Tian Wen Heavenly Questions Essay

On By In 1

1Professor Marian Galik’s monumental work Influence, Translation and Parallels : Selected Studies on the Bible in China is a compilation of his continuing research on Bible studies in China aiming at a high standard of scholarship. He discusses the law from the Christian point of view with extensive quotes from the Bible, and with much consideration of the influence of the Bible in China.

2In addition to introductory chapter written by a renowned biblical scholar, Irene Eber of Jerusalem, the book contains 18 scholarly essays on studies of the Bible in China. In Part I, eight articles are devoted to biblical studies in the Chinese language. With his macro-approach, Marian Galik leads readers to volumes of research by scholars from different Christian denominations of the translation of the Bible into Chinese. Part II over ten articles he turns to comparison, this time taking a micro-approach, discussing the literary works of contemporary Chinese scholars such as Lu Xun, Wang Meng, Mao Dun, Guo Moruo and a number of Taiwan writers and their connection with various books of the Bible.

3I read Marian Galik’s book with great interest and admiration, and with a great appreciation of his academic accomplishment in literary criticism, which is demonstrated in his comparative studies on Chinese literature and the Bible. And, as a consequence, I began to wonder why Chinese scholars in the Anglo-Saxon tradition have not achieved the same. For me, Galik is a mirror that reflects the answer. With a Slovenian cultural tradition and his closeness to the Jewish community and the Jewish culture since his childhood, together with his accomplishment in European languages, he grew up and lived within the environment and was equipped with languages that enabled him to study the Word of God. Biblical knowledge is in his veins. His scholarship in Chinese literature has been acquired by his tireless efforts in studying the Chinese language and culture.

4While my own discipline is social science, I am not qualified to comment on Professor Galik’s great work. However, from religious and political points of view, I will try to discuss two minor questions raised by the author.

5In the Essay titled “The Reception of the Bible in the Peoples’ Republic of China (1980-1992)” (pp. 93-113), Galik discusses scholarly works of Zhu Weizhi (1905-1999), especially those published in the 1980s. Attention was given to Zhu’s discussion on Job’s suffering and unjust condemnation as recorded in the Book of Job.

6Galik holds the opinion that “Job as a moral and literary character would not be possible in Chinese writing, since in China morality and personal behaviour of human beings were never sanctioned by an almighty and omniscient God” (p. 98). He continues, “I wonder also why Zhu Weizhi did not compare the word of God from chapter 38 [Book of Job] with those from Tianwen (Heavenly Questions) attributed to Qu Yuan” (p. 98).

7For Zhu, Job’s afflictions and unjustly condemnation was taken as discipline by heaven as suggested by Mencius (p. 97). In the case of Qu Yuan (Tianwen) whose suffering was equal to that of Job, one could not give any appropriate comment on Qu Yuan’s suffering without seeking the explanation from religion. From Tianwen we understand that Qu Yuan was unjustly condemned by his emperor. Both Qu Yuan and Job suffered from the same affliction and were condemned unjustly. Qu Yuan had no way of being understood by his contemporaries. He drowned himself in the river, having recourse to death to show his loyalty and patriotism. Qu Yuan has no outlet, therefore death is the only sign he could give to the people around him, in particular to his emperor, to indicate his unshaken loyalty and patriotism when he had not encountered the Transcendental God who is the Eternal Judge. Job did not lay down his life because he has a Transcendental God from whom he trusted that God was the highest judge and that He will readdress the grievances which Job suffered for.

8I would like to end the review by leading readers to a translator of the Psalms and the New Testament, Wu Jingxiong, (John C. H. Wu) (p. 21, pp. 84-88, p. 91). His translation of the Psalms is outstanding because of the Chinese literary style that he uses, which makes them a work of Chinese literature in themselves. From the people who know Wu, we learned that his translation work was a spiritual exercise allowing him to understand the Word of God more when he was seeking God in Western and Eastern civilisations in his profession as a lawyer, philosopher and diplomat. In Wu’s legal writings, Jurisprudence : A Treatise, Richly Illustrated with Cases and Readings and The Fountain of Justice1, he spent one fifth of the length of these books discussing legal problems from the Christian point of view, the Bible heavily employed. I had the chance to read the Chinese translation of Christian Mathias’ research titled ”Rechtsphilosophie Zwischen Ost und West”, on Wu’s philosophy of law, and found that in the relationship between the Bible and law there is much uncharted territory for scholars to explore.

Top of page

Chinese Philosophy: Overview of Topics

If Chinese philosophy may be said to have begun around 2000 B.C.E., then it represents the longest continuous heritage of philosophical reflection. Trying to mention each philosopher or every significant thinker is not possible. This article is highly selective by choosing philosophers according to two basic principles: (1) Those who are the most representative of the key contributions of China to philosophical topics worldwide, and (2) those who made substantial redirections on a fundamental question of philosophy. Excluded are those who followed the grammar and approach from earlier thinkers, and who engaged more specifically in what might be called internecine debates and refinements.

The positions of the thinkers covered are grouped under the topics of ontology, epistemology, moral theory, and political philosophy. Fundamental questions belonging to these categories show up in Chinese philosophy, just as they do in Western thought. There are questions Chinese thinkers do not ask or do not approach in the same way as Western philosophers, so gaining an appreciation for why Chinese philosophy has sometimes followed a different path from that taken in the West is itself instructive. This overview is designed to pique the interest of readers, encouraging them to pursue the ways in which Chinese thinkers have made significant contributions to topics of interest in world philosophy.

Table of Contents

  1. Ontology: Fundamental Questions on the Nature and Composition of Reality
    1. Formation of the Early Chinese Worldview
      1. The Classic of Changes (Yijing) and Its Place in Chinese Philosophy
      2. The Chronicles of Zuo (Zuozhuan, c. 389 B.C.E.)
      3. The “Great Plan” in the Classic of History (Shujing)
    2. Mozi, (fl. 470-391 B.C.E.)
    3. Lao-Zhuang Daoist Ontology (c. 350-139 B.C.E.)
    4. Correlative Cosmologies in the Han Period: Yinyang and Wuxing Heuristics
    5. Selected Buddhist Ontologies
      1. Tiantai Buddhism (Zhiyi, 538-597 C.E.)
      2. Consciousness-only Buddhism (Weishi Zong)
    6. The Neo-Confucian Synthesis of Zhu Xi (1130-1200)
    7. Wang Yangming (1472-1529)
    8. Shifting Paradigms in Chinese Ontology
      1. Dai Zhen (1723-1777)
      2. Hu Shi (1891-1962)
  2. Epistemology: Fundamental Questions on the Nature and Scope of Knowledge
    1. The Mozi, Later Mohists and Debaters (bianshi)
    2. Lao-Zhuang Traditions on Knowing and Truth
    3. Mencius (Mengzi, c. 372-289 B.C.E.) and Analogical Reasoning
    4. Xunzi (310-220 B.C.E.): Dispelling Obsessions
    5. Wang Chong (c. 25-100 C.E.): Critical Chinese Philosophy in the Classical Period
    6. Tiantai Buddhism’s Threefold Truth Epistemology
    7. Wang Yangming on liangzhi: Direct, Clear, Universal Knowledge
    8. Hu Shi (1891-1962): Pragmatism and Experimentalism
    9. Zhang Dongsun (1886-1973): Pluralistic Cultural Epistemology
  3. Moral Theory: Fundamental Questions on Morality
    1. Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.): the Exemplary Person Ideal
    2. Mohist Moral Philosophy
    3. Lao-Zhuang Traditions and wuwei
    4. Mencius (c. 372–289 B.C.E.): Morality as Cultivated Human Nature
    5. Xunzi (310-220 B.C.E.): On the Carving and Polishing of the Human Being
    6. Buddhist Moralities in the Chinese Context
      1. The Way of Precepts
      2. The Hua-yan (Flower Garland) Bodhisattva
      3. The Way to Morality in Chan Buddhism
    7. Zhu Xi: Fashioning the Human Being
    8. Wang Yangming: Moral Willing as Knowing
    9. Mou Zongsan (1909-1995): Moral Metaphysics
  4. Political Philosophy: Fundamental Questions on Society and Government
    1. Confucius on Rulership and the Nature and Function of Politics
    2. Political Philosophy in the Mozi
    3. Mencius’s Political Philosophy
    4. Lao-Zhuang and Yellow Emperor Traditions on Rulership and Government
    5. Legalism and Hanfei (280?-230? B.C.E.)
    6. Political Thought in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.)
      1. Dong Zhongshu (179-104 B.C.E.)
      2. Masters of Huainan (Huainanzi 139 B.C.E.)
    7. Zhu Xi on Law as the Enforcement of Morals
    8. Yan Fu (1854-1921): China Not Ready for Democracy
    9. Liang Qichao (1873-1929): Emergent Chinese Nationalism
    10. Mao Zedong (1893-1976): The Sinification of Marxism
    11. Forms of Contemporary Confucian Political Theory
      1. Tu Weiming
      2. Jiang Qing
      3. Kang Xiaoguang
      4. Fan Ruiping
  5. Epilogue
  6. References and Further Reading

1. Ontology: Fundamental Questions on the Nature and Composition of Reality

Western philosophy often takes the theory of reality (ontology) as equivalent to metaphysics, but this term does not fit for Chinese philosophy as it implies there is something beyond nature that creates and guides reality from the outside. While Chinese philosophical thought has a wide variety of ontologies, it has not stressed metaphysics in the traditional Western sense. Some ontological questions Chinese philosophers have considered are these: What is reality composed of? Is reality a single type of thing (monism), two types of things (dualism, such as minds and bodies; matter and spirit), or many kinds of things (pluralism)? Is reality composed only of transient things in constant change or are there eternal substances that form its content? Is reality actually as it appears to us, or is it something different than what we think it is? Is reality teleological; that is, is it “purposing” or going toward an end? Is the process of reality guided by a mind or intelligence to occur as it does, or does it follow some internal pattern of its own nature, or do humans attach meaning or purpose to a reality that is devoid of any inherent meaning?

a. Formation of the Early Chinese Worldview

In the period from the beginning of the Zhou dynasty (c. 1045 B.C.E.) to the beginning of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.), a number of classical Chinese texts were compiled. These are known now as the “Five Classics” (wujing), and they became enshrined as texts in the educational system of China for hundreds of years. In their received form, all of them have composite elements and some may well reflect the concerns and contexts of later (more in the Han dynasty period) rather than earlier (more in the Zhou dynasty) periods. Despite the uncertain dating of many passages and themes, these texts contain a substantial amount of material that is traceable to the pre-Qin (pre-221 B.C.E.) period, even reaching back to Confucius’s era (551-479 B.C.E.) or before.

The ontology of early Chinese thought comes down to us through a number of philosophical texts which are not traceable to any single author. Included among these are: the “Great Commentary” to the Classic of Changes (Yijing), the Chronicles of Zuo (Zuozhuan), and the “Great Plan” (Hong Fan) section of the Classic of History (Shujing).

i. The Classic of Changes (Yijing) and Its Place in Chinese Philosophy

The Classic of Changes (Yijing) is a complete edited work in two parts. One part is a manual of divination known simply as the Changes (Yi), or more correctly, as the Zhouyi. It is a handbook traceable to the period and practices of the Western Zhou dynasty as indicated, among other features, by its use of language expressions found on the bronzes of that period (c. 1046-771 B.C.E.). The other part of the Classic of Changes is a set of seven commentaries. Three of the commentaries are composed of two sections each. Taken as a whole, the commentary of this second part is known as “The Ten Wings” (Shiyi).

One of the commentaries is known as the Great Commentary (Dazhuan). It is arguably the most important text to study for an understanding of early Chinese ontology. The Classic of Changes as a whole is much less valuable for this purpose.

Regrettably, a determinable date for the composition of the Great Commentary cannot be fixed. However, a version of it was discovered as a silk manuscript among the archaeological finds at the Mawangdui tomb site in Changsha in 1973. Therefore, it must be older than 168 B.C.E. when the tomb was closed. The work makes use of the fundamental philosophical vocabulary of Chinese ontology that continues to be used by Chinese thinkers up to the early modern period. It speaks of Heaven (tian) and earth (di) collectively (tiandi) as a way of talking about “reality”. As for the process of reality’s change, it employs the term dao as a nominative and portrays it as operating according patterns (tian wen) or Principle(s) (li). In this commentary, the substance of reality (qi) is capable of transforming into a myriad of experienced objects, evidencing properties of what might be called in the West “matter” or in other forms “spirit.” Qi is moved by pushes and pulls of its internal opposing forces, yin and yang (Great Commentary Part I, 1, 4). Although reality’s changes are not arbitrary, neither are they guided by a mind or divine intellect. The Great Commentary associates the patterns (li) that give order to reality with the hexagrams found in the divination manual (the Zhouyi). The general philosophical term for the process of reality is “correlative ontology”. Various correlations are possible; for example, yin and yang may be mutually supportive, or one may be transforming the other, balancing it, compensating for it, enhancing it, or furthering something new in relation to the other.

In Western philosophy, the characteristic approach to ontology is to think of things that compose reality as “natural kinds,” each of which has a different essence that makes it what it is; for example, the essence of a chair, a cat, a tree, and so forth. This defining essence is typically called “the nature” of the object. In early Chinese ontology, change and process are more fundamental than continuity and endurance, even if there is sufficient constancy to speak of objects through time. The characteristic configuration of qi that something is actualizing (dao-ing) sets it apart from other things. This distinctive correlation of yin and yang does the philosophical work of the Western concept of essence. It enables identification of kinds and categories of things, without recourse to an ontology in which there is a pluralism of essentially different sorts of substances.

Chinese philosophers inheriting the ontology of the Yijing and Great Commentary still use the concept of the “nature” (xing) of something, but “nature” does not refer to some underlying essence or immaterial substance that makes something what it is in distinction from other things. “Nature” is a way of talking about the manner of qi correlation that actualizes a thing as it is and sets it apart from the correlations of other things.

ii. The Chronicles of Zuo (Zuozhuan, c. 389 B.C.E.)

The Chronicles of Zuo is a record of occurrences of the Spring and Autumn Period (771-468 B.C.E.) that traditionally has been ascribed to Zuo Qiuming, a court writer who lived in the State of Lu during the time of Confucius. The text is arranged as comments on the reign of various Marquis and Dukes and it was likely completed no later than 389 B.C.E.

Remarking on the 7th year of the reign of Duke Wen (626-609 B.C.E.) the Chronicles of Zuo says: “Water, fire, metal, wood, earth, and grains are called the six natural resources (liu fu, or “six treasures”)”. The character fu is used to denote them. This list of six contains the five phasal elements (wuxing) of wood (mu), fire (huo), earth (tu), metal (jin), and water (shui). We see these in later ontological works but with the addition of the grains. The wuxing correlative ontology refers to a conceptual scheme that is found in traditional Chinese thought. Its elements are regarded as dynamic, interdependent modes or aspects of the universe’s ongoing existence and development. All objects of reality are some combination and in interdependent operation of these five. In comments on the 27th year of the reign of Duke Xiang (590-573 B.C.E.) the text says: “Heaven has given birth to the five materials (wu cai) which supply humankind’s requirements, and the people use them all. Not one of them can be dispensed with.”

iii. The “Great Plan” in the Classic of History (Shujing)

In the “Great Plan” chapter of the Classic of History the compilers are interested in explaining how society should follow the patterns (li) of Heaven and earth. To do so, they provide the reader with information about these patterns, which offers substantial content about the ontology of the period. For example, in speaking of the nine divisions of the “Great Plan” by which Heaven orders reality, the text refers to the five phasal elements that are the building blocks for all real objects (Classic of History, “Great Plan” 2.2). The chapter does not spell out how the interdependencies of these five phases work, it only says they exist. It is made clear, though, that if humans do not behave in the proper manner, they can disrupt the harmonious operation of these phases, illness and weakness will arise in the body, and disorder will show up in nature and the human world of history.

b. Mozi, (fl. 470-391 B.C.E.)

While a study of Mozi’s (Mo Di or Master Mo) moral thought is paramount to understanding Chinese philosophy, his views on ontology, especially as they are set out in Books 8-37 and 46-49 of the Mozi, are sometimes overlooked. An understanding of Mozi’s views on reality begins with what he has to say about Heaven (tian). In classical Chinese, the word tian has many uses. When used as “Heaven and earth,” it is typically a reference to reality or all that is. Tian used alone is a nominative for the sky or a more or less numinous person.

Not surprisingly, then, the Mozi text often describes Heaven as though it is an agent that acts with intentions (yi, zhi) and desires (yu) (for example, in chapters 26-28). Heaven is praised as impartial, generous, wise, and just. It cares for humans and benefits the worthy by providing resources and blessings. Heaven has a dao that orders all things, including its relations with humanity. To use a comparable philosophical concept from the West for Mozi would be to say that Heaven is providential. Moreover, the source of a universal morality that overcomes and corrects human ethical conceptions is Heaven’s will mediated through the ruler.

Holding such a view is one of the reasons why Mozi is committed to a rejection of the philosophical position that the happenings in the course of reality’s process are predestined or fated (ming). Mozi’s arguments on this subject are gathered in the “Against Fate” chapters (35-37) of his text. A principal argument used by Mozi against the position that reality is fated is a pragmatic one. He holds that accepting such a position would mean that one’s status, health, wealth, success, and longevity are already determined and not consequences of one’s effort or choices in life. Taking this view would lead to disaster (37.10). In fact, Mozi says the concept of fate should be regarded as a creation of evil kings and peasant farmers. His point is that some kings used this philosophical idea as a means to justify their positions of power and wealth, while the peasants used it to explain why their reduced situation in life was not a result of living wrongly, or failing to better themselves; that is, it was fated that they be poor. This explains in part why Mozi considered the ontological concept of ming (fate) to be one a philosopher must reject.

c. Lao-Zhuang Daoist Ontology (c. 350-139 B.C.E.)

To speak collectively of “Lao-Zhuang” tradition is to identify a set of philosophical sentiments and positions in common between the two classical works of emergent Daoism in Chinese intellectual history: the Daodejing (DDJ) and the Zhuangzi (ZZ). Both the Daodejing associated with Laozi and the Zhuangzi ascribed to Zhuang Zhou (369-289 B.C.E.) are composite works not written by a single author. Throughout the classical period, there were many lineages of teachers and disciples, as well as multiple oral and written versions of transmitted materials that came together to form these texts. There was no unified, coherent school called Daoism in the classical period, but the term Lao-Zhuang can be used to capture the family resemblances between lineages and their transmitted teachings.

We have already noticed in our survey of the earliest Chinese ontologies that reality (that is, “Heaven and earth”) is a constant process, but the changes are not haphazard. The Chinese term used to capture the order reality exhibits is dao, which literally means the ‘way’ or ‘path’ that the changing process of reality displays. In this process, there are patterns and principles that are evident to one who reflects on the dao. The dao of qi (the energy which composes all things) gives rise to itself and to forces that move it. It is self-moving, according to the dynamic energies of yin and yang.

The term dao is one of the most important concepts in the Daodejing. Sometimes it is used as a noun (“the Dao”) and other times as a verb (“dao-ing”). According to the Daodejing, the dao has a power in itself from which all things have come (DDJ 42). There is a confidence expressed in the text that the process of the dao of reality is at a minimum benign (DDJ, 37 says dao leaves nothing undone). In fact, it is untangling knots that humans create, as well as blunting the sharp edges constructed by those who are resisting or moving contrary to dao. There is a very close association of dao with Heaven (tian) that benefits and does not harm (DDJ 73, 77, 81). When we look closely at the Daodejing’s remarks about Heaven they make it clear that a critical move is made in Chinese ontology by thinkers in this tradition. Heaven’s dao is life-furthering and full of benefit, but is are without deliberation or plan. Still, unlike the Mozi’s Heaven, dao has no mind: It is not planning or working by a design toward a goal it is trying to reach. It is acting spontaneously, but neither is it leaving loose ends or causing problems, disorder, or confusion.

In the sections of the Zhuangzi  anthology that come from the master teacher, Zhuang Zhou, these matters are expressed in a very literary way. For dao the text often uses “The Great Clod” by which all things come into being (ZZ Ch. 2). But when using dao, the Zhuangzi says it lacks form but is its own root, and it gave birth to Heaven and earth and all things (ZZ Ch. 6).

The point being made in both the Daodejing and Zhuangzi is the dao is beyond language and cognitive categories of space and time. It is not in any space nor has it any temporal description. As such dao functions as what philosophers call a “limiting concept”. Asking when dao began serves no purpose because time does not apply to it; neither does speculating about where it exists because it is not in any particular place.

The Zhuangzi does not make any specific reference to the five phasal elements ontology used in the “Great Plan” probably because it was in development at the same time that Zhuangzi text was being formed. It makes clear, however, that all things are changing and being transformed, and that people can have some involvement in their own transformations (ZZ Ch. 6, 7).

d. Correlative Cosmologies in the Han Period: Yinyang and Wuxing Heuristics

According to Sima Tan (d. 110 B.C.E.), during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States (403-221 B.C.E.) periods a school existed that bore the name yinyang. He lists this yinyang school alongside others such as the Confucian, Mohist, Legalist, and Daoist. According to him, this school focused on divination and explored the patterns of Heaven and earth. This school almost certainly had its antecedents in the Zhouyi and was likely a theoretical and heuristic extension of many of the practices associated with that text.

By the Han dynasty (202 B.C.E.-220 C.E.), yinyang thought was associated with the standardization of wuxing (the five phasal elements) correlative cosmology associated with the work of Zou Yan (c. 305-240 B.C.E.). The synthesis of Confucianism, yinyang, and wuxing explanatory philosophies is evident in the writings of the scholar Dong Zhongshu (179-104 B.C.E.) and exhibited in his volume, Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu fanlu). The Masters of Huainan (Huainanzi) is also a primary representative text for correlative cosmology. Large sections of Chapters 2, 3, 7, and 20 depend heavily on this ontology for the cogency of the work’s argument about Heaven’s relation to human activity. Masters of Huainan, however, tends to blend Daoist sensibilities (especially Yellow-Emperor Daoist ideas) with yinyang and wuxing more prominently than did Dong Zhongshu’s work.

e. Selected Buddhist Ontologies

Scholars have debated two interpretations of how Buddhist missionaries first reached China in its southern regions: first, through maritime landings that spread up the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) and the Huai waterway into the area of present day Jiangsu province under Prince Ying of Chu (c. 65 C.E.); and second, by moving overland along the northern Silk Road through the areas controlled by the Yuezhi central Asian peoples in what is now Xinjiang province and western Gansu province. The latter interpretation continues to have the greatest preponderance of evidence in its favor, along with long-standing traditions that the White Horse Temple in the Han capital of Luoyang (present day Henan province) was the first temple in China (c. 68 C.E.). However, it seems clear that Buddhism came into China by both routes.

China did not escape the diversity of Buddhist Madhyamika philosophical schools; many scholars have argued convincingly that Chinese thinkers did not realize for decades that the Buddhist texts coming from India represented different schools of thought and so they tried unsuccessfully to harmonize them into a single philosophical system. Gradually, Chinese thinkers created some distinctively Chinese approaches to and versions of the Buddhist schools and even began some schools that were indigenous to China.

i. Tiantai Buddhism (Zhiyi, 538-597 C.E.)

Unlike earlier schools of Chinese Buddhism, the Tiantai School was largely of Chinese origin. Tiantai flourished under its fourth patriarch, Zhiyi, who asserted that the Lotus Sutra (Fahua jing) contained the supreme teaching of Buddhism. The school derives its name from the Tiantai mountain that served as its base. The most distinctive ontological claim of Tiantai is that there is only one reality that is both the phenomenal existence of everyday experience and nirvana itself. This is a significant divergence from many early Buddhist teachings in India that drew a sharp demarcation between the phenomenal world and the world of nirvana. In Tiantai, there is not only one reality but also it is ultimately empty. The reason all things are empty is that literally every object and real thing (that is, every dharma) exists as it is through an indefinite number of interdependent causes. Nothing has its own nature or essence that underlies or exists apart from the interplay of all these causes. Accordingly, all things have only tentative existence, and they are impermanent.

Humans experience phenomenal reality as various forms of pain and suffering, happiness and contentment, and may also realize overwhelming enlightenment and peace. In fact, Tiantai writings describe ten ways of existing in reality, but these do not reflect any interest in the kinds of extrapolations offered in the other Chinese ontologies, such as dao, yin and yang, or the elaborate five phasal elements system.

The Ten Ways of Existing in Reality According to Tiantai Buddhism1.                  Hell Beings2.                  Hungry Ghosts3.                  Beasts (non-human animals)4.                  Asuras (demons)5.                  Human Beings

6.                  Gods or celestial creatures

7.                  Voice-hearers (Skravakas)

8.                  Self-enlightened Ones (Pratyekabuddhas)

9.                  Bodhisattvas

10.              Buddhas

In Tiantai ontology, the reality that Hell Beings inhabit is the same reality in which the Buddhas live. There is no supernatural boundary between these ways of existing; nor are there opposing spiritual realms such as Heaven and Hell. Living and working next to us may be one who is a Hell Being, or a Bodhisattva, or even a Buddha. The goal is not to depart this world and go into some other transcendent reality. It is to exist as a Buddha in this world. There is no other reality except this one; reality is one.

In Tiantai, every human has the capacity to live in reality as a Buddha. Living as such does not make one eternal; every existing thing will be extinct in the form in which it now exists. This is a reflection of the empty nature of reality; the only reality that there is. At the same time, Tiantai does not deny physical reality; it is no Idealism. Rather, it is a form of ontological Realism, confident that manifold concrete yet fundamentally empty things exist, but they may realize sublimity in this life.

ii. Consciousness-only Buddhism (Weishi Zong)

The version of Chinese Buddhism known as Consciousness-only was called Yogacara in India. The monk Xuanzang (c. 602–664), born Chen Hui, was principally responsible for its popularization in China through his translations of texts he brought from India. His travels there are recorded in detail in the classic Chinese text Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, which in turn provided the inspiration for the imaginative spiritual journey novel Journey to the West, written by Wu Cheng'en during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), around nine centuries after Xuanzang's death.

The central ontological tenet of Consciousness-only Buddhism is that nothing exists except consciousness. Reality is the flow of experiences and awareness of ideas is called perception. Perceptions are not caused by things external to humans such as concrete or material objects that continue whether humans are conscious of them or not. In ontological language, this is called Idealism, which contrasts with the Realism of Tiantai. In its original context in India, the Consciousness-only teachings were direct contradictions to the prevailing Indian physics of reality that all things (dharmas) are constructed from the atoms of earth, water, fire and air. It also stood in radical contrast to Chinese thought about qi and the five phases.

In Consciousness-only teaching, when a person is born, thereby becoming conscious, individual experience is not funded by encounters with objects in an external world but by something Xuanzang called the “storehouse consciousness”. Every deed that has ever been done and every idea that anyone has had is contained in this consciousness. No dharma (experienced idea) exists by itself, and any alteration in the way other ideas cause it to exist would be a different experience entirely. This is what is meant by the concept of “dependent co-arising” in Consciousness-only philosophy.

Still, not all consciousness is of the same level of development; some forms are higher than others. As the levels of consciousness advance, they “perfume” the highest level of consciousness into being. “Perfuming” in this philosophy is a unique ontological approach to causality, quite different from Aristotle’s discussions of cause and John Stuart Mill’s remarks on the determination of cause.

f. The Neo-Confucian Synthesis of Zhu Xi (1130-1200)

Beginning in the early 11th century, a group of interdependent philosophers began to reconstruct Chinese philosophy by using a new grammar. They sought to merge Confucian thought with Daoist and Buddhist concepts. While they surely thought of themselves as Confucian, and valorized Confucius and Mencius (c. 372-289 B.C.E.) in their writings, it is clear that they were doing something novel with their appropriation of classical Confucian ideas. Accordingly, they are grouped together as “Neo-Confucians”. This family of thought included philosophers such as Zhang Zai (1020-1077), Cheng Hao (1032-1085), and Cheng Yi (1033-1107).

Without doubt, Zhu Xi is the most influential of these thinkers. His philosophy set the parameters of philosophical conversation on ontology throughout East Asia for over 400 years. Western philosophers of the same stature would include Aristotle in the Classical period, Thomas Aquinas in the Medieval period, and Immanuel Kant in the Enlightenment period. Zhu Xi’s systematization of the Confucian Way (dao) also became a coherent program of education for centuries in China, Korea, and Japan.

Zhu Xi’s extensive philosophical work rests on the foundation of his theory of reality. The place to begin understanding his ontology is in Xi’s following statement: “Everything that has shape and form is “concrete existence” qi. That which constitutes the Principle(s) (li) of “concrete existence” is the Way (dao)” (Collected Writings of Chu Hsi 36.14).

Several philosophical questions arise in Zhu Xi’s ontology. Did he think of Principle(s) as singular or plural? What should be included in Principle(s) when he uses this as an ontological concept? Does Principle(s) refer to something like the logical scaffolding of reality (that is, its design, order, logical structure, or pattern)? Does Zhu Xi use Principle(s) to mean something like the natural laws discoverable by chemistry, physics, and the like? Are Principle(s) in Zhu’s ontology similar to what Kant called the “categories of the mind” (causality, space, time, and so forth). Does Principle(s) sometimes mean “moral principles or norms” that are universally binding and true for all persons? Zhu Xi sometimes uses Principle(s) in one of these senses and sometimes in another. It is not possible to reduce his remarks on Principle(s) to any one of these exclusively. Likewise, the term is sometimes used in a singular and sometimes as a plural in his writings.

For Zhu Xi, the Principle(s) of reality reside in the Supreme Ultimate. But this is not a thing or a being. Rather, before shapes and things began to exist, the Supreme Ultimate from which they came had the principles of shape and order, but was not itself any shape or form. Neither is it a “blank” (wu). It cannot be said to exist (yu) as one thing alongside others. It existed before Heaven and earth. Although the noted scholar Feng Youlan takes Zhu Xi’s discussion of Principle(s) to be a version of what Plato called the Forms (see his A Short History of Chinese Philosophy), such a reading is arguable. It is not as though a brick is an expression of the Platonic Form of a brick. Rather, a brick is the result of a specific five-phase configuration ‘bricking’ (as a verb of action) according to Principle(s) that are universally shared by all things. The Supreme Ultimate is a concept used for talking collectively about the Principle(s) governing the five phases and yin and yang. On this reading, Principle(s) enable concrete configurations of qi to yield the myriad things that furnish reality.

Zhu Xi’s ontology may be considered a form of Naturalism, rather than Theism. The Supreme Ultimate is not God in the Western sense or Plato’s Form of the Good. However, neither is it reducible to or the product of the other cosmological operators in Zhu’s thought such as qi, yin, yang, or the five phases.

g. Wang Yangming (1472-1529)

The principal sources for Wang Yangming’s ideas are his Instructions for Practical Living (Chuan Xilu, 1518) and “Inquiry on the Great Learning” (1527). The latter work offers a succinct summary of the main themes he developed throughout his life.

Wang is often understood to be an ontological Idealist. But he makes it clear that he is not an Idealist in a famous story where he points out to a friend the flowering trees on a cliff. The friend assumes that Wang’s position is a form of Idealism. He then challenges Wang by claiming the flowers are independent from his mind. Wang’s reply makes his ontology clear. He says that before the friend looked at the flowering trees, they were simply there in their vacancy, but when the friend experiences them, he thinks of them as a tree, a cliff, and flowers. Thus, as the experienced “world” they are not at all independent of his friend’s mind. They cannot be “flowers on a cliff” without the mind.

Why is this? For Wang, the reason is very clear. It is because human minds are inherently patterning. Known as the Human minds Principle (li), this patterning that makes things as they are into a universe or reality. Otherwise, there are only concrete things (qi) moving around; there is really no “world”. So, Wang is not denying the existence of concrete things as in Idealism but he is insisting that these things are not without the patterning that the mind brings to experience.

When human minds do this patterning it is not always a conscious or deliberative process. Likewise, individuals also do not “know” the Principles by which they engage in the process. Rather, in the most truthful experiences, human minds are one with Heaven and earth, and the Principles are applied directly by “pure intelligence” (liangzhi), not through the mediation of data from the five senses, or by discursive reason, or the authority of any book or philosophical teacher.

There is a fundamental difference, though, between Wang’s position and that of Zhu Xi. Wang does not set Principle(s) in a transcendent sense apart from concrete things. In fact, he gives them no existence apart from the human mind. If there were no human mind, there would be no “world.”

h. Shifting Paradigms in Chinese Ontology

i. Dai Zhen (1723-1777)

Dai Zhen’s two most prominent philosophical works are entitled On the Good (Yuanshan) and An Evidential Study of the Meaning and Terms of the Mencius (Mengzi ziyi shuzheng). Some interpreters hold that Dai Zhen was responsible for a major paradigm shift in Chinese thinking on ontology. He completely removed the transcendent aspect from Principle(s) (li), and this is certainly a shift from Zhu’s understanding. Furthermore, Dai did not think that Principle(s) were independent of concrete things as Zhu did, but neither did he think they were an activity of the human mind as Wang believed. Instead, he conceived of Principle(s) as the internal order (tiao) or pattern (wen) of things-in-themselves.

To use Western philosophical terms, Dai’s thinking is as a form of teleological naturalism. Purpose, pattern, and design are not imposed on reality by human beings, but neither do they derive from a transcendent realm that is wholly other than the natural process itself. Instead, they are a part of the very nature of the stuff of reality itself.

Some interpreters of Dai characterize his position by means of a rather distinctive Chinese example. A method used to determine the authenticity of a piece of jade in China is to hold it up to the light and observe whether veins can be seen in its translucence. If so, the jade is authentic. If not, it is an imitation and a fake. Accordingly, Dai may be interpreted to be saying that concrete objects have such analogous striations and these are the Principle(s) that give order to reality.

ii. Hu Shi (1891-1962)

Hu Shi was a key figure in the New Culture Movement that introduced ideas from the West to China. This movement developed the slogans “Mr. Science” and “Mr. Democracy” to describe Western learning (Xi xue). Hu specifically acknowledged the influence of Thomas Huxley and John Dewey on his thought, and he was a contemporary with some of the most prominent Western philosophers, including Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger. He has been called the central figure in 20th century Chinese academic thought.

Hu studied in a Western-style system in Shanghai, being particularly impressed by the Darwinian theory of evolution. Later, he studied in America at Cornell and Columbia University, where John Dewey became his dissertation supervisor.  While still a young student in Shanghai, he summarized the changes in his conception of life in the universe from the Chinese ontology with which he was raised. Published in 1923, he entitled this summary the “New Credo”. Its includes the following points:

  1. On the basis of knowledge of astronomy and physics, people should recognize that the world of space is infinitely large.
  2. On the basis of geological and paleontological knowledge, people should recognize that the universe extends over infinite time.
  3. On the basis of all verifiable scientific knowledge, people should recognize that the universe and everything in it follow natural laws of movements in change. So, what is “natural” is the Chinese sense of “being so of its self” and there is no need for the concept of a supernatural Ruler or Creator.
  4. On the basis of the biological sciences, people should recognize the terrific wastefulness and brutality in the struggle for existence in the biological world and consequently the untenability of the hypothesis of a benevolent Ruler.
  5. On the basis of the biological, physiological, and psychological sciences, people should recognize that man is only one species in the animal kingdom that differs from the other species only in degree, but not in kind.
  6. On the basis of the knowledge derived from anthropology, sociology, and the biological sciences, people should understand the history and causes of the evolution of living organisms and of human society.
  7. On the basis of the biological and psychological sciences, people should recognize that all psychological phenomena could be explained through the law of causality.
  8. On the basis of biological and historical knowledge, people should recognize that morality and religion are subject to change and that the causes of such change can be scientifically studied.
  9. On the basis of newer knowledge of physics and chemistry, people should recognize that matter is full of motion and not static.
  10. On the basis of biological, sociological, and historical knowledge, people should recognize that the individual self is subject to death and decay. But the sum total of individual achievement, for better or for worse, lives on in the immortality of the Larger Self. That to live for the sake of the species and posterity is religion of the highest kind; and that those religions that seek a future life either in Heaven or in the Pure Land are selfish religions.

Hu Shi calls this credo “The Naturalistic Conception of Life and the Universe”. This work, which he saw as a turn from Chinese philosophy leading up to the 20th century, illustrates his commitment to the experimental sciences. He continued to embrace this credo throughout his life.

2. Epistemology: Fundamental Questions on the Nature and Scope of Knowledge

Some epistemological questions are these: What is it “to know”? Can we know something to be true, or do we only believe things to be true (skepticism)? Are all knowledge claims of the same sort? Are they justified in the same way? What are the tools we use to know something (reason, senses, direct apprehension, and so forth)? Do we possess innate knowledge? Is there a limit to what we can know?

a. The Mozi, Later Mohists and Debaters (bianshi)

In his rejection of the commonly held belief that reality is fated (ming), Mozi’s students asked him to set out the philosophical bases for knowing how to judge between views. In general, the response he makes to this question serves as a reasonable outline for his theory of how to establish a claim’s truth. He insists that knowledge must be pursued by means of three criteria (Mozi 35.5). Mozi’s first test for judging between knowledge claims is what we may call an examination of the received belief about the claim. This is understood as what the historical records report. The second truth test is what Mozi calls “the evidence of the eyes and ears of the common people”. He takes this to mean direct experiential testimony to the truth of a claim. His third test for determining truth is that the truth of a claim rests on observing whether acting on the claim yields the expected results, which should obtain if it is true.

