Beyond Myth?

Jean-François Champollion was the son of a bookseller, who by his teenage years knew Greek and Latin, and some Herbrew, Abraic, Syriac, Chaldean, Chinese, Persian, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Sanskrit. At 16, he presented a paper providing a clue to the Hieroglyphic script, based on his suggestion that Coptic was an ancient Egyptian language.
Literary critic Guy Davenport called Claude Lévi-Strauss "The Champollion of Table Manners" in an essay on the latter's The Origin of Table Manners. Davenport considers Lévi-Strauss, "the most dilligent interpreter of our time", "a reader of riddles and a rediscoverer of the primacy of human behaviour in our knowledge of the world". And the knowledge Davenport focuses on? "'It remains to be seen,' Lévi-Strauss writes at the end of this intricate study of primitive civility, 'whether man's victory over his powerlessness, when carried to a state out of all proportion to the objectives with which he was satisfied during the previous millennia of his history, will not lead back to unreason.' That is, have we moved irrevocably beyond the ethics encoded in archaic myths; and if so, where are we?"
Apparently, a similar point was also raised by Antonio Rosmini in Theodicy, of which I learned from Brandon's summary of a passage about how moral progress is not inevitable, particularly if new generations do not build on what has been learned from preceding ones. Lévi-Strauss' "out of all proportion" here means too much abstraction of concrete, particular expressions of virtue - if I may be permitted to rephrase a summary. If these expressions get lost, they have to be learned all over again, the hard way, by trial and error.
An example of particular messages that may be transmitted are those Davenport says may come to us through the power of myth: "how to marry, how to eat, how to be brave". He posits that when myth loses this power, "it becomes a narrative that does not know how to resolve itself. Everything, says the contemporary novel, comes to a bad end ... We are no wiser than man has ever been about our helplessness in nature. Our fate with love, death, despair, doubt, wealth ... is no different ... it is unanswerable to ask if we have remained human ... Our past is forgotten. We can forget it again."




Human existence is a riddle, which may be encoded in myth. To be beyond myth is to attempt to surpass the need to come to terms with humanity. Gadamer writes about this attempt at transcending conditionedness in Truth and Method, affirming that the focus on subjectivity is a distorting mirror and that history does not belong to us, we belong to it (278, there is no such thing as a point outside history from which the identity of a problem can be conceived). Also, the "overcoming of all prejudices ... will itself prove to be a prejudice." The way around this is to acknowledge one's own particularity, i.e., to know that one has a horizon: learning to look beyond what is close at hand by seeing it better, not by looking away from it (303-4). In a passage that I think beautifully explains the relevance of historical texts, he writes:
When our historical consciousness transposes itself into historical horizons, this does not entail passing into alien world unconnected in any way with our own; instead, they together constitute the one great horizon that moves from within and that, beyond the frontiers of the present, embraces the historical depths of our self-consciousness. ... Our own past and that other past toward which our historical consciousness is directed help to shape this moving horizon out of which human life always lives and which determines it as heritage and tradition.
The emphasis here being on collaboration, as man is always subject - to history. To discount or deny this subjectivity is actually to forget how to speak. To discount the story as Forster did is to deny the answers that are attempted in narrative (he called it primitive: "The more we look at the story, the less we shall find to admire ... Neanderthal man listened to stories…"). Gadamer writes, "It is not that the understanding is subsequently put into words; rather, the way understanding occurs ... is the coming-into-language of the thing itself." (370-1)
Stories and myths are this birth place, and there are myths that are as sophisticated as dialectics.




