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The Way of Heart: Mencius' Understanding of Justice I  

2010-02-03 12:04:39|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Philosophy East and West

Volume 59, Number 3, July 2009

E-ISSN: 1529-1898 Print ISSN: 0031-8221

DOI: 10.1353/pew.0.0063

 

Huaiyu Wang
Department of History, Geography and Philosophy, Georgia College & State University
Abstract

Through a comparative study of the meanings and origins of justice symbolized in the Greek word dikē and the Chinese word yiINSERT DESCRIPTION - inline graphic, this essay explores an alternative understanding of justice exemplified in Mencius' teaching and illuminates a possibility of social and political justice that originates in the human heart instead of reason. On the basis of a genealogical study of yi that identifies its root meanings as "the dignity of the self " and "amity and affinity," this study recovers and revives a way of justice that may preserve and promote the dignity of the individual and the solidarity of political community at once without succumbing to the violence and rigidity of traditional Western metaphysics. In so doing, it highlights a long overlooked dimension of early Confucian moral practice and establishes its unique relevancy for the contemporary debates on justice.

The priority of the individual, indeed, is one of the main points I attempted toestablish in early Chinese understanding of justice or yi. It is certainly a different kind of "individuality" [than was] intended by Mill or Rawls, but not necessarily untenable or unimportant. Perhaps it also presents a kind of human individuality that is more "natural" or genuine, if we approach it without modern prejudices. For ancient Chinese, as I see it, such individuality and dignity do not belong exclusively to human beings, but to animals and plants as well: a lion in his commanding posture, a chimpanzee in her serene gaze, an oak tree standing under the sunshine, a reed dancing with the wind. Under this light, Jane Goodall's account of the individual characters of chimpanzees and David Abram's story of a spider are markedly more telling about the original meanings of "dignity" than Mill's and Rawls' theories of liberty.

From my response to a reviewer

Introduction: Dikē Versus Yi—Two Paths of Justice

This essay explores a new possibility for justice by recapturing a line representing an early Confucian understanding of justice in the book of Mencius. Through a comparative study of the meanings and origins of justice symbolized by the Greek word dikē and the Chinese word yiINSERT DESCRIPTION - inline graphic, I intend to illuminate a vital dimension of social and political justice that originates in the human heart instead of reason. The dialogue between the rational and emotional paths of justice introduces an alternative voice for contemporary debate on this critical question. It anticipates a new way of justice that will preserve and promote the dignity of the individual and the solidarity of political community at once without succumbing to the violence and rigidity of traditional Western metaphysics.

Justice is one of the central concerns of human civilizations. The principle of justice constitutes the foundation of human society as it lays down the way of appropriate distribution of duties and desirables in a political community. In the West, the ideal of political justice, which originates in the divine order of the cosmos, has long been associated with laws and customs, with the sanctity of social and political institutions that stipulate and enforce the universal norm of human activities in a nation-state. Aristotle, whose political teaching epitomizes the Greek understanding of justice as it sets an important ground for Western theories of justice, defines justice as "the bond of men in states." The "administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society."1 Justice is the underlying principle for the governing structures of a political society; it normalizes the [End Page 317] fair and equitable social and political distinctions and divisions necessary for the unity and harmony of pluralistic elements in a state.

Man, for Aristotle, is "by nature a political animal."2 This is so because the human being is the "only animal who has the gift of speech (logos)." 3 Remarkably, logos, the crucial concept of Greek philosophy that has given birth to the word "logic," carries also the meanings of "gathering," "ratio," and "reason." The core of the Greek ideal of justice, indeed, lies in the fundamental principle of logic and reason—the law of contradiction that is impregnated in the subject-predicate grammatical structure of the ancient Greek language. One of the primary functions of human speech, hence, is to communicate the heavenly order to the human world in the form of laws and customs, which decree the norm for the sentence and the judgment of just and unjust, right and wrong, and good and evil that make possible the functioning of a community of different human beings.4 By virtue of the authority of laws and customs, justice formulates the proper way of communal life under a rational structure that sustains the culture and coalescence of a diversity of individuals within the confines of a political order. The word "justice" thus implicates a cluster of meanings such as "way or path (especially the normal course of nature), custom, usage, law, order, right, judicial proceedings, trial, punishment, union or conjunction," which are all, in one way or another, traceable to the ancient Greek word dikē.5

