Knowing, Being and Doing

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:27 pm

I’ve been thinking about something I read in the draft dissertation of a Korean doctoral student I’m working with, Mijung Kim. I want to quote a little bit of her chapter here (with her permission):

To understand the relationship between harmony and immediate coping as a way of doing/living ethically and wisely, it is important for us to look into two main concepts of Confucianism: Li () and Yi (). These two concepts are intermingled in the concept of middle way/harmony, person making/becoming a person, and immediate coping/ethical expertise; therefore, it is necessary to explore these terms. Li1 is about our outer actions while Yi2 is about their internal signification or meanings. In Confucian theory, learning through ritual actions is very important to person making.
To manifest the relationships between Li and Yi, I’d like to provide a simple example of how a child learns the concept of “respect.” When a child doesn’t know the concept, “respect” or “deference” to the elderly, the child starts learning certain ritual actions, such as taking a bow, to learn respect. By repeating the action, one slowly learns the concept of “respect” and comes to know the appropriate situations in which to take a bow. Over time, the child internalizes the virtue of respect. When the child sees elders next time, the child takes a bow out of respect and this is the moment when one’s ritual action matches with one’s meaning, the moment of integrating Li and Yi. There is no way to distinguish outer actions from inner meaning or vice versa when Li and Yi are intermingled and practiced in harmony. In this respect, actions take place with no time to engage intentions because the intentions are actions and the actions become the situations that one faces.

In recent Western thought the two aspects seem always to have been separated, with one or the other ascendant. First behaviourism, in which only the outer actions were seen as having meaning, was the dominant paradigm and now we seem to have switched to a form of cognitivism in which only the thoughts have meaning, our actions are simply the inevitable consequences of our inner states. This richer Confucian notion of integrating both action and meaning ‘in the moment’ seems to me to fit better with my own experience of knowing, being and doing, and to provide a richer referent for thinking about teaching and learning.

  1. Li is translated as rites, ceremony, decorum, manners, etc.; therefore, it is summed up as “ritual propriety.” Li refers to the general posture that one strikes and pursues as a person. Ritual actions and the body are interconnected and the body of the ritual actions can be described as the root that supports the innovation and creativity of cultural traditions.
  2. Yi is righteousness or meaning. Yi is intrinsically intertwined with contexts in situations. Yi is a standard of one’s decision making or conducts; therefore, it is fundamental to understanding of the dynamics of person making
  3. This section was also published as part of a journal article a couple of years ago. The reference (to acknowledge the journal’s copyright in this text) is Kim, M. (2003). Integrity in life, teaching and science education. Educational Insights 8(3).