Thursday, September 12, 2013

487: Confucius and the concept of Li

Besides the concept of Ren, humaneness, there is a second fundamental concept in Confucianism: Li, behavioral propriety.
In the Analects Li refers to several meanings, from religious rituals to the comportment of the cultivated person or behavioral propriety in the ordinary interactions of the common people.
Li mapped out different standards for appropriate behavior according to one’s place in a particular relationship. In this way, individuals got acquainted with the obligations and emotions that are appropriate in specific relationships.
As you see, Li did not only refer to rituals or ways of behavior as such, but also to accompanying emotions, like there is an emphasis in the Analects that Li should be practiced with reverence.
You could say that Li, behavioral propriety, is the lived Ren, humaneness. An interesting question in this context is: does this emphasis on fixed rituals and ceremonies stifle individuality?
This question could be answered by analyzing which concept, humaneness (Ren) or behavioral propriety (Li) has relative priority.
This issue is already debated in the Analects more than a thousand years ago. This disagreement was later characterized as the ‘Nei-Wai’ (inner-outer) debate.
Nei captures the essence of the concept Ren; it refers to the internal, perhaps innate, moral sense of humanity. By contrast, Wai captures the spirit of Li, the externally imposed, socially constructed norms which guide and in some ways limit the inner self.
What makes our world, what it is? Our inner moral inclinations or its outer cultivation, solidified in rituals and behavioral propriety?
There is a clear resemblance here with a debate, which we know as the Nature - Nurture controversy. Are we who and what we are primarily because of our inner human nature or because of our cultural and social organization?
If you take into account that Confucianism was the dominant philosophy in China from 960 to 1949, it might be interesting 
to compare this with the dominant position of christianity in our world from The First Council of Nicaea in 325 till, let's say the late 50s.
It is peculiar to observe, that both cultures attribute so much normative force to such old texts during such a long period. 
This normative force is then created by relating the content to a source outside ourselves, while there is some mediator who tells us how we should interpret these texts.
Why we behave like that, I don't know, but it looks like we are inclined to delegate the responsibility for our norms and human values to someone/something outside us.
That this attitude has shaped our Western culture may be evident, like the phrase "Allahu Akbar" and what comes with it has shaped the Arabic culture.
There is no unqualified support in the Analects either for an ‘inner’ or ‘outer’ morality. Confucius himself didn't overemphasize on either.
Yet some scholars believe that Li, behavioral propriety, was the primal concept for Confucius, or at least in later Confucianism.
It is in fact about socialization and it advocates the subjugation of individuals to society and conditioning of people’s minds in order to establish an orderly, submissive society.
The view that Li is primal would give force to the portrayal of Confucianism as conservative traditionalism. This might explain why christianity never got hold on Chinese culture, but subjugation to the Communist Party was more in line with Chinese tradition.
Thank you…:-)

Main Sources:
MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy - Karyn L. Lai, Oxford 2008
Chinese Philosophy, P. Carus, 1902
A Brief History of chinese Philosophy. D.T. Suzuki, 1914

