Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism

By Wing-Tsit Chan | Go to book overview

29

Some Thoughts on Ming-Qing
Neo-Confucianism

LI ZEHOU


I

SOME SCHOLARS have compared Zhu Xi with Thomas Aquinas, Spinoza, Alfred North Whitehead, and Hegel. In my opinion the Neo-Confucianism of the Song (960-1279) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties, with Zhu Xi as its most outstanding exponent, is substantially closer to Kant, for its basic characteristic is to raise ethics to the status of ontology so as to reestablish a philosophy with man as the subject. Its main epistemological ideas such as "extension of knowledge by the investigation of things" (gewu zhizhia) as well as cosmological concepts such as the Ultimate ofNonbeing (wujib), the Supreme Ultimate (taijic), principle (lid), and breath (qie 'ether' or 'material force') actually all serve to establish this ethical subjectivity and raise it to a trans-moral ontological position where it "participates with Heaven and Earth."

"Buddhism looks upon life as illusory and a void and therefore ignores the body to benefit others. Taoism takes one's self as true reality and therefore consumes elixirs to nourish life." 1 Buddhism and Taoism generally evolved their theoretical system and structure by concentrating their study on the life and death, mind and body of the individual. In propagating their doctrines and trying to show that the world is a void and everything is illusory, Buddhists deal with cosmology, world outlook, and epistemology, and this has given rise to well-defined, complete speculative philosophies. The comparatively simpler Taoism is concerned with the making of immortality pills, longevity, and meditation but therefore also has to deal with cosmological theory. These two features of Buddhism and Taoism—individual improvement and the search for cosmology and epistemology—were precisely the basic material that Zhu Xi used to construct his own moral philosophy.

It is well known that the "Explanation of the Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate" (Taijitu shuof) by Zhou Dunyig (1017-1073), the first great Neo-Confucian of the Song dynasty, retained a Taoist cosmological model, but what is important here is that Zhou Dunyi concluded from this cosmology that "the sage regulates this by the Mean, correctness, humaneness, and righteousness

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