One anthology of stories on human comport that does not presume to rise above the conditions when it was written, that rather speaks to them, is Valerius Maximus' first century Memorable Deeds and Sayings, which I learned about most through Henry John Walker's introduction to his translation: "It is his very refusal to perform a historical critique of Roman ideals that makes Valerius Maxiimus such a valuable historical source for the worldview of the Romans." Indeed, Walker notes that Maximus does not claim to present an accurate description of the past (which Walker's footnotes reveal) but to provide moral guidance for their inner lives. Walker quotes Maximus' preface: "What person in his right mind would hope that he could record the course of Roman and foreign history, which has been treated by previous writers in an elegant style, and do so either with greater attention to detail or with more striking eloquence?"
We learn from Walker's footnotes that the liberties Maximus takes are quite amusing, for example, he calls Aristotle "thirsting for glory", allowing his "student" Theodectes to publish his work on rhetoric as his own, later revoking this honour - when really, Theodectes was his predecessor, and Aristotle had written a summary of his work, later referring to this summary. Perhaps this is an example of what Walker defines in the beginning as the Roman "fairness" in citing "foreigners" where they were great, yet at the same time, often portraying the same as being boastful, compulsive liars, and corruptly decadent. And as such, a portrait of the Roman world is achieved.
This may demonstrate Gadamer's point of the use of not looking away from - if not looking beyond.




This week I was musing over the number of guidebooks for behaviour that I know of from the ancient world (nb. dilettante that I am). Memorable Deeds and Sayings was one such guidebook, but another that I learned of from Lendering's AHM (which I'd like to plug) is second century Aulus Gellius' Attic Nights. It begins similarly to Maximus' work in its modest claims. In an entertaining passage on the titles of other books, he explains that his is "merely from the time and place of my winter's vigils; I thus fall as far short of all other writers in the dignity too even of my title, as I do in care and in elegance of style." He explains that his work is to furnish "a quick and easy short-cut" and "lead active and alert minds to a desire for independent learning ... or would save those who are already fully occupied with the other duties of life from an ignorance of words and things which is assuredly shameful and boorish."
Indeed, it was once boorish to be without knowledge of tradition.
But as I was typing all these things down, prepared to add to a list of books on behaviour works like the Enchiridion, it occurred to me that all of these books bear a stoic bent. Which may be just coincidence as this list is random and not reflective of a knowledge of the field - but does raise the question of who is concerned with "the riddles of mankind" and the objectives of his quondam ethics (for, ethics are often the part left unsaid in modern narrative: the unsaid being one of the features of modern prose).
What one derides as priggishness another calls the economy of action, according to which freedom, like the horizon around a person, comes with limits, e.g. the concessions a ruler must make to retain power - to return to the message that Champollion deciphered. Though it sounds like an old story, the only reason I can think of why we would find "less to admire" in it the more we look at it is if we were tired of the human experience and horizons; of having a place and speaking from it.



Book in background: Amy Butler's Midwest Modern
brush: fall foliage by Creature Comfrots.

My Charlatan, Your Writer?

I have recently come to enjoy the apposition, particularly if separated by punctuation - and have Anne Carson's "The Life of Towns" to thank for this. If there are two people standing side by side, in a portrait, this does not necessarily mean they have been equated, even if something has been unified within the artifice of the frame. As one may be standing next to any manner of thing or person today, one may find the application of the frame quite amusing. But I digress. One apposition in this post will again be: Plato's Socratic dialogue, Protagoras, which I am still thinking about.
The section of the Protagoras I am specifically interested in is the end, when Socrates says: "I like the Prometheus of your fable ... I take Promethean thought continually for my own life when I am occupied with all these questions" (361d) because it turns out the Protagoras reference reappears in the work by a later sophist, Aelius Aristedes, titled "To Plato, In Defense of Oratory".
The Prometheus of Protagoras' fable saves man from Epimetheus' lack of wisdom in squandering all the "stock of properties" or "equipment" (from Lamb's translation) on animals, not leaving enough for man (320d-321c). Prometheus comes to find man, "naked, unshod, unbedded, unarmed; and already the destined day was come, whereon man like the rest should emerge from earth to light." It was Prometheus who sought the preservation of man and stole fire from Hepheastus and wisdom from Athena - being unable to steal civic wisdom, as this was found in the dwelling-place of Zeus (the two other gifts being in the buildings belonging to the respective gods; 321c-e).
We note that Plato writes: "Prometheus, through Epimetheus' fault, later on ... stood his trial for death", which seems to foreshadow Socrates' own death, which was also in part due to civic law, which Socrates respected and so drank the poison. We know Socrates respected the law because of what he said in the Crito: one is "to suffer, if [one's country] commands you to suffer, in silence, and if she orders you to be scourged or imprisoned or if she leads you to war to be wounded or slain, her will is to be done, and this is right, and you must not give way or draw back or leave your post, but ... everywhere,  you must do whatever the state, your country, commands, or must show her by persuasion what is really right" (51b-c).




