Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Excerpt From Lu Chi's Wen Fu

"Prior to the composition of the Wen Fu, the first great work to discuss the use of language is the Ta Hsueh (or Great Learning) of K'ung-fu Tzu (Confucius). Master K'ung believed all wisdom lies in learning to call things by the right name, and that only through a "rectification of names" might one proceed toward enlightened living. This insight is doubly remarkable when we remember that K'ung Tzu lived in a nation that was far more sophisticated than any other on earth at that time, its language rich in emblematic phrases, euphemisms, double entendres, and layered ambiguities loaded with plurisignation" (Hamill xv-xvi).

More to come later, as I make my way through this text.


Scott Abbott said...

A fascinating thought, common in early thinking about language. What I'm wondering, as I'm learning that even magical texts can be full of insight, is what Confucius meant by a "rectification of names." What did he mean by the "right name"? Was he talking about a single simple name consonant with the thing? A single complex name? The kind of naming that requires a paragraph to express?

Did he mean an actual name, in other words, or was he talking about a "rectification" that comes through thorough, precise use of language?

Rikker said...

Interesting that you're reading that, Torben. I've just started reading The Language of Names. I'm only in the first chapter, but I'll post an excerpt when I get a sec.

As for Scott's question, from reading around online (here and elsewhere), it sounds like Confucius was a serious prescriptivist.

It appears he believed that all things had a classical/original name, and later people corrupted them by changing them over the years. I wonder how much he knew about the world outside China.

From the page linked above:
Xun Zi chapter (22) "On the Rectification of Names" claims the ancient sage kings chose names (ming 名 "name; appellation; term") that directly corresponded with actualities (shi 實 "fact; real; true; actual"), but later generations confused terminology, coined new nomenclature, and thus could no longer distinguish right from wrong.

So for him, not knowing or using the right name for something meant the inability to truly understand it, and damaged one's ability to determine truth and act accordingly. Interesting.

michael morrow said...

I'm one of those idiots that loves to shoot from the hip. Education didnt begin again, until this very moment. Feels like most o' you guys are mountains better read than me, clearer in thinking, and able to articulate intellectual distillations with alacrity, precise verbiage, and willingness to reach into bags historical. I have read a small bit of Confucius, I find Lao Tsu very interesting, and enjoy James, Emerson, Wordsworth, Blake, and others; probley just about enough to make me very dangerous.

I think we work too hard to survey and second guess what people (especially fellow males) deemed sage-like, think about. I, too, like what I continue to learn about and from people, topics, ideas, philosophies, and "important" personal observations of people long gone. But I think we should think more simply when considering what the lives of others, especially people from long ago, left for us.

People from every layer of historical civilization have many things in common that, when considered carefully, reveal and clarify the fog inherent when looking backwards into the past. All humans have certain basic needs to be met before any sort of intellectual, emotional, or spiritual appetite is to be fed. Having said that, it becomes obvious that whatever tools or traditions are found or evolves and however individuals or groups use whatever survival tools, techniques, and ideas they find practical, is what matters. The assumptions and observations present day people make can only be laced and influenced by the survival techniques, tools, and ideas inherited from the past. The way in which humans find their food, shelter, romance, and practical contribution to basic survival play huge into what and how individuals discover, create, and express about their surroundings, environment, and inner life/experience.

Scott provided an example of what I'm talking about in his last Goalie's Anxiety post. He pointed out the fluctuating, indefinite nature of photographs. I loved the ideas presented but I thought it was a little short-sighted. Scott pointed out that photographs, by nature, are very impermanent, indefinite, and at some very real point, only relative to those people, places, and things found captured on the paper. Outside observers not in the photo are required to "take the word of" those whose image is actually on the paper. The photographic opportunity's actual occurrence is very much like all other occurrences in life. I think that we are all required to "take the word of" other people about every experience and observation that happens, especially the experiences of others. The photo example provided by Scott was from an earlier time in his life. He told of the people, experiences, and location of the shot. I am willing to believe Scott told me the truth about the photographic occasion depicted on the paper. But in all actuality, the experience itself can never be anything more than fiction to me. As time goes by, portions of the experience may even become little more than fiction to those in the photo. Some participants will even remember specific situations one way, while other people will remember the same particulars very diffenently.
The point is that anything Confucius or any other individual tells me, at best, will never be anything more than fiction. That includes any Confucian names, ideas, observations, or philosophies,etc. Fortunately, I am more than willing to take the word of people I deem creditable and trustworthy. But, when the proverbial rubber meets the road I am responsible to decide for myself what is real, what names apply to what object or happening. Yes, I definitely find Confucius, and many others, trustworthy and creditable. I am more than willing to give the ideas of many important thinkers my undivided attention. But I find it incumbent upon me to sift, carefully consider, and assimilate the information that works for me and my place in life.
So it is with names. Confucius, and all other people, name what they find in their space based on their level of personal comfort, inner satisfaction, and exterior surroundings. I find it interesting that Scott's photo posting focused on the impermanence of photographic images. I choose to focus on the permanent images left in my mind and in the minds of others. I even feel that once the image is captured, it remains fixed on cosmic photo-sensitive material, even an ethereal level of consciousness.
I am reminded of the three blind men using their hands to name and describe an elephant to one another. Confucius, me, you and all others, are doing our best to name our life's elephant, ideally with intentions to be honest, creative, and accurate.

Grabloid said...

Sounds similar to Plato's Cratylus...is that off track? (right/proper names for things...right understanding of objects, etc.) I would be very interested in reading this from such a very different perspective of the far East. Anyway, I wanted to investigate this further, but have to go to class. I'll keep my eye on this post...