Applying these three criteria leads Mozi to accept the claim that ghosts and spirits exist. He argues that received knowledge includes the intervention and existence of spirits as explanatory devices and that there is widespread testimony to the presence of such phenomena. Most importantly, however, Mozi feels that the pragmatic implications of giving up such a belief would be disastrous; cruelty, robbery, and warfare, for Mozi, are common precisely because people have come to doubt whether ghosts and spirits exist or not. He says, “If all the people of the world could be brought to believe that ghosts and spirits are able to reward the worthy and punish the wicked, then how could the world be in disorder?” (Mozi 31.1)

Mozi’s students, and their students, developed his interest in how we know something to be true in the years following his life. In Records of the Grand Historian, Sima Tan (d. 110 B.C.E.) identified a group of thinkers he called Mingjia (名家, School of Names). These thinkers have been variously classified as debaters, rhetoricians, dialecticians, logicians, and skeptics. In the Warring States Period (c. 475-221 B.C.E.), however, the name used more generally for thinkers occupied with such epistemological questions was bianshi 辯士 (often rendered as “disputers” or “rhetoricians”). The approaches and arguments of the bianshi can be associated with the work of the so-called Later Mohist philosophers. We know this group of thinkers largely through the final six chapters of the Mozi text (Chapters 40-45), which form an entirely different unit than the earlier sections of the work.

Outside the Mozi text, the ideas of two of the bianshi are known to us through sources which we may have some degree of confidence: Hui Shi (307?-210? B.C.E.) and Gongsun Longzi (b. 380? B.C.E.). Hui Shi shows up in nine chapters of the Zhuangzi. The text Gongsun Longzi is attributed to Gongsun Long. (For an English translation see Mei Yi-Pao (1953)). It is nearly certain that later bianshi would not have accepted Mozi’s position that ghost and spirits exist.

b. Lao-Zhuang Traditions on Knowing and Truth

There is much in the Lao-Zhuang tradition that seems to suggest anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism. It is said that sages make sure the people are without knowledge (DDJ 3), those who pursue the dao are cautioned to abandon learning (DDJ 20), states are said to be difficult to rule because the people “know too much” (DDJ 65), and the knowledgeable are contrasted unfavorably with the enlightened (DDJ 33). Moreover, wuwei as a distinctive form of conduct is a teaching without words (DDJ 43) and comes through an experience of numinal vision and confirmation (DDJ 10). However, these passages do not set out a form of anti-intellectualism. Interpreted in their context, they are part of the Lao-Zhuang insistence that the distinctions and concepts by which reason works are of human design, which may mislead people about the nature of reality or tangle them in problems they create themselves. Reason, evidence and argument have their place, but they do not extend to the fullness of freedom and happiness achieved in following the dao.

The Zhuangzi, too, seems opposed to critical inquiry and application of reason and logic. People are cautioned not to wear out their brains with distinctions (ZZ ch. 2). The text uses many examples to point out that what a person thinks he knows is really relative to context and not absolute, and what a person knows is nothing compared to what he does not know (ZZ ch. 17). People are warned that skillfulness in argument culminating in “winning” the point is not equivalent to arriving at truth (ZZ ch. 2).  Rhetoricians and logicians are compared to nimble monkeys and rat-catching dogs (ZZ ch. 12). They are skillful at rational gymnastics, but poor at realizing truth. Instead, truth comes through stillness, emptying oneself of rational and human distinctions (that is, naturalness) and direct receptivity of the presence of dao (ZZ ch. 21). For all the affection and friendship between them, Zhuangzi did not approve of the bianshi thinker Hui Shi’s approach to knowledge.

In this tradition, the power to master life and the ability to control one’s transformation is not an achievement of reason. This is not the same as saying that the Lao-Zhuang teachers had no use for reason and sense evidence. Truth comes from oneness with dao. When realized, one flows in life spontaneously and effortlessly, without thought, just like the famous butcher of the Inner Chapters, Cook Ding, who cuts up an ox without ever hitting a bone or dulling his knife (ZZ ch. 3).

c. Mencius (Mengzi, c. 372-289 B.C.E.) and Analogical Reasoning

Although it is often said that classical Chinese philosophers did not place a premium on argumentation, Mencius was a master of the use and criticism of analogical argument. This was the most prevalent method of approaching knowledge and establishing truth among 4th century B.C.E. Chinese thinkers. Mencius often used this method in his criticisms of other philosophers such as Mozi, Gaozi, and Yangzi.

Analogical reasoning in this period included both the use of one thing to throw light on another and the use of one proposition known to be true to throw light on another of similar form, the truth of which was undetermined. Two advantages of this form of argument in the classical period have been identified. One is that an analogy is often as valuable epistemologically when it breaks down as when it works. The second is that analogy is often the only tool available for exploring a subject that is obscure or one that eludes direct experience. Mencius and his interlocutors carry on their debates in the Mengzi largely through the method of analogy.

One example of Mencius’s use of analogy is his famous exchange with Gaozi recorded in the Mengzi 6A2. In this passage, Gaozi criticizes Mencius’s view that human nature has an inborn tendency to seek goodness by saying that human nature is like water; it will seek whatever outlet is available, showing no preference for flowing East or West. While accepting the analogy between human nature and water, Mencius reminds Gaozi that although water does not prefer East to West, it most surely has the nature to flow downhill, rather than uphill. Likewise, Mencius concludes, human nature has the propensity to move toward the good, just as water seeks downhill.

d. Xunzi (310-220 B.C.E.): Dispelling Obsessions

According to Sima Qian, Xunzi was once the leader of the Jixia Academy, a site where thinkers of the 100 schools (baijia) were represented. Xunzi made skillful appeals to both empirical and rational sources as necessary for arriving at knowledge. Yet, he held that discursive reason could not resolve quandaries if it excluded feeling and emotion, appealing to xin (heart-mind) as an arbiter of truth whenever it operated in a clear state (da qingming), setting aside presuppositions and amok emotion. To prevent such confusions in understanding, Xunzi turned to the concept of fa, meaning “criterion” or “standard”. He held that reasoning, whether analytically making distinctions or synthesizing diverse positions, operates by rules that approximate the way in which a geometer might judge a circle by using a compass. To know something is to be guided by these standards of reasoning to a conclusion. In Chapters 21and 22 of Xunzi, he says the heart-mind draws distinctions among reasons, explanations, and desires similarly to how the eye draws distinctions among colors. Xunzi insists that we never cease learning and investigating. It is just such cumulative knowledge that can save us from obsessions and superstitions, leading us to focus instead on activities that will create a more humane world.

e. Wang Chong (c. 25-100 C.E.): Critical Chinese Philosophy in the Classical Period

Wang Chong was a critic of many received views on ontology, morality, religion, and politics. His writings on these subjects were compiled into the work entitled Critical Essays (Lunheng). It reveals Wang’s critical and somewhat skeptical mind at work, and also his flair for originality in approaching philosophical problems at the end of the period of classical Chinese philosophy. Speaking of his own work, he says, “Although the chapters of my Critical Essays may only number in the tens, one phrase likewise covers them all, namely, ‘hatred of fictions and falsehoods’” (Critical Essays ch. 61).

Wang is keenly aware of the tensions between empirical and rational pursuits of truth, and he insists both must play a role in the advance of knowledge. One cannot depend only on experience because it can be deceptive; thus reason (xinyi) must be involved. He says bluntly that the Mohists did not use their minds to verify things, but indiscriminately believed what common people reported to have experienced. Thereby, the Mohists fell into deception (ch. 67). Moreover, against the Daoists he holds that history never affords any instances of men knowing what is true without inquiry and reasoning (ch. 2). However, Wang is also aware that one could make a coherent set of premises into a logical argument that nevertheless would contradict ordinary and uniform experience and thus be untrue.

In his practice of testing differing positions and claims, Wang often uses the method known in Chinese as “arguing from a lodging place”. This is similar to the strategy of assuming an opponent’s position “for the sake of argument”. Wang believes that by adopting this tactic he can most easily reveal the logical flaws or evidential weaknesses of a position he thinks is false. He frequently makes use of the reductio ad absurdum technique; that is, he shows that an untenable or absurd result follows from accepting the belief in question. His skillfulness in seeing the limitations of both reason and experience as sources for claims he considers weak is one explanation for why early sources, perhaps as a way of ridiculing Wang, wrongly grouped him with the qingtan (“pure talk”) masters, who were skilled rhetoricians and said to be more intent on making arguments rather than gaining truth.

Wang does not believe that all questions can be answered because he insists that one cannot find the truth on the basis of partial evidence alone. Here his approach brings into light the distinction between belief and truth. Many more things can be believed than can be known. Believing something is not “knowing” it. Wang’s use of the term xu as “false” refers to a belief of a certain type. He held that claims shown to be false do not attract us. No one knowingly believes a falsehood. But xu beliefs have not been conclusively falsified and they have attractive features, such as making us feel better about life events, or ourselves, and thus they are difficult to give up believing. Wang’s way of understanding xu helps us to make sense of passages in which he talks as if xu beliefs possess an attractiveness that entices the undisciplined mind.

