April 11, 2006 at 2:06 am #12658
Below is a excellent paper on Chinese thought & Western thought written from Dr. Hansen in Hong Kong. If you don’t think their is difference read this professors paper.
It will be nice to see hopefully in the future years after much has been re-languaged
and settle in these practice’s taking better shape in the West with passionate teachers like Michael. I personally recommend if you have taken courses with Master Chia to study Michael Winn’s now.
I think trunks website http://www.AlchemicalTaoism.com/ is another fine example of the openness and informational exchange. The more we exchange constructive information the better these practices can develop to a safe, realistic & fullfilling lifestyle.
There is more value & practicalness for the here and now and to learn them in
a structure that relates to Western Culture, Values and Psyche. Don’t get me wrong I have great respect and gratefulness for Master Chia, but if you have no Asian teacher expierence and don’t understand Chinese thought could be a very hard mountain to climb. This is where East meets West and cultural exchange takes place, and a new era begins. And we know it has taken place obviously by the great post here at healingtaousa.com, everyone adds so much, most webboards are dead as the ink on paper. Everyone here has the same goal in the end; a great process to share.
Just thinking in this cyber-cauldron of info….snowlion
Conceptual and Theoretical Matters
Classical Chinese theory of mind is similar to Western “folk psychology” in that both mirror their respective background view of language. They differ in ways that fit those folk theories of language. The core Chinese concept is xin (the heart-mind). As the translation suggests, Chinese folk psychology lacked a contrast between cognitive and affective states ([representative ideas, cognition, reason, beliefs] versus [desires, motives, emotions, feelings]). The xin guides action, but not via beliefs and desires. It takes input from the world and guides action in light of it. Most thinkers share those core beliefs.
Herbert Fingarette argued that Chinese (Confucius at least) had no psychological theory. Along with the absence of belief-desire explanation of action, they do not offer psychological (inner mental representation) explanations of language (meaning). We find neither the focus on an inner world populated with mental objects nor any preoccupation with questions of the correspondence of the subjective and objective worlds. Fingarette explained this as reflecting an appreciation of the deep conventional nature of both linguistic and moral meaning. He saw this reflected in the Confucian focus on li (ritual) and its emphasis on sociology and history rather than psychology. The meaning, the very existence, of a handshake depends on a historical convention. It rests on no mental acts such as sincerity or intent. The latter may accompany the conventional act and give it a kind of aesthetic grace, but they do not explain it.
Fingarette overstates the point, of course. It may not be psychologistic in its linguistic or moral theory, but Confucianism still presupposes a psychology, albeit not the familiar individualist, mental or cognitive psychology. Its account of human function in conventional, historical society presupposes some behavioral and dispositional traits. Most Chinese thinkers indeed appear to presuppose that humans are social, not egoistic or individualistic. The xin coordinates our behavior with others. Thinkers differed in their attitude toward this natural social faculty. Some thought we should reform this tendency and try harder to become egoists, but most approved of the basic “goodness” of people. Most also assumed that social discourse influenced how the heart-mind guides our cooperation. If discourse programs the heart-mind, it must have a dispositional capacity to internalize the programming.
Humans accumulate and transmit conventional dao-s (guiding discoursesways). We teach them to our children and address them to each other. The heart-mind then executes the guidance in any dao it learns when triggered (e.g., by the sense organs). Again thinkers differed in their attitude toward this shared outlook. Some thought we should minimize or eliminate the controlling effect of such conventions on human behavior. Others focused on how we should reform the social discourse that we use collectively in programming each others xin. Typically, thinkers in the former group had some theory of the innate or hard-wired programming of the xin. Some in the latter camp had either a “blank page” or a negative view of the heart-minds innate patterns of response.
For some thinkers, the sense organs delivered a processed input to the heart-mind as a distinction: salty and sour, sweet and bitter, red or black or white or green and so forth. Most had thin theories, at best, of how the senses contributed to guidance. While it is tempting to suppose that they assumed the input was an amorphous flow of “qualia” that the heart-mind sorted into categories (relevant either to its innate or social programming). However, given the lack of analysis of the content of the sensory input, we should probably conservatively assume they took the naïve realist view that the senses simply make distinctions in the world. We can be sure only that the xin did trigger reactions to discourse-relevant stimuli.
