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Chinese Philosophy I. Cosmology and world-view. Geir Sigurðsson Icelandic Centre for Asian Studies, University of Akureyri 11.12.2006. The “cosmos” may not be so distant. Our understanding of the world informs: Meaning Goals Values Actions/responses Thus, quotidian behaviour.

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chinese philosophy i cosmology and world view

Chinese PhilosophyI. Cosmology and world-view

Geir Sigurðsson

Icelandic Centre for Asian Studies, University of Akureyri

11.12.2006

the power of cosmology
The “cosmos” may not be so distant

Our understanding of the world informs:

Meaning

Goals

Values

Actions/responses

Thus, quotidian behaviour

The power of cosmology
lest be bombarded with rotten tomatoes
...lest be bombarded with rotten tomatoes
  • On generalizations:
    • Limited and often questionable
    • But inescapable
    • And: „the exception proves the rule“
  • Philosophy schools both in China and the West are many and variable
  • But have common (cultural) characteristics
  • Philosophy as “truth“ or deepest structural layer of culture
filosofia vs
„Filo-sofia“ = love of (theoretical) wisdom (Socrates)

Contra practical use – „Wisdom for the sake of wisdom“ (Aristotle)

Emphasis on reason – distrust of sense-experience. (Plato, Descartes)

„Metaphysics“ – intelligible nature of the world, accessible only to philosophers (Plato)

哲 rather indicates practical and communicable knowledge

口 = mouth, 手 = hand, 斤 = tool

The value of wisdom consists in its usefulness for everyday life

„Know how“ rather than „know what“

Wisdom is gained here and now, in mundane life

Filosofia vs. 哲学
doesn t time pass by just like this never ceasing day or night
“Doesn’t time pass by just like this, never ceasing day or night!’”
  • How do we, Westerners, understand world-operations?
  • Chinese starting point is not “cause,” “creation” or “cosmos”, but that which exists now 世界,宇宙
  • Tang Junyi (1909-1978): 生生不已
  • General assumption of the ceaseless movement of the world:
    • Book of Changes (Yijing 易经)
more on changes
More on changes
  • The world is self-engendering, no “prime mover –自然 (self-so) instead of 使然 (made-so) – „a web without a weaver“
  • Recurring (but not identical) elements, such as day and night, seasons, tide: “Returning is the movement of the dao” (DDJ 40) – time as a spiral
  • The five phases (wu xing 五行) – water, fire, metal, wood, earth
dual harmony but no dualism
Dual harmony but no “dualism”
  • Harmony of opposing powers/dimensions
    • yin and yang 阴阳, in and out 内外, heaven and earth 天地
    • Tang Junyi: inseparability of the one and the many 一多不分观
    • Harmony of the whole rather than logical hierarchy
  • Rejection of dilemmas
    • Appearance is reality
    • mind (xin 心) and body (shen 身)
    • Matter and spirit = qi 气
  • No reductionism
    • All things are interrelated
    • “Essence” of thing is constituted by relations
    • No “substances” – nothing is “in-itself”
more characteristics
More characteristics
  • No determinism, but dispositions: Tang Junyi non-fixed “destiny” 无定命观
  • Focus on taking advantage of the chances opening up in the flow of things, 势, 时中
  • Way 道 instead of truth
  • Right thinking instead of the right to think
  • Strong (holy?) social awareness
    • ren 仁, renjia 人家, shehui 社会, xiao 孝, li 礼
some potential consequences
Some potential consequences
  • More flexibility – less exactitute (e.g. Lin Yutang)?
  • Scientific holism – negligence of natural laws?
  • Focus on circumstances rather than rules and principles – can rules be broken if no one finds out?
  • Focus on the present/serenity – carelessness/lack of responsibility?
  • Focus on skill – opportunism?
  • Social holism – individual sacrificed for the whole?
  • Family orientation – corruption/lack of care for strangers?
philosophy or religion
Philosophy or religion?
  • Again: rejection of dilemmas
  • “The question “is Confucianism a religion?” is a question that Westerners could never answer and the Chinese could never ask” Wilfred Cantwell Smith
some characteristics of chinese religion and philosophy
Some characteristics of Chinese religion (and philosophy?)
  • No (or vague) transcendence
  • inseparability of “heaven” and “earth” 天地
  • Gods are not omnipotent – shang di 上帝 – first/supreme?
  • Gods are not chronologically prior to world – no creation myth, cf. Daodejing 25
  • Focus on interhuman relations rather than relations with gods – Analects, 11.12.
  • Distant respect for gods, not love for them – Analects, 6.22
ancient philosophy schools
Ancient philosophy schools
  • Confucianism (rujia儒家): 6th c. BCE
  • Daoism (daojia道家): 6th c. BCE
  • Legalism (fajia法家): 5th c. BCE
  • Mohism (mojia墨家): 5th c. BCE
  • Logicians (mingjia 名家): 5th c. BCE
  • Buddhism (fojiao佛家): 1st c. CE
later schools
Neo-Confucianism (songming rujia 宋明儒家): 10th-19th century

New Confucianism (xin rujia 新儒家): 19th-21st century

Later schools: