge) The emergence of virtue ethics, which might be the most significant development in contemporary ethics, takes Aristotle's ethics as the most important paradigm. Aristotle's ethical thinking, in contrast to modern Western moral philosophy, starts with a reflection on human life as a whole instead of on some moral acts, and focuses on character and virtue instead of on principles and rules. This way of doing ethics is shared by Confucius. First, Confucius seeks to find the human dao, i.e. the way to become a good person. Second, to become a good person, one must cultivate de, that is, a dispositional character (indeed, de has been generally translated as "virtue" in English). Confucius calls this dispositional character ren. Ren has been generally translated as "benevolence" or "humanity," but is also widely referred to as "virtue," "complete virtue," or "cardinal virtue."
It is in elaborating how one person can become a good person by cultivating ren that Confucius reflects on and discusses issues such as human nature and its fulfillment, the doctrine of the mean, the role of social customs and traditions, self-cultivation and moral education, love, family, virtue politics, moral emotion, moral reasoning, family, and so on. These are also the central themes in Aristotle's theory of virtue. To a great extent, Aristotle's ethics is taken as the model in contemporary virtue ethics precisely because these important ethical concerns have been left out or at least marginalized in dominant modern moral theories.
Why draw together Confucian and Aristotelian ethics? What can we expect to achieve by comparing them? Is it theoretically possible to compare two ethical systems that originate in different traditions? Do Confucius and Aristotle have comparable views about how ethics should be done? This introduction seeks to answer these questions. In explaining the nature of this project, I also try to provide a defense of comparative philosophy as a philosophical enterprise.
In "Modern Moral Philosophy," Elizabeth Anscombe pointed out that "anyone who has read Aristotle's Ethics and has also read modern moral philosophy must have been struck by the great contrasts between them."' Anscombe claimed that all modern major moral philosophers were wrong and that we should stop doing moral philosophy until we have an adequate philosophical psychology. Ethics should be grounded in the notion of virtue, and we must get a better grip on terms like "intention," "wanting," "pleasure," and "action" in order to explain what type of thing a virtue is and how it relates to the virtuous actions. Her paper effectively initiated the contemporary revival of virtue ethics which takes Aristotle as the dominant model and which significantly changed the landscape of contemporary ethics.
Anscombe's paper was published in 1958. In the same year, a group of Confucian scholars published "A Manifesto for a Re-Appraisal of Sinology and Reconstruction of Chinese Culture." This was intended to show the contemporary philosophical significance of Confucian ethics by contrasting it to modern Western moral philosophy:
In Western ethical studies, discussion of morality is usually devoted to consideration of the regulations of human behavior, or the social or religious values of moral codes. Few writers have particularly stressed this thorough transformation of man's natural life by moral practices so that his attitudes and manners manifest his inner virtues and enrich and illuminate this life. In contrast, it is precisely what traditional Confucianism has greatly emphasized. (Chang et al., 1962, 466)
This document became the landmark of the contemporary revival of
Confucianism, a movement that has been called "New Confucianism," or
"The Third Epoch of Confucian Humanism." New Confucianism can be
traced back to the 1920s and 1930s when scholars tried to identify
the unique value of Confucianism in the wake of the systematic
introduction of modern Western culture into China. The 1958
Manifesto made the revival of Confucianism an international
movement. The revival was greatly encouraged and promoted in the 1970s and 1980s by industrial
nations that share Confucian culture. Confucianism was seen as being able to provide an alternative view to modernity.
The revival of Aristotelian ethics is mainly an academic
phenomenon, whereas the revival of Confucianism appears to have broad
sociological dimensions. Nevertheless, these two revivals share the same
target of criticism, that is, Enlightenment values and modern Western morality. Indeed, their philosophical orientation of these two rivals is the same, that is, a virtue approach to ethics. The major differences between Aristotle's ethical thinking and modern moral philosophy are usually said to be the following. First, whereas modern ethics focuses on moral acts, Aristotle's ethics concerns the goodness of the agent's whole life. Second,
whereas modern ethics considers the task of ethics to formulate rules and principles to govern moral acts, Aristotle's ethics centers on the character
and virtue that a person must have in order to live happily or to flourish.
The value of an action can only be judged in relation to the character of the agent.
It is not difficult to see that these two features of Aristotle's
ethics also characterize the ethics of Confucius. First, the concern of
Confucius is to find the human dao, i.e. the way to become a good person. Second,
become a good person, one must cultivate de, that is, a dispositional character (indeed, de has been generally translated as "virtue" in English translations). Confucius calls this dispositional character ren. Ren has been generally translated as "benevolence" or "humanity," but is also widely
referred to as "virtue," "complete virtue," or "cardinal virtue." James Legge
(1815-97), who laid down the foundation of the Western translation of Chinese classics, translated junzi (the Confucian concept of the good man,
that is, the man equipped with ren, usually translated as "gentleman") as "a man of complete virtue."
It is in elaborating how one can become a good person by cultivating ren that Confucius reflects and discusses issues such as human nature and its fulfillment, the doctrine of the mean, the role of social custom and traditions, self-cultivation and moral education, love, family, virtue politics, moral emotion and reasoning, and so on. These are also central themes in Aristotle's theory of virtue. To a great extent, Aristotle's ethics is taken as the paradigmatic model in contemporary virtue ethics precisely because these important ethical concerns have been left out or at least marginalized in dominant modern moral theories. The contrast between Confucianism and modern Western moral theory is not simply a contrast of East and West, but also one between a character-based ethics and a rule-based or rights-based ethics.
Since both revivals share a virtue approach to ethics, but point to Confucius and Aristotle respectively, a sense of wonder naturally arises about the extent to which the ethics of Aristotle and Confucius compete or complement, and about the philosophical significance we can draw from their similarities and differences. Propelled by this curiosity and the desire to know, I venture to develop a philosophical comparison of these two ethics.
The meaning of comparison
There are various understandings of what a comparative philosophical study is and what counts as an appropriate way of practicing it. In its prevailing meaning, "comparative philosophy" is usually associated with non-Western philosophy and, to a great extent, even sounds like a different name for the latter. This is at least partly because, while the study of Western philosophy seldom refers to non-Western philosophy, comparison with Western philosophy has been a major approach in the study of non-Western philosophy.
Broadly speaking, two major interpretive approaches are used in Chinese philosophy. One is to find out how the traditional Western philosophical issues are dealt with in Chinese texts; the other is to show how Chinese philosophy differs from Western philosophy by identifying its own unique sensibility and rationality.6 Although these two approaches are opposed to each other, they share the attitude that doing Chinese philosophy indispensably requires a comparison with Western philosophy. Needless to say, both approaches have contributed greatly to our understanding of Chinese philosophy.
Our comparative study, however, is conceived in a different way.7 When comparison is used in the study of non-Western philosophy, Western philosophy is usually treated as some established framework or tool of analysis to be applied rather than as a subject matter that is itself subject to investigation. The focus of discussion has always been on the non-Western side. In contrast, in this book, although we appropriate Aristotle's methodology, his ethical doctrines are also the object to be studied. This book treats both sides equally and aims at developing an interpretation of each side through comparison.
In fact, it is difficult to see how one can take Western philosophy as a ready-to-use framework, for there is hardly any concept or issue in it that is not subject to controversy. Consider Aristotle, for example. It does not take much expertise to know that almost each view of his has been subjected to different and even contradictory interpretations. The Nicomachean Ethics is by no means an exception. There are numerous ongoing disputes not only about the contents of particular views presented in it, but even about the structure of Aristotle's theory of eudaimonia and about whether the NE is a unified and consistent work. Most contemporary discussions of virtue ethics go back to Aristotle, but it is far from being the case that they share the same understanding of Aristotle. Rather, as one influential virtue ethicist puts it: "Any virtue ethics which is 'Aristotelian' as described inevitably aims to stick to the author's interpretation of Aristotle, and interpretations of Aristotle, on many of the relevant issues, vary." Our comparative approach, then, requires a defense of our own understanding of Aristotle, just as it requires a defense of our own understanding of Confucius.
As it turns out, Aristotle himself is most helpful in illuminating the kind of comparative philosophy I pursue. Two of his ideas can be fruitfully appropriated for this purpose. The first is the "friend-as-mirror" thesis, and the second is the method of "saving the phenomena."
Aristotle uses the metaphor of a mirror to explain what real friendship is:
[W]hen we wish to see our own face, we do so by looking into the mirror, in the same way when we wish to know ourselves we can obtain that knowledge by looking at our friend. For the friend is, as we assert, a second self. If, then, it is pleasant to know oneself, and it is not possible to know this without having some one else for a friend, the self-sufficing man will require friendship in order to know himself.")
A friend is a second self, and can be used as a mirror. Such a mirror is essential for one to know oneself better, and the self-knowledge obtained from a real friend is needed for one's happiness. The doctrinal meaning of the "friend-as-mirror" thesis will be discussed in due course, and here let us focus on its methodological implication for comparative philosophy.
Aristotelian and Confucian ethics can be viewed as mirrors for each other. One lives one's own life, but still needs friends in various ways. Similarly, we must read the original works of Aristotle and Confucius to understand them, but a comparison could help have them better understood. Taking them as mirrors for each other leads us to reflect upon the traditional roots of both ethics, to examine their otherwise unexamined presuppositions, and to generate alternative perspectives to determine why each side proceeds in the way it does. One main task of philosophy is to uncover hidden assumptions, and cross-cultural philosophical comparison has a lot to contribute in this regard. Furthermore, by promoting mutual understanding, comparison will also help philosophy transcend cultural boundaries and reach genuine insights that are not culturally bound.
"Saving the phenomena" is Aristotle's characteristic philosophical methodology." In NE vii.l, he presents us with an outline of this method:
We must, as in all other cases, set the phenomena [phainomena] before us and, after first discussing the difficulties [aporiai], go on to prove, if possible, the truth of all the reputable opinions [endoxa] about these affections or, failing this, of the greater number and the most authoritative; for if we both resolve the difficulties and leave the reputable opinions undisturbed, we shall have proved the case sufficiently. (NE, 1145b1-7)
The term phenomena, literally meaning "things that are present or are evident," derives from the verb phainesthai, and means "to appear." It can be translated as "appearances," but in Aristotle, it means mainly "what people commonly say" (ta legomena), i.e. "common belief," rather than empirical appearance. Phenomena also include views that are not so commonly accepted but are held by a small number of wise people, or even by a single wise person. In this sense it is used interchangeably with endoxa ("reputable opinions"). According to the quoted passage, Aristotle's method of "saving the phenomena" consists of the following procedures: (1) collecting and establishing the phenomena; (2) discussing and analyzing the conflicts of these phenomena and the difficulties to which they give rise; and (3) saving the truth contained in all reputable opinions.' This is meant to solve conflicts between phenomena by showing that each phenomenon is neither completely wrong nor completely right. It identifies each phenomenon's limit and adjusts "what is said" by all sides of a debate. As Aristotle describes it:
We must, then, find a method that will best explain the views held on these topics, and also put an end to difficulties and contradictions. And this will happen if the contrary views are seen to be held with some show of reason; such a view will be most in harmony with the phenomena; and both the contradictory statements will in the end stand, if what is said is true in one sense but untrue in another. (EE, 1235b13-17)
The "saving the phenomena" method can be extended to comparative philosophy to the effect that to compare entails saving the phenomena from different cultures. Inspired by the spirit of this method, our comparative project will proceed as follows: (l) since both Aristotelian and Confucian ethics are about how to be a good person, they can be seen as comparable phenomena from different philosophical traditions; (2) we examine points of congruence and contrast that arise from bringing Aristotelian and Confucian phenomena together; and (3) we seek to save the truth present in these phenomena.
The mirror and the "saving the phenomena" methods are consistent and complementary. The mirror method requires first of all bringing together different traditions, i.e., establishing comparable cross-culture phenomena, and then examining and revealing the differences and similarities between the two. This is precisely the requirement of the second step of the saving the phenomena method. It is through mirroring that we know the strengths and weaknesses of each ethical system, and are thus able to identify the truth that needs to be saved, the truth which leads to fruitful dialogues. This is similar to the third step of the "saving the phenomena" method.
