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CHAPTER III



 

 

NEW PROGRESS IN THE STUDY OF



 

 

THE HISTORY OF CHINESE PHILOSOPHY



 

In recent years study of the history of Chinese philosophy has been in full swing in China. The Society of the History of Chinese Philosophy has been set up and has in publication two journals entitled Studies of the History of Chinese Philosophy and Chinese Philosophy dedicated to publishing research results in this area. A number of books specializing in the subject have come off press and dozens of seminars have been held to discuss special issues. Thus a variety of different views in regard to Chinese philosophers ranging from Confucius to Sun Yat-sen have come forth. All this signals the new progress made in the study of the history of Chinese philosophy. However, I do not propose to discuss here the concrete issues; rather, I would like to talk about the prevailing trends in the study as these probably can give a better picture of the new progress made in this area and points to new prospects which will open up in the studies. In light of this, I would like to address myself to four mutually related issues.

THE HISTORY OF CHINESE PHILOSOPHY AS THE HISTORY OF KNOWLEDGE OF THE CHINESE NATION

There had been in the past a theory which moved from the classical conclusion that the history of philosophy was an historical account of the struggle between materialism and idealism to the study of the history of philosophy as the development of man's knowledge and the laws governing the development of theoretic thinking. However, the many years of practice in taking the history of philosophy merely as an historical account of the struggle between materialism and idealism not only gave rise to such drawbacks as over-simplification and indiscriminate labeling, but also failed to identify any concepts that bore the nature of regularity. How should we resolve this problem? The discussion of "how to evaluate idealism" and "the object of the study of history of philosophy" had failed to lead us out of the dilemma. Under such circumstances people began to turn their attention to studying how philosophy as theoretical thinking developed in history rather than becoming unduly entangled in the class background of a certain philosopher and his place in history.

A philosophical idea that once played a role in the development of man's knowledge naturally had a place in history. But excessive discussion about the relative superiority or inferiority of materialism and idealism is unnecessary, for which of the two is better can be fully determined by the effect they each produced on the development of man's knowledge. The study of the history of Chinese philosophy, in particular, used to stress the role played by a certain philosopher or philosophical school in history and how they were related to the ongoing class struggle and political struggle at that time. Of course, studies of this sort are also important, though strictly speaking they are the problem that the historical study of philosophy is designed to resolve eventually. The final purpose of such a historical study is to reveal the logical inevitability of the development of theoretic thinking as it occurred in history. In the pre-Qin Dynasty philosophy, for example, was there any inevitability for the ideas of Confucius to develop through Mencius to that of Xunzi? At present more and more people who study the history of Chinese philosophy as a history of knowledge. For example, a multi-volume book entitled History of the Development of Chinese Philosophy is now being compiled under the auspices of Professor Ren Jiyu, who asserted that the book was intended to deal with the developmental history of the Chinese nation's knowledge. The History of Chinese Philosophy compiled with the joint efforts of Wuhan and Zhongshan universities also applied this idea as its guiding thought. In the preface, Xiao Jiefu (Hsiao Che-fu) of Wuhan University remarked: "The history of philosophy is the history of how the contradictions of philosophical knowledge have developed; it is man's understanding about the general laws governing nature, society and movements of thinking manifested in the form of theoretic thinking."

Chen Junmin of Shaanxi Teachers University wrote that the "study of the history of philosophy is in essence a science that inquires into the dialectic movement of man's philosophical understanding." In the article "On the Scope, Target, and Task of the History of Chinese Philosophy" Zhang Dainian observed: "The history of philosophy is the history of knowledge in its totality." "It is the history of how man's knowledge develops, that is, a process in which the relative truths developed by mankind accumulate and increase, and the new ones replace the old." To find out in its totality the law that governs the development of Chinese philosophy, Chinese philosophical circles have also turned their attention to Hegel's idea of "likening the history of philosophy to cycles." In the preface to his newly published History of Chinese Philosophy: New Version, Feng Youlan made a special reference to this issue.