Reflecting the theory of xin, the implicit theory of language made no distinction between describing and prescribing. Chinese thinkers assumed the core function of language is guiding behavior. Representational features served that prescriptive goal. In executing guidance, we have to identify relevant “things” in context. If the discourse describes some behavior toward ones elder, one needs a way correctly to identify the elder and what counts as the prescribed behavior. Correct action according to a conventional dao must also take into account other descriptions of the situation such as urgent, normal, etc. These issues lay behind Confucian theories of “rectifying names.”
The psychological theory (like the linguistic) did not take on a sentential form. Classical Chinese language had no “belief-grammar”, i.e., forms such as X believes that P (where P is a proposition). The closest grammatical counterpart focuses on the term, not the sentence and point to the different function of xin. Where Westerners would say “He believes (that) it is good” classical Chinese would either use “He goods it” or “He, yi (with regard to) it, wei (deems:regards) good.” Similarly zhi (to know) takes noun phrases, not sentences, as object. The closest counterpart to propositional knowledge would be “He knows its being (deemed as) good.” The xin guides action in the world in virtue of the categories it assigns to things, but it does not house mental or linguistic “pictures” of facts.
Technically, the attitude was what philosophers a de re attitude. The “subject” was in the world not in the mind. The context of use picked out the intended item. The attitude consisted of projecting the mental category or concept on the actual thing. We distinguish this functional role best by talking about a disposition rather than a belief. It is a disposition to assign some reality to a category. The requisite faculty of the heart-mind (or the senses) is the ability to discriminate or distinguish T from not-T, e.g., good from bad, human being from thief. We might, alternately, think of Chinese belief and knowledge as predicate attitudes rather than propositional attitudes.
Predicate attitudes are the heart-minds function. A basic judgment is, thus, neither a picture nor representation of some metaphysically complex fact. Its essence is picking out what counts as X in the situation (where X is a term in the guiding discourse). The context fixes the object and the heart-mind assigns it to a relevant category.
Hence, Chinese folk theory places a (learned or innate) ability to make distinctions correctly in following a dao in the central place Western folk psychology places ideas. They implicitly understood correctness as conformity to the social-historical norm. One of the projects of some Chinese philosophers was trying to provide a natural or objective ground of dao.
Western “ideas” are analogous to mental pictographs in a language of thought. The composite pictures formed out of these mental images (beliefs) were the mental counterparts of facts. Truth was “correspondence” between the picture and the fact. Pictures play a role in Chinese folk theory of language but not of mind. Chinese understood their written characters as having evolved from pictographs. They had scant reason to think of grammatical strings of characters as “pictures” of anything.
Chinese folk linguistics recognized that history and community usage determined the reference of the characters. They did not appeal to the pictographic quality or any associated mental image individuals might have. Language and conventions are valuable because they store inherited guidance. The social-historical tradition, not individual psychology, grounds meaning. Some thinkers became skeptical of claims about the sages and the “constancy” of their guidance, but they did not abandon the assumption that public language guides us. Typically, they either advocated reforming the guiding discourse (dao) or reverting to “natural,” pre-linguistic behavior patterns. Language rested neither on cognition nor private, individual subjectivity. Chinese philosophy of mind played mainly an application (execution of instructions) role in Chinese theory of language.
Chinese theory of language centered on counterparts of reference or denotation. To have mastered a term was for the xin and senses working together to be able to distinguish or divide realities “correctly.” Correctly was the rub because the standard of correctness was discourse. It threatened a regresswe need a discourse to guide our practical interpretation of discourse. Philosophy of mind played a role in various attempted solutions. Chinese philosophers mostly agreed (except for innatists) that actual distinguishing would be relative to past training, experience, assumptions and situation. However, they did not regard experience as a mental concept in the classic Western sense of the being a subjective or private content.
An important concept in philosophy of mind was, therefore, de (virtuosity). One classic formulation identified de as embodied, inner dao. De though “inner,” was more a set of dispositions than a mental content. The link seemed to be that when we learn a daos content, it produces de. Good de comes from successful teaching of a dao. When you follow dao, you need not have the discourse “playing” internally. We best view it as the behavioral ability to conform to the intended pattern of actionthe path (performance dao). It would be “second nature.” We may think of de, accordingly, as both learned and natural.