The bulk of this book will consist of a comparative analysis of the questions, approaches, concepts, and doctrines on either side. I will cite substantial textual evidence to show that all the views I compare are actually held by each side. I will discuss each main concept and its translation(s), and trace the development of each within its own tradition by placing the views of each side in their own intellectual, sociological, and religious contexts. Since one major mistake of doing comparative philosophy is the unreflective imposition of assumptions of one's own tradition on the other, extra caution will be exerted not to fall into this trap. I will also take into account the rich scholarship on each side, and deal with relevant controversies on either side before a comparison is drawn. In the end, I hope to demonstrate that neither Aristotle nor the Confucians are completely right or completely wrong. Each side has said something significant on some issues or some aspects of the same issue, and each side has also failed to address some issues or some aspects of the same issue. It is the combination of the elements of truth contained in each phenomenon that provides a better understanding of virtue and human perfection.
The possibility of comparison
Comparative philosophy always faces a skeptical challenge about its possibility. The challenge is usually expressed in the form of the problem of incommensurability. It says that two theories from different cultural contexts embody different internal conceptual schemes and sociological backgrounds, so that they are incommensurable like apples and oranges.
There are many versions of the problem of incommensurability. Here I shall focus on the version that directly threatens our project of comparing the ethics of Aristotle and Confucius. Ironically, it is most clearly stated by Alasdair Maclntyre, one of the most prominent contributors to the revival of Aristotelian virtue ethics. According to Maclntyre,
Indeed in their overall doctrines and perspectives Confucianism, whether that of Confucius or that of the Neo-Confucians, and Aristotelianism, whether that of Aristotle or that of Aquinas, present crucially different and incompatible accounts of the best ways for human beings to live, so that even theses about which there is substantial agreement function in significantly different ways.
The incompatibility is generated, according to MacIntyre, because
system has its own internal standard of explanation and justification, and each has its own philosophical psychology, politics, and sociology. As a result of their incompatibility,
There is just no neutral and independent method of characterizing those materials in a way sufficient to provide the type of adjudication between competing theories of the virtues which I had once hoped to provide and to which some others still aspire. (Maclntyre, 1991, 105)
I have learned greatly from Maclntyre. Nevertheless, I do not find his rejection of the possibility of the comparison between Aristotelianism and Confucianism to be acceptable.
To begin with, MacIntyre's position is not as clear as it appears to be. He claims that the incommensurability of Aristotelianism and Confucianism leads to the impossibility of adjudicating their rival claims, but all the same he acknowledges that it is possible for them to have a genuine "rational encounter" and that they can even be brought into "a potentially creative dialogue" (Maclntyre, 1991, 116). In other words, incommensurability does not rule out or preclude mutual understanding and intellectual dialogue. Maclntyre indeed acknowledges that "such understanding is possible only for those adherents of each standpoint who are able to learn the language of the rival standpoint, so that they acquire, so far as is possible, that other language as a second first language" (Maclntyre, 1991, 111). In saying this, however, the problem is no longer about the possibility of comparison, but about how comparison should be done and what qualities a comparativist need possess in order to get the job done appropriately. These are very different issues.
In Maclntyre's view, as quoted above, Aristotelianism and Confucianism are incommensurable because they are "incompatible and rival schemes" and "present crucially different and incompatible accounts of the best ways for human beings to live." How, then, does he establish this view?
When we examine his way of arguing, it shows that ironically, he draws this conclusion through a comparative study of these two theories. In his 1991 paper, he first acknowledges that there are resemblances between them, such as the method of moral education and the view on non-rule-following moral capacity. He then announces that "these important areas of agreement coexist with equally striking areas of disagreement" (Maclntyre, 1991, 106), and proceeds to present some major differences to prove that Aristotelianism and Confucianism are incompatible.
As I will show in the body of this book, all the differences that
Maclntyre establishes are oversimplified and problematic. For now,
the important thing is not how we disagree about the similarities
and differences between these two systems. What is at stake is the possibility of
comparison, not the
result of comparison. To say that two philosophical systems are different
does not mean that they are incommensurable. Aristotle himself presents numerous incompatible or seemingly incompatible views in his philosophy, it this does not mean that these views are incommensurable and should not be studied together. On the contrary, most Aristotelian scholarship addresses these conflicting or seemingly conflicting views. Maclntyre seems be caught in confusion between the result of comparative philosophy and s mere possibility.
Just as a philosophical text can be interpreted and reinterpreted, two ifferent systems can be compared and re-compared. Interpreters might ave different views about whether and how two theories are similar or ifferent. Yet to say that they are different is already a comparison, and it is of a ground for ruling out the comparison itself. One cannot deny the possibility of comparative philosophy on the basis that different traditions Lave different psychologies, sociologies, and conceptual schemes. To find but that different traditions have different assumptions and modes of reasoning, one has to compare them. Cultural differences are not obstacles to comparative philosophy. On the contrary, to reveal and appreciate these differences is precisely the greatest benefit that comparative philosophy can Provide. To a great extent, it is interesting to compare Confucius and Aristotle because they address the same question about how to become a good person from different cultural traditions and social structures, and from alternative philosophical points of view.
It appears that, for Maclntyre, incommensurability becomes such a cruial issue only because it is difficult to adjudicate between rival claims and determine which side is the winner for truth. But it is an extremely narrow conception of comparative philosophy that the goal of it is to determine, between the parties being compared, which side is the winner. It is indeed un-Aristotelian to think that truth can only be in one tradition or one philosophical system. For Aristotle, the search for truth is not the business of one person or one group of people, but needs to be a collective human endeavor:
The investigation of truth is in one way hard, and in another easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth adequately, while, on the other hand, no one fails entirely, but every one says something true about the nature of things, and while individually they contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed. Therefore, since the truth seems to be like the proverbial door, which no one can fail to hit, in this way it is easy, but in fact that we can have a whole and not the particular part we aim at shows the difficulty of it. (Meta, 993a28-993b7)
Confucius, like Aristotle, also hits on something that is right.
Following the two Aristotelian methods that we introduced in the previous
goal of comparative philosophy is for each to mirror the other to enhance self-understanding and mutual understanding, and to bring to light the elements of truth contained in a variety of phenomena. It is unnecessary and unhelpful if a comparison is meant to establish a sole winner.
Maclntyre indeed acknowledges that the mutual understanding of two incommensurable systems is necessary because "without rational encounter with some other rival theory, whether incommensurable or not, we have not tested its claims to truth" (Maclntyre, 1991, 112). Yet, if two incommensurable systems can reach mutual understanding, why are they still incommensurable? Maclntyre himself even offers concrete proposals about how Aristotelianism and Confucianism could have a rational encounter or creative dialogue, with the main point that each side should reconstruct the other side "in the light of its own standards, in respect of the difficulties or problems internal to it" (Maclntyre, 1991, 117). Consequently, when certain conditions are satisfied, we can reach a point at which "these two systems of thought and practice have become commensurable" (Maclntyre, 1984, 119). Given these remarks, it is not impossible in principle to overcome incommensurability, and the issue of incommensurability does not really pose such a serious challenge to comparative philosophy, after all."
Although it might be difficult to find an absolutely neutral standard by which to measure degrees of truth among conflicting moral views, there is indeed a substantial cross-cultural reference that can serve as the ground for us to compare different virtue theories. Once again, Aristotle himself provides help at this juncture. In the De Interpretatione he says,
Spoken sounds are symbols of affections in the soul, and written marks symbols of spoken sounds. And just as written marks are not the same for all men, neither are spoken sounds. But what these are in the first place signs of — affections of the soul — are the same for all; and what these affections are likenesses of — actual things — are also the same. (DI, 16a3-8)
This passage shows Aristotle's view regarding the relation between the world of actual things (i.e. reality), affections (pathemata, literally meaning, "suffering" or "experience") of the soul, and human language (including both spoken and written words). Human beings have different languages. Yet different languages are the expressions, symbols or signs of the same experiences that human beings share. Human beings have the same experience because reality, which affects human souls through our common perceptual and cognitive faculties, is the same for all men. Following this position, we can say that human beings live in the same world, possess the same psychic capacities, and share many of the same basic relationships and institutions such as father-son, brothers, friends, family, community, politics, etc. Hence, there is a set of basic desires, feelings, beliefs, and needs which all human beings share and which are necessary for living a human life. This forms the common ground for comparative studies of different cultures. In Martha Nussbaum's terminology, this common ground can be called "human grounding experience" and she rightly takes them as "reasonable starting points for cross-cultural reflection."
The ultimate basis for us to take the ethics of Aristotle and the ethics of Confucius as mirrors of one another and to save the phenomena from both of them is the grounding human experiences. Both are concerned with the same issue regarding how one can be a good person, and both sides seek to understand what is good for human beings as such, rather than just for the Greeks or for the Chinese. Neither side is doing philosophy according to race, geography, or culture. Needless to say, each ethical system has its own language and conceptual scheme, its own cultural and social background. Yet what has its origin in culture is not necessarily culturally limited; rather, their cultural contexts shape their distinct perspectives in addressing the common issue of humanity, and make a comparison of them significant. Both of these ethics were developed more than 2,000 years ago, in social contexts that were sharply different from each other and from our time, yet both have been revived in our time. This itself is a strong indication that their insights rise above the limits of their local cultural values and grasp something that is universally significant about human life.
The nature of ethical thinking
When we open the NE, we find that it contains substantive doctrinal discussions. Yet when we open the Analects, we find that it is composed of numerous short aphoristic sayings that are not apparently related. Given this, one question might arise: how can Aristotle's well organized ethical system be effectively compared with Confucius' isolated and fragmented pieces of moral wisdom? This question is, to a great extent, related to the traditional perception that Chinese philosophy represented by Confucianism lacks argumentation and systematization and is therefore not seriously philosophical.
The philosophical nature of Chinese philosophy has been a much discussed issue. One of the most effective lines is to distinguish between the characteristic Chinese mode of thought and the dominant Western rational thinking. A number of scholars have developed a theory that whereas Western thinking is primarily analytical and causal, the Chinese intellectual world is dominated by correlative thinking which is not associated with definition and logical order, but explains in terms of metaphorical meanings and analogical relations."
It would be a bit tedious to rehearse such a defense here. However, since the dominant Western logical analysis and argumentation is always associated with Aristotelian logic, I would like to introduce what Aristotle himself has said about the nature of ethical thinking. This should be interesting for this Aristotle—Confucius comparison. There is no doubt that Confucius is much less analytic and systematic, compared with Aristotle. Nevertheless, we have reasons to believe that Aristotle would be very sympathetic to the way that Confucius does his ethics. Regarding the issue of how ethics should be done, they are much closer than many people would think.
Two points are in particular relevant here. One is the distinction between ethical reasoning and mathematical reasoning, and the other is the practicality of ethics. Regarding the first, Aristotle explicitly remarks:
We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premises to indicate the truth roughly [pachlos] and in outline [tupos], and in speaking about things that are only for the most part true and with premises of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each of our statements be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits: it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician demonstrative proofs. (NE, 1 094b 19-28)
Philosophy requires careful argumentation. Neverthelessl it would be misguided to try to find universally applicable knowledge in ethics as one does in mathematics, and it is also wrong to demand that ethical knowledge be as accurate as mathematical knowledge. Aristotle even says that
One should not demand to know the reason why, either, in the same way in all matters: in some cases, it will suffice if that something is so has been well shown, as indeed is true of starting points; and that something is so is primary and a starting point. (NE, 1098b1-4)
Aristotle establishes the model that a science should be a deductive system of demonstration in his Organon, in particular in the Posterior Analytics. It means that a science should start from a small set of axiomatic first principles that are self-evident and are grasped by nous (intuition); then it proceeds from these first principles to a larger set of theorems by deduction. To be demonstrative, a science must be concerned with one genus, for demonstration can only be conducted within a genus and cannot pass from one genus to another.23 This conception of science is modeled on geometry. However, although Aristotle puts forward such a model, he does not apply it in his own theoretical sciences. He classifies science into three kinds: theoretical sciences, practical sciences, and productive sciences.24 Theoretical sciences include mathematics, physics (natural philosophy), and theology (or metaphysics). Practical sciences include ethics, political science, and economics. Productive sciences include poetry and rhetoric. Except for mathematics, Aristotle has contributed major works to each of these areas, yet in none of them does he implement his model of science. The areas where his methods would fit best would be the theoretical sciences that are concerned with objects that cannot be otherwise and are about necessary and universal truth. Yet neither his physics (in many of its sub-areas) nor his metaphysics is demonstrative. Ethics is even further away from such a model. It belongs to practical sciences and is concerned with the objects that occur "for the most part" (epi to polu), but not always.28 Ethical truth is not necessary and universal, and it can only be true for the most part, and should be treated as such.
