Warp, Weft, and Way

A Group Blog of Chinese and Comparative Philosophy

Value of Family in Confucianism

(Posting from Chicago O’Hare, while waiting to see if I can fly standby…Get me home!)

I’ve been wandering through the airport thinking about the supposed Confucian emphasis on the value of community and family – are these really properly, or particularly Confucian values? Three hypotheses for your consideration:

1) The character of the junzi seems pretty important as an individualistic ideal

  • the character of the junzi isn’t further specified according to its embodiment in family roles
  • the junzi’s character is really an expression of an individualistic ideal, even if it becomes applicable to ends of family and community
  • this is not unlike reasonable Western ideals of moral agency—they aren’t meant to have value apart from social ends; moral agency is primarily directed toward reasonability in social interactions

2) The family is a model, emblematic of the sorts of social interactions that are present in community as a whole, but does not have value-primacy of any sort

3) Community, in Confucian conceptions, is not in principle different from broad notions of civil society in the West

Well, these are meandering thoughts of a tired traveler, but I wonder what you think of the initial formulations…


March 21, 2008 - Posted by | Chinese philosophy, Confucianism


  1. I don’t know if Confucianism values the family or not, but I think it is a good analogy to compare the way individuals interact in a family to the way individual and households interact in the broader society.

    Comment by Scott Hughes | March 21, 2008 | Reply

  2. Manyul, thanks for taking us all on your trip!

    I think maybe you’re thinking mainly about Confucius or the Analects. I don’t recall Confucius in the Analects saying anything about family that would strike, say, the American public as wrong, except for what we’re supposed to do after our parents are dead.

    To your point 2 – one sense in which family might be primary or fundamental is the way the foundation of a house is fundamental: you have to build that part first, and keep it there all the way through. I think that idea is prominent in the Analects and in the tradition. But I think when you say “value-primacy of any sort” you mean something like primacy in argument or justification. In the Xiaojing, family seems to occupy a position close to that, if not all the way there.

    Suppose one holds that the part of value that is “morality” (or something like that) is at least partly “constructed” rather than “discovered.” One thing that distinction might mean is that morality is something real that can take different shapes depending on how it’s built: like law or houses. (I think one could hold such a view consistent with being a Benthamite about goodness.)

    Then there might be a difficulty about how the two kinds of *moral* fundamentality are to be distinguished.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 21, 2008 | Reply

  3. To point 3 – “conceptions of community” might just mean conceptions of how people somehow connected to one another interact, or it might mean something more specific. Working in English, I might hesitate to call something a conception of “community” unless it looks like a Western conception.

    I mean, if I think of a family sitting around a big table eating spaghetti and everybody talking, that’s family and it’s community. If I think of respecting my elder kin and caring for the younger, that’s family but maye not so much community.

    Could the round table be a more important idea in the West than in the Confucian tradition?

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 21, 2008 | Reply

  4. Scott: But doesn’t it actually feed into paternalistic views of “the broader society”? I realize that depends on how one conceives of the family, but in traditional China the clear conception is not only paternalistic, but patriarchal. Or is it that you think the analogy helps for trying to make sure interaction in the broader society is less formal and more oriented toward particular types of feeling–perhaps some form of shared sentiments toward the community? Is that always good?

    Comment by Manyul Im | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  5. Bill:

    Yes, I did mean “primacy” as in theoretical primacy (in argument or justification); thanks for helping me sharpen the point. It seems to me like people too casually toss around the idea that concern with family and filiality is some kind of identifying marker of Confucian tradition. So, it seems to me like that is worth sharpening. I think if the family and family relationships had some sort of theoretical primacy, and not just primacy as a illustrative model, then there would be an interesting point being made about Confucianism.

    That raises the question, relevant to your comment: would *causal* primacy–the family’s being in some way “constructively fundamental” in your sense–be something we could take as theoretical, or notable primacy? I’m not sure, though I won’t dismiss it as a possibility. Here’s one way that might be stated:


    (W) in Western philosophy, the individual is the most fundamental unit of moral cultivation–so that the society can become good only if individuals are good,

    (C) in Confucian tradition, the family is the most fundamental unit of moral cultivation–so that the society can become good only if families are good.

    I think that would be interesting, but I think while W is generally speaking true, C is not, for just the sort of reasons I tried to bring up in point 1 of the post about the character of the junzi. And if you think of the Confucian tradition that builds around the Daxue (Great Learning) and the Zhongyong (Doctrine of the Mean), it’s seems a formula more like W would apply to Confucianism too, with the qualification that individuals, after becoming good, must then work on getting their families good in order to bring about further societal good. So, the family might still play a causal role in Confucian tradition, but not a fundamental one–and perhaps not even a necessary one? I’m not sure about the latter point but it strikes me as justifiable.

    I’ll have to think some more about your question concerning community.

    Comment by Manyul Im | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  6. Oh, I see — I was looking at the whole question through more individualistic glasses, thinking about the possible constructively fundamental role of the family for building the virtue of individuals (for relating to others). Oops! Thanks.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  7. Hmm. That’s interesting; actually I hadn’t thought of it your way, but that’s a viable candidate for primacy of family, too. It would be something like the causal primacy of the family for cultivation of moral character. I’m not sure that would fly, though, given so much emphasis on “self” cultivation. What do you think?

    Comment by Manyul Im | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  8. Do you mean – do I think it’s in the Confucian tradition?

    I think it’s in the Analects at 1.2, and I think it’s at least commonly and maybe rightly read into 1.6 and maybe other places like 1.11. Unless I’ve been misunderstand other people as I misunderstood you.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  9. If you’re looking for someone who treats family as primary in argument or justification, you probably want to look to the Mohists rather than the Confucians. E.g., the Mohists defend political authority in part by claiming that in its absence families will be driven apart by normative disagreement. Did any classical Confucian so clearly base an argument on the value of family?

    Comment by Dan Robins | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  10. Dan, good question!

    Manyul, I was just lumping the virtues of filiality and fraternity into what’s meant by “family.” Maybe your thought in #7 is that the causal primacy of filiality and fraternity counts as the causal primacy of family only if the reason I’m filial and fraternal is that my family caused me to be. I wonder if there’s a text somewhere that draws that distinction.

    (Even if whether I’m filial and fraternal is entirely up to me, my family would still be a necessary condition. Except in the broad senses of those f-terms.)

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  11. Dan, I think Mencius uses the value of family to argue (correctly or incorrectly) for the way of Wen and Wu against Mohism in 3B8: “Mo advocates love without discrimination, which amounts to a denial of one’s father” (Lau).

    We might overestimate the justificatory primacy of family in the Mozi if we read it this way: “We ought to engage in universal care because right political authority tells us to, and we ought to follow political authority because of the value of the family; therefore the value of the family is justificatorily prior to the rightness of universal care.” You didn’t suggest that of course.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  12. Hey Bill,

    I think of the Analects 1 passages you mention, 1.2 is clearly the best candidate for stating some kind of, maybe *virtue* primacy for filiality. For others, I’ll paste the text and Legge translation from Donald Sturgeon’s site:

    Start quote

    The philosopher You said, “They are few who, being filial and fraternal, are fond of offending against their superiors. There have been none, who, not liking to offend against their superiors, have been fond of stirring up confusion. The superior man bends his attention to what is radical. That being established, all practical courses naturally grow up. Filial piety and fraternal submission! – are they not the root of all benevolent actions?”
    End quote

    If xiaodi 孝弟, filiality toward parents and obedience toward older brothers, has that fundamental a role–they are “the roots” of benevolence, then that really makes for a good statement of the primacy of virtues in family relationships, given how important benevolence is for Confucianism.

    It is interesting that this is in the voice of Youzi–and I know you’re interested in that fact–but not Confucius. I’m not sure what to make of that. What’s your view?

    I still think that even if Analects 1.2 is accounted for, and also with respect to Dan’s point about the Mohists, it is the individual’s character or motivation that is the focus of Confucianism and so to that extent, it is no less individualistic–or more family or group centered–than Western ethical views. Maybe that’s really what is bothering me: not so much the family issue, but why Confucianism is thought to be less individual-centered. I guess I don’t see that, despite everyone’s saying so.

    Comment by Manyul Im | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  13. Hi Manyul,

    I think Youzi made the idea central to Confucianism, and that it wasn’t Confucius’ view. Ever since the Xiaojing people have been forgetting that the words are from Youzi rather than Confucius – lots of leading commentators on the Analects in recent decades have directly attributed the words to Confucius in their discussions, and it’s even more common to see commentators carefully allowing the reader to think they’re Confucius’ words without actually saying so.

    On “self-cultivation”, maybe it was an agricultural metaphor after Confucius, suggesting that virtue is the realization of potentials within the individual. Slingerland says in Effortless Action (I don’t have it with me) that the root meaning of xiu 修 is something like decorating or inscribing, and he argues that Confucius’ main metaphor for moral development is carving or decorating: hence not developing inner potentials. My sense of Confucius in the Analects is that he thinks of moral development as the active absorption of external models. And then having external models near at hand at the beginning could be crucial to long-term success, but the connection with mourning is harder to see.

    Passages like 4A12 in Mencius and its many kin elsewhere do suggest that the fundamental model of goodness is an individual matter. In brief: to govern well, win the confidence of others. To do that, please your parents. To do that, be true to yourself. To do that, understand goodness.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  14. I think I basically agree with you. I think also of Hu Shi’s criticism of the Confucian examination system: that it undermined the system whereby leaders came from leading families whose long experience enabled them to train in each generation the virtues and skills for good and honorable ruling.

