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Abstract

A comparative study of the thinkers of China is meant to stimulate philosophical dialogue and not to deliver the observations of the “Man from Mars − the Western reader”.1 There has been an ongoing debate regarding the validity of interpreting the classical texts of China in the framework of Western philosophical categories and applying classical precepts to contemporary philosophical discussions. While it has been acknowledged that there are differences in cultural traditions, there is also an increasing awareness of the need for sustained and systematic efforts toward formulating philosophical foundations which incorporate diverse intellectual perspectives. Specific topics discussed in the paper are: the parallels between Socrates as a gadfly and Confucius as a wooden bell; “confrontational hermeneutics” (a hermeneutics oriented toward having “a confrontation with a text or a tradition which pays careful attention to otherness of text or tradition”); convergent and divergent evolution of ideas; the parallels between the Book of Odes and Homeric epics; analogical reasoning from India, China, and Greece to Wittgenstein.
Reflecting on the continuity of ideas between the philosophical thought of China and the West, we discover a vantage point from which the ideas can be approached with a fresh mind. In the philosophical legacy of China the familiar ideas and problems of Western philosophy are cast in a new light. Philosophical ideas, insofar as they are discoveries and inventions of the human mind, resonate across the ages and across geographical and cultural boundaries.

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Leaping into the boundless

Let us forget the passage of time and forget the distinctions. Delve into the infinite and abide in the limitless! (Zhuangzi 2)

  • 2 Waley 1982: 13.
  • 3 Clarke 1997: 177-178.
  • 4 LaFargue 1992.

1Even when exploring the unknown terrains of comparative studies means leaping into the boundless, a comparative study of the thinkers of China is meant to stimulate philosophical dialogue and not to put forward the observations of the “Man from Mars – the Western reader”.2There is an initial uncertainty about whether the ideas of the philosophers of China can be translated accurately and how correct our understanding of the texts can be. There has been an ongoing debate regarding the validity of interpreting the classical texts of China in the framework of Western philosophical categories and applying classical precepts to contemporary philosophical discussions. It has been argued that it is necessary “to take accounts of the historical and cultural distance” between the texts of different cultural traditions, and “not to imagine that the West can simply […] adopt alien intellectual traditions wholesale”.3 “Confrontational hermeneutics”, a hermeneutics oriented toward having “a confrontation with a text or a tradition which pays careful attention to otherness of text or tradition”, has been put forward as the more accurate approach to studying texts from diverse traditions.4 While it has been acknowledged that there are differences in cultural traditions, there is also an increasing awareness of the need for sustained and systematic efforts toward formulating philosophical foundations which incorporate diverse intellectual perspectives.

  • 5 Gernet 1999.
  • 6 Höchsmann 2003.
  • 7 Zhuangzi 2006.

2An exploration of philosophical thought in China is an important part of understanding the development of the human mind. Philosophy in China, beginning with the Book of Changes (Yijing, 1200 BCE), spans over three thousand years.5 Reflecting on the continuity of ideas between the philosophical thought of China and the West, we discover a vantage point from which the ideas can be approached with a fresh mind. In the philosophical legacy of China the familiar ideas and problems of Western philosophy are cast in a new light.6 In reading the texts of Laozi (ca. 604-531 BCE), Confucius (551-479BCE), Mozi (fl. 479-438 BCE), Zhuangzi (ca. 365-290 BCE), and Wang Yangming (1473-1529), the precise terms of the explanations may appear remote from the present, but the essential ideas are timeless and are at the core of all philosophical activity.7 How are we to live? How can there be individual and common flourishing? How can we be free and equal? What is real? What can we know? What is the highest happiness? Philosophical ideas, insofar as they are discoveries and inventions of the human mind, resonate across the ages and across geographical and cultural boundaries. The immediacy of the topics and the continuity of the philosophical exploration of ideas make it possible for us to engage in the ongoing dialogue with the philosophers from the seventh century BCE to the present.

Convergent and divergent evolution of ideas

Shall I teach you the meaning of knowledge? When you know a thing, to recognize that you know it; and when you do not, to know that you do not know – that is knowledge (Analects 2.17).

  • 8 For the convergence and the divergence in Indian and Greek thought, see Höchsmann 2016: 71-86.

3There is a striking similarity between Socrates’ view that wisdom begins with knowing that one does not possess knowledge and Confucius’ view of knowledge. The parallels and differences in the development of theoretical and empirical knowledge and practice across cultures can be explored with the concepts of convergent and divergent evolutions. In convergent evolution organisms not closely related independently develop similar traits in response to similar environments. Divergent evolution occurs when two groups of the same species develop distinct traits in response to different environmental factors.8 Confucian and Socratic philosophy can be compared in terms of convergent and divergent evolution of ideas.

