On the rectification of names

[in progress]

In 505 B.C.E. or thereabouts, the traveling philosopher Kong Qiu, whom we know as Confucius, made a trip to the state of Wei, in the plain to the east of present-day Shanxi, apparently in search of a government job with Duke Ling. The Analects report that one of his favorite disciples, Zhong You, called Zilu, said to him: "The Lord of Wei wants you to come and lead his government—what would you do first?"

"Definitely," replied the Master, "I would rectify all the names."

"That would be a pretty indirect approach!" said Zilu. "Why?"

"What a bumpkin you are, You!" said the Master. "When a junzi doesn’t understand a subject he should keep his mouth shut. If the names are not right, then what is said will not correspond to anything; if what is said does not correspond, then official business will not be carried out. If business is not carried out, ritual and music will not thrive; if ritual and music do not thrive,  the laws and penalties will be off the mark; if laws and penalties are off the mark, then the people will not know what to do.  This is why a junzi uses a name only in order to say something, and says something only in order to get something done; he doesn’t say things thoughtlessly, that’s all there is to it."

For anybody that thinks it's fun, here is the text from Analects XIII/3 in simplified characters (honesty compels me to add that I know how to play with Chinese text but can't actually read it):

子路曰:“衛君 待子而為政,子將奚先?”子曰:“必也正名乎!”子路曰:“有是哉,子之迂也!奚其正?”子曰:“野哉由也!君子於其所不知,蓋闕如也。名 不正,則言不順;言不順,則事不成;事不成,則禮樂不興;禮樂不興,則刑罰不中;刑罰不中,則民無所措手足。故君子名之必可言也,言之必可行也。君子於其 言,無所苟而已矣。”

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