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January 26, 2009


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First, it is good to drink booze from a brown paper bag. Preferably on a street corner.

You know I think embodiment is the key point here -- there are such clear connections between Confucian thought and certain aspects of Existential thinking (not that there aren't clear divergences too).

But I wonder here. Why does the slow cultivation of emotion through ritual-oriented redirection actually change the way in which we feel or see the world?

Why wouldn't it merely be a kind of behaviorist-like structuring? I feel this way about X, I get "zapped" (punishment). If feel this way about Y, I get rewarded. Sooner or later, I feel the right way about the right things.

All very legalist, no?

But clearly Confucius thinks that there's more to it than this. It's not just about "redirection" via Li (or law). On some level, there has to be a transformation of thinking/feeling. Something different from mere "redirection" towards the right things.

What provides that extra component? Or is it simply "practice this li for long enough, and the transformation will just happen"? If so, it's hard to see why Confucians would be so "anti-legalist". I can change a person's behavior, and perhaps after a while I might even change their actual feelings and ways of seeing things. But that, I would think, for Confucius is not "ren".

So what's the mysterious component?

Hi Chris,

Bear with me, because I have not read anything recently in philosophy of mind-- I am stretching my brain to try and think back... but I feel that your question somehow is getting stuck in the muck of Descartes (body-mind duality) Is that possible? And is it possible that Merleau-Ponty might have someting to say??

for example in the practice of tea, what happens? You practice and as you practice over and over again the affects are experienced as what you and I might call embodied transformation; that is, the input comes via the senses and is enacted in such a way that it affects the way you carry out your activities out of the tea room. I have a friend named MW who works with art and he talks about how even when he is handling cheap crockery he still handles it like it was a Roman antiquity. I think his training/practice has affected a transformation in his behavior and also in his perceptions... this is how I imagine the rituals to work; in that sense that ritual practice becomes ritual comportment becomes ritual ontology. Kind of like pilgrammage (with no body/mind duality).

And the "distaste" is like aesthetic distaste. Like when I put on reality TV. It's not hate, but by my *turning away* from this in one sense I am
1) taking a stand based on my sensibility
2) doing so in hope of affecting change

Does that make sense..? And I still feel like I am drifting around your question (through my own ignorance)

You have persuaded me on "grasping;" I totally agree about existentialism... and am with you part-way on the booze in the brown bag.

I think for a Mencian-Confucian, unlike a Xun Zi-Confucian, it is not really a behavioralist thing because we are shaping and cultivating our innate goodness. Allowing the "water" of our nature to naturally flow in toward the good. For those who assume a bad human nature it is more about restriction or repression. I don't want to get down on Xun Zi, because I think he still believes in perfectibility (unlike Han Fei Zi), but the Mencian view of self-cultivation is what Peony is getting at, I think.
As to brown paper bags: been there, done that. But it is, I believe, better to raise ourselves out of that squalor. These days I prefer Haut Medoc to Mad Dog 50/50 (that last reference might date me...). It's a Mencian thing...


I think that's exactly right. In my most recent post on the "Culverts of Hate" thread, I said just as much actually. I suggested to Peony that one way to understand the difference in the two alternatives I was offering was to think of them as the Mencian path and the Xunzian path, and then the overall question of the post being "is Confucian a Mencian or a Xunzian?" I think the question of "transformation" is not one that Mencius has much to worry about, since it's a matter of "extension" not radical transformation. For Xunzi, it's the opposite.

I hear that you will be visiting Beijing while I'm there. Perhaps we can drink some brown bagged Qingdao 40 oz beers at Tsinghua's southern gate. As the brown-bagged 40's get put away, we can figure out once and for all who is better...that scalawag Mencius or the gentlemanly Xunzi.


Brown-bagged Qingdao sounds really good right now, doesn't it?? Now Sam and/or Chris (I think we lost Baumler) does Mencius actually *say* somewhere that what is being shaped is human nature? If so, I would love to see that quote in Chinese. Granted my reading is years ago (what can I say?) but... I do not recall that. Of course it is very possible I am just not remembering and/or my original reading of this had a bit to be desired in terms of thoroughness...

However-- culverts: yes. But are the culverts shaping human nature or are they rather shaping a certain human capacity (which in tern can affect the self)? In any case, yes, Sam is right, I was thinking in terms of Mencius-- just not thinking in terms of this having anything to do with human nature as far as a basis for considering practices.

So, are you guys going to write a list of trivia about yourselves or what? Did you learn anything new about me or was it as you expected?

Believe it or not I have no idea what haut medoc is :(

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