Wednesday, May 29, 2013

478: First steps into Chinese Philosophy

The more you study on the subject, the more fascinating it becomes: Chinese philosophy. I hardly had a look at it formerly.

Of course I have read my classics like Plato, Aristotle, Cusanus, Descartes. Locke, Hume and many others. But among them wasn't a single Chinese philosopher.

So, for this project I have to rely on literature, my own common sense and some understanding of history.

When you think of Chinese philosophy, you probably first think of Maoism and communism. Maybe some of you also have heard about Confucius. But that would be it.

Looking at the history of Western philosophy we see a continuous debate with time and again new insights and arguments, century after century.

Chinese philosophy has passed through four periods: the ancient period (until 221 BCE), when the so-called Hundred Schools contended; 

the middle period (221 BCE–960 CE), when Confucianism emerged supreme in the social and political spheres, only to be overshadowed in philosophy first by Neo-Daoism and then by Buddhism; 

the modern period (960–1900), when Neo-Confucianism was the uncontested philosophy, although by no means without variety or conflicts of its own; 

and the contemporary period (from 1912), when Neo-Confucianism, having become decadent and being challenged by Western philosophy, first succumbed to it, then was revived and reconstructed, but at mid century was overwhelmed by Marxism.

Isn't it amazing? A period of more than 900 years dominated by what is called neo-Confucianism, one single philosophy. In that same period Europe went from the "Dark" Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution.

The dramatic contrast between Chinese and Western modes of philosophic thinking may be illustrated by the fact that the tendency of European philosophers to seek out the being of things, 

the essential reality lying behind appearances, would meet with little sympathy among Chinese thinkers, 

whose principal interests lie in the establishment and cultivation of harmonious relationships within their social ambiance. 

Contrasted with Anglo-European philosophic traditions, the thinking of the Chinese is far more concrete, this-worldly and, above all, practical.

Western thinking was cosmogonic and cosmological oriented. That means, we occupied ourselves with the question of creation, where does the earth and mankind come from?

You already find examples of that in Judaic and Hebrew texts. Plato gives in his dialog Timaeus a complete description of the origin of the cosmos and man.

Such myths  played hardly any role in early Chinese thinking. It was not focused  upon issues of cosmic order but upon more mundane questions of how to achieve communal harmony.

The relative unimportance of cosmogonic myths in China helps to account for the dramatically different intellectual contexts from which the Chinese and Western cultural sensibilities emerged.

In Western philosophy logic and logical reasoning have priority, while Chinese thinking is less formal and prefers to use analogy and more literary ways of formulating ideas.

Chinese thinking is largely indifferent to what we love so much: abstract analyses that seek to maintain an objective perspective.

The disinterest in dispassionate speculations upon the nature of things, and a passionate commitment to the goal of social harmony was dominant throughout most of Chinese history.

Main Sources:
MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy - Karyn L. Lai, Oxford 2008
Chinese Philosophy, P. Carus, 1902
A Brief History of chinese Philosophy. D.T. Suzuki, 1914

