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The problem of life in China and Europe

Eucken and Zhang thematize in The Problem of Life in China and Europe the thirst and need for renewal through a new practical philosophy that synthesizes the idealist core of German and Chinese philosophy and the cultures of East and West.18 Eucken describes the work in his preface as a conversation (Zwiesprache) between Europe and China, which allows each to speak with its own voice, on questions of the formation of life (Lebensgestaltung) and how best to live.19

On the one hand, Zhang and Eucken contend that the Chinese (in this context, primarily Confucian Chinese caught in the turmoil of Westernization and modernization) teaching of life requires breaking with its passivity and national isolation to achieve a greater level of activity and confidence in engaging the wider arena of the world. In this regard, the authors point to German Idealism as a movement of practical ethical activism that highlights both worldly and intellectual engagement and possibilities for dynamic transformation and renewal. Nonetheless, on the other hand, modern Western thought and culture are themselves disoriented by structural conflicts and crises. Europeans are in need of learning from the ethical clarity, simplicity, and sincerity of Confucian teachings. These aspects of Confucian philosophy indicate an ethical height and nobility of spirit that avoid the pitfalls of the modern Western false dilemma of choosing between either modernistic atheistic utilitarianism or ossified traditions, dogmas, and theological thinking.20 China, they contend, continues to be a source for furthering practical moral-political Enlightenment in the West just as it was a paradigm in early modernity for Leibniz and Wolff.21

The first part of The Problem of Life in China and Europe is a brief outline of the history of Western philosophy, the second part an overview of the history of Chinese ethics, and the third part a diagnostic reflection on the contemporary ethical-social situation in China and Europe. Despite its flawed interpretations of the past and answers for the present, this book is in many ways exemplary for intercultural philosophy in endeavoring to draw together diverse philosophical perspectives in a critical and diagnostic way that addresses contemporary philosophical and practical concerns.

While modern German philosophy has for the most part emphasized an abyss-like separation between Greece and Asia and the non-Western world, as is investigated further in the thinking of Husserl and Heidegger in Chapters 5 and 6, Eucken and Zhang note the openness of ancient Greece to Asia and how Europe was shaped by Christianity, an Asian religion fused with Greek philosophy.22 They perceive affinities between early Greek and Chinese thinking, particularly in their Socratic and Confucian moments, as critical reflection concerning the individual and social-political formation of life through selfcultivation and moral government. Chinese and Greek philosophy, particularly in their Confucian and Socratic forms, share an affinity in that they both aim at promoting the rational enlightenment and ethical renewal of practical life.

Eucken and Zhang, as is also evident in the cases of Misch considered in Chapter 1 and of Driesch discussed below, did not embrace an irrational and intuitive “life-philosophy” and an Orientalist vision of an enchanted mystical or more natural East. They rather, to give a fairer assessment of their works, construed life-philosophy as a culmination of a rational reflection that does not abandon practical life and the historical situation for the sake of either a purely theoretical attitude or a calculative instrumental and pragmatic abasement of rationality.

What is at stake here for Zhang and Eucken is the nature of reason itself and its role in human life. This raises a significant question for intercultural philosophy: is rationality only a feature of modern Western theoretical and calculative means- ends thinking or can it be found in manifold ways in all, including traditional non-Western, forms of life and communication? To interculturally expand and transform the more limited monocultural arguments concerning the lifeworld found in Husserl and Habermas, the external Western irrationalization and colonization of non-Western forms of life and thought corresponds with the internal modern irrationalization and colonization of the lifeworld and ethical life.23 It is this situation that helps clarify how Zhang could consider himself (1) a proponent of the internal rationality of traditional Chinese philosophical discourses and forms of life, and (2) an advocate of the growing role of the sciences and Western philosophical reflection in modern China while, at the same time, (3) opposing the “complete” or “wholesale” Westernization (quanpan xihua i.e., the ostensive modern rationalization) of Chinese life as

well as positivistic and scientistic interpretations of the sciences (a topic that will be resumed below).

 
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