Convergence of the Confucian Ethics and the Rituals:
Examining the Esthetic Culture within Li
Ye In Christopher Kwon
A&I: Confucius and His Critics
Professor Seungjoo Yoon
November 21, 2014
Confucius remarks, “In referring time and again to observing ritual propriety (li), how could I just be talking about gifts of jade and silk? In referring time and again to making music (yue), how could I just be talking about bells and drums?” There is an implied intersection between arts and ethical morality in Confucian thoughts. The arts allow one, a particular student, to enrichment of self-cultivation, observance of the esthetic aspect of the ritual propriety, and the development of an ...view middle of the document...
In the ways of the Former Kings, the achievement of harmony made them elegant, and was a guiding standard in all things large and small.” Implicit here is the notion of traditional culture within li and the observance of which, by any means, must serve humanistic ends- whether personal or collective.
For Confucius, since the rituals, a holistic entity of traditional culture, was essential in bringing about social harmony, the arts too were seen as active in actualizing two interrelated ends: self-cultivation and social harmony. Confucius held that “One stands to be improved by the enjoyment found in attuning oneself to the rhythms of ritual propriety and music.” He also maintained in the Analects 12.15 to “Learn broadly of culture (wen), discipline this learning through observing ritual propriety (li).” He further adds in the Analects 7.6 to “…sojourn in the arts.” It is explicit that the early Confucians (those who had partook in the transcription of the Analects) viewed moral and cultural adherence as interlaced, for practicing the arts and rituals allowed one to cultivate the self and to ultimately become a good person, a process that is at the heart of a harmonious state. Again, it is important to affirm the implications of the cultural development; it entails the basic premise that the arts- perhaps, but convincingly- are intrinsic parts of the culture (wen), embodied primarily by li. In further examining the adherence to li, Confucius presents the ideal way of observing. The Analects 15.18 witnesses Confucius articulation as such: “Having a sense of appropriate conduct (yi) as one’s basic disposition (zhi), developing it by observing ritual propriety (li), expressing it with modesty … this then is an exemplary person.” Hence, yi leads to the belief that one’s cultural development contributes to the process of cultivation.
Though the concept may render itself in a simplistic form, Confucius is keen to strike down his moral parameters in observing li and wen. The Analects 6.18 is a prime example in which “The Master said, ‘When one’s basic disposition (zhi) overwhelms refinement (wen), the person is boorish; when refinement overwhelms one’s basic disposition, the person is an officious scribe. It is only when one’s basic disposition and refinement are in appropriate balance that you have the exemplary person (junzi).’” The balance between two extremes in partaking in the esthetic culture is essential primarily because one’s ritual action can have a lasting impact on making of the personal character or disposition. David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames says that the “disposition of making the ritual action one’s own and displaying oneself in that conduct.” Confucius clarifies that one mustn’t follow the li blindly, but one must learn how to skillfully apply them; this, in turn, is the process of personalizing of the rites, a pivotal component of the self-cultivation. For this reason, Confucius criticizes those who simply go through the motions...