Ironically, the principle of justice, which is necessary for the organization and development of human civilizations, has also another face, one of brutality and severity. Let us recall that even at the peak of its democracy, the ancient Greek city-state of Athens recognized no more than a tenth of her total population as lawful citizens (i.e., native and free male adults) entitled to the administration of justice and basic political rights.6 The universal norm of justice only asserts itself through the exclusive power of the privileged few who assume for themselves a position at the top of the political hierarchy by virtue of their divine gift of reason. According to Aristotle's ontology and teleology, all plants exist for the sake of animals, and all other animals exist for the sake of man.7 The war of human beings against the wild beasts for the sake of acquisition, the subjugation of the irrational and depraved, who are "intended by nature to be governed," therefore, is "naturally just."8 The "justice" of such exploitation and domination stems from a hierarchical structure of Being that prioritizes rational human beings in the metaphysical order of the universe—an order that ought to be endorsed and enforced in a political society. The ideal of justice, in order to implant the rational hierarchy of nature in a city-state, has every right to establish itself through the domination of masters over slaves, men over women, fathers over sons, the rational over the wanton, human beings over animals and plants and over the surrounding natural world—in sum, the chosen over the abandoned, the faithful over the heathen, the strong over the weak. Justice, indeed, is a double-edged sword. Under the supreme authority of the law of contradiction, the principle of justice, which regulates social distinctions and divisions, inevitably invites social opposition and oppression.9

This violence of justice, as I see it, is not accidental; it cannot be attributed to some flaws of reasoning in such thinkers as Aristotle. Rather, the root of this violence [End Page 318] can only be sought in the hierarchical obdurateness of a commanding dimension in Western ontology and metaphysics that has continued to register the origin of justice in Being, the ground of Right in Might.10 It was long embedded in the Greek logos, which prescribed the ideal of man as the master of nature.

Justice is not only a double-edged sword but also a double-edged word. Its very meaning epitomizes the perennial and paradoxical tension between the liberty and autonomy of the individual and the abstract and absolute authority of the state. How is a just organizing principle for the effective and efficient function of political society to be secured without deprecating the humanity of any individual? How is the possibility of justice to be realized without invoking the violence of metaphysics? How can we espouse the freedoms and rights of individuals under a rational governing structure without reducing them to egoistic and atomistic entities and subjecting them to the growing danger of alienation under modernity? These are some of the major problematics for a contemporary discourse on justice. Here, we can note two of the most recent and eminent approaches, represented by John Rawls and Jacques Derrida.

By reclaiming and reforming a traditional Western sense of justice as fairness, John Rawls constructed a theory that spells out in specific and concrete terms the general principles of equitability that seem to be tacitly presupposed in the modern social contract theories of Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. For Rawls, this new contract theory establishes a point of equilibrium between the equality of basic rights, opportunities, and duties and the inequalities of social and economic division that are necessary for the function and advancement of political society. Constricting the concept of rationality to something that is merely instrumental,11 however, it virtually refines and restructures a utilitarian principle that has immediate relevance to social and economic distribution in the modern Western world.12 Rawls' indebtedness to traditional Western theories of justice is not hard to discern. The wish, it seems, is to circumscribe a set of narrow but functional principles of distributive justice that may at once rescue the Western legacy of humanity and rationality for modern political economy and circumvent the violence and difficulties involved in the traditional metaphysics of morals.

On the other hand, in the wake of radical critiques of the Western tradition by Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Heidegger, Foucault, and Levinas, Derrida has dared to recapture the question of justice through a ground-breaking thesis: "Deconstruction is justice."13 For Derrida, there is no possibility of justice without shattering the illusory authority of laws and norms and overcoming the violence ingrained in the "Logo-centrism" of Western metaphysics. Since the ground of laws and norms, the mystical origin of their authority, cannot "rest on anything but themselves, they are themselves a violence without ground."14 The possibility of justice, therefore, can only be explored beyond the boundary of law. We can only anticipate its arrival (avenir15) in the encounter and engagement with the paradoxical situations haunted by the ghosts of infinity, impossibility, and undecidability. Justice, which according to tradition stipulates the proper path of human life, may only come when we have an experience of the aporia (non-road) of the human condition, when we have the [End Page 319] courage to travel off our accustomed beaten track. To enter into this impasse of justice is to instigate a madness that rips open the dominant hierarchical structure of Western being and logos governed by the law of contradiction and thus to release the individual for an infinite experience of freedom, responsibility, and singularity. As long as we attend to the origin of its voice, indeed, the concept of justice, as represented through singular idioms like Dikē, Jus, justitia, justice, and Gerechtigkeit, despite or even because of its pretension of universality, "always addresses itself to singularity, to the singularity of the other."16

Rawls' and Derrida's revolutionary approaches to justice have generated provocative and productive debates among contemporary philosophers. The purpose of this essay, however, is to broach a new front for contemporary discourse on this issue by retrieving a line of early Confucian thinking that culminates in Mencius' political teachings. Through a critical examination of the meanings and origins of justice in early Chinese language and moral practice, I intend to illuminate a possibility of justice that has been largely overlooked by contemporary Western thinkers—a dimension of justice that is not dictated by human reason but induced and nourished by the human heart, that is, by human emotion and affection. With attention to the crucial differences between the Chinese and Western traditions, my investigation expects to pave the way for a dialogue between early Confucian teachings on yi crystallizing in the book of Mencius and ancient Greek theories of dikē exemplified in Aristotle's political philosophy.

