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Why Were the Legalists Considered the Black Sheep of Chinese Philosophy

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The Warring States period was a time of radical socio-political change, and thinkers of different intellectual affiliations had to accept this change. The majority has tried to accommodate it within the paradigm of “change with time” (Kern 2000: 170-174): some innovations and changes in existing policies are inevitable, but they do not require a radical overhaul of the current socio-political system and do not undermine the usefulness of the past as a guideline for the present. Legalists were much more determined in their willingness to renounce traditional modes of government, and they questioned the relevance of the past to the present. Their attack on the proponents of learning from the past was twofold. First, in the past, there was simply no unified model of orderly government that could be emulated. Second, and more importantly, society is evolving, and this evolution renders outdated patterns of behaviour, institutions and even values of the past. The system of 20 (initially less) “merit ranks” introduced by Shang Yang was one of the boldest acts of social engineering in human history. This system became the cornerstone of social life in Qin. The lowest ranks were distributed for military service, especially for the beheading of enemy soldiers, or could be purchased in exchange for additional grain yields; Successful rank holders could be integrated into the military or civilian administration and then promoted up the social ladder.

Each rank granted its holder economic, social and legal privileges; and since ranks were not entirely hereditary, the system generated considerable social mobility (see details in Loewe 1960 and 2010; Pines et al., 2014: 24-26; Pins, 2016b). The new system sought to unite the social, economic, and political hierarchy under government control, which in turn necessitated the elimination of alternative ways to improve socio-economic and political status. This last concern is strongly expressed throughout Lord Shang`s book: the term “legalistic school” (fa jia 法家) is omnipresent in the study of early Chinese political philosophy. Despite the many criticisms of its inaccuracy (e.g. Goldin 2011), the term can still be used wisely as long as two important points are taken into account. First, the legalists were not a self-confident and organized intellectual current; On the contrary, the name was invented as a post-factum categorization of certain thinkers and texts, and its main function before the twentieth century was that of a bibliographic category in imperial libraries. Therefore, the identification of a thinker or a text as “legalistic” will forever remain arbitrary; The term can be used as a heuristic convention, but should not (Pace Creel 1974) be used as an analyzer. Second, “legalism” is a problematic name. The Chinese term fa jia is already misleading because it inadvertently reduces the rich intellectual content of this current to a single keyword, fa.

“Legalism” is a doubly misleading English translation because the semantic scope of the term fa 法 is much broader than “law”; It also refers to methods, norms, impersonal regulations, etc. (Creel 1974:147-149; Goldin, 2011). It is therefore incongruous to discuss fa jia in the context of the Western notion of “rule of law” as it was popular in modern Chinese research (e.g., Hsiao 1979: 442-446) and as is sometimes still done today (Fu Zhengyuan 1996: 158-161). Given these intrinsic inaccuracies of the term “legalism”, it can only be used for heuristic reasons, as follows. The term is simply so prevalent in the scientific literature that replacing it with a new name will only confuse readers further. Shen was Chancellor of the Han for fifteen years (354-337 BC). [6]: 81, 113 [166][13]:90 [167] The Huainanzi says that when Shen was alive, Han state officials disagreed and did not know what practices to follow; [168] [6]: 86 The Han legal system was patently confused and prohibited uniform reward and punishment. It is therefore not surprising that no text identifies Shen Buhai with criminal law.

We have no reason to believe that Shen advocated the doctrine of reward and punishment (by Shang Yang, as Han Fei did), and Han Fei blames him for not unifying the laws. The driving idea of the Mohists, who rejected the Confucian idea of parents as a moral model as special and unreliable, was to use hermeneutics to find objective models/norms (Fa) for ethics and politics, as was done in any practical field to order or govern society. These were mainly practices and not principles or rules,[110] as in the square and the plumb line. [38] The Mohists used the Fa as “objective, particularly operational, or measure-type norms for determining name references,”[111] in the hope that the analysis of linguistic norms (Fa) would result in an objective path (dao) of moral reform. [77] [14]: 367 For Mozi, language itself could serve as a source of information when language is objectified, arguing that in any dispute over distinctions, one party must be right and another wrong. [95] The above four texts are the most important repository of legalistic ideology. Several other texts seem to be closely related to them in terms of ideological views and vocabulary: Of particular importance for the discussion of legalism are several chapters of a heterogeneous mixture, Guanzi 管子, nominally created by another great reformer, Guan Zhong 管仲 (died 645 BC). A.D.) of the State of Qi齊, but which was produced between the fourth and second centuries BC. Other elements relevant to the understanding of legalistic thought are some sections of another compilation with several authors, the Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋 (c.

240 BC), and monuments to the man who was the architect of the Qin 秦 Empire (221-207 BC), Li Si 李斯 (d.