Zilu asked, “If the Duke of Wei were to employ you to serve in the government of his state, what would be your first priority?”
The Master answered, “It would, of course, be the rectification of names.”
Zilu said, “Could you, Master, really be so far off the mark? Why worry about rectifying names?”
The Master replied, “How boorish you are, Zilu! When it comes to matters that he does not understand, the gentleman should remain silent.
“If names are not rectified, speech will not accord with reality; when speech does not accord with reality, things will not be successfully accomplished. When things are not successfully accomplished, ritual practice and music will fail to flourish; when ritual and music fail to flourish, punishments and penalties will miss the mark. And when punishments and penalties miss the mark, the common people will be at a loss as to what to do with themselves. This is why the gentleman only applies names that can be properly spoken and assures that what he says can be properly put into action. The gentleman simply guards against arbitrariness in his speech. That is all there is to it.”Confucius, & Slingerland, E. (2003). Analects: With selections from traditional commentaries. Hackett Publishing.
Zilu said, If the ruler of Wei were waiting for you, Master, to take charge of government affairs, what would you do first?
The Master said, If I had to name my first action, I would rectify names.
Zilu said, There—that’s why people say you are out of touch with reality!
The Master said, How boorish you are, You (Zilu)! When a gentleman is confronted with something he does not understand, he should adopt a respectful attitude!
If names are not rectified, then speech will not function properly, and if speech does not function properly, then undertakings will not succeed. If undertakings do not succeed, then rites and music will not flourish. If rites and music do not flourish, then punishments and penalties will not be justly administered. And if punishments and penalties are not justly administered, then the common people will not know where to place their hands and feet.
Therefore, when the gentleman names a thing, that naming can be conveyed in speech, and if it is conveyed in speech, then it can surely be put into action. When the gentleman speaks, there is nothing arbitrary in the way he does so.Confucius, & Watson, B. (2007). The Analects of Confucius. Columbia University Press.