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4 The Philosophical-Anthropological Framework of Mencius’ Theory of the Fourfold Human Spiritual Disposition: A Chinese Counterpart to the Idea of Care for the Soul?

4 The Philosophical-Anthropological Framework of Mencius’ Theory of the Fourfold Human Spiritual Disposition: A Chinese Counterpart to the Idea of Care for the Soul?

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The Philosophical-Anthropological Framework of Mencius’ Theory…


The quest for eternal life is not the concern of the Great Master, nor that of other

great Pre-Qin Chinese thinkers such as Laozi and Zhuangzi. This quest comes much

later in the development of Chinese culture in the form of Daoist religion which,

from the strictly philosophical point of view, is diametrically opposite to the PreQin Daoist philosophers in their vision of life and death. What is important in

Confucius’ position which shows a relative indifference toward the question of

human death is his understanding of the distinction between the human order and

the divine order. Through his apparent indifference toward death, the Great Master

wishes to emphasize the priority of the human order, which has its relative autonomy. This is the manifestation of at least the germs of a rational spirit. The following is reported to have been said of Confucius:

The topics the Master did not speak of were strange things, force, chaos, divinities.48

Do we not see here the germination of a rational mind, essential to the emergence of

the kind of spiritual exercise called philosophy by the Greeks?

Let us turn now to Mencius’ theory of the four types of spiritual dispositions or

the “Four Beginnings” (

). In the frequently quoted translation from Chapter

VI of the works of Mencius given by Wing-Tsit Chan, it reads as follows:

All men have the mind which cannot bear [to see the suffering of] others. The ancient kings

had this mind and therefore they had a government that could not bear to see the suffering

of the people . . . When I say that all men have the mind which cannot bear to see the suffering of others, my meaning may be illustrated thus: Now, when men suddenly see a child

about to fall into a well, they all have a feeling of alarm and distress, it is not to gain friendship with the child’s parents, nor to seek the praise of their neighbors and friends, nor

because they dislike the reputation [of lack of humanity if they did not rescue the child].

From such a case, we see that a man without the feeling of commiseration is not a man; a

man without the feeling of shame and dislike is not a man; a man without the feeling of

deference and compliance is not a man; a man without the feeling of right and wrong is not

a man. The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of humanity [ren]; the feeling of

shame and dislike is the beginning of justice [yi]; the feeling of deference and compliance

is the beginning of propriety [li]; and the feeling of right and wrong is the beginning of

wisdom [zhi]. Men have these Four Beginnings just as they have their four limbs. Having

these Four Beginnings, but saying that they cannot develop them is to destroy themselves. .

. . When they [the Four Beginnings] are fully developed, they will be sufficient to protect all

people within the four seas [the world]. If they are not developed, they will not be sufficient

even to serve one’s parents.49

Mencius begins by a phenomenology-like description to establish his theory of

the four types of spiritual dispositions. His theory is actually a theory of the fourfold

elements of the essence of man, namely, humanity or benevolence (ren), justice (yi),

propriety (li) and wisdom (zhi). He maintains that man’s vocation is to develop

these four spiritual dispositions or human faculties. With this fourfold elements of


Ibid., Book VII, Chap. 21, p. 61, translation modified. The original Chinese text reads:



“The Book of Mencius,” 2A:5, in A Source Book of Chinese Philosophy, ed. and Eng. trans.

Wing-Tsit Chan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), p. 65, translation slightly



6 Patočka’s Concept of Care for the Soul

spiritual disposition, a human being is able to distinguish between the good and the

evil, between the just and the unjust, between the proper and the improper, and

between the right and the wrong or the true and the false. Mencius builds his moral

theory—that a human being has the innate capacity to achieve moral good by developing his/her fourfold spiritual disposition—and political theory—a good government is a humane government who listens to the call of his people from their

heart—upon his phenomenology-like theory of the fourfold faculty or disposition of

the human mind.

Even though Mencius is predominantly a moral and political philosopher, he

never undermines the role of the faculty of wisdom or cognition (zhi) in the formation of our judgment of the just and the unjust. If it is true that in formulating his

moral and political theories Mencius does not have a theory of eidos as in Plato

which serves as their epistemological and metaphysical foundation, Mencius always

emphasizes the importance of cultivation of our faculty of wisdom or cognition in

the formation of a sound moral and political judgment. For example, Mencius says:

He who exerts his mind to the utmost knows his nature, he who knows his nature knows the

Celestial order. To preserve one’s mind and to cultivate one’s nature is the way to respond

to the [call of the] Celestial order… This is the way to establish one’s vocation.50