    The idea that a key normal motivation for being generally honorable and good is to honor one’s parents is not something one often meets in Western moral philosophy. It goes back at least to the Xiaojing. It’s about one’s identity, I suppose. In the west the idea is more popular in informal, inland discourse:

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  15. Whoops, typed this all up before seeing Manyul and Bill’s exchanges, so now parts of it may be a bit out of order. In any case, here it is…

    Manyul, I suggest reframing your original topic slightly, so that the focus isn’t the role of family and community, but that of the three paradigmatic social relationships of ruler-subject, father-son, and elder-younger brother. In some Ruist texts, these relationships play an important theoretical role in structuring the conception of a morally good person’s character and behavior, and to some extent the conception of the person, as someone who stands in these relations to others. I think their role is distinctive in comparison with some prominent Western approaches to ethics. By that I mean that, for example, the father-son relation and the associated virtues of filiality and paternal affection aren’t closely paralleled by anything in Plato, Aristotle, Hume, or Kant (to give a few examples).

    I’d add two observations, though, that probably amount to agreeing with Manyul’s original post. The first is that, as Dan points out, in early Chinese discourse, the emphasis on these paradigmatic relationships is not distinctively Ruist. Mohist texts probably emphasize them more than Ruist texts do. They even show up in the Zhuangzi (book 4). So these relationships aren’t distinctive of Confucian thought as much as early Chinese thought generally.

    Second, I think it’s important not to exaggerate the centrality of these relationships in early Ruist thought. They are not that prominent in Mencius and Xunzi. I don’t mean to suggest they’re not an important part of the package. They are. But they’re not mentioned that much, and they may be less central than certain other points, such as natural sympathy for others in Mencius and the coordinating and ordering role of ritual in Xunzi. Even in the Analects, these relationships are prominent only in certain parts. Overall, the junzi ideal is more prominent, and as Manyul says, it’s almost never unpacked in terms of one’s conduct as a father, son, brother, or political subject. (The one obvious exception is 1:2, the pivotal Youzi saying that Bill has brought to people’s attention.)

    Someone who read only Analects passages about the junzi attributed to Confucius would probably not conclude that family has a primary role in Confucius’s ethics. Arguably, the person might conclude that Confucius and his followers endorsed a life centered on respectful relationships between a charismatic teacher and a group of fellow students devoted to an ideal of individual excellence and public service. They are loyal to no particular political community or leader, but willing to serve wherever they think they can do the most good without compromising their ethical ideals.

    Some interpreters who emphasize the role of family or community in Ruism may do so with the aim of contrasting Ruism with a more individualistic ethics, such as Kant’s or Aristotle’s. I agree that there’s a significant contrast, but would caution against exaggerating the role of family in Ruism.

    I suggest, too, that the role in early Chinese thought of relationships between teachers and students and among communities of students deserves more attention. Obviously, scholars don’t overlook these relationships—-we know Confucius and Mencius had bands of followers, the Mohists were organized into several factions, Xunzi thinks teachers and friends have a key role in ethical growth, and even Zhuangzi is depicted in one place as traveling with a group of students. But I think we don’t sufficiently emphasize how important these relationships probably were to the people behind the texts we study.

    Comment by Chris Fraser | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  16. Cf. part of Boram’s #5 from the Feb. 15 thread “Confucianism and Sexism”: “But does this have to construed in the hierarchical sense? All that matters, it seems to me, is that there be love between parent and child, and this provides a natural motivational resource that forms the basis of morality, a pool of motivational energy, so to speak, that can be channeled from the near and dear to the strange and remote.”

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  17. My #16 was to my #14. Now I’ll read #15.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  18. Chris, you write: “the father-son relation and the associated virtues of filiality and paternal affection aren’t closely paralleled by anything in Plato, Aristotle, Hume, or Kant….”

    I think you’re right in general, but not quite right about Aristotle. This comment is a digressive report on Aristotle.

    I think we do find this sort of thing in Aristotle, though in neglected passages (thereby hangs another of my tales). But he discusses it under the heading of relationships (friendship, justice) rather than the virtues of individuals. For example, there’s this from Book VIII of the Nicomachean Ethics, comparing just and unjust political structures to just and unjust personal relationships here in Rackham’s translation:

    “One may find likenesses and so to speak models of these various forms of constitution in the household. The relationship of father to sons is regal in type, since a father’s first care is for his children’s welfare. This is why Homer styles Zeus ‘father,’ for the ideal of kingship is paternal government. Among the Persians paternal rule is tyrannical, for the Persians use their sons as slaves. The relation of master to slaves is also tyrannic, since in it the master’s interest is aimed at. The autocracy of a master appears to be right, that of the Persian father wrong; for different subjects should be under different forms of rule. The relation of husband to wife seems to be in the nature of an aristocracy: the husband rules in virtue of fitness, and in matters that belong to a man’s sphere; matters suited to a woman he hands over to his wife. When the husband controls everything, he transforms the relationship into an oligarchy, for he governs in violation of fitness, and not in virtue of superiority.” (1160b)

    And a parallel passage from the Eudemian Ethics:

    “All forms of constitution exist together in the household, both the correct forms and the deviations (for the same thing is found in constitutions as in the case of musical modes)3 — paternal authority being royal, the relationship of man and wife aristocratic, that of brothers a republic, while the deviation-forms of these are tyranny, oligarchy and democracy; and there are therefore as many varieties of justice.” (1160b)

    For texts see the Perseus web site: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cache/perscoll_Greco-Roman.html#text1

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  19. The Eudemian passage is at 1241b.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  20. And, Chris, when Plato got old he wrote things like this (Laws, Jowett translation):

    Laws, Book XI:

    “Now better men are the superiors of worse men, and in general elders are the superiors of the young; wherefore also parents are the superiors of their off spring, and men of women and children, and rulers of their subjects; for all men ought to reverence any one who is in any position of authority, and especially those who are in state offices.”

    Laws, Book IX:

    “We should consider whether the laws of states ought not to have the character of loving and wise parents, rather than of tyrants and masters, who command and threaten, and, after writing their decrees on walls, go their ways”

    Laws, Book IV:

    “Next to these Gods, a wise man will do service to the demons or spirits, and then to the heroes, and after them will follow the private and ancestral Gods, who are worshipped as the law prescribes in the places which are sacred to them. Next comes the honour of living parents, to whom, as is meet, we have to pay the first and greatest and oldest of all debts, considering that all which a man has belongs to those who gave him birth and brought him up, and that he must do all that he can to minister to them, first, in his property, secondly, in his person, and thirdly, in his soul, in return for the endless care and travail which they bestowed upon him of old, in the days of his infancy, and which he is now to pay back to them when they are old and in the extremity of their need. And all his life long he ought never to utter, or to have uttered, an unbecoming word to them; for of light and fleeting words the penalty is most severe; Nemesis, the messenger of justice, is appointed to watch over all such matters. When they are angry and want to satisfy their feelings in word or deed, he should give way to them; for a father who thinks that he has been wronged by his son may be reasonably expected to be very angry. At their death, the most moderate funeral is best, neither exceeding the customary expense, nor yet falling short of the honour which has been usually shown by the former generation to their parents. And let a man not forget to pay the yearly tribute of respect to the dead, honouring them chiefly by omitting nothing that conduces to a perpetual remembrance of them, and giving a reasonable portion of his fortune to the dead. Doing this, and living after this manner, we shall receive our reward from the Gods and those who are above us [i.e., the demons]; and we shall spend our days for the most part in good hope.”


    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  21. Is not the habituation to virtue in Aristotle similar to what Confucius seems to have had in mind when speaking to familial relations? Both, I suspect, well understood that moral education in the first instance involves emulative behavior such that the actions of children are simulacra of virtuous actions. And Plato, Aristotle and Confucius all tie ethical judgment to the character or nature of the person judging (aa Joel Kupperman points out) and appear to rely on developmental conceptions of moral growth and awareness that evidence concern with “the nature of the person judging and how he or she got that way” (Kupperman). Peter Goldie might well have been talking about Confucius when we asks,

    “How do we come to be virtuous (if we do)? We are born, as social animals, into a cultural world of value and disvalue–a world where certain things *matter*, as harmful, dangerous, comforting, warming, and so on. If we have been brought up in the right way, we will be disposed reliably to recognise these values and disvalues and to respond as we should: as Aristotle says, ‘at the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, and in the right way.’ And if this happens, then we will care in the right way about the things that matter: not simply caring for justice and kindness as if for some vague idea, but caring that *particular* people in *particular* circumstances are treated as they should be–with fairness, honesty and consideration, so that we get angry (justifiably angry) if this doesn’t happen. It will become ‘second nature’ [cf. Kupperman on this] to have these responses, so that our own interests, narrowly conceived, are quite naturally far from being our only consideration in deciding what to do. Being disposed reliably to be motivated by specifically other-regarding moral considerations is part of what it is to have a virtue.”

    And Platos’s concerns with the specifics of moral development or education are uncannily similar in intriguing respect to those of Confucius. The centrality of the arts in Greek paideia are a case in point. I think Confucius evidenced appreciation of the “three chief characteristics of Greek dance: its combination of verbal and nonverbal aspects, its mimetic dimension, and the peculiarly playful nature of this most serious form of ritual communication” (Steven H. Lonsdale). Lonsdale reminds us of “the propensity to complement verbal expression with body language in ancient Greece [which] was elevated to an art form corresponding to Plato’s term *choreia* [the combined activities of singing and dancing], the standard of ideal behavior in the polis therefore, it seems to me, corresponding to the roles of wen and li in Confucian philosophy. The mimetic capacity inherent in choric activity was thought to have the power to facilitate or reinforce moral education, as well as to corrupt, hence both the Platonic and Confucian emphasis on properly chosen models from tradition: “Knowing how to distinguish between good and bad postures and tunes in choral performance is therefore confirmation of an educated person. A well-educated person performs well and what he performs must be good, because imitation of the opposite will lead to moral turpitude. A person correctly trained in choreia will take pleasure in good gestures and tunes. [….] The potential for imitative dances to corrupt leads Plato to call for regulations about musical education that will restrict the form of rhythm and tunes which may be taught to citizens.” Reminds one of Confucius, does it not (at least the portrait provided by Michael Nylan)? Would not Confucius have countenanced Plato’s characterization of dance (and music) as a form of playful imitation for seriously spiritual and moral ends? While choreia as paideia is first aimed at the young, it remains essential to all citizens of a Platonic polis.

