Innovation Within Tradition
Does Confucianism leave little room for a distinctive or innovative individual human life? Are humans supposed to forfeit their individuality for the good of society? Confucius describes the ideal way to live and govern as a concept called “Tao.” To live by Tao, a heavy emphasis is placed on how we must contribute to the good of society. To achieve good for our society, we are to carry on the traditions and rituals shared by that society. It is this idea of having to carry on tradition and focus on society that leads some to worry about their individual life. Many believe that in carrying on tradition and ritual they forfeit their freedom to be innovative and distinctive. This is a genuine issue as a society that does not innovate cannot be a productive society. Even more importantly, an individual that must forfeit their individuality for the sake of their society forfeits their identity as well. As humans, our individuality is something we use to define ourselves. If we are meant to only take part in the established traditions without being distinct or innovative within them, what is the purpose of such a life?
In this paper, I will be looking at Herbert Fingarette’s Confucius The Secular as Sacred as well the success of the Golden State Warriors in the last four years to help clarify what Confucius meant for the role of the individual to be. The first part of my paper will explore the concept of li and how I understand it to relate to the Warriors as a team. In the second part of the paper, I will look at the individual success of Stephen Curry and how he managed to revolutionize the NBA while still taking part in tradition and playing for the good of his team. I will use this to clarify how it is possible to be an innovative and distinctive individual, and all while continuing to take part in traditions and focusing on the good of the society.
To understand the role of the individual within the rituals and traditions of the society, it is first important to understand what Confucius means by ritual and tradition. The way Confucius thinks one should structure society is based on the concept of li. It is from translations of li that we get “sacred ceremony” and “holy ritual.” While these words may bring to mind something like a religious act, Confucius is not talking about any specific ceremony or ritual. Rather, Confucius is pointing to the way in which ceremonies and rituals are carried out. In a ceremony, there is a set way that things are to be done, with every person having something to do, and every action in coordination with all the others. This harmony is accomplished through reciprocal loyalty and respect between those involved which is expressed in the way they live and perform together. Fingarette defines li as, “that structure of human conduct that harmonizes the doings of all men and establishes their well-being as men,”. (47) It is this harmony of humans within ceremon...