A New Examination of Confucius’ Rectification of Names

in Journal of Chinese Humanities
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Confucius’ explanation of the “rectification of names” is not necessarily related to the theories of “social status” and “names and actuality.” The reason scholars have interpreted the rectification of names in the Analects in so many different ways is, to a large degree, due to assumptions about Confucius’ thinking by his successors, and based on the views on rectification of names among later generations. In the course of the development of thinking about names, scholars have augmented Confucius’ own explanation, gradually fleshing it out from an empty shell into a substantial edifice. The original meaning may have been very simple: Confucius did not wish to establish a standard system of names. Rather, he was simply the first person in history to realize the importance of language in politics. As a politician, Confucius noticed and foresaw the influence that the indeterminacy, ambiguity, and arbitrariness of names could have on politics. He discerned the political consequences when language could not accurately express meaning or when there was no way for people to accurately perceive it. He also recognized how names, as a way of clarifying right and wrong and establishing norms, could have a great effect on a society’s politics. Although Confucius noted that disunity in speech could lead to disunity in politics, he did not propose a solution.



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For further details, see Cao Feng, “Zuowei yizhong zhengzhi sixiang de ‘xingming’ lun, ‘zhengming’ lun, ‘mingshi’ lun 作為一種政治思想的‘形名’論、‘正名’l論、‘名實’L 論 [The Theories of ‘Forms and Names,’ ‘Rectification of Names,’ and ‘Names and Reality’ as a Kind of Political Thought],” Shehui Kexue 社會科學 12 (2015).


See Tsuda Sōkichi, “The Creation Process of the Analects 論語のできたみちすぢ,” in Analects and Confucius’ Thought 論語と孔子の思想 (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1946), sec. 4.


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