Monday, January 6, 2014

Ziporyn on the Liji VIII: Mystical Cheng

Scott Bradley

Unseen coherence means self-completion [spontaneous coming into true being, being perfect as oneself]. Dao means self-guidance [auto-guidance, spontaneous nondeliberate directedness]. For unseen coherence is the end and beginning of each thing. Without unseen coherence there is no thing.
("The Doctrine of the Mean"; Ziporyn)
I have yet to address how this "unseen coherence" (cheng) is the mystical point of entry for this version of Confucianism — and this is its whole point. This is largely because I find it hard to grasp. Ziporyn comments: "Here this unseen coherence as the unseen inner ceaseless commitment to ultimate value takes the place of the Dao of the Daoists as the ground of all particular being . . ." (emphasis mine). The best I can do in trying to clarify this is to think of it as purpose-driven-ness; our purpose is to realize our purpose (benevolence) which we do through the purposeful pursuit of that purpose. This, it seems to me, is antithetical to philosophical Daoism when taken outside the context of our apparent purposelessness. It is in and because of purposelessness that we wander. This, we take as our tentative purpose, as opposed to one fixed by Heaven, one pursued because it ‘works’, not because it is mandated.

After pointing out that though this Confucian Dao, like Daoism's ironic Dao, is unintelligible, Ziporyn tells us: "But it is finally knowable through a subjective attentiveness to one's own value orientation, one's sincerity, which thus becomes the point of contact between the metaphysical and the empirical, the solution to the skeptical epistemology of the ironic tradition." The metaphysical 'why?' of this purpose remains unseen, but we know what it is (benevolence), and in applying it we enter the realm of the unseen. We do not know why benevolence is the ultimate value, but it is (because it is innate?), and thus when we take it as such, we unite with the ultimate. One unites with things as they seem ethically. In Daoism one unites with things as they seem emptily, without ethical or other discriminating commitments.

Should we wish to deal with absolutes we could certainly do worse than this, but history teaches us that absolutes, however wonderfully positive, quickly become the foundational excuse for all manner of oppression.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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