Saturday, September 7, 2013

485: Confucius and the concept of REN

Last lecture I ended with this quote from The Analects:

The Governor of She in conversation with Confucius said, “In our village there is someone called ‘True Person.’ When his father took a sheep on the sly, he reported him to the authorities.”

Confucius replied, “Those who are true in my village conduct themselves differently. A father covers for his son, and a son covers for his father. And being true lies in this.”

Does Confucius intend to promote immoral behavior here? Is this an example of the Asian enigmatic mind? The answer is NO. The dilemma we are confronted with here doesn't differ much from the Categorical Imperative and the golden Rule of Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804).

His  moral imperative requires that the maxims be chosen as though they should hold as universal laws of nature.  One of these maxims is of course that one ALWAYS has to tell the truth.

Now suppose you hide a friend in your house, who is prosecuted because of his religious beliefs. When the police gets him, you know for sure that he will be imprisoned, tortured and eventually murdered.

There is a knock on the door. The Secret Police ! "Is Mr. so and so in your house , Sir?" What will you do….??? Follow the Kantian imperative? With your best pokerface you answer:"No, haven't seen him for weeks. Should I call you, when he shows up?" 

The same situation arises from Confucius' words. If we continue to reflect on this passage, there are more questions we want to ask. These include, What were the punishments, if any, for theft? 

What was the worth of a sheep? How was the neighbor affected?  Was it a poor farmhand, exploited by this neighbor, trying to get food for his starving son? What are the consequences for the child, if he reveals his father’s theft, and if he doesn’t?

The Analects is not a kind of handbook of moral rules dictated by Confucius. It is a collection of text,which are meant to reevalute and rethink a new situation. 

In this case for instance the meaning of the place of family and loyalty in ethical life, the ethical significance of relationships, the requirement to cover up for another.

This leads us to one of the foundational concepts of Confucianism: REN. It denote humanity in general, humaneness as a distinguishing characteristic of humanity, or the primary human virtue of compassion. 

This characteristic was referred to by Confucius in many ways, but most commonly as an inborn disposition or a feature of collective socio-political life.

As Karyn Lai explains: its Chinese character: REN is comprised by two characters, the left signifying humanity and the right, two. This suggests that the concept pertains to human relatedness. 

Hence, the term has been variously translated into English as benevolence, love, humaneness, humanity, human-heartedness, compassion and sympathy.

Ren is ‘to love all humanity’, so says Confucius in Analects 12:22. But maybe you remember the difference of opinion with Lao-tze, 

who answered harm with kindness where Confucius wanted to counter with justice. The idea of undiscriminating love seems to be tempered by
Confucius’ critical assessments of people’s moral qualities.

To get back to Kant and his golden Rule. Confucius came up with one too. In the Analects, the concept SHU, translated as reciprocity or mutuality, captures the essence of the golden rule: there is much give-and-take in relationships.

- Quote -
Master Zeng said, “The way of the Master is doing one’s utmost and putting oneself in the other’s place (shu), nothing more.”
- End quote -

The Confucian ideal society is the ideal family writ large: the sage king is the benevolent father of the nation-family. The family environment is the first context where one learns to put oneself in the other’s place.