The Discussion

[13:20] herman Bergson: Thank you :-)
[13:21] herman Bergson winks at CONNIE
[13:21] Debbie DJ: Hi Connie
[13:21] CONNIE Eichel smiles at professor
[13:21] CONNIE Eichel: hi deb :)
[13:21] Ciska Riverstone: thank you herman - hello connie
[13:21] herman Bergson: If you have questions or remarks...the floor is yours :-))
[13:21] CONNIE Eichel: oh, hi ciska :)
[13:22] Loo Zeta-Ah: thanks..... I guess my little bit of knowledge comes from the healing arts and chi
[13:22] Sigmund Oppenbaum: So, does Chinese philosophy not concern itself at all with questions of the meaning of life or origin?
[13:22] herman Bergson: That is the amazing thing Sigmund.....
[13:22] Bejiita Imako: that can be correct that we seek more concrete things like science and so while the Chinese are more abstract and spiritual directed
[13:22] Debbie DJ: Herman, the Chinese philosophy is quite "ethical" - more about making the community a great place to be...
[13:22] herman Bergson: No Bejiita.....
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: and focus on harmony and things like that
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: take feng shui for ex
[13:23] herman Bergson: they arent that spiritual at all....
[13:23] herman Bergson: at least not in their philosophy...
[13:23] herman Bergson: It goes deeper....
[13:23] Debbie DJ: Its about balance, give and take, good and bad.
[13:23] Sigmund Oppenbaum: It would seem, by comparison, that Western Philosophy is far more concerned with God
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:23] Ciska Riverstone: is it because past and future are not important?
[13:23] herman Bergson: In our western thinking all begins with Chaos in which order is created....
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: yin yang and such things play an important role i guess
[13:24] Sigmund Oppenbaum: Good question, Ciska
[13:24] herman Bergson: Indeed Bejiita
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: balance
[13:24] Loo Zeta-Ah: Ying and Yang
[13:24] herman Bergson: We have this Chaos - Order opposition....
[13:24] Debbie DJ: They didn't have a judgmental personal god, who could be called on in times of war....
[13:25] herman Bergson: we make up a story how order came to chaos...which we now would call science....
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: aha
[13:25] herman Bergson: The Chinese have a completely different starting point....
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: seems so indeed
[13:25] Loo Zeta-Ah: 'energy'
[13:25] herman Bergson: there is no Chaos for them....but only Change....
[13:26] Debbie DJ: Awareness of this moment....
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:26] herman Bergson: Their most important book through history therefore is..."The book of Change",
[13:26] herman Bergson: the Yijing or I-Tjing....
[13:27] Bejiita Imako: the change towards ultimate balance and peacefulness
[13:27] herman Bergson: And indeed Debbie...they don't have a personalized god
[13:27] Bejiita Imako: no
[13:27] Sigmund Oppenbaum: It is of course difficult to place oneself outside of one's own philosophical Weltanschauung, but, to me, the question of 'why we are here' seems like a very universally human one to ask. And a most important one.
[13:27] Debbie DJ: The book of changes is the I Ching :)
[13:28] Ciska Riverstone: The zen buddhistic sight on that would be - we are - thats enough
[13:28] Sigmund Oppenbaum: Sorry for the long question/statement
[13:28] herman Bergson: Maybe because their starting point was the belief in Change explains why they never searched for laws of nature....unchangeble and unchanging rules
[13:29] herman Bergson: Yes seems so.....but not in Chinese philosophy....
[13:29] herman Bergson: It is asking for an absolute.....
[13:29] Ciska Riverstone: wasn't their starting point just in observing?
[13:29] herman Bergson: Chinese thinking wasn't focused on absolutes it seems
[13:29] Sigmund Oppenbaum: Where was our starting point then, Ciska?
[13:30] herman Bergson: Well...they identify 5 elements....
[13:30] Ciska Riverstone: they observe inside - we tend to observe outside
[13:30] herman Bergson: Not for, for instance...
[13:30] herman Bergson: because four is two and two.....static....
[13:30] herman Bergson: you never can divide 5 equally
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: no
[13:31] herman Bergson: To some extend you are right Ciska...
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: math is absolute and the language of the natures laws
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: Chinese don't seek that i guess
[13:31] herman Bergson: But a lot of Chinese thinking is about social order....and to be a good citizen....
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: its more sort of floating
[13:32] herman Bergson: and yes....a virtuous person....
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:32] herman Bergson: I must say...
[13:32] herman Bergson: a complete different approach....
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: very
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: different
[13:33] herman Bergson: Does anyone of you know the Yijing or I-Tjing?