We note Plato's words, that Prometheus stood trial for a fault not his own. It is the fault in the civic arts, and is curiously linked to persuasion, which is the immediate domain of the sophists, as opposed to the more distant and lofty attempt to reach truth by philosophers through dialectics, discourse. We note Socrates saying, "I take Promethean thought continually for my own life when I am occupied with all these questions" - questions of whether virtue can be taught. If it could be taught, wouldn't justice always be what is right? In which case, Socrates would not have stood trial.
The Protagoras ends with Socrates saying to the sophist that he would like to reconsider the issue: "lest perchance your Epimetheus beguile and trip us up in our investigation [361d] as he overlooked us in your account of his distribution". It seems also a play on words, because Epimetheus means afterthought; Prometheus, forethought. The Epimetheus tale tripped them up because it was used by Protagoras to illustrate that all men could be taught justice - which in the tale was not brought by Prometheus, who could not steal it, but by Hermes, who asked Zeus whether he should give it to some men or to all, "'To all,' replied Zeus" (322d).




This tale was retold by Aelius Aristedes in "To Plato, In Defense of Oratory". In his telling, Hermes does not "divide oratory as if it were a distribution of the festival fund, so that all in turn might share it ... but to select the best ... and to hand the gift to them, so that ... they could save themselves and others." Although like in the Protagoras, this gift brings organization to cities and political science, here, as seen from the quotation, it was given but to a few. What a clever answer to Plato, except that, like Plato's criticism in Gorgias, speech is presented as omnipotent: Aristides writes, "from that time [of being given oratory man] has had the power to use the things on earth as he wishes, making reason his shield". Though he does write that through this gift, man "brought thank offerings to the gods, the initial ones being the first fruits of their speeches, in which, reason proves, even now the gods much delight, because first from that source they came to recognize the gods."
An article about sophists by George Duke at the IED distinguishes philosophy from sophistry through "the mercenary character of the sophists and their overestimation of the power of speech". The mercenary, "subordinating the pursuit of truth to worldly success", is contrasted with the full-time and passionate pursuit of wisdom. "The philosopher, then, considers rational speech as oriented by a genuine understanding of being or nature. ... The sophist uses the power of persuasive speech to construct or create images of the world and is thus a kind of ‘enchanter’ and imitator." Words are so important because actions, for the philosopher, are to be consistent with them, and "emanate" from life experience. Duke nonetheless suggests that the difference between sophistry and philosophy is less methodological and theoretical than an "ethical orientation" in which "the sophist is likely to lead to a certain kind of philosophising ... which attempts to master nature... rather than understand it as it is" viewing knowledge as a finished product, transmittable to all. He concludes that the philosopher differs from the sophist, "in terms of the choice for a way of life that is oriented by the pursuit of knowledge as a good in itself while remaining cognisant of the necessarily provisional nature of this pursuit".




