Response to
Liu Xiaogan (3)

[We once more resume our direct response to Xiaogan's questions and statement]:

Liu [xxiii]. Inconsistencies in Chinese classical texts are an important issue for every researcher of Chinese philosophy. Jensen, the Brookses, and Munro all have to deal with this problem, but their attitudes and methods are quite different. Jensen takes the divergences as evidence that there is no truth in the texts, the Brookses think there should not be inconsistencies in the Analects and try to purify it by regrouping all chapters and sections according to their principle of consistency.

Brooks. The "all chapters and sections" claim is inaccurate, as noted above. Xiaogan is also inaccurate in saying that we identified interpolations or shifted chapters according to a preconceived principle of consistency. Our Appendix 1 demonstrates the opposite. It shows that our primary criterion for the detection of an interpolation was its violation of a formal pairing pattern in the text. To present our conclusions as capricious, or as content-based, and not as carefully constructed on independent and objective grounds, is a misrepresentation. It is the opposite of the case. A careful reader would have done better.

Liu. Munro seems more discreet and prudent. He notes, "Obviously, there are going to be many inconsistent statements in one and the same text. In the past, scholars have often gone to extreme lengths to reconcile these statements, or they have taken the inconsistencies as another reason for abandoning all but an anecdotal treatment. The best procedure is to admit the existence of the inconsistencies and try to indicate the conclusions that follow from them (p131)."

Brooks. We note in passing that Don is here asserting an a priori principle: that inconsistencies are bound to occur in any text. We don't find this self-evident; a more natural presumption would seem to be that the output of one writer will tend to be consistent with itself. But we couldn't agree more with Don's implication, namely that the homogenizing commentaries of the Han scholars, and the formal debates held in the presence of Tang emperors, and the grand syntheses fused into orthodoxy by the Sung court, had as their main goal the elimination of internal contradictions and inconsistencies. That long record of activity is evidence enough that inconsistencies do in fact exist, and were perceived by the culture as existing. So the recognition of inconsistencies is not some extraneous whim of an outside investigator, it is a response that occurred within the work's own lineal posterity. Then the better path is surely to admit the presence of internal contradictions and inconsistencies in the texts. Let's by all means look at the internal contradictions and inconsistencies. As to what the internal contradictions and inconsistencies mean, a large question is involved. We might take time out to consider it.

Calligraphic Separator

This is our last digression, but it is an important one. (Hasty readers may skip it by clicking here, but we don't recommend this. We recommend staying right where you are).

Liu [xxv]. The Brookses believe that rearranging the texts to make them pure and in accord with the modern Western concept of consistency is the proper way to further study them.

Brooks. Xiaogan believes that the early Chinese had no concept of consistency. In response, we have three points: one Analectal, one general, and one historical.

Analectal Point

In LY 14 we encounter these two consecutive passages [abridged]:

14: 16. Dz-lu said, Hwan-gung killed Prince Jyou, and Shau Hu died for him, but Gwan Jung did not die. Would one say that he was not rvn? [Confucius in effect agrees]

14:17. Dz-gung said, Gwan Jung was not rvn, was he? [His conduct in "not dying" is mentioned]. The Master said, Hwan-gung was the leader of the lords, and united All Under Heaven. Without Gwan Jung, we would be wearing our hair long and lapping our robes to the left [would have been conquered by the barbarians]. How can this be compared to the consistency of some common man or common woman, to cut his own throat in some ditch or drain, and no one would ever know it?

In the first case, Gwan Jung's lack of rvn is the point of the passage. In the second, his political achievements completely eclipse such petty considerations. Are we to take Gwan Jung as an exemplary figure, or not? There are three inferences that might be drawn from these sayings, juxtaposed as they are in the chapter. (1) Confucius is morally indecisive, and doesn't know from one minute to the next whether or not he wants students to admire Gwan Jung. (2) Confucius is mentally incompetent, and does not even realize that these two options are different. All statements are the same to him. (3) Some sort of lesson may be intended.

If only by way of charity toward the dead, it may be worth considering option (3).

We have considered it, and we think that there may indeed be a lesson here. We suggest that the lesson lies not in either of the verdicts about Gwan Jung, but precisely in the juxtaposing of the two. Like Yen Hwei in LY 5:9, students of LY 14:16/17 were probably expected to take this paradox off in a corner and think about it, and come back with the answer. And what was the answer? In these two passages, disciples in effect ask if they should admire Gwan Jung. Consider the Master's dilemma. If he says Yes, he condones disloyal conduct, the failure to die with one's lord. If he says No, he ignores the epic achievement of Gwan Jung as a minister; and scants the gratitude that the whole culture owed him. Neither answer alone does justice to all the moral dimensions. Together (plus a little thought on the part of the student), they give a composite message. It is roughly this: loyalty to one's lord is to be observed, but loyalty to the whole culture is also to be honored.

If we read around a little more in that chapter, we can give this message a further context. The Analects, and the times, are here in the process of extending the old concept of feudal personal loyalty (which is here retained and not rejected) to cover a higher, transpersonal and national loyalty (which is here celebrated). The lesson is that both are important, that the new national sense does not invalidate the old personal sense. The old personal sense still has meaning, though it is a changed meaning. It is changed because the nature of loyalty has changed. As a result of the change, Confucianism itself (which had its roots in the old personalistic loyalty ethic) is still valid; it is still relevant, it is still an ideology of service and dedication that can inspire the young and strengthen the old. The ultimate message of these passages is that Confucianism still works.

But can we in fact reach that point? Everyone will acknowledge that these sayings stand next to each other in the text, but it might still be objected that we are imposing alien ideas by recommending that they be considered together. We can meet that objection. Here is another Analects passage:

*11:20. Dz-lu asked, When I hear something, shall I put it into practice? The Master said, You have father and elder brother living, how should you hear something and put it into practice?

Ran You asked, When I hear something, shall I put it into practice? The Master said, When you hear something, put it into practice.

Gwan Jung all over again: opposite advice on seemingly identical topics. But keep on reading:

Gungsyi Hwa said, When [Dz-lu] asked, When I hear something, shall I put it into practice, the Master said, You have father and elder brother living. When [Ran You] asked, When I hear something, shall I put it into practice, the Master said, When you hear something, put it into practice. Chr is confused, and ventures to ask about it.

Gungsyi Hwa is here assuming, no less, that the answers should be consistent. He is disturbed that they are not consistent, and he dares to challenge the Master's inconsistency. Challenging a preceptor of classical wisdom; wow! Such things are simply not done! What will happen next?

The Master said, [Ran You] tends to hold back, so I pushed him forward. [Dz-lu] tends to go ahead of others, so I held him back.

So here we have Confucius himself pronouncing on exactly the point at issue. What he is saying is that there is no ultimate inconsistency. The Master always guides his students in the direction of moral initiative. The proper degree of moral initiative just happens to vary with the student's individual situation. The first lesson of the text is that situations must be respected, but that, within those limits, one should make all possible moral progress.

And the second lesson of the text is that the true consistency of the teacher is not (as Gungsyi Hwa wrongly imagines) a mere verbal consistency of statement. It is a consistency of concern for the student's progress. LY *11:20 is ultimately a lesson for teachers.

As we thus look in on the Analects students at their work of moral self-improvement, it seems that an expectation of consistency, and a technique of resolving inconsistency, are part of their mental furnishings. There even exist technical terms in the Analects for being in doubt when principles seem to conflict. That word is hwo; Gungsyi Hwa used it in *11:20 in declaring himself "confused." There is also a technical idiom for the process of resolving such uncertainties (byen hwo, see 12:10 and 12:21).

The text thus itself recognizes a consistency principle. It has a technique for dealing with consistency problems in practical situations. And it also has a pedagogy which involves intentional juxtaposition of seemingly inconsistent pronouncements, in the expectation that the reader will use this technique in reaching a lesson which would be difficult to express in simple terms.

So much for the textual point. Nothing like reading a text, to see if that text values consistency.

General Point

But maybe that is just a fluke. Maybe it is just these particular Analects passages that have this insight. Maybe it is still largely true, as Xiaogan claims, that classical Chinese thought as a whole lacks a consistency concept. Let's test that by taking a wider sampling of classical thought:

The Gwandz (GZ 2:3 plus commentary, and many other passages) argues that laws must be consistently and severely enforced, with the very regularity of nature itself, so that their prohibitions will be credible to the populace; so the populace will know what to expect. Consistency is the soul of bureaucracy, and law is bureaucratic consistency at its most draconic. Perhaps Xiaogan hasn't dipped into the Gwandz, it isn't a very popular text.

