There had been in the past a theory which moved from the classical conclusion that the history of philosophy was an historical account of the struggle between materialism and idealism to the study of the history of philosophy as the development of man's knowledge and the laws governing the development of theoretic thinking. However, the many years of practice in taking the history of philosophy merely as an historical account of the struggle between materialism and idealism not only gave rise to such drawbacks as over-simplification and indiscriminate labeling, but also failed to identify any concepts that bore the nature of regularity. How should we resolve this problem? The discussion of "how to evaluate idealism" and "the object of the study of history of philosophy" had failed to lead us out of the dilemma. Under such circumstances people began to turn their attention to studying how philosophy as theoretical thinking developed in history rather than becoming unduly entangled in the class background of a certain philosopher and his place in history.
A philosophical idea that once played a role in the development of man's knowledge naturally had a place in history. But excessive discussion about the relative superiority or inferiority of materialism and idealism is unnecessary, for which of the two is better can be fully determined by the effect they each produced on the development of man's knowledge. The study of the history of Chinese philosophy, in particular, used to stress the role played by a certain philosopher or philosophi cal school in history and how they were related to the ongoing class struggle and political struggle at that time. Of course, studies of this sort are also important, though strictly speaking they are the problem that the historical study of philosophy is designed to resolve eventually. The final purpose of such a historical study is to reveal the logical inevitability of the development of theoretic thinking as it occurred in history. In the pre-Qin Dynasty philosophy, for example, was there any inevitability for the ideas of Confucius to develop through Mencius to that of Xunzi?
At present more and more people who study the history of Chinese philosophy as a history of knowledge. For example, a multi-volume book entitled History of the Development of Chinese Philosophy is now being compiled under the auspices of Professor Ren Jiyu, who asserted that the book was intended to deal with the developmental history of the Chinese nation's knowledge. The History of Chinese Philosophy compiled with the joint efforts of Wuhan and Zhongshan universities also applied this idea as its guiding thought. In the preface, Xiao Jiefu (Hsiao Che-fu) of Wuhan University remarked: "The history of philosophy is the history of how the contradictions of philosophical knowledge have developed; it is man's understanding about the general laws governing nature, society and movements of thinking manifested in the form of theoretic thinking."
Chen Junmin of Shaanxi Teachers University wrote that the "study of the history of philosophy is in essence a science that inquires into the dialectic movement of man's philosophical understanding." In the article "On the Scope, Target, and Task of the History of Chinese Philosophy" Zhang Dainian observed: "The history of philosophy is the history of knowledge in its totality." "It is the history of how man's knowledge develops, that is, a process in which the relative truths developed by mankind accumulate and increase, and the new ones replace the old." To find out in its totality the law that governs the development of Chinese philosophy, Chinese philosophical circles have also turned their attention to Hegel's idea of "likening the history of philosophy to cycles." In the preface to his newly published History of Chinese Philosophy: New Version, Feng Youlan made a special reference to this issue.
Two seminars were held in Beijing, one on "The Philosophy of the Han and Tang Dynasties," was convened by the editorial department of Study of the History of Chinese Philosophy, the other on "Philosophy of the Han Dynasty" was under the auspices of the editorial department of Chinese Philosophy. At both meetings I suggested as a clue to the development of traditional Chinese philosophy in its totality that it is formed by a large spiral cycle constituted in turn of three smaller spiral developmental cycles. The first cycle was pre-Qin Dynasty philosophy. With Confucius as the starting point, it moved on through Mencius and Xunzi to the Book of Change (also through other masters of the School of Logicians) and thus formed the first cycle in the history of Chinese philosophy. The second cycle was the philosophy of the Wei and Jin dynasties and the Northern and Southern dynasties. Starting from the idea of "val uing nil" advocated by Wang Bi and He Yan, it developed through "esteeming substance" upheld by Xiang Xiu and Guo Xiang, to Seng Pi's "doctrine of non-vacuum" which was "neither something nor nothing." The third cycle began with Zhang Zai and moved on through Zhu Xi to Wang Fuzhi.
In the midst of the three cycles were the study of the Confucian classics of the two Han dynasties and Buddhist studies during the Sui and Tang dynasties, indicating the transition from one cycle to another. The three cycles of spiral movements made up the large cycle of traditional Chinese philosophy. Namely, from the philosophy of the pre-Qin period and the two Han dynasties with Confucianism as its main body, it moved on to the metaphysics of the Wei-Jin period and the Sui and Tang dynasties built on the framework of Lao-Zhuang theories. Gradually it assimilated Buddhism (the Hua Yan sect, the Chan sect) and finally developed into the neo-Confucianism of the Song and Ming dynasties, a new school of Confucianism that had absorbed ideas of both the Buddhist and the Daoist schools which it developed at an even higher plane. This pattern of development, it seems, gives expression to the true feature of traditional Chinese philosophy; it shows the place of Confucianism in traditional Chinese philosophy and also the profound influence which Buddhist and Daoist ideas exerted over the philosophy.
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