If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. (Zi Lu, 3)So the English translation is in fact a very loose translation. While we might arguably say that unsound arguments have no wisdom in it, I believe the English has been intentionally crafted this way to parallel Proverbs 1:7, often rendered “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What was the translator’s original intention? I really don’t know, but possibly the translator might have wanted to say something to the effect of “whereas the Bible was the foundation of Western culture, Confucius was the foundation of Chinese culture.” But in any case, I believe the puzzle of “what proverb is this?” has been solved.
The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name
I spotted this “Chinese proverb” on AIGA’s article Where Design Is Going, And How To Be There, and, naturally, I immediately wanted to find out which proverb it is exactly, in its original Chinese form. I landed on a forum post where one poster claimed the original wording to be “认知是智慧的开始,” which obviously doesn’t even sound right. At the end of the discussion, the conclusion was that the only possible proverb that would fit the sense of the English was “名正言順.” Additional searches seemed to confirm this conclusion, most results equating the English rendition to “名正才能言順.” The source text came from the Analects, where Confucius is recorded as saying,