Rectification of names

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The Rectification of Names (Chinese: ; pinyin: Zhèngmíng; Wade–Giles: Cheng-ming) is originally a doctrine of feudal Confucian designations and relationships, behaving accordingly to ensure social harmony.[1] Without such accordance society would essentially crumble and "undertakings would not be completed."[2] Mencius extended the doctrine to include questions of political legitimacy.[3]

Mohism and Legalism[edit]

Further information: Chinese Legalism

Because the rectification of names in the Analects of Confucius appears to have been written later, it arguably originates in Mozi.[4] Herrlee G. Creel argued its development through Shen Buhai for the same reasons.[5] Shen Buhai and later Han Fei use a similar concept to the Confucian rectification of names for appointment, matching the words of the official or his title with his performance,[6] and Han Fei bases his propositions for lingual uniformity upon the development of this system.[7] A.C. Graham maintains a Confucian origin.[8]

The "Legalistic" version of the rectification of names is Fa.[9] Mozi advocated language standards appropriate for use by ordinary people.[10] With minimal training, anyone can use Fa to perform a task or check results.[11] Seemingly originating in Guan Zhong, for Guan Zhong and the Mohists, Fa recommended objective, reliable, easily used,[12] publicly accessible standards, opposing what Sinologist Chad Hansen terms the "cultivated intuition of self-admiration societies", expert at chanting old texts. However, it could complement any traditional scheme, and Guan Zhong uses Fa alongside the Confucian Li. What Fa made possible was the accurate following of instructions.[9] For the most part Confucianism does not elaborate on it, though the idea of norms themselves are older and Han Confucians embraced Fa as an essential element in administration.[13][9]

Providing a clear standard,[14] Fa compares something against itself, and then judges whether the two are similar, just as with the use of the compass or the L-square.[15][16] This constituted the basic conception of Mohists practical reasoning and knowledge. What matches the standard is the particular object, and thus correct; what doesn't is not. Knowledge is a matter of "being able to do something correctly in practice" — and in particular, being able to distinguish various kinds of things from one another. Evaluating correctness is thus determining whether distinctions have been drawn properly. Its aim is not an intellectual grasp of a definition or principle, but the practical ability to perform a task (dao) successfully.[15] They proposed its use for reward and punishment, promotion and censure, drawing from the general population.[17]

Objectivity was a primary goal of Shang Yang, wanting to be rid as much as possible of the subjective element in public affairs. Virtuous men are replaced by qualified officials, objectively measured by Fa. The ruler should rely neither on his nor his officials deliberations, but on the clarification of Fa. Everything should be done by Fa,[18][19] whose transparent system of standards will prevent any opportunities for corruption or abuse.[20]

Shen Buhai uses a similar concept to the rectification of names for appointment, comparing the words of the official with his performance.[21] Rejecting scholarly tradition,[22] Han Fei emphasized that through the system proposed by Shen Buhai, uniformity of language could be developed,[23] functions could be strictly defined to prevent conflict and corruption, and objective rules (Fa) impervious to divergent interpretation could be established, judged solely by their effectiveness.[24] By narrowing down the options to exactly one, discussions on the "right way of government" could be eliminated. Whatever the situation brings is the correct Dao.[25]

Confucius[edit]

Confucius believed that social disorder often stemmed from failure to call things by their proper names, that is, to perceive, understand, and deal with reality. His solution to this was the "rectification of names". He gave an explanation to one of his disciples:

A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.

— Confucius, Analects, Book XIII, Chapter 3, verses 4-7, translated by James Legge[26]

The teaching of Confucius consist of five basic relationships in life:

  • Ruler to subject
  • Parent to child
  • Husband to wife
  • Elder brother to younger brother
  • Friend to friend

In the above relationships, Confucius teaches that righteous, considerate, kind, benevolent, and gentle treatment should be applied by the former to the latter. And that with the application of such practices in day-to-day life, societal problems would be solved and righteous government would be achieved. The carrying out of these relational duties would equate the proper channeling of li and the correct use of zhèngmíng congruent to Confucius' teachings leading to the envisioned path of his doctrine; a moral and efficient society and individuals who have achieved the ascension to superior human beings through the principles of li and jen. The proper operation of oneself ultimately depends on the role of zhèngmíng; essentially a circle of dependency in terms of the practice and application of principles and ways.[27]

In Confucianism, the Rectification of Names means that "things in actual fact should be made to accord with the implications attached to them by names, the prerequisites for correct living and even efficient government being that all classes of society should accord to what they ought to be".[28] Without the rectification of names, different words would have different actions. This essentially means for every action, there is a word that describes that action. The belief is that by following the Rectification of Names, one would be following the correct/right path. The rectification of names also calls for a standard language in which ancient rulers could impose laws that everyone could understand to avoid confusion.

Each person has a social standing and a social name. With their social names comes responsibilities and duties. Ruler, minister, father and son all have social names therefore need to fulfill their required social duties of respect (The rectification of names). For example, in the study of Chinese culture a child only speaks when a parent permits them to speak.[29]

Following orders from a person of authority means that you are showing respect, therefore that you are following the Rectification of Names without explicitly acknowledging it. Confucius' belief in the Rectification of Names is still practiced in today's society, for example when a teacher asks a student to address a visitor, that student will follow the instructions.

A broader example, the only way to be a true/real ruler even in name is by following "the way of the ruler"(The rectification of names).

Xunzi[edit]

Nets are for catching fish; after one gets the fish, one forgets the net. Traps are for catching rabbits; after one gets the rabbit, one forgets the trap. Words are for getting meaning; after one gets the meaning, one forgets the words. Where can I find people who have forgotten words, and have a word with them?

— Zhuangzi, Ch. 26

Xun Zi wrote a chapter on "The Rectification of Names" developing a theme that had been introduced by Confucius saying: "Let the ruler be ruler, the subject subject; let the father be father, and the son son."[30] Chapter 22, "on the Rectification of Names", claims the ancient sage kings chose names (Chinese:名, Pinyin:míng) that directly corresponded with actualities (Chinese: 實, Pinyin: shí), but later generations confused terminology, coined new nomenclature, and thus could no longer distinguish right from wrong.

Xun Zi not only wrote that chapter on the topic of the rectification of names but went as far as to develop/expand the rectification into a system of logic. Xun Zi, who believed that man's inborn tendencies need to be curbed through education and ritual, countered to Mencius's view that man is innately good. He believed that ethical norms had been invented to rectify mankind. Other philosophers and logicians such as Guanzi, Mozi, and Gongsun Long developed their own theories regarding the rectification. Li in itself can be seen as the root of all this propriety and social etiquette discussed in the rectification of names as the cure to society's problems and the solution to a moral and efficient government and society.

Modern applications[edit]

The concept of rectification of names is one of the most basic mottoes of Chinese philosophy to date. It has been applied to a broad range of issues and mainly resides in the field of politics. This basic yet powerful precept has served as a means for the toppling and reforming of dynasties. In today's society, the rectification of names is being used popularly with government decisions.

Until 2008 Taiwan put effort into reviewing their historical records and weeding out any affiliation with China to insure their isolated identity. The Democratic Progressive Party administration had been editing grade school history textbooks to refer to Chinese history as "Chinese history" instead of "this country's history" and removing the honorific title "Father of the country" from references to Sun Yat-sen, leaving only his name. (Berman Feb 7, 2007) For those who still practice the traditional Confucian approach to ethics and social morality, the rectification of names has an impact in the way society is structured. According to Xuezhi Guo, "Rectification of names also implies the promotion and development of an elaborately differentiated system of status based on social obligations".[31]

Further reading[edit]

