On the "Rectification of Names" - Confucius

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Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2010 08:42 am
Notice a distinct lack of non-Western Philosophers in the forums. I, myself, have limited knowledge but would like to share a story about something I found really interesting.

On the rectification of names; or why it's not cool to describe something as "cool"

From the Analects, as translated in 1980 wrote:
Tsze-lu said, "The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?"

The Master replied, "What is necessary is to rectify names." "So! indeed!" said Tsze-lu. "You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?"

The Master said, "How uncultivated you are, Yu! 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."

I understand this passage on two differing levels:
1. The proper naming of nouns and positions of status
2. The proper terms to describe everything

Taking particular interest in point 2, there is a tendency for us to describe everything as "cool, rad, nice" so on. While we have to expect verbosity sometimes, i find that this has become quite a handicap for me ; at least verbally.

When I can describe the scenery in autumn as "soft, subtle shades of ochre against a reddening sun" with some thought, oftentimes I just use the word "it's great" - which doesn't touch the soul.

What do you think?
Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2010 01:50 pm
This was most likely an political exchange not direct commentary about the use of descriptive language.

Confucius was at core a political advisor. In an Empire or kingdom that contains various languages, cultures, and regional traditions, classification is a major obstacle to a successful rule. Standardization of terms, weights, measurements etc... is paramount to order, monetary exchange, tax collection, rule of law, and most other essential goods, services, and government/economic operations. Also standardizing a language helps to reinforce class and other stratographic systems, aligning those that use proper standardized forms more access, to a prefered class or prestige level. At least that's my take, as a linguist who works with these systems directly, on the exchange.
Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2010 02:15 pm
Words are concepts...The concept and the name are the same...
Reply Fri 24 Jun, 2011 01:57 am
The aphorism means something very simple: To take correct political decisions it is necessary to say the true and have correct information regarding the situation, not representing our wishes as "true".

The situation with the dynasty was so, that the true situation was not reported to the rulers. It was not polite to report the bad things or the situation of the poor and disfavored. The reports to the rulers were so "politically correct", that actually were wrong. As a consequence the rulers were unable to take the correct decisions and actions, this situation perpetuated and went to worse.

The aphorism is not about linguistics.
Reply Fri 17 Apr, 2015 01:38 am
Confucius's purpose in this passage is put his LI(ritual, behavioral codes) in place. LI is a set of behavioral codes, people in different positions obeying correspondingly different codes. This is a hierarchical structure. So to clarify people's positions, it is necessary to rectify names. Once people are identified with different names, titles and positions, they know what they should do according to their names as required by LI. Thus, things would be in order. So, the rectification of names serve the purpose of putting LI into practice and putting human interaction, including familial, social and political activity in order.

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