Chinese Philosophy: Ethics

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The first recorded dynasty in Chinese history is the Shang (17661050 BCE). It came to an end when the Zhou family overthrew the Shang and justified its act on the grounds that the Shang kings had become corrupt and forfeited the right to rule conferred by the ruling force of the world, tian (which literally means "sky" and is usually translated as "Heaven"). Although the Zhou kings claimed validation by Heaven, their rule declined in the time of Kongzi (551479 BCE; better known in the West by his Latinized name Confucius), entailing a breakdown of the social, political, and moral order. The dao, the way or path, that the Zhou claimed to possess was lost. As Angus C. Graham (1989) puts it, the primary question of the age was: Where is the dao? Whoever could rediscover it could regain the de, the human power and excellence, that enabled the early Zhou kings to create the golden age of harmony and flourishing that was lost. Each philosophy of the ancient period provides its version of the dao.

Confucian Ethics

Benjamin Isadore Schwartz (1985) characterizes the Confucian dao as emphasizing respect for rightful authority, where the rightfulness of authority is based on the achievement of ethical excellence. Confucianism is a virtue ethic because of its central focus on three interrelated subjects: character traits identified as the virtues; the good and worthwhile life; and contextualist modes of ethical deliberation. The virtues are traits of character that are necessary for living a good life and that typically involve judging in the context at hand what must be done. The virtues belong to the junzi (the noble person, most often translated as "gentleman"), who is living in accord with the dao. Such a person can be said to have realized in a high degree the overall ethical excellence that befits human beings.

Consider the virtue of ren. In 12.22 Kongzi identifies ren with loving or caring for people. Understood in this way, ren is one particular virtue among a number possessed by the junzi such as wisdom and courage. Translators such as D. C. Lau (1979) focus on this meaning of ren and translate it as "benevolence." However, ren has a much broader meaning in the Analects (but perhaps not in the Mengzi, where it seems restricted to the meaning of a particular virtue). At a number of places, ren is associated with an array of different virtues: for example, the observance of ritual in 3.3, and sympathetic understanding of others in 6.30. In fact, ren seems so closely associated with the ideal of the junzi, or morally noble person, that it seems to stand for complete human excellence.

A virtue distinctive of the Confucian ethic is that of ritual observance or ritual propriety. In the Analects the rituals (li ) include ceremonies of ancestor worship, the burial of parents, and the rules governing respectful and appropriate behavior between parents and children. In general, the li in the Analects are ceremonies or customary practices that express one or more of several ethically significant attitudes: reverence, respect, care, gratitude, and a feeling of indebtedness. Later, the word came to cover a broad range of customs and practices that spelled out courteous and respectful behavior between people occupying specific social stations. Herbert Fingarette (1972) argues that this emphasis on ritual propriety conveys the profound insight that ceremonies, customs, and conventions constitute much of what is distinctive about human activity. A handshake means nothing unless understood against a background of conventions that establish the relevant physical movements as a way of greeting another person. So too, many of the ways of respecting and expressing care or gratitude toward others are possible only because they have been conventionally established as ways to express those attitudes. This implies that ren as complete human excellence cannot be understood as something separate and independent from li.

As Kwong-loi Shun (1993) points out, however, this does not mean that ren reduces to any given set of practices adopted by a community, since alternative practices in a different community might be devised to express the same ethical attitude or there might be nonconventional means of expressing that attitude. Li also are portrayed in the Analects as crucial for the project of ethical self-cultivation: dedicated observance of the rites, along with a sincere commitment to have the appropriate attitudes they are conventionally established to express, are crucial for developing and strengthening the dispositions to have those attitudes. Sincerely engaging in a ritual that is conventionally established to express reverence for parents or ancestors makes stronger the disposition to revere. Finally, there is an aesthetic dimension to the ethical importance of li. One is more or less graceful and elegant in the performance of li. One has made such observance more or less a second nature, from which it flows effortlessly and spontaneously. One who is so accomplished lives a life of beauty, and this is part of the junzi ideal.

