Archive for September 17th, 2013

Mou Zongsan

Jason Clower has edited an indispensable volume of Mou Zongsan’s writings (Late Works of Mou Zongsan: Selected Essays in Chinese Philosophy, forthcoming). In the first words of his introduction, he says: “If twentieth-century China produced a philosopher of the first rank, it was Mou Zongsan.” This judgment strikes me as near-irresistible. A taste (from two of the first three essays):

From Objective Understanding and the Remaking of Chinese Culture

…to adapt to the times you have to understand the times. For that you need right knowledge of the present age (xiandai 現代) … Compared to political and social activities, the influence of scholarly culture is an influence on a virtual level (xuceng 虛層), but “the virtual governs the solid” (xu yi kong shi 虛以控實) and its influence is wide and far-reaching, which is why I call it a “decisive influence.” We should not take it lightly and think that it is not an urgent matter. 


… to have objective understanding. The first step is to understand ourselves; the second step is to understand the West. Then we can look for the way out for Chinese culture, and we hope that our young friends will take on this responsibility. In its simple essentials, this responsibility is to revive the ancient meaning of Greek philosophy. Its original meaning was what Kant defined as a “doctrine of practical wisdom” (shijian de zhihuixue 實踐的智慧學). And what is wisdom? Only “yearning after the highest good” is wisdom. As most people know, philosophy is the “love of wisdom,” and the “love” in question is the kind of love that is “heartfelt yearning for that highest good in human life and constantly wanting to put it into practice.” That is why Kant called “philosophy” in its ancient Greek sense a “doctrine of practical wisdom.” The term is very apt. But this ancient meaning of philosophy has already been lost in the West. Nowadays all that is left is linguistic analysis under the conditions of advanced civilization, with logic having been reduced to applied computing. This does not actually count as philosophy, only the degeneration of philosophy into a technology. To enter into the depths of philosophy, it has to be that “love of wisdom,” the “yearning after the highest good.” But though the West has forgotten it, this sense of philosophy has been preserved in the Chinese tradition, as what the Chinese ancients called “teachings” (jiao 教). Buddhism exemplifies the meaning of “teachings” most clearly, but Confucianism has it too, as the “teaching” referred to in the Doctrine of the Mean when it says, “The understanding that arises from authenticity is called our nature, and the authenticity that arises from understanding is called teaching,” and when it says, “What heaven decrees is called our nature; following our nature is called the Way; cultivating the Way is called teaching.”  The meaning of “teaching” here is not institutional education as currently practiced, which takes knowledge as its standard. Rather, it is “philosophy,” the “yearning after the highest good” of a doctrine of practical wisdom.

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September 17, 2013admin 16 Comments »
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