Wang has no patience with what he considers to be the superstitions of his day, and he does not hesitate to criticize his predecessors, including Confucius, Mozi, Mencius, and those thinkers involved in trying to create a synthesis with the five-phase cosmology and its related belief systems. He uses argument and empirical evidence to criticize the worship of Confucius, to debunk belief in omens, to discount any evidential basis for fengshui, and to show the contradictions in a belief in ghosts and spirits. Wang argues that Heaven (tian) is merely a name for natural physical processes, which are not powers to be assuaged by ritual or prayer. Rather, they are processes to be studied through observation and reason.

f. Tiantai Buddhism’s Threefold Truth Epistemology

The defining thesis of Tiantai is actually epistemological. As advanced by the philosopher Zhiyi, it is the teaching of Threefold Truth (san di), which includes the following points. 1) We can make true statements about the world of ordinary objects. These truths are about things that exist and their interactions in a network of interdependent causes. These are the truths of history, science, and so forth, about provisional existence. 2) It is also true to say that all things are empty (kong di) and have no permanence. Everything in reality is devoid of any self-nature. Of course, it is the realization of this truth that liberates one from suffering because it breaks one’s attachment to things and persons who are the objects of our desires. 3) The mundane or phenomenal world is real, but it is also impermanent and ultimately empty. This is truth as the Middle Way (zhong di).

Zhiyi thought that persons had varying epistemological capabilities, which put them on different levels of knowledge. Some people are only able to grasp truth in its mundane expression. For them, truth enables engagement with the world and its pleasures, desires, and attachments. They suffer because of this, although they may resist desires through moral action, prayer, devotion and the like. Conversely, others express truth as per the Threefold teaching; that is, as emptiness. They detach from the mundane, living apart from it as much as possible. But for those who are capable of it, truth is seen for what it is, and yet they live in the mundane, knowing it is real; but also seeing its emptiness.

g. Wang Yangming on liangzhi: Direct, Clear, Universal Knowledge

Wang Yangming wrote, “What I mean by the investigation of things (gewu) and the extension of knowledge is to apply the pure knowledge (zhi liangzhi) of my mind to each and every thing.” According to Wang, even ordinary knowledge gained by the use of reason requires the direct and clear apprehension of Principle(s) (li) innate to human minds. However, there is also knowledge that cannot be acquired or transmitted by discursive reasoning. He once said to a disciple, “Knowledge acquired through personal realization is different from that acquired through listening to discussion. When I first lectured on the subject, I knew you took it lightly and were not interested. However, when one goes further and realizes this essential and wonderful thing personally to its depth, he will see that it becomes different every day [i.e., in its guiding power] and it is inexhaustible” (Instructions, sec. 11).

According to Wang Yangming’s biography, while exiled in the Guizhou region he experienced a kind of direct enlightenment or pure knowledge (liangzhi) after which he began teaching what he called “the unity of knowledge and action” (zhixing heyi). In liangzhi, one is impelled to act in a certain way. Following this, the person can be said to possess the knowledge of how to act. But there are not two events, one volitional and the other epistemological. The acting is the knowing.

In 20th century Western philosophy, British thinkers wrote deliberately about the distinction between “knowing that” and “knowing how”. On these terms, Wang Yangming’s notion about the knowledge gained in liangzhi is a third concept, one that has affinities with both epistemology and action. Liangzhi is not a “faculty” of the mind or a special kind of “sense”. Nor is liangzhi the sort of knowledge by which one knows where to dig a well or when to plant crops. One cannot know everything by liangzhi, for example, whether there is evidence of water on Mars. Yet, Wang says that when our heart-mind is operating by liangzhi, a person is moved irresistibly to act freely from all obstruction caused by desires; and within acting lies knowing what to do.

h. Hu Shi (1891-1962): Pragmatism and Experimentalism

When John Dewey arrived in Shanghai on May 1, 1919, the story of Western philosophy’s impact on Chinese thought turned a new page; American Pragmatism’s influence on Chinese intellectual history had begun. Hu Shi claimed that no Western scholar up to that time had exerted the magnitude of Dewey’s influence.

Hu Shi’s contribution to epistemology in Chinese philosophy seems based largely on his adaptation of Dewey’s pragmatism, which Hu preferred to call “experimentalism”. Hu follows Dewey in thinking that the function of the concept of “truth” in the theory of knowledge is instrumental. This means that Hu Shi’s view of truth can be set apart from some other epistemological approaches. He does not think a claim is true if it corresponds to the way the world is; that is, if the claim expresses what humans see, feel, hear, and so forth. Rather, he thinks that saying a claim is true means that the claim may be employed as an instrument to deal with the environment and context of everyday life. True beliefs enable people to deal with life situations effectively and consistently. This means that as life realities change, so might the claims that are “true”. Thus truth is not a minted coin that never changes. He specifically uses this approach to free himself from the views of ancient Chinese sages and their writings, which he feels should be studied largely as historical artifacts and much less so as viable philosophical options.

However, Hu Shi’s view of truth, like Dewey’s, is no mere subjectivism. Instead of truth being something that is relative to the individual, Hu argues that a claim that something is true requires that it be demonstrated experimentally. He has, however, a very broad view of what counts as an experimental demonstration of a claim. By “experimental”  he means demonstration according to the scientific method of experiment and confirmation. Yet, he regards this method as only one way of establishing a claim’s effects when it is true or disconfirming the claim when it is false. This way of proceeding has specific implications for his social theory. He thinks that claims being made about economics, politics, morality, and the social sciences can and should be confirmed experimentally by observing whether the observable outcomes of the claim’s being true or false can be confirmed in actual practice.

In the context of Chinese epistemologies, Hu stands out as opposing all kinds of authoritarianism and dogmatism; simply because Confucius or Zhu Xi or some other figure says something, it does not make it true in the current context.

i. Zhang Dongsun (1886-1973): Pluralistic Cultural Epistemology

In the early half of the 20th century, Zhang Dongsun was one of the most important philosophers in China, especially owing to his efforts to establish, in dialogue with Western philosophy, a unique philosophical epistemology in the Chinese context. This approach has variously been labeled as Pluralistic Epistemology or Cultural Epistemology.

For Zhang, what counts as evidence, what we seek to know, what we think it is possible to know, what we notice through our senses, how we interpret our sense perceptions, and what qualifies as a sufficient reason to say we know something all represent epistemological positions that are inevitably culturally defined and structured. Persons are not merely acculturated to observe festivals, organize themselves socially, or valorize certain heroes. They are also shaped by their cultures to operate epistemologically in different ways.

The most obvious way in which all epistemology can be shown to be cultural is that knowledge is expressed in a particular language. Of course, language is a cultural product. Languages have grammar and structure, and these embody logic and rules for reasoning. For example, Zhang argued that the structure of Western languages leads philosophers to look for the substance underlying the attributes predicated of an object. So, the investigation of the nature of substance itself became one of the central problems of Western philosophy but it did not arise in Chinese philosophy, because the language is differently constructed.

Zhang’s pluralistic cultural epistemology has no room for truth that transcends all cultures, or for the idea that there is a universal criterion for knowledge, such as the correspondence of a proposition to external objects. Knowledge is always mediated through culture. Knowledge and truth are functions of established criteria within a specific cultural epistemology. Further, there is no way to approach “reality” that is free of the cultural constraints determining what one is looking for, what questions one asks, or what is taken as sufficient evidence for a belief.

3. Moral Theory: Fundamental Questions on Morality

Moral theory and ethics are concerned with questions such as these: How should we live? Is the ultimate purpose of our lives to pursue happiness or pleasure, obey moral rules, please others or higher beings, or follow our own interests? Insofar as the origin of our morality, do we invent morality and agree to it, is it inborn or part of our nature, or is it given by a higher being or intelligence? Is something good or right to do depending on the consequences of the action, our duties, or our passionate feelings? Is morality universal, or relative to its culture or the individual? Are the most basic and important things in morality the actions we do or the sort of persons we are? Many of these questions are addressed directly and indirectly throughout the history of Chinese philosophy.

a. Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.): the Exemplary Person Ideal

The first access that most people have into Chinese philosophy in general, and certainly into the thought of Confucius, is through the Analects (Lunyu). This work is an anthology of selected sayings in which Confucius is often the main teacher. When speaking of morality, the term Confucius uses that is perhaps the closest in meaning is li, often translated as the rites that guide conduct. Li refers to the manner of comporting oneself that helps people transcend animality, develop humaneness (ren), and even exceed present ways of being human by raising themselves to higher expression. This expression is captured by the concept of “exemplary person” (junzi).

In the Analects, the humane (ren) person is able to endure hardship and enjoy happy circumstances (4.2), identify good and evil (4.3), and be free from the desire to do wrong (4.4). Being ren comes through self-cultivation and observing li, and it cannot be reduced to the dichotomy often found in Western moral theory between action (doing) and character (being). Confucius recognizes the importance of both what persons do and the sort of person one is. A person of ren character will act in a certain way; the construction of this character cannot occur without doing the li acts derived from and embodied in the lives of persons who have gone before as our exemplars (junzi). Making oneself into such a person is the work of self-cultivation.

There is no single word in the Analects for self-cultivation; but as a concept Confucius teaches, its imprint is present in the earliest stratum of his teachings. In thinking of the dedication and commitment needed for cultivating oneself, Confucius calls on his disciples to give their utmost (zhong) (3.19). Self-cultivation is not simply learning from books; it includes character development, enhancing talents, and refining (wen) one’s humanity itself (5.15). Cultivating oneself into an exemplary person is never merely reduced to one’s moral actions or values. Confucius recognized that in the activity of self-cultivation everyone makes mistakes, but he taught that it is tragic to repeat a mistake or fail to reform after making one (9.25). Confucius thinks of human being development as taking a raw piece of jade and carving and polishing it until it is fully refined (9.13).

