- Summary and Comment
Herbert Fingarette famously introduced Confucius to the Western world by elaborating his concepts of Ren and Li in Confucius: The Secular as Sacred. Ang continues this project. Li is the concept usually translated as propriety or ritual action. Ren is usually translated as benevolence or love. After a brief introduction in which he discusses contemporary scholarship on these concepts, he begins with a chapter on the history of Chinese philosophy up to Confucius, relying on mainly older sources, including Latourette. He concludes the chapter with a brief biography of Confucius himself. The main work of the book is in three chapters: on Li, on Ren, and on their relationships.
Noting that Chinese concepts are not easily defined, Ang analyzes Li as being disciplined, relational, patterned, flexible, as well as being both universal and specific. He analyzes several contemporary thinkers, especially Antonio Cua, to derive his characteristics. He does not much deal with Li's structure as ritual moving way beyond ceremony, although he does admit that it does so. Further, he analyzes the semiotic structure of ritual not as involving many players but as defining a person at the most intimate level.
Ren is analyzed by borrowing concepts from recent contributors, especially Cua, David Hall, Roger Ames, Kong-loi Shen, Karyn Lai, and Chenyang Li. Ang articulates Ren as a particular virtue, a general virtue, an innate moral principle, ethical ideal, and general practice. This is a sophisticated interpretation of a very difficult and multifarious Chinese concept.
Then Ang integrates Ren and Li with six interpretations: the inner–outer criterion interpretation, the instrumentalist interpretation, the definitionalist interpretation, the master of concept and mastery of linguistic practice interpretation, the language and grammar interpretation, and his own contextual interpretation. The first five have their truth, but each is limited in ways that some other of the interpretations point out. Ang's contextual interpretation suggests "that [End Page 605] the relation between Li and Ren has to be understood essentially in the light of the moral cultivation of the person into a Jun Zi, which is actually the whole philosophical enterprise of Confucius." In other words, both Li and Ren are taken to be merely aspects of personal cultivation, no matter how much each involves relating to other people and to the natural and social environment. This is a somewhat old fashioned interpretation, but one authorized by older Chinese scholars.
The advantage of Ang's interpretation is that it allows for straightforward acceptance of the line of Meng Zi. This is to say that Ren and Li both arise from original sprouts within the person, and yet the rituals of Li in their most primitive form are not semiotically ordered. Ren might be more basic and the original of all the others, but all arise from the nature of those original sprouts. The rituals of Li, therefore, might be as external as mere instruments of action (Ang's favored interpretation), and yet there is no break from the inner sprouts taking them up.
The alternative interpretation derives more from Xun Zi, according to Ang. For Xun Zi the natural parts of the human include all the capacities, but lack the human orientations that assigned the proper objects to the capacities. Hence, without the semiotic introduction of rituals a baby is selfish in the sense of thinking only about himself or herself and without much probity. A baby needs to be ritualized in order to be properly human. The rituals are internal to the person, not external, and the baby requires the "Human" as well as "Heaven" and "Earth." For Meng Zi, a baby is fully human, though immature, with just his natural sprouts, and acquires ritual humanity only later. For Xun Zi, a baby needs the rituals internal to his or her inmost self.
Xun Zi's interpretation gives much greater importance to the semiotics that characterizes the ritualization of people. It also says that babies are born only...