Manyul Im’s Chinese Philosophy Blog

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Fingarette’s Confucius and Historical Contingency

I’m just going to post on Fingarette like I’m serving hors d’oeuvres. So, here goes.

So, according to Fingarette’s Confucius, the value of the individual can’t transcend the particular set of ceremonies in which the individual is embedded. On Fingarette’s reading, Confucius is committed, then, to the value of individuals being tied specifically to the Zhou ritual ceremonies. I don’t think Confucius could say something more Rorty-like–namely, that though the particular tradition is dependent on historical contingency, with a bit of irony and reflection, we can embrace the historically contingent and imbue it with value that we recognize to be contingent, since there isn’t any non-contingent value to be had in any case. In other words, Confucius could not think of the Zhou rituals, in so many words, as being historically contingent; he thinks they are absolutely valuable. That doesn’t mean Fingarette’s Confucius is committed, in so many words, to universal values; it means he doesn’t really think in terms of universal versus historically (or culturally) contingent values. His commitment to the Zhou is naively universalist in its assumption of superiority to the norms and mores of “the barbarians.”

I might have caricatured Rorty, or Fingarette for that matter. Comments welcome, as always.

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March 23, 2009 - Posted by | Chinese philosophy, Comparative philosophy, Confucianism, Confucius

4 Comments

  1. Responded at my place (I didn’t realize you commented here as well).

    Basically: am with you on the barbarians but not on that stringent a requirement of Zhou rituals as I feel Fingarette clarified that in his presentation of “animation” & re-animation. That is to say I do not think they are as _absolutely_ valuable as you suggest any more than the ancient greek statues or conventions were to the Italians of the Renaissance. It is, in my opinion, an orientation to the past (ie, locating one’s exemplary models in an idealized past rather than a liberal-christian future orientation (utopia)…My comment is quite long but I think the above is a nutshell version…. sorry about the game. You know who is ecstatic.

    Comment by Peony | March 24, 2009

  2. I agree with Peony’s observation about the importance of the “backward looking” (i.e., ‘Golden Age’) orientation in general (on the order of Elster’s beloved model of ‘one step backwards, two steps forward’?). Of course in the West, the myth of Edenic paradise was at one time of this type as well, only to radically change with the pronounced orientation toward a paradise to come, namely, Heaven, and the eventual triumph of the millenarian or apocalyptic utopian picture (which later came to be inextricably tied to some sort of teleology or historicism). And the Greeks, like the Chinese, were enchanted by a Golden Age utopia. In short, I’m inclined to agree with Peony on this specific point vis-a-vis Zhou rituals (and perhaps that argument could benefit from a discussion of the possible role of tian here, which would extend beyond Zhou rituals proper).

    Comment by Patrick S. O'Donnell | March 24, 2009

  3. Manyul… are you with us for the revolution?

    Comment by Peony | March 24, 2009

  4. Manyul,

    I’m not sure that “the value of the individual can’t transcend the particular set of ceremonies in which the individual is embedded” leads to “Confucius is committed, then, to the value of individuals being tied specifically to the Zhou ritual ceremonies.”

    Depends on what you mean by “tied to.”

    It seems here that you may have collapsed what Kwong Loi-Shun takes to be the “definitionalist” stance towards the proper relationship between Li and Zhou and the another interpretation that he favors (I don’t have the piece here, I can’t remember what he calls it — perhaps “constitutive” relationship?).

    In any event, the different interpretations would be, roughly: (a) definitionalist – the Li cannot be changed at all, and (b) “constitutive” – Li can be changed, but changes must be of a type such that a proper backward tracing back to the Zhou is possible (I leave the details about that approach blank — totally different question!).

    It seems to me that you are assuming the definitionalist interpretation here, no? But it seems that “the value of the individual can’t transcend the particular set of ceremonies in which the individual is embedded” is also consistent with the other reading of the Li-Zhou connection.

    Comment by Chris | March 25, 2009


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