    And Hume’s moral theory reminds one of Confucian philosophy inasmuch as it too speaks to the importance of familial relations in ethical training and the cultivation of moral awareness: “At the very heart of Hume’s moral theory lies his celebration of family life and of parental love. Justice, the chief artificial virtue, is the offspring of family cooperativeness and inventive self-interested reason, which sees how such a mutally beneficial cooperative scheme might be extended. And when Hume lists the natural moral virtues, those not consisting in obedience to agreed rules and doing good even if not generally possessed, his favorite example is parental love and solicitude. The good person, the possessor of the natural virtues, is the one who is ‘a safe companion, an easy friend, a gentle master, an agreeable husband, and indulgent father'” (Annette C. Baier, qtg. Hume). As Baier explains, [Hume’s] list of virtues is a remarkably unaggressive, uncompetitive, one might say almost womanly list. Although many of the virtues on his list are character traits that would show in a great range of contexts, most of those contexts are social contexts, involving relations to others, and many of them involve particular relationships such as parent-child, friend to friend, colleagues to each other, fellow convesationalists.” This calls to mind Confucius, at least for me. In addition, like Confucius, Hume “does not give any special centrality to relationships between equals, let alone between autonomous equals. Because his analysis of social cooperation starts from cooperation within the family, relations between those who are necessarily unequal, parents and children, are at the center of the picture. [….] This relationship, and the obligations and virtues it involves, lacks three central features of relations between moral agents as understood by Kantians and contractarians–it is intimate, it is unchosen, and it is between unequals.”

    The junzi presupposes proper upbringing, i.e., the family and community as the seedbed of early habituation in virtue and the source of the requisite motivation to a lifelong commitment to moral growth and self-cultivation. As with Plato and Aristotle, we are speaking of an individual perfectionist ethics the necessary conditions for which are found within the family and the polis.

    Comment by Patrick S. O'Donnell | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  22. I wrote my comment while Bill was posting his: it seems we were more or less on the same page when it came to responding to Chris (at least with respect to Plato and Aristotle; perhaps he would agree with me about Hume as well).

    Comment by Patrick S. O'Donnell | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  23. Hi Manyul,

    Thanks for the helpful report!

    My guess is that Chris didn’t mean to disagree with the bulk of what you said about Plato and Aristotle, becuase it’s not about father-son relations in particular.

    For Confucianism I think the relations of sons to fathers is more important than the relations of fathers to sons, but your report of Hume suggests his main stress is on the latter.

    Aristotle’s broader point about relationships is that differences in rank or power ought to line up with differences in virtue (as they naturally do with relations between parents and children (sic))– the just exchange is that the inferior party gives the superior party honor (= respect and obedience) and the superior party gives the inferior what s/he needs (saliently: material goods). That seems to me a pretty close parallel with Confucianism.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  24. George Lakoff argues that different conceptions of parenthood are at the root of the divide between conservative and liberal politics. Conservatives believe in the need for a strong and authoritarian father, while liberals think in terms of a nurturing parent (p. 9f in the following):

    Youzi, I think, suggests the son as a model. Mencius sometimes does too, and so does the Mozi at the beginning of Book 25 on Moderation in Funerals.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  25. Oops, Patrick! You’re not Manyul. Thanks for the helful report!

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  26. Sheez, I meant helpful.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  27. Bill, going back to your #11, the complaint about Mozi in 3B/9 isn’t really an argument, is it? It just states a disgreement.

    The Mohists actually defend inclusive (or universal) care by citing the value of family directly: caring for others is necessary for filial piety &c., and “if the world cared for one another inclusively, if they cared for others like they cared for themselves, would any still be unfilial?” (And they don’t defend inclusive care by appealing to what right political authority says.)

    Comment by Dan Robins | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  28. Bill, Dan, et al.:

    I would point to Mencius 7A15 (read with 7B31, following Nivison), and perhaps even 2A2 on the flood-like qi and rightness. The process of extension 達 (in yet other passages 推, and perhaps accumulation 集 in 2A2) is not just a causal-psychological process, but also a justificatory-inferential process.

    One shouldn’t expect to find in Mencius the very same type of justification one finds in the Mozi. I suspect 2A2 is making just this point.

    (Back to lurking now.)

    Comment by Boram Lee | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  29. Dan, to the first part of your #27:

    Sorry! 3B9. Mencius doesn’t add “… and I do not myself think it is right to deny one’s father,” so he isn’t directly stating a disagreement. But he does go on to say “To ignore one’s father, on the one hand, and one’s prince on the other, is to be no different from the beasts” (Lau trans.). I take that to be an argument that one should not ignore one’s father.

    But there’s still an interesting question of interpretation here, relevant to your question and this thread. Aristotle wrote (Politics I.2):

    “The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature …” (Jowett trans.)

    Aristotle uses the point about beasts to argue that society is good for humans. By contrast, Mencius could be taken to be using it simply to argue that denying one’s father is something only a beast would stoop to, and therefore undignified and wrong, without commenting on the value of family.

    But in the broader context of 3B9 I don’t think that’s a defensible reading. A few lines up we read, “When the world declined and the Way fell into obscurity, heresies and violence again arose. There were instances of regicides and parricides. Confucius was apprehensive …” Here parricide is a mark of a bad state of affairs.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  30. Boram, to your #28, and Manyul, further to your original point (2) about “value-primacy of any sort”:

    We distinguished above between causal and justificatory primacy, but within the latter there’s maybe another distinction to be drawn, between (a) moral or axiological justification or foundation, and (b) epistemological support of a point, a belief or understanding, about what’s good or right. I think that insofar as you’re right about Mencius, Boram, he’s making mainly a (b) point, while Manyul’s concern is with (a), and the Mohist argument Dan reports in #27 is of type (a).

    Aristotle (!) draws the distinction this way (Eth. Nic. I.4, Ross trans.):

    “Let us not fail to notice, however, that there is a difference between arguments from and those to the first principles. For Plato, too, was right in raising this question and asking, as he used to do, ‘are we on the way from or to the first principles?’ There is a difference, as there is in a race-course between the course from the judges to the turning-point and the way back. For, while we must begin with what is known, things are objects of knowledge in two senses- some to us, some without qualification. Presumably, then, we must begin with things known to us. Hence 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. For the fact is the starting-point, and if this is sufficiently plain to him, he will not at the start need the reason as well; and the man who has been well brought up has or can easily get startingpoints.”

    I think Youzi and Mencius might agree that insofar as family virtues are causally prior in the development of the virtue of the individual, that’s because family is epistemologically prior.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  31. #30 continued …

    The fact that Aristotle mentions upbringing in the quote in #30 is incidental to my points about primacy and about Youzi/Mencius. These folks, I think, were thinking of family as epistemologically important because it is a model, not so much because it is a school.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  32. Patrick, I missed at first the relevance of the latter half of your paragraph on Hume in #21. There Baier seems to say his focus was on relationships, such as the several Chris lists, and not on round table community or consequences-for-individuals. But her report leaves me unsure how far Hume saw what he was doing that way. Now I want to go and re-read Hume.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  33. Bill, Thanks for pointing out the Aristotle and Plato passages (I was mainly thinking of Plato’s Republic, not the Laws, which I’m less familiar with). I’ve just been rereading book 8 of the Nicomachean Ethics, and I’d admit to not really attending before to the passage you cite. I don’t think Aristotle’s discussion contradicts my point, though. I didn’t mean to suggest that the Western thinkers I named don’t address kinship relations or see them as important (it would be very odd if they didn’t). Perhaps my wording was misleading. I was only pointing out that filiality (xiào 孝), or a close analogue, doesn’t play a role in (e.g.) Aristotle akin to its role in the Analects or the Mozi. The NE passage you refer to treats father-child and ruler-subject relations as one of a variety of forms of “philia” (caring relations?). I take it that “philia” is the focal notion here, that it’s interestingly different from filiality (we have philia with lots of people, not only family), and that to the extent the two overlap, the overlapping part has a fairly peripheral role in Aristotle’s ethics.

    Patrick, I agree with the main points of your post. In particular, I think the comparison of Hume’s ethics with Ruist thought is especially interesting (Liu Xiusheng has a book out on Mencius and Hume, btw). I hesitated before including Hume as I was typing, for I do think he is the prominent Western ethical thinker whose ideas give the closest analogue to those of Youzi in Analects 1:2 or Mencius in 7A15 (the passage about rén and yì lying in extending to all one’s native love for parents and respect for elder siblings). As I understand Hume, part of his explanation for why we have morality at all is that we are creatures who tend to feel sympathetic approval and disapproval of things that happen to others of our kind, and the primary “others” who lead us to discover and develop this capacity are family and friends. I included Hume in my original post because I was thinking that he doesn’t recognize a virtue closely parallel to xiào 孝 or see normative guidelines as structured around parent-child roles (I could be wrong—-I’d need to reread him closely). But you are certainly right that some of his ideas about the psychological role of family relationships parallel ideas in Ruist texts.

    Comment by Chris Fraser | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  34. Bill, in regard to your Comment #30,

    Thanks, I think I understand the distinction you are making (you are crystallizing what was vaguely in my mind), and it’s a very nice distinction.

    So let’s distinguish between foundational and epistemological priority. At least with regard to Mencius, then, my position is this:

    (1) One’s concerns for the near and dear are not just epistemologically prior to more distant concerns, but also foundationally prior.

    (2) This foundational priority is what makes the case for the doctrine of graded concern as opposed to that of impartial concern.

