Saturday, December 18, 2010

Zhong 忠

All this talk of moral effort and conscientiousness (忠 in classical Chinese of the Warring States period) reminded me of a story of Wittgenstein. I consider his moral views to be a weird kind of virtue ethics. His moral virtues were unconventional and much like Nietzsche who also seemed to be an unconventional virtue ethicists (his virtues were strength, courage, integrity, playfulness, and creativity), Wittgenstein seemed to value the unconventional moral virtues of not bullshitting (remaining silent when one is outside one's proper domain of knowledge), epistemic integrity, correct usages of words as they were intended (unlike how philosophers use them which caused them plenty of confusion, he thought) and "being careful". In fact once when someone asked him what he wanted as an epitaph, he responded "He was careful". To be careful is the ultimate moral compliment to Wittgenstein.

Extended discussion on the moral effort post

In an earlier post about moral effort, I said that one passage which I could not remember the cite from the Analects was a good example of the centrality Confucius put on "doing one's utmost." Carl suggested one passage (17:20) that might have been the one I was talking about. That might not have been it and I can't seem to find it but I have found the character which denotes "doing one's utmost" and other passages suggesting the centrality of the notion within classical Confucian thought.

The word that Confucius uses to mean "doing one's utmost" according to Lau's translation is Zhong (忠). Some have translated it as "conscientiousness." Today zhong means "loyalty" but not in the classical Chinese apparently.

This passage (Analects 4:15) says

"The Master said, 'Ts'an, there is a single thread binding my way together.'

Tseng Tzu assented.

After the Master had gone out, the disciple asked, 'What did he mean?'

Tseng Tzu said, 'The way of the Master consists in doing one's best and in using oneself as a measure in to gauge others. That is all.'"

Notice that it's interesting that zhong should be used together with Shu (恕 or using oneself as a measure to gauge others). There are two other passages, I believe, that puts them together again. Since moral effort is best assessed from one's own first-person perspective, we seem to be our own best moral judges in many cases, if we can be honest with ourselves. And in judging others, Confucius seems to be saying that we should judge others according to whether or not they have accomplished the ideal of zhong. Many times, this is quite difficult to attain any sort of real accuracy and sometimes nearly impossible so that Confucius seems to take an inward position to moral assessment so that he is not saying that people like some of his students are not worthy of blame but that only they can really be relatively sure of it. This is a very non judgmental stance. But there are other passages which suggest Confucius was very demanding and critical displaying the morally judgment reactive attitudes towards others. But those instances always seem to be instances where there is more clarity and thus certainty that the instance really were cases of wrongdoing even from an outside non first-person perspective. Such a case is the story of Confucius hitting a student on the head with a cane for being purposefully ignorant and flippant in a serious moral matter. It seems to me that being such is much more clear an instance of not doing one's best because almost anyone can muster enough conscientiousness and moral effort to be more serious in grave matters but it is more indeterminate whether one can suffer under the demands of a rigorous, 3 year mourning period even with substantial effort and conscientiousness.