Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism

By Wing-Tsit Chan | Go to book overview
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Chu Hsi's Methodology and
Theory of Understanding


Significance and Methodology of "Investigating Things"

ALTHOUGH CHU HSI'S PHILOSOPHY is traditionally called the philosophy or learning of principle (li-hsüeha), the goal of his philosophy is to realize the potential nature of mind and eventually to realize the true nature of heaven and earth or the Way (Taob). In this sense his philosophy should be more properly titled philosophy or learning of original substance (pen-t'i-chih-hsüehc). But there is nevertheless great significance in calling his philosophy that of lid (principle). This significance lies in marking out both a methodological involvement and an ontological commitment as designated by the term "principle." As we have seen, li is no doubt ontologically denotative: it is the ordering and the resulting ordered structure of a thing. But we also point out that there is a subject-oriented meaning for li: li is the ordering activity of mind, and consequently in this sense we can say that mind exhibits li as a function and as a capacity. We may naturally conceive li in this sense as rationality or intelligence. It is the investigating power of mind. It is composed of perceptive, discernmental, judgmental, and thinking activities of mind, and yet it remains a unity of all these. This irreducible unity of mind is what provides mind the inexhaustible resources to continue its many mental activities. We may simply regard mind as having both the analytical and the synthetic capacities : in the employment of these capacities order and structure are revealed and their significances and relevances recognized. Li can be therefore said to be the logical-scientific or analytical-synthetic activity and capacity of mind.

A third significance of li is this: Li is the resulting concept or system of concepts of intellectual activities of mind, which not only reveal the order and ordered structures of things, but provide clarity for whatever corresponding ideas there are in one's mind. As we have seen, mind in its ontological dimension has li as its nature, or more precisely, has principle and vitality (li-ch'ie) as its nature (hsingf). Thus li inherent in mind can be said to be clarified in light of the resulting conceptual systems from the mind-activities. This latent li, however, as we shall see, is more complicated. It must be dialectically con

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