Virtue LO22521

AM de Lange (
Tue, 31 Aug 1999 10:22:32 +0200

Replying to LO22491 --

Dear Organlearners,

Andrew Campona <> writes:

>I thought this might make interesting food for thought?
>The Great Learning, Confucius

Greetings Andrew,

It certainly did. Thank you very much for this picture which you took form
Confucius' writings. Billions (not millions) of Chinese people benefitted
from the teachings of Confucius the past couple of millenia.
Unfortunately, most Westerners hardly know his name.

Let us look at this picture which you have presented to us. Like a
painting, let us stand at a distance from it and try to discover the
central message which it tells us about. Great paintings tell many
different cursory things to their viewers. But great paintings also tell
many different central messages to their viewers. The same with
Confucious' teachings and the particular one which Andrew drew for us once
again. Now why do great paintings tell many different central messages to
their viewers? Why do we see so many different cursory things and so many
central messages in the rich picture which Andrew gave to us?

To answer this question, let us look at the rich picture again. Let us
try to discover a deeper message than the central message which we
originally discovered. We know that the central messages originally
discovered differ widely from person to person -- otherness (diversity).
But what about this deeper message behind the central messages? Is there
also a diversity of meanings to it? Or is it exactly the other way around?
Is the deeper meaning unique? If it is the case, how does this unique
deeper meaning evolve into such a diversity of central meanings,
surrounded by even a greater diversity of cursory things? Is it not
another case of the one-to-many mapping?

One day I am going to make a painting once again. It will have a white
background. It will be painted with black paint. It will have only two
strokes on it. It will depict the letter X, the symbol most frequently
used in mathematics to represent the greatest diversity of enitities
imaginable. In algebra it has a certain central message. In trigonometry
it will have a different central message. But what is its deeper message?

Most people who have studied and use mathematics, assume that it has for
creative mathematicians the deeper meaning of an "empty container" or a
"place holder". But assuming something and making sure of such an
assumption are two different things. Stop trying to form an opinion of
what its deeper meaning might be for creative mathematicinas. Make up your
own mind of what its deeper meaning is in terms of your own mathematical
experiences, how meagre or painful they might be.

For creative mathematicians the deeper meaning of X is fruitfulness
("connect-beget"). Let the mind connect to some specific thing and let X
symbolise this effective connection. The majority of students of
creativity still adhere to Arthur Koestler's definition of creativity --
to connect two seemingly unrelated ideas so that a novel idea appear
(emerge) from the connection. The mathematician's symbol X is the
(centuries old) practice of what Koestler theoretically made (after WWII)
the definition of creativity. It connects not only one thought to one
other thought, but a mind of thoughts to one thought so that a whole
landscape of novel thoughts emerge -- the mathematical landscape.

Using this deeper meaning of the mathematician's symbol X as an example of
what is meant by "deeper meaning", what is the unique deeper meaning of
the majority of Confucious writings? I can see it clearly standing out in
the picture which Andrew gave us. I think that the far majority of you
also perceive it this picture with your tacit knowledge, even keeping in
mind that this tacit knowledge differs from person to person. But to
recognise the unique deeper message with your unique tacit knowledge and
to articulate it in terms of formal knowledge are two different things.
The recognition requires years of experience, but the articulation
requires years of practice.

I can now do one of two things.

(1) I can offer my own articulation of this deeper message.
To do this, I will have to make use of my years of
experience and years of practice. I will also invoke
formal knowledge which you may still be very unfamilar
with. Not the least, I will also have to bear in mind the
consequences, namely the "advance reduction of the
wave packet by explication" -- killing the goose which
lays the golden eggs.

(2) I can invite all of you fellow learners into a dialogue
in which we try to communicate not about our formal
knowledges, but about our tacit knowledges by which
we recognise the unique deeper meaning in the picture
from Confucius which Andrew labeled "Virtue". This
dialogue may stop before we have reached our goal.
It may tempt me or one of you to kill the goose which
lays the golden eggs -- a "non-virtuous" (criminal) act.

I will follow number (2). Thus I ask the following question to begin the

Did you notice that Confucious use the ordered sequence nation => family
=> person => heart => intellect?

I think that once we have brought this unique deeper meaning into the
light of our dialogue, we will have much less difficulty in understanding
what the following means:

>The way to reveal innate intellect is to eradicate the desire
>for things. Unable to eradicate the desire for things, one's
>person cannot be cultivated. This goes through all things.

It seems as if Confucious has it against all desires. But assume that
Cinfucious indeed had a great intellect. Would he have made a foolish
errror like that? Would he also have included the desire to become
virtuous? No, in this picture he clearly expressed his own desire to
become virtuous -- one of the central meanings to be perceived in the
picture. (How many of you fellow learners have perceived this central
meaning? What other central meanings have you perceived?)

So when he excludes desires, he has only some of all desires in mind. One
way to get an idea of what they are, is to make a thorough study of the
main culture in China two and a half millenia ago. Among other things, we
will also have to study Taoism. Furthermore, we will even have to study
the meaning (literally and figuratively in those times) of the Old Chinese
word which had been translated by the English word "desire".

As we know, the English word "desire" has many synonyms, each with a
slightly different meaning:- appetency, aspiration, concupiscence,
coveting, craving, hankering, inclination, longing, proclivity,
propensity, wish. The word "desire" encompasses all these different
meanings. In other words, it is an example of the "deeper meaning" which
gives birth to all these "central meanings". Since the word "desire"
encompasses all these different meanings, it cannot exclude any one of
them. This is one reason why, in the English translation, the word
"desire" suggest on first sight that Confucious has it against all

Looking at the list of synonyms above, I will have to change
my sentence
"in this picture he clearly expressed his own desire to
become virtuous"
"in this picture he clearly expressed his own longing to
become virtuous"
This is an example of the painstaking road we have to take
when trying to articulate our tacit knowledge. Some say that
it comes down to a splitting of hair, but that is something

So I can offer a second question to the dialogue on Virtue:-

What synonym describes the kind of desires which Confucious believes has
to be eradicated?

Perhaps I am a fool to continue, but I think that once we are sure about
the deeper meaning to Confucious writings and the one which Andrew
pictured for us, we will have no confusion at all about the kind of
desires which he thinks should be eradicated.

Best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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