The Discussion

[13:19] herman Bergson: Just digest it :-)
[13:19] Loo Zeta-Ah: One is trying Herman
[13:19] herman Bergson: And come with your remarks and questions as you please :-)
[13:19] Bejiita Imako: same here
[13:19] Corronach: i see a parallel here to individualistic versus collectivist societies
[13:20] herman Bergson: Yes Corronach
[13:20] Corronach: it's understandable in considering how you've described this, that the view of seeing the good of society as more important than the good of the self as an individual...
[13:20] Corronach: is both influenced by confucianism and is promoted by it, if that makes sense
[13:20] herman Bergson: Yes..that is Confucianism
[13:21] Mikki Louise: and Vulcan ;)
[13:21] Corronach: it might be obvious but i had never made that link to such a longstanding belief system
[13:21] Loo Zeta-Ah: For society to function it requires suppression of individualism
[13:22] herman Bergson: Yes Loo but you cant say that about Western society
[13:22] Loo Zeta-Ah: But it usually means that one functions at a higher level than others, in a communist society it will be more equal?
[13:22] Corronach: where it might be hard for an individualistic society, like america for example, to understand why people could make decisions en masse that might not benefit them as individuals, this explanation makes it a little clearer.
[13:22] Bejiita Imako: ah'
[13:22] herman Bergson: where individualism even is pointed out as a problem now and then
[13:22] Gemma Allen: interesting
[13:22] Corronach: i would certainly view individualism as a problem
[13:22] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:22] Corronach: individualism equals competition, a winner and a loser
[13:23] Corronach: collectivism strives for everyone to be more equal.
[13:23] herman Bergson: The American dream.....
[13:23] Loo Zeta-Ah nods
[13:23] Corronach: however, both are problematic in their idealistic sense. there must be a balance.
[13:23] herman Bergson: well...for the winner :-)
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:23] herman Bergson: Yes Corronach.....
[13:24] Gemma Allen: hah i did not relate it to a competition
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: cause we all are different in some way so you cant force all to think the same however thats what many cultures unfortunately do
[13:24] herman Bergson: MAybe the fact that we vote and delegate authority to representatives is an example of finding such a balance
[13:24] Corronach: Gemma, i see it as competitive because there are limited resources. if everyone is out for themselves, someone will lose.
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: cause we after all have the right to be who we are
[13:25] herman Bergson: But only to some extend Bejiita....also in a democracy...
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:25] herman Bergson: You HAVE RO obey the traffic rules and regulations for instance
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: thats a more balanced system
[13:25] Corronach: Herman, the delegates are only as good as their own morals. authority can be corrupt, or can be helpful. usually a mix of both.
[13:25] herman Bergson: oh don't start about that Corronach...:-)
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: aaa yes thats logical things as also not commit crimes et.
[13:26] Corronach: ok! hehe
[13:26] herman Bergson: We can write volumes about that...
[13:26] Corronach: true
[13:26] herman Bergson: to begin with the commandment: Greed is good!
[13:26] Loo Zeta-Ah: If society functions for the good of all within it then one can submit to that ideology
[13:26] Corronach: it's good for those who benefit from it. not so for the others.
[13:27] herman Bergson: problem with communism was that it claimed to be for the good of all , Loo
[13:27] Gemma Allen: Yes-ah!
[13:27] Gemma Allen: and was not
[13:27] Corronach: yes indeed. a lovely idea that went horribly wrong.
[13:27] Loo Zeta-Ah: mmm
[13:27] Corronach: deeply flawed
[13:27] herman Bergson: It did indeed....
[13:27] Bejiita Imako: indeee
[13:27] Bejiita Imako: d
[13:27] Bejiita Imako: no good thing
[13:28] Loo Zeta-Ah: because of the individuals within it?
[13:28] Bejiita Imako: went really bad
[13:28] Corronach: it's an ideology that is vulnerable to the misuse of power, ironically
[13:29] herman Bergson: I think we have lost a few basic feelings nowadays....
[13:29] Mikki Louise: by subjugating the masses to the point where they do not question those in power... or it is impossible for them to change the nature of those in power
[13:29] herman Bergson: The most important seems to me the feeling of solidarity with each other
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: aaa
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: like in north korea
[13:29] Loo Zeta-Ah: yes
[13:29] Corronach: i agree with that herman
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:30] Corronach: it's the piece of collectivism that i wish we still had. to be able to sacrifice a bit of yourself sometimes to help someone else.
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: thats important
[13:30] herman Bergson: We are forced to be consumers....everyone for himself....
[13:30] Corronach: yes
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:31] herman Bergson: we are imprisoned in this attitude by the bizzar belief that economy means GROWTH
[13:31] Corronach: oh no don't get me started
[13:31] herman Bergson: or actually.....more dividend for shareholders...
[13:31] Loo Zeta-Ah: Interesting that Equity theory is now emerging as we are suffering oppression in the WEst due to economics
[13:31] Mikki Louise: it was funny and also sad, to see in the news... a story of a group of men who had a night out, a few drinks.. and when they stopped for something to eat, the noticed and fixed a broken bicycle rack... sad that acts of kindness are too rare they make big news
[13:32] Gemma Allen: hmmm
[13:32] herman Bergson: Can you elaborate a bit in "Equity theory " Loo
[13:33] Loo Zeta-Ah: Ye let me get the references
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:33] herman Bergson: What is so stricking.....
[13:34] herman Bergson: the people who caused the economic crisis are still on their jobs and not in jail for instance
[13:34] Corronach: power and influence.
[13:34] Corronach: inequality, in the end.
[13:34] herman Bergson: The banks are dealing like they did before...
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: indeed, those guys ruined many peoples lives
[13:34] Corronach: it's the capitalist machine.
[13:35] herman Bergson: The absurdity of Flash trade still exists though it has no economic value at all except of making money at great risk for some individuals
[13:35] Loo Zeta-Ah:

[13:35] Mikki Louise: politicians and bankers.. same schools, same clubs.. same social standing... they all play their game with the masses as the pawns
[13:35] herman Bergson: Thank you Loo...I'll have a look at it later
[13:36] herman Bergson: Yes happening here too.....
[13:36] .: Beertje :.: what has this conversation to do with the Chinese philosophy..i miss something i believe
[13:36] herman Bergson: it is about the consequences of individualism and collectivism Beertje
[13:37] herman Bergson: Confucius emphasized the subjugation of the individual to society...
[13:37] herman Bergson: this is contrary to our culture where individualism prevails
[13:38] Mikki Louise: but also, of one individual to another, depending on their place in society?
[13:38] herman Bergson: and yes...we were a bit taken away by that observation so it all sounded like chinese to you perhaps Beertje :-)
[13:38] .: Beertje :.: yes it sounded Chinese indeed to me:)
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:38] herman Bergson: yes Mikki
[13:39] .: Beertje :.: thank you for your explanation?
[13:39] Gemma Allen: i will be away on vacation next week
[13:40] herman Bergson: Ok Gemma :-)
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:40] Gemma Allen: so may not be around for this time
[13:42] herman Bergson: Then I better dismiss class now sothat everybody yet has some time off :-))
[13:42] herman Bergson: Thank you all for your participation :-)
[13:42] Loo Zeta-Ah: I am up for work in 8 hours... so goodnight all
[13:42] Gemma Allen: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:42] Gemma Allen: nite loo
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: ok cu soon all
[13:43] Mikki Louise: Herman can you explain more about how Li refers to emotions? Does this mean emotional response affects ones relationship with another... or is the emotion defined by the relationship?
[13:43] herman Bergson: yes Mikki....
[[13:44] herman Bergson: As Confucius says Mikki, a ritual is not just a series of actions.....
[13:44] herman Bergson: it has to be accompanied with the proper emotions
[13:45] herman Bergson: Like a collection of colors isnt a painting....
[13:45] herman Bergson: or the sound of drums and flutes is not yet music....
[13:46] Mikki Louise: ok
[13:46] .: Beertje :.: is it about harmony?
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: aha
[13:46] Mikki Louise: you must feel, not just do
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: I see
[13:46] herman Bergson: the subject not just should bow for his ruler as a bodily gesture but should do it while feeling the respect for his ruler
[13:46] Mikki LouiseMikki Louise nods
[13:47] Mikki Louise: smile and say thank you, but *mean* it
[13:47] herman Bergsonherman Bergson smiles
[13:47] .: Beertje :.: a mean smile...
[13:47] Mikki Louise: lol
[13:47] herman Bergson: Beertje !!! :-))
[13:47] Gemma Allen: Bye, Bye   
[13:47] Gemma Allen: for now
[13:48] .: Beertje :.: sorry..grins
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: bye all
[13:48] Mikki Louise: bye Gemma
[13:48] Mikki Louise always smiles sweetly ;)
[13:48] herman Bergson: Bye Gemma and happy vacation
[13:48] Mikki Louise: thank you Herman, it was an interesting topic
[13:48] .: Beertje :.: i will try to be in your class as much as I can Herman
[13:49] herman Bergson: You are welcome Mikki
[13:49] herman Bergson: ok Beertje :-)
[13:49] Mikki Louise: see you again soon, professor
[13:49] herman Bergson: You will ^_*

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