[13:33] Sigmund Oppenbaum: Chinese culture places great importance on honor when it comes to morality, does it not?
[13:33] Sigmund Oppenbaum: I do not
[13:33] Debbie DJ: I have read bits of it some years ago.
[13:33] .: Beertje :.: i have the book of I-Tjing
[13:33] .: Beertje :.: of
[13:33] herman Bergson: It is popular here as a book for divination...
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:34] Debbie DJ: I used to have I Ching cards too.
[13:34] herman Bergson: And to you Sigmund....honor...I would use the word 'respect'
[13:34] herman Bergson: respect for the ancestors
[13:34] Sigmund Oppenbaum: Uh-ha
[13:35] herman Bergson: It is , I believe , the oldest known Chinese text...
[13:35] Debbie DJ: African culture is also big on respect for others and ancestors.
[13:35] herman Bergson: Yes...and the point do not question your ancestors....
[13:36] herman Bergson: They were right .....
[13:36] .: Beertje :.: even when they were wrong..
[13:36] Debbie DJ: Western culture places much higher importance on individuality, and we repect the rich ;)
[13:36] herman Bergson: A bit similar like some people here use the don't question it...what is written there is right
[13:36] Debbie DJ: or the dollar.... god help us
[13:37] Ciska Riverstone: Fromm would have said: westerns are focussing on having - easterns on being
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: thats how it is in the us, their weapon laws are based on some guys lived for several 100 years ago when there was no of the weapons there are today, thats why everyone mean they must have weapons even when children shoot each other by mistake and so
[13:37] Sigmund Oppenbaum: Well, that is not completely true, Professor. The Bible has been questioned and Theology is a very established field of Academia
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: but US is different
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: but they swear by those guys
[13:38] herman Bergson: indeed Sigmund, therefor I said "some people" :-))
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:39] .: Beertje :.: [13:37] Ciska Riverstone: Fromm would have said: westerns are focussing on having - easterns on being is this still true? China is growing?
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: hmm indeed china is a mass production state too now
[13:39] herman Bergson: I am thinking about that Ciska....
[13:39] Sigmund Oppenbaum: The Westerner questions and wants to know 'why'. Look at any small child, they always ask 'why'. Does the Far East Asian not ask this?
[13:39] Ciska Riverstone: well we are talking of the origins right now Beertje right?
[13:40] Ciska Riverstone: now china is doing it the other way round too - of course ;)
[13:40] herman Bergson: This 'being' for Chinese is mainly....socially being....
[13:40] Ciska Riverstone: but now the cultural basics moved on as well
[13:40] Ciska Riverstone: yes
[13:40] herman Bergson: being a good citizen....
[13:40] Ciska Riverstone: being in the sense of being creative
[13:40] Ciska Riverstone: being there
[13:40] Ciska Riverstone: being there for others
[13:40] Ciska Riverstone: being
[13:40] Ciska Riverstone: not having
[13:40] herman Bergson: being there for others is ok.....
[13:40] herman Bergson: I guess that will fit Chinese thinking..
[13:41] Bejiita Imako: yes thats good things
[13:41] herman Bergson: But they are not so much interested in an existential way of thinking about being
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: they just are
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: sort of
[13:42] Debbie DJ: It seems we have a lot to learn by looking at eastern philosophy - it helps us to understand that there are other ways.
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: indeed
[13:42] herman Bergson: I wonder Debbie....
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes other ways...
[13:43] Sigmund Oppenbaum: I fear we will find little application for their view... I wonder
[13:43] herman Bergson: but "other" in which sense.....
[13:43] Ciska Riverstone: i guess you underestimate that Sigmund
[13:43] herman Bergson: That is what we will investigate during this project indeed Sigmund
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: this will be awesome
[13:43] Bejiita Imako:
[13:44] herman Bergson: thank you Bejiita :-)
[13:44] herman Bergson: Welcome to the new world of Chinese thinking...
[13:44] Bejiita Imako:
[13:44] herman Bergson: Thank you all for your participation...
[13:44] Debbie DJ: Other in the way we interpret a random chaotic life in a random universe.
[13:44] Sigmund Oppenbaum: It certainly is intriguing
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: interesting to look at things from different ways
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: the more different the better
[13:45] Sigmund Oppenbaum: Yes, that it is, Bejita
[13:45] Debbie DJ: Yeah. Thanks Herman. Its good to watch you growing your horizons.
[13:45] Sigmund Oppenbaum: Thank you, Professor
[13:45] herman Bergson: Thank you all
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: YAY! (yay!)
[13:45] herman Bergson: Class dismissed :-))

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