« bangkok found (& reading Zizek while crossing a glacier again) | Main | 1000 kilometers north of saigon ( 順化) »

April 16, 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Your story of Japanese moral education is useful in pushing back against an overly simple guilt/shame distinction, which I think Fingarette is drawn into. "Guilt," to my mind, suggests an internally driven moral deliberation, "conscience" if you will. "Shame" suggests a response to an externally created and imposed moral standards. "Guilt" can thus seem morally deeper or more genuine, while "shame" is shallower. Your story shows how "doing the right thing" is internalized in Japan, and thus gives us grounds to reject the old "Japan [and we could add China] is a shame society, not a guilt society," a formulation that has been deployed to mark a kind of moral lack in Confucian societies v. Christian societies (which are supposedly more "guild" defined).

Hi Sam,

I'm so glad you brought this up, and, in fact I could not agree more. I do-- to an extent-- agree with Fingarette's description regarding the way that the experience of misdeed in Japan seems to be more concerned with the affects that the misdeeds have in terms of the person's "status" (obligations within a group) and context than some kind of "stained corrupt self" (that we associate with Christian thought). That could perhaps be argued. However, like you said, that there is an internalized value system that affects a person's conscience is without a doubt. And that continued failings would lead a person to cast doubt on their own self too is absolutely without doubt.

The guilt/shame thing, in my experience-- just as you have stated-- is absolute nonesense. Indeed, in the last month, two female friends here confided their own sense of failure-- one used the very strong japanese expression to hate oneself while the other indirectly called herself a failure and that both spoke out of a sense of "GUILT" not shame was absolutely clear as their actions were not yet out in the open and they were feeling-- plain and simple-- very guilty and frustrated that they could no do better.

I cannot really speak for men-- since who knows what men are thinking?? :) --but women, I think are the same no matter where you go! Guilt-ridden and very hard on themselves....Listening to Lloyd's lecture as I walked up to buy fish for Adonis' breakfast, I really almost started to cry just imagining what it would be like to let go to Providence. Can you imagine?

Peony's discussion of the attitude at the school (and in the workplace) strikes me as very in line with Fingarette's way of talking. Transgression is not a matter of the inner depravity of an agent, it is due to an external action. Moreover, to rectify the situation doesn't require pointing to the guilty party, it requires re-education, to guide action towards proper harmony.

Also, for Peony, I think the question, "is Japan guilt oriented in 2009?" (thinking of her conversations with others) is a different question than "is pre-Qin Confucianism guilt-oriented?" The former can be "yes" and the latter "no" and Fingarette still be correct, no? My guess is that he would say that it would be surprising to see more guilt than shame in modern Japan, given its history, but again given it's more modern interactions with the West that it would be surprising not to see some elements of guilt-language as well?

Also, I think -- and Fingarette discusses this a bit with respect to ch'ih and the ways in which Confucians "talked" -- some ways of framing things can sound like guilt but really have to do with shame. I take Fingarette to be suggesting that partially this would have to do with the object being focused on (the self as the object, or some external action/situation/loss of face). (I recognize that Peony's friend here says she hates herself, I'm just making the point that we can be fooled by certain ways of stating things).


Fingarette doesn't make any evaluative claims about which of the two is deeper or more genuine (shame or guilt). I do think he suggests that if Confucianism is shame-related, then there is the next question of how interested in "morality" or "ethics" the ancient Chinese were. But I don't take this to be a value judgment; I take it just to be suggesting that the way in which we use those terms, "morals or ethics" might be inapplicable. The Confucians might have an analogue, and one that is just as genuine or authentic, but it will have to be drawn up, explained and understood on its own terms.

I suppose this aspect of his discussion would have an impact on the issue of doing "cross cultural comparative philosophy" in an effective manner.


Thinking of Adonis' school interactions, my daughter has not been in her Beijing kindergarten for long, but I've noticed a few things.

First, when my daughter feels "out of sorts" or uncomfortable, her teacher (laoshi) she does not directly interact to rectify things. She motions for some of Parker's little peers to come over and take her by the hands and happily guide her back (in their own way) into the group. In her Western school at home, it's the opposite. The teacher never asks the kids to help, she does it herself. It's always a teacher-student interaction. In the West, I would suppose, the teacher does not think it is the "job of the kids" to help another kid feel better about being there (independent selves and all that). Here in the Chinese school that is taken for granted, it appears (having a notion of interdependent selves, I suppose).

Second, on punishment: the teacher never scolds or punishes, or at least does so only rarely (this comes from observation, but also from conversations with other parents). If anything, the laoshi always seem to positively re-enforce bad behavior (with treats and the like -- which drives me nuts)! What I've noticed, however, is that out-of-sort behavior is, again, dealt with by the kid group in more subtle and indirect ways. Peer pressure is a powerful thing.