If living a moral life is our vocation, not only we have to know our own nature, we

also need to have knowledge of the Celestial order. This means that both knowledge

of the human mind and knowledge of the metaphysical order are necessary conditions for establishing our moral vocation. Thus the development of our faculty of

cognition and our faculty of benevolence and justice are of equal importance in the

self-cultivation which guides a moral life. To Mencius, this is exactly what a sage

succeeds in achieving:

A man of wisdom knows everything, but he considers urgent only that which demands

attention. A benevolent man loves everyone, but he devotes himself to the close association

with good and wise men. Even the Sage Yao and the Sage Shun did not use their wisdom

on all things alike; this is because they put first things first.51

Thus to Mencius, the faculty of wisdom which is at the basis of the distinction

between the right and the wrong and the true and the false operates in close association with the faculty of benevolence and justice. Mencius even says that moral

action is motivated by moral knowledge (

).52 Thus without pretending that the

four elements in Mencius’ theory of the human spiritual disposition are the exact

equivalent of the elements of the anthropological framework underlying the Greek

idea of the care for the soul as understood by Patočka, we can arguably say that

Mencius’ theory represents the Chinese version of elements constitutive of the conception of being human that Patočka values so much, namely, the human being as a

being of truth (rooted in the spiritual disposition of zhi) and justice (rooted in the


Ibid., 7A:1, p. 78, translation modified.

Mencius, Mencius, A Bilingual Edition, Eng. trans. D. C. Lau (Hong Kong: The Chinese

University Press, revised edition 2003), 7A:46, p. 309.


Mencius, Eng. trans. D. C. Lau, 7A:15, p. 290.



The Philosophical-Anthropological Framework of Mencius’ Theory…


spiritual disposition of yi). In other words, the theory of the fourfold elements of the

human mind in Mencius is the Chinese version of the philosophical-anthropological

framework at the basis of the birth of philosophy in Ancient Greece cherished by

Patočka. In fact, Mencius is well-known for his insistence on the priority of justice

over biological life.

I like fish and I also like bear’s paw. If I cannot have both of them, I shall give up the fish

and choose the bear’s paw. I like life and I also like justice. If I cannot have both of them, I

shall give up life and choose justice. I love life, but there is something I love more than life,

and therefore I will not do anything improper to have it. I also hate death, but there is something I hate more than death, and therefore there are occasions when I will not avoid


Mencius’ sense of justice is acute: he will confront danger in order to preserve

justice, at the risk of losing his own life. Thus Mencius is not a philosopher of the

“golden mean” in search of a life of tranquillity. On the contrary, he advocates a

vocational life of realizing moral virtues and preserving justice which puts his biological life at risk. Mencius is not fearful face to the danger of risking his biological

life, because living through his moral and political vocation is a response to the call

of the Celestial order which is higher than the mundane human order. Thus this

aspiration toward the transcendent Celestial order through realization of moral good

and justice constitutes the specifically human component of the human being. The

realization of moral good and preservation of justice are rendered possible by the

fourfold element of the human mind, yet they are not a given fact, but rather a project of life which goes beyond both the biological and the merely mundane orders of

life. This project of life is to live a vocational life of morality and justice. It is a

project of surpassing mundane life interests toward an order of the transcendence.

To Mencius, it is precisely and paradoxically this project of transcendence which

manifests the proper “nature” of a human being.

What is interesting in Mencius’ understanding of a proper human life as living a

vocational life of morality and justice is that it finds echo in Patočka’s concept of

care for the soul as the philosophical heritage of Europe. In a manuscript entitled

“Europe and After” written in the same period as the seminar on Plato and Europe,

Patočka gives an alternative presentation of care for the soul as Europe’s heritage.54

Care for the soul as a philosophical project is a threefold project: an ontological

project, a critical and political project, and a project of life.55 Patočka makes use of

Plato’s concept of “thumos” to explain the care for the soul as a critical and political

project. The manuscript of Patočka reads as follows:

In view of its tendency to surpassing, it [the thumos] presupposes something of nonimmediate, something which deserves one surpasses for it, that is to say one exposes himself to risk. This is a natural surpassing of the instinct of conservation at all cost, a surpassing


Ibid., 6A:10, p. 57, translation slightly modified.

Jan Patočka, “Europe et après”, in L’Europe après l’Europe, French trans. Erika Abrams, etc.

(Paris : Verdier, 2007), pp. 37–136.


Marc Crépon, “Postface: Histoire, éthique et politique : la question de l’Europe”, in L’Europe

après l’Europe, op. cit., pp. 292–295.



6 Patočka’s Concept of Care for the Soul

of life. The orientation of the thumos toward the high consists precisely of this. The feeling

of our proper value which protects itself against all apparent threat and justifies itself by

exposing oneself to risk: this is thumos.56

Thumos is the desire of surpassing the merely biological instinct of conservation

of life, of surpassing banal life interests toward the higher order, namely the order

of morality and justice. Is this not the message imparted by Patočka’s whole life?