Two seminars were held in Beijing, one on "The Philosophy of the Han and Tang Dynasties," was convened by the editorial department of Study of the History of Chinese Philosophy, the other on "Philosophy of the Han Dynasty" was under the auspices of the editorial department of Chinese Philosophy. At both meetings I suggested as a clue to the development of traditional Chinese philosophy in its totality that it is formed by a large spiral cycle constituted in turn of three smaller spiral developmental cycles. The first cycle was pre-Qin Dynasty philosophy. With Confucius as the starting point, it moved on through Mencius and Xunzi to the Book of Change (also through other masters of the School of Logicians) and thus formed the first cycle in the history of Chinese philosophy. The second cycle was the philosophy of the Wei and Jin dynasties and the Northern and Southern dynasties. Starting from the idea of "valuing nil" advocated by Wang Bi and He Yan, it developed through "esteeming substance" upheld by Xiang Xiu and Guo Xiang, to Seng Pi's "doctrine of non-vacuum" which was "neither something nor nothing." The third cycle began with Zhang Zai and moved on through Zhu Xi to Wang Fuzhi.

In the midst of the three cycles were the study of the Confucian classics of the two Han dynasties and Buddhist studies during the Sui and Tang dynasties, indicating the transition from one cycle to another. The three cycles of spiral movements made up the large cycle of traditional Chinese philosophy. Namely, from the philosophy of the pre-Qin period and the two Han dynasties with Confucianism as its main body, it moved on to the metaphysics of the Wei-Jin period and the Sui and Tang dynasties built on the framework of Lao-Zhuang theories. Gradually it assimilated Buddhism (the Hua Yan sect, the Chan sect) and finally developed into the neo-Confucianism of the Song and Ming dynasties, a new school of Confucianism that had absorbed ideas of both the Buddhist and the Daoist schools which it developed at an even higher plane. This pattern of development, it seems, gives expression to the true feature of traditional Chinese philosophy; it shows the place of Confucianism in traditional Chinese philosophy and also the profound influence which Buddhist and Daoist ideas exerted over the philosophy.

THE CONCEPT AND CATEGORY OF

TRADITIONAL CHINESE PHILOSOPHY

If we intend to study the history of philosophy as the history of man's knowledge and reveal the law of the development of theoretic thinking in history, we must probe the issue of concept and category. As theoretic thinking, philosophy is unavoidably manifested through a series of concepts and categories and philosophical propositions formed by concepts and categories. This applies to philosophies in general and is particularly significant in the study of concepts of traditional Chinese philosophy. As Hegel said: "As cultural difference is generally formed on the basis of differences of ideological categories, it is even more so by difference of philosophy." Therefore the study of the concepts and categories of traditional Chinese philosophy and the history of its development will help us understand the characteristics of China's traditional philosophy and the level of its development.

Except for having absorbed some concepts from the Buddhism of India, philosophical studies in China had in the main developed independently prior to modern times and thus maintained a very distinctive character. Precisely because traditional Chinese philosophy has a set of concepts and categories of its own and has gradually formed itself into a complete system it is inappropriate to apply to it concepts and categories of Western philosophy in an oversimplified way; nor is it possible to equate them simply with the concepts and categories of Marxist philosophy. For example, the concept of "shen" in traditional Chinese philosophy has several implications. It may refer to god and ghosts, the meaning that was probably meant by Confucius when he said: "Worship god as if god were there." "Shen" may also mean "spirit" or "soul." This was what Xunzi implied when he said "'Shen' (spirit or soul) is engendered when matter takes shape." Nevertheless, in traditional Chinese philosophy "shen" has an even deeper layer of meaning, that is, "a subtle change." This idea stood out in the Record of Changes, which said: "When there is no telling whether it is yin or yang, it is called 'shen.'" Even though "shen" implies a variety of ideas, the implications are related to each other. Another example is "ti," the opposite of "yong" in traditional Chinese philosophy. It also has a lot of implications; it implies not only "substance" and "support" but also "whole" and "abstract." The multiplex and mutually related implications embodied in one concept give expression to the special features of traditional Chinese philosophy and its level of development.