4Socrates’ task in the political sphere as “gadfly which god has attached to the state” always “arousing and persuading and reproaching” the Athenian people (Apology 30e) and Confucius’s task as a “wooden bell” employed by heaven alerting the people of moral turpitude and political turmoil (Analects 3.24) are parallel. Confucian humility is akin to Socratic humility. Confucius believed that he is a transmitter and not an originator of knowledge. Socrates emphasizes that he has no knowledge of his own to impart and that he merely assists in the birth of knowledge (Theaetetus). Confucius stresses the constant awareness of his own moral imperfection and ignorance and the need for persistent effort in correcting his mistakes through critical self-examination and “unwavering pursuit of wisdom.”

Neglect in the cultivation of character, lack of thoroughness in study, incompetence to move towards recognized duty, inability to correct my imperfection […] these are what cause me solicitude (Analects 7.3).

5Unlike the writings of Plato, the Analects is a discursive record of Confucian sayings and neither a consummate literary composition nor a series of compelling arguments sustained in a philosophical dialogue. Its informal structure has been compared to Presocratic writing. We need to piece together the statements and the questions to construct arguments. But once such a reconstruction is made the similarity in the flow of thought and expression to the Socratic dialogues emerges. Socratic method and Confucian method are comparable. Initially both are destructive. There is a common core of scepticism in their approach regarding the reliability of general experience and sense perception. Confucius is described as being entirely without preconceptions. Neither Socrates nor Confucius can resist the urge to question what is customarily taken for truth. The sophists, relativists, and subjectivists of ancient China and Greece questioned the objectivity of knowledge while being certain of the relative merits of each individual’s claim to knowledge. The scepticism of Confucius and Socrates, on the other hand, is about their own individual ability to know the truth. Both Socrates and Confucius are certain about the possibility of objective knowledge and the mind’s ability to acquire it. Socratic doubt and Confucian uncertainty are about the unreliability of the general claim to knowledge based on individual experience and not about the capacity of human mind, reason, and intellect to know the nature of things.

  • 9 Kitto 1991: 169. Kitto’s explanation of the Greek mind also characterizes the philosophical thought (...)

6The dynamism of philosophical thought throughout the history of China was generated by multiple opposing strands. In the classical period (500-200 BCE) in the battle of ideas among “the Hundred Schools of philosophy”, as the rival schools of thought vigorously put forward initially contrary theses, their conclusions incorporate rather than annihilate the opposing views in a broader frame of reference. The discernment of sharp differences is seen as a part of the greater whole as the yin and yang are complementary and not opposites within the circumference of the same circle. The philosophical approach taken in China tends to see things and ideas in terms of relations or relatedness rather than in isolation. The philosophical sensibility of China is synthetic, whereas in the West it is analytic. To take the widest view and to see things as an organic whole so that even the particular details and the individual events are fixed firmly into a universal frame – this is perhaps the most characteristic feature of philosophical thought in China.9

7Philosophical writing in China, in comparison with the traditions in the West, is remarkably free of technical vocabulary comprehensible only to the scholars. Because the explanation of the nature of ultimate reality and the search for the realization of the ethical life are not built on competing philosophical systems but on a foundation of shared insights, the continuity of philosophical dialogue yields perspectives which are successive refinements of earlier formulations rather than a series of conjectures and refutations. In place of clarity and distinctness we find the inherited vocabulary which has taken on an accretion of meaning; we need to work through the complexity of accumulated layers of interpretations which can stand in the way of our grasping the meanings.

8In contrast to philosophical texts in the West, philosophical writing in China is imbued with vigorous directness and terseness of expression and does not aim at a systematic exposition of a body of doctrine. Several interconnected ideas are expressed simultaneously in one context and what the texts really mean becomes the main subject of the debate. There is a general impression that philosophy in the East is less philosophical in the sense that it emphasizes the preservation of scholarly tradition, whereas philosophy in the West is practiced as independent rational inquiry. Contrasting views on rationality of Chinese philosophy have been put forward. A. C. Graham concludes that

  • 10 Graham 1997: 7.

Rational demonstration had a much smaller place in Chinese than in Greek thought; indeed there is none at all in the famous books from which the general reader gets his idea of Chinese ‘philosophy’, the Analects of Confucius, Lao Tzu, the Yi.10

  • 11 Lloyd 2018.

9G.E.R. Lloyd, on the other hand, argues that classical Greek and Chinese texts demonstrate the centrality of rationality and advocates that the false dichotomy of rationality and irrationality be jettisoned.11 There is also the view that philosophical thought in China embodies a more advanced form of rationality.

  • 12 The I Ching Or Book of Changes (Ching, Oxtoby 1992: xv-xxviii).
  • 13 Leibniz 1988.

