Our man in Singapore is a polyglot extraordinaire. This morning, utilizing the usual cipher, he sent the following missive:
I was inspired by your post to pull out my 字形図解辞典, by a scholar and calligrapher from Shanghai (http://www.gujianping.com). I have
attached a digital photo of the entry on 徳
It's interesting that the Japanese version of the character lacks the
一 for 一心で徳を為す and "the beginning and the end are as one",
始終如一。Scholars of kanji migration can probably tell us about the
significance of this.
I also find this lack of "one heart" interesting. First, let's take a look at how Gu Jianping deconstructs (解字) the kanji. The first thing we notice is that he too categorizes 徳 (de) as 会意字 (character composed solely of semantic elements). Second, we learn that the character only got the 心 (heart) element during the time of bronze inscriptions. Gu sees the character as originating in the idea of a straight road (that is, virtue as a moral person "walking the walk and talking the talk" (ie, walk the talk). See Derek's comments below.
You will notice that this follows the Japanese wikipedia entry but differs slightly from Shirakawa. It also looks like, according to Gu, it was during the Han dynasty (楷）that the character received its final element: the "one" 一 which Derek explains: 一心で徳を為す (achieving virtue by one heart) and "the beginning and the end are as one" (始終如一) .
So, the Japanese never incorporated this idea of "one heart" (一) and the "one" does make a nice case for the good professor's preference for "Integrity" (integrity of action/heart) as a translation for 徳、though, does it not? Anyway, back to our man in Singapore:
What I find fascinating is the evolution of the character and the unit
of meaning it has come to signify through time. It comes to mind that different languages employ different metaphors to talk about the metaphysical qualities, and in Chinese (and its derivatives, of which I consider Japanese to be one) "straightness" is often the desired quality in the discourse about ethics. (English has a bit of this in phrases like "the straight and narrow", but nowhere as predominant as in Chinese, to my knowledge.)
So while it was enough to see (know) the straight road (and presumably take it) initially, the conditions for virtue expanded to include "thinking virtuous thoughts" and then eventually to doing so *all the time*. And this doesn't even touch the topic of what virtue *is*, which is the problem of the philosophers. The Church struggled with the question of whether it was a sin to think evil thoughts or whether one actually had to act upon them -- I wonder if we can read the Chinese answer to this question in the character they have chosen with which to write virtue.
I also looked up the entry on 直, which . . . derives its meaning from
a property of light (viz., that it travels in straight lines). The 甲骨文
(is this what you call the Oracle Bones?) has but an eye and a
straight line leading from it to represent 視線 (目光 mu4 guang1 in
Chinese). 金文 (Bronze?) adds the line to mean the line on the face (of the eye socket).
I concur, as in Japanese as well, so central is this metaphor of "straightness" that you cannot even really talk about virtue without it coming up. 真っ直ぐ。 In fact, before Adonis was born, I had considered using that kanji "straight" (直) for Adonis' name before I was vetoed (his father prefered "harmony")...
And while I had never thought of this myself, I do think it's true that, compared to Roman (Stoic) and Christian thought, there is not the same emphasis on avoiding "vice" in Chinese philosophy, as the stress really seems to be on "walking and talking (誠＝言+成）on the straight and arrow" （真っ直ぐ=信・心・真+直）→ 誠
Finally, a word about 恩徳 (2nd citation above).
恩徳 (compassion; grace) is one of the three virtues in Buddhism. I wonder if the term maps to Yi (義)- in earlier pre-Buddhist philosophy? In Confucian philosophy, 義 is one of the 五常 (仁・義・礼・智・信） and I like the translation of “favor, grace and kindness” This is the so-called “seat of shame” and is supposed to be the faculty that restrains the less pleasant human emotions like greed or lust, and it is what governs “correct behavior toward other people” Hence the translation: “benevolence” (恩)
Interestingly, the same 漢字 is used to translate into japanese (and Chinese?) the Greek word used in Christian philosophy diakonia ("benevolent service")… and it can be read in Japanese 義しい＝”tadashii= correct” Not surprisingly, along with "straight" (直)and "harmonious" (和), it is a popular character used in boys' names as well.
So, what informs “correct behavior”? I would guess a delicate combination of 1) 質 (acting in a simple and as close to natural way as possible) and 2) learning 文.
Is 質 equivalent to Aristotle’s physis? How is it different? Is it the seat of human agency?
Maybe one could say that Ivan Karamazov never got anywhere in all his dazzlingly elaborate philosophizing because he relied so heavily on 文. While his brother Dmitri, who "loved humanity but hated his neighbors," lacked a certain– how shall we say?? "義"。It was only Alyosha, who embodied Christian 恩 or 義, and acted from both 文 and 質。Hence, I think it could be argued that Alyosha is the 義人 (⇒恩徳）par excellance in the Christian and Confucian story.
So, how's this? 徳 as ①Path 道徳→美徳 ② Benevolence or uprightness 恩徳 and ③ Beliefs, our morals 信念→ 同心同徳
(Lady Li taught us about the virtue of flowers--that flowers are admirable; for not only are they beautiful and joyous but they also symbolize strength and nobility of character-- attributes that we can all learn from. When a flower blooms, it either blooms in its fullest capacity and with all its might, or it’s a dud. No half measures for flowers. And while each blooms at its own pace and in its own time, there is also a window or a season as well, so that a peony cannot bloom in the fall.)