The concept of yi refers both to that which is right or appropriate for the given situation and to the trait of character that consists in reliably identifying and acting on what is right. The Analects 4:10 says that the junzi is not predisposed to be for or against anything, but goes with what is yi. As Antonio Cua (1998) points out, traditional rules of ritual propriety provide one with a sense of what is courteous and respectful action given standard contexts, while the virtue of yi allows one to identify when those rules need to be set aside in exigent circumstances. In 4A17 Mengzi (371289 BCE; better known in the West as Mencius) observes that to save the life of one's drowning sister-in-law one must suspend the customary rule of propriety prohibiting the touching of man and woman when they are giving and receiving. When his interlocutor wants to apply this idea of suspending the usual rules of propriety to save the entire country from drowning, Mengzi replies that one saves one's sister-in-law with one's hand but cannot save the country from drowning in chaos and corruption with one's hand. The country can only be pulled out by the dao.

This passage not only illustrates that one may have to set aside customary rules of propriety in exigent circumstances but also that analogy is a way to judge what is yi for the situation at hand. One starts with a case where the judgment seems right (touching the sister-in-law when she is drowning) and attempts to transfer a like judgment to a like situation. One can also criticize an analogy by pointing out a relevant unlikeness between the two cases. One cannot save the country through violations of ritual propriety, but only through setting it back on the dao, which itself may require one to observe propriety on many occasions.

The term de is used to refer to the power or excellence that a thing can achieve when it acts according to the dao for things of its kind. One who gets or attains the dao and achieves virtues such as yi achieves a power or excellence appropriate to things of one's kind. In the Analects the human de that is ren brings with it a power to influence and attract other people and even the surrounding environment. Human de is a kind of moral charisma that comes with the achievement of the virtues just discussed and can be possessed by any good human being, but when it appears in rulers, it allows them to command others without appealing to physical threats (as Edward Slingerland [2003] points out, such an ideal may manifest the theme of wu-wei, or effortless action, which is traditionally associated with the daoists). The Confucian prescription for bringing China back to the dao is partly based on this belief in de as possessed by rulers and in the strategy of Confucian scholars offering their moral advice to rulers.

Western interest in Confucianism rests on reasons that are similar to those underlying the enduring interest in Western virtue ethics. Those who are skeptical of the modernist ambition to construct ethical theories around general principles of action, seeing them as too vague and abstract to provide much guidance on the one hand, and too reductivist to capture the rich array of ethical considerations on the other hand, turn to the ancient ideals of good character and judgment that are sensitive to context. Virtue ethics also tend to embody the theme that the ethical life of right (and in the case of Chinese and contemporary Western virtue ethics) caring relationship to others is necessary for human flourishing. In the Mengzi this theme emerges in identification of the distinctively human potentials with the incipient tendencies to develop the moral virtues.

At the same time, Confucian ethics is distinctive for the centrality it gives to family life in its conception of the good life. Part of the reason for this centrality lies in the Confucian appreciation for the family as the first arena in which care, respect, and deference to legitimate authority is learned (Analects 1.2). The way in which particularist reasoning is illustrated in historical stories such as those about Shun is also a distinctive feature of Confucian ethics. These stories present paradigms of good judgment and of good individuals, from which persons engaged in ethical self-cultivation should learn through analogy with relevantly similar situations in their own lives. Those who hold that much moral learning and reflection is accomplished through the telling of and listening to stories and other narratives have reason to study Confucianism. Another distinctive feature of Confucian ethics, as mentioned earlier, is the emphasis it gives to rituals as providing much of the distinctive substance of human life, as a necessary dimension of moral self-cultivation, and as contributing to the aesthetic dimension of the good life.

Mengzi and Xunzi (313238 BCE) engaged in a vigorous, provocative debate over human nature and whether there are natural tendencies that form the basis for development of a good person. Mengzi holds that there are innate moral concepts that infuse intuitive judgments and feelings (people spontaneously feel compassion for a child about to fall into a well; a beggar knows intuitively to reject food that has been thrown on the ground and trampled on). Xunzi holds that human nature is dominated by the desire for gain and sensual gratification and that rather than having a natural basis, morality is invented to prevent the destructive conflict caused by people acting from their natures.

The contrasting ways in which Mengzi and Xunzi portray moral development raise important issues about the relation between reasoning, feeling, and moral judgment. Mengzi tends to portray moral perception, reasoning, and feeling as working in concert in ways that call into question any strict separation between perception and reasoning on the one hand and feelings such as shame and compassion on the other (Wong 1991, 2002). By contrast, Xunzi holds that the mind has the power to shape and retrain its desires and feelings, but his portrait of moral development seems to presuppose appropriate conative and affective elements that form the base for such reshaping (Van Norden 1992, Wong 1996). Taking all these distinctive features together, it is fair to say that Confucianism offers an especially rich moral psychology that Antonio Cua (1998, 2005), Philip J. Ivanhoe (2000), David S. Nivison (1996), and Shun (1997) illuminate.