"A Short History of Chinese Philosophy", Fung Yu-lan, 1948. ISBN 0-684-83634-3 Reprint 1976 Ch. 4 pp 41 ff in the paperback edition.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Oldstone-Moore, Jennifer (2002). Confucianism. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated. pp. 54–60. 
  2. ^ Taylor, Rodney L.; Choy, Howard (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Confucianism. 1 (1 ed.). New York: The Rosen Group, Incorporated. pp. 48–50. 
  3. ^ http://www.indiana.edu/~p374/Legalism.pdf
  4. ^ Chad Hansen. Philosophy of Language in Classical China. http://www.philosophy.hku.hk/ch/lang.htm
  5. ^ A.C. Graham 1989. p.284. Disputers of the Tao. https://books.google.com/books?id=QBzyCgAAQBAJ&pg=PA284
  6. ^ A.C. Graham 1989. p.284. Disputers of the Tao. https://books.google.com/books?id=QBzyCgAAQBAJ&pg=PA284
  7. ^ Chad Hansen. Philosophy of Language in Classical China. http://www.philosophy.hku.hk/ch/lang.htm
  8. ^ A.C. Graham 1989. p.284. Disputers of the Tao. https://books.google.com/books?id=QBzyCgAAQBAJ&pg=PA284
  9. ^ a b c Chad Hansen, 1992 p.348-349 A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought https://books.google.com/books?id=nzHmobC0ThsC&pg=PA348
  10. ^ Chad Hansen. Philosophy of Language in Classical China. http://www.philosophy.hku.hk/ch/lang.htm
  11. ^ Bo Mou 2009 p.143. Routledge History of Chinese Philosophy Volume 3. https://books.google.com/books?id=UL1-AgAAQBAJ&pg=PA143
  12. ^ Bo Mou 2009 p.143. Routledge History of Chinese Philosophy Volume 3. https://books.google.com/books?id=UL1-AgAAQBAJ&pg=PA143
  13. ^ Zhongying Cheng 1991 p.315. New Dimensions of Confucian and Neo-Confucian Philosophy. https://books.google.com/books?id=zIFXyPMI51AC&pg=PA315
  14. ^ Bo Mou 2009 p.143. Routledge History of Chinese Philosophy Volume 3. https://books.google.com/books?id=UL1-AgAAQBAJ&pg=PA143
  15. ^ a b Fraser, Chris, "Mohism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2015/entries/mohism/
  16. ^ Bo Mou 2009 p.143. Routledge History of Chinese Philosophy Volume 3. https://books.google.com/books?id=UL1-AgAAQBAJ&pg=PA143
  17. ^ Bo Mou 2009 p.145,147. Routledge History of Chinese Philosophy Volume 3. https://books.google.com/books?id=UL1-AgAAQBAJ&pg=PA145
  18. ^ S.Y. Hsieh, 1995. p.88 Chinese Thought: An Introduction https://books.google.com/books?id=-E5LZeR7QKwC&pg=PA88
  19. ^ Stephen Angle 2003 p.537, Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy
  20. ^ Jay L. Garfield, William Edelglass 2011, p.66 The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy https://books.google.com/books?id=I0iMBtaSlHYC&pg=PA66
  21. ^ A.C. Graham 1989. p.284. Disputers of the Tao. https://books.google.com/books?id=QBzyCgAAQBAJ&pg=PA284
  22. ^ Chad Hansen. Philosophy of Language in Classical China. http://www.philosophy.hku.hk/ch/lang.htm
  23. ^ Chad Hansen. Philosophy of Language in Classical China. http://www.philosophy.hku.hk/ch/lang.htm
  24. ^ Jacques Gernet 1982 p.91. A History of Chinese Civilization. https://books.google.com/books?id=jqb7L-pKCV8C&pg=PA91
  25. ^ Chad Hansen, 1992 p.370-372 A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought https://books.google.com/books?id=nzHmobC0ThsC&pg=PA372
  26. ^ James Legge (1971). Confucian analects: The great learning, and The doctrine of the mean. Dover Publications. pp. 263–264. 
  27. ^ Hopfe, Lewis M. (2006). Religions of the World. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. pp. 178–85. 
  28. ^ Steinkraus, Warren (1980). "Socrates, Confucius, and the Rectification of Names". Philosophy East and West. 30: 261–64. doi:10.2307/1398850. 
  29. ^ Bailey, Benjamin (1997). "Communication of Respect in Interethnic Service Encounters". Language in Society. 26: 327–356. doi:10.1017/s0047404500019497. 
  30. ^ Staal, Frits (1979). "Oriental Ideas on the Origin of Language". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 99: 1. doi:10.2307/598944. 
  31. ^ Guo, Xuezhi (2002). The Ideal Chinese Political Leader. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, an imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 30. 

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