We can trace the pervasive Western oversight of the importance of human emotion to the question of justice to the perennial dichotomy of reason (logos) and emotion (pathos), norm (nomos) and nature (phusis, i.e., earthly, imperfect human nature compared with cosmological order), and form and matter that is impregnated in ancient Greek thought. By defining the parties in the initial situation as "rational and mutually disinterested,"17 Rawls obviously carries on a traditional Western antipathy toward human emotion, whose meddling will only impede the possibility of justice. Derrida's emphasis on the madness in the moment of decision for the undecidable, on the contrary, is purported to overthrow the hierarchical structure dominated by the supremacy of reason and law. And yet, the very choice of madness as the representative human emotion opposite to reason has presupposed a traditional "negative" conception of human emotion and thus virtually assumed a dominant Western prejudice for the "natural" wantonness of human feelings. One of the major ambitions of my comparative study is to reveal a valence in human affection and emotion —as manifested in such tender feelings as love and compassion, which are crucial for early Confucian understandings of justice—that has been persistently overlooked under the prevailing Western polar opposition between reason and emotion: a valence of human affection that does not come from its intensity or wildness, but originates in its gentle function of instillation and nurture.

Is it not obvious that the deprecating attitude toward human emotion stems from the authority of the Greek logos that proclaims the essence of man in his rationality? Ancient Chinese, remarkably, never defined human beings as rational animals. Instead, [End Page 320] in the Book of Decorum, it is said that "humans are the heart of sky and earth."18 This emotional understanding of the fundamental human condition on the basis of the heart, which is pivotal to the unique character of ancient Chinese culture and moral practice, has also produced a different path of justice (yi) in early Chinese thinking, which is recovered and restored in the moral teachings of Confucius and his followers.

The Western concept of justice, which originates in the Greek dikē, is haunted by the dominance of reason over emotion, of the universal norm of the state over the liberty of the individual. My project in this essay is to bring to light a crucial dimension of early Confucian thinking that instills and shelters a distinctive Chinese path of justice that prioritizes human affection and the dignity of the individual. One of the root meanings of the Chinese word yi, whose origin is closely associated with another word yiINSERT DESCRIPTION - inline graphic (friendship, affinity), is "the dignity of the self." This preeminent importance of individuality and human affection reflects a distinctive Confucian approach to social and political integration that is not enforced through laws and norms, but induced through a gradual process of moral cultivation and the promotion of emotional attachment among different individuals in a society. Granted, laws and norms also constitute one of the basic meanings of yi. But as an important instrument for regulating the proper way of social and economic circulation, they were never granted the abstract and absolute authority that they attained in ancient Greek philosophy. A great man, according to Mencius, will not perform in accord with "rules of justice that are not just."19 The final judgment of justice, thus, does not consist in the conformation to preestablished moral norms or principles. Nor does it rely on the supreme command of social or divine authorities, or the authority of reason. The judgment of justice originates in the human heart,20 which alone possesses the higher power to repeal and rectify the unjust commands of social and divine authorities. The people, Mencius announces famously, "are the noblest, the gods of earth and the gods of grain come next, and the monarch the last."21 The ground of justice, which for Mencius articulates "the sensus communis of the hearts,"22 lies in the hearts of the people. The ground of justice is humaneness (renINSERT DESCRIPTION - inline graphic), the origin of which is none other than the human heart.23

The recognition of the hearts of the people as the ground of justice appears to overturn the traditional social hierarchy as it dissolves the towering authority of the monarchs and gods. Like ancient Greek and many other early civilizations, ancient Chinese culture was inhabited by structural dichotomies like good and evil, just and unjust, reason and emotion, being and nothing, presence and absence, and, most famously, yang and yin, which infiltrated every aspect of ancient Chinese life. But in contrast to the Greek logos, which stressed the mutual exclusivity of binary opposites and the metaphysical priority of being over nothing, presence over absence, male over female, and the strong over the weak, the ancient Chinese attitude toward bipolar relations was much more open and flexible. For ancient Chinese, the movement of yin and yang, the prototype of all binary opposites in nature and human life, is such that they are not repulsive and exclusive. They maintain a reciprocal and interdependent [End Page 321] relationship as they frequently interact upon and transform into each other. Curiously, more often than not it is the weak, the feminine, the lower, that is, the yin, that turns out to be what is preferable.

In contrast with Western metaphysics, which pivots around the priority and gravity of Being, ancient Chinese thinking maintains a humble deference for the void and emptiness. It is wuINSERT DESCRIPTION - inline graphic, nothing, that describes the origin, dao—the guiding word of the early Chinese way of living: a singulare tantum that can no more be translated than the Greek logos.24 The law of contradiction, which stands for the supreme principle of reason in the West, was never formally established in ancient Chinese thinking. Indeed, with constant care and reverence for the unpredictable movements of yin and yang, the Chinese path of justice falls nothing short of a process of untiring tempering and reconciliation of this eternal and inviolable law of the cosmos. It is a path enchanted unremittingly by poetical elegies in which the sincerity of the warm heart thaws out the authority of cold reason, and the broad and benevolent bosom of mother earth attenuates and domesticates the absolute and apathetic will of father heaven.

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