At the "Symposium on Philosophy of the Han and Tang dynasties" and the "Discussion of Philosophy of the Han Dynasty" held in 1983 the method of establishing a philosophical system was raised and Jin Chun-feng was the first to address this issue. He said philosophers of the Han Dynasty generally used the method of positivism to establish the philosophical system; the Wei and Jin people used a different method, but he was not sure how to define it; the method used by neo-Confucians of the Song and Ming dynasties can be called the method of ethical rationalism. At an enlarged session of the editorial committee on Study of the History of Chinese Philosophy held in 1981 I proposed that this question be chosen as a topic for solicited contributions. Philosophy has two aspects, the "contents" and the "method." Not only the "contents" but the "method" as well reflect a philosophy's level of theoretic thinking. During the period from the pre-Qin Dynasty to the Wei and Jin dynasties traditional Chinese philosophy comprised two major systems, Confucianism and Daoism (Taoism). These two schools were significantly different not only in their contents, but also in terms of the methods they used in establishing their systems.
To put it briefly, the method used by the Confucians was basically that of experience, namely, to use experience in demonstration of things transcending experience or other experience. By the method of experience we mean that the rationality of a philosophical idea can be proved through experience. Confucius said: "To draw a simile from something close can be called the method of benevolence." Mencius remarked: "Categorize and list things that are similar." Xunzi also noted: "Things of the same category do not conflict; they are of the same rationality even after a long time." The Record of Changes mentioned "draw close experience from your own person and distant experience from things," "make a divination to observe nature," "observe astronomic phenomena above and study geographical features below" to illustrate the principles of its thinking. Dong Zhongshu put forward the idea that "things that can be counted are of the second number and things that cannot be counted are of the second category," and with this he demonstrated that "things can be combined by the category and Heaven becomes one with man."
By the time of the metaphysics school in the Wei and Jin dynasties, the method underwent a change. In fact, metaphysics was built on the framework of Lao-Zhuang's thinking, and therefore the method it used in establishing its philosophical system can be called "dialectical thinking," which is characterized by demonstrating the rationality of things existing in experience with things transcending experience. Wang Bi said: "Forget words when the idea is grasped"; Guo Xiang said: "place words within the framework of the idea"; and Ji Kang (Chi Kang) remarked: "Words cannot express the idea completely"--they all meant the same thing. Wang Bi cited "implements originate from the Way" to demonstrate that "ministers are subordinated to the king." Guo Xiang tried to prove the "fairyland" did not exist "beyond the real world" ("to take a journey to the outside world in order to enhance the inner world" "inside and outside are mutually obscure.") The method of "dialectical thinking" was used in all these.
Neo-Confucianism of the Song and Ming dynasties was a combination of the two schools and an improvement on them. Their method perhaps can be called "introspection of ethical rationality." Regardless of whether it was "character is rationality" advocated by Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi or "heart is rationality" upheld by Lu Jiuyuan and Wang Yangming, they all took "rationality [taiji], a priori morality, as the basic contents. Zhu Xi said:"Taiji is a principle of the extremely good. Every man has a taiji, and every thing has a taiji." Lu Jiuyuan remarked: "Those who know before others know this reason, and those who become aware before others are aware of this reason. For this reason one loves one's close relative and respects one's older brother."
In either "the Way questioning the learning" or "respecting virtue and character," one can perceive the "reason of Heaven" in its totality through a moral introspection.
Why was this question raised? Because at that time we were thinking about Engels' remark: "Theoretic thinking is merely an ability endowed by nature and should be developed and trained. To train it, there has been no other method up to now except studying philosophies of the past." Theoretic thinking calls for the formulation of a number of philosophic concepts and the formation, on the basis of philosophic concepts, of a series of philosophic propositions. In order to form the concepts and propositions of a philosophical system as well as the system itself it is imperative to use a certain method, which itself must be a certain kind of abstract thinking. The abstract thinking one exercises in the course of establishing one's philosophical system certainly will train and improve one's level of theoretic thinking. If we can reveal the different methods employed by the various philosophers and philosophical schools in history and make a clear analysis of them they will be an important help in analyzing the philosophers and philosophical schools under study. In addition, practice is no different from telling people a method for training and improving their level of theoretic thinking, and is therefore very significant.
Judging from the problems mentioned above, we seem to be able to perceive such a trend of development; namely, people may raise the question: What are the prospects of traditional Chinese philosophy, or in other words, does the continued existence of Chinese philosophy in its entirety have any value? If this question is raised and the proper conditions are available, then a comprehensive and systematic analysis can be made of Chinese philosophy in today's perspective. But at present quite a few people continuously maintain a negative attitude toward traditional Chinese philosophy as a whole. Whatever the circumstances, they regard traditional Chinese philosophy as a product of old times, an ideology of feudal and even slave society. Nevertheless, certain ideas of the philosophy are continuously quoted in everyday life. We can see that a great many articles, especially writings on "spiritual civilization," often quote passages from books of ancient China or historical stories in ancient times which were mostly the embodiment of traditional Chinese philosophical thinking.
Why are there such a contradictory phenomena? Is the concept of "value" involved here? Where does the basic spirit of traditional Chinese philosophy lie? Does this spirit still have value in today's world? Following the disclosure of the law of how traditional Chinese philosophy developed, the study of this problem will, in my opinion, show increasingly clearly that it works continuously toward the solution of a major problem, namely the value of the "'Way oP Heaven" and the "'way oP man" and their relations.
This problem should be resolved through the continuous elevation of man's spiritual realm, a concept in Chinese philosophy which requires that man should transcend "oneself" and identify with the "Way of Heaven." Having attained such a realm in which "Heaven is integrated with man" and "man succeeds alongside the Way," an individual could become a saint and society a "world of Great Harmony." As to how or whether it would be possible to realize such an ideal, there were, of course, different views due to the difference in historical conditions and environments. Nevertheless, philosophers in Chinese history tended to take as their motto the epigram that "Heaven moves along a healthy track, and a gentleman should make unremitting efforts to improve himself." How things will develop is hard to predict; we are not prophets, nor do we believe in prophecy. But if things always develop according to law, can we predict its future development by studying and analyzing its previous experience; can the development of philosophy be forecast to help us know what will happen with Chinese philosophy in the future? I think it is possible.
Even though I proposed to describe the new progress now made in China about the study of the history of traditional Chinese philosophy, I mainly discussed my personal views on the new trends of philosophical
48 Progress in the Study of Chinese Philosophy studies. Perhaps this can be called the idea of one school.
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