Now that I have recognized that even today there is criticism of academic sophistry or charlatanism, I am noticing it everywhere, and not just in the obvious places. There seems to be no middle ground, both sides arguing that their side is not understood wherever it is criticised. Refraining from comment on the most recent example of criticism, I shall focus on Dalrymple's assessment of Žižek because of the conclusion he draws, which parallels a helpfully conciliatory point made by Duke, namely, that the sophists made genuine contributions to philosophy. Dalrymple writes, "I am not against charlatans; I even admire them if they are amiable, as of course the vast majority of them are (an unamiable charlatan is almost an oxymoron)", and concludes that life without charlatans would be rather dull. I would like to suggest that without the sophists, many of Plato's dialogues would not exist. There is something to be said about apposition...
But I will conclude by writing about writing - because when I wrote that I see criticism of sophistry everywhere, I meant that I even found it in a 1923 essay, echoing views still circulating today, by F. L. Pattee called, "The Present Stage of the Short Story" (which, we note, predates even Woolf's A Room of One's Own, which laid out the impractical nature of creative writing). "At least one college professor of literature has proved the value of his short-story course by cold figures: a given number in his last class had a given number of stories accepted by the magazines within six months with a total cash return of a given number of dollars. From this known data it was easy to compute ... the approximate cash value of a first story" etc. "Short-story writing is therefore ... a handwork vocation to be acquired by  mere ... mastery of technique. Moreover, it is taught ... as a newly discovered literary form ... Why study Milton and Matthew Arnold when one can take a literary course breathing the very life of one's own day? Read O. Henry and ... learn the rules ... with words to market 'worth ten cents per.'" It sounds like sophistry - but sophists had some good ideas.
As a final aside on writing, the Aristides link went Livius.org, authored by Jona Lendering. If you have not yet seen his AHM, do take a look at the recent posts, and consider donating to the kickstarter campaign for the magazine.



Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees. Brush: pastel from pugly pixel.

Shock Value

Heidegger's words are stinging in my ears: "Everything looks as if it were genuinely understood, genuinely taken hold of, genuinely spoken, though at bottom it is not; or else it does not look so, and yet at bottom it is." He writes in Being and Time (217) about an ambiguity that disempowers us, tempts us into a groundless floating. "Idle talk" and the "public" confuses and distracts us...so it is that we think we know what we do not, and vice versa.
As I think about this, though, I wonder at how much bombast has obscured some souls throughout the ages, warranting several passages even in Longinus' centuries'-old On the Sublime. Leaving aside the wonderful examples he criticises (which remind me of Aristotle's criticism of some verse: to my nescient eye, sometimes this verse has merit - though "vomiting to heaven" does sound "burlesque"), he writes, "Such expressions, and such images, produce an effect of confusion and obscurity, not of energy; and if each separately be examined under the light of criticism, what seemed terrible gradually sinks into absurdity."
Longinus attributes these faults in writing to "the pursuit of novelty in thought". The attempt to "apply this principle to literature" is the cause of success and also failure. Longinus differentiates between "the true and the false sublime". It seems to me that man keeps rewriting such manuals, updated to the latest sophistry, following the novelty factor. An earlier example could be Plato's Euthydemus, which juxtaposes eristics (the practice of refuting any argument) with elenctics (Socratic questions that promote what is today called autonomous learning). Socrates says of those who would criticise the two brothers who demonstrate eristics although these critics would be unable to hold their own in conversation with them that they have "colour rather than truth" (305e). Yet one might observe this same "colour" in the brothers in Euthydemus: they "care not a straw for what they say, but merely fasten on any phrase that turns up" (305a). We remember Heidegger: "Everything looks as if it were genuinely understood". It is not understood but it has colour: it is not the voice of the philosophical initiate who can converse with novelty, even at the expense of looking stupid sometimes (Longinus explains the inevitability of such), to ultimately expose any legerdemain.