The Discussion

[13:19] herman Bergson: Thank you....:-))
[13:19] herman Bergson: Feel free to take the floor with questions or remarks :-)
[13:20] .: Beertje :.: we can learn from that last phrase
[13:20] .: Beertje :.: it's not always me me me
[13:20] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:20] herman Bergson: no, indeed Beertje...
[13:20] herman Bergson: indeed
[13:21] Pila Mulligan: family relationships (writ large) were the source of virtue, not patriotism
[13:21] Bejiita Imako: how to not be an egoist, maybe that is the solution in this stuff
[13:21] Bejiita Imako: if i get it all right
[13:21] Bejiita Imako: at least a bit of it
[13:21] herman Bergson: Yes Bejiita it comes all down to that in these days
[13:22] Bejiita Imako:
[13:22] herman Bergson: What struck me was that Confucius formulated the same thought like Kant did centuries later...
[13:23] .: Beertje :.: maybe Kant knew what Confucius wrote
[13:23] herman Bergson: the 'Golden Rule"  is not just an idea produced by our culture
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:23] herman Bergson: No he definitely didn't Beertje
[13:24] herman Bergson: They cam to the idea independently from each other
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: interesting
[13:24] herman Bergson: Those are the little signs of human nature, I always think
[13:25] herman Bergson: I mean...being european or Chinese....with regards to ethics...there seems to be no disagreement...
[13:25] herman Bergson: We come to the same conclusions
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: seems so
[13:26] .: Beertje :.: is it in our nature to think like that?
[13:26] herman Bergson: Well..Beertje
[13:26] herman Bergson: if you look at the facts you would think so indeed...
[13:27] herman Bergson: and here I return to an former project....
[13:27] herman Bergson: we all have the same brain biologically....
[13:27] herman Bergson: We only create a different culture
[13:28] herman Bergson: And culture and then stupid ideas...:-)
[13:28] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:28] herman Bergson: for which some people want to kill others
[13:28] .: Beertje :.: hmmm yes
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: indeed, terrible these days in many laces
[13:29] ἀρετή: what determines how we create culture?
[13:29] herman Bergson: Ok Aryen....
[13:29] herman Bergson: good question....
[13:30] Pila Mulligan: climate plays a part .. the climate of the place where the culture is created
[13:30] herman Bergson: I would say that is it created by an interaction between environment and organism
[13:30] herman Bergson: yes for instance climate
[13:31] herman Bergson: Take the muslim believe that the dead person should be buried the same day...or at least the next...
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: like why does japanese people seem to have a crazy gene that make them come up withy so much insane and fun stuff
[13:31] herman Bergson: Muslim religion only exists in hot climates...
[13:31] herman Bergson: so it is logical  to do so
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: what starts things like that
[13:32] herman Bergson: the thing is...
[13:32] herman Bergson: that such a practical idea is upgraded to some kind of metaphysical isdea...
[13:32] herman Bergson: Like not eating pork....
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: seems complex indeed
[13:32] herman Bergson: that is dangerous in hot countries...
[13:33] herman Bergson: but then it is made into some religious rule...
[13:33] .: Beertje :.: and in those days..2000 years ago they didn't have a fridge///
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: hmm ok
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: you take it to the extremes
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: sort of
[13:33] herman Bergson: that is the simple point Beertje...
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: cuse indeed everything must start from somewhere
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: also all stuff in bible and similar like Moses dividing the river
[13:34] .: Beertje :.: some rules are not necessary these to anymore
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: i guess can have been some real event like a tsunami or similar
[13:34] .: Beertje :.: these days
[13:35] herman Bergson: When rules become religious rules you no longer question the meaning....those are the rules...
[13:35] Bejiita Imako: hmm
[13:35] herman Bergson: Religion is a strange thing....
[13:35] Bejiita Imako: indeed
[13:35] herman Bergson: Confucius want religious at all
[13:36] herman Bergson: he even discouraged discussions about it, because they lead to nothing...were only disruptive
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: the big issue with religion is that the old beliefs litterary stops time and they live by things that was written maybe 1000 of years ago
[13:36] herman Bergson: disruptive for society to be more precise
[13:37] herman Bergson: yes Bejiita...
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: for example religious people often hate things like science
[13:37] herman Bergson: Well .Bejiita..was in the news today...
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: they soft of oppose each other
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: sort
[13:38] herman Bergson: that Afganistan 16 year old girl...who promoted school for girls...
[13:38] herman Bergson: the Taliban decides otherwise...stopped the bus she was in and shot her in the head....
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: thats awful!
[13:38] herman Bergson: religion tells them that women do not need education!
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: horrible
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: yes they have no value, are not human
[13:39] herman Bergson: No Bejiita....
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: i dont get why they see women as lower standing form of life worth nothing
[13:39] herman Bergson: that is the big problem...
[13:39] herman Bergson: They HAVE values....
[13:40] herman Bergson: but they are derived from ideas 2000 years old or so
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: seems so
[13:40] herman Bergson: another example....
[13:40] herman Bergson: here in the Netherlands...
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: as i said they live as it was still middle ages even its 2013 now
[13:40] herman Bergson: there is a muslim funeral service....
[13:40] herman Bergson: the boss checks all newspaper
[13:41] herman Bergson: if there is a message that Ali.... died and gets cremated then and then he comes into action
[13:42] herman Bergson: The last will of the person was to be cremated....but this guy says..muslims do not get cremated but buried
[13:42] herman Bergson: so he forces the family to a funeral....not a cremation..he even pays for it!
[13:43] herman Bergson: Even the last will of a person is desecrated because of religious beliefs of some people
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: weird
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: and also that the family decide who their daughter will love and not herself
[13:44] herman Bergson: That is why Confucius want interested at all in religious ideas
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: and if she goes agains that she ifs often murdered to " protect the honor of the family"
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: the Fadime murder in Sweden is a famous example
[13:44] ἀρετή: I suppose there are extreme views everywhere
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: indeed
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: this have to stop i say
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: so much hatred and violence for nothing
[13:45] herman Bergson: Well only need one person in a crowd of thousand people with a bomb vest....blowing up himself to cause chaos
[13:45] Pila Mulligan: these excesses reflect the tribal authority of the chief, or the patriotism of the group ... Confucian ethics held family relationships were a better guide to conduct
[13:46] ἀρετή: seems we need more that Ren stuff :)
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: a lot of it
[13:46] ἀρετή: if everyone can put themselves in the shoes of another.. they would see things differently
[13:46] herman Bergson: Yes Pila....the tribal issue...
[13:46] herman Bergson: sp primitive
[13:46] herman Bergson: so
[13:47] herman Bergson: Not a confucian issue....
[13:48] Pila Mulligan: native cultures in the Pacific tropics have the same split ... some are family based, some are hierarchical
[13:48] herman Bergson: At least you may have noticed today
[13:49] herman Bergson: that there is a similarity between Chines and European ethic thought here
[13:49] herman Bergson: So..I thank you for your participation today ...:-)
[13:49] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:50] herman Bergson: Class dismissed..^_^
[13:50] ἀρετή: Thanks for sharing the knowledge with us.
[13:50] .: Beertje :.: thank you Herman
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: now this was nice and interesting
[13:50] Pila Mulligan: thank you Herman
[13:50] Bejiita Imako:
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: ok cu soon
[13:50] herman Bergson: See you next Tuesday :-)
[13:50] Bejiita Imako:
[13:50] Oceane: great discusiion herman,
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: very
[13:51] rose: thank you Herman
[13:51] herman Bergson: thank you Oceane :-)
[13:51] Oceane: good bye everyone
[13:51] ἀρετή: I think I might like philosophy after all :)
[13:51] Bejiita Imako: cu
[13:51] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:51] Bejiita Imako:
[13:51] ἀρετή: have a nice day/evening everyone
[13:51] .: Beertje :.: have a goodnight all
[13:52] herman Bergson: you too Arete:-)
[13:52] ἀρετή: *smiles*
[13:52] Pila Mulligan: well, this is a fun session ... I wish I had the time to be more regular here
[13:53] herman Bergson: Glad you liked it :-)

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