The Mician corpus (at MZ 40-45) contains a whole series of "logic" chapters, which give precise rules for consistency of statement, and for the orderly employment of terms and propositions. Hu Shr ("The Development of the Logical Method in Ancient China") drew attention to these years ago as an important aspect of early thought. The Mician texts are corrupt, but Graham ("Later Mohist Logic") restored and translated them. Perhaps the original text, and these explications, have somehow escaped Xiaogan's attention.

Besides several pungent individual remarks, Sywndz devotes a whole chapter (SZ 22) to his central idea of precision in the use of terms, the so-called jvng-ming. This brings the general consistency principle into the Confucian camp. But some might wish to dispute Sywndz's Confucian credentials, and anyway, he was not a very nice man. No one should fault Xiaogan (or anybody else) for failing to read his works.

The Analects has a principle of consistency, and openly exploits that principle in its pedagogy. The Analects has explicit techniques for resolving conflicts between principles which claim to be susceptible of consistent and general application. And the Analects is an indubitably Confucian text, with an unimpeachable pedigree. But we already mentioned the Analects. It's hardly fair to Xiaogan to bring that up again.

The Mencius contains several passages objecting to the petty application of a principle of consistency, and arguing for a higher consistency. It is probably valid to see "petty consistency" and "higher consistency" as types of consistency. The most famous of these passages is the one on "saving your sister-in-law with your hand" (MC 4A17). We happen to know that Xiaogan has heard of the Mencius; since it was at the Singapore Mencius Conference of January 1999 that we made his acquaintance. But perhaps that was one Xiaogan's off weekends. Anybody can have an off weekend, once in a while.

The Dau/Dv Jing has such statements (DDJ 1) as "The names that can be given are not permanent names." This objects to the principle of consistency in naming, which as we have seen is much urged elsewhere in the tougher-minded Warring States literature. But the DDJ is a cryptic book, and though Xiaogan has seen the Gwodyen DDJ florilegia, since he mentions the Gwodyen texts, it happens that DDJ 1 is not among the excerpts included in the Gwodyen florilegia. He may have missed it in that way. It could happen to anyone.

The Jwangdz is quite aware of the Mician canons of precision in the use of consecutive statements. Graham has noted (p62) that the system of definitions in JZ 23 not only has parallels with these canons, but is itself explicitly linked as a series. At a less technical level, the Jwangdz as a whole offers extended objections to consistency of statement. Its emblematic opposition of Jwangdz (representing intuition) and Hweidz (logic, sometimes specifically Mician logic) is exceedingly funny, and exceedingly famous. The point of this opposition, and the point of the DDJ statements mentioned above, is that true reality escapes the petty snare of mere logic or rationality. The Jwangdz revels in the unobvious and the paradoxical. Such effects are obviously impossible in a society that does not, in the first place, have a well-rooted sense of the obvious and the consecutive for denials of consistency to outrage, or delight. Now, it can't plausibly be assumed that Xiaogan is unfamiliar with the Jwangdz. He did a thesis on the Jwangdz; he wrote a book on the Jwangdz. How can one write a book on the Jwangdz, and not be aware that the theme of logical versus transcendent, of consistent versus wildly and creatively inconsistent, of systematic opposition to the coldly and consistently applied terms right (shr) and wrong (fei), is the mainstream of that book?

The principle of consistency, including energetic opposition to the principle of consistency, is thus all over the Warring States texts, up and down, left and right, and Xiaogan must know at least some of the passages which demonstrate this. Why then does he maintain that there is no awareness of consistency in the Warring States texts. Why does he represent consistency as an alien concept? He must, to say the least, be governed by powerful inner convictions. Where might those convictions have come from?

Maybe they are postmodern.

In his spirited defense of normal history against the attack of the postmodernists, Windschuttle (p279-281) has very funnily pointed out that Michel Foucault, in offering a defining example of the nonrational nonWestern mind, and in grounding his claims of equal value for that mind, relied on a "Chinese encyclopedia" classification of animals that absolutely broke all records for illogicality and lack of guiding principle. A convincing example, and a widely quoted one. It turns that there was no such Chinese encyclopedia. The classification was neither ancient nor Chinese. It was the invention of the modern humorous writer Jorge Luis Borges.