10The thinkers of the Enlightenment who sought encyclopaedic knowledge through direct and rational investigation of all fields of experience and thought held the rationalism of philosophical thought China in high esteem. Leibniz, who investigated the possibility of constructing a universal concept language in which ideas can be expressed with directness and clarity long before the invention of the formal notations of symbolic logic, responded enthusiastically to the mathematical implications of diagrammatic representations of philosophical ideas in the Book of Changes, Yijing.12 Recognizing the common endeavour of the search for knowledge, Leibniz discerned parallels between Confucius and Presocratic natural philosophers.13 Regarding the laws in China, Leibniz wrote that

  • 14 Id. 1957: 68-70.

[I]t is difficult to describe how beautifully all the laws of the Chinese, in contrast to those of other peoples, are directed to the achievement of public tranquility and the establishment of social order, so that men shall be disrupted in their relations as little as possible…. They would be wise indeed if they were alone in the world.14

11Christian Wolff, who believed that both theology and ethics could be founded entirely on natural reason, admired the philosophical thought of China. Diderot writes:

  • 15 Reichwein 2007: 92; Durant 1963: 639.

These peoples are superior to all other people of Asia in antiquity, art, intellect, wisdom, policy, and in their taste for philosophy; in the judgment of certain authors, they dispute the palm in these matters with the most enlightened peoples of Europe.15

12Voltaire states:

  • 16 Voltaire 1927: 19; Reichwein 2007: 89ff; Durant 1963: 639.

The body of this empire has existed for four thousand years, without having undergone any major alteration in its laws, customs, language, or even in its fashions of apparel. The organization of this empire is in truth the best that the world has ever seen.16

  • 17 For a succinct summary of representative comparative studies, see Mutschler 2018: 2-3.

13While recent comparative studies vary in subject matter and method, “interdisciplinary”, “multidisciplinary”, and “transdisciplinary” approaches have the common feature of incorporating various disciplines in systematic comparative analyses of different fields of study, science, classics, literature, history, and philosophy.17 There is a common task of diverse approaches to comparative philosophy: to explain the ideas of the philosophers, insofar as possible, without relying on a technical vocabulary familiar only to the scholars in the field, in a language free of philosophical presuppositions. But in a comparative study of philosophers working from distinct traditions a neutral vocabulary is not ready at hand. One task of comparative philosophy then is to discover the core concepts underlying the different frames of reference.

  • 18 Kennedy 1998: 1. In a “cross-cultural study of rhetorical traditions” Kennedy seeks to “identify wh (...)

14Given the broad spectrum of philosophical enterprise the scope of comparative philosophy can be explored in the intersections of philosophy, classics, literature, history, anthropology, and linguistics. In current comparative research the texts as well as the methods of analyses frequently overlap in ethics, aesthetics, epistemology, rationality, analogical reasoning, rhetoric, and scientific knowledge.18 Incorporating recent interdisciplinary comparative research of intertextual analyses, comparative philosophy can advance the task of conceptual clarification and explore the possibility of reciprocal enhancement of understanding among disciplines and cultures.

15Comparative philosophy can be valuable in providing a fresh perspective from which ideas can be studied but its foremost significance consists in presenting a wider range of possible approaches to philosophical problems. The objective of a transdisciplinary approach to comparative philosophy is to configure a common conceptual framework and to formulate questions emerging at the intersection of disciplines closely connected with philosophy and have common texts as resources. What enables a transdisciplinary approach is the polyvalent nature of texts themselves. The meaning, form, function, and receptions of texts in comparative studies converge and also diverge. The present study explores the Book of Odes and Homeric Epics and analogical reasoning in Greek, Chinese, and Indian philosophy. Confucius’ reading of the Odes can be regarded as seeking to resolve “the ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy” and to provide a response to Plato’s criticism of Homer and the poets in the Republic. A comparative study of parallel metaphors in analogical reasoning can enhance our understanding of seemingly untranslatable concepts in distinct traditions.

The Book of Odes and Homeric epics
The morning glory climbs above my head,
Pale flowers of white and purple, blue and red.
I am disquieted.
Down in the withered grasses something stirred;
I thought it was his footfall that I heard.
Then a grasshopper chirred.
I climbed the hill as the new moon showed,
I saw him coming on the southern road,
My heart lays down its load.

  • 19 Doren 1928: 1. I am indebted to Dr. Anne Bongrain for her comments on Berlioz’s lively remarks on C (...)
  • 20 In Fêtes et chansons Marcel Granet proposed that the spring and autumn festival cycle in the Book o (...)
  • 21 Wilhelm 1989, Höchsmann 2006: 213-228.
  • 22 Wittgenstein 1998: 29.
  • 23 Monk 1990: 177.
  • 24 Barnes 2001: 3, 45.
  • 25 “From which all rivers…”
  • 26 Barnes 2001: 187.

16Accompanying himself on the zither in the grove of apricots, while his disciples were studying, Confucius might well have sung this ode.19 The Homeric epics and the Book of Odes (Shijing, Book of Songs), being central to the development of civilization of Greece and China, are apposite texts to begin a comparative study of the beginning and development of philosophy and poetry.20 At the origin of philosophy in China and Greece (Laozi’s Dao De Jing and the texts of Presocratic philosophers) the philosophical ideas were expressed in poetic form and language.21 The close connection between philosophy and poetry has been also emphasized by Wittgenstein who wrote that “Philosophy should really be written only as one would write poetry”22 and that Tractatus Logico-Philsophicus is “strictly philosophical and at the same time literary”.23 Zhuangzi’s writings have been celebrated for the poetic inventiveness as well as for the originality of his insight. Empedocles’ poetic flourishes led Aristotle to criticize him for writing too well. The conception of the nature and origin of the universe in Homer’s poems subsequently developed into substantial scientific and philosophical topics in Presocratic thought.24 The sources for the ideas of the first of the Presocratic philosophers, Thales (ca. 625-545 BCE), have been traced to Homer and Hesiod. Xenophanes’ view that everything comes from earth and water (B 33) is also attributed to Homer (Iliad, xxi, 195).25 Anaxagoras is regarded as the first to have thought that Homer’s poetry is concerned with virtue and justice.26 Democritus wrote:

What a poet says with enthusiasm and divine inspiration is very fine (B 18).
Homer, having a nature divinely inspired, fashioned a world of words of every sort
(B 25).

17Homer’s usage of term psyche, soul, to designate the force which keeps the human being alive is further developed by Heraclitus who wrote: “You could not find the ends of the soul though you travelled every way, so deep is its logos” (B 45). Homer’s distinction between psyche, thumos (emotion), and nous (intellect) is further developed in Plato’s tripartite soul: thumos (spirit), epithumia (appetite), logistikos (reason).

18While acknowledging the influences of the East on Greece, Bruno Snell emphasizes the significance of isolating specific elements of Greek thought for a clear understanding of its origins.

  • 27 Snell 1953: ix; 1986.

To isolate the specifically European element in the development of Greek thought, we need not set it off against Oriental elements. Doubtless the Greeks inherited many concepts and motifs from the ancient civilizations of the East, but in the field which we have been discussing they are clearly independent of the Orient. Through Homer we have come to know early European thought in poems of such length that we need not hesitate to draw our conclusions, if necessary, ex silentio.27

  • 28 Goethe 1921: 2.3; Snell 1953: 277.

19Snell’s philological approach does not contravene the present comparative approach. Snell’s research provides the necessary foundation for understanding the development of a specific philosophical tradition and is compatible with the present comparative study of the Book of Odes and Homer which builds on the study of the texts from its immediate historical settings as points of departure. Goethe’s view that “poetry is a possession of the whole world, of the people, and not just the private property of a few refined, cultured men” renders further support for comparative research.28

  • 29 Waley 1978.
  • 30 Drawing upon the reservoir of the poetry of China, Goethe expresses the elective affinity he found (...)
  • 31 Mutschler 2018: note 16, 4.

20The Book of Odes consists of three hundred and five poems ranging over a thousand years from the ancient compositions of the Shang dynasty (1600-1100 BCE).29 According to tradition Confucius selected the poems from three thousand. Most of the verses written before Confucius’ time have not survived. In the age of disorder the basis of language, literature, art and philosophy was laid.30 The Homeric epics and the Book of Odes are imbued with ideas and perceptions of universal resonance and a dynamic awareness of the vivid encounters in life. The themes common to the Book of Odes and the Homeric epics comprise friendship and love, tragedy of strife and war, transience of life, and constancy of nature. In a systematic comparative reading of the two text corpora Fritz-Heiner Mutschler concludes that there are significant similarities and differences in moral, social, and political values and beliefs (for instance, Greek individualism and Chinese communitarianism) and suggests that our understanding of the texts can lead to a deeper understanding of the fundamental aspects of the cultures in which they have originated.31 Homeric epics and the Book of Odes might be regarded as representative “cultural texts” or “foundational texts” in which the Western and the Chinese traditions find valid expressions of their world views.

  • 32 Jullien 2004: 111ff.
  • 33 Beecroft 2010: 278, 108.

