Of Traditional Chinese Philosophy

The term category has myriad definitions in the history of philosophy in the West. Aristotle in his Categories treated it as the basic mode of being and put forward ten categories such as substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, state, action and passion. And Kant described his twelve categories as principles related to cognition or as the precondition for constituting experience. Lenin said: "Categories are stages of distinguishing, i.e., of cognizing the world, focal points in the web, which assist in cognizing and mastering it."2 A Dictionary of Phi losophy published in the Soviet Union defines category as "the basic concept that reflects the most general and most essential character, aspect and relationship of the various phenomena and knowledge of reality.

"Category" then is generally explained from the two aspects of the existence and knowledge of reality: from the aspect of existence it is defined as "the basic mode of existence" or "the most general and most essential character, aspect and relationship of the phenomena of reality"; from the aspect of knowledge it is defined as the "precondition for constituting experience" or "focal points in the web, which assist in cognizing and mastering it." The necessary precondition for knowledge is certainly the reflection and manifestation of the "basic mode of existence" while the "basic mode of existence" is meaningful only in the process of man's knowledge. From what we listed above, we can see the relationship between "category" and "concept": a category is a basic concept whereas a concept is not necessarily a category. Thus, what we are discussing here is what are the categories or basic concepts of traditional Chinese philosophy. If, using the basic concepts of classic Chinese philosophers, we can form a system which shows how traditional Chinese philosophy identified and explained "the basic mode of existence" and which reveal the line of development of the traditional Chinese philosophical thinking, then we have proven that traditional Chinese philosophy does have a categorical system. This is presented first in the following diagram (see next page) and further explained below.

In this diagram, twenty pairs of basic concepts make up the categorical system of traditional Chinese philosophy. This is certainly a very preliminary proposition. However, despite its many possible defects, it is intended to initiate discussion and study on this question. Here the author would like to explain some points:

(1) This diagram is divided into three major parts. Part I is intended to indicate what basic concepts are used in traditional Chinese philosophy on the question of the existence of the world; Part II is meant to show what basic concepts are used to present the form of being; and Part III is meant to show what basic concepts are used to denote the existence and knowledge of man. The relationship between "Heaven" (or the Heavenly way) and "man" (or the way of man) has always been a central theme for discussion in traditional Chinese philosophy and it is around this question that the struggle between materialism and idealism has been waged in the history of Chinese philosophy.

Zi Can was the first Chinese philosopher to make a proposition on the relationship between the two when he wrote: "The way of Heaven is remote, whereas the way of man is near." Confucius attached importance to the "mandate of the Heaven" but he gave even greater attention to the "affairs of man." Although he mentioned that he "began to know the mandate of Heaven as the age of fifty," he seldom discussed this question. "The master was seldom heard discussing the question of nature and the Heavenly way," reports the Analects which, however, extensively records Confucius' sayings on the question of the "way of man." Mencius

talked about "obeying nature, and knowing fate and Heaven," and the Doctrine of the Mean says: "Sincerity is the way of Heaven; knowing sincerity is the way of man." Xunzi said: "Grasp the way of Heaven and man. Laozi (Lao Tzu), the founder of Daoism (Taoism) said: "The Heavenly way is spontaneous non-activity," and he played down the importance of "humanness and righteousness" (the way of man). And Zhuangzi "was misguided by Heaven and ignorant of man" Dong Zhongshu, the Confucian master of the Han Dynasty, described his research as a study of "the relationship between Heaven and man." Sima Quan who was much influenced by Daoist thinking said that his Historical Records were works of "investigations into the relationship between Heaven and man and the changes past and present." The Wei and Jin metaphysicians concentrated on the question of "spontaneity" (the way of Heaven) and "ethics" (the way of man). Hence, He Yan said: "Only with people like Wang Bi, can you discuss the question of the relationship between Heaven and man."

The Song Neo-Confucians of both the School of Principle (Lixue) and School of Mind (Xinxue) strongly believed: "The supreme ultimate (the principle of Heaven) is simply an utterly excellent and supremely good normative principle"; the supreme ultimate is an appellation for "all that is good in heaven and on earth, and among men and things." The "principles of Heaven" and the "desires of man" are still a question of the relationship between Heaven and man. Even Wang Fuzhi still made this a focal point in his philosophical discourse. He held that "Rites, no matter how pure they are, are merely expressions of the principles of Heaven inevitably to be found in the desires of man," and that "the desire of man, when reaching superb altruism is the perfection of the principle of Heaven." Thus, traditional Chinese philosophy proceeded from the discussion of the pair of categories: (the way of) Heaven and (the way of) man, an indication of the main attention and particular content of traditional Chinese philosophy.

(2) This diagram shows the development of the categories of traditional Chinese philosophy and their relationships. Proceeding from the study of the relationship between Heaven and man, traditional Chinese philosophy branches out into two parts: Daoism (Taoism) and Confucianism. Laozi (Lao Tzu) advanced the relationship between the "way" and "all things." He said: "The way creates one, one creates two, two create three and three create all things." He also said: "All things in the world are produced by being and being is produced by nonbeing," therefore the relationship between the "way" and the "way" and the "thing" is also represented by the pair of categories "being" and "nonbeing." The Confucian School however proposed the categories the "way" and the "instrument" in the Commentary on the Book of Changes, which says: "That which shapes and is above is called the way and that which shapes and is below is called the instrument," and adds: "Change contains the supreme ultimate which produces two extremes," and "the alternation of yin and yang is called the way"; thus the relationship between the way and the instrument is reflected in the categories of the supreme ultimate and yin and yang. The Han Dynasty witnessed some development in philosophical thought, but it seems that practically no new and influential philosophical categories were advanced. The Wei and Jin metaphysics upheld three philosophical classes, Laozi (Lao Tzu), Zhuangzi and Zhou Yiy which brought a gradual merging of Daoism (Taoism) with the Confucianism of the Zhou Yi system. This established the theory of a primal body as the origin of the universe, a theory with Laozi (Lao Tzu)'s and Zhuangzi's thought as the framework. The Wei and Jin metaphysicians used categories such as "essence" and "function," "stem and branch," the "one" and the "many" to illustrate "nonbeing" (the primal) and "being" (everything or the various manifestations of this substance). They used "spontaneity" (essence) and "ethics" (function) to present the relationship between the "originality of the universe" (primal body) and "human social relations" (the various social positions and codes), and used the pair of categories "idea" and "word" to explain questions on understanding the substance of the universe. From the Wei and Jin Dynasties and the Northern and Southern Dynasties, onward, traditional Chinese philosophical thought, under the impact of Buddhism introduced from India, evolved into the Neo-Confucianism of the Song Dynasty. If the Wei and Jin metaphysical doctrine on substance has the thought of Laozi (Lao Tzu) and Zhuangzi as the framework, then Neo-Confucianism of the Song-Ming period alternately were based on an objective idealism (represented by Zhu Xi), a subjective idealism (represented by Wang Yangming) and a fairly high level materialism (represented by Wang Fuzhi). The philosophical categories of this period succeeded Wei and Jin metaphysics and also absorbed Tang Buddhist thought in the Sui and Tang periods. Thus, there was a confluence of the thinking of Confucianism, Daoism (Taoism) and Buddhism within a Confucian framework. The most basic philosophical categories of the time became "principle" and qi% "mind" and "matter"; the question of "mind" and "nature" grew into the question of whether "mind is principle" or "nature is principle." Categories such as "subject" and "object," "investigation of things" and "fulfillment of principle" were used in the discussion of the question of knowledge and the categories "Heavenly principle" and "human desire" were used to discuss social issues.

Lenin in his On the Question of Dialectics wrote:

"Circles" in philosophy: (is a chronology of persons essential?

No!) Ancient: from Democritus to Plato and the dialectics of


Modern: Holbach--Hegel (via Berkeley, Hume, Kant).


In his Conspectus of Hegel's Book "Lectures on the History of Philosophy," he wrote: "Comparison of the history of philosophy with a circle .. . a circle on the great circle (a spiral) of the development of human though in general."4 Hegel's comparison of the history of philosophy with a circle, as pointed out by Lenin, is a penetrating reflection of the law of development of the philosophical thought. This is of tremendous importance in our study of the development of traditional Chinese philosophic thought.

From the above diagram, we can see that the development of traditional Chinese philosophy is roughly made up of three spiraling circles: The first covers the period prior to the Qin Dynasty; the Confucian School, including Confucius, Mencius and Zhuangzi (or the Commentary on the Book of Changes); Daoism (Taoism) including Laozi (Lao Tzu), the School of Shuxia (i.e., the "White Heart" and other works) and Zhuangzi; with the Han Dynasty forming a transitional period. The second circle was the period of the Wei and Jin Dynasties represented by Wang Bi--Xiang Xiu--Guo Xiang (or Wang Bi--Guo-Xiang--Seng Zhao). Buddhism was in vogue from the Northern and Southern Dynasties through the Sui and Tang Dynasties and after a period of development, Buddhism in China grew into several sects such as the Huayan (Avatamsaka) Sect and the Chan (Zen) Sect. The third circle covers the Song and Ming Dynasties represented by Zhang Zai—Zhu Xi--Wang Fuzhi.

(3) In the second column of the diagram only three pairs of categories are listed, of which the most fundamental is the pair "quiescence" and "movement," whose manifestation is the pair "constant" and "variable," though in fact "positive" and "negative" are also peculiar manifestations of "quiescence" and "movement." Although many philosophers of traditional Chinese philosophy discussed the question of "quiescence" and "movement," little discussion on the question of "time" and "space" was conducted among Chinese philosophers (except for the pre-Qin philosophers of the School of Names and philosophers of the later Mohist School). Philosophical propositions in traditional Chinese philosophy seem not to have been restricted by time or space and they paid little attention to the question whether movement took place in time and space. That is why we have not included the categories "time" and "space" in our diagram.

(4) The question of man (the way of man) was much discussed in traditional Chinese philosophy which was especially characterized by the study of the question of "morals" (ethics). Therefore careful consideration should be given to what should be included in the categorical system of traditional Chinese philosophy. In this diagram (column III) five pairs of categories (in fact not all of them are related to the way of man) seem to be sufficient as basic concepts. "Spirit" and "form," or the relationship between spirit and body, are used for the study of the phenomena of the human life. This was discussed from pre-Qin days onward, with materialists and idealists holding different views. The question of "nature" and "emotion" might be looked at as the key ethical issue. There have been divergent views on the question of "nature" ever since the pre-Qin days, such as "man is born good by nature," "man is born evil by nature," "man is born with a mixed nature both good and evil," "man is born neither good nor evil by nature," and "man is bom good or evil by nature, all depending on the specific man," etc. On the question of nature and emotion, there were views that "nature is good whereas emotion is bad," "nature is quiescent and emotion is active," etc. The Wei and Jin metaphysicians paid considerable attention to this question, but concentrated on a discussion of the difference and similarity between the sage and the ordinary man. The Song and Ming Neo-Confucians divided nature into "the universal nature" and the "humoral nature," with the former stemming from the "principle of Heaven" and the latter from man's inherent emotion and desire or from the qi that makes up the body. Hence, this is still a question of nature and emotion and the importance of ethical education is to "maintain the principle of Heaven and suppress human desire." The question of "knowledge" and "action" also occupies a very important position in traditional Chinese philosophy. Most of the past Chinese philosophers upheld both "acknowledge" and "action" and thought the latter was even more important. The categories "name" and "actuality" were always contained in traditional Chinese philosophy and the categories "subject" and "object" were borrowed from Buddhism, but all four are related to the question of knowledge. Therefore column III of the diagram contains categories involving existence and knowledge.

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