We can distinguish Chinese thought from Indo-European thought, then, not only in its blending affective and cognitive functions, but also in its avoiding the nuts and bolts of Western mind-body analysis. Talk of “inner” and “outer” did distinguish the psychological from the social, but it did not mean inner was mental content. The xin has a physical and temporal location and consists of dispositions to make distinctions in guiding action. It is not a set of inherently representational “ideas” (mental pictograms).
Similarly, we find no clear counterpart to the Indo-European conception of the faculty of reason. Euclidean method in geometry and the formulation of the syllogism in logic informed this Indo-European concept. Absent this apparatus, Chinese thinkers characterized the heart-mind as either properly or improperly trained, virtuous, skilled, reliable, etc. Prima facie, however, these were social standards threatened circularity. The heart-mind required some kind of mastery of a body of practical knowledge. Chinese thinkers explored norm realism mainly through an innatist strategy. Innatists sought to picture the heart-minds distinctions as matching “norms” or “moral patterns” implicit in the natural stasis or harmony of the world.
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Historical Developments: The Classical Period
Confucius indirectly addressed philosophy of mind questions in his theory of education. He shaped the moral debate in a way that fundamentally influenced the classical conception of xin (heart-mind). Confucius discourse dao was the classical syllabus, including most notably history, poetry and ritual. On one hand, we can think of these as “training” the xin to proper performance. On the other, the question of how to interpret the texts into action seemed to require a prior interpretive capacity of xin. Confucius appealed to a tantalizingly vague intuitive ability that he called ren (humanity). A person with ren can translate guiding discourse into performance correctlyi.e., can execute or follow a dao. Confucius left open whether ren was innate or acquired in studythough the latter seems more likely to have been his position.
It was, in any case, the position of Chinas first philosophical critic, the anti-Confucian Mozi. Again concern with philosophy of mind was subordinate to Mozis normative concerns. He saw moral character as plastic. Natural human communion (especially our tendency to “emulate superiors”) shaped it. Thus, we could cultivate utilitarian behavioral tendencies by having social models enunciate and act on a utilitarian social discourse. The influence of social models would also determine the interpretation of the discourse. Interpretation takes the form of indexical pro and con reactionsshi (this:right:assent) and fei (not this:wrong:dissent). The attitudes when associated with terms pick out the reality (object, action, etc.) relevant to the discourse guidance. We thus train the heart-mind to make distinctions that guide its choices and thereby our behaviorspecifically in following a utilitarian symbolic guide. Utilitarian standards also should guide practical interpretation (execution or performance) of the discourse.
At this point in Chinese thought, the heart-mind became the focus of more systematic theorizingmuch of it in reaction to Mozis issues. The moral issue and the threat of a relativist regress in the picture led to a nativist reaction. On the one hand, thinkers wanted to imagine ways to free themselves from the implicit social determinism. On the other, moralists want a more absolute basis for ethical distinctions and actions.
Several thinkers may have joined a trend of interest in cultivating the heart-mind. Mencius theory is the best known within the moralist trend. He analyzed the heart-mind as consisting of four natural moral inclinations. These normally mature just as seeds grows into plants. Therefore, the resulting virtues (benevolence, morality, ritual, and knowledge) were natural. Mencius thus avoided having to treat the ren intuition as a learned product a social dao. It is a de that signals a natural dao. This view allowed Mencius to defend Confucian ritual indirectly against Mozis accusation that it relied on an optional and, thus, changeable tradition.
Mencius strategy, however, presupposed that a linguistic dao could either distort or reinforce the heart-mind’s innate program. In principle, we do not need to prop up moral virtue educationally. Linguistic shaping, other than countering linguistic distortion, therefore, ran an unnecessary risk. It endangered the natural growth of the moral dispositions. The shi (this:right:assent) and fei (not this:wrong:dissent) dispositions necessary for sage-like moral behavior should develop “naturally.” His theory did not imply that we know moral theory at birth, but that they develop or mature as the physical body does and in response to ordinary moral situations. The heart-mind functions by issuing shi-fei (this-not this) directives that are right in the concrete situations in which we find ourselves. It does not need or generate ethical theory or hypothetical choices. The xins intuitions are situational and implicitly harmonious with nature.
