诸子百家 — Hundred schools of thought

Have just completed Part 1 of Havard’s China X series. Fascinating stuff. Its slightly ironic to learn about my culture from two old white men, but I absorb information much faster in English as that is my dominant language nowadays. Such is life. I’m attempting to read the readings in Mandarin when possible, instead of the translations. Its surprising how many words I have forgotten. Also, the course uses traditional Chinese instead of simplified and that makes things slow going.

As a way to consolidate my learning, I thought it would be interesting to make a short summary post. I will probably switch between English and Mandarin at some points, especially moments when I feel that the English translation of particular terms just don’t sit quite right.

The first part of the lecture was mainly about how the emergence of ritual consolidated human behaviour. There wasn’t a major preoccupation with death as ancestral worship = after you die, you remain in the same world but just as a spirit. Also, greater concern over lineage. Explains why there isn’t much of a creation myth, or at least very little emphasis on one, in Chinese culture.

The hundred school of thoughts occurred during the 春秋战国时代。There are a couple of main thinkers as per below. Bol has divided them into roughly four groups.

Confucianism

孔子 — 仁。礼。君子。How to be good? Its like Victor Turner’s communitas but in the pursuit of higher moral refinement.

孟子 — Why should we be good? Humans are inherently good and that is what drives us instinctively, but we need to put in effort to stay on the path of righteousness.

荀子(XunZi) — Human nature is evil. Ritual, education and conscientiousness, we can strive towards goodness.

Good is good, bad is bad. Don’t have the type of moral complexity favoured by the greeks, where the hero is almost always tragic.

Strategies for doing good.

墨子 — Love your neighbors like you love your family. First to use logical arguments. P1, P2 and P3 are true, therefore conclusion is true.

杨朱 — Do good for yourself. You are forced to cooperate with others to get to your desires. Everyone in constant tandem of self-interest will result in net societal positivity.

农家 — Basically communists.

孟子objected to the three groups above as it ignored the interdependent nature of society.

Strategies for survival. Bol chose to focus on the 道家 in this section.

老子(无为)non-action. All returns to stillness, yin, yang etc.

庄子 — Follow the flux, immerse yourself in the flow.

Not so sure I agree with Professor Puett’s reading of the two above

惠施 — Language being just a sign/signifier of the world. Very Sassuran in philosophy. Inter-related nature of the world, paradoxes that are not paradox upon further thought, i.e. zenith equates to a wane. How can there be a center if the world is infinite, then everywhere is a centre.

Strategies for gaining control — See the world as it is and come up with ways to deal with it. More on getting on with life, than thinking about life.

韩非子(法家) — Rituals and all that are all very good, but carrot and stick works best! Punish and reward according to how officials serve the state, and not how well officials serve the interest of the ruler. Otherwise, they will neglect the state and just make you happy.

孙子兵法 — The art of war.

邹衍(ZouYan) — Cosmic resonsence. A bit of a natural philosopher. The earth has natural cycles and we need to move with the phases of change.

If forced to choose, I’m a mix between Confucian and Legalist I think. The Daoism stuff is a bit too airy fairy for me. That said, the epistemological optimism of these Chinese philosophers (that people can be good), might be a bit too positive for me. I lean towards the Greeks, we are all flawed and doomed. Even when we try to do good, most of us screw up anyway etc.