UNDER HEAVEN VIII

Two doctrines affirmed in the introductory comments by the author of the Tianxia suggest his essential agreement with Confucianism. The first is his embrace of the sage as “inwardly a sage and outwardly a king”, a common theme in Confucianism. This was an answer to the assumed Daoist quietism and the putative belief that a sage must remain aloof from the affairs of state. (This is exemplified in the likely apocryphal story of Zhuangzi’s dismissal of an offer to become a prime minister.) Where Daoism does have a sage-king, he remains non-coercive and instead rules by not-ruling—hardly an example of being “outwardly a king”.

Secondly, the author completely embraces the prime Confucian virtues of Benevolence (Humanity) and Responsibility and the six Confucian classics (mentioned by name) that are thought to teach them. His only concession to Daoist thought is to tell us that these virtues cannot be instilled by force of law, though even then they can have a laudable effect.

Moreover, though the ancient Dao has been splintered and obscured, there are still some in whom it remains more or less intact. Who are they? We are told only the regions from which they come—Zou (home of Mencius) and Lu (home of Confucius). (Ziporyn 118, note 3) Again, this extreme reticence bespeaks more an honoring of Confucians rather than their dismissal.

Both Mencius (372-289 BCE) and Xunzi (c.314-c.217 BCE) were residents at the Jixia Academy (ca 315-285 BCE). If, as I conjecture, the author of the Tianxia was also a later resident there, then he was familiar with the teachings of both, yet he purposely doesn’t mention them, probably for the reason given in the preceding post—Confucius is unassailable.

In the final analysis, what all this means in terms of the character of the author’s own philosophy is that he was at heart more a Confucian syncretist than a Daoist syncretist, as is most commonly believed. This helps us to understand and evaluate his critique of other philosophers.

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