Legerdemain means to be sleight of hand, quick to perform a trick. And maybe Plato plays one on us - for the man Socrates criticises at the end for having colour, not truth and for being half-versed in everything and so not well-versed in anything bears the same traits as the two brothers, who he describes in the beginning of this dialogue as "all-round sportsmen" who have acquired "such a faculty ... for wielding words as their weapons and confuting any argument as readily [272b] if it be true as if it be false". Still, Socrates finishes this passage by saying: "However, we ought to be indulgent towards their ambition and not feel annoyed, while still judging them to be what they actually are. For we should be glad of anyone, whoever he may be, who says anything that verges on good sense, and labours steadily [306d] and manfully in its pursuit." Emphasis added: there is to be some criteria, acknowledgment of the existence of the legerdemain.
Gadamer writes, "a sharp distinction needs to be drawn from mere trick and legerdemain. Even in them something is to be understood. It can be conceptualized; it can be imitated. It even tries to be adept and good. ... The dividing line between a work of art and piece of artifice may be quite fluid, and often contemporaries may not know whether the charm of a production is a mere trick or artistic richness."
An illustration of what may require such discernment could be Sokal's Hoax, which I admittedly have only read around, and which seems to be encapsulated in the title of a book Sokal co-wrote after writing a fake paper that was actually published in a journal although it was a satire seeking to expose Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science.




I read scientist Steven Weinberg's assessment and was struck by one passage: "I don't mean to say that this part of Sokal's satire was unjustified. His targets often take positions that seem to me (and I gather to Sokal) to make no sense if there is an objective reality. To put it simply, if scientists are talking about something real, then what they say is either true or false. If it is true, then how can it depend on the social context of the scientist? If it is false, how can it help to liberate us? The choice of scientific question and the method of approach may depend on all sorts of extrascientific influences, but the correct answer when we find it is what it is because that is the way the world is. Nevertheless, it does no good to satirize views that your opponent denies holding."
(How reminiscent this is of the "method" Socrates professes to learn in Euthydemus, where he is instructed to answer to the meaning he conceives in the words even though he cannot tell what he is being asked 295b-.)
The issue at stake, the social and the scientific, is important, particularly because a unity has been claimed, even though not so long ago, C. P. Snow reluctantly assessed there were "two cultures", literature and science, giving many arguments as to their mutual alienation. He concludes by arguing for social truth, which brings us back to Plato's Socrates. Or Heidegger's warning that we understand what we think we do not and vice versa. Where is the trick - we know there will be a school of such: it is illustrated in Plato and Longinus and cautioned against in Heidegger and Gadamer.
We know it will be manifest in the language, and will attempt to say something new and even attempt to astound. Just like any good metaphor, one might add, the trick aspires to be the mistake that sets things right. Or maybe the metaphor is just a mistake!




Longinus, pre-echoing Heidegger, as it were, writes of the importance of loftiness of the soul (viz. "venturesome souls") and cites an example from Plato: "They, therefore, who have no knowledge of wisdom and virtue, whose lives are passed in feasting and similar joys, are borne downwards, as is but natural, and in this region they wander all their lives; but they never lifted up their eyes nor were borne upwards to the true world above". A characteristic of writing that "takes a strong and lasting hold on the memory" is the poetical image which is "designed to astound". Longinus continues: "When we survey the whole circle of life, and see it abounding everywhere in what is elegant, grand, and beautiful, we learn at once what is the true end of man’s being ... he keeps his hommage for what is astounding".
That may be man's promise. But he also warns of the "gorgeous exterior" that is a "mere false and clumsy pageant, which if laid open will be found to conceal nothing but emptiness". Accordingly, this phrase should induce some sort of shock - like the violent encounter of enemy soldiers from which the word "shock" derives. There is value in that which is laboured "steadily and manfully" but the question is to whom the value goes. Maybe, in the strange economy of language, with its legitimate worldly exchange rate, it goes to everyone.