    (3) As much as I admire Mencius, I believe he’s got a few things wrong, and the doctrine of graded concern is one of them. But I have no good way of showing why he is wrong.

    Let me explain each of these three points:

    (1) Assuming that Mencius is engaged in a justificatory project, it’s hard to tell whether natural affection for one’s own kin is just epistemologically prior or also at the same time foundationally prior. I believe just about the only way to tell this is in cases of conflict: when natural affection for one’s own kin conflict with moral duties or more distant concerns, what would Mencius advise that one do? 7A35 helps here, and Analects 13.18 is even more clearer. If natural affection for one’s own kin only affords an epistemologically prior foothold for a more general principle of benevolence (which then subsumes natural affection for one’s own kin under it), it’s hard to explain the answers given in 7A35 and 13.18.

    (2) Taking natural affection for the near and dear as foundationally prior has implications for the sustantive content of benevolence. To speak metaphorically, the recommended principle of benevolence will be like the inverse-square law of gravitation. The moral space will take a particular shape, warped by the weightier concerns for the near and dear. In short, benevolence will be specified as graded concern, rather than impartial.

    (3) Now I believe the doctrine of graded concern is wrong, and that something like what you (Bill) propose is more feasible. Hume maintains that affection for the near and dear can be extended outward by the operation of sympathy, but also that reason can correct the bias towards the near to attain an impartial point of view. So we are able to judge the character of persons who lived in the distant past as admirable and so forth, even though these persons could never affect our own well-being or of those close to us. It does seem to me that we can attain such an impartial point of view, and that the Mohists sometimes appeal to our ability to make such impartial judgments.

    What lends support to the doctrine of graded concern, however, is the way we make normative judgments in cases like Bernard Williams’s “one thought too many” example. I find such cases difficult to set aside.

    Comment by Boram Lee | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  35. Chris, thanks for the clarification. I don’t see any disagreement between us now. But I’m going to blather on anyway.

    Here are the three main respects in which I think family relations don’t play in Aristotle the role they play in Confucius or Confucianism. (1) Unlike Confucius and Confucianism, Aristotle rarely discusses family relations separately from the family/state analogy or other political concerns. (2) Unlike Confucius and Confucianism, Aristotle doesn’t lay any stress (as Plato does) on the relations between adult sons and their living or deceased fathers. (3) Unlike Confucius and Confucianism, Aristotle doesn’t discuss the proper relational virtue of a son in abstraction from the quality of the relationship between father and son; that is, whereas Confucius seems to conceive filiality as a virtue of individuals, Aristotle discusses it as an aspect of relationships.

    Also unlike the Analects I think, Aristotle discusses the family as one of the loci of intentional moral training (e.g. EN 1180a30ff). Anyway Confucius’ idea at 1.11 and 11.22 looks to me different. But I hardly think Confucius would deny, if we asked him, that parents are supposed to try to give moral training to their children!

    Like Confucius in the Analects, Aristotle doesn’t especially focus on family relations. Like Confucianism, Aristotle talks about the proper attitudes and practices in family relations mainly in terms of respect for parents and love going both ways (EN VIII). (In Confucianism, love seems to come explicitly into the discussion after Confucius.)

    For Aristotle, I think, philia isn’t just caring relationships. My friend, he says, is another myself. But he thinks that’s true primarily in egalitarian friendships. And yet he stresses that an individual is incomplete without society. Analogously, what he means when he says the polis is “prior” to the family is that a family is incomplete without the larger political organization (Pol. 1262b10ff). I imagine Confucians would agree. Aristotle sees the form of the state as deriving historically from the form of the family (Pol. I.2).

    For Aristotle the best philia in the narrow sense is egalitarian. But in the passages on family he’s concerned with finding the right principle of justice for social relationships in general, which he thinks should normally be at least somewhat inegalitarian.

    (I happpen to think the last four chapters of EN VIII and the first four chapters of EN IX are a continuous discussion that is right at the heart of the arguments of both the Ethics and the Politics, and that commentators tend completely to ignore for reasons ultimately rooted in a standard misreading of the taxonomy of the kinds of justice in EN V. But that’s just me.)

    There’s a peculiar way in which, I think, family is more central for Plato than for Aristotle, consistent with everything you’ve said. It’s that from beginning to end, Plato is specially interested in, or obsessed with, the tension between family and objectivity (or whatever). Maybe the point goes back to Aristophanes’ charge against Socrates in the Clouds: that Socrates’ ideas are just the sort of newfangled modern notions that lead the young to beat their fathers and their mothers.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  36. Hi Boram,

    Another way to put the distinction I tried to draw is this: about any truth that X is right or good, we can ask (a) Why is X right? What’s good about X? or (b) How can we know that X is right or good?

    To your point (1): I agree it’s hard to tell, and now that you push me I’m really not sure. Thank you. But I’m skeptical about the overriding test. For suppose there is some fundamental good, so that all other values are expressions of this value. Then any prima facie conflict between norms will be a conflict between two prima facie expressions of the fundamental value.

    For example, if in the situation Mencius imagines in 7A35 the reason Shun should serve the general good is that in doing so he’d be serving his family, and Dad goes and kills somebody, Shun then faces a dilemma about how best to serve his family. To know which choice best serves his family, we have to understand how it is that serving the general good serves his family. (Mencius says some things about that elsewhere, but doesn’t obviously give a complete account.)

    For another example, one could imagine a utilitarian defending hypothetical-Shun’s choice on grounds of human natural psychology, specifically that it would be psychologically impossible to remain a good governor while being the sort of person who would fail to do everything he could for his father. That is, the father’s crime removes the possibility of Shun’s being a good governor (better than other available candidates), so that his flight would be in the interest of society.

    That imaginary utilitarian argument is a stretch, but you see the abstract point.

    Because that argument is such a stretch, I find 7A35 more powerful on your behalf than Analects 13.18. I think the position Confucius takes in 13.18 unremarkable; I think it would be uncontroversial in most times and places. Current American law limits the right of the state to demand testimony from us against our intimates, and that makes sense from the point of view of promoting general welfare. I think the right moral argument is analogous.

    I think another way to approach the question of the kind of fundamentality Mencius has in mind (if he has any particular kind in mind) is by looking at the kinds of rationale there might be for thinking family to be prior in this or that sense. That’s no easy interpretive task, but I’m not sure it’s impossible.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 24, 2008 | Reply

  37. Boram,

    Your point about “one thought too many” at the end of #34 was perhaps meant as a reply to the things I said in #36! If so, then all I can say here is that I think your position on that score is very reasonable. (My overall philosophical project might be described this way: to argue that something like utilitarianism doesn’t in fact require one thought too many.)

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 24, 2008 | Reply

  38. Bill, you write:

    But I’m skeptical about the overriding test. For suppose there is some fundamental good, so that all other values are expressions of this value. Then any prima facie conflict between norms will be a conflict between two prima facie expressions of the fundamental value.

    Good point, and if I’m understanding it rightly (through your examples), then your further point seems to be that there is a principled way of sorting through prima facie conflicts, so that no genuine conflict remains. (I should read through your comment more carefully, but this is my impression of your point.)

    And perhaps that’s right. Shun in 7A35 seems happy living alone with his father. If there was genuine moral conflict, so that either way Shun would have done wrong (having committed the lesser of two evils), then it’s hard to see why Shun would be so happy.

    But actually I think that point is about casting aside the whole world for the sake of what one genuinely values–a Yangzi-esque point. I don’t think it implies that there was no genuine moral conflict.

    To use a modern, utilitarian example due to Singer. We recognize that suffering and death from lack of basic necessities is morally bad, no matter where it occurs. Does it then follow that I morally ought to donate to the point where I reduce myself and my family to the living conditions of those who suffer in third world countries? According to the doctrine of graded concern as I understand it, no. I morally ought to give, but not to the point where my own parents cannot enjoy the food that they like, or my children not receive good education, and so on.

    Still, one would not be entirely comfortable, because by shu or likening-others-to-myself, I see that wanting to establish myself, I should establish others, and wanting to advance myself, I should advance others (6.30). There is an ineliminable residue of genuine moral conflict, I believe even for a Confucian who is a proponent of graded concern.

    Comment by Boram Lee | March 24, 2008 | Reply

  39. Hi Boram,

    Yes, if one were to understand my point it would have to be through my examples, alas. Actually by “prima facie conflict” I didn’t mean to allude to the issue about whether conflicts are ultimately resolvable or not. I didn’t take you to be alluding to that issue either. I was just blithely assuming we were talking only about cases where Mencius sees a conflict as resolvable. For I took your argument to be “If the question is whether M thinks X is fundamental to Y or vice versa, we can test that by whether M favors X over Y where those two values come into conflict.”

    What I was clumsily trying to suggest with “prima facie” was that if Mencius thinks value F (family) is the ulterior good of value G (say, good government), then he presumably thinks that G or realizes value F even in cases where other people might not see that it does. So what an outside observer (such as you and I) might regard as a conflict between F and G could very well be for M simply a conflict between two ways of realizing F.

    (Here’s a concrete example of the structure I just tried to describe. Everyone believes more or less in the value of F = giving pleasure to one’s child, and G = saving money. You want to see whether for me F is the explanation of G, or (somehow) vice versa. So you observe me in what looks to you like a case where I have to choose between F and G: my child is screaming for a pony. You see that I buy her a pony. You conclude: “Bill thinks giving pleasure to his child is the reason for saving money.” The problem with drawing that conclusion from that observation is that you don’t know whether my decision in that situation even expresses value F at all unless you know *how* value G would in general express value F. Maybe my buying the pony is a bad move from the point of view of the child’s college fund, and what I was really doing in that case was against the overall hedonic interest of the child.)

