Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Confucius and "Li"


I'd like to start with Li and why Confucius makes rituals so important. American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce considered the formation of habits to be an essentially inductive process. In one of his earliest published articles, he concludes that "the formation of a habit is an induction, and is therefore necessarily connected with attention." Habituation is a matter of induction, but also the process is characterized as being linked to specific acts of attention. Sociologist Clifford Geerts agrees:
It is in some sort of ceremonial form-even if that form be hardly more than the recitation of a myth, the consultation of an oracle, or the decoration of a grave-that the moods and motivations which sacred symbols induce in [people] and the general conceptions of the order of existence which they formulate for [people] meet and reinforce one another. In a ritual, the world as lived and the world as imagined fused under the agency of a single set of symbolic forms, turn out to be the same world.
"Li" has this quality of being a praxis. It's performative, repetitive. Their repetition brings forth a transformative function. For example, religious rituals can produce a spiritual transformation (purifying, healing, reconciling, protecting, informing, and so on). Through ritual practice, the individual comes to understand and participate in the Tao, the harmonious patterns of individual, social, and cosmic interaction created by the Confucian sages. Simultaneously, the transformative process of moral cultivation occurs.

"Li" is automatic behavior, a kind of psycho-somatic response which helps one deal with the world. Rituals are a form of cultural transmission which involves at least  the generation, retention and communication of those representations. "Li" incorporates somatic and affective aspects. "Li" shapes, transforms, and orders certain cognitive and affective responses to our environment. Why? 

Because, through "Li" one comes to embody the culture. Not only one internalizes the conceptual categories and ideals expressed symbolically in "Li," but our gestures and movements become ritualized as well. Part of this process of transformation, takes place because of the somatic experience of praxis. That is the key to Confucian ritual ideals.