A reflection on the Doctrine of the Mean
In previous reflections, I have examined the manner in which human interaction can be either conceived of as positive or negative depending on the way in which the individual understands their relationship with society. If they see themselves in an atomistic manner – in that they are a single unincorporated sovereign soul with no debt to teachers or parents and no duties to children, friends and strangers – they will see only competition or oppression in interaction with others (see against Absolute Relativism). On the other hand, if they see themselves as part of a greater whole – their actions not only as impacting themselves by as part of a vast web of interaction and counter-action – then they will appreciate not only the benefit but the necessity for selflessness and duty to others (see on Ethics).
However, I do not want my above musings on the nature of humanity to be a ‘cop out’ to the hard decisions that are necessary for the maintenance of society and the generation of the culture and conditions that are necessary for the growth of learning. Humans, as a product of our evolution, are hard-wired with a series of instinctual behaviours which benefited the Darwinian ruleset that governed our earlier ancestors – greed, selfishness and violence. Although the higher order cognitive processes which we have developed over time bend us towards rationality, we need to cognisant the very real combative process that occurs between the selfish and superior aspects of our mind and our societies.
It is in this battle of the rational and the appetitive aspects of our soul that we need to consider the necessity of sincerity. What is sincerity? It is the quality of aligning thought and action so that the way in which we comport ourselves matched with the way in which we conceive of the good. The reason why we need to consider sincerity is that it is the means by which we restrain the bestial and elevate the rational, the leash by which we bring the ravenous wolf to heel. Sincerity is important in both the relationship between action and thought, but also in thought to action. If our actions are to be good, they must be motivated by good intentions, for otherwise, they are not a virtue (see on Value). However, if we think of virtue and then succumb to the desires of our soul then we are weak. Weakness appears inevitable as part of our mixed existence but which should still be seen clearly as a failure of ethics, not something that can be excused as ‘natural’ (see on Common Humanity).
With these thoughts in mind, I exhort you to examine the conception of humanity which you hold and extrapolate it to your actions – consider their implications for your ethics and politics. If commonality marks humanity as opposed to its individuality – then what claim can be used to deny the universal claims to life and learning for all peoples? However, similarly, if the highest good is learning, dependent on the stability and prosperity of society, what value can exist in the rights or individual liberties of those who would destroy society in the pursuit of their goals – regardless of their intent? At this stage, I have no answer to either of these questions – they merely goad me on to more reading – but I hope that I can demonstrate the sincerity of my quest to understand these most difficult of questions.
Doctrine of the Mean
Li Zhaodao, Emperor Minghuang’s Journey to Shu, fl. early 8th c.