    Part of what moves me to make this argument is that I agree with your disagreement with the idea of graded ultimate concern. I’d hate to attribute that to someone if I didn’t really have to. I don’t yet have a view about what kind of grain of salt we might need to take his tales of Shun with. I’ve read through the recent Mencius thread carefully once, but that’s not enough so I’ll go back.

    Some of the Mohist arguments Dan reminds us of in #27, and the Mencian argument I think I see in 3B9 (#29), are arguments from the value of family that do not involve graded ultimate concern. But they don’t seem to make family really fundamental; they just make it one thing that supports some other things.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 24, 2008 | Reply

  40. Boram, my use of the word ‘conflict’ above may be misleading. By cases of “conflict” between X and Y, above, I always simply mean cases where one is at least apparently called upon to choose between them.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 24, 2008 | Reply

  41. Hi Bill,

    Thank you for the very patient and helpful explanation (in hindsight it’s clear to me I misread your earlier comment–I’m pretty good at that).

    As for graded concern, let’s set aside the question whether that’s the proper interpretation of (say) Mencius, and address how distasteful or implausible it is. Though I disagree with the doctrine, it does seem to me plausible. Consider the following (trite) case:

    Drowning Kin: Your favorite kin and a stranger are drowning, and you can save only one of them. Who should you save?

    The normative judgment most of us will make, in this situation, seems to be: save one’s kin. And it seems we even approve of others making that normative judgment (there’s something unnaturally wrong with a person who will choose to save a stranger over one’s own kin). Now gradually increase the number of strangers you can save–eventually there will come a point at which you believe you should sacrifice your own kin to save strangers, or perhaps not. But either way, the point here is that we do give normative weight to our own kin that we don’t give to strangers.

    Another way of making the doctrine of graded concern plausible is that it’s only about benevolence, not rightness. When Gaozi and Mencius debate one another, the key point of contention is whether rightness is internal or external. But they seem agreed that benevolence is graded, rightness not (6A4: my own brother I love, but not the brother of a man from Qin; I respect my own elder, and also the elder from Qin).

    Comment by Boram Lee | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  42. Hi Boram (and those concerned with how the Mozi might ground norms from outside),

    Boram, your reply shows me another unclarity in what I wrote. Toward the end of #39 I was talking about “graded ultimate concern.” But as you point out, we might distinguish kinds of concern and thus arenas of ultimacy. You mention two: morality and the part of morality that is benevolence. What I had in mind was, in fact, a third thing! that I call “goodness.” I oppose the idea of ultimate graded concern on the level of goodness or valuation. I think I agree with you about benevolence. As for morality, I think I don’t understand how to apply the notion of ultimacy there.

    My predicament is roughly analogous to that of a Rule Utilitarian (or Mohist) who says these three things:

    (1) The doctrine of the Good should be objective and impartial. It’s different from a Moral Rule.
    (2) Although some good Moral Rules imply others, it’s not clear that there’s any Moral Rule about welfare that is fundamental to other rules, or ultimate. (The doctrine of the Good isn’t a rule.But if there is one, it might well prescribe graded concern.
    (3) One of the many Moral Rules says “Be Benevolent,” but it doesn’t mean impartially so. It favors graded benevolence.

    My actual view is more like this:

    (A) Any event is good insofar as it means net pleasure for the universe.
    (B) The *moral* goodness of an action is its goodness *qualified* in a certain way. Roughly, an action is morally good iff it is good so far as the agent can reasonably tell (using all her cognitive resources, including sympathy and other sensibility and the authority of convention, but perhaps privileging those cognitive resources that are constituted by her character and/or her relationships with others).
    (Ba) In most of our choices, what’s at stake for those close to us is easier to see (feel) than what’s at stake for those far away, and hence is more relevant morally. Also, concern for those close to us is part of the mechanism of our awareness of farther matters.

    I think Dan in the Mencius thread was saying that the Mozi works with a distinction like that between Goodness and Morality, and in that sense offers an external grounding for Morality. ??

    (Boram, maybe you’ve been reading Foot attacking ‘good’. I have an argument against that stuff, but this isn’t the place!)

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  43. Bill and Boram,

    I’ve been following with interest. I think I agree with Bill that at a fundamental level a doctrine of the Good has to be impartial, but that such a doctrine may be combined with moral rules of action that are partial. Of course such rules have to be justified in some way that doesn’t simply disregard the Good as unimportant; otherwise there would be no point to having an account of the Good. So, the rules might, for example, be grounded in some notion of “the Right” that is construed as on at least equal theoretical footing as that of the Good. Or, the Right may be construed as subservient to the the Good, but the rules put in place to promote the Right may include those that permit or even require graded concern, under the rubric of promoting (or in some theories, maximizing) the Good. The latter approach gives us various forms of indirect consequentialism, if maximizing the Good is taken as primary in the notion of the Right. (I think Dan Robins’ reading of the Mohists is that they are indirect consequentialists in this sense.) But it might also give us some other relationship: the Good may be construed as incapable of “summing up” so that even though the Right is subservient to it, the Right does not have anything to do with maximizing. Maybe the Right is subservient in that it is what promotes or expresses the Good in some way–for example if the Good is regarded as constituted by states of character.

    All that said, I’m not so sure “the Good” and “the Right” are very neatly separable in early China; both concepts are present and separable, but goods and what are right are not in fact separable. Think of the status of rituals or of filial piety. Is the concept of the rituals (A) that they are constituted by rules of action to promote the Good or (B) that they are activities that, like those of filial piety, are partly constitutive of the forms of life that *are* the Good? I don’t think A can be right. If B is right, however, then the “rules” of benevolence and rightness don’t have the status of rules of morality. They are more like the rules of a game that make the activity possible. The rules of chess, for example, don’t promote an end that has value external to the game. A good game of chess just is an exercise in following those rules–and the value in the game is enjoyed, ideally, whether one wins or loses. And so on–I suppose there are other sorts of distinctions one could draw here. I’m not sure this helps, but it’s what struck me as I was reading your discussion.

    Comment by Manyul Im | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  44. Let’s see, so in the case of family versus the kingdom I think I see Mencius as having a kind of “which game to choose” dilemma. The sage ruler Shun could have chosen “the kingdom game” or “the family game.” Mencius has him choosing the latter; but I don’t really see that Mencius has a principled way to say that that was the better choice, given that the “rules” of filial piety are tied to goods internal to family and clan life and that the “rules” of kingship are tied to goods internal to “kingdom life,” for lack of a better term. Those games might be connected to each other (think of Bridge–there are rules for bidding and rules for play of the hand, somewhat separate but with important connections to the larger, composite game), but I’m not sure *Mencius* ever makes clear what the connections are, though perhaps other Confucians might. I’m not sure yet what to say about the sister-in-law-aid and ritual propriety case in Mencius. Maybe that makes my game-rule analysis inappropriate?

    Comment by Manyul Im | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  45. Manyul,

    I agree that at least the early Confucians didn’t have any worked out doctrine basing the rightness of graded concern on an impartial good. But I think a worked out doctrine of that sort might fit things they did say and did work out. I want to explore that idea in my work.

    Prima facie, the rules of chess do promote goods that are distinguishable from the game, some of them external to it: one example is harmless pleasure. Pleasure is internal to the game in some sense, but distinguishable from it; and harmlessness is a feature external to the game. If the rules of chess didn’t promote harmless pleasure, the rules would be changed.

    I think the idea of an “ultimate end” is a false idea. The ends one articulately grasps in one’s life tend to be for the sake of farther goods one less articulately conceives and less determinately aims at. The more “ultimate,” the less like a “goal.” Playing chess is for the sake of more nebulous things like harmless pleasure, company, maybe mental exercise, maybe … I don’t know what else. Plato and Aristotle held that we all aim ultimately at the Good or at Eudaimonia, and that virtually everyone lacks even a remotely adequate concept of what that is.

    On the topic of Mencius I think I agree with you, Manyul, more than with any other commentator. I don’t like that you make it hard for me to resist the idea that Mencius thinks our moral concerns are simply hardwired into us. I still want to resist that. I think it would make him less interesting than he might otherwise be.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  46. Bill and Manyul,

    There’s plenty I want to say, if we are airing our views on the ritual, the right and the good… I feel too lazy to write it all out though.

    [1] I agree with what you (Manyul) say in Comment #43, 2nd para., on ritual, but I think I disagree with what you say in Comment #44. First, a close reading of what’s going on in 7A35 might help. My take on it: it begins with a conflict between rightness 義 and benevolence 仁 (more specifically serving one’s parents 事親, the core 實 of benevolence). In that case, Mencius would go with benevolence over rightness.

    But then the talk about the whole world 天下 towards the end of 7A35 brings to mind the debate between Mohists and Yangists on benefiting the whole world. I read Mencius as taking the Yangist line, adding a Confucian spin to it. I suggest, then, that reading this passage with Yangist doctrines (“keeping one’s nature intact”, “protecting one’s genuineness”, “not letting the person be tied to other things” that Graham identifies in DISPUTERS) in the back of our minds will help clarify the deeper import of the passage. As to the Confucian spin that Mencius adds to the Yangist line, we may look at 4A27: there I take Mencius’s talk of the core stuff 實 and the modulating and patterning of this stuff 節文 as similar to the Analects’ talk of the basic stuff 質 and the patterning of it 文. (I think the position that Mencius takes in 4A27, however, is closest in spirit to the Analects passage where 質 and 文 are not mentioned, i.e., 3.8. First there is 實, to which the Yangist point about genuineness applies [DISPUTERS, p.57], and then the adornment of 實 through ritual comes after.)

    Keeping this background in mind, and through further discussion, I think we should be able to sort out how appropriate Manyul’s game-rule analysis of 7A35 is.

    [2] On the right and the good, here’s a question. Is Mencius (and Confucians more generally), a consequentialist or a deontologist? My guess is that he (and other Confucians) are deontologists, but it’s hard to tell. In Mencius 7B25 we find the definition: the good is what it is permissible to desire 可欲之謂善; Analects 2.4 also suggests a deontological reading of the good. The deontological reading also seems to fit with the frequent contrasts made between rightness and profit/benefit.

    Bill, I’m wondering whether you see the account you provide in Comment #42 as applying to Confucianism as well, or just to Mohism.

    There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in Comments 42~45. Hopefully I can return to these issues later tonight.

    Comment by Boram Lee | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  47. Boram and Manyul,

    Boram is many miles ahead of me as a Mencius scholar and I’ll think long and carefully about the extremely interesting things he says here as I study the book further now. Unfortunately I’m not ready to pursue a specifically interpretive discussion; more unfortunately, I have things to say in response to some of the rest, and I’m not as lazy as Boram.

    As for consequentialism v. deontology, I’m mostly sure Confucius and Mencius aren’t directly addressing such questions. I think, or want to think, that in some sense they’re both ultimately concerned with having things go well for people in general, or something like that. I think they’re very wise and insightful, and I want them to help me understand how ethical thought works. I’m not tempted to say they’re crypto-consequentialists, because I think consequentialism is false (see below). I’m unsure what exactly a deontologist is.

    I agree with Manyul that the good and the right are not easily or neatly separable – in China or anywhere, I think.

    Manyul could seem to be saying in the latter part of #43 that (1) any rules that are essential to the form of life that is in fact the ultimate impartial good (as distinct from: the ultimate Welfare of the liver of that form) are therefore not morally binding. And that seems wrong to me.

    But I guess what he means is something more like this: (2) “If, regarding certain rules, there is nothing more to be said for them than that they are essential to an activity that is a good one, then they are not morally binding.” That seems right, at least if we’re really careful about the “nothing” part.

    I think when people like Aristotle focus on forms of life, it’s because they’re looking for an ultimate end: (e) something good to aim at as a clearly conceived target, (u) whose goodness is not explained by anything further. I argued in #45c that there’s no such thing.

    Insofar as the capitalized “Good” means “the ultimate end,” I think there’s (roughly) no such thing as the Good. But I think there’s an ultimate good, because I think (pace Foot et al) that talk about goodness (plain goodness) makes sense in English, and I think that to be good is to bear a relation to one thing (specifically, pleasure).

    In #43 Manyul’s argument seems to suppose that if X is good because it bears a certain relation to farther good Y, there are two possible ways that can be: (A) X causes Y, or (B) X is part of Y. (Classical utilitarianism’s “consequence” relation is a third relation (C) to which (A) and (B) can each contribute, because utilitarians take X to be part of the whole of X’s “consequences.”)

    I get off Manyul’s bus right there. I say “none of the above.” I’ll try to say something interesting but brief about why.

    Consider this case. I am typing this as I drive, and I’m currently aiming at keeping the hand on my speedometer just below the ‘50’ for the sake of keeping my speed just below 50. But I don’t think the hand on the speedometer either influences or helps constitute the speed of the car. Here are some relations any given position of the hand bears to a certain speed (given understood background conditions), amounting to new candidate relations for the canonical good-making relation to farther goods:
    (D) in causing X, one would be causing Y;
    (E) in aiming at X, one would be aiming at Y;
    (F) insofar as one were knowingly causing X, one would be knowingly causing Y;
    (G) insofar as one knew of X, one would know of Y.

    Note that everything bears those relations to itself. And these relations make goodness somewhat standpoint-relative.

    Now suppose I have two speedometers: one analog and one digital, and the digital one is a little more accurate. The readings on the analog dial might still matter more, especially on—whoa!—roads where one must often adjust one’s speed to match new speed limits. That’s because the analog dial better represents the speed in this way: (z) in grasping or envisioning X, one grasps or envisions Y. (Crudely: X better represents Y insofar as X looks like Y.) Relation (z) is not a candidate for the goodness-transmitting relation, but it tends to support or strengthen relations (E)(F)(G), and it complicates an underlying issue between Manyul’s (A) and (B), which I take to be this: how distinct is the ultimate good from other goods?

    Family and integrity can bear relation (F) to farther goods not just by being analog dials, but also by helping me think well in general. That is, roughly, in preserving my relationships and integrity I am preserving my ability to pay insightful attention to things in general and to what’s important, which is part of my knowingly causing what’s important.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  48. What I hope for is that you two will discuss 7A35 while I listen.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  49. Bill,

    I will need to digest your latest comment (#47) more carefully. By “deontology” I meant any view which maintains that the RIGHT can be specified independently of the GOOD. (That may not be the most careful definition, however. Perhaps I should say, any view which maintains that the RIGHT need not be specified in terms of what tends to produce/maximize the GOOD.)

    Here let me just note my disagreement (not criticisms) of some of the points you make in Comment 42: mainly my distaste for rule-utilitarianism of a certain sort.

    In Comment 42 you seem to take the Mohist as a rule-utilitarian, who may accept graded benevolence as one of the moral rules. Now, as Dan has pointed out, the Mohists are conservative about the traditional family institution, and in fact that’s something we find in almost all ancient Chinese philosophers (even Zhuangzi accept serving one’s family and one’s ruler as destiny that can’t be avoided). Nevertheless, they were among the ancient Chinese philosophers the most critical of widely accepted social customs, refusing to accept them even if people for the most part tend to approve what they are accustomed to (e.g., in their criticism of overly deficient or lavish funerals). In calling for reform, they also criticized fatalism that tends to work against the spirit of reform. Even if some Mohists (like Yi Zhi) might be interpreted as rule-consequentialists, I don’t think in general that a Mohist ought to be a rule-consequentialist. (At least, Mohists would avoid some of the considerations that rule-consequentialists might bring up, such as that a change in practice might be too taxing, or beyond the motivational resources of the people.)

    You also write in that same comment:

    (Ba) In most of our choices, what’s at stake for those close to us is easier to see (feel) than what’s at stake for those far away, and hence is more relevant morally. Also, concern for those close to us is part of the mechanism of our awareness of farther matters.

    I agree with the second part, but not I think with the first part: there’s Singer’s point that developments in modern technology, such as instant communication and swift transportation, has changed matters in this regard. And if one is an act-utilitarian, being well-informed about what’s happening around the world would be an important obligation, I would think, in which it is worth investing time and effort (so that the relative difficulty in being aware of what’s happening in more distant places can serve as no excuse).

    Comment by Boram Lee | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  50. Boram,

    I’m not sure I understand your argument in the first half: is it that Mohism isn’t a good fit with rule-consequentialism because Mohists don’t distribute their conservatism/reformism evenly or neutrally across all departments of life?

    One thing Singer reminds us is that often strangers have a great deal more at stake in what we do than our friends do. And that implies that even if graded concern (ultimate or otherwise) is right – even if each unit of the welfare of a person ought to count more for me in proportion as she is near to me – still so many strangers have so many units at stake in what I might do that it can still be true that I ought to drop my family to work against poverty and global warming. Maybe that’s your point.

    I’m impressed by the role of non-verbal forms of cognition in our ethical thought. In different situations there can be a greater or lesser split between (a) sincerely asserting and being able to explain something in ethics, and (b) understanding it or appreciating it. I suspect Confucius and especially Mencius is alive to the possibility of great divisions between (a) and (b), and how we can be led astray by relying on (a) when our (b) can’t keep up. I think Mencius might complain that Singer is “pulling the sprouts” in some such way.

    Your account of deontology makes me worry about “verbal specification” versus other kinds, but that worry of mine strikes me as tedious and annoying.

    So here’s a different tedious and annoying worry. I think what it is to be a circle can be specified independently of roundness, in terms of equidistance from a point. I think what it is to be a circle can be specified independently of both of those things, in terms of a Cartesian equation. Or independently of all those things: a circle is the plane figure whose area is greatest in proportion to its perimeter. Etc. And I don’t see why there can’t be correct ways of defining moral rightness that make no mention of goodness. The golden rule isn’t a bad approximation, I think.

    In response to that, we might adjust the account of deontology: “A deontologist thinks the morally right cannot be specified simply and correctly in terms of a good that can be well understood independently of the morally right.”

    And then I think that while there are prima facie reasons to suspect Confucius and Mencius might be deontologists, I’m just not convinced that they are. Which is a very uninteresting reply to your question.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  51. Bill, what you write in Comments 45 and 47 (not while you are driving, I hope!) approaches Manyul’s problem from a whole new angle that I’m not used to, so it will take me a while to make an informed response. (Also, I don’t think I’ve read the Foot stuff you are referring to.)

    There are a couple of problems I want to address before moving on to your (Bill’s) response.

    First, there is Manyul’s problem of whether the right and the good are separable in Confucian thought. If we define the good simply as the object of desire, then I’m inclined to say that Confucian philosophers do think our pursuit of the good should be constrained by what is right. And here the right isn’t characterized in consequentialist terms as being conducive to desire-satisfaction.

    But rituals straddle both the right and the good in the way Manyul suggests. In the Analects, it is twice mentioned that culture 文 broadens a person, while ritual constrains. In these cases following ritual is being equated with regulating one’s conduct so that it does not violate what is right. But ritual can be understood more broadly as 文 (in the passages that I’ve referred to in Comment #46), as the refined articulation of the underlying stuff of human nature. So in fact rituals both broaden a person, by enabling him/her to immerse themselves in the rich and variegated forms of life and values found in culture, while also regulating one’s conduct.

    Searle makes a distinction between regulative rules and constitutive rules which is helpful here. Regulative rules constrain and regulate an activity that can exist antedently of such rules. For example, the traffic rule in America that one should drive on the right side of the road regulates the activity of driving, but driving can exist prior to the institution of that rule. On the other hand, constitutive rules both regulate an activity and also make that very activity possible. The rules of chess are constitutive rules in this sense–chess cannot exist antecedently of the rules that regulate the movement of chess pieces. Manyul’s suggestion, as I understand it, is that rituals should be understood as constitutive rules, and I agree.

