Sunday, March 22, 2009

Confucius, a great philosopher-prophet

I originally wrote this entry on August 7, 2004 and published it on

I've never liked it when people ridicule something they can hardly understand. That sort of behavior not only shows a lack of tolerance but also a lack of capacity for dialogue and true learning.

Zimran Ahmed's shallow misunderstanding of Confucius recorded on his "economics" weblog, winterspeak, is so glaring that it gives me no choice but to write at least a few words about it and about Confucius, the great philosopher-prophet of China.

Since I have a regular job, I can hardly scratch the surface of how badly off track and lost Zimran has gotten himself.

Zimran's reading of Confucius demonstrates a lack of skill for the art of interpretation or tafsir. This is typical of those so focused on technical learning. Zimran's analysis is not only shallow and misguided but also vindictive and one-sided.

This picture is of a woodcut taken from a Ming Dynasty edition of the Analects, depicting Confucius and his disciples.

One of Confucius' major projects, which Zimran has ridiculed in his post, was to create a body of discourse to frame the universe of human emotions. Confucius' biggest complaint (about the modern world, one might add) is that human beings have lost touch with their true emotional roots, with what makes them human. He seeks to educate for a nurturing of emotional rootedness. Confucius is one of the first great philosophers who describes the importance of rites in the emotional universe of human beings in the context of relatioships, in the context of the world. In this, his project differs little from other prophets and philosophers.

Confucius is also one of the first who lays the groundwork for an analysis (later, by Mencius) about how filial feelings of love for family and those who are near us could be nurtured and extended to affect and reach a larger set of relationships. Confucius elucidates the function of the family as the cradle of necessary emotional education.

The gate to a proper understanding of Confucius' Analects is of course a proper reading of the works of Mencius. (Given my evaluation of what little material Zimran has already written about Confucius, I'm afraid he might get Mencius equally and terribly wrong, too.) Without reflection on Mencius, the core of Confucius Analects may remain in darkness for the unlearned.

While Zimran boasts about his studies of Chinese philosophy and classics at school (probably an upper division course or audit of such a course, at Harvard?), his ridicule of Confucius shows that he has not comprehended the meaning of the Confucius' Analacts. It also shows that he has either not seen or rushed through Mencius.

This is a real pity for someone who has listed so many other accomplishments.

No comments:

Post a Comment