Another respect in which Confucianism differs from modern Western moral theories bears especially on the cross-cultural comparison of values. Confucian morality lacks a focus comparable to that found in modern Western moralities on individual rights to liberty and to other goods, where the basis for attributing such rights to persons lies in a moral worth attributed to each individual independently of what conduces to individual's responsibilities to self and others. Confucianism rather assumes that the ethical life of responsibility to others and individual flourishing are inextricably intertwined, and in such a way, Craig Ihara (2004) argues, that the individual's dignity is honored without resort to the concept of rights. A frequent Western interpretation of Confucian ethics is that it subordinates the individual to the group. David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames (1998) respond that this interpretation erroneously presupposes that the individual and community are potentially at odds in ways the Chinese tradition does not conceive them to be. The nature of the individual is conceived relationally, they argue, so that it is just plain wrong to have the Chinese separating the individual from the group in the first place, much less subordinating the individual to the group.

Another frequent criticism from the Western side is that Confucianism fails to provide adequate protection to those legitimate interests an individual has that may conflict with community interests. On the other side, Henry Rosemont (1991) criticizes rights-focused moralities for ignoring the social nature of human beings and of portraying human life in an excessively atomistic fashion. Against those who argue that Confucianism does not sufficiently protect the individual, Rosemont (2004) replies that the Confucian framework of responsibilities to others can afford significant economic and social protections to the individual and arguably addresses the human need for community and belonging better than rights frameworks.

Moreover, it is arguable that rights in some sense can play a role in the Confucian tradition, even if such rights are not grounded in the idea of the independent moral worth of the autonomous individual. Within that tradition, Joseph Chan (1999) argues, rights might function to protect individuals' interests when the right relationships of care irretrievably break down. Furthermore, rights to be protected in one's speech can receive a Confucian justification as conducive to the health of the community. Mengzi advised kings to attach more weight to the opinions of their people than to those of their ministers and officers in making certain crucial decisions. Xunzi recognized the need for subordinates to speak their views freely to their superiors. If one carries the reasoning in Mencius and Xunzi one step further, one sees the need to protect a space in which they may speak freely without fear of suppression, and hence derive a right in the "thin" sense of what one has whenever one has justifiable claims on others to assure one's possession of things or one's exercise of certain capacities (Wong 2004).

That there are developments of each tradition that bring each closer to the other may suggest that each could learn from the other. One might worry about the kind of individualism that prompts citizens in affluent nations such as the United States to tolerate gross inequality of opportunity. One therefore might look to a tradition that appreciates the way people thrive or falter within specific communities that nurture or shut them out. On the other side, a tradition that has tended to value the idea of social harmony at the cost of sufficiently protecting dissenters pointing out abuses of power or just plain bad judgment by authorities would do well to look at enduring traditions that do not value social harmony as highly.

Mohist Ethics

Mozi (470391 BCE) is said to have begun as a student of Confucianism and eventually came to reject it in favor of a consequentialism that in important respects anticipates Western utilitarianism by two millennia. While Confucians saw the problem with China as loss of respect for authority and a related loss of moral basis for authority, Mozi saw the problem as partiality. Heads of families knew only to love their own families and mobilized their families to usurp others. Lords knew only to love their own states and consequently mobilize their own to attack others. Such partiality causes destructive conflict that harms everyone, so the proper conclusion is to override one's own tendencies to partiality and to practice jianai, sometimes translated as "universal love" but arguably better translated as "impartial concern."

Schwartz (1985) points out that ai in the Mozi means neither Eros nor agape but something closer to a concern for all that is justified on the basis that its practice advances one's own welfare and the welfare of those to whom one is partial. The doctrine of impartial concern, when combined with Mozi's emphasis on evaluating beliefs according to the benefits and harms that result from them, qualifies him as a kind of utilitarian. His is not, however, a hedonistic or welfare utilitarianism of the kind most commonly represented in the Western tradition. His conception of benefit and harm refers to no psychological goods and harms such as pleasure and pain but exclusively to material goods and harms such as enriching the poor, increasing the population, and bringing about order.

