“Learning to be Human” is the theme of the 24th World Congress of Philosophy, to be held in Beijing in 2018, and also an important topic in traditional Chinese Confucian philosophy. Different interpretations of this theme, however, directly determine how to understand the study of Chinese philosophy in the context of world philosophy today. Changes in contemporary philosophy urge us to reconsider philosophical research in today’s China. Reflecting on the status quo of research on Chinese philosophy and finding a method for solving certain existing difficulties will ultimately enhance the study of Chinese philosophy.
Learning to be human is a highly important concern in Confucian philosophy. This paper is intended to provide a special perspective on this theme through an attempt to reinterpret Mengzi’s views on the heart-mind (xin心) as “learning to be human” and to reconstruct these views into a multi-staged process of moral development. Through an intentional interpretation of various arguments advanced by Mengzi, we seek to justify that his views on the heart-mind and moral virtues can be seen as a learning process and that he subjects the inborn beginnings of goodness to a delicate development before they can actually qualify a person as fully human. Having examined the three dimensions of Mengzi’s learning, the intellectual, the practical and the spiritual, we will come to the conclusion that whether innate or a posteriori, initial good senses and knowledge require a moral and spiritual process of learning to develop which is, to Mengzi, crucial for one to become a genuine human being.
This essay provides a few critical points of view on Ni Peimin’s recent English translation of the Analects. It shows that his translations of ren into “human-heartedness” and of li into “ritual propriety” may indicate a willingness to recast these Confucian concepts in the modern ideology of western subjectivism or individualism, whereas Confucianism is not in the direction of such ideologies. Moreover, while Ni seems to offer a “no-rule” view of Confucian virtue ethics, he cannot deny the existence of moral rules and principles in the Confucian system. It is insufficient for him to emphasize the importance of Confucian “instructions” or “methods” as he does without explicating their relations to Confucian rules. Additionally, Ni’s gongfu Confucianism provides a necessary and healthy step back from the contemporary principlism that has been dominant and popular in contemporary politics, ethics, and applied ethics, but Ni goes too far in denying the importance of the moral rules and principles that are implicit or explicit in the Confucian ritual practices and upheld in Confucius’s Analects.
Is Confucian ethics primarily egoistic or altruistic? There is textual support for both answers. For the former, for example, Confucius claims that one learns for the sake of oneself; for the latter, we can find Confucius saying that one ought to not impose upon others as one would not like to be imposed upon. This essay aims to explain in what sense Confucian ethics is egoistic (the highest goal one aims to reach is to become a virtuous person oneself) and in what sense it is altruistic (a virtuous person is necessarily concerned with the well-being, both external and internal, of others). The conclusion to be drawn, however, is not that Confucian ethics is both egoistic and altruistic, but that it is neither, since the Confucian ideal of a virtuous person is to be in one body with others so that there are really no others (since all others become part of myself), and since there are no others, there is no self either.
After having discussed three main features of Ni Peimin’s understanding of the gongfu orientation in reading the Analects, this essay examines the first of the key terms in the whole of the book, i.e., xue/”learning” (學) and critically elaborates how our understanding of Confucius could be deepened and enriched under the guidance of this new orientation which Ni calls the “gongfu finger.”
Responding to comments of my recent book, Understanding the Analects of Confucius, by Huang Yong, Fan Ruiping, and Wang Qingjie, this paper looks to highlight one of its major features—that it is a contemporary continuation of the Chinese tradition of doing commentary both as a way of allowing classic texts to unfold their rich meanings in the context of different times, and as a way for the commentator to express his or her own views. It strives to explain how a gongfu reconstruction of Confucianism can explain the apparent inconsistency between advocating rule-like instructions next to its encouragement of the art of flexibility, and to reveal what is more fundamental about Confucianism—rather than a system of rigid moral rules, it is an art of life. This gongfu interpretation would lead to the view that Confucianism does not depend on metaphysical truths as its justification, although it does need to hold metaphysical views as a way of affirming its values, which are justified through the excellence of life to which they lead. While the gongfu approach more accurately reflects Confucius’ own philosophical orientation, and it is therefore used to determine technical details such as what interpretations to put into translation of a text and what interpretations to list in the annotations as alternatives, it is, in the author’s humble view, also a unique contribution that the Chinese tradition can offer to world philosophy.
In the 1960s and 1970s—as structuralism, post-structuralism, and literary criticism seeped into history—the “linguistic turn” or “narrative turn,” leading to what is known as postmodern philosophy of history, took place in Western philosophy of history. In the past forty years of reform and opening up to the outside world, and especially in the most recent two or three decades, Chinese research on Western postmodern philosophy of history has proceeded from overall review to in-depth research, and then on to reflection, criticism, and even transcendence. Neither the rethinking of historical objectivity and rationality nor the reconstruction of convictions about historical reason can work without the profound insights or theoretical tensions of postmodern philosophy of history.
David Hume seems to receive several stereotypes and commonplace sentiments about China regarding its religion, national character, government, practices and economy, that he goes on to dismantle. Doing so, he allows the eighteenth-century reader to look at China from a different perspective. This perspective can still be useful especially today, when the “immense distance” between China and Europe has been reduced and, as Hume would say, almost everything we use is Chinese. In the name of an ambivalent European tradition, we are often inclined to revive these commonplace sentiments (for example, the uniformity of Chinese character) and neglect that part of our own tradition that tries to understand what is behind them and that also offers us the tools to go beyond them. This study endeavors to assemble an array of Hume’s scattered remarks, consider them in their context, and explore their possible sources in order to obtain not only a more Humean China, but also a more Chinese Hume.