A well-known advocate with the natural spontaneity or freedom motivation was the Taoist, Laozi. He analyzed the psychology of socialization at a different level. Learning names was training us to make distinctions and to have desires of what society considered the appropriate sort. Both the distinctions and the desires were “right” only according to the conventions of the language community. Learning language not only meant losing ones natural spontaneity, it was and subjecting oneself to control by a social-historical perspective. We allowed society to control our desires. His famous slogan, wu-wei, enjoined us to avoid actions motivated by such socialized desires. We achieve that negative by forgetting socially instilled distinctionsby forgetting language!
His implicit ideal had some affinities with that of Mencius except that his conception of the “natural” realm of psychological dispositions was considerably less ambitious in moral terms. Interpreters usually suppose that he assumed there would be a range of natural desires left even if socialized ones were “subtracted.” These would be enough to sustain small, non-aggressive, agrarian villages. In them, people would lack the curiosity even to visit neighboring villages. This “primitivism” still requires that there is a natural level of harmonious impulses to action, but not nearly enough to sustain Mencius unified moral empire.
The LATER MOHISTS became skeptical of the neutral status of these allegedly “natural” heart-mind states. They noted that even a thief may claim that his behavior was natural. They watered down the conventionalism of Mozi by appealing to objectively accessible similarities and differences in nature. Our language ought to reflect these clusters of similarity. They did little epistemology especially of the senses, but supposedly, like Mozi, would have appealed to the testimony ordinary people relying on their “eyes and ears.”
Others (See ZHUANGZI) insisted that any apparent patterns of similarity and difference were always perspectival and relative to some prior purpose, standards or value attitude. Linguistics did shape heart-mind attitudes but neither reliably or accurately carves the world into its real parts.
The Later Mohists had given a cluster of definitions of zhi (to know). One of these seemed close to consciousnessor rather to point to the lack of any such concept. Zhi was the capacity to know. In dreaming the zhi did not zhi and we took (something) as so. They analyzed the key function of the heart-mind as the capacity to discriminate linguistic intention.
Zhuangzi takes a step beyond Laozi in his theory of emotions. Zhuangzi discusses the passions and emotions that were raw, pre-social inputs from reality. He suggested a pragmatic attitude toward themwe cannot know what purpose they have, but without them, there would be no reference for the “I.” Without the ‘I’, there would be neither choosing nor objects of choice. Like Hume, he argued that while we have these inputs and feel there must be some organizing “true ruler,” we get no input (qing) from any such ruler. We simply have the inputs themselves (happiness, anger, sorrow, joy, fear). We cannot suppose that the physical heart is such a ruler, because it is no more natural than the other organs and joints of the body. Training and history condition a hearts judgments. Ultimately, even Mencius shi-fei (this-not this) are input to the xin. Our experience introduces them relative to our position and past assumptions. They are not objective or neutral judgments.
XUNZI also concentrated on issues related to philosophy of mind though in the context of moral and linguistic issues. He initiated some important and historically influential developments in the classical theory. His most famous (and textually suspect) doctrine is “human nature is evil.” While he clearly wanted to distance himself from Mencius, the slogan at best obscures the deep affinity between their respective views of human nature and mind.
Xunzi seems to have drawn both from the tradition advocating cultivating heart-mind and from the focused theory of language. This produced a tense hybrid theory that filled out the original Confucian picture on how conventions and language program the heart-mind. Xunzi made the naturalism explicit. Human guiding discourse takes place in the context of a three-tier universetian (heaven-nature) di (earth-sustenance) and ren (the social realm). He gave humans a special place in the chain of nature,’ but not based on reason. Animals shared the capacity for zhi (knowledge). What distinguishes humans is their yi (morality) which is grounded on the ability to bian (distinguish).
Presumably, the latter ability is unique among animals with knowledge because it is short-hand for the ability to construct and abide by conventionsconventional distinctions or language. One of Xunzis naturalistic justifications for Confucian conventional rituals is economic. Ritual distinctions guide peoples desires so that society can manage scarcity. Only those with high status will learn to seek scarce goods. His departure from Mencius thus seems to lie in seeing human morality as more informed or “filled-out” by historical conventional distinctions. These are the products of reflection and artifice, not nature.
