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Philosophical Horizons

Metaphysical Investigation in Chinese Philosophy

Series:

Yang Guorong

Edited by Paul D'Ambrosio

Professor Yang Guorong is one of the foremost living philosophers in China, and is widely known for the development of his “concrete metaphysics.” In Philosophical Horizons Yang offers penetrating discussions of some of the most important issues in modern philosophy—especially those topics related to comparative and Chinese philosophy. Drawing freely and adroitly on Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist texts, while staging a dialogue with Western thinkers such as from Kant and Hegel to Marx, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, Yang shows how contemporary Chinese philosophy has adopted, localized, and critically developed Western ideas alongside traditional Chinese concepts.

Series:

Guorong Yang

Editor/translator Paul J. D’Ambrosio, Daniel Sarafinas, Sharon Small, Ady van den Stock and Stefano Gandolfo

Analytic philosophy and Chinese philosophy are often seen as two completely different philosophical systems.1 Yet, from the perspective of Chinese philosophy, analytic philosophy does not merely constitute an existence of a philosophical “other,” nor is it just an incommensurable system of thought. Either from a historical review of Chinese philosophy or from the perspective of contemporary Chinese philosophy, the significance of having a solid understanding of the connection—and the possibility of establishing a connection—between analytic philosophy and Chinese philosophy cannot be overlooked.

Series:

Guorong Yang

Editor/translator Paul J. D’Ambrosio, Daniel Sarafinas, Sharon Small, Ady van den Stock and Stefano Gandolfo

Attempts to understand Chinese philosophy as philosophy have a unique history.1 It can be investigated in the context of Western philosophy or from the perspective of Chinese philosophy itself.

Mainstream Western philosophy, beginning with Hegel, does not properly situate Chinese philosophy. In Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Hegel mentions Chinese philosophy but does not incorporate it into his definition of what counts as philosophy. In his view, Kongzi (“Confucius”) (d. 479 BCE) is “China’s major philosopher,” but his thought is merely common-sense ethics: “In his thought, there is no analytic philosophy at all.” Although, says Hegel, the Yijing 易经 (“Book of Changes”) involves abstract ideas, it is not profound, it arrests at thinking of the most superficial.2

After Hegel, it seems that the mainstream Western philosophical understanding of Chinese philosophy continued as before. For major Western philosophers, Chinese philosophy never appeared on the horizon. One notices this in the courses offered in the philosophy departments of famous Western universities today: the most prestigious universities in Europe and North America, including Harvard, Oxford, Princeton, Cambridge and more, do not have Chinese philosophy as part of their curriculum. In these universities Chinese philosophy can be found only in departments such as East Asia, Religious Studies, History, and others that are not philosophy. This phenomenon again suggests that, in comparison to its Western counterpart, Chinese philosophy is not considered philosophy in the genuine sense.

On the other hand, once philosophy had taken the form of an academic discipline in modern China, it inspired a number of different arguments about how to understand it. The question “Is Chinese philosophy a philosophy?” has become a source of controversy. Here we ought to mention the phrase “Explain China through China.” The original meaning of this direction is to explain Chinese learning through Chinese scholarship. According to this view, when one employs the concept of philosophy to explain Chinese thought, one is already approaching the subject through a Western framework. Such an argument is based on the premise that philosophy is distinctly Western, and that therefore using the concept and term to analyze Chinese thought will cause the loss of the original form and meaning of the subject.

In the rather extreme discourse of explaining China through China, we find a certain tendency: first to reconstruct philosophy as the history of philosophy; then to reconstruct the history of philosophy as intellectual history, and finally to reconstruct intellectual history as academic history. Contained in this pattern of reconstruction is the question of whether Chinese philosophy can be a modern academic discipline. These competing contexts create an unavoidable problem for basic efforts to understand Chinese philosophy.