21François Jullien incorporates structural anthropology, sinology, and Greek philosophy and literature in his study of poetry, literary theory, and philosophical texts ranging from Laozi and Confucius to Zhuangzi. Jullien discerns “incitement”, “indirect discourse”, and “globality” as the central characteristics which are distinct from the focus in Western texts on “inspiration”, directness, and individual essences. Jullien contrasts the “indirect discourse” and the “allusive incitement” in the Book of Odes with the “mimetic representation” in Homeric epics as the foremost concepts in Chinese and Western poetics.32 In opposition to Jullien’s emphasis on the differences between the two texts, Alexander Beecroft maintains that archaic Greek and classical Chinese poetic traditions have common features in their affective-expressive as well as mimetic aspects.33

22In the poetic traditions of China and Greece, the function of poetry in the political sphere was emphasized. While the poems in the Book of Odes are not always explicitly moral or didactic, Confucius’ interpretation of the significance of poetry is in unison with Plato’s conception of the moral function of poetry in the Republic (Book 10). Confucius states: “Though the Odes number three hundred, one phrase can cover them all, namely, ‘with uncorrupted thoughts’” (Analects 2.2). Plato’s concern with the moral and political function of poetry continues to reverberate in the present. Referring to the task of poetry in society Seamus Heaney has emphasized “the idea of poetry’s answer” to the crisis in the individual and in the world:

  • 34 Heaney 1996: 1.

[R]esponsible poetry, and the idea of poetry’s answer, its responsibility, being given in its own language rather than in the language of the world that provokes it, that too, has been one of my constant themes.34

  • 35 Ibidem.

23Behind “defences and justifications” of the value of poetry, Heaney finds Plato “calling into question whatever special prerogatives or useful influences poetry would claim for itself within the polis.” Heaney affirms that “Plato’s world of ideal forms also provides the court of appeal to which poetic imagination seeks to redress whatever is wrong or exacerbating in the prevailing conditions”.35 Confucius, Plato, and Heaney are in unison regarding the capacity of poetry to engage the world in a formative and transformative activity. It is not the readiness to welcome the poets but the initial expulsion of Homer and the poets which occupies the foreground of the discussions of poetry in the Republic and in subsequent readings of Plato.  But if Plato left the matters there, he would have merely mitigated the severity of Heraclitus’ (B 42) and Xenophanes’ (B 11) castigation of Homer and Hesiod. Here we have Plato’s invitation to Homer to kallipolis:

But nevertheless let it be declared that if the mimetic and melodious poetry can show any reason for their existence in a well-governed state, we would gladly admit her, since we ourselves are very conscious of her enchantment… Are you not entranced, especially when she appears in Homer?
Then may she not justly return from this exile after she has supplied her defence, whether in lyric or in other metre?
And we would further grant to those of her defenders who are lovers of poetry and yet not poets to speak in prose on her behalf and let them show that she is not only delightful but also beneficial to well-ordered government and all the life of man. And we shall listen with good will for we shall certainly profit if it can be shown that she confers not only delight but also benefit (Republic 607 c-e).

24Confucius’ emphasis on how poetry can activate the mind, enhance perception, animate social relations, fulfil moral and political obligations, and teach us about nature might provide a response to Plato’s invitation to the poets:

  • 36 Waley 1938.

The Odes can stimulate the mind, can train the observation, can encourage social intercourse, and can alleviate the vexations of life. From them one can learn how to fulfil one’s more immediate duties to one’s father, and the more remote duties to one’s ruler. And in them one may become widely acquainted with the names of birds, beasts, plants and trees (Analects 17.9).36
A man who does not learn the odes of the Zhou-nan and Shao-nan is like a man standing with his face to a wall (Analects 17.10)

25Confucius does not value knowledge of poetry for its own sake but for its practical application.

A man may be able to recite the three hundred Odes, but when given a post in the administration, he proves to be without practical ability, or when sent on a mission he is unable to answer a question, although his knowledge is extensive, of what use is it? (Analects 13.5)

26Heaney’s understanding of poetic imagination as creating ways to move towards clarity is consonant with Confucius’ recognition of the significance of poetry for life:

  • 37 Heaney 1996: 191.

[I]f our given experience is a labyrinth, then its impassability is countered by the poet’s imagining some equivalent of the labyrinth and bringing himself and the reader through it.37

  • 38 W.H. Auden’s conception of poetic faculties referred to by Heaney 1996: 5.
  • 39 Ibidem.

27In the presentation of an equivalent in imagination of the labyrinth of experience and envisaging a path through the labyrinth of experience, poetry as “reasoned thought” engages directly with the central problems of philosophy. The poetic faculties of “making, judging, and knowing” are also philosophical faculties.38 The Homeric epics and the Odes are consonant with the philosophical endeavour as they present how it might be possible to balance the “scales of reality towards some transcendent equilibrium” and not under the yoke of external necessity but from “a fundamentally self-delighting inventiveness”.39 

Analogical reasoning from India, China, and Greece to Wittgenstein

Hold all things in your love, favouring and supporting none specially.
Be infinite like space and as limitless as the four directions – they are boundless and form no enclosures (Zhuangzi 17).

28A comparative study of analogical reasoning renders support for the hypothesis that there is a transcultural dimension to reasoning which flows through East and West. Three illustrations of analogical reasoning in the metaphysics, ethics, and epistemology are: the road of Parmenides and the way of Laozi, the chariot of the soul in the Plato’s Phaedrus and the Upanishads, and the raft and the ladder in Buddhism and in Wittgenstein. Parmenides (b. ca.540 BCE) and Laozi invoke the metaphor of the road and the way to elucidate the processes of reality, which are ungenerated, imperishable and present in all that exists. We begin by taking the road with Parmenides:

  • 40 Diels, Kranz 1951: B8.

A single story of a road is left – that it is.
And on it are signs very many in number – that, being, it is ungenerated and undestroyed, whole, of one kind and motionless, and balanced.40

  • 41 Barnes 1982: 176; 1979.

29Of the eternity and the unity of Being, Parmenides, “the first full-blooded metaphysician” in the West, taking the same metaphor of a road expounds a metaphysical argument regarding the attributes of “what is” (to eon) or “true reality” (alêtheia).41 Parmenides’ idea of the eternity and the unity of Being has an affinity with the metaphysical conception of the dao (way) as the ultimate reality in Laozi.

30The celebrated opening of the Dao De Jing announces the extent of the dao and the limitation of our effort in describing it as well as the unbridgeable gap between words and what they aim at.

The dao that can be expressed is not the eternal Dao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name (Dao De Jing 1).

31Laozi declares that the dao is indefinable. Words describe objects and their properties by drawing boundaries around the objects. But if we have a process, the dao, whose characteristics are infinite, there are no finite sets of words that can fully capture its meaning. The dao cannot be circumscribed within the boundary of words and things. All that is written about it in the Dao De Jing and other texts are at best only approximations.

32The metaphors of the road and the way elucidate both the ontological process of reality, what exists and the process of knowledge, ascertaining what is true. Setting the two texts in an intertextual dialogue, Parmenides’ distinction between two roads or ways enquiry, “the Way of Truth” and “the Way of Opinion” can be compared to Laozi’s dao that cannot be spoken of and the dao that can be spoken of. Parmenides’ thesis that everything which exists is permanent, ungenerated, indestructible, and unchanging and that there is no coming into existence, or ceasing to exist corresponds to Laozi’s idea of the dao as being primordial and uncreated. From the metaphysical thesis of the eternity of Being, Parmenides derives an epistemological corollary that we can only enquire into that which exists. Parmenides’ thesis regarding the impossibility of enquiring about “what is not” (“that which does not exist”) can be further supported by Laozi’s “the dao that can be spoken of is not the true dao”. For in speaking of the dao, in being mistaken about what the true dao is, we are enquiring about “what is” and not enquiring about “what is not”.

  • 42 For Laozi’s ethics of non-violence, justice as benevolence, and Zhuangzi’s development of dao as fr (...)

33Laozi’s main concern is not only metaphysics of the dao but also the dao as primarily a moral concept, whereas Parmenides’ focus is on the metaphysics of Being.42 On the one hand, Dao De Jing begins with the observation about how the dao is beyond language, beyond full comprehension and full realization in actions. On the other hand, the Dao De Jing calls forth discursive rational arguments to comprehend the dao as constituting reality, knowledge, and morality and for acting in accordance with the knowledge of the dao. Laozi’s efforts in the Dao De Jing to articulate that which is beyond conceptual formulation and beyond description in words brings to the foreground a central philosophical topic from Parmenides, Plato, and Nietzsche to Wittgenstein: the tension between reality and the adequacy of language as a means of apprehending it.

34The metaphor of the chariot of the soul in Plato’s Phaedrus and in the Katha Upanishad elucidates the composite nature of psyche and atman signifying the conflicting forces within the soul which need to be harmonized.

Let us liken the soul to a pair of winged horses and a driver… one of the horses is noble and good but the other is of opposite breed and character (Phaedrus 246 a-c).
Know the Self as the chariot-master and the body as the chariot; know buddhi (higher intellect, reason) to be the charioteer and the mind as the reins. The senses are the horses and the sense-objects, the pathways (Katha Upanishad, 3.3-5).

  • 43 A further instance of analogical reasoning can be mentioned: the stars as souls in Plato and for th (...)

35The soul is not a static substance but a movement or an activity or a dynamic process striving to attain unity, harmony, moral autonomy, and freedom. In the Timaeus Plato relates that before the souls first entered the individual bodies, the demiourgos placed each in a star, “mounting them as it were in chariots” (41d-e).43 The emphasis on the intellect and its function in the Katha Upanishad has some points of similarity to reason represented by the charioteer in the Phaedrus: only when the intellect is the driver can the soul attain true understanding of itself as brahman (Katha Upanishad, 3.6-9).