However, in other ways Xunzi seems to edge closer to Mencius. He also presents ritual as part of the structure of the worldimplicit in the heaven-earth natural context. One natural line of explanation is this: while thought creates the correct conventions, nature sets the concrete conditions of scarcity and human traits that determine what conventions will be best for human flourishing.
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Historical Developments: Han Cosmology
The onset of the philosophical dark age, brought on by Qin Dynasty repression followed by Han dynasty policies resulted in a bureaucratic, obscurant Confucian orthodoxy. The Qin thus buried the technical ideas informing philosophy of mind along with the active thinkers who understood them. The ontology of the eclectic scholasticism that emerged was essentially religious and superstitious. It was, however, overtly materialist (assuming Qi (ether, matter) is material). So the implicit philosophy of mind of the few philosophically inclined thinkers during the period tended toward a vague materialism.
The Han further developed the five-element (five phases) version of materialism. They postulated a correlative pentalogy linking virtually every system of classification that occurred to them. The scheme included the organs of the body and the virtues. Interpretation and analysis of “correlative” reasoning is a controversial subject. From here, the mental correlations look more like a frequency selection from the psychological lexicon than a product of philosophical reflection, observation or causal theory.
The Yin-yang analysis also had mental correlates. Following Xunzi, Orthodox Han Confucians tended to treat qing (reality:desires) as yin (typically negative). The yang (value positive) counterpart was xing (human moral nature).
The most important development of the period was the emergence a compromise Confucian view of minds role in morality. It eventually informed and dominated the scholastic Neo-Confucianism of the much later Sung to Qing dynasties. The small book known as the Doctrine of the Mean gave it an influential formulation. It presents the heart-mind as a homeostasis-preserving input output device. The heart-mind starts in a state of tranquillity. The account leaves open whether this is a result of ideally structured moral input, resolution of inner conflicts, or the absence of (distorting) content. Xunzis view of the empty, unified and still mind seems the proximate ancestor of the latter aspect of the view. The vagueness, conveniently, makes Mencius doctrines fit it as well. The input is a perturbation from the outer world. The output, the heart-minds action-guiding response, restores harmony to the world and the inner state to tranquillity. If the inner state prior to the input is not tranquil, the response will not restore harmony to the real situation.
Han Confucianism filled out this cosmic view of this black-box interaction between heart-mind and world harmony using qi materialism. Qi is a rather more a blend of energy and matter than pure mattertranslations such as “life-force” bring out an essential connection with vitality. This makes it more appropriate for a cosmology that links the active heart-mind with the changing world. Qi was the single constituting element of spirits and ghosts as well.
Wang Chungs skeptical, reductive application of qi theory focused on shen (spirit-energy). He did not view its consequences for heart-mind as particularly iconoclastic. It still lacked a notion of “consciousness” independent of zhi (know). (Our zhi, he argued, stops when we are asleep and so almost certainly it does when we are dead.) His arguments that nature had no intentional purposes illustrated his reductive behaviorismif it has neither eyes nor ears, then it cannot have zhi (purposes or intentions). This argument would hardly make sense if he had the familiar Western concept of consciousness. Similarly, he argues that the five virtues are in the five organs so when the organs are dead and gone, the virtues disappear with them.
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Historical Developments: Buddhist Philosophy of Mind
The next developments are related to the introduction of Buddhist mental concepts into China. Most accounts credit a movement dubbed “Neo-Taoism” with “paving the way” for this radical change in philosophy of mind. Wangbis Neo-Taoist system was explicitly a cosmology more than a theory of mind, but interpretations tend to read it epistemically.
Wangbi addressed the metaphysical puzzle of the relation of being and non-being. (See YOU-WU) He postulated non-being as the “basic substance.” Non-being produced being. He dubbed this obscure relationship as “substance and function.” Interpretations almost inevitably explain this on the analogy to Kants Noumenon and Phenomenon. As noted, Wangbi had few epistemological interests, but the analysis did have implications for heart-mind theory. He applied the metaphysical scheme to his Confucian slogan”Sage within, king without.” The mind was empty “within” while the behaviors were in perfect conformity with the Confucian ritual dao. This tilts the Taoist tradition toward the “emptiness” reading of the black-box analysis of heart-mind.
