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C O U R S E 
Chinese Thought: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science
Edward Slingerland, University of British Columbia
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Confucius and the Art of Self-Cultivation
Notes taken on October 19, 2015 by Edward Tanguay
strength of the Confucian strategy
taking cold, abstract system 2 knowledge and build it into our hot system, so it becomes automatic
creating moral skills
give you flexibility and autonomy
don' need to rely on your system 2 cognition
cultivating the self
the classics
various arts
you learn these culture forms
you train yourself intensely in them
the result if you do this long enough is a transformation
taking the meaning of these external forms and making them a part of your hot cognition
the goal is to be morally perfect, yet effortlessly
Confucian vision of wu-wei
spontaneity and naturalness resulting from learnedness
a naturalness when you have internally completely new ways of being in the world
Analects 2.4
"At age fifteen I set my mind upon learning, at thirty I took my place in society, at forty I became free of doubts, at fifty I understood Heaven's Mandate, at sixty my ear was attuned, and at age seventy I could follow my heart's desires without overstepping the bounds of propriety"
at 70, he can do whatever comes into his heart and mind, follow it, be spontaneous, and yet everything is ritually perfect
he has trained his hot cognition so that it perfectly accords with the demands of Confucian culture
the model is one of domestication
taking something that was wild and shaping it into something new and more tame
skill acquisition
muscle memory
basal ganglia memory
practicing things, using cold cognition
becomes part of your automatic hot systems
what Confucius wanted to do with moral skills parallels what we know about how physical skills are required
the two get melded
cold cultural knowledge
hot bodily dispositions
metaphor of carving and polishing
what we are born with is not what we need
it is a raw, ugly, unshaped thing
we apply a new thing from the outside, a tool, which reshapes this material
but once it's reshaped, we have a perfect artifact, reshaped raw material
this tends to make sense to us from a contemporary perspective
e.g. how to learn how to roll a kayak
the kayaking equivalent of Confucius in action
it's potentially deceiving because it seems so easy
the reason it is hard is you are having to do about six or seven completely unnatural moves
you have to suppress perfectly normal instincts such as
flipping upside down
submerging yourself in water
panicking when you are upside down under water
have to keep your head in the water till the last moment
if you pick your head up you have a centrifugal force, the weight of your submerged body will pull you back down again
so you have to suppress the normal instinct to get your head out of the water
so there are a number of things that are completely counter-intuitive
you have to keep doing them until they become natural
how to drive a car
had to learn many movements then put them all together
we aren't born knowing how to do these things
contrasting with dominant Western models of being civilized
Western model
conscious cognitive control
metaphor: your are constantly trying to control wild horses
you are the conscious mind trying to reign them in
cold cognition trying to control hot cognition
dominant Enlightenment approach
strategies for socialization
always exerting cognitive control
Chinese model
hot cognition gets domesticated
metaphor: you riding on a well-trained horse
strategies for socialization
commitment strategies
fast, frugal, reliable, and automatic (wu-wei)
you have new new values and virtues that you didn't have before
a stable disposition to act in a proper way
a normitively desirable habit
involves specific domains and situations
when honesty is required it is called forth automatically
train people's perception
what is involved in compassion is seeing opportunities for compassion
acquiring a virtue requires seeing the world in a different way
fast, frugal
gives you a degree of flexibility and autonomy
you can go beyond your training since you can go beyond it and use it in new ways
Jazz improv: "I'll be Bach"
plays Bach but then starts messing with it
it's a compelling performance because he can play Bach
you have to master it first, and then bend and twist it in certain ways
language use
you typically can't employ humor or make jokes in a language until you have mastered it to quite a degree
one of the last things you are able to do is twist language in various ways
e.g. Lewis Carroll
"Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in teh wabe, all mimsy were teh borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe"
Confucius as a true master
Analects 9.3
a ceremonial cap made of linen is prescribed by the rites, but these days people use silk. This is frugal, adn I follow the majority.
to bow before ascending the stairs is what is prescribed by the rites, but these days people bow after ascending, this is arrogant, and, though it goes against the majority, I continue to bow before ascending
two alterations of ritual
one is fine
one is not
he is a master of ritual and so he can tell when a change is ok and when it is not
In Analects 9.3, Confucius states that an alteration in a rite is permissible if it will not, in the opinion of one who has mastered it, alter its essential meaning. Some people look at this passage and conclude that Confucius was about freedom and innovation. I don't know how one can interpret Confucius in this way, this is a guy who would not sit if his mat wasn't straight.
So we don't want to turn Confucius into a kind of existential self-making person, or import to many Romantic ideas of creativity into the Analects, as Confucius was an very conservative person. But he does emphasize the importance of flexibility and understanding the tradition in a flexible way, and unless you have this flexibility, you haven't really learned the tradition properly.
the goal of Confucian self-cultivation is to train people so that they have internalized the Confucian way to the point that it is spontaneous, it's natural, it's not self-conscious, and that means they have a flexibility and an ability to adapt to situations in a manner that someone who hasn't internalized it can't