This may have some relevance to Fingarette. If the children as a group do the "correcting" (and welcoming) but it is subtle and indirect, I would suppose that the child being corrected would, after a while, start to think of her/himself in terms of status within the group. So behavior will be externally interpreted, which will bring with it the vocabulary of shame. On the other hand, in the West, when the teacher does the correcting and adjusting, it becomes one-on-one in a way that doesn't really allow for much subtlety. I would suspect that in this context, it is much easier (and natural) to start using the language with the child that seems more associated with guilt ("why do you keep transgressing my rules?" and such).

In the group case, the child feels him/herself (when misbehaving) as "out of place" (non-harmonious, shamed), whereas in the individual case, the child feels him/herself as a "transgressor".

Just some quick thoughts at 7am as my daughter is practicing hard nearby to be an effective transgressor of daddy's rules.

I am not sure if anyone is going to address Chapter One of Fingarette's book: "Human Community as Holy Rite"... This was actually what I wanted to try and write about (since I knew Chris would be doing chapter 2). But, in fact, the chapter was very elusive for me and I wasn't sure quite how to think of it... what to make ot it, etc.

Just now, though, I noticed Sam had written two very illuminating posts on it. I cannot recommend them enough to anyone reading Fingarette.

First is his The Secular as Sacred Post which discusses Fingarette's move to see the sacred (not as something set apart as sacrosanct) but rather as something right here in our daily lives. As Sam says,

And this strikes me as potentially difficult for modern day religionists. It is common rhetorical practice these days for Christian activists to complain that secularism has gone too far, that the public square needs to be reclaimed for religion. A Confucian response is a sort of Jujitsu move, shifting the weight of the argument in the opposite direction and claiming not that the secular must be protected from the sacred but that the secular is sacred, the social is holy

I know I am always talking about Japanese aesthetics and tea... but this is so reminiscent of Japanese concepts of the sacred as being something right there in a bowl of tea (holiness created out of the heart of the person making the tea and the person receiving the tea). And, I would say this is something not only inherent to Confucian thought... it has got to be something bigger than Confucius (that is, Confucius must have taken a cue for this from some cultural background practice as old as the mountains in China...?)

Sam then brings the message home in this article Confucius Speaks which he originally wrote for Newsday. Both Sam's writings on this are highly recommended in terms of Fingarette or in terms of life in general :)

Am I dreaming? I thought you would never be back to the blogosphere Chris! I am glad you are all settled in there...

Regarding your first point-- yes, Fingarette never makes the evaluative judgement that shame cultures are less superior to guilt cultures. And yet, because of the history of the way the terms have been used, one cannot help but just stop in their tracks when confronted with it. I don't know about Chinese, but in Japanese, in fact there is not really a distinction between shame and guilt (in ordinary semantics).

As a translation, what we say in English as shame and embrassment they say 恥ずかしい

There is a word used to translate "guilt" 罪悪感 but as you can see by looking at the kanji it is a direct translation of the english concept and in all probablity was newly coined with the influx of western psychology into Japan (that is what I would guess at least).

The shame/guilt thing really breaks down when you think about it.

That people internalize normative values and then feel badly (guilt or shame or embarrassment) over any major transgressions is probably universal.... and what is perhaps artificial is using different words to artificially separate what are in fact similar and universal responses (ie feeling badly when you screw up).

However, that said, I do really agree that in Japan at least, there is less emphasis on this idea of a "tainted self." And you are right, when my one friend used the term self-loathing, 自己嫌悪-- it sounded very unnatural in spoken japanese, as if she were thinking in terms of Western psychology. The term itself, I bet is not all that old either in Japanese.

So, I agree with you. And, I also agree with Sam. And, it kind of opens the Pandora's Box of what do you do with statements like, "There was no inner theater in pre-Cartesian times/pre-Qin times" ... How can we ever *know* this? All we have is the language but like this example here of the Japanese word 恥ずかしい-- just because we translate that as embarrassment or shame, it does not mean that there is no guilt implied, it just suggests a different emphasis.

To say that Confucius did not philosophize in terms of "pychological concepts" seems like a very wise and helpful thing to say. I am just unsure about then extrapolating to say that there was no inner theater. This is getting close to what bothers me in your Post on Choice but.... I don't know Chris. I think we should talk about the inner theater thing first.

By the way, you will notice the japanese translation for "guilt" does not signify a guilty self as much as it suggests an image of transgressing a Law in terms of Crime or Sin 罰

This is the 3rd time in the last week I have found myself reading something on this theme of limitations versus Providence (Chris, I don't think it's about "no choices" but is more about this idea of creative expression in daily life-- and in daily life, we don't really have all that many choices in the sense that if I don't boil water in the ding to cook up small fish, the Kid ain't gonna eat, right?) Something more like that is how I am reading Fingarette.

This being tremendously significant in Zen as well.

I read this today--says a lady in a castle town-- from the diaries of Anais Nin, while she was doing "analysis" in New York in 1935:
"While analyzing so many people I realized the constant need of a mother, or a father, or a god (the same thing) is really immaturity. It is a childish need, a human need, but so universal that I can see how it gave birth to all religions. Will we ever be able to look for this strength in ourselves? Some men have. They have also gone mad with loneliness. Woman will be the last one on earth to learn independence, to find strength in herself. My patients turn away from those they love or are loved by when this need is unfulfilled. They demand of love also the fulfillment of a need, a need for growth, and it is in terms of this need that they often sacrifice the love; or are guilty of injustice. I was guilty of the same injustice when I looked for a stength in any man whom I called 'the father.'
Analysis gives vision into the potential self. At times it also gives false hopes, because the potential self cannot always develop. We have loyalties to the past, commitments, promises made, human responsibilities. Science may heal, but it is the poetic illumination of life which makes my patients fall in love with life, which makes them recover their appetite for it. One day I saw so may tears fall that when I found a puddle of water near my door I first thought it was all the weeping, and then I saw the umbrella that had been forgotten weeping on the rug.
Patients weep when they discover they are their own victimizers and not the victim of others. They weep when they discover they are responsible for their own suffering.
Limitations of life. Doors closing as one walks forward. Curtains of silence. Inertia. Obstacles like walls. Then to discover that the limitation is within oneself. Strange, the loss of the self is a greater sickness than the self's impostor, the ego. The ego is the caricature people mistake for the self, the ego is the fraud, the actor, the transvestite of the self. Lost selves, confused selves, blind selves. When the real self is born the ego vanishes."

Chris, I tried posting this at your place and my comment is probably now sitting in your span folder (thanks to the youtube video)

Hi Chris & Sam,

You know I remain extremely resistent to this idea that “there are no choices” in Confucius. And, I don’t think I would buy into any of the four options as you have them stated above. My issue is this (and I will be repeating many of the always-loving responses that I left for you on my blog too):

To say that Confucius did not philosophize in terms of “pychological concepts” seems like a very wise and helpful thing to say. But to then extrapolate from this to say that there was no inner theater or that there is no choice– could be seen as inappropriate. The reason is the question itself is so firmly based in the psychological ontology that you would only get a partial answer since the question is in a big sense missing the point (a point of emphasis)

Others have made this same point far better than I ever will be able to do, but Fingarette is going through elaborate steps to present the analects in such a way as to bypass the ideas of self that are inherent to our modern, secular understanding. I don’t think, however, by trying to bypass modern understandings of self that means there is no self (no self meaning a self is comflatable to a person’s action which seems to be the move you are trying to make) .

In fact, I would argue the way you have set up the question is very firmly– inherently– tangled up in that self-same concept (sorry!)

And not only do I think that Confucius is not saying “there are no choices” I don’t even think Fingarette is saying that.

The moment you make the move to emphasize the action not the actor; daily life over transcendent Belief; group over individual commitment— well, you have already made issues like you are talking about inappropriate (or not really all that helpful) I would say. And because your definitition of choice is bound up with this definition of psychological descriptions of the self, this may be why Sam just intuitively feels that saying there is no choice is too strong.

I completely agree.

Let’s take an example outside Confucian thought. I was reading an excerpt from Bill Porter’s book, Zen Baggage, about a visit he made to Shaolin Temple. In it, there was a quote from the temple’s main monk in charge of martial arts. Almost a cliche, the monk is talking about how their philosophy is not knowleable in terms of books. It is only knoweable in the way they live their daily life: the way they eat, sweep the garden, kick and spar– that is their meditation and philosophy.

So, then to ask– so there are no choices that could affect Self is in some sense to miss something.

because there is always a valid choice and even in the creative expression of that choice there are a myriad small choices. And that these choices affect Self is to my mind not necessarily knoweable. All we can know is what is valued highly or emphasized in that cultural understanding. So, what kinds of choices were emphasized as good or bad? And then figuring that out we can then understand where the idea of sincerity/authenticity comes in (誠)

This goes for the lack of inner theater too. The phrase itself is so a part of the psychological understanding that when we go try and apply it to Confucius or Dido or Odysseus, it is a real slippery slope, I think.