Because he advocated impartial concern, Mozi had no use for the Confucian doctrine of graded concern: that the degree of one's concern should depend on the nature of one's relationship to the person in question (one's family being owed the most concern). Because he relied on pragmatic appeals to people's existing interests to justify his moral position and because he took the rationalist position that people should have no trouble doing what they see to be in their interests, he saw no use for Confucian ritual as a mode of moral self-cultivation.

The traditional attitude toward Mozi is that he was a relatively minor philosopher, but that is changing. His criticism of Confucian-graded concern and his advocacy of impartial concern is of broad interest and raises the question of how to fit within a coherent moral framework the special concern parents and children ought to have toward one another with the universal and equal concern one ought to have toward all persons as persons (Wong 1989). Moreover, Chad Hansen (1992) argues persuasively that Mozi's vigorous argumentation against the Confucians constituted a pivotal point, after which subsequent Confucian thinkers such as Mengzi and Xunzi had to defend Confucianism with argument. Mozi was unique in developing explicit standards for argumentation, and his school developed a distinctive focus on questions of logic, argumentation, and philosophy of language.

Daoist Ethics

The two great daoist texts of the ancient period are the Daodejing (Book of the way and its power; traditionally but dubiously attributed to the historical figure Laozi, c. sixth century BCE), and the Zhuangzi (a good part of the first seven chapters, the so-called inner chapters, was probably written by the historical figure Zhuangzi, c. 360 BCE). It may seem paradoxical to write of daoist ethics, but daoism thrives on (apparent?) paradox. On the one hand daoism expresses strong skepticism about distinctions between good and bad, right and wrong. On the other hand it also makes recommendations that add up to putting forward a way of life. Joel J. Kupperman (1999) observes that the Zhuangzi commends a way of life that does not take oneself and one's ideas so seriously.

The way of life commended in the Zhuangzi also includes openness to what might escape one's current conceptualizations and preconceptions. One is invited to see that one's conceptualizations of the world are inevitably incomplete and distorting. One attempts to order the world by sorting its features under pairs of opposites, but opposites in the real world never match neatly with one's conceptual opposites. Real "opposites" escape one's attempts to cleanly separate them. Despite one's best efforts, they switch places in one's conceptual maps, blur, and merge into one another. That is why chapter 2 of the Zhuangzi says that the sage recognizes a this, but a this that is also that, a that that is also this. In chapter 5, men who have had their feet amputated as criminal punishment are scorned by society, but not by their daoist masters, who see what is of worth in them. In fact, both the Zhuangzi and Daodejing express an underlying suspicion of the needs that evaluative judgments serve; it is precisely to dominate or to undermine others that one subsumes them under the disfavored halves of one's value dichotomies.

The Zhuangzi further emphasizes the need to accept the inevitable in human life, the need to manage one's desires to achieve tranquility in the face of the inevitable, and to identify with the world that makes acceptance and management of desires possible. Both the Zhuangzi and Daodejing commend wu-wei, literally translated as "nonaction," but meaning something like unforced acting with the grain of things. It is a style of action that consists in being receptive rather than aggressive, following from behind rather than leading in front, accommodating rather than confrontational, and being flexible and ready to change with the situation rather than rigid and operating from general predetermined principles. Seeing what is of worth in people and getting attuned to the grain of things are themes that stand in tension with the skepticism expressed by both the Zhuangzi and Daodejing, and one of the central interpretative problems is how to reconcile them (Hansen 1992, Kjellberg and Ivanhoe 1996, Wong 2005).

The Zhuangzi addresses such recommendations largely to the private individual who has become disaffected with the popular striving after conventional success and with the earnest moral idealism of the Confucians. By contrast, the Daodejing often addresses its recommendations to rulers, and even when it does not it expresses a primitivist social philosophy that holds that humanity was at its best when its desires were the fewest and when it did not guide itself through self-conscious valuing. Chapter 19, for example, says, "Exterminate the sage, discard the wise, and the people will benefit a hundredfold; exterminate benevolence, discard rectitude, and the people again will be filial; exterminate ingenuity, discard profit, and there will be no more thieves and bandits" (Lau 1985, p. 23). The rejection of conventional success and earnest idealism is here paired with the promise that if one stops trying to impose one's will on others (along with the usual value dichotomies) one may actually result in the ends one originally hoped to achieve.

