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Category: The Ancients

An ancient dilemma

“Once there was a man of Ch`u selling shields and halberds. In praising his shields he said, ‘My shields are so solid that nothing can penetrate them.’ Again, in praising his halberds, he said, ‘My halberds are so sharp that they can penetrate anything.’ In response to his words somebody asked, ‘How about using your halberds to pierce through your shields?’ To this the man could not give any reply.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

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Hence the emoluments clause

“Kung-yi Hsiu, Premier of Lu, was fond of fish. Therefore, people in the whole country contentiously bought fish, which they presented to him. However, Kung-yi Tzŭ would not accept the presents. Against such a step his younger brother remonstrated with him and said: ‘You like fish, indeed. Why don’t you accept the present of fish?’ In reply he said: ‘It is solely because I like fish that I would not accept the fish they gave me. Indeed, if I accept the fish, I will be placed under an obligation to them. Once placed under an obligation to them, I will sometime have to bend the law. If I bend the law, I will be dismissed from the premiership. After being dismissed from the premiership, I might not be able to supply myself with fish. On the contrary, if I do not accept the fish from them and am not dismissed the premiership, however fond of fish, I can always supply myself with fish.’ “ – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

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The ruler can have no friends

“Order and strength are due to the law; weakness and disorder, to its crookedness. If the ruler understands this principle, he must rectify reward and punishment but never assume humanity towards his inferiors. Rank and emolument are due to meritorious services; censure and punishment, to criminal offences.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

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Easily delineated, our fears

“Once upon a time there was a traveller drawing for the King of Ch`i. ‘What is the hardest thing to draw?’ asked the King. ‘Dogs and horses are the hardest.’ ‘Then what is the easiest?’ ‘Devils and demons are the easiest. Indeed, dogs and horses are what people know and see at dawn and dusk in front of them. To draw them no distortion is permissible. Therefore they are the hardest. On the contrary, devils and demons have no shapes and are not seen in front of anybody, therefore it is easy to draw them.’ “ – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

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Cart before the horse

“Once there were men of Chêng contending for seniority in age. One man said, ‘My age is the same as Yao’s.’ Another man said, ‘I am as old as the elder brother of the Yellow Emperor.’ They brought the dispute to the court, but the judge could not make any decision. Finally he ruled that the one who was the last to stop arguing won the case.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

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And other misfortunes

“If the sovereign does not allow the humble to criticize the noble and the inferior to denounce the superior, but always expects the powers of high and low to balance, then ministers on equal footing will dare to conspire with each other. In so doing he will increase the number of delusive and deceitful officials.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

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Step by step

“The compassionate mother, regarding her infant child, always strives to establish the child’s well-being. If she strives to establish the child’s well-being, she will endeavour to rid the child of calamities. If she endeavours to rid the child of calamities, her reflection and consideration become thorough. If her reflection and consideration are thorough, she will attain the principles of affairs. If she attains the principles of affairs, she will certainly accomplish her purposes. If she is certain of accomplishing her purposes, she will not hesitate in her action. To make no hesitation is called ‘bravery’.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

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No muzzle-loaders left

“Those who do not know the right way to political order, always say, ‘Never change ancient traditions, never remove existing institutions.’ Change or no change, the sage does not mind. For he aims only at the rectification of government. Whether or not ancient traditions should be changed, whether or not existing institutions should be removed, all depends upon the question whether or not such traditions and such institutions are still useful for present-day political purposes.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

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It’s nothing personal

“When the cartwright finishes making carriages, he wants people to be rich and noble; when the carpenter finishes making coffins, he wants people to die early. Not that the cartwright is benevolent and the carpenter is cruel, but that unless people are noble, the carriages will not sell, and unless people die, the coffins will not be bought.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

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If

“If all officials indulge in studies, sons of the family are fond of debate, peddlars and shopkeepers hide money in foreign countries, and poor people suffer miseries at home, then ruin is possible.

If the ruler is fond of palatial decorations, raised kiosks, and embanked pools, is immersed in pleasures of having chariots, clothes, and curios, and thereby tires out the hundred surnames and exhausts public wealth, then ruin is possible.

If the ruler is greedy, insatiable, attracted to profit, and fond of gain, then ruin is possible.

If the ruler enjoys inflicting unjust punishment and does not uphold the law, likes debate and persuasion but never sees to their practicability, and indulges in style and wordiness but never considers their effect, then ruin is possible.

If the ruler is stubborn-minded, uncompromising, and apt to dispute every remonstrance and fond of surpassing everybody else, and never thinks of the welfare of the Altar of the Spirits of Land and Grain but sticks to self-confidence without due consideration, then ruin is possible.

The ruler who relies on friendship and support from distant countries, makes light of his relations with close neighbours, counts on the aid from big powers, and provokes surrounding countries, is liable to ruin.

If the ruler is boastful but never regretful, makes much of himself despite the disorder prevailing in his country, and insults the neighbouring enemies without estimating the resources within the boundaries, then ruin is possible.

If words of maids and concubines are followed and the wisdom of favourites is used, and the ruler repeats committing unlawful acts regardless of the grievances and resentments inside and outside the court, then ruin is possible.

If the ruler is narrow-minded, quick-tempered, imprudent, easily affected, and, when provoked, becomes blind with rage, then ruin is possible.

If the state treasury is empty but the chief vassals have plenty of money, native subjects are poor but foreign residents are rich, farmers and warriors have hard times but people engaged in secondary professions are benefited, then ruin is possible.”

