What does the rectification of names mean to Confucians?  

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Confucianism is concerned with stability in society, as well as proper respect given to every individual. To that end, they believe one of the ways in which to properly respect someone is to give and call them the proper name. This applies to both names and titles, as a way...

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Confucianism is concerned with stability in society, as well as proper respect given to every individual. To that end, they believe one of the ways in which to properly respect someone is to give and call them the proper name. This applies to both names and titles, as a way of ensuring everyone is aware of their place in society and is able to give each other necessary respect and deference.

The rectification of names is the proper term for the Confucian practice of assigning appropriate names and titles to individuals. This means calling parents and children by their respective roles and titling teachers and officials with proper titles so that they receive proper respect. Because this is such a priority in Confucianism, rectification of names is one of the main ways they ensure respect is given.

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To rectify names means to make them match up with reality. To Confucians, social disorder is a result of things being called by improper names that do not represent them. This disconnect causes language to no longer refer to reality directly, and therefore, it cannot be used to carry out activities successfully.

When words do not accurately reflect what they ultimately refer to, many kinds of harm can be obscured. In the modern world, many horrible things are referred to by euphemisms that cover up their true nature. This is an example of the words that Confucians seek to rectify so that relationships of power can be conducted in ways that are kind and righteous rather than in ways that inflict harm and cause disharmony.

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Confucianism believes in social harmony that is achieved through stable relationships. To achieve stable relationships rectification of names is essential. Rectification of names simply refers to designating names appropriately and matching these names to responsibilities or actions such that a particular name has a set of responsibilities attached to ensure there is no confusion between the names or the responsibilities allocated to each. This generally provides the appropriate channels and form of interaction between different relationships towards the aim of fostering social order.

Each person has a designated social name within their society; this name accords them certain specific responsibilities to others while expecting a particular action or response from the society. For instance there are defined relationships between rulers and subjects, parents and their children, husband and wife, among others, with expected behavior and actions between them. Thus a child can only act as a "proper" child and this is expected to eventually foster stable societies where each member understands their place and responsibilities.

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To Confucians, the idea of rectification of names means that people should use the right words to describe things and that things should live up to their names.  There should not be cases in which something or someone is called one thing but acts as another.

To Confucians, a stable and just society is built on everything being in its proper place.  Parents should act as parents, children as children, rulers as rulers and so on.  This is where rectification of names comes in.  If, for example, a person is called a parent but does not act as a proper parent would, society as a whole is harmed.  Therefore, rectification of names is important.  People must act in ways that are proper for those in their station.

Rectification of names, then, means two things.  It means that things should be called by their proper names and that those who have a certain name or title must act in ways that are appropriate to those names.

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