January 13, 2007 at 9:58 pm #20450
The weekend reading…..enjoy
THE TRADITIONAL HEAVEN-MAN RELATION
The heaven-man relation has been the most important issue in Chinese traditional philosophy; relatively well developed theories regarding this relation were elaborated by the different schools. Modern society is faced with severe environmental problems; the consciousness of environment and its protection is now at an unprecedentedly high level. This makes the relation of man and nature as the environment of human life an important subject. This chapter discusses the traditional Chinese theories of the heaven-man relation, which possess great significance for environmental philosophy.
The Union of Heaven and Man
The basic idea of the Chinese traditional theory of heaven-man relation is the union of heaven and man. According to this, man lives in nature (“heaven”) of which he is a part; thus man and heaven are united. Here the problem of heaven and man is considered in connection with the problem of life, which in turn is intimately connected with the environment. Hence, heaven is significant only for man and serves as the environment for human life.
In the last analysis, for ancient Chinese philosophers, heaven and man are one in the Tao. Confucianism and Taoism gave dif-ferent meanings for Tao. Confucianism gave it mainly socio-ethical significance, whereas Taoism understood it as nature. According to Confucianism, the criteria of ethical value should be used as norms for nature (“heaven”), whereas for Taoism, the productive activity of man in using nature should be in accord with natural law. Here, the ideas of Confucianism and of Taoism are complementary and unite to form a doctrine of great significance for environmental philosophy. Human activity in using nature should serve “mans Tao”. However, this scale of ethical value is made up not according to “mans will”, but according to Tao as natural law. In other words, man follows the law of nature while observing the criterion of value which is consistent with the law. In this way, by shaping and utilizing it man protects nature in which he lives.
Human Usage of the Tao of Heaven
Another Chinese traditional theory of the heaven-man relation, namely that each has its own proper function but are mutually employed, was proposed by Liu Yuxi and Xiong Tzu. Heaven and man are different in Tao and hence in function and usage. All things in nature, including man as a living being have definite regularities as regard growth and death. As a social being man is capable of making up ethical criteria and establishing standards of value. Man and heaven function respectively in nature and society; they do not mutually intervene and cannot replace each other. But, there is a connection between the Tao of heaven and mans Tao, that is to say, man makes use of the Tao of heaven for human interests. Therefore, man should refer and improve all things in nature via using natural laws and making them benefit him. This is the mutual engagement of man and heaven.
This has important significance for environmental philosophy. In productive activity, it is imperative for man that he not only obey natural law, but also actively utilize and reshape nature according to human interests and demands. Obviously these are connected with mans Tao i.e., with social rule. It follows that this connection should form an essential link in human activity in using and remolding nature.
Today, faced with severe environmental problems and other negative results of modern science and technology, people speak of the Promethean and Faustean dilemmas. Of course, the ideal would be both a highly developed material and technological civilization and a perfect social life. Hence, in order to make full use of nature it is essential to develop an ethical social order while developing modern science and technology.
Supremacy of the Human Tao
Ancient Chinese philosophers thought that in the union of heaven and man, the two are not equal, but that mans Tao is higher than that of heaven. This notion too has great significance for envi-ronmental philosophy.
Firstly, according to this idea, man occupies a central place among all the things in nature. Heaven is capable only of producing things, but man can rule them. Heaven gives time, space and things, while man as a centre employs all these for his own existence. Broadly speaking, all these comprise the environment for human life. Man cannot exist without the environment. Thus, it is most important for human life to protect the environment as a facet of ruling things.
Secondly, the core of this idea consists in the human capability to master heaven and all things by morality which includes the two levels of individual and society. Therefore, mans Tao should be a norm also for heaven. The problems of environment and ecology are not simply ones of science and technology, but also of the morality of man and society. The morality of man and society is important for the relation of man and nature; at the same time, when making up ethical criteria, man should take extensive account of the relation of man and nature, especially the protection of the environment of human life.
Lastly, there is the argument that only after a high moral level is established can one talk about the utilization of all things in a way that is calculated to promote the happy life of human society.
Today, modern science and technology cause severe environ-mental problems while bringing forth advanced material civilization. This is due largely to the fact that the relation of man, society and nature was left to evolve spontaneously. To change this situation, man should intervene in the productive use of nature. In this the morality of man and society are the premise and basis for the or-ganization of the productive activity of science and technology, and a high quality of social life is the aim of this activity.
There were four important pairs of categories in Chinese traditional philosophy, namely Tao and Qi (things), the unponderable (metaphysics) and the ponderable, substance and use, and Tao and art (skill). They form an essential part of the theory of the heaven-human relation. As a united whole, they displayed an attitude opposite to scienticism, which is one of the sources leading to severe environmental problems. Therefore, this part of the theory of the heaven-man relation is of great significance for environmental philosophy. Qi means all the things in nature which can be perceived by the senses. Tao is the origin from which things are generated. Moreover, Tao is the principle and law governing Qi, which as the product of Tao should benefit the social life of humankind. This is a supreme principle for the relation of Tao and Qi.
The pair, unponderable-ponderable, is, as it were, an extension of the above-mentioned pair, the unponderable is invisible, hence is Tao; the ponderable is visible, hence is Qi, i.e., thing. The ponderable is the equivalent of science and technology. The theory of the unponderable-ponderable relation claimed that the theory of Tao guides and contains things; hence the metaphysics guides and contains science and technology. Obviously this is opposite to scienticism.
The pair, substance and use, unfolds the Tao-Qi relation. Tao is a bodily entity with relation to Qi; Qi is a function or use with relation to Tao. Tao is substance as primary origin, while Qi is only derived “use”. This pair further established the subordination of Tao to Qi.
All three pairs reduce finally to the pair Tao and art. Chinese ancient philosophers, such as Confucius, saw Tao as the root with art as the branches.
As regards environmental philosophy, the relation between man and nature is reduced largely to that between man, society and science and technology. Therefore, theory regarding the “Tao-art” relation is of great importance as art serves as the “branches” extending Tao. From this it follows that science and technology cannot be placed parallel to Tao and mans Tao as the ideal for the social life. Still less can science and technology be placed above man and his Tao, but only as subordinate to them. Furthermore, development, science and technology should conform to socio-ethical norms. Only by grasping properly the relation between Tao and art, can society hope to govern well the relation between Tao and Qi, that is to say, to utilize nature to the greatest extent while eliminating or minimizing any harmful results.
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