36The Buddha compares his teaching to a raft to carry the people across the river of rebirth. Once ashore, his teachings can be dispensed with.

  • 44 Alagaddupama Sutta Majjhima Nikaya (Middle-length Discourses) 22. R. Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism, (...)

My teaching is like a raft used to cross the river. Only a fool would carry the raft about after he had already reached the shore of liberation.44

37There is a parallel between the Buddha’s conception of his teaching as practice and Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophy as an activity and not a theory or a system. Wittgenstein urges us to throw away the ladder when we have climbed up on it.

  • 45 Wittgenstein 2001: 6.54.

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognises them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.45

  • 46 In this Wittgenstein’s philosophical method is aligned also with the methods of classical Chinese p (...)

38Wittgenstein emphasized that philosophical insights do not arise from constructing theories or arguments but by considering examples and analogies.46 Both Buddha and Wittgenstein are certain that their expositions will take us to the point where they will no longer be necessary. Once we attain liberation in Buddhism, what need is there for knowledge since all knowledge was to reach liberation? At the end of the Tractatus, we have reached the end of the world – “The world is all that is the case” –There is nowhere then the ladder can take us to. We conclude with Zhuangzi who points towards beyond the end of the world “to the subtle depths of the dao”.

“The source of resplendent amplitude – the gate of the deepest enigma”

The stranger replied, “I have heard that if the person is someone with whom you can walk together, then go with him to the subtle depths of the dao (Zhuangzi 32).

  • 47 Dixsaut 2018: xii.
  • 48 Similar conclusions are reached by W. Scheidel and also by G.E.R. Lloyd, who concludes: “The chief (...)
  • 49 Lloyd 2004. In response to G.E.R. Lloyd’s view that the concept of human nature is not universal it (...)
  • 50 Fung 1952; Höchsmann 2004a.

39A comparative perspective is not one of coalescence but an open-ended enquiry regarding its aims and reasons for developing it further. It is a rigorous counterpoint in which “the superimposition of two melodic lines that tolerate dissonance”.47 By observing alternatives the assumptions of one’s own perspective becomes less self-evident and awareness of what is possible increases accordingly.48 While it is open to debate whether there are no irreducible concepts for which there are no counterparts in other systems of thought,49 when we read the philosophical writings of China, what is noteworthy is that the same questions keep coming up: whether human nature is good or bad (Mencius, Gaozi, Xunzi, fl. 298-238 BCE), justice as benevolence (Laozi, Zhuangzi), freedom and equality (Zhuangzi, Confucius, Kang Youwei, 1858-1927), the ethics of universal love (Mozi, Mencius, Wang Yangming), and our duty to assist all (Mozi, l479-438 BCE; Zhang Zai, 1020-1077).50 The ideas are expressed differently and presented in a different form but the fundamental philosophical and practical concerns are parallel. We find that there are clear points of convergence of ethical values and beliefs. Philosophical ideas, insofar as they are discoveries and inventions of the human mind, resonate across the ages and geographical and cultural boundaries.

  • 51 Barnes 1982: xii.

40When we study the philosophical thought of China we are able to grasp in one long sustained breath the entire range of ideas produced by intense and persistent endeavours of the life of the mind which have originated nearly three thousand years ago and are vibrantly alive in our present. Philosophy inhabits supracelestial realm of ideas beyond the confines of place and time.51

41We began our comparative study of the thinkers of China with Zhuangzi’s invitation to leap into the boundless. What awaits us as we continue to delve into the infinite?

I will move upward with you to the height of the immense light until we reach the source of the resplendent amplitude. I will enter with you the gate of the deepest enigma until we reach the source of the dark restraint (Zhuangzi 11).

42East China Normal University

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Barnes, J., 1982, The Presocratic Philosophers, 2nd edn, London, Routledge.

Barnes, J., 2001, Early Greek Philosophy, London, Penguin.

Beecroft, A., 2010, Authorship and Cultural identity in Early Greece and China: Patterns of Literary Circulation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Bongrain, A., Coudroy-Saghaï M.-H. (eds), 2008, Hector Berlioz: Critique Musicale 1823-1863, vol. 6, Paris, Buchet/Chastel

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Note

1 Arthur Waley’s phrase is in The Way and its Power. A Study of The Tao Te Ching and its Place in Chinese Thought, New York, Grove Press, 1982.

2 Waley 1982: 13.

3 Clarke 1997: 177-178.

4 LaFargue 1992.

5 Gernet 1999.

6 Höchsmann 2003.

7 Zhuangzi 2006.

8 For the convergence and the divergence in Indian and Greek thought, see Höchsmann 2016: 71-86.

9 Kitto 1991: 169. Kitto’s explanation of the Greek mind also characterizes the philosophical thought in China.

10 Graham 1997: 7.

11 Lloyd 2018.

12 The I Ching Or Book of Changes (Ching, Oxtoby 1992: xv-xxviii).

13 Leibniz 1988.

14 Id. 1957: 68-70.

15 Reichwein 2007: 92; Durant 1963: 639.

16 Voltaire 1927: 19; Reichwein 2007: 89ff; Durant 1963: 639.

17 For a succinct summary of representative comparative studies, see Mutschler 2018: 2-3.

18 Kennedy 1998: 1. In a “cross-cultural study of rhetorical traditions” Kennedy seeks to “identify what is universal” in order to formulate “a General Theory of Rhetoric that will apply in all societies. This would be the innate or ‘deep’ rhetorical faculty that we all share…”

19 Doren 1928: 1. I am indebted to Dr. Anne Bongrain for her comments on Berlioz’s lively remarks on Confucius “moralizing all of China” with “a five stringed guitar decorated with ivory” offered as “meditation for musician philosophers”. Noting that he does not “account for philosopher musicians, we have not seen any since Leibniz” Berlioz exclaims: “See my misfortune; not only has my guitar five strings like Confucius’, but often even six, and yet I still do not have the slightest reputation as a moralist. Ah! If only it had been inlaid with ivory, what blessings I could have spread! What errors repaired, what truths instilled, what a beautiful religion founded, and how we would all be happy at this hour. Friedland 1848; Bongrain, Coudroy-Saghaï 2008: 373-374.

20 In Fêtes et chansons Marcel Granet proposed that the spring and autumn festival cycle in the Book of Odes was the foundation of the Chinese cosmological system of dualism of yin and yang. See also Granet 1934.

21 Wilhelm 1989, Höchsmann 2006: 213-228.

22 Wittgenstein 1998: 29.

23 Monk 1990: 177.

24 Barnes 2001: 3, 45.

25 “From which all rivers…”

26 Barnes 2001: 187.

27 Snell 1953: ix; 1986.

28 Goethe 1921: 2.3; Snell 1953: 277.

29 Waley 1978.

30 Drawing upon the reservoir of the poetry of China, Goethe expresses the elective affinity he found in the literature of China in the Chinese-German Book of Hours and Seasons. He remarked how similar he is to the people of China in the way that he thinks and feels, adding that when his ancestors “were still living in the woods” the literature in China was already highly developed. Eckermann 1951: 132, 164.

31 Mutschler 2018: note 16, 4.

32 Jullien 2004: 111ff.

33 Beecroft 2010: 278, 108.

34 Heaney 1996: 1.

35 Ibidem.

36 Waley 1938.

37 Heaney 1996: 191.

38 W.H. Auden’s conception of poetic faculties referred to by Heaney 1996: 5.

39 Ibidem.

40 Diels, Kranz 1951: B8.

41 Barnes 1982: 176; 1979.

42 For Laozi’s ethics of non-violence, justice as benevolence, and Zhuangzi’s development of dao as freedom and equality of all things, see Höchsmann 2004: 64-65,169.

43 A further instance of analogical reasoning can be mentioned: the stars as souls in Plato and for the Tarahumara, an indigenous people of Mexico, who believe that the stars are souls: men’s souls correspond to three stars and women’s to four as they are givers of life.

44 Alagaddupama Sutta Majjhima Nikaya (Middle-length Discourses) 22. R. Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism, A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo, 2 edn, London, Routledge 2006: 31.

45 Wittgenstein 2001: 6.54.

46 In this Wittgenstein’s philosophical method is aligned also with the methods of classical Chinese philosophy, especially Mencius, who expresses exasperation at having to resort to argument as his failure to convince and persuade with clear expression of his ideas. Lau 1970.

47 Dixsaut 2018: xii.

48 Similar conclusions are reached by W. Scheidel and also by G.E.R. Lloyd, who concludes: “The chief prize is a way out of parochialism.” Scheidel 2018: 40.

49 Lloyd 2004. In response to G.E.R. Lloyd’s view that the concept of human nature is not universal it can be pointed out that Mencius, Zhuangzi, and Xunzi build their moral philosophy on the arguments of whether human nature is good or evil. See Höchsmann 2004a: 27-3; 42-48; 95.

50 Fung 1952; Höchsmann 2004a.

51 Barnes 1982: xii.

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Notizia bibliografica

Hyun Höchsmann, « Man from Mars – the Western Reader », Rivista di estetica, 72 | 2019, 81-98.

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Hyun Höchsmann, « Man from Mars – the Western Reader », Rivista di estetica [Online], 72 | 2019, online dal 01 mars 2020, consultato il 30 octobre 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/6024 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/estetica.6024

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