Six of Book 4’s analects specifically describe the exemplary person. Such a person always does what is appropriate (yi) (4.10, 16), cherishes moral excellence (de) (4.11), and is not driven by desires (4.10). Exemplary persons take the high road, not the low one (14.23), and they feel ashamed if their high-sounding words are not fully reflected in their deeds (14.27). Indeed, exemplary persons cherish their excellence of character over power, land, or thought of gain. Exemplary persons take as much trouble discovering what is right as lesser men take to learn what will pay (4.16).

Confucius’s teachings on the exemplary person and self-cultivation are the touchstone for the moral and human ideals of Chinese culture down to the present day.

b. Mohist Moral Philosophy

The doctrine of “Inclusive Concern” (jian ai) is the best known of all Mohist teachings. Mozi took the position that in order to achieve social order people must be concerned for each other, showing care for others and not merely for themselves or their own families. This position was used by the later Mohists to criticize what they took to be the Confucian view; namely, that one has moral responsibilities and duties only to those to whom one is related (that is, the Five Relationships of Confucianism—ruler/subject; parent/child; spouse/spouse; elder sibling/younger sibling; and friend/friend). Practically speaking, jian ai meant that in relationships with others, people should seek mutual benefit and express mutual respect.

Mozi understood the chief problem of humanity in its “state of nature” to have been a world of plural moralities and competing values that eventuated in disorder, selfishness, and evil. So, he argued that a coherent social order must rest on a common and coherent morality that is absolutely and universally true. He held that if pluralism of moral values is allowed to exist, conflict would be the inescapable result. Accordingly, two preeminent philosophical questions occupied Mozi. What is the source of true morality? What is the content of true morality?

Mozi praises Heaven (tian) as impartial, generous, wise, just and caring, and regards it as the source for true morality. Heaven cares for humans and benefits the worthy by providing resources and blessings, while judging and punishing the wicked. Heaven has a dao that orders all things, including its relations with humanity.

Mozi finds the reliance on elitist consensus as the source for morality, which he associates with Confucius and the ideal of the exemplary person (junzi), to be both unconvincing and flawed. He takes the view that even if a practice is traditional (for example, received rites such as li) it is not necessarily morally right. He makes a distinction between custom and morality, associating the Confucian li with custom, while advocating objective moral standards coming from Heaven that he calls fa. For such moral norms, the analogy Mozi uses most often is the plumb line or the L-square. He points out that the function of these tools is to guide the performance of work. They are reliable, objective, and even the novice can employ them. The function of Heaven’s standards is to provide an absolute and universal guide for human life.

As for how we know the content of the Heaven’s true morality, it is mediated through the ruler to the layers of hierarchy down to the people. Specifically, Mozi argues that in human society prototypes, exemplars, and role models that exhibit correct judgments and true morality do so because they are following the will of Heaven or the standards (fa) specified by the Son of Heaven (ruler) who perceives and understands the divine source of morality. While following these standards will yield the best and most efficacious results, Mozi is not strictly a utilitarian. He does not say that examining or quantifying the desirable consequences of an action determines moral right or good. Good outcomes result from following Heaven’s Way and represent confirmation that the standard is from Heaven, but the consequences themselves are not the source of morality’s content.

c. Lao-Zhuang Traditions and wuwei

The Daodejing teaches that when individuals try to make something happen in the world by their own reasoning, plans, and contrivances, they inevitably make a mess of it. But if they take their hands off the course of their lives and move with the dao, then it will untangle all life’s knots, blunt its sharp edges, and soften its harsh glare (DDJ 56). This is relevant to an understanding of Lao-Zhuang teachings on morality because moral distinctions are regarded in this tradition as the kind of tampering and “trying to make something happen” that is warned against.

In Chapter 18 of the Daodejing, the ancient masters have transmitted the teaching that it was only when persons abandoned oneness with dao that they begin to make distinctions in morality. The Daodejing makes this point by specifically mentioning in a critical manner several of the distinctions made in Confucian moral and social philosophy: humaneness (ren); appropriateness (yi); filiality (xiao); and kindness (ci) (DDJ 18). If humans had continued in their primal oneness with dao, they would not have needed to invent such moral discriminations. So, in the Lao-Zhuang traditions there is a call to return to human inner nature that moves with the dao and away from the conventions of morality.

In the Zhuangzi, making distinctions of these sorts is considered a disease that is condemned in several logia of the text (ZZ chs. 2, 5). In the Lao-Zhuang traditions, struggling over these human-made distinctions represents the source of all strife in the world. The key is not to begin this process at all or to empty oneself of it by forgetting such distinctions and returning to the unity with dao, expressing its power (de).

For both the Daodejing and Zhuangzi, the concept wuwei is used to report a kind of effortless, spontaneous conduct that invariably expresses moral efficacy without deliberation or calculating consequences. This is not an ability that is available to persons without preparation. A person caught up in making moral distinctions should not expect to be able to wuwei (as a verb) without first entering into oneness with dao by forgetting those very distinctions. As the Daodejing says, “The [persons who possess the] highest de (virtuous power) do not strive for it and so they have it (DDJ ch. 38).

The holiness of wuwei conduct rests on the fact that moving in this manner accords in the situation with an efficacy that can only be attributed to the dao; it could never have resulted from human wisdom, planning, or contrivance. This is not to say that such action might not correspond to conventional human moral belief. Rather, the point is this: While moving in wuwei may look to the outside observer like moral conduct following human distinctions, its origin lies in empty stillness. It is a hopeless pursuit to invert this process and think that by following human morality one will come upon the dao or be able to wuwei.

The Zhuangzi compares the spontaneous and effortless action of wuwei to the kind of prehension Cook Ding experiences when he cuts up an ox without ever hitting a bone or dulling his knife (ZZ ch. 3). Zhuangzi’s disciples also gathered several stories about conduct analogous to wuwei. For example, stories of extraordinary swimmers and divers; the ferryman in the gulf of Shangshen who handled his boat with commensurate skill; the amazing cicada-catching hunchback; Ji Shengzi, the game cock trainer for King Xuan; Bohun Wuren’s skill in archery; Qing, who makes bell stands that seem to be the work of the spirits; and Chui, the artist who can draw free-hand as true as a compass or T-square (ZZ ch. 19).

d. Mencius (c. 372–289 B.C.E.): Morality as Cultivated Human Nature

The Mencius text records Mencius’s position that humans are distinct from other sentient creatures in having a “moral lens” made up of four propensities (siduan). Another way of saying this is that humans moralize in a way analogous to how that a corn kernel yields corn and not tomatoes. Mencius means that humans do not start out as blank slates having to learn to moralize. All humans must learn specific moralities, but they are enabled, and even inclined, to do so because of the four propensities that he calls “seeds”. For Mencius, humans are good by nature. This view marks the beginning of his philosophy of anthropology.

When reading Mencius, the early Chinese ontology that he inherited must be kept in mind. For him, there is no object that is a self or soul as found in Western philosophy. There is no identifiable “humanness” that sets humans apart from animals. Nevertheless, there is a sort of five-phase correlation of qi that has produced a human rather than something else. The four propensities are part of this structure, and they may be stated as follows: One whose heart-mind (xin) is devoid of compassion, shame, courtesy and modesty, and moral discretion is not human (Mencius 2A6).

The fact that Mencius chooses agriculture metaphors when writing about human nature suggests he is being consistent with the early Chinese ontology that influenced him. The Chinese graph for nature (xing) is related to a word meaning “to be born” or “to live/grow” (sheng). Thus, “nature” can refer to the defining characteristics of a thing, but it can also refer to the characteristics of a thing that will develop over the course of time if given a healthy environment.

Chinese philosophy does not insist on a thick understanding of essentialism. Yet, this does not mean that people are born without generally defining propensities. There are inborn, transitive, generational patterns that create bodies. To be devoid of these or possess some other set might eventuate in some other creature, but not a human body. Likewise, for Mencius, anyone devoid of the four propensities of morality lacks a human nature (xing) and cannot become human.

Mencius’s position cannot be falsified by human wrongdoing. He does not mean that humans are innately programmed to be morally good, or that they will automatically grow into morally good beings. The kernel will produce corn, but not if it is deprived of cultivation. Likewise, human nature is predisposed by means of inborn tendencies to act morally, but being morally good is not automatic.

Evil and violent times can retard the youth, just as drought can harm the crops (6A7; 6A9). The great and luxuriant trees of Ox Mountain are beautiful, but if constantly lopped by axes, we cannot be surprised if the mountain appears bald and ugly. The same is true of a person who repeatedly cuts down the sprouts of his moral intuitions and follows a way of immorality (6A8). On the other hand, Mencius thought that the incipient seeds of morality would grow, with cultivation by li, into the humane person (ren).

The cultivation of these seeds enables a person to increase in humaneness (ren) just as a fire that continually builds or a spring that has begun to vent will flow ever more strongly (6A6). Mencius believes a person can, by virtue of cultivating his inborn moral endowments, find a special kind of energy that he calls “flood-like energy” (haoran zhi qi), which brings both delight over one’s decisions and power to continue performing virtue. In taking this approach, Mencius is making the difference between his position and that of Mozi very clear.

e. Xunzi (310-220 B.C.E.): On the Carving and Polishing of the Human Being

Unlike Mencius, Xunzi believes that human nature is disposed to self-interest and that, left alone without moral guidance and the restrictions of law, self-interest will degenerate into selfishness and breed disorder and chaos. Goodness will not grow from within like corn stalks from kernels because human inclinations are not the four propensities Mencius identified, but desires for beautiful sights and sounds, comfort and power. Unless controlled, these and other desires become violence, willful violation of others, and destruction.