    The second problem is raised by your (Bill’s) Comment 45. There you say,
    Prima facie, the rules of chess do promote goods that are distinguishable from the game, some of them external to it: one example is harmless pleasure.

    Here’s how I approach the problem. Consider the following conversation (it’s from the comic strip “Animal Crackers”, though I can’t remember the date):

    Frog: All I do is sleep and eat flies, sleep and eat flies.
    Bird: Why don’t you do it the other way around?

    The bird’s proposal, of course, doesn’t improve things. Which makes me wonder, how it is possible that we do much more than just perform brute biological functions, like, sleep, eat, and have sex. We do a lot of other things, i.e., cultural, institutionally defined activities. And it is constitutive rules of the form “Doing X in context C counts as doing Y” that make these institutional activities possible. For instance, walking slowly behind an elder counts as showing respect (Mencius 6B2). The point I want to make is that showing respect cannot exist antecedently of constitutive rules of this nature. (A further, anti-Mencian point I want to make is that the emotional attitude of being respectful towards one’s elders cannot exist antecedently of the appropriate cultural activities, so that these activities, and the constitutive rules defining them, not just modulate and pattern our more basic biologically based activities, but also the basic set of emotional attitudes we have as well. I haven’t the slightest clue how I can support this claim though.)

    So the rules of ritual, understood as constitutive rules, broaden the range of things we do, care about, and enjoy. Another way of putting this is that it broadens the range of things we take to be good. And this provides a distinctive Confucian notion of freedom. Our frog is in a sense free. There is some sense of ‘can’ (but not the metaphysical sense that violates causal closure of the physical) in which the frog can do otherwise: if it doesn’t sleep, it can eat flies, and vice versa. But if one is limited to just these two options, then freedom to do otherwise is clearly not enough to be the kind of freedom we want. The range of options one can choose from, and that one finds desirable, also contributes to the value of freedom, the cultural patterning and articulation of basic biological acitivities and emotional attitudes increases the range of our options for free choice.

    Comment by Boram Lee | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  52. Boram,

    I think your paragraph “But rituals straddle” and most of the rest of your #51 is about the point that rules can constitute an activity such as chess, and activities constituted by new rules can be new goods. (That’s different from being ultimate goods.) I didn’t mean to question any of that, above. I was worried about (among other things) the idea that rules’ constituting an activity counts against their being morally binding (cf. Rawls, “Two Concepts of Rules”).

    You write: “The point I want to make is that showing respect cannot exist antecedently of constitutive rules of this nature.” There’s an article that makes really nice points about this, touching on ritual and respect for the dead in the Analects. You must know it. I’m embarrassed that I can’t remember who wrote it.

    You write: “If we define the good simply as the object of desire, then I’m inclined to say that Confucian philosophers do think our pursuit of the good should be constrained by what is right.” Here I wonder whether what you mean is “each person’s pursuit of her *own* good should be constrained by what is right.” If that’s what you mean, then I simply grant the point. But as for the impartial good, I’m inclined to think Confucius’ view is that our pursuit of it is facilitated by a focus on the right: ritual, trustworthiness, respect.

    Your “anti-Mencian point” is very interesting. I hope to hear more about it in future.

    What you say about freedom seems to me right and important, though ritual can constrain too.

    I had in mind Foot’s APA Presidential Address “Utilitarianism and the Virtues”, Mind vol. 94, no. 374, in her Moral Dilemmas collection and in Scheffler’s Oxford Readings anthology Consequentialism and Its Critics.

    A companion piece is Judith Thomson’s APA Presidential Address, “Goodness and Utilitarianism,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 67, no. 4 (Jan. 1994).

    Both make heavy use of Geach, “Good and Evil,” excerpted here

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  53. Boram, I should add:

    I think Singer’s point is that we understand some kinds of impact we can have on some strangers much better than we used to, not that in general we understand our impact on strangers as well as we understand our impact on our friends.

    My parenthesis after introducing relation (z) in #47 is very misleadingly put and so best ignored.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  54. Apropos Mencius 7A:35 – (text and Legge translation from Donald Sturgeon’s site, for those who don’t have their text at hand):


    Tao Ying asked, saying, ‘Shun being sovereign, and Gao Yao chief minister of justice, if Gu Sou had murdered a man, what would have been done in the case?’

    Mencius said, ‘Gao Yao would simply have apprehended him.’

    ‘But would not Shun have forbidden such a thing?’

    ‘Indeed, how could Shun have forbidden it? Gao Yao had received the law from a proper source.’

    ‘In that case what would Shun have done?’

    ‘Shun would have regarded abandoning the kingdom as throwing away a worn-out sandal. He would privately have taken his father on his back, and retired into concealment, living some where along the sea-coast. There he would have been all his life, cheerful and happy, forgetting the kingdom.’


    This is a fascinating passage because it seems to suggest two contrary viewpoints:

    On the one hand, there seems to be an attempt to accommodate both the duties of a ruler and the duties of a son in a case where they conflict. Shun would give up his power so that he could not go against a ruler’s duties, but he would help his father run off to escape punishment, thus fulfilling filial duties.

    On the other hand, there seems to be some indication that filial duties are more important than the duties of a ruler or of a subject in the kingdom. Shun would go against the ruler and subject’s duty to ensure that a murderer is apprehended properly. Not only that, Shun would do it with with no ambivalence; indeed, he would do it happily, “forgetting the kingdom,” or as Boram points out (#38 & 46), “forgetting all under heaven” (忘天下).

    I think the clearly positively portrayed presence of both viewpoints in the text indicates strong ambivalence and, again, that Mencius doesn’t really have a principled way of resolving the conflict between yi-driven (義), ren-driven (仁), or xiao-driven (孝) duties. I think that is a function of Mencius not having some kind of “univocality of duties” (or of virtues) theory–which largely follows from not really having a systematic theory at all (I think I go as far as that in agreeing with Dan Robins about the Mencius).

    For what it’s worth, I think there are moral views in the West that are susceptible to similar conflicts–i.e. conflicts of duties or motives that are driven by separate types of consideration, or of virtues–that don’t admit of principled resolution because of an explicit or tacit plurality of values or virtues thesis.

    These are, roughly, the reasons I have to doubt 7A35 as a textual affirmation of theoretical primacy for filial piety.

    Comment by Manyul Im | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  55. Let me add, or concede, there is somewhat greater emphasis placed on Shun’s filial piety in the passage. And he is portrayed as someone who would not feel regret at choosing his father over the kingdom. I’m still not sure that amounts to theoretical primacy of filial duty. There is something interesting, maybe problematic, about the lack of residual regret on a plurality of values view where two values can’t be promoted by the same act; but that can be consistent with lack of regret whether one choses one way or the other in such a conflict.

    Comment by Manyul Im | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  56. Bill,

    Thanks for your feedback and helpful references, I appreciate it! I have been intending to read Rawls’s “Two Concepts of Rules” for some time now, and should. (As for the article on the Analects you refer to, I’d like to know where I can find it–is it in PEW? In a collection of essays on the Analects perhaps?)

    You ask, I’m not sure I understand your argument in the first half: is it that Mohism isn’t a good fit with rule-consequentialism because Mohists don’t distribute their conservatism/reformism evenly or neutrally across all departments of life?

    What I intended to say, I think, is that the Mohists were unwittingly conservative about the traditional institution of families and states, taking those as given and unchangeable. One might question and reform those institutions, perhaps even demand that all boundaries between families and states be erased. Who knows, perhaps Hui Shi held that position, but we will never know. Kang Youwei, more than two millennia later certainly did in his essay on Grand Commonalty (datong), and that term comes from the Record of Rites (Liji)’s account of the evolution of rites (li yun), specifically on the Age of Grand Commonalty. Please see the following link, #1:


    “Therefore they did not regard only their parents as parents, did not regard only their sons as sons.”

    The rest of the passage has Mohist undertones, possibly it was written by a Confucian who was inspired by Mohist ideals? (I’m just speculating here.)

    The Mohist position on fatalism, and their scorn for following and approving customs without question (evident in Ch.26, for instance, on moderate funerals), suggests to me that they were bent on social reform, and would willngly change social practices if it had occurred to them to question them. Insofar as rule-consequentialism tends to be conservative and accepting of existing practices (I am not saying, nor have I said, that rule-consequentialism is necessarily like this, but people tend to use rule-consequentialism for these purposes), my suggestion is that Mohism does not fit well with it.

    Comment by Boram Lee | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  57. My fanciful speculation on the lineage of the Grand Commonalty 大同 idea:

    (1) from Mozi’s doctrine of impartial concern,
    (2) to Hui Shi’s defense of it in his ten theses, and perhaps elsewhere too in his five cartloads of writings,
    (3) to the nameless Confucian, inspired by Hui Shi, who wrote the Li Yun chapter of Liji,
    (4) to Kang Youwei.

    Comment by Boram Lee | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  58. Hi Boram,

    I was thinking of Li Chenyang’s “Li as Cultural Grammar” in PEW 57:3 (July 2007). (I *thought* it was Li, but when I couldn’t find it in the Philosopher’s Index I thought maybe I’d been wrong. It’s just too recent for the online Index, or anyway for mine.)

    Your passage from the Li Yun is interesting in connection with our Jan. 28 thread on names.

    An older and closer ancestor of that passage might be Analects 12.5:

    Si Ma Niu, full of anxiety, said, “Other men all have their brothers, I only have not.” Zi Xia said to him, “There is the following saying which I have heard – ‘Death and life have their determined appointment; riches and honors depend upon Heaven.’ Let the superior man never fail reverentially to order his own conduct, and let him be respectful to others and observant of propriety – then all within the four seas will be his brothers. What has the superior man to do with being distressed because he has no brothers?”