Since traditional Chinese philosophy has its special conceptual categories, is it true that it has a special category system? I have discussed this issue in my article "On the Problems of a Category System of Traditional Chinese Philosophy," which, on the basis of the historical development of Chinese philosophy, delineated the system of its categories. According to the article, this system is made up by 20 or 12 pairs of categories. Among them the most important pair comprises "the Way of Heaven" and "the way of man." This problem of "Heaven" and "man" remains the core issue of traditional Chinese philosophy. Starting from Confucius' theory of "the Way of Heaven and life," it moved on through Mencius' idea of "do with all one's heart, understand one's lot, and know about Heaven"; the concept "honesty is the Way of Heaven and to be honest is the way of man" stated in The Doctrine of the Mean, the idea to "establish the Way of Heaven" and "establish the way of man" as advocated by Record of Changes; down to Dong Zhongshu, the great Confucian of the Han Dynasty, who described his studies as a learning that probed into "what links man with Heaven." Even Sima Qian, much influenced by Daoist ideas, called his Historical Records a book designed as "an inquiry into what is between Heaven and man and a probe into the changes in the past and present." He Yan, a founder of the metaphysics of the Wei and Jin dynasties, described Wang Bi, another founder of metaphysics, as "one who is qualified to talk about what is between Heaven and man." Even Tao Hongjing, a Daoist master during the Northern and Southern dynasties, was also of the opinion that Daoism (Taoism) studied "what is between Heaven and man." By the time of the Song Dynasty, the Confucians discussed such issues as "the separation of reason and Way," "the heart of Way," "the heart of man," "Heaven's reason," "man's desire," and so on, which were all developments of the issue of "Heaven" and "man." Therefore an understanding about the relations between "Heaven" and "man" means having a grip on the basic issue of traditional Chinese philosophy.

Judging by how things stand at present, articles dwelling on conceptual categories of Chinese philosophy in its totality are increasing. Aside from my article, there were "Unfold the Study of Conceptual Categories Inherent in Chinese Philosophy" by Professor Zhang Dainian [Studies of the History of Chinese Philosophy, January 1982], "Unfold the Study of Categories in the History of Chinese Philosophy" by Fang Keli [People's Daily, September 3, 1982], "A Preliminary Discussion of Methodology in the History of Chinese Philosophy" by Xiao Jiefu (Hsiao Che-fu) [Journal of Wuhan University, no. 3, 1982], and others. However, there are even more papers and publications dwelling on the category systems of certain philosophers, or a certain pair of philosophic categories. For example, in the article "Study of Zhu Xi's Thinking" Zhang Liwen made a special study of the relations among different categories of Zhu Xi's philosophy. In his book entitled The Viewpoint on Knowledge and Practice in the History of Chinese Philosophy Fang Keli analyzed knowledge and practice as a pair of categories in the perspective of historical development. The journal Study of the History of Chinese Philosophy began a special column in every issue to publish various studies of categories in traditional Chinese philosophy. In particular we should mention Pang Pu's "On `San (Three)'," in which in the perspective of "can's" various implications he discussed the unique position of "three" in Chinese culture and the special philosophical significance of triaism. It appears the study of traditional Chinese philosophy can take a further step forward only after such research into the categories of Chinese philosophy and its system.

THE COMPARISON AND ANALYSIS OF

TRADITIONAL CHINESE AND FOREIGN PHILOSOPHIES

Toward the end of October 1980, a "Symposium on the Comparative Study of Chinese and Foreign Philosophies" was held in Guilin. The conference failed to produce any results; however, the issue it brought up began to arouse the attention of us all. As a matter of fact, the study of conceptual categories of Chinese philosophy naturally would have led to such a question, but special features of the conceptual categories of Chinese philosophy can be identified only through comparison with foreign philosophy. That little attention has been paid to the similarities and differences between Chinese and foreign philosophies is due to a variety of factors. As far as the study of history of philosophy itself is concerned, however, one of the most important reasons was the total neglect of the special characteristics of traditional Chinese philosophy. We tried either to explain it in light of Western philosophy or mechanically to apply Marxist jargon to it. Thus it became unnecessary to study the similarities and differences between Chinese and foreign philosophies. Thus far not many studies have been conducted in this regard and studies generally have been done on some individual topics. For example, the Department of Philosophy of People's University held a discussion to compare and analyze Zhu Xi's idea of "Taiji" [the great ultimate] and the "absolute spirit" advocated by Hegel.

An interesting phenomenon which has emerged in the course of comparing Chinese and foreign philosophies is that a number of people, including some natural scientists, have analyzed the Chinese theory of "vitality" and found that it contains more grains of truth and thus is superior to the Western theory of the "atom." According to them, the concept of "vitality" as theorized in China has not only the implication of "basic particle" but also that of "field"; in other words, it has a "dual character of both wave and particle." Professor He Zuoxiu of the Institute of Theoretic Physics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences published in Chinese Science an article entitled "The Materialist Theory of Vitality" in which he said: "Vitality is a matter of continuity. It is close to 'field' as discussed in modern science." "The theory of vitality is the forerunner of the contemporary theory of the quantum field." The theory of "vitality" as discussed in Chinese philosophy has special value in holding that the interaction among different things comes as a result of the effect of "vital energy."