Xunzi says that the sage-kings established moral rites, such as discriminations of right and wrong, and li, to shape, guide, and control people. For Xunzi, human beings invented morality; they did not discover it within Heaven (Mencius) or have it disclosed to them by Heaven (Mozi). Accordingly, if the sage-kings had not invented the rites, there would have been no civilization and no order. Subsequent generations must be transformed by the influence of teachers and models, and follow especially the guidance of morality and rituals of human conduct (li) handed down to them.

Humans depend on the rites of morality created over generations by exemplary humans to shape and carve individual being into something worthwhile. A way of extending the importance of this difference between Mencius and Xunzi is to notice the shift in metaphors that Xunzi makes. Where Mencius used agricultural metaphors, Xunzi employed craft analogies: woodworking, jade carving, home construction, and so forth. For Xunzi, humans by nature are like warped pieces of wood that must be steamed, put into a press, and forced to bend into a straight shape.

He holds that even children must be taught to love their parents and be filial, a position contrary to that of Mencius, who thinks this is a natural inclination. Xunzi believed that if Mencius was correct and human nature was such as to move persons toward the good like water flowing downhill, then there would be no necessity for the emergence of morality or li (Xunzi; Watson 1963: 253).

In Chapter 17 of the Xunzi, Xunzi makes the point that Heaven does not care about human behavior, or how the course of things affects humans. In this, he takes a view much different than that of Mozi. Heaven cannot be appeased or persuaded to bring humans good fortune. If there is good fortune for humans, it is because persons make it happen through responsible government and well-ordered society. Neither does Heaven make people poor or bring calamities. Heaven has no will and no mind, and thus does not act to bring judgment or reward. The well being of persons and societies is squarely in the hands of humans acting morally. All are contrary to Mozi’s view.

f. Buddhist Moralities in the Chinese Context

i. The Way of Precepts

In Chinese Buddhism, the moral life is understood in a way similar to the epistemological one. There are multiple levels. On the lowest level, that of the lay followers, Buddhist morality looks in many ways like a conventional moral system. Various Buddhist schools share the basic code of ethics called the Five Precepts for the guidance of life when a seeker is at this lowest level. These entail abstinence from (1) killing, (2) stealing, (3) sexual misconduct, (4) lying, and (5) intoxication. Some Buddhist schools add three or five precepts to these. The so-called Ten Precepts form the conduct guides for monastic orders. The best-known companion concept to Buddhist morality at the level of precepts is the concept of karma. Karma may be regarded in its most basic sense as the product of one’s past actions. These products may be behavioral consequences, mental conditions or physical states that result from one’s acts.

Individuals living by moral precepts may stand out among others as good and ethical. They may receive awards and recognitions. We may seek them out in our relationships. In its highest forms, this is the Buddhism of compassion for the world, which seeks to remove evil and suffering by living a pure life and contributing to the welfare of others.

However, while such persons are still thinking of life and existence under moral precepts, they remain “in training” and in bondage to volition, names and forms of discrimination that persons use, and desire and suffering; even the desire to be good may cause suffering. They are also still subject to mental anguish and physical attunement.

A higher level of morality than that of following precepts is possible, even as a result of following those precepts. However, a crucial difference occurs when the training eventuates in enlightenment. In nirvana’s extinguishment of desire and vanishing of suffering, all moral precepts may be dispensed with as well. One who has climbed to the heights no longer needs the ladder. Since one is emptied of the attachments and desires moral precepts are meant to control and erase, there is no longer any need for them, nor any function for them once the job is done and desire is extinguished. Such an enlightened one transcends ethics and precepts, and is set free from morality.

ii. The Hua-yan (Flower Garland) Bodhisattva

Hua-yan (Flower Garland) Buddhism valorizes the form of existence known as Bodhisattva. To be a Bodhisattva is to dwell in the margins between experienced enlightenment and surrounding moral and karmic views. The Bodhisattva has already abandoned desires and the discriminations of the mundane world that are the cause of suffering. Accordingly, such the Bodhisattva dwells in this world with a mind that transcends that which causes suffering and has no attachment to the self. Those still caught in this world are attached to the self and to the discriminations of existence, and they suffer because of the desires such attachment creates. When a Bodhisattva lives among such people, the difference is obvious and the other sentient beings see that the Bodhisattva does not suffer. Thereby, the Bodhisattva becomes a savior.

Hua-yan (Flower Garland) Buddhism valorizes the form of existence known as Bodhisattva. To be a Bodhisattva is to dwell in the margins between experienced enlightenment and surrounding moral and karmic views. The Bodhisattva has already abandoned desires and the discriminations of the mundane world that are the cause of suffering. Accordingly, such the Bodhisattva dwells in this world with a mind that transcends that which causes suffering and has no attachment to the self. Those still caught in this world are attached to the self and to the discriminations of existence, and they suffer because of the desires such attachment creates. When a Bodhisattva lives among such people, the difference is obvious and the other sentient beings see that the Bodhisattva does not suffer. Thereby, the Bodhisattva becomes a savior.

iii. The Way to Morality in Chan Buddhism

Better known in the West by its Japanese equivalent, Zen, chan comes from the Sanskrit term dhyana, which means “meditation.” Although meditation is not the only practice employed in Chan Buddhism, its central role in ethics is important. In Chan Buddhism, the task is not to use reason or a calculus of consequences of actions in order to arrive at knowledge of one’s duties, but rather a person readies himself to act morally through meditation. This state is empty of content such as rules and duties. Indeed, one who practices this as a component of ethics does not say that he “knows” what to do or what is right. Rather, one has set aside the need to speak of the ethical life as connected to moral knowledge. In this state, persons have no need to draw their bearings from culture, community, or any sacred book. For such persons, meditation is the key. It is a sort of alternate consciousness that will enable one to act spontaneously, without calculation or feelings of resistance from the will. Similarities between Chan Buddhism and the concept of wuwei in Lao-Zhuang provide the backdrop for many historical instances of contact and exchange between the traditions.

g. Zhu Xi: Fashioning the Human Being

Whereas Western philosophers often engage in a discussion of the ultimate meaning or goal of human life, frequently associating it with happiness, Zhu Xi identifies the fundamental purpose of human life and its moral objective as equilibrium and harmony (zhonghe). For Zhu Xi, when humans realize equilibrium and harmony to the highest degree, heaven and earth will attain their proper order and all things will flourish. Accordingly, the purpose of morality is self-mastery by yielding to the Principle(s) (li) underlying reality. It is never merely self-realization. Rather, the person of ren (humaneness) “forms one body” with all things. Those who make a cleavage between objects and distinguish between the self and others are petty persons; that is, xiao ren.

Zhu’s ontology is closely connected with his approach to morality. Rather than taking the view that human nature is good or evil, his position is that owing to the way the five phasal elements come together to shape humans, one will be enabled to express the principles and patterns of Heaven. That is, one will be a sage or an evil person, mentally deranged, or a genius (Conversations 4.13, 15). Zhu thinks that he has thereby resolved the philosophical debate between Mencius and Xunzi.

Harmony for Zhu Xi is not so much “knowing yourself,” as Socrates would have it, nor is it identical with Aristotle’s eudaimonia (human flourishing). However, Zhu may well have taken the position that he (harmony) is necessary to both the Socratic and Aristotelian project. Yet, we may wonder whether harmony is a sufficiently robust and satisfying moral ultimate for human life. The question, then, is whether this calls us to the highest levels of achievement as humans.

h. Wang Yangming: Moral Willing as Knowing

While Wang Yangming was critical of Zhu Xi’s thought, he was influenced by the Neo-Confucian thinkers who went before him. Wang adopted their vision that the great man can regard Heaven, earth, and the myriad things as one body, holding that one does so not because he rationally decides to, but because it is natural to his heart-mind (xin)

In contrast to Zhu’s stance of “forming one body” with all things, Wang holds that the “great person” moves by pure intelligence (liangzhi). There is a direct awareness of being one with those in need and acting on that awareness. For Wang, “awareness” is not simply “feeling” or “reason,” which form the usual extremes in Western thought. Rather, feeling and reason are combined as in the Chinese notion of “heart-mind” (xin). This meaning of awareness gives the agent a unifying perspective for experiencing and dealing with all persons, things, and events.

Wang thinks that the direct awareness of Heavenly Principle(s) (tianli) as a moral guide is discovered not by following a moral exemplar, obeying a divine command, or by utilitarian quantification of what action will yield the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Neither does it come into view at the end of a rational process of solving a dilemma one might face. Rather, awareness of tianli is discovered by introspection.

For Wang, the experience of moral enlightenment in liangzhi transforms desire and affections so that individuals freely act. By acting freely, the Way is known. This is the crucial point. Wang is not saying that people who know what is the right thing to do must use their will to redirect their desires and passions in acting upon this knowledge. Rather, he is saying that the transformation of the will is knowledge of the good (Instructions for Practical Living sec. 5).

Yet, we may ask how to distinguish choice through liangzhi from simply “doing what one wants to do” or what “one’s conscience tells one to do”. Wang anticipates this criticism by insisting that, while liangzhi is inherent in all persons, it is the distinguishing characteristic of the mind of the sage. As one prepared by study and deep reflection, the sage’s grasp and awareness of liangzhi is beyond the ordinary. So, one who does not practice like a sage cannot hope to experience his or her own internal powers of liangzhi.

i. Mou Zongsan (1909-1995): Moral Metaphysics

Mou Zongsan


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *