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Lauren F. Pfister

Abstract

Having characterized the severe planetary environmental problems faced in our age, this article seeks to apply a revised form of the dialectics of harmonization promoted by Prof. Chung-ying Cheng, originally articulated in 1977 to approach a 21st century Ruist ( “Confucian”)-inspired environmental ethics. The content of this article is portrayed under seven “meditations” as follows, and each taking a relatively different dialectical step to arrive at some new concepts and ethical arguments to justify this particular form of environmental ethics. First, the immense irony within China is that some contemporary Ruist (and Buddhist and Daoist) scholars have written about environmental ethics, portraying an image that suggests that there are great historical traditions related to this realm. Nevertheless, even as late as 2013 the two most polluted cities in the contemporary world are in China (Linfen and Tianying). Secondly, it is argued that the insights of Jacques Ellul’s critiques of technological society and its systematic values have not been adequately conceptualized in traditional Ruist ethics, and so becomes a shortcoming of contemporary Ruist-inspired environmental ethics (which tend to advocate a “union or harmony of Heaven and humans”, allowing no special place for techno-scientific values, systems, and tools). Thirdly, symbolic resources for a “reverence for life” within different Ruist texts are explored. Fourthly, the six principles of the dialectics of harmonization promoted by Prof. Chung-ying Cheng in 1977 are presented and critically analyzed in the light of 21st century developments in the post-traditional Chinese philosophical and cultural context. Fifthly, a modulated form of the six principles of the dialectics of harmonization is elaborated in response to the critical questions raised in the previous meditation. Sixthly, a new polarity is presented, under the rubric of “artificial – human”, explored in terms of the values, powers and other aspects that are worked out in various relativities and oppositions that arise within this polarity. It is argued that this is an important addition to the list of polarities that should be included and applied through the revised version of the dialectics of harmonization. Seventh and finally, I argue that when working dialectically toward a more sensitive complimentarity within the artificial – human polarity, we should identify the subject of our reverence as the “vital environing whole”, which I further develop into a form of “familially familiar world” drawing upon Zhang Zai’s vision in The Western Inscription and adapt it to our 21st century context. It is argued that this new conception of our vital environing whole is worthy of reverence, and with the moral attitudes promoted by Zhang Zai, this conception leads us toward a feasible way to understand the “reverence for life” and can discern ways of “living with reverence” that includes not only suitable care for other living things but for our needy planetary home as well.