This revelation in no way discouraged the postmodernists. By their lights, a spurious report of the Chinese mind is as good as a real one. Has Xiaogan perhaps been reading Borges, on weekends, when he might instead have been going through the classical texts? We can only wonder.

Historical Point

We have seen that the Analects is pedagogically aware of a principle of consistency. We have further seen that a principle of consistency, not as a detail but as an important element of consciousness generally, is prominent in many Warring States texts. Having gotten that far, we are ready to see something of surpassing interest. Something that wasn't clearly visible until The Original Analects came along.

That something is that the principle of consistency was not always present in the Warring States period. Instead, it emerged at a definite point in that period. Its discovery was an event of the period.

Reading the Analects in chronological order, and ignoring the sayings which interrupt the parallel texture and may thus be out of place chronologically, we find the following.

1. During the early or 05c phase of the Analects, the sayings of "Confucius"are individually eloquent, but collectively, they are just as unsystematic as Xiaogan thinks they are. Each carries conviction as a response to the moment, and together they imply a general consistency of stance, but they do not articulate the details of that stance, and they do not cumulate in the reader's mind as what might be called a systematic philosophy. We can ourselves make a diagram of these 05c values, but the 05c people did not do so.

2. Over time, the value stance of the Analects Confucians in fact changed. By the middle 04c, at roughly the time when the Micians are beginning to work out their analysis of terms and propositions, we encounter a different note in the Analects. That note is a concern for more precise definition of terms. LY 12 consists, in its entirety, of definitions of terms. And there emerges a higher expectation of the "Confucius" sayings: that they will be not just locally valid, but generally valid. Several sayings reflect this new idea. Here is one from the late 04c:

*15:24. Dz-gung asked, Is there one saying that one can put into practice in all circumstances? The Master said, That would be empathy [shu], wouldn't it? What he himself does not want, let him not do it to others.

This saying offers a way to detect a larger principle underlying specific judgements of what to do and what not to do in public life. Other sayings show"Confucius" correcting or re-educating his disciples about the fact that his sayings form a system, with a core principle:

*15:3. The Master said, [Dz-gung], you regard me as one who has studied a lot and remembers it, do you not? He replied, Yes. Is that wrong? He said, It is. I have one thing by which I link it all together.

3. Beginning in the early 04c, interpolations had been made among the 05c Analects chapters to homonogenize the differences which evolution of doctrine had created, and make them more compatible with the more recent 04c pronouncements. In the late 04c, an expansion of precisely the above saying (late 04c) was added, between two clearly paired sayings (4:14/16) in the core chapter LY 4. It reveals that the *15:24 principle of general validity is also the principle hinted at in *15:3 as the principle of system unity:

*4:15. The Master said [to Dzvngdz], My Way: by one thing I link it together. Dzvngdz said, Yes. The Master went out, and the disciples asked, What did he mean? Dzvngdz said, Our respected Master's way is simply loyalty and empathy.

Notice that both *15:3 and *4:15 represent students as having not previously heard of the idea that there was a unity principle in Confucius's teachings. "Confucius" must inform them that this unity is present, and even with that hint, they do not understand what the unifying principle is. The implication is that the idea of a unifying principle was itself new at the time these interpolated passages were written and shared with current students. The passages themselves take on the work of defeating an opposite expectation in their readers.

Graham remarked (p5) "One of the interesting things in pre-Han, as in early Greek philosophy, is that we can watch over serveral centuries a people learning how to think." Well said. We now add this:

In these Analects passages, we can watch the Lu Confucians, at about the time that the first Mician logical canons were coming into being, absorbing their version of that lesson.

So if we put the "consistency" question to the ancient Chinese thinkers themselves, as we ought always to do, rather than impose on them some arbitrary and condescending "illogicality" expectation of our own, we find that the ancient Chinese thinkers, beginning at a point in the 04c, show an understanding of (and in some texts, also a lyrical opposition to) the ideas of terminological consistency, statement consistency, and philosophical consistency.

This, then, is how the question comes out. The notion of consistency is after all not some irrelevant or intrusive concept. That notion, sometimes in a very highly developed technical form, is in the texts, and to one degree or another, it was present in the mind of the Warring States period.

[We now return for the brief final instalment of this Response]: 

To Response Part 4 (Final)

25 January 2002 / Contact The Project / Return to Responses Page