Twofish's Blog

July 30, 2006

Opus dei and the Boston Confucians

Filed under: academia, china, confucianism, quantitative finance, quantlib — twofish @ 4:36 am

I’ve found that I get more readers when I put in odd keywords.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my own philosophy and how I’ve been influenced very heavily by the Evidential School of Dai Zhen. This explains a great deal, like why I seem to find Opus Dei appealing and why I’ve always have issues with the approach of the “Boston Confucians” even though I suppose technically, I am a “Boston Confucian.”

One of the interesting books out there is “Manufacturing Confucianism” by Lionel Jensen who argues that a lot of what we think of as “Chinese Confucianism” was heavily influenced by Jesuit missionaries. If you at example of this, just look at the name. Confucius was Chinese, why does he then have a Latin name? Answer, the Latin name came from the Jesuits.

There is a lot of Jesuit influence in the Evidental School which got passed down to me, and Opus Dei was founded by Jesuits. This means that Opus Dei and I are ideological cousins, which is why I find a lot of the ideology of Opus Dei reflecting my one views of the world. For example, I believe that “work” shouldn’t be considered a separate category of existence. When I program quantlib or do anything involving C++, it’s part of a spiritual quest. One of the things that both Opus Dei and the Evidential school believes is that you don’t find spirituality by focusing on the abstract, you find “God” by focusing on the specific and concrete. You find God, not by thinking abstract thoughts, but by driving a car, ordering a hamburger, listening to music, and programming C++ quantitative finance models and installing database patches. One of the critiques for “what is wrong with the world” that I share with traditionalist Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants is that the idea of “spirituality” has been separated from people’s daily lives.

This also explains why I’ve never found the ideas of the Boston Confucians appealing. Boston Confucianism by and large descends from Cheng-Chu school which emphasized abstract, rational thought. The problem I have with Boston Confucianism is the general problem that the Evidential School had with the Cheng-Chu school, that if you focus on the abstract, you lose touch with the concrete.

I should point out here that I think the term “Confucian” and “Confucianism” are wildly overused. It’s the “Cheng-Chu school” and the “Evidental school” and the “literati.” Adding the term Confucianism to these items really adds nothing, and actually distracts for understanding. For example, adding the term Confucian hides the fact that the “Confucian, traditional literati” of the 1890’s were by and large the exact same people (or at least the same families) as the “anti-Confucian, modernist scientists” of the 1920’s, and that there are huge continuities in thought. It also obscures the fact that the “Cheng-Chu school” and the “Evidental school” although both labelled as “Confucian” really have nothing in common with each other.

In the case of the Boston Confucians, I don’t think their project of making Confucianism into a universalist philosophy makes sense any more than it makes sense to turn Judaism into a universalist philosophy. There are specific rituals and practices I associate with “being Confucian” just as there are specific rituals and practices associated with being an orthodox Jew, (and I’d like one day for someone who is an orthodox Jew to explain why there are also so many Jewish astrophysicists. I suspect there are some very interesting commonalities.)

These rituals are not universal, but they are the scaffolding on which all of the abstract and general are connected to, and if you remove those then the whole ideological structure collapses. It’s impossible to get to the abstract and general without have concrete and specific rituals. They can be different rituals from group to group, but there has to be some ritual, and it’s a mistake to think that you can get to the general without some odd weird ritual.

Here is an interesting fact. My high school Latin teacher, who I always thought of as “very Chinese” enough he came from North Carolina and was caucasian. I think he understood the role of ritual, and had views that are similar to mine (although it is hard to say because I may have gotten my views from him). I mentioned that we were ideologically similar, which isn’t surprising since we both got some views form the Jesuits. One interesting fact, he became a Latin teacher because he was a Catholic traditionalist, who thought English masses were a bad thing.


1 Comment »

  1. Opus Dei wasn’t founded by Jesuits; it was founded by Josemaria Escriva, who began his career as a parish priest in Spain. He was not a Jesuit. In fact, the modern Jesuits regard Opus Dei as something of a rival.

    Comment by KDWmSon — August 26, 2006 @ 5:31 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: