December 12, 2010

DIVISION 18 (第十八)

Therefore, when the great Dào is rejected
It is then we have the virtues of rén and .
When clever wisdom appears
We are faced with duplicity.
When the six relations[1] are not in harmony
It is then we have xiào and .
When a nation is in darkness and disorder,
There are loyal ministers.

COMMENTARY by Koeng S. Wan:
Division 18 initiates the
Lǎo Zǐ's disputation of Confucianism. In Division 18, the Lǎo Zǐ says that when the Dào is supplanted by the human invention of virtue, disharmony will be inherent in human affairs. Without the Dào, Confucian virtues depend on words and judgments that can be undermined by "clever wisdom" (Division 2). Xiào (filial piety 孝) and cí (parental love 慈) rely on the domination of parents to teach children obedience and respect that is contrary to Xuán Dé (Division 10). Xiào, in particular, requires subjects' obedience and respect for their ruler that, if not sustained, requires loyal ministers to maintain order.

The Daoist social harmony is constructed in a manner where the people feel it came about “naturally” (Division 17) and maintained without effort (Divisions 3 and 38). However, when the Dào is rejected or abandoned, effort is required to maintain order, and so people are called upon to pursue the Confucian ideals of rén (benevolence 仁) and  to take actions that are deemed morally right (  -- righteousness 義). When the Dào is not followed, people must invent ways to maintain harmonious order. One approach is to base social order on ideals of virtue. Virtue, being a human invention, requires words to characterize it, and in doing so, invites judgments and misunderstanding (Division 2 and 5).  During the writing of the Lǎo Zǐ, virtue was idealized by Confucianism and incorporated in an ethical system, which included the ideals of rén (仁) and (righteousness 義), and xiào and .

As a Confucian virtue, D.C. Lau describes rén as “the most important moral quality a man can possess”[2]. However, Daoists find Confucian rén repugnant because it requires strict conformity to numerous, pervasive, and elaborate Confucian rites ( 禮) in order to achieve it.  The required conformity lies at the heart of the Lún Yǔ (The Analects), one of the central texts of Confucianism:

 “Yen Yuän asked about rén. The Master said, 'To return to the observance of the rites through overcoming the self constitutes rén. If for a single day a man could return to the observance of the rites through overcoming himself, then the whole Empire would consider rén to be his. However, the practice of rén depends on oneself alone, and not on others.'” (Lún Yǔ, 12.1)[3]

[1]  Ellen M. Chen identifies the "six relations" from the Lüshi chunqiu (呂氏春秋) attributed to Zhong Hui (225-264 C.E.), as "radiating from the individual are: father, mother, elder brother, younger brother, wife, and son."  (p.100).

[2] The Analects, Confucius, translated with introduction by D. C. Lau, Dorset Press, New York, 1979, p.14.

[3] Ibid., p.112.

"Confucius (c.551-479 BCE)",, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, James Fieder and Bradley Dowden, general editors.

“Confucius”, Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy.