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The Formation of Chinese Humanist Ethics

Date:2013-04-21 06:45Author:youzhengli
New Preface The Structure of the Chinese Ethical Archetype and The Constitution of Han- A cademic Ideology (under the general title Chinese Ethics Academic Ideology: A Hermeneutico-Semiotic Study ) were finished at the Institute of Philosop


New Preface

The Structure of the Chinese Ethical Archetypeand The Constitution of Han-Academic Ideology (under the general title Chinese Ethics & Academic Ideology: A Hermeneutico-Semiotic Study) were finished at the Institute of Philosophy at Bochum as the works are included in an independent academic project supported by the VW Foundation between 1991 and 1996. The works are now republished by Silkroad Press in cooperation with the China Renmin University Press. The China Renmin University Press also published my two other titles in Chinese: A Hermeneutics ofthe Ren Learning and A Hermeneutic Study of Historical Ru-Academia, published respectively in 2004 and 2009. These two 2-volume series, one in English and the other in Chinese, are guided by the same scientific line on the same topic, but are arranged quite differently with respect to their respective thematic focuses and historiographic ranges. Both the English and the Chinese series are closely linked. With a view to emphasize the character of the traditional Chinese way of ethical thinking, the general title of the present English series has been changed to a new one:  The Formation of Chinese Humanist Ethics. The term “ethics” is used here in its broad sense and the term “humanist” signifies a historically unique character of the Chinese ethical mentality.

Republication of the titles indicates an ever-increased open-minded tendency and substantial progress in the Chinese humanities publishing business. In consideration of the topic and style of the books, the titles are obviously different from the usual ones published in both Chinese and Western academic communities. Regarding the comparative Chinese-Western ethical school, we may state that two major trends are still predominant today: Western moral metaphysics and Chinese Confucianist metaphysics. In my opinion, these two ethical schools, despite their respective achievements, are both characterized by their relative negligence of historical reality. The present two books are meant to introduce a more realistic picture of Chinese historical ethics and the related classical school.

       For the past three decades, China has restarted or resumed its systematic study of Western culture, thought, and theories in modern social and human sciences. Significantly, Chinese academia has shown an ever-increasing focus on the recent theoretical concepts of Western humanities, especially contemporary Western philosophy. The study of these topics had long been prohibited during the Cultural Revolution. For the past few years, I have maintained a very fruitful collaboration with the China Renmin University Press on important projects, such as the large project to translate the fifthteen-volume series of Lévi-Strauss’s selected works and the eighteenth-volume series of the selected works of Roland Barthes, as well as a new, eight-volume project on selected masterpieces of Husserl’s, including the Ideen I, II, and III. Frankly speaking, I could not have anticipated this recent boom in publishing humanist-theoretical content in the Chinese book market.

This scholarly open-attitude in promoting social and human sciences can be observed everywhere in the Chinese academia for the last 10 years. One important example related to my own semiotic efforts is that the 11th Congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies (IASS) will be held in Nanjing, China, in October 2012, with the theme “Global Semiotics: Bridging Different Civilizations.” The event symbolizes an intellectual turning point over the forty-year history of IASS that hints at its strategic reorientation towards the cross-cultural semiotics in our era of globalization. Semiotics, in its proper meaning implied in works by Saussure, Peirce, Husserl, Jakobson, Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Greimas, and others, is oriented towards a general epistemological revolution of human sciences. Therefore, this symbolically significant international academic event also implies another interesting meaning that while the humanities all over the world seem to be further eclipsed, the Chinese counterpart—which remarkably contains study of the Western humanities—tends to be more energetically advancing.

While preparing the two series of books for the last two decades, I have also been actively engaged in international and Chinese semiotic activities. In general, one of the main tasks of semiotics is related to the interdisciplinary reorganization of the human sciences, emphasizing the necessity of multiple communications among different disciplinary theories. In light of this new scientific point of view, the traditional focus on philosophy-fundamentalism of any kinds as the main way for theorizing different practices in the humanities should be replaced by a new cross-cultural theoretical pluralism. The intellectual tendency will be even doubly strengthened when the human-scientific scope is expanded to the non-Western areas. Inspired by this same spirit, my studies on Confucianism were naturally organized along the semiotic, or comparative semiotic, line. The new approach intends to more effectively promote the intellectual dialogue between the Chinese and Western ethical ways of thinking. For this purpose, we should first present more relevant related historical descriptions; that is just the main aim of these works.

However, the present works can only be read and interpreted if they would not be restricted either by the Western-Eastern metaphysical-ontological model or by the usual way of Sinology that has been formed within the Western educational systems. After all, it is clear that Sinology is part of Western academia and its intellectual and scientific horizon must be much narrower than that of Chinese social and human sciences. Sometimes, unsuitably philosophizing tends to cover up the reasonable understanding of historical truth; while “China Studies” in the West refers to a general study about the basic knowledge of “culture of minority races” on campus. The latter should not be confused with the social and human sciences as the whole systematically organized in China proper. It is easy to see that Sinology and “Chinese social sciences” are so much divergent with respect to their goal, range, and depth. And, originally, my two books are indeed intended to be interesting to the general academic public in the West. So, it is far from being a work similar to the typical ones which are read in Sinology or its overseas Chinese branches.

Briefly speaking, from my own scholarly point of view, the so-called hermeneutic approach, which has nothing to do with its ontological trend in Europe, is especially related to the study of comparative historiography. The so-called semiotic approach, besides its ever-stronger modern Western pragmatic-philosophical tendency, is more about cultural semantics and the institutional analysis. This cross-cultural hermeneutic-semiotic project about the traditional Chinese ethical thought and its historical experience will be explored in the four volumes, implying three main topics.

The necessity and practicability of the humanist position in ethical thought

First, the original Confucian way of ethical thinking is a typically humanist and empirically mundane one in history. This pragmatic-ethical system has actually and energetically played its spiritual guiding role in the Chinese history and intellectual development over the last 2,000 years. The reason for this historical miracle of lasting efficiency is simply that it has surprisingly kept the identity and function of an innate ethical humanism that is different from many other historical moral systems with any theoretically or imaginatively transcendent faiths. This intellectual tendency could allow it to uniquely play a possible role as a mediator, or a dialogic platform for different systems of values and faiths with whatever transcendent dogmas. Despite their divergent transcendent mental origins, different systems of moral dogmas and metaphysical faith in the world must have shared the common empirical issues in worldly reality. In order to settle these commonly involved empirical problems, different parts have the exact same need to join a commonly accepted dialogic stage for exchanging different ideas or attaining mutual conciliation over basic mundane values. And the Confucian historical humanist system can just provide them with such an effective rational platform. Traced back to the original idea of this Chinese humanist ethics, we find that a proper meaning of the ethical dimension, first of all, implies its innate object: the justified interpersonal relationship and the related proper individual attitude towards the former. Both aspects of this ethical teaching are certainly determined by the empirical social life absolutely shared by all human beings existing in the same world.

Humanist movements in the Western humanities have had their own history for the past 200 years. In the philosophical school belonging to the Western ethical or social tradition, all of them often advocate some “theoretical” foundations for their moral systems. However, their own humanist theoretical systems may also imply some transcendent or pseudo-transcendent reasoning, for example the “scientific metaphysics,” which make them quite easily fall into theoretical conflict with the above-mentioned traditional systems of faith and belief. By contrast, the Confucian humanist ethics, with its pre-theoretical and purely empirical-practical character, can avoid this anthropologic trouble originating from different historical-national-cultural customs because of its spiritual focus on the purely interpersonal-motivational dimension.

The necessary separation of the two historical figures of confucius in Chinese history: Confucius I and Confucius II; and the corresponding separation between the Pre-Ch’in Confucian ethical thought and the Post-Ch’in Confucianist institutions

A deeply-rooted historical mixture and confusion between the original Confucian ethics and the feudalist despotic politics making use of the Confucianist ideology has seriously hindered the proper grasp of the true identity and function of Confucian ethics as a purely intellectual autonomy. The confusion has been internationally increased when some early European missionaries used the English name “Confucius” to refer to the two historical phenomena. Since they lacked initial knowledge of Chinese language and culture, it was hard for them to attain the ideological and intellectual depth of that mythical kingdom. In fact, the former had been formed before the establishment of the first Chinese despotic empire and the latter refers to the political-social institutions of the empire systems with their multiple ideological instruments that include the misleading manipulation of all available cultural heritages. Therefore, we could say that there existed two historical figures with the same name. One Confucius was the teacher of the Pre-Ch’in Confucian humanist ethical learning (the jenlearning), embodied only in the genuine historical text Lunyu(Confucian Analects). And the other Confucius was the sanctified or mystified “Master” of a “quasi-religious ideology” created by the empire’s power. So it is necessary and useful for us modern scholars to distinguish between Confucius I(as the Pre-Ch’in ethical teacher) and Confucius II (as the hierarch of the state-academic-religion). We can also call the former the genuine teacher of jen—or, in another pinyin, ren which literally means “benevolence” or “humanity”—learning, and the latter the legendary founder of ju, which, in another pinyin of ru roughly refers to a title for the remote primitive-scribing job. The canon system is equivalent to an academic-type of political ideology. A hermeneutic-semiotic approach can help find the implicitly parallel and mutually influential interactions of these two historical entities through explaining the special historical experience of the historical intermixture between the universal humanist ethics jenlearning and the historically determined academic ideology ju-academia. The reasonable separation of the two trends, implicit and explicit, in Chinese history will bring about two positive consequences: jen humanist ethics will be able to play a constructive role even in the modern intellectual context and so promote a more intelligible understanding of the constitution and function of the traditional Chinese academic history from a modern scientific point of view. Thus, with the more precise descriptions of the two spiritual forces, we may wisely get rid of the jufeudal academic nationalism that only narrows our intellectual horizon and obstructs us from joining global intellectual communication today.

In addition, some modern conservative scholars are always unable to make a clear distinction between these two aspects—as the “material” to be used and as the “methods” employed to use the material—when doing humanities research. Regarding modern study of traditional scholarship, we have to make an operative distinction between the object and the approach in scientific practice. The former must be the original or historical, while the latter should be the modern or scientific. For a scientific procedure, it should appeal to all useful methods of modern science rather than merely stick to either Western or Chinese traditional philosophical stereotypes. In other words, the “material” must keep its historical-geographic identity while the “methods” can be picked up from different modern scientific sources, which have nothing to do with their historical or geographic origins. Otherwise, on one hand, the modern Confucianist nationalism would blindly rely on the old Confucianist-Taoist-Buddhist quasi-religious ideologies as their useless methods which were, in fact, feudally-politically formed in past historical contexts. On the other hand, it purposely avoids a difficult but necessary scientific task: to learn from all useful modern Western scientific theories and methodologies. The national-habitual worship of the intellectual forefathers, combined with the methodological ignorance of modern social sciences, has led to the popularity of contemporary Confucianist academic nationalism. The only result it can lead to is to make China restrict her international horizon and, accordingly, weaken her intellectual influence in the global village.

The desirable connection between Chinese humanist ethics and the reorganization of Global human sciences in the future

A very important role that could be played by jen humanist ethics is certainly related to its teaching about subject-directed ethical thinking, while subjectivist philosophy has been so widely criticized and excluded in the modern, Western academia. A lot of philosophical negations of the status of subjectivity as the independent ethical agent in modern times are equivalent to the negations of the spontaneous motivational power of the individual agent in the present-day fully institutionalized societies. According to a hermeneutic reinterpretation, we might disconnect the jen ethics from its historical political context as to reduce it to the inmost zone of the ethical subjectivity: the ethical motivation and the related pragmatic wisdom for doubly right choices. From a modern interdisciplinary point of view, we could perceive a serious shortcoming obstructing the progress of human sciences in the current commercialized and institutionalized academic world where the principle of individualist interest-motivated competition plays a determinative role in the mental schism of the scholars. Lacking their objective norms and rational criteria, the human sciences today tend to really become the “liberal arts” which are gradually losing the possibility of carrying out scientific goals. In the so-called post-modernist era, human sciences, especially their ethical study at the center, can hardly play an effective, constructive part for humanity, either intellectually or socially. In other words, without forming a more generally acceptable conception about value and truth, human sciences and ethics in our globalized era, would become more and more useless, except for intellectual enjoyment. There is a Chinese proverb: “Knowledge first, action second.” Compared with the fact that natural and social sciences have successfully attained ever-increasingly fruitful achievements in accumulating knowledge, human sciences, including their fields of ethics, are confronted with the unprecedentedly serious crisis about their identity, quality, and utility with respect to their social and intellectual practice. In some sense, one of the main tasks of global semiotics lies in seriously dealing with this scientific task of modernizing and reforming the present-day human sciences. The task of this scientific renovation, in terms of an interdisciplinary approach as well as from a hermeneutic-semiotic point of view, must be pursued along the cross-cultural orientation as well. With a view to reorganize this academic task, we indeed see a delicate relationship existing between the progress of the humanities in the global context and the role of ethical motivation, at the level of the scholarly individual, as pragmatic subjectivity. It is here, I find, that the traditional humanist ethics of jen can play a relevantly constructive role. As a result, the interaction between the modern global human sciences and the historical Chinese humanist ethics will lead to a more desirable development. We could reach a decisive point in human intellectual history—despite a variety of brilliant achievements of modern Western humanities—from which all people could continuously learn seriously and systematically. We have to give up any simplistic attempt to imitate the finished results of theoretical productions temporarily produced within the Western disciplinary framework. Without a cross-cultural expansion of theoretical horizon, the human sciences can hardly obtain the really comprehensive horizon, or attain a more effective intelligibility in the global context.

The above three key points are summarized this way. For the first point, we should reasonably stimulate a pragmatic dialogue between the universal humanist ethics and various historically formed transcendent systems of faith by means of a practical focus on the commonly shared empirical problems about the just interpersonal relationship which can only be judged by the also commonly shared empirical-pragmatic principles. For the second point, we should distinguish between two figures of Confucius, namely the original ethical thinking formed in the pre-centralized feudal society and the later academic ideology of the despotic empire; accordingly we have to overcome any scholarly nationalism which can only lead Chinese academia to limit its horizon and ambition so as to be reduced to a merely localized nationalist ideology, or a sort of historical nostalgia, which will certainly lead to its segregation from the global intellectual discourse. For the third point, we therefore should overcome the two epistemological obstacles caused by  both Western and Chinese negative tendencies in connection with the direction of the humanities, and make efforts to make the humanities more scientific and operatively more applicable in our world of universal technicalization and commercialization on the basis of the interdisciplinary, cross-cultural epistemology and methodology, as well as through keeping a distance from any irrelevant ontological rhetoric. Ontological discourse can exist in its right as some philosophical-typed poetics but it should not be allowed to undermine the scientific practice in human sciences. The criticism of metaphysical-ontological centrism is also traced back to modern Western interdisciplinary trends whose cross-cultural expansion will lead to a more comprehensive reconsideration and rearrangement of the global human sciences in our new century. If the Western humanities, unfortunately, continue to neglect their scientific development under the ever-increasingly stronger pressures from the technical-commercialized powers, it allows the non-Western human sciences, including their Western studies, to make more productive efforts to pursue this great task of mankind. Reason should remain the top principle for human beings. And reason today should be especially embodied in human sciences as well. It is disastrous that reason always guides natural sciences and technology while, by contrast, strangely ignores its guiding influence on human sciences.

The formation of discourse in the humanities is predetermined by the norms, principles, and methods professionally fixed within the academic establishments. If so, what should be our final authority in judging the quality of that discourse: The artificially formed disciplinary regulations set up within some academic circles, or the objective and subjective reality of different kinds in the actual world? Eventually, should we appeal to the artificial rules embodied in some specialized books or to the objective reality in our research? Differently from natural sciences, and even from social sciences, which can be examined and judged by the objective natural and social reality, human sciences have always lacked reliable criteria based on the objective world. Thus, it is ironic to note that, on one hand, there is a serious notional diversity and conflict regarding meaning, value, and faith among different peoples, and, on the other hand, all human crises, either social or intellectual ones, can be eventually traced back to the axiological divergence of different cultures, societies, and politics, on which the humanistic-scientific practice has constantly weakened its rational attention everywhere. We need to note that if natural and social sciences are more related to the issues at the level of the means of knowledge, then human sciences are more related to the issues at the level of its aim and values. The fact is that human sciences today consist of disorderly accumulations from divergent historical and professional sources, including elements from Western and Eastern, as well as from ancient and modern sources; while all kinds of intellectual sediments have been almost arbitrarily combined by our professional practices in the contemporary academic systems without sufficiently scientific discrimination. As a result, the final “authority” of the eligibility of the humanities discourse actually comes from its “use value” in the related professional marketing. One of the reasons is that there is no strict distinction between the aesthetic and scientific operations in the field. Furthermore, we have much more complicated and difficult problems concerning fact and reality in connection with society, culture, thought, and the related investigations. It is one of the semiotic aims to more relevantly and precisely define these ambiguous but crucially important concepts used in the humanities in terms of new scientific instruments in order to substantially advance our knowledge about human beings themselves and their actual activities. Unfortunately, current Western humanities theoretical thought seems to be more and more losing interest in exploring reality and rationality in scholarly practice. The destructive impact of anti-scientific-directed, post-modernist philosophy is caused, in fact, by the current commercialized society; it has become a philosophy characteristic of the commercialized era, irrationally searching for pure success in the academically competitive market. This serious shortcoming in scholarly operation is covered up, however, by its ever-increasingly stronger external academic institutionalization and the general cultural consumerism. The above-mentioned tendency of the current humanities theories losing interest in reality leads to an interest in the texts as texts. In my opinion, this tendency to neglect reality is completely wrong and will play a quite negative impact on the widely expected elaboration of the ethical sciences.

My realistic point of view about the humanities today is partly due to personal experience. A little bit of digression about my special experience could be useful for international readers to judge my discussion. The independent intellectual efforts of the author regarding semiotic, hermeneutic, structural and phenomenological theories for the past 35 years, exactly since the end of the Cultural Revolution, are part of my long-time concern about various realist or empirical objects over the past 60 years (during my school time in 1950s I was naturally intoxicated by classical European literary realism). Differently from almost all Western scholars trained in the established educational systems, I have been completely self-taught, especially since I abandoned my civil engineering studies at Tianjin University in early 1959. With an adventurous devotion to contemporary Western philosophy and other modern theoretical subjects, I always maintained a strong curiosity for the deeper and hidden truth of real life itself. Following increased scholarly reading, I further concentrated on reality at all levels, and, naturally, all readings were taken as the mere tools for attaining this eventual scientific aim. Therefore, my intellectual interest was never determined by any professional consideration, or dominated by any academic authority. Propelled by a pure desire for knowing more realistic and deeper truth, I naturally turned to logical positivism since the late 1950s—in China, this philosophical school arrived in the 1920s first through Bertrand Russell—and, later, even turned to Husserlian phenomenology—in China it had never been seriously introduced until the late 1970s by me—from which I perceived another realistic dimension: the psychological-logical one behind its idealist framework. But, it was the structural semiotic movement, to which I was able to get access as late as late 1977, when the National Library of China was reopened, which strongly led me to turn attention to a much more synthetic and elaborate social-cultural-historical-psychological “reality”. This kind of synthetic reality seems to be not easily grasped properly by the analytical and pragmatic philosophical mind. It is also worth noting that I started my academic life the first year after the end of the Cultural Revolution, and became a researcher at the Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Between 1982 and 1984, I further got a rare chance to visit the philosophy departments of Princeton University, Columbia University, and the University of Munich with the supports from the China Government and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The chance opened the door for me to personally reach the Western humanities for the next 30 years.

During the late 1970s, I started to introduce to Chinese readers—most of them having stopped intellectual contact with modern Western humanities for the earlier two decades—the thoughts of Husserl, Lévi-Strauss, Gadamer, Ricoeur, Barthes, Metz, Foucault, Lacan, Le Goff, and others, according to my own epistemological interest completely disconnected with the predominant trends in post–Cultural Revolution China. But my glance has been always guided by my own epistemological focuses that have nothing to do with the current political fashions. Consequently, during the 1980s, I was an introducer of current Western epistemological thoughts. Still, my intellectual interest had been always focused on the problems of reality of various types. In this sense, I have never been misled by any continental ontological nihilism despite its rhetoric delicacy, although I need to read this material for my understanding and judgment. So, in 1982, when I met with my sponsor, Professor Richard Rorty at Princeton, and my next sponsor, Professor Arthur C. Danto, at Columbia, I felt a little bit surprised by finding their high interest in Sartre. In my opinion, this ontological tradition, traced back to Hegel, has become the main hindrance for the scientific development of human sciences in general and the proper understanding of Confucian humanist ethics in particular. Later, I further went back to my earlier reflection on Chinese intellectual history that manifests another mode of historical and intellectual reality. So, when the time comes, I started a related research project in Germany since the early 1990s. Another reason for this thematic refocus was due to my understanding that no ethical consideration could be theoretically complete if no non-Western parallel experiences are combined for a comparative study; for this purpose, of course, the latter should be reformulated at first in a hermeneutic-semiotic way (this can be hardly done by the philology-oriented Sinology that is restricted by its fixed educational task determined by the Western system). Comparative historiography is generally in a similar situation as well. An epistemological combination between hermeneutics and semiotics will lead to the necessary change of current historical theory and consequently make us say good-bye to that metaphysical type of philosophy of history. I firmly insist that the genuine understanding of any historical reality relies firstly on how thoroughly we could get rid of the classical philosophy of history. This cross-cultural turn in scholarly practice led to two concrete consequences: the reinterpretation of Chinese traditional ethics and the reconsideration of the identity and potential of comparative humanities.

Retrospectively, I have luckily enjoyed several true independent periods in my whole life: my independent study of philosophy over 20 years in China between early 1959 and 1978; my research career of over 10 years at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences where I had complete freedom, because of the specially flexible situation immediately after the end of the Cultural Revolution, for selecting thematic contents in individual projects during 1980s; my independent research in Germany and France for almost 10 years as a guest research fellow; and, finally, my independent way of life as a freelance scholar in the United States for the last 15 years. With sufficient literature sources available all the time, and without any professional commitments, this sort of career has allowed me to think about the truly relevant problems concerning human sciences and ethics more freely and independently than any colleague living on an institutionalized campus. This special personal experience allowed me to clearly understand that, when facing the serious epistemological challenges, the humanities scholar must first of all shape an ethical personality, not for the purpose to become a “good” man or woman, or to make efforts for realizing a “good” society—those classical goals belong to other intellectual channels and require many different related conditions—but for the purpose of having a truly independent mind. This leads to reorganizing and readjusting research strategy following the changing and changed contexts, keeping reality-directed observation and truth-directed analysis under different external determinations, including pressures and temptations alike. If guided by the motive for obtaining personal reputation and social success (not only legal, but also justified for professional individualism) in our commercialized world, a humanities scholar can hardly cherish an independent aim to search for scientific facts and truth beyond the channel determined by his own discipline.  Because single-discipline-centrism is the most useful means to support one’s benefit-directed pursuits. Professional frameworks can help secure consistence with the disciplinary regulations but not certainly approach reality outside their disciplines. Unfortunately, so many humanities scholars live mainly on their books with a view to attain success in their professions. Not every one of them is aware that there exists a pragmatic-logical link between the ethical motivation of the scholar as subjectivity and the scientific quality of his works. By dint of my non-factional observations based on my special independent status everywhere in the world, I firmly believe that, regarding the development of human sciences, academic individualism strengthened in the commercialized society should be better replaced by an ethical collectivism that will help scholars keep a secure distance from various commercial games. The renovative task of the field of global human sciences definitely depends on the collective and cooperative consciousness and joint efforts across the world despite the uneven developments of different scientific communities. The new century calls for a true solidarity among international scholars. This desirability from an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural angle is further explained in the following.

All specialized knowledge is formed within established disciplines that must be organized in a strictly regulated institutional framework. But the results of the different specialized scientific productions are equivalent to be some “materials” for further remaking in a further expanded context and for a higher pragmatic goal. Therefore, the identity of disciplinary or specialized knowledge could be hopefully defined as the “date-material” or “half-made products” for possible further interpretative and applicable uses in different projects that may demand collaboration with other disciplines and their scholars who exist in different contexts. At any time, we have to rely on various specialized disciplines for obtaining different “half-made goods” at first. Secondly, those half-made products should be further processed or remade to become the relatively “final” or more usable products when our scientific plans are advanced to a higher scientific or teleological level. The same process can be extended to the cross-cultural domains when the latter is, in fact, a variety of the interdisciplinary practice. In light of this, for example, both Western theoretical disciplines and oriental philology-directed historical ones could play respective important roles in their next more synthetically composed scientific production.

There exist the regulations of the single discipline, but there is also another kind of regulation in interdisciplinary practice. The two kinds of regulations, the disciplinary and the interdisciplinary ones, are different in composition and aim. But we prefer both, rather than the one, particularly when we want to increase our epistemological level and intelligibility in studies. In other words, the single-discipline-central position is strong enough to secure one’s professional pursuits, but not enough to direct him towards the expanded goal for approaching the scientific truth which could have nothing to do with individuals’ benefits. Unfortunately, today the professional systems in the humanities are mainly related to the interest-procuring conditions that just do not care about the true scientific aims as such. The self-benefit-directed motivation and the commercialized mechanism in this field obviously stimulate the prevailing academic individualism in our times. Therefore, most scholars of the humanities must live in a multiple tension between the interest-goal and the truth-goal. If postmodernism can really destroy the terms “truth,” like some postmodernists try to do, the humanities scholars can only follow a commercialized lifestyle in their profession. That is why some postmodernist philosophers so hate the conception “human sciences” as well as the idea about universal ethics. Their “intellectual liberalism” can only cause serious weakness and disorder in human ethical reasoning. If, spreading to the non-Western areas, this nihilist rhetoric, mainly led by Heidegger and Derrida, will mislead and despoil the just developing situation of human sciences there. Confucian humanist ethics firmly resists this epistemological and axiological nihilism formed in a highly commercialized circumstance. The jenhumanist ethics is absolutely an ethics of rationalism.

Regarding the cross-cultural dialogue or collaboration in the new human sciences, the related scholars should more systematically readjust their scientific consciousness beyond their own specialized fields if they really want to know “more truth” in the expanded field. Accordingly, it is epistemologically naïve to think that academic globalization means only the application of Western theory to Eastern historical material. In fact, both Western theory and Eastern history should be reorganized at once in an epistemologically higher scientific stage, for both will be related to different kinds of reality and rationality in the cross-cultural world. Practically speaking, because for the past century the East has learnt from the West so much and the West has learnt from the East so little, it is dialectically natural that in the new century, the Westernized East intellectuals (linguistically they know both sides) have an increased obligation to play a more active and a more creative role in promoting the Western-Eastern collaborative projects in the cross-cultural humanities despite their relatively weaker knowledge of Western theory.  The results must be positive for both sides, if we can keep a humanist-ethical attitude based on scientific collectivism at the global level. With the above metaphor of “half-made products,” we may understand why much single-disciplinary knowledge, especially philosophy, in the past can hardly provide the suitably satisfactory theoretical guidance for solving our scientific and practical problems in various critical periods of human history (we should pay honest attention to the seriously negative impacts of some major philosophical schools on society and thought in the 21th century). In light of the rather instructive French Annales’ principles, we should define our “aims and problems” at first, and then try more flexibly or relevantly to combine various useful “methods and tools” from different related disciplines for newly designed projects. Unfortunately, Annales have not realized their principles about total history are not true because of their separation from the Eastern historiography. On the other hand, human knowledge, especially the human and social ones, remains in the beginning stage in consideration of the still limited human historical span. If so, how could we be so much over-self-confident in the mere temporary conclusions from our present occasionally accumulated knowledge? Why could those modern great “philosophers” think they have already created some conclusive “wisdom” for mankind? What we should keep in mind is to set a right orientation for our future intellectual adventure and to insist in the line of reason in general that is the single justified foundation of global human sciences. We hope that the arena of the new Chinese human sciences could become another important academic center in the world for promoting this important task of developing new human sciences at a global level, side-by-side with the existing European and American ones.

In association with the topic of the titles and related development, I would like to state here that in the 11th International Association of Semiotic Studies (IASS) Congress, distinguished professor Dr. Bernhard Waldenfels, the former president of the German Phenomenology Society, my former sponsor at Institute of Philosophy at Bochum, is the key speaker at the opening of the Congress. The international theoretical collaboration continues. Since last year I have proposed a scientific slogan of “Rereading Husserl” in Chinese academia in connection with my further engagement in the personal translation project of the series of Selected Works of Husserl to be published by the China Renmin University Press. Meanwhile, since 2012, I have also proposed another scientific slogan of “Rereading Wang Yang-ming” in connection with my participation in the international forum about Wang Yang-ming Studies organized by the International Center of Wang Yang-ming Studies at Yuyao City, Zhejiang Province. As both Husserlian epistemological subjectivity centralism and Wang Yang-ming’s ethical-pragmatic subjectivity centralism could be semiotically and hermeneutically combined in shaping a new type of the ethical science in our century, I am glad to claim that these developments quite conform with the intention that I had cherished during my time in Bochum.

Finally, I would like to express my sincere gratitude for such kind publishing support from Silkroad Press and the China Renmin University Press.


Li Youzheng

San Francisco, April 16, 2012




Regarding the way of expressing Chinese characters by the alphabet, this series basically adopts the Wade-Giles system instead of the present-day standard Hanyu Pinyin system, for the books were prepared when the author stayed in Germany. The use of the traditional Pinyin system enables the readers to conveniently refer to the Chinese classics and reference books, as many of them are translated with the Wade-Giles system. So we have decided to keep the original way of expressing Chinese characters in this new edition.



























Intercultural philosophy does not take its starting point from the comparison of different cultures from a neutral point of view, it instead arises through the confrontation with certain features of another culture which distances the philosopher from his or her own tradition, compelling it to be regarded a new way. In dealing with the origins of Confucian ethics, LiYouzhengdoes exactly this. His extensive training inWestern hermeneutics and semiotics enables him to reformulate the set of ethical customs, rituals, rules, and strategies formulated 2,500 years ago in ancient China. In contrast to Western ethics, which are thoroughly penetrated by the divine commands of the Judeo-Christian tradition and mainly characterized by the search for the practical good and one's own happiness begun in Greek and Roman philosophy, Chinese ethics originated and developed largely outside the domains of religion and philosophy. In attempting to elaborate the specific nature of these ethics, the author navigates between Scylla and Charybdis. He seeks to avoid the one extreme of merely repeating from the inside what has already been said, with its effective reduction of ethical theory to certain reflexes of practical life. Just as well, however, he tries to avoid the other extreme of measuring ancient traditions by external standards and, therewith, exchange old prejudices for new ones. He rather tries to elucidate the foundation of Chinese ethics by using a certain language and a certain method which, as only one language and one method among others, does not exhaust the inherent sense and the efficacious demand of what has been, or is still being, lived out and practiced.

       Cross-cultural studies imply that we learn from each other. For its part,Western thinking has much to gain from this kind of Chinese scholarship. This is especially true for those of us who cannot remain satisfied with the mere analysis of moral rules and value systems, but instead require a genealogy of morals in the line of Nietzsche, Levinas, and Foucault. It also holds for those of us who follow Husserl and Schuetz in returning to the anonymity of the everyday world which underlies—and is richer than —all moral systems and ethical theories, just as it does for those of us who are interested in the aesthetic aspects of ethics, the cultural importance of writing, and the interplay of ethics and politics. All of us having these needs and interests can learn a great deal from the excursion into a world of cultural others.


Bernhard Waldenfels

Former President of German Phenomenology Association

Bochum, October 1996


I wish to express my sincere thanks to the many peoplewho have assisted me during the writing, editing, and publication of these works and to the institutions which made it all possible.

The long-standing and generous support of the German Volkswagen-Stiftung, which underwrote this project from its inception to its completion over the past 铿乿e years, alone allowed me to carry out this project. The willingness of the Stiftung to promote such interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research truly deserves special praise. Mr. Günter Dege of the Stiftung provided friendly support in resolving several problematic issues.

Peter Lang GmbH showed a helpful interest in the project and made its publication feasible. Dr. Orrin F. Summerell (Bochum) pa­tiently cor­rected my English and offered many useful suggestions.

Professor Dr. Michael Lackner (Göttingen) brought this project into the China Program of the Volkswagen-Stiftung in 1990. Without his vigorous advancement and continuous assistance, it could not have been realized. Professor Dr. Elmar Holenstein (Zürich) kindly secured my af铿乴iation with the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. Professor Dr. Bernhard Waldenfels (Bochum) sponsored me in the Institut für Philosophie and devoted much time and attention to the project. His insights into the cultural “other” are an important reference point for my re铿俥ctions on oriental topics. Mrs. Gudrun Sikora and Mrs. Annemarie Ernst of the Institut für Philosophie placidly solved numerous practical problems.

Madame P. Gentot (MSH, Paris), professors Liu Shu-hsian (Hong Kong), Keiji Asanuma (Tokyo), Yoshihiko Ikegami (Tokyo), Fu Pei-jung (Taipei), and Richard Rorty (Charlottesville) enabled me to inform myself of current scholarship through research visits at their universities.

The many other distinguished scholars and good friends in philosophy, semiotics, and Sinology with whom I have had helpful discussions in the past several years must remain unmentioned but not without my thanks.



Bochum-Stiepel, July 1996






Ethical situations and ethics

Ethical situations are innately rooted in the historical and cultural types of human social organizations. The ethical, being generally defined by the interpersonal just relationship, attains empirical universality and intellectual operationability. As the thought about and study of ethical situations, ethics has existed in various cultural and academic forms in different social traditions throughout human history. On one hand, there is a universal ethical situation shared by all historical-social-cultural collectives due to the ubiquitous character of the same kind of interpersonal relations logically implied in all communities. On the other hand, however, the same ethical “hardware” is inserted in the different socio-cultural organizations which assume different intellectual and academic forms. Therefore, the same ethical situation exists and functions in different academical-cultural contexts. Because we have various intellectual histories, we have different types of ethics. The existent types of “ethics,” however, are only social-cultural-academic compounds formed in different histories.

The Western term “the ethical” itselfhasbeen historically defined within Mediterranean-European intellectual history. Ethics as a discipline is a constituent part of the European academic conglomeration of philosophy, religion, and law. What we said about the basic universal ethical situation is a result of the scientific analysis of human ethical phenomena. There is a link between the basic ethical situation and the divergence of the historical typology of ethical thought. The former is shared by all human communities, while the latter contains different intellectual compositions. We must approach the common ethical situation and differing ethical thought simultaneously in order to gain a more precise and complete topography of the ethical culture of mankind. For this reason, we need to undertake a comparative ethical study.

The Chinese ethical situation and Chinese ethical thought

Chinese ethical culture has a special significance for our present-day understanding of the general human ethical situation and politico-ethical thought despite its cultural heterogeneity in comparison with that of the Western tradition.

Because of its less developed academic history in comparison with Greek civilization, Chinese ancient culture presents a more empirically and directly formulated ethical situation and thought. Owing to its being less philosophically and religiously directed, primitive Chinese ethics can offer a more direct picture of the above-mentioned ethical hardware and more clearly present a basic model of ethical relations which can be relevant to all communities in the world. It provides a very interesting alien example for Western ethics and political philosophy.

Because of its different socio-political structure, ancient Chinese ethics presents a combination of the ethical and socio-political dimensions which differs from the Western one. Thus, we can see different types of politico-ethical operations in human history. Owing to its uniquely long-standing and continuous civilization over 3,000 years, China challenges many Western ethical experiences which have been taken as universally relevant. In fact, the latter have been shaped in a special Greek-Christian framework which is completely lacking in Chinese intellectual history. China has its own successful socio-politico and cultural history which contains its own rich ethical experience and thought.

Present-day insight into ethical study

The present study of an ancient ethical culture takes the form of an intellectual dialogue between a modern attitude and approach and the historical material. The result of the study naturally depends more on the adopted attitude and approach than on the historical texts.

The problem of approach is connected with academic categories and disciplines. In this context, we meet with a customary academic classification of (Western) ethics and Sinology. In the West, Chinese studies have been historically formed in a Western academic framework. This background inclines Chinese ethical studies in a historical-philological direction. Concretely, we first meet with the established Western academic field of Confucianism or Neo-Confucianism. In my opinion, despite the rapid development in Sinology based on a Western-Chinese comparative philosophy, Sinology is not yet a constituent part of Western humanitiesprograms. The heterogeneous structure of Chinese historical documents as an alien textual system is one main reason for the low level of communication between Western and Chinese humanities. A more substantial obstacle for the Western-Chinese ethical dialogue with reference to Confucianist ethics lies in the fact that the prevalent Sinological approach, because of its academic link with related studies in modern China, adopts the traditional Chinese academic system based on medieval Chinese metaphysics. In Chinese ethical history, however, there is an evident division between the original non-philosophical ethics—the original Confucian and other Pre-Ch’in thought—and the later Buddhist/Taoist philosophical ethics (Sung-Ming-Confucianism). The latter transforms the more empirical type of the former into a more sophisticatedly mixed form, making its structure less clear. On the other hand, the traditional Chinese philosophical context is much too heterogeneous in its structure when compared with Western ethics and its theoretical basis. Therefore, there is a technical obstacle for the ethical dialogue between Western and Confucian/Confucianist ethics: they use different systems of semantic units, reasoning patterns.and intellectual and academic frameworks in their respective discourses. The Western philosophical system might lead scholars to suspect less intelligibility and less theoretical merits to inhere in the Chinese intellectual system. A key point lies in the fact that these two heterogeneously structured philosophical systems are not involved in direct dialogue with their traditionally shaped terminologies and logic. Semiotico-anthropologically speaking, Sinology in the West requires a semantic transformation in order to make it more meaningfully communicable with Western systems. The reason is that modern Western scientific language maintains an intellectual continuity with its tradition, while, by contrast, modern Chinese scientific language has suffered a “semantic and institutional break” from its own traditions.

In the contemporary Western humanities, we see another kind of “epistemological turn” owing to the development since the 1960’s of interdisciplinary inquiries in the social and human sciences. This new development has led to a readjustment or rearrangement of the academic topography and its methodology. In this context, hermeneutics and semiotics have played an increasingly important role. Both approaches start with redesigning the chosen set of problematics. Beginning with conventional historical and scientific textual systems, they attempt to represent the questions and focuses of the new epistemological perspective by reformulating the traditional expressions. For ethical study, this means that we need to rearrange the relations of the ethical system with its traditional academic or disciplinary context. The novelty of this scholarly direction lies in its getting rid of the traditional academic framework of a subject matter. From a comparative point of view, the rearrangement of the related academic connections is necessary because we cannot make the theory of one tradition the foundation for treating the problems of another tradition. Non-Western ethical thought and situations cannot be analyzed in terms of Western ethical theories. They have, as we said above, different academic backgrounds.

Ethical study in the different humanities is a function of its intellectual and socio-historical determinations. Before handling its wider connection with other branches of the social and human sciences, we shall first precisely describe the basic ethical phenomenon. Then we shall organize a minimal academic complex around the ethical. The content of the academic complex depends on different historical and cultural conditions. If the Greek ethical complex mainly contains ethical, philosophical, and legal-political dimensions, with the Christian adding the theological, the Chinese ethical complex contains ethical, political, and ideological dimensions. The academic complex refers to the minimal link between the ethical and the other intellectual dimensions. The sociological dimension, however, is curiously weaker than many people assume. The relevance of the chosen field can only be decided by the historical documents available. All anthropologico-sociological efforts to interpret ancient Chinese thought have been limited by a lack of reliable or available historical materials. (This forms a basic difference between an anthropological study of existing primitive societies and a sociological study of ancient, less-developed societies.) Our present study of ancient Chinese ethics is related to a specially chosen scope.

 The main points of the present study of ancient Chinese ethical thought and culture

There are two kinds of comparative study in the humanities: dialogue between different historical materials on a methodological basis and dialogue between a modern approach and historical material. The present study belongs to the latter type. It has the following characteristics and purposes:

As part of a general concern with human ethical situations, the present study attempts to paint a more precise picture of the original ethical situation and ethical thought at ancient Chinese history, focusing on compositional and functional descriptions which should be interculturally significant.

A basic division in treating the historical materials is made between the original ethical thought of the less despotic Pre-Ch’in period and the historical performance of this ethical thought in the more despotic period of the Ch’in-Han dynasties. This division is related not only to a chronological demarcation, but moreover to the constitutional divergence of ethical phenomena in the ancient Chinese intellectual world. Therefore, we can see on one hand the basic structure of original Chinese ethical thought and on the other hand the institutional manipulation of the ethical elements in the historical process. The chosen scope not only covers Chinese intellectual history, but also addresses the formative process of Chinese ethical culture in both its static-intellectual and dynamic-historical contents.

If the present study is a modern analytical description of historical thought, its result forms a necessary part of human ethical experience. Thus, despite their different manifestations and backgrounds, the structurally and functionally described ethical relations can be made universally intelligible and instructive. Its intelligibility is linked with modern human situations since some basic interpersonal moral relations have formed a permanent model throughout human history. (Strict ethical relativism could be mitigated by the semiotic conception that the ethical object exists not in some one-dimensional context, but rather in a semantically and institutionally structured compound.) Because of its more empirical accessibility due to the pragmatic character of ancient Chinese culture, the Chinese example can present a positively or empirically manifested human ethical situation illuminating to non-Chinese culture as well. In my view, the time is ripe for Western readers to undertake a more meaningful dialogue with this most important non-Western ethical source.

In brief, the present study of the archetype of ancient Chinese ethics and ideology plays a double role: it presents the more genuine structure and process of original Chinese ethical culture; and it reveals the universally existing conditions of ethical relationships embodied in the Chinese historical material. In the latter sense, the anatomy of the Chinese historical texts is applied as a means for disclosing the empirical essence of human ethical situations.

Outline of the present study

This study consists of three independent, yet interconnected sections: (1)Confucian ethics,(2) post-Confucian ethics,and 3) Han-Confucianist ideology.

(1) Confucian ethics refers to the composition and function of the ethical text of Confucius. This secular Chinese “Bible” has been regarded as the most important book in Chinese culture. Most of the content has maintained its lasting and strong impact on the Chinese mind until today. The analysis indicates the universal applicability of some of the basic statements of Confucius in our era, in which we can more pertinently and completely grasp the structure of his thought although it is unsystematically formulated. The semiotic approach is partly employed here in order to reformulate more exactly the intellectual units and logical nexus of the ethical text which presented 2,500 years ago,a national archetype of ethical personality with deep cultural implications. The weak link of Confucian ethics with legal and political rationality indicates its essential character or defect. As a matter of fact, Confucius’s Analects presents an ethical aesthetics of basic ethical choices in a situation of historical adversity.

(2) The Pre-Ch’in ethical thought after Confucius is represented by three main schools: the Taoist, the Legalist,and the Mencian-Confucian. The relation of these three schools to the original Confucian text is treated more structurally than historically. The historical arrangement is also an intellectual situation involving ethical logic. If the first two schools challenge the original Confucian ethics through their ethical nihilism and political overlordship, respectively, the Mencian initiates an important new turn along the Confucian line which we might call an ethics of political will. In general, the Mencian-variant complements the original Confucian text with a sharper focus on political evil and the subjective reaction towards political evil.

The above two sections compose thefirst two volumesof this study.

(3) The final section on Han-Confucianist ideology, namely volumes 3 and 4, shows how the original Chinese ethical thought blends with the politico-historical background of the Han totalitarian system so as to define a completely new intellectual horizon in Chinese history. The Chinese academic world was shaped during this period; and Confucian ethics became one factor operating in a multiply constituted socio-intellectual context. The ideological manipulation of cultural elements for the sake of strengthening despotic power describes a historically true picture about the function and operation of various ethical factors. The original myth of spiritual nationalism was also formed in this period. This part of the study presents a unique topography of the Han-Confucianist complex of ethics, ideology, and academics. The Han Dynasty is the most important period for Chinese civilization because it laid an unchanged and stable institutional foundation and a pragmatic model for the subsequent dynasties and culture of 2,000 years. In the Han-Confucianist system, the original Confucian thought played a paradoxical role—whether as a social collaborator or as a spiritual challenger. The confusing and controversial relationship between the Pre-Ch’in-Han original Confucian thought and Han-Confucianism receives an original treatment in our book. Thus, the Confucian (K’ung-Meng, or Confucius-Mencius) and the Confucianist (ju-chia, or ju-scholarship) are clearly divided into two separate cultural phenomena.

 The hermeneutico-semioticapproach

We use the term “hermeneutic” in a flexible way that refers to the modern interpretation of historical texts as the product of a dialogue between China and the West, between modernity and antiquity, and between theory and practice. Such a historiographical hermeneutic approach is scientifically linked to a semiotic one which focuses more on the significative processes of cultural objects. Because of its chosen scope and fixed purpose, our analysis is limited to the structural and functional descriptions of the historical situations and thoughts expressed in the historical texts. Our main goal is to more objectively present the depicted objects themselves without allowing additional intellectual intrusions into our hermeneutic-semiotic descriptions. In saying that our approach is more hermeneutic than historical, we focus on the interpretative rationality of the socio-historical facts, which can hardly be recovered through simply reading the available historical materials. The intelligibility of the historical texts appears through an effective ancient-modern dialogue. We hope the rearranged intellectual relations of the ancient intellectual world can more precisely represent ahistorically extant situation. The more important aim of our approach is to promote a more pertinent understanding of the historical textual system for our present-day readers.

A semiotic approach is employed in linguistically and pragmatically semantic, academically institutional, and cultural-ideological analyses. This makes the present study different from conventional readings of Chinese history and thought. Its first aim lies in having its described objects correspondedmore effectively to the original historical and textual situations by allowing the historical texts and its objects to represent themselves in a structural and functional way.

As a part of our historiographically semantic analysis, traditional Chinese philology has been extensively consulted. Most of the references are drawn from contemporary Chinese historians whose historical-textual criticism belongs to the general field of historiographical semiotics – particularly the work of the distinguished historian Ku Chieh-kang, who could be regarded as the traditional type of historical semiotician in our century. By contrast, our study refers less to philosophical reflections on the subject than does most contemporary scholarship. On one hand, the ancient Chinese ethical-academical-ideological complex contains few genuinely philosophical topics; on the other hand, according to the point of view of the present author, ethical discourse must avoid a philosophy-centered interpretation in order to reveal more precisely a historical ethical-ideological autonomy in history. Despite its preparation for profound dialogue with Western scholarship, the present discussion avoids direct cross-reference between Western and Chinese thought in order to maintain the substantial and stylistic coherence of its analytically descriptive discourse, which is intended to interest both Western and non-Western readers.

This study has been intensively carried out during the first half of the 1990’s, but the related preparation can be traced back to a much longer period over 40years. It is the result of my own ethical thinking and Chinese-Western comparative studies, including observations of actual socio-political life in both China and the West. (The ethical aspect has a closer reference to social reality than do the other humanities.) It was during this time, especially after finishing a separate study of ethical theories that I worked out the guiding principle and the chosen themes of this work. A subjective ethics based on operational rationality and an ethical, political, and ideological complex based on the interaction between political power and intellectual activities have been used to form the theoretical framework for treating these historical and ethical subjects more relevantly. The present study of classical Chinese topics intends to help refocus our ethical topography in the twenty-firstcentury.