Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Zhu/ Wang and Plato/ Kant

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    In “A Short History,” Feng Yu Lan mentions, in his chapter on the Neo-Confucian School of mind, that the controversy between the Cheng-Zhu school and the Lu-Wang School is essentially the same as that between the Platonic Realists and the Kantian Idealists. The basic difference is that Zhu Xi took li to be an apriori pattern that adheres to all matter, whereas Yang-ming took li to be the active motivating, intentional force in the universe (ultimately not ontologically distinct from qi, matter). Plato took the Forms to be entities that inhabit a separate realm outside of our own space and time, they are transcendent, inaccessible but always static. Zhu Xi’ discussion (almost literally) uses the same words to describe the li: “shapes” and “above shapes”. Kant’s transcendental idealism refers to the claim that space and time are built into our phenomenological world, and we cannot ‘know’ anything outside of them, and Yang-ming hold that the pattern or the ‘form’ is identical to the mind itself.

    I am wondering if anyone has any thoughts on this little gem of comparative philosophy? Particularly the piece about Kantian idealism and how this might relate to the Lu-Wang theory of mind as li.

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    Theodore Brooks

    There must be something fundamentally different as Wang Yangming has nothing approaching the Kantian concept of the noumenon. Indeed Wang seems to think that principle’s, li, nature as inherent to the heart-mind, xin, can put us somehow into a perfect relation with pure reality, a very un-Kantian conclusion. Though it should also be remembered that Wang Yangming was already concerned with moral psychology and self cultivation whereas Kant was being more strictly epistemological, this could also make a comparison difficult, even though there’s something to it.

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