But while this thesis probably contains some grains of truth, it appears also to have certain drawbacks, namely, it lumps together all different phenomena under "vital energy" or the "effect of vital energy" instead of focusing attention on analyzing the phenomena. The "theory of the atom" which prevailed in ancient Greece required that the smallest, indivisible particles be found and called "atoms." While this was, of course, incorrect, in terms of method it called for analysis of concrete matter which cannot be but as an advantage for Western philosophy. As far as the method of thinking is concerned, traditional Chinese philosophy seems to have laid more emphasis on the relations among things and the unity of their many aspects. On the contrary, Western philosophers in ancient times were probably more concerned about the distinction between different things and stressed the analysis of their various aspects.

As attention has been paid to the comparison of Chinese and Western philosophies, the comparison between Chinese and foreign religions also has drawn more attention than before. More studies have been carried out on Daoism (Taoism), the religion of the Chinese nation. There are institutions for Daoist studies, for example, the Institute of Religion under Sichuan University specializes in the study of Daoism (Taoism). Special courses on Daoism (Taoism) are now being offered in universities, special teams have been set up to compile An Outline of Daoist Collections, and articles have been published comparing Daoism (Taoism) with Buddhism. The January issue of Philosophical Studies in 1981 carried an article under the title of "A Preliminary Discussion of the Early Daoist Theory of Life, Death, Spirit, and Body"; which, based on historical data, this analysis of these specific concepts in Daoism (Taoism) and Buddhism revealed the special features of Daoism (Taoism) as a religion.

In the perspective of a comparison of Chinese and foreign philosophies, two important questions have been raised. First, in view of the different development in Chinese and Western societies, some have asked very perceptively whether there is a "mode of Asian thinking." Did not some major propositions of traditional Chinese philosophy express the characteristics of the Chinese mode of thinking? Over the last few years quite a few articles have addressed such propositions as the "integration of Heaven with man," "identification of the intrinsic with the extrinsic," "integration of knowledge with practice," and "feeling and scenery in perfect harmony." Do not all these propositions embody a search for "unity," and is this the basic characteristic of the mode of thinking in traditional Chinese philosophy? If such be the case can we predict that once its lack of logical analysis and demonstration has been rectified Chinese philosophy will develop more along this search for unity? The second question raised is where the national spirit of Chinese culture lies. The answer to such a question can be found only through the comparison of Chinese with foreign philosophies.

THE METHOD EMPLOYED BY TRADITIONAL CHINESE

PHILOSOPHY IN ESTABLISHING A SYSTEM

At the "Symposium on Philosophy of the Han and Tang dynasties" and the "Discussion of Philosophy of the Han Dynasty" held in 1983 the method of establishing a philosophical system was raised and Jin Chunfeng was the first to address this issue. He said philosophers of the Han Dynasty generally used the method of positivism to establish the philosophical system; the Wei and Jin people used a different method, but he was not sure how to define it; the method used by neo-Confucians of the Song and Ming dynasties can be called the method of ethical rationalism. At an enlarged session of the editorial committee on Study of the History of Chinese Philosophy held in 1981 I proposed that this question be chosen as a topic for solicited contributions. Philosophy has two aspects, the "contents" and the "method." Not only the "contents" but the "method" as well reflect a philosophy's level of theoretic thinking. During the period from the pre-Qin Dynasty to the Wei and Jin dynasties traditional Chinese philosophy comprised two major systems, Confucianism and Daoism (Taoism). These two schools were significantly different not only in their contents, but also in terms of the methods they used in establishing their systems.

To put it briefly, the method used by the Confucians was basically that of experience, namely, to use experience in demonstration of things transcending experience or other experience. By the method of experience we mean that the rationality of a philosophical idea can be proved through experience. Confucius said: "To draw a simile from something close can be called the method of benevolence." Mencius remarked: "Categorize and list things that are similar." Xunzi also noted: "Things of the same category do not conflict; they are of the same rationality even after a long time." The Record of Changes mentioned "draw close experience from your own person and distant experience from things," "make a divination to observe nature," "observe astronomic phenomena above and study geographical features below" to illustrate the principles of its thinking. Dong Zhongshu put forward the idea that "things that can be counted are of the second number and things that cannot be counted are of the second category," and with this he demonstrated that "things can be combined by the category and Heaven becomes one with man."

By the time of the metaphysics school in the Wei and Jin dynasties, the method underwent a change. In fact, metaphysics was built on the framework of Lao-Zhuang's thinking, and therefore the method it used in establishing its philosophical system can be called "dialectical thinking," which is characterized by demonstrating the rationality of things existing in experience with things transcending experience. Wang Bi said: "Forget words when the idea is grasped"; Guo Xiang said: "place words within the framework of the idea"; and Ji Kang (Chi Kang) remarked: "Words cannot express the idea completely"--they all meant the same thing. Wang Bi cited "implements originate from the Way" to demonstrate that "ministers are subordinated to the king." Guo Xiang tried to prove the "fairyland" did not exist "beyond the real world" ("to take a journey to the outside world in order to enhance the inner world" "inside and outside are mutually obscure.") The method of "dialectical thinking" was used in all these.

Neo-Confucianism of the Song and Ming dynasties was a combination of the two schools and an improvement on them. Their method perhaps can be called "introspection of ethical rationality." Regardless of whether it was "character is rationality" advocated by Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi or "heart is rationality" upheld by Lu Jiuyuan and Wang Yangming, they all took "rationality [taiji], a priori morality, as the basic contents. Zhu Xi said: "Taiji is a principle of the extremely good. Every man has a taiji, and every thing has a taiji." Lu Jiuyuan remarked: "Those who know before others know this reason, and those who become aware before others are aware of this reason. For this reason one loves one's close relative and respects one's older brother."

In either "the Way questioning the learning" or "respecting virtue and character," one can perceive the "reason of Heaven" in its totality through a moral introspection.

Why was this question raised? Because at that time we were thinking about Engels' remark: "Theoretic thinking is merely an ability endowed by nature and should be developed and trained. To train it, there has been no other method up to now except studying philosophies of the past." Theoretic thinking calls for the formulation of a number of philosophic concepts and the formation, on the basis of philosophic concepts, of a series of philosophic propositions. In order to form the concepts and propositions of a philosophical system as well as the system itself it is imperative to use a certain method, which itself must be a certain kind of abstract thinking. The abstract thinking one exercises in the course of establishing one's philosophical system certainly will train and improve one's level of theoretic thinking. If we can reveal the different methods employed by the various philosophers and philosophical schools in history and make a clear analysis of them they will be an important help in analyzing the philosophers and philosophical schools under study. In

addition, practice is no different from telling people a method for training and improving their level of theoretic thinking, and is therefore very significant.

Judging from the problems mentioned above, we seem to be able to perceive such a trend of development; namely, people may raise the question: What are the prospects of traditional Chinese philosophy, or in other words, does the continued existence of Chinese philosophy in its entirety have any value? If this question is raised and the proper conditions are available, then a comprehensive and systematic analysis can be made of Chinese philosophy in today's perspective. But at present quite a few people continuously maintain a negative attitude toward traditional Chinese philosophy as a whole. Whatever the circumstances, they regard traditional Chinese philosophy as a product of old times, an ideology of feudal and even slave society. Nevertheless, certain ideas of the philosophy are continuously quoted in everyday life. We can see that a great many articles, especially writings on "spiritual civilization," often quote passages from books of ancient China or historical stories in ancient times which were mostly the embodiment of traditional Chinese philosophical thinking.

Why are there such a contradictory phenomena? Is the concept of "value" involved here? Where does the basic spirit of traditional Chinese philosophy lie? Does this spirit still have value in today's world? Following the disclosure of the law of how traditional Chinese philosophy developed, the study of this problem will, in my opinion, show increasingly clearly that it works continuously toward the solution of a major problem, namely the value of the "'Way of' Heaven" and the "'way of' man" and their relations.

This problem should be resolved through the continuous elevation of man's spiritual realm, a concept in Chinese philosophy which requires that man should transcend "oneself" and identify with the "Way of Heaven." Having attained such a realm in which "Heaven is integrated with man" and "man succeeds alongside the Way," an individual could become a saint and society a "world of Great Harmony." As to how or whether it would be possible to realize such an ideal, there were, of course, different views due to the difference in historical conditions and environments. Nevertheless, philosophers in Chinese history tended to take as their motto the epigram that "Heaven moves along a healthy track, and a gentleman should make unremitting efforts to improve himself." How things will develop is hard to predict; we are not prophets, nor do we believe in prophecy. But if things always develop according to law, can we predict its future development by studying and analyzing its previous experience; can the development of philosophy be forecast to help us know what will happen with Chinese philosophy in the future? I think it is possible.

Even though I proposed to describe the new progress now made in China about the study of the history of traditional Chinese philosophy, I mainly discussed my personal views on the new trends of philosophical studies. Perhaps this can be called the idea of one school.

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