It is also very bound up in the Judeo-Christian idea of history (choice=exodus=history=moving forward)

Really if you aren’t careful it comes to seem that a self in any pre-Cartesian worldview is 100% conflatable with their actions– for that would be the only real way to make this move that no choices exist or moral conscience, right?

But do you really want to make that move? And how could one ever prove it?

And then why do we have notions which seek to (at least partially) subjectively reconcile subjective inner world with social context → 義、誠,  etc.

Group-oriented existentialism?
A Moment of Zen

When you said this

I never see the tiny mistakes and usually smile, "Didn't we do a great job??" To which no one responds and other people step up to point all the mistakes that I never even ever would have noticed.... Everything is mentioned and discussed in the passive tense so there is no actor just action), and then we vow to do better next time.

It doesn't make a difference, eastern , western etc we all tally sins, (with or without pronouns) we might seemingly do it differently but in the end..

every person tallies their tale

such as a cat or dog chasing it's tail

doesn't matter spinning about

It still is embracing

the enjoyment of swirling


Casey, that is exactly what I was trying to say to Chris in my Zen Moment email above. We all tally our sins-- even if we don't call them sins and even if we don't rely on pronouns. My experience (my adult life in Japan, my pre-adult life in California) has shown me the above is probably true based on my experience. And, what this has to say about pre-Qin Chinese is only this: there is no way to know but the chances are good that they too tallied/interpreted their sins... in the end :)

Nice to hear from you, by the way....

You know, I almost sent you the bananas instead of the balloons…

I know... I was thinking: why didn't he send me the bananas???

Talking with Chris and reading that excerpt from Porter's visit to Shaolin, I decided I needed to swap the video to something "more appropriate" to the conversation.

Shaolin Master Speaks: "You can read all the books you want, but unless you find the Way in your daily life, you're wasting your time. It's the same with martial arts. Every kick, every blow is the way. You cannot separate yourself from what you do. If you do it's not the way. At Shaolin, we don't separate inside from outside."

Believe me, I never trust a man who doesn't read books (and I told the same thing to Porter). I also never trust a philosopher who discounts an inner theater (except Bill).

We may all tally our mistakes -- after all, isn't it the sign of a junzi in Confucianism that the person is diligent about being a persistent self-critic?

But I think the focal point of the criticism is different, Fingarette wants to say. For Confucius, "mistakes" mean "I have come apart here and here and here." For the Westerner, there is no "coming apart" as a self. There are just selves that do appropriate and inappropriate things.

I think the difference, or at least the Panza-Figarette mutation says so, is that in the Western case appropriateness has nothing whatsoever to do with selfhood. It's a property OF a self, not the precondition for there to be one. For the Confucian, appropriateness is the precondition for selfhood. As a result, although both sides "tally up" they aren't tallying the same stuff, even if they are prima facie engaging in the same behaviors.

Chris and MW,

Chris, last night I re-read chapter three and know what I want to say in reponse. I etched my response to you in my mind before falling asleep, so now it is just a matter of time for typing it.

And, in the meantime,

We have loyalties to the past, commitments, promises made, human responsibilities. Science may heal, but it is the poetic illumination of life which makes my patients fall in love with life, which makes them recover their appetite for it

To fall in love with life-- for me, perhaps that is the only hope. Today has been such an impossibility. Work is piling up like snow in the mountains; the house, shopping for dinner... I don't even know how I am going to do it all. But MW sent this haunting song called "I will not be sad in this world" by Armenian duduk musician, Djivan Gasparyan. His instrument is made out of the aged wood of apricot trees and I have been listening to it all day.

MW, I liked this one with the Russian National Orchestra

On a similar note, Prince Pirooz in Kyoto sent me a link to check out a China-based artist named Michael Cherney. Like MW, whatever Prince Pirooz sends me always gets my attention and this actually took my breath away-- especially by his calligraphy (this one like huaisu?)

And also-- of course-- to see his xiao xiang.. I am assuming that is his calligpahy as well on the side of the page...

Having studied calligraphy in Tokyo for a few years-- all I know is that it is pretty much impossible to be able to write like that without decades of study-- so how does he do it?

Anyway, I am back to work (really!?) but feel refreshed like having had a very sweet sip of wine-- in the middle of the day!! :)

For now there's this:


After an initial splash, Fingarette was not terribly well received either by anglosphere philosophers or by academic sionological philosophers. Even the publisher of this book is non-academic.

Here's something on the addiction part which I've only partly read.


Fingarette's problem with academia was that he wrote about actuality and used chinese and other philosophy as a tool, rather than writing only about what other philosophers wrote about actuality. In other words, he wrote philosophy instead of writing about philosophy.

More later.

Wow! It is going to take me a month to chew over all of this. Great post and intriguing comments. Break out the Bao Hai Oolong!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)