Original Analects Responses
The Philosophical Claim
It has been urged that the Analects is "a philosophical text" and thus cannot be properly understood when approached, as we approach it, with an awareness of the whole world from which the text arose. There are three errors in this "philosophical" position:(1) It is not given, but must be discovered by inspection, that the Analects is a "philosophical text" in any sense.
(2) Those who advance this argument tend to define "philosophy" as what shows up on the screen of the tenure committee in a modern American department of philosophy. We sympathize with the hardships under which those must labor who study any thought but the thought of Kant. But those modern career problems have nothing to do with the question of what an ancient text like the Analects may in fact be up to.
(3) It is still to be decided whether the Analects is a "philosophical text" in some sense relevant to the conditions of the Warring States. Is it, for instance, a coherent treatise like some of the essays of Sywndz, which many might agree to call "philosophical" in form and intent, or is it a different kind of animal? We find, with readers in general, that it is in large part a different kind of animal. The Analects, in its final 03c stratum, engages Sywndz and other 03c thinkers on questions of value and practice, but it does not itself produce pages that would pass muster, along with the Sywndz output, as philosophical pages. As for modern philosophers, the Analects is undoubtedly of interest to them. So are the early Chinese legal documents found at Baushan in Chu. So are the slave chains archaeologically recovered from the ruins of the state pottery factory in Yen, the Gulag of its day. None of these, merely because it has importance for the history of philosophy, becomes a "philosophical text" in the strong sense which upholders of this position intend. It remains whatever it was before the philosophers came along.
(4) And what was the Analects? This is best decided by seeing what the Analects does. It continually upgrades the image and the pronouncements of Confucius; in that sense it is a school text, organized around an iconic founding figure. The iconic "Confucius" in the Analects continually gives advice to students, and the nature of that advice varies. At the beginning of the text, it is largely concerned with how to get and hold a court position, and how to behave in office. Expense account padding, for example, is actively discouraged, as is waffling on principle. The principles in question are not philosophical principles, they are the terms of a code inherited from the world of the elite warrior (Confucius's father was an elite warrior), adapted to the civil side of court life. WE might call the advice of the Analects in this period a gnomic ideology of service. As time goes on, the advice of the Analects "Confucius" focuses instead on deportment as such. This is the ritualist period. It begins in LY 10 (early 04th century) and is theoretically developed in LY 3 (mid 04th century), in what might be called a rationalized ideology of behavior. With LY 14 (late 04th century) we encounter something entirely new: the sense that the Master's various utterances should be consistent, and should together constitute a system. This is what we can recognize as a philosophy, and it is in this period that the Analects acquires a philosophical sense of its own pronouncements. It must be added that it does not very strongly maintain that sense; as Tswei Shu has noted, the later Analects (LY 16-20) shows a great falling off in style and coherence; it can be seen spectating such philosophical issues as the debate between Sywndz and the Mencian school on human nature, but it does not itself develop or maintain citizenship in that zone of philosophical discourse.
(5) The background fact about Chinese intellectual history is that it reached the concept of system, and of system coherence, and of predictability as a mark of system coherence, in the last decades of the 04th century. This "philosophical transition" shows up in all the major schools of thought; among the varieties of Confucianism that were in existence at that time, it is very obvious in the last layer of the Dzwo Jwan. It was this new awareness into which Sywndz was born, and out of which the later Mencian schools arose. That transition, as noted above, is visible in the Analects (albeit in two interpolated passages, LY *15:4 and *4:15). But the Analects does not maintain itself wthin that awareness. In its later chapters, so to speak, it sits on the curb and watches China's real philosophies fight it out among themselves. The Analects, then, is not so much a philosphical text as a gnomic wisdom text that just missed the bus to philosophy.
We feel ourselves not only free, but in good conscience obligated, to examine on the evidence the question of what the Analects is, and to report our findings, not to some one department's tenure committee, but to the community of scholars as a whole.
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