Since ethical knowledge is true only for the most part, Aristotle believes (in contrast to the dominant modern moral philosophy) that ethics cannot establish one or a few general principles to provide clear guidance on how to act in all possible situations.
This must be agreed upon beforehand, that the whole account of matters of conduct must be given in outline and not precisely, as we said at the very beginning that the accounts we demand must be in accordance with the subject-matter; matters concerned with conduct and questions of what is good for us have no fixity, any more than matters of health. The general account being of this nature, the account of particular cases is yet more lacking in exactness; for they do not fall under any art or set of precepts, but the agents themselves must in each case consider what is appropriate to the occasion, as happens also in the art of medicine or of navigation. (NE, 1104a3-10)
Human situations and actions display an infinite variety and are indeterminate. The rule of conduct always admits of exceptions and cannot be mechanically applied to all particular situations. This is why Aristotle emphasizes the particularity and contextuality of practical reasoning.
In his ethics, Aristotle uses deductive reasoning, but he puts more emphasis on inductive reasoning (1095a30—b2, 1139b24-31). He also claims that "of first principles we see some by induction, some by perception, some by a certain habituation, and others too in other ways" (1098b3-4). One of his most clearly stated methods in ethics is that of "saving the phenomena" which we have appropriated as a method for our comparative project. The method seeks to find elements of truth in each of seemingly conflicting views (including common opinions and philosophical views). Apparently, for Aristotle, there are many ways of giving reasons or arguing.
Furthermore, although the Nicomachean Ethics is probably the most important masterpiece in ethics, it cannot be said to be the paradigm of rigorous argumentation, logical consistency, and definitional clarity. Readers who are reasonably familiar with this great work know how difficult it is to read. Commentators frequently debate about precisely how his argument should be construed and understood. Some views are simply not furnished with any justification. There are many passages that are simply too cryptic for any serious elucidation. One might think that the unsatisfactory situation of Aristotle's arguments is due to the way that the treatise was produced. The works attributed to Aristotle, as is well known, were not prepared by Aristotle himself with publication in mind. Rather, most of them are unpolished lecture notes or working drafts used in the Lyceum. The NE is a work of this sort. I agree that this is certainly part of the reason, as it explains well why there are numerous digressions within each book and there are many inconsistencies between different books. Nevertheless, Aristotle's own understanding of the nature of ethical thinking also plays a role. He indeed repeatedly claims that his theory of eudaimonia is only given in outline and roughly.
When we evaluate the philosophical nature of Confucian ethics in the light of Aristotle's above position, we can reach the following points. First, it would be inappropriate to demand that Confucian ethics satisfy the model of the demonstrative science that Aristotle establishes in the APo. Rather, it should have its job done if it provides insights that are for the most part true and has a theory "roughly and in outline," and we should treat it that way.
Second, one major characteristic of the Analects is that when different disciples ask the same question about what ren (excellence) is, Confucius does not define ren in a general way. Instead, he offers specific responses to different disciples, depending on each student's particular situation and background. This feature suggests that Confucius does not aim at establishing one or a few universal principles in his ethics, but seeks to guide each student towards achieving virtue in that student's own life situation.
Third, it is admitted that Confucius is weak in definitional clarity and abstract argument. But this does not mean that he does not give reasons for his views. He adopts a different style of reasoning by providing metaphors, illustration through examples, analogies, etymological relations, and so on. Confucius provides the insights about what dao is for our life to follow, but often demands that his disciples work out the implications of his teaching.
I never enlighten anyone who has not been driven to distraction by trying to understand a difficulty or who has not got into a frenzy trying to put his ideas into words. When I have pointed out one corner of a square to anyone and he does not come back with the other three, I will not point it out to him a second time. (A, 7:8)
His best student, Yen Hui, is one who "understands ten things when he is told only one" (A, 5:9).
Moreover, although the sayings in the Analects are not arranged with doctrinal continuity, it is wrong to think that its ethics is nothing more than an aggregate of isolated and dogmatic pieces of moral wisdom, as the traditional prejudice holds. Confucius explicitly declares: "There is one single thread binding my dao together" (4:15). Dao, literally meaning "path" or "road," is consistently translated as "way." It refers to each thing's characteristic way of existing or functioning, and is also derivatively used to mean "discourse," "teaching," or "method." Confucius' teaching is about human dao, the right dao or way which a human life should take, and his teaching itself is also a dao in the sense of "discourse." Confucius' ethics is called the "dao of the Master" (A, 6:12). Apparently, he thinks that his work forms a coherent ethical worldview or outlook.
Hence, when we read the Analects, we must assume that there is a coherent moral vision that is implicit in the fragmented sayings. A good reader of the Analects must grasp this moral vision. Needless to say, this vision is open to different interpretations, but if we fail to see its unity, we fail to understand Confucius. In this book, I attempt to construe a unified Confucian dao by grouping related passages, classifying them under different themes, and demonstrating the relationship of these themes. What is compared with Aristotle's ethics in this book is a coherent Confucian dao.
Doing ethics should involve three aspects: (a) providing substantial ideas to guide people's lives; (b) working out the grounds and reasons for these ideas; and (c) systematizing these ideas. We have shown that Confucius provides (b) and (c), albeit in his own style. We should also note that Confucius puts greater emphasis on (a). Indeed, the attitude that providing the guiding ideas is more important than engaging in a process of arguing is widely shared in ancient Chinese philosophy. Mencius argues rigorously against the opponents of Confucius, but he confesses that arguing is simply not something he enjoys. He argues not because he feels that this is what philosophy is about, but because he has to: "I am not fond of disputation. I have no alternative" (M, 31)/9). He enjoys conveying what he thinks is the truth, rather than refuting what other people say. Daoists are the rivals of Confucians so far as the orientation of ethics is concerned; yet they share the same attitude with Confucians regarding the subordinate value of arguing in philosophical ethics. In the Daodejing, we read that "true words are not beautiful; beautiful words are not true. A good man does not argue; He who argues is not a good man" (ch. 81). Zhuangzi also says: "Great speech is simple whereas small speech is full of details." And,
There are things that analysis cannot analyze, and there are things that argument cannot argue. Why? The sage keeps it in his mind while men in general argue in order to brag before each other. There it is said that arguments arise from failure to see [the greatness of Dao]. Great Dao has no appellation. Great speech does not say anything. ... Speech that argues is futile. (Chan, 1963, 186)
There are schools in ancient Chinese philosophy, such as the
and the School of Names, that are very interested in logical analysis and argumentation, but they are not highly regarded in Chinese intellectual history. Angus Graham explains this phenomenon well:
We might sum up the Chinese attitude to reason in these terms: reason is for questions of means; for your ends in life listen to aphorism, example, parable, and poetry. ... Since means are dependent on ends, it is inevitable that on the Chinese scale of value the wise dicta of Confucius and Lao-zi are primary, the practical rationality of Mo-zi and Han Fei is secondary, the games with logical puzzles of Hui Shih and Kung-sun Lung are at best tertiary. (Graham, 1989, 7)
This scale of value has not been completely abandoned. It is evident even today when we overwhelmingly identify the function of philosophy with analytic reasoning. The majority of contemporary philosophical books at Barnes and Noble are much better argued than the Analects. Yet I wonder how many of them can claim to be more philosophically valuable than the Analects. Confucius' Analects has been read for more than 2,000 years and in many different languages. Obviously, despite its weakness in conceptual analysis and abstract argumentation, the book has been regarded as a work that is extremely original and significant. The questions it discusses still fundamentally matter to us; its approaches to these questions remain inspirational and illuminating; and its ideas still strike us as forceful. In contrast, many books that are argued even with logical perfection are bound to be forgotten, if they do not really have original ideas to offer.
Finally, we must mention the common emphasis of Confucius and Aristotle on the practicality of ethics. Although ethics seeks to understand the supreme good of human life and develops an account of how human beings should live their lives, it is not a purely intellectual exercise. For Aristotle, ethics is a practical science, meant to have considerable practical value. He describes the purpose of ethical investigation in this way:
Our present discussion does not aim, as our others do, at study; for the purpose of our examination is not to know what virtue is, but to become good, since otherwise the inquiry would be of no benefit to us.
A good ethics, then, is not just one that just presents rigorous argumentation, but one that can most influence people's lives. Aristotle believes that his ethics can make his audience better human beings.
We usually think that if a theory is well argued in logic, it is more persuasive and effective. But Aristotle thinks differently. For him, ethical argument works only for those who already have a good character. "Any one who is to listen intelligently to lectures about what is noble and just and, generally, about the subjects of political science, must have been brought up in good habits" (NE, 1095b4-5). For the person who already
has good character, not so much reasoning is necessary: "For the facts are the starting-point, and if they are sufficiently plain to him, he will not need the reason as well; and the man who has been well brought up has or can easily get starting-points" (NE, 1095b6-8). Again, "neither in that case is it reason that teaches the first principles, nor is it so here — excellence either natural or produced by habituation is what teaches right opinion about the first principle" (NE, 1151a17-19). "Starting points" or "first principles" in the above quotations from the Oxford Revised Translation are translations of the same Greek word archai. In this context, it means ideas of what sorts of thing one should do and should not do. The well brought up students have already had the right sort of life experience. They are willing and also prepared to become good, and just need to understand better why the sort of life experience they have had is good.
In contrast, the argument does not work for those people who are not properly brought up and do not have good character.
For he who lives as passion directs will not hear argument that dissuades him, nor understand it if he does; and how can we persuade one in such a state to change his ways? And in general passion seems to yield not to argument but to force. (NE, 1179b26-30)34
People who are led by passions respond to force or fear, but not to philosophical arguments. Their bad habits make them unreceptive to moral reasoning, and shame would have little impact on them (NE, 1179b10-11). There is little room for philosophy to improve individuals of this kind. For them, no matter how profound Aristotle's ethical theory is, it would not lead them to do what is noble and to refrain from what is shameful. Whereas Plato fights against moral skeptics or nihilists such as Polus and Callicles in the Gorgias and Thrasymachus in the Republic, Aristotle clearly does not seem to have much patience for converting wicked adults. Aristotle has a good point here. Nowadays, ethics is full of endless debates. These debates cannot end not because the argument on either side is logically unsound, but because each side has its basic values or beliefs, expressed as premises, that are hardly shakable by the opposite argument.
Like Aristotle, Confucius believes that ethics is not just a theory of dao to be elaborated on and discussed, but a vision to be practiced and lived. Confucius studies ethics because he takes himself to have a practical mission to restore the dao in the human world (A, 4:12). The Analects begins by emphasizing the inseparability of learning and practice: "Is it not a pleasure, having learned something, to try it out at due intervals?" (A, 1:1) The final goal of ethics is meant to practically affect the reader's way of life.
One point where Confucius differs from Aristotle is that he does
not require good character in his audience. "The Master said, 'in
instruction there is no such thing as social class' (A, 15:39).35 As
long as one is willing to learn and is able to pay him something as a present, one can
be his student. "The Master said, 'I have never denied instruction to
anyone who, of
his own accord, has given me so much as a bundle of dried meat as a present' (A, 7:7). To a great extent, Confucius seems to have a much stronger belief than Aristotle in the power of education and learning.
The scope of the comparison
Philosophy does not occur in a vacuum. Hence, our comparison takes into account all kinds of contexts (social, political, cultural, and theoretical backgrounds) in ancient China and Greece that affect Confucian and Aristotelian ethics respectively. The focus of our comparison, however, is on what each ethics actually says, that is, on the ideas and arguments in ethical texts of each side. This is essential for the sake of avoiding bold and ill supported comparative generalizations.
The Aristotelian corpus contains four treatises on ethics: Nicomachean Ethics (NE), Eudemian Ethics (EE), Magna Moralia (MM), and On Virtue and Vice. We leave aside On Virtue and Vice, as it is generally agreed not to be authentic. The thinking of the MM is Aristotelian, but most, although not all, scholars treat it as lecture notes by one of Aristotle's disciples. The EE and the NE cover almost the same range of subjects, and indeed share three books in common: NE books v, vi, vii are EE's books iv, v, vi. In the history of Western ethics, it is the NE that has been read as the canon for Aristotle's ethics and has been referred to as the Ethics,38 whereas the EE has been thought to be inauthentic until Jaeger who, in his interpretation of the development of Aristotle, argued that it belongs to an earlier period of Aristotle. In the current prevailing position, the EE and the NE are not two entirely different treatises. The NE appears to be a partial revision of the other, and represents Aristotle's last and most mature thought about the topics it treats." I follow this general position and take the NE as the definitive presentation of Aristotle's ethics, although I shall quote the EE and also the MM where I find they help to clarify or supplement the ideas in the NE.
To better understand Aristotle's ethics, however, we cannot confine ourselves to the NE. At the beginning of the final chapter of the NE (x.9), Aristotle himself emphasizes that his program remains incomplete (1179a33). Towards the end section of the NE, we read:
Now our predecessors have left the subject of legislation to us unexamined; it is perhaps best, therefore, that we should ourselves study it, and in general study the question of constitution, in order to complete to the best of our ability the philosophy of human nature. (NE, 118lbl2-15)
According to this passage, what he says in the NE is a part of "the philosophy of human nature" (e peri to anthropina philosophia, literally, "philosophy of human affairs"). The work that is entitled Politics is the sequel to his ethical philosophy and forms another part of the same effort. For Aristotle, one cannot study ethics in isolation from politics. The goal of ethics is to make one become good, and for this goal habituation is crucial. Right habituation requires the law of the political community. A study of legislation and therewith the constitution (politeia) generally is therefore indispensable. "The constitution is so to speak the life of the city" (Pol, 1295b1). The best political arrangement is the one "in which every man, whoever he is, can act best and live happily" (Pol, 1324a24-25).
The treatise Politics covers many topics that are closely related to the discussion of virtue. Even in the NE itself Aristotle emphasizes the political nature of his study. At the beginning of the NE, the investigation of the supreme human good is said to be the proper business of the science of politics, and Aristotle keeps referring to his discussion as "politics." He also maintains that the goal of politics is to make people good, and that it is the province of political science to study pleasure and pain. Accordingly, in constructing Aristotle's ethics, I shall include the Politics (especially its discussions that are closely related to theories of character, such as the human being as political animal, the role of family and politics in the cultivation of virtue, the relation between the political life and philosophical life, etc.).
On the Confucian side, my discussion is not confined to the Analects. When I first embarked on this project, I intended to just compare the NE and the Analects. But it quickly became clear that, although conceiving the project in that way appeared to have a kind of neatness that one would like, it was philosophically less rewarding and interesting. Indeed, it could not even go very far.
There are two main reasons for this. First, the Analects itself is not Confucius' own work, but rather a collection of sayings and conversation fragments attributed to Confucius, compiled and edited by his disciples and their disciples over several centuries. Disciples who contributed to the contents of the Analects out of their recollections had different understandings of Confucius' teachings, and editors who brought these pieces together over many generations had different interests and agendas. Furthermore, the inclusion of the materials must have been selective. Many sayings found in other classic texts such as the Mencius, the Zuo Commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals, and the Xunzi are not included. Hence, the Analects is actually a mixture of Confucius' own thought and his disciples' interpretations. This means that, even if we reconstruct Confucius' ideas solely out of the textual evidence of the Analects, it is already a Confucius that is transmitted by compilers and editors. There have been scholarly efforts to distinguish authentic Confucian dicta from later interpolations; yet a consensus is difficult to achieve, if it is in fact achievable.
The second, and more important reason, is theoretical. Confucius explicitly says that his moral reflection has a unified vision (A, 4:15). Nevertheless, he never elaborates how his dao is unified. We need to gather scattered sayings in order to piece together a complete picture. One has to admit, however, that if based solely on the evidence of the Analects the picture we can get, no matter how it is construed, is a skeletal vision or a basic blueprint, which must be extended, improved upon, and filled with details.
In Chinese intellectual history, Confucianism refers more often to the ideas that are presented in the "Four Books," which include, in addition to the Analects, the other three crucial Confucian texts of the classical period: Mencius, The Great Learning (Daixue) and The Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong). The Mencius, written by the second Confucian Master, Mencius (c. 372-289 BCE), is a collection of sayings and dialogues of considerable length. Historically, the Mencius exerted enormous influence. "It is not an exaggeration to say that what is called Confucianism in subsequent times contains as much of the thought of Mencius as of Confucius."' The Great Learning was a chapter of The Records of the Rituals (Li Ji), and it contains, in the arrangement of the Sung Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi (1130-1200), one text and ten chapters of commentary. Zhu Xi claimed that the text was the words of Confucius, while the ten chapters of commentary were the ideas of Confucius' disciple Zengzi (505-436 BCE). This view of the authorship has been controversial, but there is little doubt that thoughts expressed in this classic are consistent with the thoughts of Confucius. Indeed, the Learning concisely outlines the Confucian moral and political project. The Mean was also originally a chapter of The Records of the Rituals, and contains many quotations that are attributed to Confucius himself and that are about ideas of Confucian psychology and metaphysics. Traditionally, its authorship was ascribed to Confucius' grandson, Zisi (491-431 BCE), although it is controversial. The Sung Neo-Confucians group these four texts together as the essential Confucian corpus. Zhu Xi edited them and wrote an influential commentary. Since then, they have been the core of the classics of orthodox Confucianism. They were the basic textbooks in early education until the twentieth century, and became the basis of the civil service examination from 1313 until 1905.
Although the grouping of these four texts is a Neo-Confucian work, it seems to me that to put them together represents a profound philosophical insight about what classical Confucianism is about. Of course, there are differences among these Confucian texts, which we will explain in due course. Yet overall, the ideas found in these texts enable us to grasp the unified and systematic dao that Confucius claims he has, but does not deliver in the Analects. The seed ideas of the Analects grow up in the other three texts, which share the same framework and same dominant concerns central to Confucius in the Analects. The other three texts shed a great deal of light on the Analects and help make sense of its many concepts and the relations between these concepts. They also defend Confucius' dao in the Analects by responding to the critics of Confucius and extending Confucius' thinking to deal with new problems.
More important, it is the virtue ethics found in the Four Books as a whole that matches well with the scope of Aristotle's ethical theory. Many ideas that are major themes in Aristotle's ethics are only hinted at or are completely untouched within the Analects; but they, or their comparable counterparts, are developed in the other three texts. We shall see this as we move on, but here I have to mention the following three major corresponding aspects.
First, Aristotle's ethics is inseparable from his politics, for the aim of the state is to nurture the virtues of its citizens. Confucius holds the same idea by claiming that to do politics is to rectify the virtue of the rulers and to restore the rule of li (the rituals or rites). This Confucian virtue politics, however, has its full-fledged unfolding in Mencius' theory of benevolent government and in the Learning.
Second, Aristotle's ethics is related not only to politics, but also to other branches of knowledge, particularly to psychology. His ethics is based on the "function argument" according to which what determines humanity is the activity of the rational soul. Hence Aristotle requires that "clearly the student of politics must know somehow the facts about the soul" (NE, 1102a20). The Analects lacks a counterpart of Aristotle's function argument or moral psychology, but Mencius' theory of innate goodness fills the gap. Indeed, a rich moral psychology can be extracted from the Mencius and the Mean.
Third, Aristotle's ethics has a metaphysical basis. The theory of potentiality and actuality developed in the Meta. is heavily used in the NE, and the theology of Meta. xii is connected to the theory of contemplation in NE x.6-8. Confucius in the Analects presupposes a notion of heaven and thus a cosmological foundation for his ethics. Yet it is in the Mencius and the Mean that a Confucian moral metaphysics is fully developed.
To sum up, Aristotle's ethics is a part of his whole knowledge system, and a good discussion of it needs to draw on the relevant ideas from his politics, metaphysics and psychology. The version of Confucian ethics that matches Aristotle's ethics is the ethical theory extracted and reconstructed from the Four Books. This is the "ethics of Confucius" that is compared with Aristotle's ethics in this book. Together, these four books can be taken to present an integrated Confucian virtue ethics in which ethics and politics are inseparable and which has strong metaphysical and psychological foundations. Of course, among them, the Analects is the center of focus, and other texts are read as elaborations and extensions of the central points of the Analects.
The structure of the book
The book is divided into seven chapters. Chapter 1 compares the
questions and approaches of the ethics of Confucius and Aristotle, and explores how they are shaped by their respective cultural and philosophical traditions. Aristotle is concerned with how one can achieve eudaimonia (happiness, or human flourishing), and he approaches this issue by focusing on the cultivation of area. (translated as "virtue" or "excellence"). Confucius is concerned with the dao (way) for one to become good, and he approaches this issue by focusing on the cultivation of de (virtue) or ren (human excellence). Clearly, both ethics are concerned with the whole life of a human being rather than particular moral acts, and both choose to focus on the qualities that make a person a good person.
Aristotle, however, works within the eudaimonistic framework that Socrates set. In contrast, Confucius is the founder of Chinese ethics. Chapter 1 therefore also discusses the status of Socrates by investigating how Socrates and Confucius initiate their respective ethical traditions and how Aristotle responds to Socrates. The chapter ends by demonstrating why the Confucian approach is closer to Aristotle's than to Socrates'.
Both Confucius and Aristotle approach the issue of how one should live in terms of virtue, and then relate virtue to the characteristic features of being human (that is, humanity or humanness). Both happiness and human dao lie in the actualization or fulfillment of what is genuinely human. Chapter 2 proceeds to explore their respective views on what is genuinely human. In Aristotle's ethics, it is based on the function argument, and in Confucian ethics, it is given by the Mencius' theory that zing (usually translated as "nature" or "human nature") is good. Each side adopts a humanity-based approach by emphasizing the importance of the development of humanity and connecting virtue with the fulfillment of humanity.
Aristotle, on the basis of the function argument and a theory of soul, classifies the virtues into practical virtues (including habit-based moral virtue and practical wisdom) and theoretical virtues. There is no such classification in the ethics of Confucius. The general Confucian virtue, ren, largely corresponds to Aristotle's practical virtues. Yet its final stage, cheng (translated as "self-completion" in this book) is the full actualization of what is genuinely human, which formally corresponds to Aristotle's contemplation (the exercise of theoretical virtue) insofar as contemplation is also the final actualization of human rational function and is primary happiness.
Chapters 3-5 focus on Aristotelian practical virtues and Confucian ren as virtuous character. Both ethics claim that virtue is the mean, and both identify the mean with what is right. Chapter 3 attempts to explain why they independently develop a doctrine of the mean, and my position is to link the doctrine to the model of archery. A virtuous agent forms and exercises his virtue, just as an archer develops and exercises his archery. Both ethics also claim that virtue is an entrenched disposition, and my study shows that for both, the virtuous disposition is constituted of three major aspects: (l) internalized social value; (2) moral feeling; and (3) moral wisdom. It is the fusion of these elements that forms a virtuous character.
Chapters 4 and 5, then, examine and compare their accounts of each of these three aspects and discuss how their views on these aspects are interwoven.
Chapter 4 focuses on how an agent internalizes social values and shapes moral feeling. For Aristotle, it is a process of habituation (ethismos), and for Confucius, it involves a process of ritualization. I argue that behind Aristotle's theory of habituation there is his thesis that a person is a political animal; correspondingly, behind Confucian theory of ritualization there lies the concept of the relational self. Virtue has a natural basis, but must be formed through ethical training. The recognition of the importance of human interrelationships and social nature leads both Confucius and Aristotle to stress the role of family and politics in the cultivation of virtue. Their views on the role of family in ethical education and on the relation between virtue and politics are therefore compared.