Wangbi also placed li (principle) in a more central explanatory position. This paved the way for its use in translating Buddhisms sentence or law-like dharma. It played roles in both Buddhist epistemology and theory of mind. In sparse pre-Han usage, li was objective tendencies in thing-kinds. (Intuitionists and naturalists took them to be the valid norm for that kindspecies relative bits of dao.) Wangbi gave it a more essentialist reading in the context of the Book of Changes. He postulated a li guiding the mixtures and transformations of yin and yang. One should be able to bypass the complexity of the system by isolating and understanding its li.
Buddhism introduced revolutionary changes into Chinese heart-mind conceptual scheme. The original Indo-European religion probably originated the familiar Western phenomenalism (consciousness, experience-based mentalism). Indian philosophy came complete with the familiar Western sentential analyses, mental content and cognitive emphasis (belief and knowing-that). It even mimicked the subject-predicate syllogism and the familiar epistemic and metaphysical subjective-objective dualism. It introduced a semantic (eternal) truth predicate into Chinese thought along with a representational view of the function of both mind and language. Reason/intellect and emotion/desire formed a basic opposition in Buddhist psychological analysis. An inner idea-world parallels (or replaces) the ordinary world of objects. Soul and mind are roughly interchangeable and familiar arguments for immortality suggest both metaphysical dualism and mental transcendence or superiority over the physical. It conceptually links reality (knowledge, reason) to permanence and appearance (illusion, experience) to change. A universal chain of causation was a central explanatory device and a mark of dependence and impermanence.
Two caveats are in order, however. First, although Buddhism introduced a dualist conceptual scheme, many schools (arguably) denied the dualism so formulated and rejected any transcendent self. Second, it is unclear how well the philosophy of mind was generally understood and whether much of it actually “took” in China. One of the early and notoriously unsuccessful schools was the “Consciousness only” school (translated as “Only Heart-mind”) which translated the idealism of Yogacara Buddhism. The Yogacara analysis was Hume-like in denying that anything linked the infinitesimal “moments of awareness” into a real self. Scholars tend to blame its demise, however, as much on its objectionable moral features (its alleged Hinayana or elitist failure to guarantee universal salvation) as on its conceptual innovations.
The most successful schools were those that seemed to eschew theory of any kindlike Zen (Chan) or Pure Land Buddhismor those that opted for intuitive, mystical simplicity (Tian Tai and Hua Yen). The most important conceptual legacy of Buddhism, therefore, seems to be the changed role and importance of the character li (principle). In Buddhism it served a wide range of important sentential and mental functions. It facilitated the translation of law, truth, and reason. Neo-Confucianism would take it over (with notoriously controversial implications) as key concept in its philosophy of mind.
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Historical Developments: Neo-Confucianism
Neo-Confucianism is a Western name for a series of schools in which philosophy of mind played a central role. Scholars (somewhat controversially) present these schools as motivated by an anti-foreignism that sought to resurrect indigenous classical systems. These had lain dormant for six-hundred odd years when the freshness of Buddhism started to attract the attention of China’s intellectuals. Resurrecting Confucianism required providing it with an alternative to Buddhist metaphysics. For this, they drew on ch’i metaphysics, the black-box homeostasis preserving analysis of heart-mind, Wang Pi’s and Buddhism’s li and Mencius’ classical theory of the inherent goodness of heart-mind.
The intricacies of Neo-Confucian systems are too rich to analyze in detail here. The earliest versions focused on the notion of qi linkage between the heart-mind and the world influenced by our action. They characterized the tranquil state of the black-box as void. The school of li criticized that analysis as too Zen-like. (This was a typical and damning charge to participants in this movement, although a Zen period in ones development of thought was a common pattern among Neo-Confucians.)
The li school insisted that any adequate account of heart-mind had to give it an original moral content. It did this by postulating an interdependent and inseparable dualism of li and qi. The li permeates the heart and all of reality, which is composed of qi. The most tempting (and common) elaboration uses the Platonic distinction of form and content, but that analysis teeters on the edge of incoherence. The school fell back on dividing the human mind from some transcendental or metaphysical Tao-mind. This made it dubious as a theory of mind at allin the ordinary sense. It essentially became a metaphysics in which heart-mind was a cosmic force.