Patočka himself was well aware of his destiny when he wrote these moving lines, a

mere 2 months before his death as a result of prolonged and intensive police


We need something that in its very essence is not technological, something that is not

merely instrumental; we need a morality that is not merely tactical and incidental, but absolute. . . . The point of morality is to assure, not the functioning of society, but the humanity

of humans. Humans do not invent morality arbitrarily, to suit their needs, wishes, inclinations, and aspirations. Quite the contrary, it is morality that defines what being human

means. . . . Not simply or primarily fear or profit, but respect for what is higher in humans,

a sense of duty, of the common good, and of the need to accept even discomfort, misunderstanding, and a certain risk, should henceforth be our motives.57

This philosophical testimony of Patočka, which can be read as a resumé of his

life action, is it not the best illustration of Mencius’ attitude as regards the primacy

of justice over biological life? Is it not celebrating, in a way parallel to Mencius, the

pre-eminence of morality in what constitutes the human being’s being human?


Jan Patočka, “Europe et après”, op. cit., p. 124.

Jan Patočka, “The Obligation to Resist Injustice,” in Philosophy and Selected Writings, op. cit.,

pp. 340–343.


Chapter 7

Disenchanted World-View and Intercultural

Understanding: From Husserl Through Kant

to Chinese Culture

How is intercultural understanding possible? This chapter is the results of some

reflections which take into account the post-September-11 global situation.1 By this

we refer to the undesirable intensification of conflict of civilizations and the extremist ways in which these conflicts are expressed, namely terrorist or quasi-terrorist

acts of violence, be them of state, organizational or individual nature. Educated by

the wider phenomenological movement, we have paid particular critical attention to

the Eurocentric declarations of the father of the movement Husserl. Yet our reflections on the conditions of cultural plurality drive us to rediscover a universalizable

moment in Husserl’s Idea of philosophy as rigorous science which is essential to

intercultural understanding: the disenchanted world-view as a necessary correlate of

the idea of rigorous science. The latter is a result of the disenchantment of the world

conceptualized by Weber at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, diagnosed by

Nietzsche prior to the invention of this term in the second part of the Nineteenth

Century, and philosophically worked out in its essential ingredients by Kant’s critical philosophy at the high time of European Enlightenment in the late Eighteenth

Century. Yet the growth of the disenchanted world-view in Europe, we hope to

show, is not a purely European affair. An important cultural factor had come into

play, namely the reception of Chinese culture and the debate, since the end of the

Seventeenth Century, among European philosophers and intellectuals around the

history and nature of this cultural Other of Europe and its compatibility with the

Christian world-view. Views and positions of selected representative figures who

have taken part in the debate (Malebranche, Leibniz, Wolff and Voltaire) will be

discussed to show how intercultural understanding around a concrete issue has been

taking place in Europe and how Eurocentrism has been repudiated by avant-guard

thinkers in Europe some three centuries ago.

Dedication: For Elmar Holenstein


This chapter is a revised version of a paper first presented to the International Conference on

Philosophy of Culture and Practice, organized by the Department of Philosophy, Soochow

University, Taipei in June 2007.

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

K.-Y. Lau, Phenomenology and Intercultural Understanding,

Contributions To Phenomenology 87, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-44764-3_7




7 Disenchanted World-View and Intercultural Understanding

Disenchanted World-View and Intercultural

Understanding: Eurocentrism of Husserl’s Idea

of Philosophy and Rediscovery of Certain Moment of Its

“Rational Kernel”

To phenomenological philosophers of non-Western origin, their feelings toward

Edmund Husserl would probably be a mixture of admiration and bitterness, or even

inspiration and frustration. On the one hand, the phenomenological maxim “Zu den

Sachen Selbst!” (“Direct to the things themselves!”) advocated by Husserl urges us

to suspend all unexamined prejudices and unverified conclusions and direct our

investigating eyes to the subject matters themselves. The cultivation of this sober

attitude is an advantage for intercultural understanding as it helps to safeguard us

from cultural bias. In addition, Husserl’s critical diagnosis of the state of mere technical instrumentality into which modern sciences are degraded, a diagnosis undertaken in his last important work The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental

Phenomenology, has contributed to rebuff the unilaterally over-estimation of the

role of scientific culture in the modern world. While Husserl succeeds in pointing

out that the crisis of modern science consists precisely in the forgetting of her rootedness in the pre-scientific life-world which is cultural and historical in nature, cultures which are relatively advanced in science and technology have no more claim

of unconditional priority or privilege over cultures which are scientifically and technologically less developed. Husserl’s diagnosis of the crisis of modern science and

thematization of the life-world have thus provided important theoretical assistance

toward the self-reevaluation and self-positioning of cultures which are scientifically

and technologically less advanced than the West.

On the other hand, philosophers from the East, especially from China and India,

would probably be embarrassed or even irritated by Husserl’s overtly Eurocentric

idea of philosophy and culture. For it is well-known that Husserl has declared in his

famous 1935 Vienna Lecture that “it is a mistake, a falsification of their sense, for

those raised in the scientific ways of thinking created in Greece and developed in the

modern period, to speak of Indian and Chinese philosophy and science (astronomy,

mathematics), i.e., to interpret India, Babylonia, China, in a European way.”2

Husserl even went on to affirm that if “Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, etc.,

… are placed on a plane with Greek philosophy …, the merely morphologically

general features [would] hide the intentional depths so that one becomes blind to the

most essential differences of principle.”3 In fact, what Husserl means by “the most

essential differences of principle” between Indian philosophy and Chinese philosophy on the one hand and Greek philosophy on the other consists in the following:


E. Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie,

Husserliana VI, ed. W. Biemel (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1st ed. 1954, 2nd ed. 1962), p. 331; The

Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, Eng. trans. D. Carr (Evanston:

Northwestern University Press, 1970), pp. 284–285.


E. Husserl, Die Krisis …, Husserliana VI, p. 325; The Crisis …, pp. 279–280.

7.1 Disenchanted World-View and Intercultural Understanding: Eurocentrism…


Greek philosophy is a reflective intellectual enterprise conducted under the guiding

idea of “pure thêoria” and orientates itself toward the realization of an absolutely

universal science. Only philosophy animated by this leitmotiv can be called philosophy in the genuine sense. Indian and Chinese philosophies neither share the idea of

“pure thêoria” nor have the ambition of realizing the ideal of an absolutely universal

science. They can never claim to be philosophy in the genuine or original sense of

the term. To Husserl, only Europeans have inherited the Greek Idea of philosophy

which, as he reformulates it, is the Idea of “philosophy as rigorous science”. This

Idea of philosophy has been blossomed in Europe since the Seventeenth Century

scientific revolution brought about by the remarkable discoveries of Galileo,

Descartes and Newton. Husserl even thinks that there is only two mutually exclusive possibilities in the future development of the entire human civilization: either

there will be “the spectacle of the Europeanization of all other civilizations (die

Europäisierung aller fremden Menschheiten) which bears witness to the rule of an

absolute meaning, one which is proper to the sense of the world”, or else the world

itself will be degraded to a stage of “historical non-sense”.4 In other words, either all

extra-European civilizations have to take Europe as the absolute yard-stake in their

future development, or else human history will simply be a non-sense. This is a line

of thought which situates itself between the extremes of “Europe or nothingness”. It

excludes the possibility of all other possibilities, precisely those between or beyond

“Europe or nothingness”. The Eurocentric nature of the Husserlian view of the

development of human civilization cannot be more apparent.

The question of the Eurocentrism of Husserl’s position has already been raised

by attentive and critical readers, notably by Jacques Derrida.5 The present author

himself has devoted critical discussions to the issue more than once.6 However, our

recent reflections on the problem of the “clash of civilizations” and the difficulties

of intercultural understanding in the post-September-11 global situation drive us to

consider anew Husserl’s words “the spectacle of the Europeanization of all other

civilizations”. We would like to ask: is it possible to unveil underneath the apparently chauvinist expression of Husserl a certain “rational kernel”, to paraphrase the

famous remarks of Marx with reference to Hegel’s dialectics? For if we examine

more closely the possible content of what Husserl means by the “Europeanization

of all other human civilizations”, it is possible to see that under such an expression


E. Husserl, Die Krisis …, Husserliana VI, p. 14; The Crisis, p. 16.

Cf. Jacques Derrida, De l’esprit. Heidegger et la question (Paris : Éditions Galilée, 1987),

pp. 95–96.


Cf. Kwok-ying Lau, “Para-deconstruction: Preliminary Considerations for a Phenomenology of

Interculturality”, in Phenomenology of Interculturality and Life-world, special issue of

Phänomenologische Forschungen, ed. E.W. Orth & C.-F. Cheung (Freiburg / München: Verlag

K. Alber, 1998), pp. 233–237, supra, Chap. 2; “To What Extent Can Phenomenology Do Justice

To Chinese Philosophy?—Attempt at a Phenomenological Reading of Laozi”, supra, Chap. 3;

“Husserl, Buddhism and the Problematic of the Crisis of European Sciences”, Identity and Alterity:

Phenomenology and Cultural Traditions, eds. Kwok-Ying Lau, Chan-Fai Cheung, and Tze-Wan

Kwan, series “Orbis Phaenomenologicus Perspektiven” (Würzburg: Verlag Königshausen &

Neumann, 2010), pp. 221–233, supra, Chap. 4.


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