The rectification of names

Biology and Philosophy 2 (3):347-368 (1987)
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Abstract

The beginning of any rigorous interdisciplinary study, as Hegel and later Marx predicted, is going to be the occasion for opposition, contradiction, negation and mediation. Sociobiology is not a mature field (thesis). Kitcher's critical work entitledVaulting Ambition seeks to at once expose the failings of this field (serving as antithesis) while simultaneously defining the requirements for more mature, and thus epistemologically satisfying, sociobiological explanations (synthesis). The sociobiological research agenda is thus implicitly given a green light provided certain methodological precautions are taken into consideration. Confucius believed that under these circumstances the only way to restore order would be so to arrange affairs that the Emperor would continue to be Emperor, the nobles to be nobles, the ministers to be ministers, and the common people common people. That is, the actual must in each case be made to correspond to the name. This theory Confucius called theRectification of Names (cheng ming), a doctrine which he recognized as being of the utmost importance. (Fung, 1952, p. 59). Tzu-lu said, “If the Lord of Wei left the adminstration (cheng) of his state to you, what would you put first?” The Master said, “If something has to be put first, it is, perhaps, the rectification (cheng) of names.” (The Analects (Lun yü) of Confucius, Book XIII: 3) (Besides being homophones, the two words in Chinese are cognate, thus showing that the concept of ‘governing’ was felt to be related to that of ‘correcting’.)

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