One way of understanding the motivation that drove the otherwise puzzling metaphysical gymnastics links philosophy of mind and ethics. Neo-Confucians were searching for the metaphysical system such that anyone so viewing the cosmos and one’s place in it would reliably do what was right. The goal was having the metaphysical outlook of the sage. The criterion of right and wrong was that the sage’s mind would so judge it. If we could replicate the outlook, we would be sage-like in our attitudesincluding both beliefs and motivations. The effect on motivation and behavior was more important than the theoretical coherence of the system. The complexity of moral choice and human motivation required so many perturbations into their account of the proposed system that it became an almost infinitely flexible rationalization for intuitionism.
Mencian optimism about innate heart-mind dispositions proved an uncomfortable legacy. If human nature and the heart-mind are innately and spontaneously moral, it was unclear why we require such mental gymnastics to cultivate and condition the dispositions. They portrayed the li as inherently good in all things, but somehow humans, alone in all of nature, might fail to conform to its own natural norms. The attempt to explain this via the li qi dualism flounders on the metaphysical principle that the dualism pervades all things. Despite this well known (and intractable) Confucian problem of evil, the school again became the Medieval orthodoxy. Office holding required being able to parrot the view in considerable detail to show their moral character.
The school of Heart-mind was a rebellion against that orthodoxy. We best understand this rival as a species of normative, objective idealism. It saw the actual heart-mind as li and therefore inherently good. The xin projects that li onto the world in the act of categorizing and dividing it into types. Thus our normative, (phenomenal) world is good but that good is a function of the mind. Moral categorization and action are a simultaneous and combined responses of the heart-mind to the perturbations or the disharmonies we encounter. The analysis of mind is functionalthere is no goodness of the mind separate from the goodness of its categorizing and acting. Knowing is acting.
The school of heart-mind somewhat gingerly accepted the implication of their Mencian heritage. There is no evil. I say “gingerly” because whether one should formulate or teach this conclusion or not is itself a choice that the mind must assess for its contextual value. In itself, as it were, the heart-mind is beyond good and evil. Others, hence, criticized school of heart-mind was for its own Zen-like implications. Any moderately clever student could figure out that whatever he chose to do was right (c.f., Zhuangzis initial criticism’s of Mencian idealism). They, in turn, criticized the Buddhist character of their rival’s assumptions that some kind of state of mind (enlightenment, realization) would magically result in sagehood.
The moralistic name-calling of this inter-Confucian debate sapped further development of theory of mind. That coupled with its irrational optimism in the face of growing awareness of the vulnerability and weakness of China to resist Western and Japanese military and political power resulted first in mildly more materialistic and utilitarian systems. Eventually intellectuals developed a wholesale interest in the next Indo-European thought invasion, which took the form of Marxism. Maoist theory of mind was an unstable mixture of Marxist economic and materialist reductionism and traditional Chinese optimism. The right political attitude (typically that of the part member) would give good communists spectacular moral power and infallible situational intuitions about how to solve social problems.
Again, the obvious failure in the face of irrational theoretical optimism has produced a general antipathy to idealizations. One can guess that the next phase, like the Buddhist phase, will be one of borrowing and blending. However, the current skepticism about the general outlines of folk psychology in the West and its essentially alien character probably will keep Chinese theory of heart-mind distinctively Chinese.
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Chan, Wing tsit. 1986 Neo-Confucian Terms Explained (New York: Columbia University Press) pp. xi-277.
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Graham, Angus. 1964 “The Place of Reason in the Chinese Philosophical Tradition,” in Raymond Dawson (ed.), The Legacy of China pp. 28-56.
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Graham, Angus. 1989 Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (La Salle, IL: Open Court) .
Hansen, Chad. 1991 “Should the Ancient Masters Value Reason?,” in Henry Rosemont (ed.), Chinese Texts and Philosophical Contexts: Essays Dedicated to A. C. Graham (La Salle, IL: Open Court) pp. 179-209.
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Hansen, Chad. 1993 “Term Belief in Action,” in Lenk et al (ed.), Epistemological Issues in Chinese Philosophy (Buffalo: SUNY Series in Chinese Philosophy and Cu) pp. 45-68.
Hansen, Chad. 12/30/95 “Qing (Emotions) in Pre-Buddhist Chinese Thought,” in Joel Marks and Roger T. Ames (ed.), Emotions in Asian Thought (State University of New York Press) pp. 181-211.
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Schwartz, Benjamin. 1985 The World of Thought in Ancient China (Cambridge: Harvard University Press) .April 14, 2006 at 5:20 pm #12659
Wow! Great article, Snowlion.
Could you give the link for it? Is it by the Chad Hansen listed in the footnotes? One of my students studied with him in college, and said he was very inspirational.
The article is a bit heavy if you are not used to philosophical categories of discussing theories of mind and ethics. He condenses centuries of arguments to their boiled down essences, quite a feat, and not easy for most to digest easiliy.
I read this piece AFTER posting my short note on Alan Watts (below).
The point I was trying to briefly make about alan watts was made in excruciating detail here – that the Chinese mind is different from the western mind, and that difference needs to be understood in order to understand Taoist alchemical practices and their ability to focus on the chi field as mind function itself. Hansen describes the chi solution to mind as a kind of Taoist blackbox, but that’s because he is not trained in qigong or alchemical practices as a subtle energy language.
I think Hansen would agree with my comments about Alan Watts, that the categories used by the Buddhists to describe the workings of the mind rely upon very different cultural assumptions and perceptions. That they are imported from Indo-European sources, which includes India.
I used the example of being left-brain dominant (indo-european/alphabetic languages) vs. right-brain dominant (oriental/ideographic languages). This is not about right and wrong – its about understanding the difference.
The point made in hansen’s article is about differing notions of heart mind (xin) through different convolutions of time and intellectual fashion. I suggest that a more cogent view point on the Taoist understanding can be had by reading “Yuan Dao: Tracing Dao to Its Source”, a short paperback by Amex & Hall, who also did the cleanest “Taoist” translation of the DDJ in their “Daodejing: A Philosophical Translation”.
What they get clearly is that the Taoist approach is fully processual. No fixed states, no hidden dualisms inherited from Plato or other Greeks about differences between spiritual worlds and this world, between noumena and phenomena, no higher Emptiness.
Most ordinary people do not realize how deeply influential the Greeks were on Indian and sanksrit thought, which is also the foundation against which Buddhism was reacting and defining itself. To get this picture in one book, read The Shape of Ancient Thought by Thomas McEvilley. He covers lots of spiritual topics, the influence of the greeks on hindu tantrism and kundalini, etc.. Book is massive – 30 years in the making – but still readable. See if your library has it if curious.
I have been making the same point using esoteric language – by pointing out that the Buddhists are bringing in a different sets of FOUR elements (adopted from indo european esoteric systems borrowed from Egyptians, greeks, later Hindus) with a fifth invisible mediating element Ether at its center — which automatically centers them off body.
The Chinese system of FIVE elements with Earth in the center automatically centers you in body.
I made this point previously to Max in our discussions about how I felt Nan Huai Chin was blind to what Taoism fundamentally was as he had totally managed to ignore this important difference ind elemental systems. And when I read Nan’s descriptions of I Ching symbols inone of his books, I could spot him as a mental-head centered Indo-European style thinker. He treated the I Ching symbols as external and abstract symbols, in the way westerners treat words and concepts as something independent floating about like illusions inside the mind. Rather than as tones, steams of chi flow, that are happening inside our bodies as well as macrocosmically outside.
The irony of these opoposing elemental systems is that they are forced to seek other. Ether can only know itself by grounding itself in the other four elements. Earth can only eveolve itself by fusing with the other elements in order to grow awareness of its original or innate sense of earth (yuan jing, in my alchemical view).
Anyway, I have been working for a long time on my own resolution of the problems of mind-body/xin and ethics issues presented in Hansen’s article, which I believe are resolved (to the extent concepts can be resolved) by ideas to be presented in Round 7.
This is getting to be quite a build up for the Number 7…..
smiling in spirals of 7,
michaelApril 14, 2006 at 8:46 pm #12661
Thanks for the compliment Michael, I have been digging deep some of the resources I have read over time and been posting for “reading material” that relates to Daoist thought. Professor Hansens article was a saved article and I have found his website after digging in the web!April 14, 2006 at 8:47 pm #12663April 14, 2006 at 8:49 pm #12665
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