Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Confucianism and Genre: Presentation and Persuasion in Early Confucian Thought

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Confucianism and Genre: Presentation and Persuasion in Early Confucian Thought

Article excerpt

Five Quotations

1. "An honest religious thinker is like a tightrope walker. He almost looks as though he were walking on nothing but air. His support is the slenderest imaginable. And yet it really is possible to walk on it." (Ludwig Wittgenstein. Culture and Value, ed. G. H. Von Wright [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984], p. 73e)

2. "For the sentence will be a parable, and to establish its mere religious sense is to recover the context of very strangely contrasted parables in which it stands, together with the art of balancing parables. This is a long and very complicated task." (Austin Farrer, Reflective Faith [London: SPCK, 1972], p. 116)

3. "For in this world of lies, Truth is forced to fly like a scared white doe in the woodlands, and only by cunning glimpses will she reveal herself as in Shakespeare and other masters of the great Art of Telling the Truth--even though it be covertly, and by snatches." (Herman Melville, "Hawthorne and His Mosses," in The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860 [Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. 1987, orig., 1850], p. 244)

4. "The Master said 'In the morning hear the Way; in the evening, die content.'" (The Analects, Book 4, sect. 8, Waley translation)

5. "Now you say human nature is good." (Mencius 6A6, Lau translation)

I. Preface

Confucianism is surely one of the world's very greatest religious traditions, and it therefore makes claims on both our scholarly attention and our personal allegiances. It has, however, often been misunderstood, perhaps especially in the West. Indeed, it may be the most misunderstood of all great religious traditions, although there is much competition in that sad race. Reasons for the misunderstanding are many, but I want to focus here on a subject that surely helps account for a set of related misunderstandings. Most important here are those that declare the tradition lacks rigor, sophisticated modes of inquiry, spiritually powerful forms of expression, and evident ways in which to reflect critically on given social forms. The subject I will consider is how presentation and persuasion operate in the Confucian tradition, and, because those operations basically arise from the distinctive demands made by the tradition's ethical and especially religious dimensions, I will also briefly address that subject.

My examination combines descriptive (or, more accurately) interpretative claims and constructive or normative claims; indeed, I think a comparative religious ethicist must make both interpretative and normative claims. That combination may seem to some people to be naive or simply wrong-headed, and powerful philosophical positions underlie such judgments, even if they are positions (a discussion for another day) that I believe have basic philosophical flaws. (1) Moreover, my examination unabashedly embraces the modern "turn to the subject" that characterizes so much modern Western theology and even philosophy. I do not, however, believe that such a turn makes impossible a focus on the sacred. Rather, it relocates that focus and places it where we do (and even must) encounter the sacred and its the ethical demands. This approach may be self- reflexive, but it is not simply subjective. In light of these issues about approach, I will begin with a few brief comments on two general theoretical ideas relevant to any attempt to treat interpretatively and constructively, with due regard for the place of the subject, the claims of a religious tradition such as Confucianism.

The first is that to appreciate and consider appropriating features of the Confucian tradition we must develop the ideas found in that tradition. That process of development involves two enterprises: elaboration and emendation. Both draw on the results of modern scholarship and reflection, and they often relate very closely, even if they should be delineated for the sake of clarity. …

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