Traditional Chinese Philosophy

If we intend to study the history of philosophy as the history of man's knowledge and reveal the law of the development of theoretic thinking in history, we must probe the issue of concept and category. As theoretic thinking, philosophy is unavoidably manifested through a series of concepts and categories and philosophical propositions formed by concepts and categories. This applies to philosophies in general and is particularly significant in the study of concepts of traditional Chinese philosophy. As Hegel said: "As cultural difference is generally formed on the basis of differences of ideological categories, it is even more so by difference of philosophy." Therefore the study of the concepts and categories of traditional Chinese philosophy and the history of its development will help us understand the characteristics of China's traditional philosophy and the level of its development.

Except for having absorbed some concepts from the Buddhism of India, philosophical studies in China had in the main developed independently prior to modern times and thus maintained a very distinctive character. Precisely because traditional Chinese philosophy has a set of concepts and categories of its own and has gradually formed itself into a complete system it is inappropriate to apply to it concepts and categories of Western philosophy in an oversimplified way; nor is it possible to equate them simply with the concepts and categories of Marxist philosophy. For example, the concept of *shen" in traditional Chinese philosophy has several implications. It may refer to god and ghosts, the meaning that was probably meant by Confucius when he said: "Worship god as if god were there.** **Shen" may also mean "spirit" or "soul." This was what Xunzi implied when he said "Shen* (spirit or soul) is engendered when matter takes shape." Nevertheless, in traditional Chinese philosophy "shen" has an even deeper layer of meaning, that is, "a subtle change." This idea stood out in the Record of Changes, which said: "When there is no telling whether it is yin or yang, it is called 'shen.'" Even though "shen" implies a variety of ideas, the implications are related to each other. Another example is "//," the opposite of "yong" in traditional Chinese philosophy. It also has a lot of implications; it implies not only "substance" and "support" but also "whole" and "abstract." The multiplex and mutually related implications embodied in one concept give expression to the special features of traditional Chinese philosophy and its level of development.

Since traditional Chinese philosophy has its special conceptual categories, is it true that it has a special category system? I have discussed this issue in my article "On the Problems of a Category System of Traditional Chinese Philosophy," which, on the basis of the historical development of Chinese philosophy, delineated the system of its categories. According to the article, this system is made up by 20 or 12 pairs of categories. Among them the most important pair comprises "the Way of Heaven" and "the way of man." This problem of "Heaven" and "man" remains the core issue of traditional Chinese philosophy. Starting from Confucius1 theory of "the Way of Heaven and life," it moved on through Mencius* idea of "do with all one's heart, understand one's lot, and know about Heaven"; the concept "honesty is the Way of Heaven and to be honest is the way of man" stated in The Doctrine of the Mean, the idea to "establish the Way of Heaven" and "establish the way of man" as advocated by Record of Changes', down to Dong Zhongshu, the great Confucian of the Han Dynasty, who described his studies as a learning that probed into "what links man with Heaven." Even Sima Qian, much influenced by Daoist ideas, called his Historical Records a book designed as "an inquiry into what is between Heaven and man and a probe into the changes in the past and present." He Yan, a founder of the metaphysics of the Wei and Jin dynasties, described Wang Bi, another founder of metaphysics, as "one who is qualified to talk about what is between Heaven and man." Even Tao Hongjing, a Daoist master during the Northern and Southern dynasties, was also of the opinion that Daoism (Taoism) studied "what is between Heaven and man." By the time of the Song Dynasty, the Confucians discussed such issues as "the separation of reason and Way," "the heart of Way," "the heart of man," "Heaven's reason," "man's desire," and so on, which were all developments of the issue of "Heaven" and "man." Therefore an understanding about the relations between "Heaven" and "man" means having a grip on the basic issue of traditional Chinese philosophy.

Judging by how things stand at present, articles dwelling on conceptual categories of Chinese philosophy in its totality are increasing.

Aside from my article, there were "Unfold the Study of Conceptual Categories Inherent in Chinese Philosophy" by Professor Zhang Dainian [Studies of the History of Chinese Philosophy, January 1982], "Unfold the Study of Categories in the History of Chinese Philosophy" by Fang Keli [People's Daily, September 3, 1982], "A Preliminary Discussion of Methodology in the History of Chinese Philosophy" by Xiao Jiefu (Hsiao Che-fu) [Journal of Wuhan University, no. 3, 1982], and others. However, there are even more papers and publications dwelling on the category systems of certain philosophers, or a certain pair of philosophic categories. For example, in the article "Study of Zhu Xi*s Thinking" Zhang Liwen made a special study of the relations among different categories of Zhu Xi's philosophy. In his book entitled The Viewpoint on Knowledge and Practice in the History of Chinese Philosophy Fang Keli analyzed knowledge and practice as a pair of categories in the perspective of historical development. The journal Study of the History of Chinese Philosophy began a special column in every issue to publish various studies of categories in traditional Chinese philosophy. In particular we should mention Pang Pu's "On 'San (Three)1," in which in the perspective of "can's" various implications he discussed the unique position of "three" in Chinese culture and the special philosophical significance of triaism. It appears the study of traditional Chinese philosophy can take a further step forward only after such research into the categories of Chinese philosophy and its system.

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