Back to Table of Contents
Organizer: Michael Puett, Harvard University
Chair: Tu Wei-Ming, Harvard University
Discussant: Benjamin I. Schwartz, Harvard University
The fourth century B.C. has long been recognized as a crucial period in the intellectual history of Chinaa period that witnessed the fluorescence of widespread intellectual debate, the emergence of techniques of self-cultivation, the development of philosophies of ethics and history, and the rise of cosmological thinking. Numerous archaeological finds, most notably the recently-published set of texts from Guodian, are now allowing us to understand this period in far more complexity than was previously possible. The proposed panel will be an attempt to use these paleographic materials, as well as our received texts, to re-think intellectual developments in the fourth century B.C. Harold Roth will discuss how the Laozi parallels from Guodian can give us insight into the theory and practice of self-cultivation during this period. Mark Csikszentmihalyi will analyze the ways in which the Guodian texts allow us to re-think the development of Confucian ethical views. Michael Puett will utilize the Guodian materials as well as received texts to discuss the development of cosmological thought. And David Nivison will take another look at Mencius, analyzing how and why the fourth century thinker reacted to these intellectual currents to formulate a new philosophy of history. The panel as a whole, it is hoped, will shed considerable light on the complex developments of this important century.
Who Keeps the Center?: The Meaning of the Guodian Laozi Parallels
Harold Roth, Brown University
The Guodian Laozi parallels consist of a total of thirty-one passages corresponding to all or part of twenty-nine passages in the received Laozi. These passages are found in three distinct bundles of bamboo strips. The first bundle contains twenty of the passages, the second contains six, and the third contains five. Following the third is a previously unknown work of a different literary style that the scholars who worked on the excavation have dubbed "Taiyi sheng shui" after its first line.
While all except the Taiyi text could have been taken from an already complete Laozi, this is the least likely scenario among three possibilities. The other two are that they themselves were one of the sources for the received Laozi and the other is that these Guodian texts and the Laozi might have drawn from a common source or sources. Of these three possibilities, I have dubbed the first the Anthology Model, the second the Partial Source Model, and the third the Parallel Text model.
Redaction and composition criticism are methodologies developed in New Testament studies to analyze the ideology of the compilers of early texts and to examine their organizational strategies. For the Laozi, there may have been different compilers (or, after LaFargue, "composers") of each chapter and of the text as a whole. The same is true of the Guodian parallels.
Using these methodologies I will provide an analysis of the Guodian Laozi parallels in which I will ascertain the intellectual viewpoint(s) of their compiler(s) by analyzing the inherent meaning of each passage and its role in the complete work. I will then examine how this viewpoint relates to what we know of contemporaneous intellectual currents. Knowing such information may help to decide among the three competing models of their relationship to the received Laozi and therefore give us further insights into their origin and significance.
Benevolence Rightly Understood
Mark Csikszentmihalyi, Davidson College
This presentation examines the reciprocal relationship between the virtues of ren ("benevolence") and yi ("righteousness") in recently discovered Guodian documents such as "Zhongxin zhi dao" and "Wuxing." Comparisons with other Confucian "dialectics" and with cyclical constructs deriving from natural philosophy suggest that this type of reciprocal relationship was an important cognitive structure in the fourth century B.C. In the context of the Confucian virtues, this type of relationship offers the possibility of resolving quandaries arising from conflicts between the virtues of the type found in the Mengzi. This has important implications for understanding the development of early Chinese ethics. In a broader context, it provides a means of understanding the character of the tentatively labeled "School of Zi Si" and its links not only to the Mengzi and Liji, but also to currents found in texts such as Laozi and Xunzi.
The Emergence of Cosmological Thought in the Fourth Century B.C.
Michael Puett, Harvard University
During the latter portion of the fourth century B.C., one sees the emergence of a large number of attempts to claim that the universe consists of spontaneous processes, instead of being controlled by particular deities. This paper will be an attempt to shed light on this intellectual development by analyzing in depth how and why these claims were articulated at the time. I will focus particular attention on the "Taiyi sheng shui," one of the texts discovered in the Guodian tomb. I will discuss the contexts against which the text can be readincluding both the views found among ritual specialists of the day as well as other attempts to formulate correlative definitions of the cosmos. Through such an analysis, the paper will hopefully help to explain why natural philosophy, which would later play such an important role in Chinese intellectual history, arose during this period.
Mencius as Philosopher of History
David S. Nivison, Stanford University
This paper will be a study of Mencius philosophy of history, both in the sense of the pattern or significance that Mencius reads in historical events and in the sense of the normative analysis that Mencius provides for the historians ways of reasoning or writing. The first mode is seen in Mencius presentation of past figures such as Yao, Shun, Tang, Yi Yin, and Wu Wang. I will argue that Mencius is contributing to the revision of the picture of the past taking place in his lifetime, idealizing figures who (as I will show) often have just entered into Chinese thinking (Yao, Shun) or were far from Mencius ideal in fact (Yi Yin, Wu Wang). Also important is Mencius contributions to speculations in his time about the origin of human society and customs, as in his criticisms of the Mohist Yi Zhi. The second mode can be seen, e.g., in what Mencius has to say about the Chunqiu; in his idea of "making friends" with the great men of the past; and in his famous reservations about the reliability of the account of the Zhou conquest in the Shangshu. I will also explore some of the important influences these ideas have had in later philosophy of history.