The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

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Indeed it is, and a rare thing at that

“The sage is the one who scrutinizes the facts of right and wrong and investigates the conditions of order and chaos. Therefore, when governing the state he rectifies laws clearly and establishes penalties severely in order to rescue all living beings from chaos, rid All-Under-Heaven of misfortune, prohibit the strong from exploiting the weak and the many from oppressing the few, enable the old and the infirm to die in peace and the young and the orphan to grow freely, and see to it that the frontiers be not invaded, that ruler and minister be intimate with each other, that father and son support each other, and that there be no worry about being killed in war or taken prisoner. Such is one of the greatest achievements.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

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The state of affairs

“Because King Ling of Ch`u liked slender waists, the country became full of starvelings; because Duke Huan of Ch`i was by nature jealous and fond of women, Shu Tiao castrated himself in order to administer the harem; because Duke Huan liked different tastes, Yi-ya steamed the head of his son and served Duke Huan with the rare taste.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

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Long ago and far away

“When the Grand Way was pursued, a public and common spirit ruled All-under-Heaven; they chose worthy and able men; their words were sincere, and what they cultivated was harmony. Thus men did not love their parents only, nor treat as children only their sons. A competent provision was secured for the aged till their death, employment for the able-bodied, and the means of growing up to the young. They showed kindness and compassion to widows, orphans, childless men, and those who were disabled by disease, so that they were all sufficiently maintained. Males had their proper work, and females had their homes. They accumulated articles of value, disliking that they should be thrown away upon the ground, but not wishing to keep them for their own gratification. They laboured with their strength, disliking that it should not be exerted, but not exerting it only with a view to their own advantage. In this way selfish schemings were repressed and found no development. Robbers, filchers, and rebellious traitors did not show themselves, and hence the outer doors remained open, and were not shut. This was the period of what we call the Great Community.” – The Li Ki (trans. James Legge)

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How it is to be done

“To obtain the right training for virtue from youth up is difficult, unless one has been brought up under the right laws. To live a life of self-control and tenacity is not pleasant for most people, especially for the young. Therefore, their upbringing and pursuits must be regulated by laws; for once they have become familiar, they will no longer be painful. But it is perhaps not enough that they receive the right upbringing and attention only in their youth. Since they must carry on these pursuits and cultivate them by habit when they have grown up, we probably need laws for this, too, and for the whole of life in general. For most people are swayed rather by compulsion that argument, and by punishment rather than by a sense of what is noble. This is why some believe that lawgivers ought to exhort and try to influence people toward a life of virtue because of its inherent nobility, in the hope that those who have made good progress through their habits will listen to them. Chastisement and penalties, they think, should be imposed upon those who do not obey and are of an inferior nature, while the incorrigible ought to be banished abroad. A good man, they think, who orients his life by what is noble will accept the guidance of reason, while a bad man, whose desire is for pleasure, is corrected by pain like a beast of burden. For the same reason, they say that the pains inflicted must be those that are most directly opposed to the pleasures he loves.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Ch. 9

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Go figure

“Some people believe that it is nature that makes men good, others that it is habit, and others again that it is teaching. Now, whatever goodness comes from nature is obviously not in our power, but is present in truly fortunate men as the result of some divine cause. Argument and teaching, I am afraid, are not effective in all cases: the soul of the listener must first have been conditioned by habits to the right kind of likes and dislikes, just as land must be cultivated before it is able to foster the seed. For a man whose life is guided by emotion will not listen to an argument that dissuades him, nor will he understand it. How can we possibly persuade a man like that to change his ways? And in general it seems that emotion does not yield to argument but only to force. Therefore, there must first be a character that somehow has an affinity for excellence or virtue, a character that loves what is noble and feels disgust at what is base.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Ch. 9

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Keeping them in line

“The natural tendency of most people is to be swayed not by a sense of shame but by fear, and to refrain from acting basely not because it is disgraceful, but because of the punishment it brings. Living under the sway of emotion, they pursue their own proper pleasures and the means by which they can obtain them, and they avoid the pains that are opposed to them. But they do not even have a notion of what is noble and truly pleasant, since they have never tasted it. What argument indeed can transform people like that? To change by argument what has long been ingrained in a character is impossible or, at least, not easy. Perhaps we must be satisfied if we have whatever we think it takes to become good an attain a modicum of excellence.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Ch. 9

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That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh

“Pleasure is considered to be deeply ingrained in the human race, and that is why in educating the young we use pleasure and pain as rudders with which to steer them straight. Moreover, to like and to dislike what one should is thought to be of greatest importance in developing excellence of character. For in view of the fact that people choose the pleasant and avoid the painful, pleasure and pain pervade the whole of life and have the capacity of exerting a decisive influence for a life of excellence or virtue and happiness.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Ch. 1

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Let not their name be legion

“Ought we to make as many friends as possible? Or will the mot juste about hospitality, ‘not too many guests, nor yet none,’ also fit friendship in the sense that a person should neither be friendless nor have an excessive number of friends? The saying would seem to fit exactly those who become friends with a view to their mutual usefulness. To accommodate many people in return for what they have done to us is troublesome, and life is not long enough to do that. Accordingly, more friends than are sufficient for one’s own life are superfluous and are an obstacle to the good life, so that there is no need of them. To give us pleasure a few friends are sufficient.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 9, Ch. 10

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