Chapter 5 focuses on ethical wisdom. Both ethics pay special attention to the intellectual aspect of virtue. For Aristotle, it is practical wisdom (phronesis), and for Confucius, it is appropriateness (yi). This chapter covers a number of topics that are heavily debated in the scholarly works on either side, including ethical wisdom and tradition, reason and character, reason and emotion, and moral particularism, etc. Towards the end of the chapter, I examine the relation between the general notion of virtue and the particular virtues, as well as the issue of the unity of virtues in each ethics.
I then turn to the highest good in each ethics, that is, Aristotle's theory of contemplation, and the Confucian doctrine of cheng ("self-completion"). Aristotle's theory of contemplation brings forth two distinctions which are essential to Aristotle's ethics but which are missing in Confucian ethics. First, there is a clear-cut distinction between virtue and activity in Aristotelian ethics. Contemplation for Aristotle is not a virtue, but a virtuous activity. Yet Confucian ethics does not seem to admit this distinction. Cheng is the highest virtue, and is also the highest good. Second, there is a distinction between practical virtue and theoretical wisdom and between practical activity and theoretical activity in Aristotle. The theory of contemplation gives rise to a tension with the theory of practical virtue in the middle books of the NE. Aristotle concludes that a life of contemplation is primary happiness, whereas a life of practical virtue is happiest in a secondary way. In contrast, Confucian cheng as the highest good is the ultimate stage in the cultivation of ren, and there is no tension between them. They refer to one and the same virtuous disposition. These distinctions make our comparison more intriguing but also more exciting. For they reveal a number of significant differences between the general projects of the ethics of Confucius and Aristotle.
Chapter 6 explains the difference between virtue and activity in Aristotle's general framework of ethics and from there I develop a new understanding of Aristotle's conception of happiness (eudaimonia), namely, that happiness in his ethics is applied to both "acting well" and "living well." It turns out that whereas for Aristotle the final end is happiness but not the possession of virtue, for Confucius possession of virtue is the actualization of dao and hence is the final end. Cheng and contemplation, as the highest goods in their respective ethics, have two major similarities: (l) both are the highest fulfillment of humanity; and (2) both ethics relate the highest good to the divine being (for the ethics of Confucius, it is the unity between human being and Heaven, and for the ethics of Aristotle, it is the unity between human being and God). However, cheng as a virtue is only a first actuality in Aristotelian sense, whereas contemplation as activity is a second actuality.
Both Aristotle and Confucius believe that external goods are significant in a virtuous life. Chapter 6 also undertakes to compare their theories of the role of external goods. It turns out that for this comparison, the distinction between virtue and activity is also essential. Whereas Confucius concentrates on the relation between external goods and virtue, Aristotle focuses on how external goods contribute to acting well and to living well. Chapter 6 ends by exploring the problems that the distinction between virtue and activity causes for each ethics.
Chapter 7 turns to the comparative implications of the second distinction, that is, the practical and the theoretical. Although both self-completion (cheng) and contemplation represent the actualization of what is genuinely human, there is a fundamental difference. Contemplation is not directly related to practical function and is only a partial actualization of humanity, whereas self-completion is the realization of humanity as a whole. This is because whereas Aristotle, in his notion of human function, draws a distinction between practical reason and theoretical reason and implies an internal split or tension, the Confucian conception of humanity is unified. I first explore the nature of the tension between the practical and the contemplative in Aristotle's ethics, and provide an answer to the dominant inclusivism-intellectualism debate by applying the thesis that happiness refers to both "acting well" and "living well." Then I show that with or without the distinction of the practical and the contemplative, the two ethics present important differences in (1) their conceptions of the self in self-actualization; and (2) their views on the relation between the self and the good of others, that is, the role of moral virtue in the actualization of the highest good. Finally, I discuss the different attitudes towards the value of theoretical inquiry in Chinese and Greek philosophical cultures.
The ethics of Aristotle and Confucius are concerned with the development and realization of what is human qua human. Their overall frameworks are strikingly parallel, but there are significant differences in unfolding their visions of human self-fulfillment. Now let us get into the details of their visions.
Overcoming Our Evil: Human Nature and Spiritual Exercises in Xunzi and Augustine by Aaron Stalnaker (Moral Traditions: Georgetown University Press) Can people ever really change? Do they ever become more ethical, and if so, how? "Overcoming Our Evil" focuses on the way ethical and religious commitments are conceived and nurtured through the methodical practices that Pierre Hadot has called 'spiritual exercises'. These practices engage thought, imagination, and sensibility, and have a significant ethical component, yet aim for a broader transformation of the whole personality. Going beyond recent philosophical and historical work that has focused on ancient Greco-Roman philosophy, Stalnaker broadens ethical inquiry into spiritual exercises by examining East Asian as well as classical Christian sources, and taking religious and seemingly 'aesthetic' practices such as prayer, ritual, and music more seriously as objects of study. More specifically, "Overcoming Our Evil" examines and compares the thought and practice of the early Christian Augustine of Hippo, and the early Confucian Xunzi. Both have sophisticated and insightful accounts of spiritual exercises, and both make such ethical work central to their religious thought and practice. Yet to understand the two thinkers' recommendations for cultivating virtue we must first understand some important differences. Here Stalnaker disentangles the competing aspects of Augustine and Xunxi's ideas of 'human nature'. His groundbreaking comparison of their ethical vocabularies also drives a substantive analysis of fundamental issues in moral psychology, especially regarding emotion and the complex idea of 'the will', to examine how our dispositions to feel, think, and act might be slowly transformed over time. The comparison meticulously constructs vivid portraits of both thinkers demonstrating where they connect and where they diverge, making the case that both have been misunderstood and misinterpreted. In throwing light on these seemingly disparate ancient figures in unexpected ways, Stalnaker redirects recent debate regarding practices of personal formation, and more clearly exposes the intellectual and political issues involved in the retrieval of 'classic' ethical sources in diverse contemporary societies, illuminating a path toward a contemporary understanding of difference.
Aaron Stalnaker's first book makes an important contribution to the comparative study of spiritual practice by engaging in a clear, constructive comparison of the moral psychologies of Augustine and Xunzi."---Theological Studies
"[I]lluminating not only with regard to these two thinkers but also for the ways in which their ideas have shaped their respective traditions since. This is an essential volume for scholars, students, and academic libraries."-Religious Studies Review "Anyone concerned with moral psychology, moral education, or virtue ethics will find a great deal in Overcoming Our Evil."-Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy
"This intellectually inspiring and conceptually uplifting study takes comparative studies to a higher level by providing an intriguing and effective model of inquiry. It fosters a healthy search for and meaningful understanding of diversity of thinking across cultures. Astonishingly varied information and insight capture the reader's attention and mind, offering numerous and valuable aids to grasping various terms, concepts, and themes in the study of Chinese and Western philosophy. A clear and penetrating writing style also elevates the significance of this work. The book is not merely an intellectual delight to read, but it is also a master work that may serve as a durable scholarly resource, to which one may return time and again for edification and inspiration."-Journal of Chinese Philosophy
"Professor Stalnaker has obviously mastered the primary and secondary materials necessary for a highly informed comparison of Xunzi and Augustine."-Journal of Chinese Religions "Overcoming Our Evil is a very fine book, particularly from a scholar new to the field. Stalnaker demonstrates a linguistic expertise with both the Western and Chinese materials, and a mature consciousness of the comparative issues involved. He rightly and successfully contributes to comparative ethics and methodology and to the project of retrieving classics wisely but selectively for today, and also, more simply, to our broader understanding of evil, virtue, and the path of virtue in a constructive fashion. Overcoming Our Evil is, in other words, a multilevel and integral work that raises the standard for solid comparative scholarship.---Francis X. Clooney, SJ, Harvard Divinity School
"The importance in our own times of cross-cultural exchanges of ethical and spiritual wisdom begs for a more creative conception of a shareable past. Aaron Stalnaker's comparative study of two classical figures, Xunzi and Augustine, goes well beyond the mix-and-match quality of much comparative analysis and articulates a rich and coherent basis for a tradition of the virtues focused on the notion (made current by Pierre Hadot) of a spiritual exercise. For those of us grappling with the challenge of comparative analysis or with the distinctive legacies of two formative voices in the history of human ethics, Stalnaker's study is exemplary."-James Wetzel, Augustinian Endowed Chair in Philosophy, Villanova University
"Stark differences on two subjects are often thought to characterize the thought of the Christian West and Confucian China, or even Western and East Asia religions. First is the role of evil in accounts of human nature and affairs; crucial to Christianity and marginal, at most, to Confucianism. Second is the importance of spiritual practices; crucial to Confucianism and marginal, at most, to Christianity. In a careful study of two thinkers central to each tradition, a study that also contains a set of astute methodological reflections, Professor Stalnaker both nuances and challenges these two presumptions. Moreover, his study also shows how a detailed comparison of two apparently radically different thinkers can aid constructive inquiry in the areas of both comparative studies and religious ethics."-Lee H. Yearley, Walter Y. Evans Wentz Professor, Stanford University
"As Stalnaker argues, the comparative project is central to the academic study of religion, and is a particularly urgent endeavor in our current age of globalization and cultural conflict. This study is an example of comparison done right: detailed, nuanced, and historically responsible, while never losing sight of larger themes relevant to contemporary moral inquiry. ---Edward Slingerland, Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition, University of British Columbia
Does anyone ever really change?' Religions tend to answer this question with an emphatic yes. And it does seem that religions can transform people: Some believers become selfless servants of the poor, or even suicide bombers. But how and why might this happen? Similar circumstances push people in quite different ways; "good intentions" alone are not sufficient for real conversion to some demanding new form of life. This book focuses on how ethical and religious commitments are conceived, articulated, and nurtured through methodical practices that guide aspirants through alternative territories of sin and salvation, ignorance and wisdom, or suffering and bliss.
Pierre Hadot has called such transformative practices "spiritual exercises." By this term he means repeated practices that engage thought, imagination, and sensibility, and that have a significant ethical component, yet aim more broadly at a transformation of vision, a metamorphosis of the whole personality. Spiritual exercises in this sense are frequently advocated as potent means to reshape one's own existence.'
The emerging interest in practices of personal formation is a natural way to develop what has come to be called virtue ethics. Attending to such practices clarifies not only what human goodness or excellence might be but also how to attain it. Sophisticated theories of spiritual exercises inevitably involve significant reflection on the cultivation of virtuous dispositions, whether conceived in a familiar Aristotelian idiom or not. And religious ethics is uniquely well suited to examine practices designed to help believers internalize particular religious narratives, symbols, and tropes as essential elements of the cultivation of virtue within particular traditions. Furthermore, a focus on spiritual exercises offers one sensible way to address worries that ethical life in a plural, democratic, consumerist context has become diminished, or even incoherent, by directly examining techniques for the cultivation of virtue and reflecting on the "retrieval" of such techniques for contemporary life.
There has been much recent attention to such practices in Greek and Roman antiquity, especially among intellectual historians and to a lesser extent philosophers.' The importance of this work for religious ethics is only now becoming apparent.' However, the techniques of self-mastery practiced in the Hellenistic schools of philosophy are only one closely related set of traditions of spiritual exercises. The various forms of Hellenistic philosophy share debatable presuppositions about human beings, seeing us as composed of body and soul, with an intrinsic internal conflict between reason and passion (with these contrasts understood differently by different figures, certainly). But these are not the only ways of imagining human existence, and thus living a reflective and humane life. The reason/passion contrast, in particular, can be problematic in the way that it shapes the understanding, content, and ethical goal of spiritual exercises: Attending only to rational restraint easily suggests that desires and emotions are intrinsically antagonistic to wisdom, and obscures the passionate nature of thinking itself.
This study broadens ethical inquiry into spiritual exercises by taking explicitly religious practices such as prayer and ritual more seriously as objects of study, and by examining East Asian as well as classical Western materials. More specifically, this book examines and compares the thought and practice of Augustine of Hippo (354 130 cE), a late antique Christian of immense influence on later Western civilization, and Xun Kuang (c. 310—c. 220 BCE), commonly known as Xunzi ("Master Xun"), an important early Confucian figure who shaped his tradition in profound if sometimes overlooked ways. Augustine and Xunzi both have sophisticated and insightful accounts of spiritual exercises, and both make such ethical work central to their religious thought and practice.
Attention to their theories of personal formation reveals, however, that their practical proposals are tightly wedded to their distinctive accounts of "human nature" as bad or fallen. (Indeed, they are each the most influential exponents of such a view in their respective traditions.) For both of them, human life calls out for reformation to a higher standard than the satisfaction of our immediate instincts. Their careful attention to our tendencies toward cruelty, deception, self-aggrandizement, lust, and greed gives added depth, as well as believability, to their proposed exercises for personal transformation. Genuine growth in virtue is difficult for us to achieve. It requires sustained effort, wisely directed, with significant outside help.
Despite having no noteworthy cultural or historical connection, Xunzi and Augustine share sufficient similarities and differences to allow nuanced comparative analysis of their positions. Their prescriptions share a general shape: Both have been represented in English as saying that "human nature" is "evil," and so humans need significant reformation to become moral; but such translations mask important differences in anthropology, ethics, metaphysics, and understandings of what counts as the most important history and texts. Interpreting each of them holistically allows nuanced, analogical comparing and contrasting of their ideas around the themes of human nature, personhood, spiritual exercises, and the will.
Such analysis raises the thorny problem of evaluation in a comparative context. Charitable interpretations of sophisticated thinkers always require considered judgments about the sensibleness or rationality of positions attributed to them, given the traditions and contexts in which they worked. At this level, evaluation is inescapable in any study of philosophical or theological materials, even when conceived of as a purely historical exercise. Comparative studies of religious thought raise further questions, however: Not only must later interpreters decide what thinkers were justified in believing in their own contexts, but if the force of their potentially competing universal claims is to be respected, those claims must somehow be evaluated in a contemporary context, comparatively, through imagined conversation or dialogue.
It is a fundamental error, however, to construe this imperative in terms of an antagonism between whole traditions, or even, more modestly, of two unrelated thinkers, one of whom might be rationally "vindicated" in imaginary debate. First, only assiduous and sustained comparative bridge building can produce vocabularies and theories sufficient to position two complex theories within one horizon of interpretation.' Even the physical metaphors of space and vision can mislead, however, because the precise relation of different ideas and practices articulated by only two thinkers can vary immensely, as can their relative strength or weakness, from various points of view. More seriously, it must be a matter of interpretation and argument, rather than assumption, that elements of different ethics are in competition or conflict, rather than harmony or some other relation. To reify wholes and see these as antagonists (as in Alasdair MacIntyre's talk of "rival traditions") risks blinding us to the details that make all the difference. It also skews one's interpretive stance so that edification by others, both through and beyond differences, becomes unlikely and suspect, rather than a primary aim of comparative inquiry.
A better goal than the rational vindication of whole traditions (coincidentally always one's own) would be something more like global neighborliness, which seeks to live with others peaceably and learn from them as much as can be learned, and to offer help carefully and respectfully as needed, within imprecise limits set by humility and tact. Such neighborliness may grow into friendship or even something like conversion, but acquaintance must come first. Rivalry is also possible, but hardly to be assumed.
Comparative ethics is valuable, perhaps even desperately needed, in our contemporary context of global interdependence, misunderstanding, and mutual mistrust. Though broad-brush comparisons have their uses, if offered with suitable caution and caveats, disciplined reflection on influential "classic" thinkers is also quite valuable. It can reveal the humanity, and even the sublimity, of unfamiliar traditions and thinkers. It is also able to address fundamental ethical issues at a depth impossible with general summaries. By engaging the details of particular insightful but differing conceptions of a given topic, comparisons of the sort developed here reveal overlooked aspects of particular thinkers and articulate alternative ways of framing important issues. This kind of comparison can carefully relate those alternatives, thereby changing our sense of "the issues" themselves and recasting traditional terms of analysis and debate so that previously seen difficulties on both sides may be reimagined and addressed in new ways.
The present comparison of Augustine and Xunzi refines and broadens our understanding of human nature, spiritual exercises, and moral psychology. I argue that "human nature" is a family of related but conflicting concerns that may or may not be seen as aspects of any one postulated theoretical entity: concerns about our physical, biological existence, about what unites us with other animals (or, conversely, what separates us from them and makes us uniquely "human"), and about the proper or "natural" course of human development. Spiritual exercises can be understood both narrowly as the sorts of primarily intellectual exercises that Hadot examines, or more widely as any practice intended to form us as ethical and religious subjects; taking the latter option allows the development of broader typologies of such exercises, within which familiar phenomena such as study, various forms of meditation and prayer, renunciation (and "asceticism"), ritual, and aesthetic practice can be analyzed and related. Crucial points include the conscious, methodical character of spiritual exercises, their close correlation with theoretical accounts that justify and order them, and their Formal and substantive differences correlating with different religious construals of reality, morality, and human anthropology. With regard to the cultivation of virtue, both Augustine and Xunzi develop sophisticated versions of what I call "chastened intellectualism" as a general account of human beings, although their models of human moral psychology differ in significant and interesting ways. The mature Augustine favors a "triune" model of the mens, or mind that integrates memory, understanding, and will or love, while Xunzi advocates a model of the xin 6, or heart/mind, that relates two distinct but intertwined systems of motivation: conscious assent or dissent, and our spontaneous dispositions to feel and desire in certain ways.
More generally, this comparison suggests (but does not yet establish) the broader hypothesis that religious anthropologies are intrinsically wedded to regimes of person formation, so that both must be studied together for either to be adequately understood. Obviously, any such account of individual formation should not be sundered from religion's role in ordering social life but seen as an essential element of this ordering.
The comparison also highlights important but easily overlooked aspects of each figure individually. I argue that the dusty portrait of Augustine as rigid "doctor of grace" railing against Pelagian freedom needs to be revised: Any account of Augustine's thought must be able to make sense of his unwavering commitment to spiritual exercises as necessary to the Christian life, which he discusses in detail in less frequently read sources such as his sermons. This interpretive lens also highlights tensions in Augustine's thought between different models of human psychology, one familiar to him from his rhetorical education and relatively closer to Neoplatonic accounts, and the genuinely innovative model he develops in On the Trinity; the differences between these models play out in his reconceptualization of ancient spiritual exercises. And though past studies have investigated Xunzi's general account of moral development, the present focus on spiritual exercises leads to careful analysis of the actual practices he recommends and the subtle moral psychology on which they rest.
On the basis of detailed interpretations of both Augustine and Xunzi, the present study also argues for a number of particular comparative conclusions, which can only be sketched here in the most telegraphic way. Xunzi's account of patient work at the "artifice" of human goodness seems particularly capable of addressing the everyday struggle to domesticate and train our first-order desires, and thus it better illuminates gradual progress in cultivating virtue; he also articulates a fuller and more positive role for human embodiment in the moral and religious life. Augustine's ethics, conversely, seem better suited to addressing our ongoing, second-order tendencies to rebel against the very idea of this sort of work on ourselves. His focus on pride and the perverse imitation of divinity also provides a better account of what may be called radical evil as a continuing human potential. And regarding the general shape of their regimes of personal formation, Augustine's rigorous focus in his exercises on a hermeneutics of interior movements of the soul stems in significant part from his scripturally grounded conception of what is morally salient. This contrasts sharply with Xunzi's ritually grounded emphasis on the proper performance of duty and virtue, which allows him to rely more heavily on external, communal, performative exercises to effect changes in internal states. Xunzi's "outside-in" approach to spiritual exercises is thus fundamentally different from Augustine's recommendation of perpetual self-scrutiny in community with other imperfect lovers of the divine.
A careful exploration and comparison of the details of these different ethico-religious "vocabularies" of thought and practice allows moderns to reflect on them as candidates for contemporary retrieval, adjustment, and use, and also to reflect more generally on the role of such vocabularies in social and religious life in contemporary, culturally plural societies.
The book's nine chapters address the following themes. Chapter 1 focuses on the role of comparison within the broader field of religious ethics. It develops a version of the pragmatist idea of a "vocabulary" as a way to conceive of multiple ethics, explores some of the strengths and weaknesses of various strategies of comparison, and justifies in more detail the choice of objects and topics compared in the current study, as well as its architecture and approach.
Chapter 2 provides more specific contextualization for the body of the study. It gives brief, orienting accounts of each figure's social and intellectual context, and it then develops limited but sufficient accounts of the "bridge concepts" or themes of comparative analysis upon which the later detailed interpretations of Augustine and Xunzi build: human nature, personhood, spiritual exercises, and the will.
Chapters 3 and 4 outline in turn each thinker's distinctive accounts of human beings, with special attention to Augustine's concept of natura and Xunzi's idea of xing it —both traditionally rendered in English as human "nature." Chapter 3 examines Xunzi's contrastive pairing of xing ft, the "innate," and wei, "artifice," along with his account of the human xin, "heart/mind," which generally acts on the basis of various spontaneous qing, "emotions" and "dispositions," and yu, "desires" that emerge from them but which can also act more reflectively through /ii a, "deliberation," and ke, "assent." Chapter 4 weaves together various Augustinian themes, including original sin, human nature and its "fault," and divine imagehood, including the mental activities of remembering, understanding, and willing or loving; these are followed by considerations of body and soul; flesh, spirit, and the two loves; habitual vice and "concupiscence"; and an analysis of the will's debility.
Chapter 5 develops the bridge concept of "human nature" by comparing these two accounts. It explores various moral psychological themes on this basis, most notably desire, emotion, memory, and consent, and it shows how the psychologies and anthropologies developed by Xunzi and Augustine are interwoven with their prescribed regimes of personal formation.
The next chapters turn to Augustine's and Xunzi's positive proposals for ethico-religious education and personal cultivation, offering a sustained treatment of the specific practices they recommend and their accounts of how and why these practices so effectively contribute to human flourishing. Chapter 6 begins by exploring Xunzi's general conception of the Dao I, or "Way," along with his understanding of the process of xiu Shen , "improving oneself," before giving detailed interpretations of his three core spiritual exercises: xue, "learning," li, "ritual," andyue, "music."
Chapter 7 discusses Augustine's metaphors for and theoretical mapping of the life of Christian discipleship, building on his accounts of exercitationes , "exercises," and disciplina , "teaching" and "discipline." The bulk of the chapter analyzes Augustine's understanding of catechesis and baptism, the classical liberal arts, reading and listening to scripture, literal and symbolic practices of eating (including both fasting and the Eucharist), and different types of prayer.
Chapter 8 compares in more detail their conceptions of personal formation and spiritual exercises. It begins by articulating their distinctive understandings of "subjection" as the necessary form of real human agency, and it charts the differing "spiritual geographies" in which they imagine such agency. It develops and sharpens the various elements of the bridge concept of the "will," analyzing both of their treatments in relation to some themes in contemporary virtue ethics, with special attention to their differing ways of conceiving and addressing conflict within the self. It then examines the underlying logic of Xunzi's "outside-in" and Augustine's "inside-out" approaches to personal formation, and it seeks to show how this contributes to some of the intriguing differences between their sets of spiritual exercises, exploring in depth their differing evaluations of honesty and pretence within religious self-cultivation. This chapter closes by arguing for the merits of what I call "chastened intellectualism" as a general type of moral psychology, reflected differently in both Xunzi and Augustine.
The final chapter examines both the value and sharp limits of abstract or "thin" modern accounts of moral personhood, in relation to "thicker" religious accounts like those considered in this study that are equally universal in their scope and aspirations. It argues that two-level theories of ethics and politics will be needed for the foreseeable future, because most human beings need the resources for personal formation that only religious or quasi-religious traditions provide; however, in current conditions of ineliminable religious diversity, we need as well to cultivate neighborly concern for those who follow other traditions and ideals. It concludes by arguing for a fleshed-out conception of this "global neighborliness" as a governing ideal for cross-traditional interpretation.
The Politics of Peace by Te-Li Lau (Supplements to Novum Testamentum: Brill Academic) Although scholarship has noted the thematic importance of peace in Ephesians, few have examined its political character in a sustained manner throughout the entire letter. This book addresses this lacuna, comparing Ephesians with Colossians, Greek political texts, Dio Chrysostom's Orations, and the Confucian Four Books in order to ascertain the rhetorical and political nature of its topos of peace. Through comparison with analogous documents both within and without its cultural milieu, this study shows that Ephesians can be read as a politico-religious letter 'concerning peace' within the church. Its vision of peace contains common political elements (such as moral education, household management, communal stability, a universal humanity, and war) that are subsumed under the controlling rubric of the unity and cosmic summing up of all things in Christ.
Throughout the history of biblical interpretation, theologians consider Eph 2:11-22, which describes the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, as the focal text in Ephesians for the theme of peace, unity, and reconciliation. 1 Augustine frequently uses the passage to address the Donatist schism, calling for unity within the church' Aquinas understands the text and its description of Christ breaking the wall (2:14) to speak of a unity not only between Jewish and Gentile Christians but of all humanity.' Ferdinand C. Baur reads Ephesians through the lens of 2:11-22, affirming the entire letter as an argument for unity between Jews and Gentiles.' More recently, C. H. Dodd believes that this passage has much relevance for the present age; the "effectual overcoming of a long-standing and deep-rooted enmity" between Jews and Gentiles serves as a paradigm for reconciliation between nations.' Peter Stuhlmacher considers this pericope an essential part of the biblical tradition on peace and reconciliation.' Finally, Peter O'Brien considers this passage to be the locus classicus on peace in the Pauline letters.'
Although 2:11-22 is clearly an important text and perhaps the theological center of the letter,' scholars have paid insufficient attention to the motif of peace, unity, and reconciliation that runs throughout the entire letter. I propose to examine peace in Ephesians by comparing it with Paul's letter to the Colossians, with Dio Chrysostom's orations, and with the Confucian Four Books.
Here are some exegetical data that suggest the fruitfulness of such a reading. The noun occurs eight times in Ephesians (1:2; 2:14, 17 [twice]; 4:3; 6:15, 23). Apart from its fourfold occurrence in 2:14-18, occurs in the opening and final greetings and in the paraenetic section of chs. 4-6. The argument for the prominence of peace within the entire letter is stronger when we consider other terms besides that fall within its semantic domain.
The literary and thematic differences between Colossians and Ephesians further demonstrate the prominence of the topic of peace throughout the letter of Ephesians. Ephesians is undeniably similar to Colossians. Both claim Pauline authorship, both share common thematic material, and both contain major sections that proceed roughly in the same sequence. The differences between Colossians and Ephesians, however, highlight the topic of peace in Ephesians. Both compositions emphasize the exalted cosmic Christ who brings peace and unity to the universe. Ephesians, however, develops a more thoroughly conceived doctrine of the church, shifting the Christological emphasis in Colossians to ecclesiology. Within this doctrine of the church, the mandate that Ephesians gives to the church is of fundamental importance-the church is to embody peace and unity so as to reflect both the reality of the cosmic reconciliation accomplished by Christ and the possibility of what the world may become. Important words shared by Colossians and Ephesians, moreover, carry different significance, emphasizing the topic of peace and suggesting that its character in Ephesians has a strong socio-political dimension. For example, refers to in Col 3:14 but to in Eph 4:3. The word, which occurs only in Colossians and Ephesians, is also used differently. In Colossians it describes the reconciliation of creation and men to God (1:20, 22); in Ephesians it describes the reconciliation, not of man to God, but of Jews and Gentiles (2:16). As another example, Ephesians uses the term explicitly to describe the peace between different bodies of people. Colossians uses the same term explicitly to describe the peace between creation and God (Col 1:20), and only implicitly to describe the peace between men (Col 3:15). The thematic comparison of these two letters highlights the topic of peace and the socio-political character of peace in Ephesians. Consequently, William Klassen remarks, "The richest source for understanding peace in the NT is found in the letter to the Ephesians."
The thread of peace and reconciliation within Ephesians does not stand alone. The composition employs diction found particularly in Greco-Roman political discourses such as (2:12), (2:19), (2:12, 19), and (2:19). The interweaving of political and peace language suggests that Ephesians resembles Greek political tracts concerning peace, unity, and reconciliation. In political discourses, the term, for example, is often used with other political terms that contrast public order and social peace vis-a-vis discord and sedition. Plato considers civil strife as internal war and the cessation of civil war as. Furthermore, many Greek writers pair with to describe the relationship between members of a political body. The word can be linked to with the conjunction -Kai, forming a hendiadys that describes political peace and concord between different parties." Greek authors also use the two terms interchangeably in contexts that express unity between social and political parties." This conceptual linking of and is not limited to Greek works; Latin authors also pair the Latin equivalents of and to form pax et concordia."
The topic of peace, unity, and reconciliation is found especially in discourses. Dio Chrysostom notes that philosophers and orators who aspire to advise and legislate for the state share a common pool of topics. "The main question [from this common pool], and one with which many [philosophers and orators] often had to deal, concerns peace and war. In such political discourses, the focus of peace is on the relationship between warring states, disputing cities, or mutually antagonistic social bodies. Although Ephesians does not address the relationships between warring countries or disputing cities, its discussion can be read within a political framework for the following reasons. First, Eph 2:11-22 discusses the power dynamics between two socio-ethnic groups (Jews and Gentile), focusing on issues such as insider-outsider status. Second, the mandate for peace in Ephesians is located within the. The term in the Pauline corpus typically refers to local communities of believers. Nevertheless, all nine occurrences in Ephesians (1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32) refer to the heavenly assembly gathered around the throne of Christ, but manifested in various local communities. If the concept of peace is located within this wider understanding, one then recognizes that the call for inter-ecclesiological peace is analogous to that between states or cities.
Ephesians also resembles Greco-Roman political discourses because its rhetoric, like that of political treatises, is deliberative. While Ephesians appears to exhibit a combination of epideictic and deliberative elements, the overall letter has a primarily deliberative goal—to foster peace within the church as a testament of the reconciliation that Christ has accomplished within the cosmos and within humanity (3:10-11). If the 4:1 forms the transitional conjunction between the theological and the paraenetic sections, the call to live lives worthy of their calling is both a response and necessary correlative to what God has accomplished in Christ.
Deliberative rhetoric typically appeals to advantage.' When Dio appeals to the Nicomedians to establish concord with the Nicaeans, he argues that such concord will result in mutual aid between the two cities and multiplication of each city's resources. In a similar manner, Ephesians argues that peace and unity within diversity is necessary for the body to build itself up in love (4:16). Deliberative rhetoric also typically appeals to examples.2° For example, Dio appeals to nature, providing examples of ants and bees working contentedly together. In Ephesians the reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles serves as the paradigmatic example of what the church is to be. Furthermore, believers are called to imitate the examples of God and Jesus in forgiving and loving one another (4:32-5:2).
The above survey of exegetical data suggests that political elements and rhetoric are embedded within the theme of peace and reconciliation so that Ephesians can be profitably read as a politico-religious letter on peace. It also highlights the rich possibilities of comparing the topic of peace in Ephesians, Colossians, and Dio's orations. There are, however, questions that remain unanswered: How do we account for the lack of common political terms such as? Although many Greco-Roman political discourses on peace and concord address specific situations between warring states and cities, are we able to discern any specific situation in Ephesians? If Ephesians is to be read as a letter on peace, how do its various themes fit under the rhetoric of peace? For example, what is the relationship between ethics and the call for unity? What is the relationship between the moral and political textures of Ephesians What factors or elements, both internal and external to the community, threaten the letter's vision of peace? And why does a letter so committed to peace end with a clarion call for military readiness (6:10-17)? Finally, how does the religious character of Ephesians impact our understanding and appreciation of the political rhetoric of the letter? These questions have not previously been pursued vigorously in the history of interpretation of Ephesians.
My review of the textual data suggests the possibility of reading the entire letter of Ephesians as a politico-religious letter on peace. In addition, my review of earlier investigations reveals the difficulties and missteps associated with such a project. This inquiry examines the topic of peace in Ephesians and alleviates some of the difficulties of prior attempts by comparing the character of the vision of peace in Ephesians with Dio's orations and the Confucian Four Books. I argue that Ephesians can be profitably read as a political letter on peace and that its vision of peace can best be grasped through comparison with analogous compositions.
To begin with some clarifying comments.
Providing an initial working definition of peace may seem odd since my project seeks to elucidate the character of peace in Ephesians, Dio's orations, and the Confucian Four Books. Am I presupposing my conclusions? No. The problem that interpreters face in discussing ideas encapsulated in languages that are as different as my twenty-first-century English, pre-Han-dynasty (206 B.C.E. - 220 C.E.) literary Chinese, Dio's first-century C.E. atticized Greek, and Paul's first-century koine Greek, is to develop a focal concept with which we can then use to interrogate texts from the above linguistic and cultural worlds. The Greek word and the Chinese word heping can both be roughly translated by the English word peace. However, the semantic fields of the three terms peace, and heping do not correspond exactly. Given this lack of univocal correspondence, it is perhaps prudent to derive initially the meaning of my focal concept from contemporary English usage, and then subsequently adjust the semantic field of the concept of peace as we interrogate each set of texts. I choose the English peace rather than or heping as my starting point because I am most familiar with the nuances of contemporary English usage. Moreover, most of the theological literature that I access is in the English language, and English is the language medium of my primary readers.
ASSUMPTIONS AND GUIDELINES
Any reading of Ephesians carries with it a particular set of assumptions and guidelines. For example, both Faust and Redding assume that Ephesians is pseudonymous; Redding moreover reads Ephesians within the framework of feminist ideology. Here are the assumptions and guidelines of my inquiry.
Ephesians is Authentic
In contrast to the majority scholarly opinion that considers Ephesians to be pseudonymous, I assume Paul either authored or supervised the writing of the letter. It is beyond the scope of this section to treat the issue of authenticity in detail; nevertheless, a few brief remarks are in order."
1. Scholars consider Ephesians to be inauthentic because of its "non-Pauline" style and language. Ephesians contains long sentences that are extended by relative clauses or participial phrases (e.g. 1:314, 15-23) and uses synonyms linked by genitival constructions for rhetorical effect 1:19). The letter also employs words or phrases that are not found in the "genuine" Pauline corpus (e.g. 5:18; 4:3, 13; 2:12) or uses different words to refer to the same thing. For example, the "authentic" Paul typically uses "Satan" (Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thess 2:18) while Ephesians uses "devil" (4:27; 6:11) instead." But the occurrence of distinctive vocabulary should not be surprising since many of the undoubtedly genuine epistles demonstrate a higher percentage of hapax legomena. P. N. Harrison notes that Ephesians has 4.6 hapax legomena per page while Philippians and 2 Corinthians have a higher ratio of 6.2 and 5.6 respectively." Furthermore, it is difficult to determine authorship based on style and language since such attempts set arbitrary limits on the creative freedom that authors can exercise.
2. A more serious challenge to the authenticity of Ephesians comes from its distinctive theological perspective. Werner Kümmel remarks, "The theology of Eph makes the Pauline composition of the letter completely impossible."" Ephesians sees the church to be built on the "foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone" (2:20); Paul considers the foundation to be Jesus Christ (1 Cor 3:11). Ephesians presents the reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles as a present reality; Romans 9-11 speak of it as a future hope. Moreover, Ephesians describes believers as being "saved (augur) through faith"; Paul typically uses "justified out of faith." Ephesians may manifest variations from the other Pauline epistles, but this need not imply different authorship. The theology of Ephesians still falls within the boundaries of the other Pauline letters. Frederick W. Danker begins his section on the theology of Ephesians with the remark, "Beyond question this Epistle fits within boundaries largely familiar in other Pauline letters."" The theological variations can be attributed to a development of Paul's thought or to the different circumstances and purposes surrounding the letter.
3. A majority of scholars argue that the literary relationship between Ephesians and Colossians makes Pauline authorship impossible. For example, Andrew T. Lincoln states, "Most decisive against Paul as author of Ephesians is its dependence on Colossians and its use of other Pauline letters, particularly Romans."" In this view, a pseudepigrapher copied major portions of Colossians (which some consider to be authentic) and supplemented it with vocabulary and themes from the other Pauline letters in order to give the impression that Paul wrote Ephesians. But this view is weak since "the whole idea behind pseudepigraphy is to replicate the thought and style of the exemplar as closely as possible."" We should therefore not expect to see substantive theological variations between Ephesians and Colossians or the other Pauline letters. Another central issue in Lincoln's argument is the vector of dependence between Colossians and Ephesians. There are four possible solutions: (A) the author of Ephesians used Colossians; (B) the author of Colossians used Ephesians; (C) neither author used the other's letter; or (D) each author used the other's letter.' Current scholarship assumes the first option, a position so entrenched that many introductory books on the New Testament espouse this view without further discussion!' The issue is, however, more complex since various parallel passages suggest the priority of Ephesians." Nils Dahl remarks that that the oldest strata of common material between Ephesians and Colossians are found in both letters, and there is the strong possibility that both letters reproduce common traditions.' Thus, the vector of dependence cannot be definitively answered, and the force of Lincoln's argument is diminished.
Emphasis on the Rhetorical Character
My investigation of the topos of peace focuses on the overall rhetorical character of Ephesians. Since any attempt to find an architectonic structure within a particular document is prone to the subjectivity of the investigator, what are my controls? An internal control is provided by the coherence between hypothesis and data. My suggestion as to the character of Ephesians must explain material in both the theological and paraenetic sections of the letter, and it must have sufficient explanatory power to tie most of the various themes and motifs of the letter together. An external control is provided by the coherence between my hypothesis concerning Ephesians and the presence of the same motifs in analogous documents. If I argue that Document A uses X motif in support of a particular purpose, I should also be able to demonstrate how an analogous document (Document B) uses X motif in support of a similar purpose. On a practical level, external and internal controls influence each other since an exegetical analysis within the internal control process necessitates some comparison with external documents. For example, an assessment of the political character of the term is best done in comparison with other political texts.
Given the general nature of the letter and its lack of specific details, it is more profitable to focus on the text rather than on issues behind the text. I do ask historical and social questions, and I locate Ephesians within the 60s of the first century C.E. in Asia Minor. I, however, eschew detailed discussions of provenance or occasion, structuring my analysis so that it is not dependent on the reconstruction of a specific Ephesian community or historical situation behind the writing of the letter. Moreover, I also employ a comparative literary-rhetorical approach, seeking to determine the rhetorical character of Ephesians by way of comparison with Colossians, Dio's orations, and the Confucian Four Books.
Comparison of Ephesians vis-a-vis Colossians
The thematic, lexical, and literary similarities between Ephesians and Colossians are clear. Carl Holladay remarks, "No other pair of Pauline letters exhibits the kind of kinship patterns we find between Colossians and Ephesians."" Given the similarities, I believe that a comparison of these two works will serve as a satisfactory starting point in our investigation of the rhetorical character of Ephesians. One could, to be sure, begin the investigation by comparing Ephesians with another Pauline letter such as Romans. Nevertheless, the broad differences in themes and motifs between Ephesians and Romans would generate multiple points of enquiry that would not necessarily provide sufficient focus and precision for perceiving the rhetorical character of Ephesians.
While the thematic and literary similarities between Ephesians and Colossians are clear, the vector of dependence between these two works is not, and is related to issues of authorship. In contrast to the scholarly consensus, I proceed with the assumption that the apostle Paul authored both Colossians and Ephesians—Paul wrote or supervised the writing of both works." The similarities and differences between the two works arise from the presupposition that both works were probably written at about the same time and that the thoughts of each letter were crafted and modified for a different readership facing a different set of circumstances. Colossians is written to the church at Colossae to address the crisis of the Colossian (Col 2:8). Ephesians, however, is a circular letter intended for various churches in and around Ephesus and perhaps more broadly within Asia Minor. If we are correct in our assumption that Paul authored both works at about the same time, it is then difficult if not impossible to postulate any definite vector of dependence between them. Even if we agree with van Roon that Paul wrote an original document that was later reworked by his disciples to produce Colossians and Ephesians," we do not have enough data to reconstruct this hypothetical document. Thus, any attempt to construct a complete vector of dependence between Ephesians and Colossians is suspect.
My approach examines the similarities and differences between the two texts in order to determine the theological and thematic emphases of Ephesians. The tools that I use in my comparison are similar to those used in redaction analysis except that I am not assuming any vector of dependence between Ephesians and Colossians." I compare parallel material between the two works, examin ing them at both the macro and micro levels. At the macro level, I seek to determine if there is any divergence in the metanarratives that each composition relates. Questions that I ask include the following: What is the overall context of the narrative of alienation and reconciliation? What is the role of the apostle Paul within this narrative? What is the function of the church? What are the ethical injunctions? At the micro level, I seek to determine whether similar words and phrases are used with different meanings and nuances. Apart from parallel texts, I also examine material that is unique to Ephesians since such material accentuates the particular contribution and character of the letter. I do not examine in detail material that is unique to Colossians since such an inquiry will not yield significant fruit in my understanding of the character of Ephesians except by way of negative example.
Comparison of the Vision of Peace in the Orations of Dio
I next compare Ephesians with the orations of Dio Chrysostom. My reasons are twofold. First, the works of Dio and Ephesians share a common milieu. Although the location of Ephesians cannot be determined precisely, its similarity to Colossians suggests that it was written in Asia Minor." Dio was a native of Asia Minor. He traveled widely, giving speeches in Rhodes, Alexandria, Tarsus, Nicomedia, Nicaea, and the Bithynian cities. Furthermore, Paul and Dio are also roughly contemporary. Dio lived between 45-115 C.E., and I date Ephesians to approximately 62 C.E. Finally, both Ephesians and Dio's orations are written in Greek and share common philological features, most notably of which is the presence and semantically related words.
Second, both Dio and Paul serve as intermediaries between different interest groups and powers. Dio functions as a mediator between emperors and subjects, between governors and cities, and between the elite and the populace. Paul, on the other hand, is an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God (1:1), a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of the Gentiles (3:1), a herald of the mystery of Christ (3:4), and a herald of the peace that now exists between Jews and Gentiles. As communicators and intermediaries between different groups and powers, both Dio and Paul seek to promote peace, unity, and harmony within the communities they address.
The process of comparing Ephesians with Dio's orations begins first by selecting the appropriate texts for comparison. The works of Dio that I primarily examine include the Kingship Orations (Or. 1-4) and a selection of the Bithynian Orations (Or. 38-41, 48). The second stage is to elucidate Dio's vision of peace. I approach his orations with the following diagnostic questions: What is the nature of peace? What is its basis? How is it attained and maintained? What are its impediments? How does Dio structure his appeals for peace? What are the elements underpinning his vision of peace? What is its scope and frame of reference? The third stage in the comparative process is the actual comparative work. Although I pay particular attention to how each author understands the nature of peace and constructs his vision, the specific items of comparison will arise from the results of the prior investigative stage.
Comparison of the Vision of Peace in the Confucian Four Books and
The other set of analogous documents with which I compare
Ephesians are the Confucian Four Books." The choice is less farfetched than it may at first appear. It is a mistake to consider Confucian thought to be utterly different or unique with respect to Ephesians such as to make any comparison futile or illegitimate. I argue that the differences or otherness between Confucian thought and Ephesians should generate cognitive possibilities because "something is 'other' only with respect to something 'else.' Whether understood politically or linguistically, 'otherness' is a situational category [not a descriptive category]. Despite its apparent taxonomic exclusivity, 'otherness' is a transactional matter, an affair of the `in between.'' The issue is thus not the cultural or temporal distance between the two objects of study but the mode of relationship that the scholar brings the two objects into dialogue.
The comparison of Ephesians with the Confucian Four Books serves as a counterbalance to the comparison with Dio's orations. Some of the dangers of comparing works from the same cultural milieu are an overdependence on philology and the danger of drawing large conclusions from small linguistic details. 84 Thus, by comparing Ephesians with the Confucian Four Books, we guard against these dangers and ensure that our overall comparative project is both philological and conceptual. By comparing Ephesians to authors both within and without its milieu, we obtain a more accurate picture of the topos of peace in Ephesians.
In comparing Ephesians to the Confucian Four Books, I do not follow the method of the History of Religions School; I look for analogy rather than homology (or genealogy). I do not attempt to determine how things "are," but how things might be conceived or "redescribed." The vision of peace in Ephesians can be examined without comparing it to similar arguments in the Confucian Four Books. Indeed, the vision of peace in Ephesians can also be analyzed without comparison to Dio's orations. But when we place Ephesians alongside other similar texts, be they of the same or different milieus, similarities in differences and differences in similarities are amplified, enabling a clearer perspective of the political character of the vision of peace in Ephesians."
The Confucian Four Books make for a good comparison with Ephesians because both share a grand vision of peace. The Ephesian vision of peace encompasses the family, the local church, the universal church, and the cosmic universe; the Confucian vision of peace likewise encompasses the family, the feudal states, the empire, the world, and the cosmos. Furthermore, both texts demonstrate a complex relationship between ethics, politics, and metaphysics or cosmology. For example, the Confucian vision of social order is heavily dependent on proper social and familial ethics and etiquette. An understanding of the Confucian relationship between ethics, politics, and metaphysics, may then give us fresh insight to appreciate and understand the rhetorical character of the Ephesians vision of peace.
My comparative literary and rhetorical approach does not necessitate comparison with Chinese Confucian texts. Ephesians can equally be compared to an East Indian political text. The Confucian texts are appropriate for the following reasons. My interest in the Confucian texts arises from my own social location as a Chinese exegete. Confucianism is also not a moribund religion or philosophy. On the contrary, it forms a prominent part of the political, religious, and cultural landscape`of modern Asia and South-East Asia. Moreover, the attempt to put Ephesians in conversation with Confucian texts will help foster inter-religious dialogue and enable us to address the challenges of Asia's pluralistic society.
The procedure for comparing the visions of peace in Ephesians and the Confucian material follows the same steps as that for Dio. The major difference is the selection of the appropriate texts for comparison. In this study, I investigate the Confucian Four Books focusing especially on the Great Learning (Daxue) and the Practice of the Mean (Zhongyong r1) Specific reasons for the selection of these texts are provided in chapter five.
I recognize that doing cross-cultural comparative work is fraught with methodological pitfalls, not least is the danger of imposing Western assumptions about rhetoric on the Confucian texts as I seek to determine their character and argument. One should however keep in mind that although the Chinese did not have a fully codified and canonized rhetorical system such as that found in Greco-Roman rhetoric," this does not imply that rhetoric did not exist in ancient China." On the contrary, classical Chinese texts evince a clear understanding of the power and impact of language on political, moral, and social contexts. Furthermore, it is a mistake to consider Chinese rhetoric and modes of reasoning to be diametrically different from Greco-Roman rhetoric.' Xing Lu suggests that despite the differences between Chinese and Greco-Roman rhetorical systems, there are similarities that "point to the possibility of a universal sense of rhetoric which transcends culturally specific factors even while embracing them?" Such similarities suggest that it is possible and even fruitful to compare how Ephesians, Dio Chrysostom, and the Confucian texts develop, structure, present, and argue their respective vision of peace. While questions about formal categories of cross-cultural rhetoric are interesting, my focus in this study is on how things are said and how language, themes, and motifs are used in argumentation rather than on identifying structural or semantic correspondences between rhetorical systems.
In this chapter I presented initial evidence that shows the possibility of reading the entire letter of Ephesians as a politico-religious letter on peace. I then examined the works of two scholars, Faust and Redding, who undertook a similar enterprise, noting the difficulties of their approaches and suggesting various guidelines to alleviate them. Specifically, my investigation of the topos of peace in Ephesians focuses on its rhetorical character. Furthermore, I adopt a literary-rhetorical approach as I compare Ephesians to Colossians, Dio's orations, and the Confucian Four Books.
This study unfolds in five chapters. Chapter two compares Ephesians vis-à-vis Colossians and argues that the motif of peace is prominent in Ephesians. Chapter three builds on the results of the previous chapter, investigating the argument of Ephesians as a tractate. Chapter four examines the vision of peace in Dio's orations, chapter five in the Confucian Four Books. Chapter six then compares these two visions with Ephesians. Chapters two and three demonstrate that Ephesians can be profitably read as a political discourse on peace, and provide an initial sketch of its vision of peace; chapters four to six refine this sketch by comparison to analogous documents. Chapter six also describes some implications that result from this study.