What is interesting about wu-wei as applied to political leadership, as Michael Lafargue (1992) points out, is that it implies an organic notion of social harmony that contrasts with the conception of harmony as imposed by a dominating person who stands out from the rest of the group. A leader in an organic social group models the kind of self-effacement and sparseness of desire that all members should have. One suspects that such a leader must do more than model to be effective, but the Daodejing does not dispense specific advice or strategies. It rather provides metaphors from nature about the strength to be found in water and in valleys, associated with the female, that can overmatch the strength to be found in rock and in mountains, associated with the male.

In the Daodejing both the skepticism about the adequacy of conceptual structures and the confidence in wu-wei have traditionally been thought to be rooted in a monistic vision of the universe that is centered on the notion of the dao. Consider chapter 4 of that text where the dao is described as being empty, as seeming something like the ancestor of the myriad of things, as appearing to precede the Lord (di ). In chapter 1, the constant dao is characterized as nameless, and the nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth. Insofar as it is named, one could call it the mother of all things. The dao of the Daodejing might be the indeterminate ground in which determinate things are incipient, as suggested by Robert Neville (1989). Chung-ying Cheng (1989) suggests that the embrace of an indeterminate ground of the determinate may reflect the decision to give the phenomenon of change a fundamental place in ontology, rather than an absolutely stable being as in Parmenidean ontology and as later reflected in Aristotelian and Cartesian notions of substance. One reason for a continuing Western interest in Chinese metaphysics has partly been fueled by the perception that contemporary physics has undermined the strategy of giving determinate being ontological primacy.

Buddhist Ethics

In Chinese strains of Buddhism, especially Chan Buddhist texts such as the Liuzu tanjing (Platform sutra of the sixth patriarch) by Huineng (638713), there is also a sense that evaluative categories cannot reliably order the world and the confidence that one can become attuned to the world so as to move with its grain. This is not surprising since daoism profoundly influenced Buddhism on its importation into China. However, Buddhist ethics is distinguished by its special emphasis on the elimination of suffering and on the way it explains suffering by referring to the human attachment to the self as a fixed ego entity. The Buddhist scripture, The Questions of King Milinda (Conze 1959), articulates a view of the self as based on nothing more than a floating collection of various psychophysical reactions and responses. Contrary to the folk belief, there is no fixed center or relatively unchanging ego entity. One's bodily attributes, various feelings, perceptions, ideas, wishes, dreams, and in general a consciousness of the world display a constant interplay and interconnection that leads one to believe that there is some definite I that underlies and is independent of the ever-shifting series, but there is only the interacting and interconnected series.

In Buddhism, this view of the self has deep practical implications. It points toward the answer to human suffering, which ultimately stems from a concern for the existence and pleasures and pains of the kind of self that never existed in the first place. The recognition that none of the "things" of ordinary life are fixed and separate entities, anymore than the self is, leads to recognizing all of life as an interdependent whole and to the practical attitude of compassion for all of life. One can only be struck by the similarity between the Buddhist view of the self and David Hume's doubts in The Treatise of Human Nature about the existence of a unitary and stable self. Such a conception of the self may lay claim to one's renewed attention because it fits better with a naturalized conception of human beings as part of this world and not as Cartesian-thinking substances that somehow operate apart from the rest of nature. Consider also Derek Parfit's (1984) argument that acceptance of a Humean or a Buddhist view of the self can lead to sense that one is less separate from other selves and to a wider concern when one's projects seem not so absolutely different from other people's projects. Some might see Buddhist impersonal concern as unreasonably demanding of human beings who are so strongly partial to themselves and their own (a criticism made of utilitarianism also), but as Owen Flanagan (1991) argues, that Buddhism is a vibrant and long-lived tradition with many committed practitioners provides some support for the viability of impersonal concern as an ideal that is capable of claiming allegiance and influencing how people try to live their lives.

Another concern some have about Buddhist ethics is that it appears to advocate a dampening of desire and attachment to things and people. Attachment and clinging to the impermanent is deemed the root of suffering. There is a similar vein of thought in daoism, but combined with a more complex attitude that allows attachments to remain in a transformed state, allowing one to accept the death of a loved one as part of the process of change that one embraces and even celebrates. Chapter 18 of the Zhuangzi portrays its namesake as sobbing on the death of his wife, but stopping and even turning to drumming on a pot and singing after he realizes that his wife has gone to become a companion to spring, summer, autumn, and winter. This more complex attitude also surfaces in Buddhism, and not surprisingly in Chinese versions of it such as Chan (later becoming Zen in Japan), where it is stressed that enlightenment is to be found in the ordinary, in one's life here and now, not in a rejection of or escape from this life.

Neo-Confucian Ethics

The neo-Confucian Zhuxi (11301200) reinterpreted ethical themes inherited from the classical thinkers and grounded them in a cosmology and metaphysics, partly as a response to the growing influence of daoism and Buddhism in his time. The dao or way of Heaven is expressed in principle (li, not to be confused with the li that means ritual propriety). It is embedded in something like the indeterminate ground of the daoists, but results in the myriad of determinate things when it is sheathed in qi, the material energy stuff of the universe. This sheathing, however, also results in base emotions and conflict. The task of human beings is to return to their own original goodness through purification of qi so that li can be expressed, an idea that is similar to the Buddhist theme that the Buddha nature is present in all things and that enlightenment is attained through purification of that nature. Another great neo-Confucian, Wang Yangming (14721529), seems more pragmatic than metaphysical. He taught of the sage who formed one body with Heaven and Earth and the myriad things, but he showed little of Zhu's interest in the li or principle of existent things, focusing rather on the rectification of the base thoughts of the mind.

The Legalist Critique of an Ethics-Based Approach to Government

Confucian, daoist, and Buddhist ethics recommend in one way or another the project of self-cultivation resulting in significant self-transformation, even if the basis of such transformation is present in human nature. In Confucian ethics and in some versions of daoist and Buddhist ethics, this transformation can result in the ethical transformation of a whole society. The legalist Hanfeizi (281233 BCE) expresses skepticism about the ambitions of such projects, and in particular the Confucian project of bringing a society back to the dao through the ethical self-cultivation of the ruling elite. Hanfeizi argues that widespread good behavior, never mind the right motivations, is an achievement requiring fortuitous circumstances. He does not dispute the Confucian belief that the sage-kings of ancient times were virtuous and ruled over a harmonious and prosperous society. He does dispute that their virtue was the primary cause. What about, he asks, those kings in more recent times who were ren and yi, benevolent and righteous, and who got wiped out for their trouble? Virtue is not the explanation of success or failure. The explanation, argues Hanfeizi, has much more to do with the scarcity of goods in relation to the number of people.

Hanfeizi's subsequent emphasis on authority, on clear and consistent law, backed by severe punishment for its violation, is designed not to provide an alternative method of making the people follow the dao, but first and foremost to prevent the worst things from happening, the worst forms of chaos, bloodshed, and human misery. Legalism is commonly regarded as a philosophy of pure Realpolitik, but is perhaps better conceived as an ethic and political philosophy that is shaped by a severe pessimism about human nature and about the practicality of moral idealism.

Some Methodological Issues

A common Western perception of Chinese ethical teaching is that it is "wisdom" literature, composed primarily of stories and sayings designed to move the audience to adopt a way of life or to confirm its adoption of that way of life. By contrast, Western ethical philosophy is systematic argumentation and theory. One reason to think there is such a difference is the fairly widespread wariness in Chinese philosophy of a discursive rationality that operates by deduction of conclusions about the particular from high-level generalizations. Confucians seem more willing than daoists to articulate their teachings in the form of principles, but in accordance with the conception of yi as action that is right for the circumstances at hand, such principles seem to function as designators of values or general considerations that ought to be given weight in judgments about what to do. Never lost is recognition of the necessity for the exercise of discretion in judgment according to the particular circumstances at hand. However, such contextualist themes appear in Western philosophical traditions, beginning with Aristotle. Perhaps it is fairest to say that the Chinese and Western traditions have differed over the emphasis and relative dominance accorded to particularism versus top-down normative theorizing.

Arne Naes and Alastair Hanay (1972) characterize Chinese philosophy as invitational in its method of persuasion, meaning that it portrays a way of life in a vivid fashion so as to invite the audience to consider its adoption. The Analects, for example, portrays the ideal of the junzi as realized by persons of genuine substance who are undisturbed by the failure of others to recognize their merits (1.1: "To be unrecognized by others yet not complain, is this not the mark of the junzi?"). In the Mengzi 2A2, such a person possesses a kind of equanimity or heart that is unperturbed by the prospects of fame and success. This unperturbed heart corresponds to the cultivation of one's qi (vital energies) by uprightness.

One might be able to see such passages as appealing to experiences the audience might have in its encounters with persons who do seem to possess special strength, substance, and tranquility through identification with and commitment to a cause they perceive to be far greater than themselves. One need not interpret such sayings as attempting to persuade by the pure emotive effect of certain words, as in propaganda. Rather, they may correspond to a way of doing philosophy that attempts to say something about values in life that can be supported by experience, even if not all testimony will agree (Kupperman 1999). The daoists recommend a way of life that they explicitly characterize as one that cannot be argued for, but their recommendation receives some support through commonly shared experience.

Consider again the notion of wu-wei and its illustrations in the Zhuangzi through stories of exemplary craft. Most famously, Zhungzi's Cook Ding cuts up an ox so smoothly and effortlessly that his knife never dulls, as if he is doing a dance with his knife as it zips through the spaces between the joints. He does this not through "perception and understanding" but through qi, the vital energies of the body. Suggested here is a portrait of acting in the world that consists of complete and full attention to present circumstances so that the agent can act with the grain of things (the Cook Ding passage refers to tianli or heavenly patterns). Such a portrait does resonate with the actual experience of craftspeople, artists, athletes, musicians, and dancers who have advanced beyond self-conscious technique and rule-following, who become fully absorbed in the experience of working with the material, the instruments, or in the movement of their bodies and who experience their actions as an effortless flow and in fact perform at high levels. In such ways, Chinese thinkers draw a picture of the world that must in the end be evaluated by explanatory power in some broad sense. One must ask whether the picture helps make sense of one's experience of the world (again in a broad sense of experience not limited to quantifiable observations in replicable experiments) and whether it preserves features of that experience that one thinks are prima facie genuine.

The contrast between Chinese philosophy as invitational and Western philosophy as argumentative has some truth in it, but the difference is more a matter of degree than an absolute contrast. It was Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, after all, who said that discussions about the good in human life cannot be properly assimilated by the young because they do not have enough experience of life. And Plato, despite his insistence on the centrality of argumentation to philosophy, dispatches the short analytical arguments presented in book 1 of the Republic in favor of long expository portraits of the ideal city-state and the harmonious soul for the rest of that work, often presenting little or no argument for some of his most crucial claims. Other of his claims, about the divisive effects of family loyalties and the ill effects of democracy, obviously appeal to experience, even if not all testimony will agree. Furthermore, as noted earlier, Mozi's criticism of Confucians required response in kind. Shun (1997) reveals the extensive argumentative context behind Mengzi's response to the Mohists. Methods of argumentation reach their most sophisticated state of development in Xunzi (see Cua 1985), who vigorously criticizes Mozi's, Zhuangzi's, and Mengzi's theory of human nature.

Differences in the way philosophy is done may reflect differences in the interests philosophy is meant to satisfy. Hansen (1992) argues that the classical Chinese thinkers did not conceive of the primary function of language to be descriptive and as attempting to match propositions with states of affairs, but as a pragmatic instrument for guiding behavior. Western interpreters have been unable to see this, argues Hansen, because they have imposed their own concerns with correspondence truth and metaphysics on the Chinese tradition. One result, in his view, is the wrong-headed interpretation of daoism as founded on the mystical doctrine of attunement to a metaphysically absolute dao. Hall and Ames (1987) criticize Fingarette's (1972) influential interpretation of Confucius's dao as an ideal normative order transcending the contingencies of time, place, history, and culture. Hall and Ames argue Confucius's dao was not conceived as a tradition and language-independent reality against which linguistically formulated beliefs were to be measured as reliable or unreliable, but in fact a cumulative creation of individuals working from within a context provided by a society's tradition, consisting of customs, conventions, conceptions of proper behavior and good manners, and conceptions of right conduct and of what is of ultimate value and of what lives are worth living. Such controversies indicate the continuing vibrancy of the Chinese philosophical tradition as it interacts with the West.

See also Chinese Philosophy: Religion; Chinese Philosophy: Social and Political Thought.


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David B. Wong (2005)

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