Home Psychology Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in early Twentieth-Century German Thought
One: The Europeanization of Confucius The Chinese and the European Confucius
Early ru M or Confucian discourses prioritized rituals (li Ш), which should be broadly construed as appropriate practices, socially oriented individual selfcultivation, and learning and self-reflection. The Confucian sense of the self is defined through the cultivation of practices, roles, and virtues that would encourage: (1) an underlying comprehensive disposition ofbenevolence (ren О directed toward the well-being of others, which calls for (2) interpretively and appropriately recognizing and taking into consideration (i.e., zhi ?Д, knowing) the specific roles and circumstances of others in relations of asymmetrical reciprocity (shu ^); and (3) self-cultivation oriented through pedagogical exemplars and reflectively enacted models toward becoming an ethically exemplary person (junzi ША) and potentially a sage (shengren §A). This art of self-formation through internal cultivation and external ritual practices, and the contextualizing situational appropriateness and reflection on practice it requires, is shaped by the deployment of historical exemplars and orienting models as well as by the existing social nexus of ethical life.
Due to this basic structure, expressed briefly and schematically here, there is not one unified Confucian theory or praxis (i.e., a dynamically related set of practices) even as a number of ru thinkers articulate a genuine orthopraxy in the rituals and forms of social life and orthodoxy in intellectual doctrine. There is instead, in its complex historical reality, a multiplicity of ru strategies and positions that emphasize in differing degrees of moral authority and ethical transformation: (1) the authority of the existing ethical order for the sake of its self-organizing reproduction and (2) possibilities for a more extensive ethical realization of social relations and individual character through critical reflection on and the ethically oriented reformation of practices and institutions.
The tensions between these potentially conflicting tendencies of traditional authority and ethical-political reform, and between individual self-formation on the one hand and the recognition of the worth and welfare of others on the other, are evident within ru sources and their complexly mediated modern Chinese and European reception.
Looking at the Western image and imagination of “Confucius" it becomes clear that Confucius is not only an ancient Chinese thinker, but we can speak of a European Confucius, formed in the European reception and appropriation of “Confucius" just as we might speak of a Chinese Marx, a Japanese Heidegger, or a German Heraclitus. These figures, and what their associated discourses say, do not and cannot belong exclusively to one tradition. Thinking mutates, spreads, and transverses multiple divergent discourses in which unique configurations of interpretation and contestation unfold. Confucius and Confucianism are interpretive discursive formations formed through imaginative projections and constructions and through encounters and communicative interactions.
The German philosopher and Reformed theologian Schleiermacher astutely noted in a letter from 1803, concerning the politics of interpreting German Romanticism, the political-theological character of the European reception of Confucius. He observed how, on the one hand, deistic and secular philosophers used Confucian morality as a stepping stone for their arguments against Christian orthodoxy and how, in turn, Orthodox Christians responded by denouncing Confucius as a Spinozian pantheist (e.g., the idea of the unity of natural and the divine) or Wolffian deist (e.g., the idea of God as a rational architect).7 Just as the emerging Romantic movement was misconstrued by its proponents and critics alike, the struggle between Enlightenment and faith in the eighteenth-century had little interest in the Chinese context and historical actuality of the figure of Confucius.
This type of interpretive problem reappears throughout the European reception of Asian philosophy. It indicates a possible limit to a genuinely intercultural hermeneutics: the interest in non-European thought might in the end be a reflection of internal European concerns and debates such that a genuine encounter and dialogue does not and perhaps in principle cannot take place. The Eurocentric skeptic, who assumes the indifference of the West toward the non-European world, can repeatedly repose these questions: Did an actual encounter happen or is the other only a mirroring of the self and its own desires and concerns? Did dialogue and learning occur or did the European thinker merely project their own presuppositions onto the other and only discover what they already understood? We will be confronted by the Eurocentrist’s questions throughout this chapter and work.
What is illuminating in Schleiermacher’s remark is the role that Confucius is given in the European controversy between traditional Christianity and its modernistic critics. How did an ancient Chinese sage become part of the modern European debate over religiosity and secularism and, more specifically, whether ethics must be religious or secular?
One of Schleiermacher’s few direct citations of Confucius in a letter from 1797 reveals another side of the early European reception of Confucianism, in which Confucius is a contested figure who either embodies a religious or secular way of thinking. Schleiermacher adopted a religious interpretation, while rejecting its negative form that claimed that Confucian religiosity was merely pagan or pantheistic, construing Confucius’s appeal to heaven (tian) in the Analects— which has varying explications in Chinese and Western commentaries—as indicating the finitude and imperfectability of human reason. Confucius is not then an Enlightenment atheist and rationalist; he shows, by addressing heaven in a crucial moment, that the human use of reason is a way of error in need of turning to heaven to correct finite conditional reason.8
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