Getting to the Styx

"Finding one's way around" and "following one's own path does not come easily," Gadamer writes at the end of the Beginning of Philosophy. He is referring to finding one's way in the atmosphere that emerged with Heidegger, where metaphysics becomes one of the forgetfulness of being. This Being comes across in Heidegger's writings collected in Language, Poetry, and Thought as the ability to perceive higher-level metaphors, by which I mean those prompted by a feeling for mortality. He writes of the importance of such poetry to convey something other than usual, something extraordinary, alien, and that when art becomes familiar and a matter of connoisseurship, it has become business and reveals a lack of precision in the thought that meets it. When art is met by everyday language "it no longer responds to the call". Has Heidegger become familiar? At the end of Gadamer's Beginning, he concludes, "just as Plato was no Platonist, neither can Heidegger be held responsible for the Heideggerians." I have yet to be entirely sure of what Gadamer means by this, but as suggested in this paragraph, I wonder if he is not  addressing the difference of those who "respond to the call" and those who do not, though all ostensibly gathered around the same name (Plato, Heidegger).
We are urged to engage with texts, to think for ourselves, and what is more, as per Heidegger, to be venturesome, "more daring than life" and remove our nature from the realm of "procurement and production" i.e., "things that can be utilised and defended". To will more strongly than self-assertiveness - which thinks it is possible to channel the energies of physical nature to make man happy in all respects and brings a peace that is really "the undisturbed ... relentlessness of the fury of self-assertion". Self-assertive man lives by risking his nature in the vibration of money and currency of values, without knowing the true weight of things. Only "one who stands aside from actuality and  ... the collective" can see that man's dwelling is essentially and foremost poetic. Only those open to the widest orbit, to acknowledgement, to death, can reach the interior of uncustomary consciousness, beyond the arithmetic of calculation.


Speaking of calculation, Heidegger writes that measuring something unknown with rods confines this thing within a quantity and order that can always be determined. A more essential measuring is a sketch of something known indirectly only or a conflict of measure and unmeasure, illustrated by a disclosing that reveals what conceals, such as God appearing through the sky. This measure-taking gauges the in-between, which brings heaven and earth together; the rift, which carries opposites to the source of their unity due to their common ground. This is "inconvenient to the cheap omniscience of everyday opinion which likes to claim that it is the standard for all thinking".
This kind of measuring also comes up in Gadamer's Truth and Method. Similar to the "confinement" of a predetermined "order", he writes of the horizon of meaning of the statement being concealed by methodical exactness: "meaning thus reduced to what is stated is always distorted meaning". There is an aspect in "saying what one means" that is connected to "an infinity of what is not said in one unified meaning" which can be seen by comparing this to someone merely repeating what is said, or someone who takes down statements, who will invariably change the meaning of what is said, without consciously distorting it. He uses this as the premise for his argument that hermeneutics is necessary, drawing us into an event of truth. Like Heidegger, he proposes that man is first addressed before he speaks. 
Man learns to live in the speaking of language that presences through his speaking, that uses him to sound out silence, Heidegger writes. Man's home is in a disclosing that reveals what conceals it, a rift that carries opponents to the source of their unity, something alien in the sight of something familiar, a nothing that presences. Poetic projection comes from a nothing that nonetheless contains the withheld vocation of the historical man himself. Man can only truly speak if he is ready for a command that he is to be already waiting to hear.
So "finding one's way" seems to point to an attentiveness disinterested in trade, unafraid of travelling the Styx for nothing more than an anticipated command of the familiarity of life in the alien underworld. Heidegger cannot be held responsible for this conclusion.


Brush: ~surfing-ant at DeviantART. 
Book in background: Amy Butler's Midwest Modern.

非禮勿...

To abstain from joining others in a litany of complaint can feel like a form of ostracism, but also raises the question of training, or the lack thereof. Illustrative of the latter, I heard someone say recently that they did not deem philosophy helpful, I have also been directed to polemics that "dead white males" should not be read. I cannot help but feel sorry for what I think is the ultimate form of ostracism: when a man is dangerous to his own liberty through never having considered it. Reading Plato teaches that the idea that liberty (and other virtues) are glimpsed through a process of questioning, which can be taught, as virtue is multifaceted.
In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes that the man who has been taught his trade (acquiring genuine mastery through techne, in this post posited as proficiency in dialectics, not readymade answers) will have more "luck" at his trade (VI.4.5). The trade is life, and connected with the idea of happiness is moral knowledge. This idea features in Plato's Republic, where all the voices unbelieving of justice are parodied, as if Plato is "smiling at himself" while he forwards his techne, which has to do with justice. This same work also suggests that mankind would get too caught up in the everyday, unable to reach happiness, if it weren't for dialectics. Paul Shorey writes, "Man is a social and political animal, and nothing but abstract dialectics can come of the attempt to isolate his psychology and ethics from the political and social environment that shapes them."
There is no fixed eidos of moral knowledge in the way that an artist has command of such before making a work of art, which is determined for a use. Gadamer makes this point in Truth and Method, noting, "what is right ... cannot be fully determined independently of the situation that requires right". Aristotle writes that the good is reached through phronesis - and Gadamer wonders that the work of a judge would be considered phronesis and not techne. But what I find fascinating about this passage in Aristotle (VI.4.1-5) is how much it 'prefigures'* Heidegger's "The Origin of the Work of Art" and the concept of art bringing something into existence. Elements of art framing, illustrating, or leading up to arguments (elements of art) on virtue can be found in Plato and also Confucius.




While needless disparaging remarks are made of certain thinkers, the latter usefully outline the dangers of corrupting justice. In Confucius' Annalects, caprice is critiqued (12:10): "Zi Chang asked how to increase virtue and dispel confusion. Confucius said, 'Base yourself in loyalty and trust and permeate yourself with fairness, and your virtue will be paramount. We want life for the things we love, and death for the things we hate. But if we have already desired life for something and now we want it to die, we are confused.' Really, it was not for wealth.  Just for a change."
Both Plato and Confucius share an imagination, conception, striving towards human unity: Plato in the Republic, and Confucius in 12:5 and his world-view in which, in A. C. Muller's words, the world does not comprise "isolated monads" but is much more "transparent, unified, and connected". The related passage reads: "To completely overcome selfishness and keep to propriety is humaneness. If for a full day you can overcome selfishness and keep to propriety, everyone in the world will return to humaneness."
Which leads us to a passage on propriety - and to the initial subject of this post: "'Do not watch what is improper; do not listen to what is improper; do not speak improperly and do not act improperly.'" The Chinese is: 非禮勿視、非禮勿聽、非禮勿言、非禮勿動。You can see the same first three characters: what is opposite to propriety (proper social behaviour - see reference to human unity above) do not... And to meditate on the third, "speak not what is contrary to propriety", one may consider another "dead white male philosopher" Marcus Aurelius, who writes (to himself, iv.24): "Most of the things we say or do are not necessary; get rid of them, and you will gain time and tranquility."


Time and tranquility - to be moral. But why, some would ask, the kind who ostracize themselves, and cite the example of Aristides, who is inextricably bound to the word ostracize, which means potsherd or tile - on which Athenians wrote the names of those deemed dangerous to the people. Plutarch, in Volume II of his Lives (from pp. 280), writes of this Athenian, and how his moral stance made him sound quite witty (which reminds us of techne and also Confucius' point that refinement is substance; essence is function (12:8)). Those who ostracize themselves would possibly consider Aristides guilty of the same, for it was he who wrote his own name on the potsherd - for a man who wanted to accuse him without knowing who he was. But that was not the end to his story: he returned to positions of prominence and accomplished great things - earning mention in two of Plato's works as a model of justice (Gorgias 526b, Meno 94a).
It could be said, then, that the alternative to the heavy, accusatory potsherd is something as light as a feather: intent - from the story surrounding the phrase: 千里送鹅毛,礼轻情意重, meaning a goose feather sent from afar, a trifling present with a weighty thought behind it. To "speak not" hopefully opens one up to such light, and witty, inspiration - of art or phronesis. “The noble man develops people's good points, not their bad points. The inferior man does the opposite” (12.16).
As a coda, I might add that the techne of knowledge in 12:22 of the Analects is that one is to "know others". This was explained to partly mean knowing the example of others worthy of emulation. I think that to discount philosophers is to reduce one's chance of luck in life.


Brush: Ewansim at DevniatART.
*Brought into a new context, but there are lexical similarities.
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