Series:

Guorong Yang

Editor/translator Paul J. D’Ambrosio, Daniel Sarafinas, Sharon Small, Ady van den Stock and Stefano Gandolfo

In its original meaning, philosophy appears as the search for the individualization and variation of wisdom.1 In Chinese philosophy, the reflection of wisdom unfolds through the pursuit of human nature and dao, which achieves its concrete realization through the application of a series of questions. Based in the historical development of ancient Chinese philosophy, modern Chinese philosophy has returned to wisdom in a new aspect and has continued the contemplation of wisdom in a new form.

Series:

Guorong Yang

Editor/translator Paul J. D’Ambrosio, Daniel Sarafinas, Sharon Small, Ady van den Stock and Stefano Gandolfo

Series:

Guorong Yang

Editor/translator Paul J. D’Ambrosio, Daniel Sarafinas, Sharon Small, Ady van den Stock and Stefano Gandolfo

In the history of Chinese thought, “gong” 公 (“public,” “general,” “to make public”) and “zheng” 正 (“central, “straight/upright,” or “to align/correct”) have been differentiated in terms of epistemological and value connotations.1 On the epistemological level, gong relates to an objective perspective, and zheng has connotations of conforming, corresponding, or consistency. In terms of value meanings, gong is primarily related to “public,” but it is not completely identical to the modern notion of “public.” Its meaning involves transcending individuality and privacy. The value implications of zheng indicate integrity, fairness, and appropriateness, while simultaneously connoting binding commitment or restraint and norms. The use of the cognate gongzheng 公正 often refers to the value meaning (of these terms). Speaking to value perspectives, gongzheng generally reflects the fair and impartial treatment of every member in a group. As a traditional concept gongzheng differs from zhengyi 正义 (i.e. the standard translation for “justice”); but there is a potential for communication between gongzheng and principles of justice (zhengyi).

Series:

Guorong Yang

Editor/translator Paul J. D’Ambrosio, Daniel Sarafinas, Sharon Small, Ady van den Stock and Stefano Gandolfo

Series:

Guorong Yang

Editor/translator Paul J. D’Ambrosio, Daniel Sarafinas, Sharon Small, Ady van den Stock and Stefano Gandolfo

A core concept of Chinese philosophy, dao 道 (“way” “method”) refers both to the tian dao (天道), “heavenly dao” or “dao of heaven,” and the ren dao (人道), “humanistic dao” or “dao of humans.”1 As opposed to skills or techniques, dao transcends the realm of experience and manifests itself in the metaphysical realm of wisdom. Correspondingly, achieving Dao by means of skill not only indicates a transcendence of boundaries, and an integral understanding of the real world, but moreover implies a shift from knowledge to wisdom.

Such an understanding is expressed through the process of “observation through dao.” The intended result of this process is a unified vision of dao, one that has overcome unilateral understandings and achieved the wisdom of dao. In Chinese philosophy, dao contains a variety of meanings, each of which can only be known and realized in the self.

The link between dao and human beings manifests itself as practical wisdom. According to the notion of “setting the will in dao,” dao concerns personal growth and development and the cultivation and perfection of one’s personality.

Series:

Guorong Yang

Editor/translator Paul J. D’Ambrosio, Daniel Sarafinas, Sharon Small, Ady van den Stock and Stefano Gandolfo

Series:

Guorong Yang

Editor/translator Paul J. D’Ambrosio, Daniel Sarafinas, Sharon Small, Ady van den Stock and Stefano Gandolfo

Whether looking at it from the perspective of the group or the individual, human life is multifaceted, and ethics is one very important aspect of it.1 Traditional Confucianism had already specifically taken the humans’ ethical life as a fundamental characteristic that distinguishes them from other beings. As an important aspect within human life, the ethical life has a substantially practical character, which is to say, according to its essence, ethical life is always related to moral practice. The subject of ethical life and moral practice is the human: ethical life takes the person as the subject and moral practice is expressed as an activity of the person. Understanding ethical life and moral practice from the perspective of the life and practice of the person involves many segments, and these segments can in some sense be said to constitute the possible preconditions of ethical life and moral practice itself.