Law and Morality in Ancient China: The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao

By R. P. Peerenboom | Go to book overview

IV. The Anthropocentric
Pragmatism of Confucius

In the first two chapters, I sought to demonstrate how the various aspects of the Boshu's Huang-Lao thought—metaphysics, epistemology, social and political theory, philosophy of language, and law—cohere with and are best understood in terms of the general hermeneutic of foundational naturalism. The demonstration was heavily textual.

Methodologically, however, an interpretation gains credibility by virtue of its scope. Interpretations, like scientific hypotheses, must account for the data; they must save the phenomena. The text, obviously, constitutes the most immediate data. To the extent that an interpretation cannot explain or reconcile passages in the text, it is a failure. Yet although a successful interpretation starts with the text, it does not end there. A theory that is able to tell a consistent and credible story of the emergence and place of the text within the larger intellectual, cultural, historical, and sociopolitical milieu is a better—a more powerful, more plausible, more believable—theory than one that cannot, all else being equal. In the following chapters, I show how interpreting Huang-Lao as foundational naturalism not only saves the immediate text but makes sense of and in the larger context.

I begin by exploring in this chapter the relation between the foundational naturalism of Huang-Lao and the anthropocentric pragmatism of Confucius. This is not an obvious choice. Most commentators have concentrated on the relation between Huang-Lao and Daoism or Legalism— reasonably enough given the name Huang-Lao together with the importance invested in politics and law in the Boshu. To the extent that commentators have bothered with Confucianism at all, they usually do so on the basis of Sima Tan's statement that "[Huang-Lao] practice accords with the great order of the Yin Yang school, selects what is good from the doctrines of Confucians and Mohists, and combines with them the essential points of the School of Names and the Legalists." 1 They then proceed to list similar

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Law and Morality in Ancient China: The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Law and Morality in Ancient China *
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • I - Introduction 1
  • II - The Natural Way of Huang-Lao 27
  • III - The Socical and Political Philosophy of Huang-Lao 75
  • IV - The Anthropocentric Pragmatism of Confucius 103
  • V - The Pragmatic Statesmanship of Han Fei 139
  • VI - The Daoist Ways of Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi 171
  • VII - The Evolution of Huang-Lao Thought 217
  • VIII - Epilogue 263
  • Appendix - He Guan Zi and Huang-Lao Thought 273
  • Notes 285
  • Bibliography 355
  • Index 375
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