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  59. Boram – Oh, now I’ve read the context in the Li Yun and I see what you mean.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  60. Boram, to your #56, why say the Mohists were “unwittingly conservative about the traditional institution of families and states, taking those as given and unchangeable”? Why couldn’t they have been wittingly conservative, taking the broad outlines of family as better than any alternative?

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 28, 2008 | Reply

  61. I agree with Bill. Maybe to put the point more strongly, doesn’t the Mencian criticism of the Mohists suggest that the Mohists would have been sensitive to (i.e. aware of) the criticism that they were anti-family? That would have given them a rhetorical reason to reflect on and “wittingly” claim the traditional value of family for their theory. In general, too, the Mohists seem very consciously to claim certain traditional rubrics associated with Heaven, spirits & ghosts, sage kings, etc. and provide them with new justification within their systematic overall view. Though commentators like to present the Mohists as radicals, they were probably more “of the people”–closer to the min 民–in terms of social rank (at least Modi himself seems to have been) and were anti-elitists, the elite being the ritual and textual specialists (the ru 儒). So it shouldn’t be entirely surprising that they upheld the value of the traditional family, though they felt strongly about upholding its value impartially, as a matter of principle or policy, across the kingdom. (I think this is part of Dan Robins’ view, though I’ve never actually heard him put it this way.)

    Comment by Manyul Im | March 28, 2008 | Reply

  62. I think Bill and Manyul are on the right track in #60-61. As I argued in my 2002 SEP piece, the Mohists take xiao 孝 (filiality) to be a component of li 利 (benefit), their criterion for what is yi 義 (right). They take the filial son to be a model for the ren 仁 person. In their replies to objections in the third “Jian Ai” essay, they are at pains to show that their ethics is consistent with filiality. Also, the only people they mention outside of one’s own circle of kinship and political relations whom we are expected to help altruistically are people with no families of their own (orphans and the childless elderly), thus implying that the needs of everyone else are normally seen to by their family. From their earliest texts (such as the first “Jian Ai” essay), the Mohists are committed to filiality and the other virtues associated with the core social relations of ruler-subject, father-son, and elder-younger brother. I don’t think this is due to unconscious or residual conservatism, but to a conviction that these virtues and relations are goods partly constitutive of the more abstract good of zhi 治 (social order).

    So valuing the family isn’t an afterthought for the Mohists. It’s a core part of their ethics.

    Manyul, I agree with your suggestion that the “radical” label, to the limited extent it’s justified, arises from the Mohists’ attitude toward elite practices. From the point of view of a non-elite, middle-class carpenter (one guess as to Mozi’s occupation), much of Mohist ethics would have seemed commensensical, I think. But the opposition to luxury goods, lavish funerals, and extravagant entertainment and feasting — things that carpenters wouldn’t normally get a chance to enjoy anyway — would have seemed radical to the elite classes.

    Comment by Chris Fraser | March 28, 2008 | Reply

  63. Chris, I suppose there are two ways one might think Mohism is unwittingly pro-family. One way is that one might think Mohism hasn’t worried enough about whether family is reconcilable with consquentialism, as we’ve discussed. Another is that one might think Mohism builds family into its conception of what counts as good results, without giving any argument for that. You suggest an argument: that good results include social order and family is part of social order.

    And maybe that’s commonsensical enough. But the obvious worry about that argument would be that “social order” can too easily (or unwittingly) catch any and all parts of the status quo. Does the Mozi actually make the argument you suggest? Or does it just assume—as though unwittingly—that family is part of “social order”?

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 28, 2008 | Reply

  64. In 63, the first of the two “ways” I was thinking of was the idea that the Mozi might not have thought of the idea that to benefit all I might have to slight my family. That’s what Dan was answering in e.g. the Feb. 11 Mental State thread when he wrote “The Mohists are very clear … that caring inclusively is compatible with worrying more about your own family than for strangers (you just have to be able to assume that other people will take care of their own families—so you don’t have to). So if you care inclusively, you do not aim directly for the benefit of all, rather you do your part according to a social dao that promotes everybody’s well-being.”

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 28, 2008 | Reply

  65. Bill, I think they assume, without explicit argument, that the virtuous performance of one’s role as a ruler, subject, father, son, or brother (they ignore female roles) is part of social order and thus “the benefit of the world.” (“Order” mainly comes down to two things: refraining from harming those outside your circle of kin and political relations, and acting virtuously toward those in your circle.) They also say (book 27) that these things are what tian 天 (heaven) desires people to do, so that gives them a separate argument (though to us it’s not convincing).

    Is their assumption here “unwitting,” in your sense? Perhaps, insofar as they don’t explicitly argue for it. But the absence of such an argument is understandable, since the Mozi isn’t a philosophical treatise intended to justify the Mohist system from the ground up; it’s a collection of polemical essays pitched at audiences who already agree that the family is a core social unit. And we can easily fill in the sorts of arguments they might have given: the family is needed for life (procreation and child-rearing), family groups are a natural form of social and economic organization, it is beneficial to “all the world” to organize society into such groups, it’s more efficient to have family members provide primarily for each other than for strangers, and so on.

    I think that because of the way the Mohists conceive of “the benefit of all the world,” we could not benefit all while systematically slighting our family’s welfare. Failing to see to our family’s welfare would be failing to promote “the benefit of all.” (I agree with Dan’s summary.) In normal circumstances, for the Mohists there is no conflict between caring for family and promoting the benefit of all.

    It’s less clear what they’d say about a crisis scenario. Suppose that, in the aftermath of a war, my middle-class family is faced with helping a dozen hungry orphans. To what extent should I sacrifice my family’s welfare to help the needy? I’d speculate (on the basis of the Da Qu 大取) that the Mohist answer is to weigh the aggregate harms and choose the least harmful alternative. By their values, allowing the orphans to die is probably more harmful than reducing one’s family’s welfare; but seriously harming one’s family’s health might be as harmful as allowing some non-family to die. So I think they’d advocate sharing resources but reserving enough that one’s own family’s survival is not endangered.

    Of course, the Mohists themselves would insist that the crucial issue isn’t how you handle a crisis, it’s what sociopolitical dao will reliably prevent crises from occurring.

    What I see as the key difference between Mohism and the Ruism of the Analects or Mencius on the family isn’t the value of family, as such, which is shared by both sides. It’s that the Mohists do not make the Youzi/Mencius claim that attitudes toward kin are in some sense the basis or root of moral concern for others.

    Comment by Chris Fraser | March 28, 2008 | Reply

  66. I see, Chris. So basically my worry in #62 derived from carelessly taking the Mozi’s lists of what characteristically counts as a benefit or good result, as though it were (A) a doctrine about what is an ultimately good result. In fact the Mozi lists – population, wealth, order – make more sense simply as (B) listing the big things that fairly uncontroversially produce further good results. If a utilitarian has a list of form (B), she can do most of her broad-strokes moral arguing without getting into more controversial fine points like (A) – so long as nobody is demanding great theoretical elegance.

    If the Mohist list were (A), then one couldn’t defend the family’s place within the list (as part of order) on the grounds of the family’s general good results or harmlessness. Such considerations would be irrelevant. But since it’s (B), defending the family’s place within that list on the grounds of its typical results, as in the arguments you present in #65, is speaking to the point.

    Since the (B) reading seems right, the divide between a doctrine of the good and a doctrine of the right in Mohism is not so very sharp, so that it’s marginally harder to see the Mohists as intentionally grounding norms in something other than norms.

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 28, 2008 | Reply

  67. On Friday morning I typed up a long comment to both Bill and Manyul (on Bill’s ultimate Good and to Manyul on weighing quan, making references to 6B1 as a potentially helpful guide on what “weighing” might have meant to Mencius, though 6B1 does not mention the word).

    I’m dealing with my Chinese philosophy blog addiction by cutting down my participation to two hours a week. So I will be quick here. Bill, your project on ultimate Good, and how graded benevolence might depend on it in rule-consequentialist fashion, seems like an interesting and viable way of understanding what’s going on in, say, the Analects (perhaps for Mencius also?). I’m open to the suggestion that the deontological aspect of the Confucian position on the right and the good may just be one tier of the theory, with ultimate Good on the other deeper tier as the aim.

    As to Bill, Manyul and Chris’s comments on Mohists being wittingly conservative about the family–thanks, I’ve come around to accepting your views about this. Let me revise my point by saying: even though the Mohists were wittingly conservative about the family, some Mohists could have been wittingly radical about it consistently with their fundamental doctrines, and I referred to a possible Mohist-inspired radical position in the Li Yun chapter of the Record of Rites.

    I’ve learnt a lot about Mohism from Chris and Dan, but there’s a minor point I disagree with, as a student of their views. E.g., some Mohists might have encouraged more active helping of other families. See Ch.16 for an argument that relies on families helping each other–the basic idea is, I scratch your back, you scratch mine, I take care of your family, then the more likely it is that you will care for mine. This is the passage that quotes from the Odes:

    “There are no words that are left unanswered,
    No virtue that is left without a response,
    If you toss me a peach,
    I respond with a plum.” (Ivanhoe trans.)

    Finally, to Bill, on Comment 66, where you say: “In fact the Mozi lists – population, wealth, order – make more sense simply as (B) listing the big things that fairly uncontroversially produce further good results.”

    I was just thinking about this recently, and what you say strikes me as right.

    Comment by Boram Lee | March 30, 2008 | Reply

  68. What I meant to say at the beginning of last comment was that I typed up a long comment on Friday, then my browser ate it up. So no more long comments for me.

    Comment by Boram Lee | March 30, 2008 | Reply

  69. Boram, you bring us terrible news.

    For fitting an impartial ultimate good to the idea that graded concern is essential to the The Moral, I think the non-rule-consequentialist account in the latter half of #42 works better. Are you saying you disagree?

    Comment by Bill Haines | March 30, 2008 | Reply

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