Willful ignorance

微生畝謂孔子曰:「丘何為是栖栖者與?無乃為佞乎?」孔子曰:「非敢為佞也,疾固也。」
Weisheng Mu said to Confucius: “Qiu, why do you run around preaching all over the place? Is it to show off how clever you are?” Confucius said: “I wouldn’t dare presume that I am clever; I simply can’t stand willful ignorance.”

Nothing is known about Weisheng Mu (微生畝) beyond this reference to him in the Analects. Judging by his use of Confucius’s personal name Qiu (丘), he was either a very close personal friend of the sage or simply someone who decided to put him on the spot. Given the bluntness of his question and the total lack of respect he shows the sage, the latter is probably the case.

The character 佞 (nìng) can mean either eloquent or talented. I think “clever” best encompasses both these meanings.

The character固 (gù) means solid, firm, and by extension stubborn. I have further extended this definition further to “willful ignorance”. Simon Leys uses the term “pigheadedness.”

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