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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