Confucian China and Its Modern Fate: The Problem of Intellectual Continuity

Confucian China and Its Modern Fate: The Problem of Intellectual Continuity

Confucian China and Its Modern Fate: The Problem of Intellectual Continuity

Confucian China and Its Modern Fate: The Problem of Intellectual Continuity

Excerpt

A traveller, who has lost his way, should not ask, 'Where am I?' What he really wants to know is, Where are the other places? He has got his own body, but he has lost them.

Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality

WITH the passing of time, ideas change. This statement is ambiguous, and less banal than it seems. It refers to thinkers in a given society, and it refers to thought. With the former shade of meaning, it seems almost a truism: men may change their minds or, at the very least, make a change from the mind of their fathers. Ideas at last lose currency, and new ideas achieve it. If we see an iconoclastic Chinese rejection, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, of traditional Chinese beliefs, we say that we see ideas changing.

But an idea changes not only when some thinkers believe it to be outworn but when other thinkers continue to hold it. An idea changes in its persistence as well as in its rejection, changes 'in itself' and not merely in its appeal to the mind. While iconoclasts relegate traditional ideas to the past, traditionalists, at the same time, transform traditional ideas in the present.

This apparently paradoxical transformation-with-preservation of a traditional idea arises from a change in its world, a change in the thinker's alternatives. For (in a Taoist manner of speaking) a thought includes what its thinker eliminates; an idea has its particular quality from the fact . . .

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