<Previous Section>
<Next Section>

Chapter XLI. Inquiring into the Origin of Dialectic

1Somebody asked: "How does dialectic originate?"

The reply was: "It originates from the superior's lack of enlightenment."

The inquirer asked: "How can the superior's lack of enlightenment produce dialectic?"

The reply was: "In the state of an enlightened sovereign, his orders are the most precious among the words of men and his laws are the most appropriate rules to affairs. Two different words cannot be equally precious nor can two different laws be equally appropriate. Therefore, words and deeds not conforming to laws and decrees must be forbidden. If anybody, not authorized by laws and orders, attempts to cope with foreign intrigues, guard against civil disturbances, produce public benefit, or manage state affairs, his superior should heed his word and hold it accountable for an equivalent fact. If the word turns out true, he should receive a big reward: if not true, he should suffer a heavy penalty. Therefore, stupid persons fear punishment and dare not speak, and intelligent persons find nothing to dispute. Such is the reason why in the state of an enlightened sovereign there is neither dispute nor controversy. 2

"The same is not true in a chaotic age. The sovereign issues orders, but the subjects by means of their cultural learning derogate them; official bureaux promulgate laws, but 3 the people through their conduct alter them. The lord of men, while seeing the violation 4 of his laws and orders, honours the wisdom and conduct of the learned men. Such is the reason why the world has so many men of letters.

"Indeed, words and deeds should take function and utility as mark and target. To be sure, if someone sharpens an arrow and shoots it at random, then though its pointed head may by chance hit the tip of an autumn spikelet, he cannot be called a skilful archer. For he has no constant aim and mark. Now, if the target were five inches in diameter and the arrow were shot from a distance of one hundred steps, 5 then nobody other than Hou Yi and P`ang Mêng could with certainty hit the mark every time. For there would then be a constant aim and mark. Therefore, in the presence of a constant aim and mark the straight hit by Hou Yi and P`ang Mêng at a target five inches in diameter is regarded as skilful; whereas in the absence of a constant aim and mark the wild hit at the tip of an autumn spikelet is regarded as awkward. Now, when adopting words and observing deeds, if someone does not take function and utility for mark and target, he will be doing the same as wild shooting, however profound the words may be and however thorough the deeds may be.

"For this reason, in a chaotic age, people, when listening to speeches, regard unintelligible wordings as profound and far-fetched discussions as eloquent; and, when observing deeds, regard deviations from group creeds as worthy and offences against superiors as noble. Even the lord of men likes eloquent and profound speeches, and honours worthy and noble deeds. In consequence, though upholders of law and craft establish the standards of acceptance and rejection and differentiate between the principles of diction and contention, neither ruler nor people are thereby rectified. For this reason, men wearing the robes of the literati and girding the swords of the cavaliers are many, but men devoted to tilling and fighting are few; discussions on "Hard and White" 6 and "The Merciless" 7 prevail, but mandates and decrees come to a standstill. Hence the saying: `Wherever the sovereign lacks enlightenment, there originates dialectic.' "


1. 問辯. The Chinese word pien 辯 connotes both "dispute" and "controversy" in English. Therefore in the translation of this work sometimes both are simultaneously used for difference in emphasis.

2. Most probably because of his methodological differences, Derk Bodde made a very different rendering of this paragraph (v. Fung, op. cit., p. 323).

3. With Wang Hsien-shen 而 should be supplied above 民.

4. With Kao Hêng 漸 above 其法令 means 姦.

5. Wang Hsien-shen proposed 百步 for 十步.

6. By Kung-sun Lung. See supra, p. 116.

7. By Têng Hsi Tzŭ. In place of Têng Hsi, Bodde put Hui Shih (Fung, op. cit., p. 323, f.1), which is wrong. In his essay on "The Merciless" Têng Hsi enumerated certain challenging ideas as follows:—

Heaven cannot prevent the causes of malignancy and adversity and thereby make short-lived people to live on and good citizens to live long. To mankind this is merciless. As a rule, people make holes through walls and steal things, because they were born amidst needy circumstances and brought up in poverty and destitution. Nevertheless, the ruler would stick to the law and censure them. To the people this is merciless. Yao and Shun attained the status of the Son of Heaven, but Tan Chu and Shang Chün remained hemp clothed commoners. To sons this is merciless. The Duke of Chou censured Kuan and Ts`ai. To brothers this is merciless . . . .

<Previous Section>
<Next Section>
IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia