On Ethics and History: Essays and Letters of Zhang Xuecheng

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This means that the canonical texts of Confucianism are not to be understood as repositories of timeless wisdom, but as records of the actions and words of the sages in response to specific historical contexts. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This is a Chinese name ; the family name is Zhang. Categories : births deaths Chinese Confucianists Philosophers from Zhejiang Qing dynasty historians Qing dynasty philosophers Writers from Shaoxing 18th-century Chinese writers Historians from Zhejiang 19th-century Chinese historians 18th-century Chinese historians.

The Odes , Documents , and Rites are all writings for the ordering of the world.

In the Analects with twenty fascicles and Mencius with seven fascicles, more than half are discussions on administration and government. What the masters and students discussed and sought at the time were the principles of sustaining oneself, of living in the world, of refusal, of acceptance, of receiving, and of giving.

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As for [the philosophical questions of] nature and the Way of heaven, even those who were eminently upright did not hear of them. In this manner, the Confucians worked on practicality and utility, and did not value empty talks. QYTWJ: In short, wen , literary expressions and writings, must seek to realize the following practical goals: illuminating the Way mingdao , ordering the world jingshi , revealing the subtle chanyu , and rectifying customs zhengsu.

For instance, the Six Classics all came from Confucius. The early Confucians thought that his greatest achievement was the Spring and Autumn Annals. It was precisely because it was intimately related to the social realities of the time.

1. Qing Philosophy: a Period Concept

Those of the later ages who spoke about writings disregarded social realities, and discussed in an abstract manner the nature and heaven. Thus, I know they achieved nothing. Scholars who do not know such purport [of learning] are not qualified to talk about historical learning. Zhang criticized the Han learning scholars for dwelling on the trivial ceremonial details quli while neglecting and ignoring the basic political institutions jingli. The discursive production of Qing philosophy was empowered and powered by the utilitarian impulse to engender and yield utility, seeking emancipation from the moral introspection of Song-Ming thought.

As Qing philosophical thought abjured abstract pondering of metaphysical matters and questions, it turned to advocacy for ameliorative actions that directly bettered the state and society. A protuberant ideational strand that made up the Qing philosophical universe was the affirmative outlook regarding discursive knowledge and intellectual pursuit of the dao as the Way of the exterior world, supplanting the introspective endeavor and spiritual contemplation aimed at internal enlightenment and realization.

A word here about the socio-political context of this shift is necessary. As they saw it, the root cause of dynastic declension and demise was the pervasive moral and spiritual degeneration brought on by the intellectual bankruptcy of the late Ming, as learning and thinking fell under the pernicious sway of empty intuitionism and internal introspection.

A moribund culture and a weak state could only be reinvigorated with the right kind of learning that was concrete, practical, and substantive. This culture of criticism as a result placed a premium on the classics, the actual words of the ancient sages as the substantive source of authority. Antiquity itself, personified by the efficacious virtuous deeds of the sages, served as the exemplar of order and amelioration. As particular attention was lavished on the thorough, literal understanding of these texts and words, an intellectualist philosophical outlook emerged in the world of thought and learning.

If Song-Ming philosophical thought was characterized by its identification with inner moral reckoning and awakening, then the Qing counterpart was marked by its special focusing on external, objective knowledge, whose basis and point of departure were the classical texts as objects of cognitive inquiries.

Essays On Ethics

Yet, the point must be made that embedded in this rupture was continuity in some important ways. The entire Song-Ming tradition of thought was no doubt subjected to wholesale reexamination, but to begin with, the basis of their criticism and construction stemmed from a well-established preexisting strand of learning. One famous Song definition of the quintessence of the Confucian tradition by Liu Yi — identified the three principal components of ti substance, essence, spirit, principle, core, and soul , yong function, utility, practicality, application, action, and effort and wen literature, writings, philology, belles-lettres, textual learning, classical studies.

Together, they constituted the goals and contents of Confucian learning. Qing intellectualism focused on the primacy of wen as a central manifestation of yong. Moreover, the scholars, despite their general discontent with what they perceived to be empty and recondite Song-Ming learning and their desire to reform it, continued to delineate their scholarly and philosophical allegiance in terms of association with the two schools of Neo-Confucianism: the so-called Cheng-Zhu school and Lu-Wang school. In fact, many of them engaged in intellectualist enterprises precisely for the purpose of wielding philology as a weapon to defend their philosophical views while at the same time seeking to weaken and demolish those of their opponents.

Nevertheless, even though Qing intellectualism was an outgrowth of the Confucian tradition with a time-worn pedigree, it was also new in the sense that the kaozheng evidential research movement and methodology, the utmost expression of the intellectualist spirit, by virtue of its intellectual scale and density, wrought an epochal breakthrough. It came to be inescapably and unmistakably identified with the special Qing way of construing reality and the world.

Kaozheng scholarship opened up hermeneutic issues of interpretation. As Benjamin Elman has pointed out, the classics as a whole were unproblematically recognized as assent-eliciting cultural and textual capital, but once they were subjected to interrogation as individual separate texts, dissent and disquiet arose. The authenticity of some texts came to be questioned; their places in the heterogeneous commentarial came to be debated; their authority came to be reassessed; and the manner of retrieving the antique messages came to be argued.

In short, the classics were historicized. Moreover, what began as studies of the classics spilled over into other areas of inquiry—bronze artifacts, pre-Qin thinkers and texts, history, geography, cosmology, science, and so on. Gu Yanwu, in the early Qing, asserted that the study of principle lixue was irredeemably contracted to the study of the classics jingxue. According to him, in ancient times, any study of principle was perforce an investigation of the classics, in which the basis and operation of principle could be discerned and understood.

Hence his research of ancient phonology:. I think that the study of the Nine Classics should begin with textual analysis, and the study of textual analysis should begin with a knowledge of phonology. It is the same with the study of all the various philosophers and the hundred schools.

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He rejected the totalizing methodology of yiguan zhi fa the way of connecting everything , which was the epistemological orientation of Song-Ming learning that eschewed and swamped concrete particulars. Wang Fuzhi also repudiated the Neo-Confucian epistemological assertions of the possibility of mingjie esoteric understanding and miaowu mysterious enlightenment , both which were anti-intellectualist in conception, in that they referred to direct intuitive apprehension of the truth without the intervention of actual study. When its name is known, then its significance is known.

Without contact with things, even if the mind-heart is imbued with its innate ability, [it] cannot name the names, and things cannot be accomplished. He defined their inexorable interrelation and interaction in the quest for knowledge:. The effort of the investigation of things employs both the faculty of the mind-heart, and hearing and seeing. Study and inquiry are the mainstay, aided by thinking and distinguishing between differences…. Hearing and seeing are the resources for the functioning of the mind-heart, setting the direction for it to follow.

In the eighteenth century, when the kaozheng evidential research movement held sway, the common consensus was that learning must be concrete and empirical. Qian Daxin said it well:. There are first writings and words wenzi and then there are philological explications of the classics.

There are first philological explications and then there are moral principles. Philological explications of the classics are the sources from which moral meanings are derived. Here, he explicitly affirmed the importance of following the way of inquiry and learning, warning against exclusive focus on the realization of our putatively moral nature.

This intellectualist stance was shared by Dai Zhen, who also waxed rhetorical:. Thus, the intellectualist quest was antecedent to any attempt to apprehend principle and the nature:. To seek the most appropriate [principles] means that knowledge comes first. In no way does sagely learning ever call for eliminating selfishness without also seeking to remove befuddlement, or emphasizing action without first emphasizing knowledge.

In sum, intellectualism, as a leitmotif in the constellation of Qing philosophy, expresses itself in two ways. As a methodology, it referred to the pursuit of inferential and empirical knowledge, most prominently manifested in textual philological research.

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As a philosophical outlook, it reevaluated and revised the central Neo-Confucian notion of internal self-cultivation aimed at spontaneous realization of the heaven-endowed moral nature, arguing instead in favor of the quest for external knowledge mediated by the noetic senses. Intellectual cognitive faculties would take precedence over the intuitive power of the mind-heart. Qing Philosophy First published Tue Apr 16, Qing Philosophy: a Period Concept 2.

Vitalism: Metaphysical Reorientation 3. Historicism: Contingency and Constancy 4. Utilitarianism: Thought and Action 5. Primary Sources Quoted B. Overview: General Surveys and Studies C. Intellectual Movements, Issues, and Traditions D. Qing Philosophy: a Period Concept To assert and describe the newness of Qing philosophical thinking about the manifold dimensions of reality in late imperial China is to highlight a sense of departure from the immediate past, that is, to trace the transition from the Song-Ming mode of thinking to the Qing one by pinpointing the disjunction and continuity.

Vitalism: Metaphysical Reorientation Vitalism as an expression of Qing philosophy focused on evidence provided by the self, the body, and external things.

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