Warp, Weft, and Way

A Group Blog of Chinese and Comparative Philosophy

The Four Books to Combat Bullying, Drug-use, and Gang Problems

While there is a lull here, check out Sam Crane’s post on The Useless Tree about a plan in Taiwan to use the Four Books to help address problems in its high schools.


April 10, 2011 - Posted by | Chinese philosophy, Confucianism, In the News


  1. “If there was one bully in the empire, King Wu took this to be a personal affront.” (Mencius 1B3, tr. Lau)

    Other passages relevant to drug use or gangs?

    Comment by Tim | April 11, 2011 | Reply

    • Huh; “took this to be a personal affront” from Lau is interesting. I would have thought “was ashamed of it”: 一人衡行於天下,武王恥之。此武王之勇也. But I can see why Lau does that: there’s a lot of talk in the passage of Wen and Wu’s righteous anger, nù 怒. I wonder if there’s more to shame, chĭ 恥, and nù in the period than I thought. Maybe ‘shame’ isn’t really the right way to understand chĭ.

      Comment by Manyul Im | April 11, 2011 | Reply

      • Actually, I read the Lau version one more time, and it says “*felt* this to be a personal affront.” Van Norden, I notice, renders it as “was ashamed of it.”

        Comment by Tim | April 11, 2011 | Reply

      • 子曰:「道之以政,齊之以刑,民免而無恥;道之以德,齊之以禮,有恥且格。」Lunyu 2.3
        The word (or concept) chi, translated as “shame” (perception of shame and/or rational concept of shame) can be seen as the figure (or the extent) of right or moral behavior. It means an instrument through which man can set his complex and shared actions and can grasp the real moral validity of his choices/actions. In addition, could shame be a prescriptive element of moral value (or a rule) of the Confucian ethical guidelines? Finally, could it be the ratio cognoscendi of the moral sense? (see Lunyu 2.3; 5.25; 14.27; 8.13).

        Comment by Ludovica G. | April 12, 2011 | Reply

      • Hi Ludovica; those are good passages. But I wonder how much we can “rationalize” chĭ. Being “a prescriptive element of moral value (or a rule) of the Confucian ethical guidelines” brings into play principles of practical reason, it seems to me. That sounds so much more discursive than the passages suggest, unless the prescriptive element is more of a “felt” norm.

        Comment by Manyul Im | April 12, 2011 | Reply

        • Yes, we could consider shame as a “felt” norm: it becomes a moral norm through a rational understanding of its working as a kind of “measure” of different actions…basically, yeah, we could speak of “ practical reason”, but obviously not in a strict kantian way…Simply, I was thinking that shame could be a valid measure of moral behavior, just because in Lunyu several passages shows different “practical uses” of shame…. I mean, I think that shame works in different ways regarding its shared conceptual ground of “practical measure” and then becoming a “ethical concept”. In my opinion, there are different degrees concerning the ethical meaning of shame: the first one is a merely instrumental meaning. For example, in Lunyu 5.25 this instrumental sense of shame allows the recognition of an actual error in moral conduct, making it doubly useful and usable in a perspective of sharing and learning, on the other hand also emphasized in the Confucian program. In Lunyu 5.15 shame works as a “instrumental quality”: here the sense of shame is encoded as a regulatory requirement and active feature of those who present themselves as a men devoted to careful study and care of their own culture, and whose ability provide access to a dimension of moral exemplar. The functionality of the sense of shame is here absorbed in a paradigm of non-rigid behavior and exemplary conduct. So, the sense of shame is a measure of ethically acting, and its function becomes the norm. In 13.20 we could see a second degree, where shame as function-norm contributes to the definition or model of the status of the gentleman (shi), becoming a part of his personal and social status. Therefore, the feeling of shame plays a key role in close connection to its proper use as a “tool”, and also as a “prescriptive condition” (or norm). Finally, the third degree shows shame as “ethical concept”: in Lunyu 2.3 the dichotomy between the right government and the government through coercion specularly reflects in the emergence of a sense of shame among the people. The control exercised over the people can be real and genuine only if the regulation is accompanied by a sense of shame… in the absence of it, the effect would be disastrous because it would create an artificial and unstable behavior. The expression of the sense of shame in the people is clearly the unavoidable effect of good governance through excellence and moral standards: this sentiment and its manifestation are conditio sine qua non of civil and moral condition of the whole community. The sense of shame, in its validity and efficiency, is the ratio conoscendi of the “moral sense”, which is understood not as a possession of the idea of “ethics” but rather as the ability to understand what is morally valid and legitimate for social cohesion. The sense of shame enables access to the moral sphere as understanding of the validity of its contents. By this reasoning it seems to me that we can speak of shame as an “ethical orientation concept”….but probably it’s all a shot in the dark 🙂

          Comment by Ludovica G. | April 12, 2011 | Reply

        • (Sorry, Ludovica; I’m not actually ignoring you. Your ideas sound really interesting. I’m just in the middle of finishing up some grading before I leave town for a conference. More later, perhaps…)

          Comment by Manyul Im | April 14, 2011 | Reply

  2. Against drug addiction:

    Mencius 7A27 “A hungry man finds his food delectable; a thirsty man finds his drink delicious. Both lack the proper measure of food and drink because hunger and thirst interfere with his judgment. The palate is not the only thing which is open to interference by hunger and thirst. The human heart, too, is open to the same interference. If a man can prevent hunger and thirst from interfering with his heart, then he does not need to worry about being inferior to other men.”

    Against gang violence:

    Mencius 7B7 Mencius said, “Only now do I realize how serious it is to kill a member of the family of another man. If you kill his father, he would kill your father; if you killed his elder brother, he would kill your elder brother. This being the case, though you may not have killed your father and brother with your own hands, it is but one step removed.”


    Comment by Retreating Creek | April 11, 2011 | Reply

  3. A bit late to the discussion here but it seems to me that Sam may have been a little overly pessimistic in assessing the utility of a ‘classics’ based approach to reforming delinquent behavior. Pilot projects along these lines with criminals have shown signs for optimism (i.e. using book-clubs in lieu of sentencing for certain offenses).

    One possibility is that a shared communal activity of engaging in these discussions produces goods and behavioral changes that are positive, even while not literally caused by the ‘content’ of the readings.

    That’s admittedly sketchy but might speak to the non-craziness of such an approach to reform. (Alexus might have a reference for the pilot prison program I mentioned.)

    Comment by hagop sarkissian | April 18, 2011 | Reply

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