American Confucianism

Taking a look at the article title, one may well ask the question, “What is ‘American Confucianism’? Isn’t Confucianism uniquely Chinese”?

Of course, Chinese thought and culture had been the sources from which Confucianism was originated. However, Confucianism went to the world and has become a part of world culture. Confucius belongs to China as well as to the world. He has transcend time and space.

In terms of time, he traversed the span of two thousand years and went through cultural exchange enormously. It fostered four types of Confucianism in China over history:“solely-respected Confucianism” (duzun rushu), “mutually complementary Confucianism-Daoism” (rudao hubu), “integrating Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism” (san jiao he yi), and “intermingling Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and Islamism.” And, as we find it today, Confucianism has become more and more a melting form of multiple thought systems. In terms of space, Confucianism does not only belong to China, but is a common cultural heritage of the world. Besides Chinese Confucianism, there are now also Japanese, Korean, Singaporean, and even French and other Western “Confuciuses” and Confucianisms; all are products of cultural exchange. It is quite natural that in the United States there has been a school of American Confucianism as Confucianism was introduced to this country.

America is a nation of migrants; Chinese Americans are one of the immigrated population groups. In the past, it was difficult for them to become a part of upper society in the United States. However, with many years’ enduring effort, many Chinese American elites have made great achievements and become visible in upper society.

There are distinguished Chinese Americans in government, science and technology, and academia. The federal government has had Chinese Americans serve in the level of department secretary. There are quite a few Chinese Americans in science and technology who earned Noble Prizes. Chinese Americans have also had more and more influence in academia; there are Chinese American academicians in humanities and social sciences. Chinese learning and culture have become more and more influential and played a more important role. Some young Americans learn Chinese culture from Chinese American elites and dedicate themselves to Chinese studies. It is a general rule of American academia that those prospective students of Chinese culture studies must first be the best of the elites. Only the top-notch students are eligible for Chinese culture studies. Chinese elites have brought Chinese culture to Americans, and there has come Chinese studies. There have even been Confucian studies. Among those that have worldwide influence are the Confucian studies in Boston and Hawaii.

On the one hand, the Confucian learning in Boston is also called Dialogue Confucianism. Robert Neville and a number of others lead a school emphasize an engagement between Confucianism and Christianity. Tu Wei-ming leads another school advocates a dialogue between Confucianism and Islamic and other oriental civilizations. On the other hand, the Confucian scholarship in Hawaii can be identified as Interpretative Confucianism. This school is represented by Cheng Chun-ying and may also include David L. Hall, Roger T. Ames, and Chenshan Tian. Of course, it does not mean that Tu does not interpret Confucianism and nor Cheng does pursue a dialogue. I only suggests that Tu mainly pursues a dialogue of Confucianism and that Cheng mainly interprets Confucianism.

There is yet another Confucian scholar, which is Yu Yingshi, who has profoundly studied the history of Confucianism and Max Weber’s point of view of Confucianism. If he can develop further his study in this respect and make great accomplishment, Yu may well form another school – Historical Confucianism. However, Yu’s study has not yet come to the stage to form a distinct school. It may still need more time before such a school can be founded. But in any case, today’s historical background has prepared adequate conditions for Confucianism to comply with situation of globalization. 


The Bostonian School

The Boston School of Confucianism was founded by a group of Confucian scholars in Boston. Although the name of “Boston School” was a good humor to begin with, nowadays it is currently an accepted academic term. In addition, Neville’sThe Boston Confucianism, which was published in 2000, formally announced the founding of the Boston School of Confucianism. And yet, the Charles River geographically divides the school is into the South Bank and North Bank sections, which are separately led by Neville and John Berthrony and Tu Weiming. The South-Bank section is located at the College of Theology, Boston University. Neville, Former Dean of the College, argues that Confucianism is not only related to the distinctively historical circumstances of China and thus that Western scholars can study Confucianism but are unable to become Confucian thinkers. Heannouncedthat he was himself a Confucian thinker. He has adamant interest in the influence of Confucianism on comparative philosophy and theology and its contribution in this respect. From the perspective of his own philosophical goal, Neville attempts a nurtured system by means of absorbing a rich complexity of Plato, Pearce, American pragmatism, Pan-Asia Buddhism, and Confucianism andrevitalizesclassic rational metaphysics andspeculative philosophyofWestern tradition. For this reason, he became increasingly infatuated with analyzing Confucianism. The idea of Boston School has indeed its originsin theopulent resources ofNeville’s thought from the present-day globalperspective.

As Berthrony claims, the study of Confucianism has becomeaworld movement. Confucianism willbecome a dimensionoftheself-consciousnessof European thoughtandhaveaudience in Pacific and North Atlanta regions. According to Wang Xiaohong, the South Bank section is also called Christian Confucianism, foritis somehowrelevantto the study ofChristiantheology. The section has a focus on Xunzi’s thought and stresses onliand the role of its standard. “Self” is indeed a network of correlativity, rather than an isolated center of egoism.The section is attempting a philosophy, which may perfect theliof modern society according to its own Confucian model; the model is proportionally based upon the understanding that Xunzi treatedlias behavioral norms. That the Boston School of Confucianism had such a set-up attitude has not been contingent. Here, one may discover the influence of Christianity.

AsWang Xiaohongstates,the characteristics of the section include 1) a stress on the original sin. The school does not take a “yes or no” position on the issue of the original sin doctrine of Christianity vs. thegood human naturetheory ofConfucianism; rather, it resourcefully combines them. Thisiswhat they have taken as theline fromXunzi, whichacknowledgesthat the internal human natureis good or neither good nor bad, whileemphasizing the external evilness and original sinfulness of society. 2)A stress onlias the external norms. A stress ontheoriginal sins of society would naturally lead giving a striking role to the external normsofli.Ane yet, the conception oflican be expediently extended to the traditional Judo-Christian ideas of law and rules; it is indeed a revision as well as an amendment to Confucianism’s overemphasis of internal virtue of cultivation. 2)Focusing on the external norm of li. Anaturalresult of stressingtheoriginal sin of society is to makeit astriking role oftheexternal normofli.In addition the concept of li may conveniently lead tothethinking of traditional Judo-Christian ideas of law and rules. This makes a revision of and amendment to the overemphasis of internal virtue of cultivation in the Confucian tradition. 3) A stress onju jing qiong li, or “explore thoroughly into the nature ofliwhile maintaining attentively the fundamental consciousness of mind/heart.” Although the saying is quoted from Zhu Xi, it has become a maximof the South Bank Boston Confucianism.It is indeed a natural selection as regards the background of traditional Western rationalism. The school criticizesprematurecommitment ofintuitiveempiricism. The school’s frequent classroom topic is thedifferent approaches ofZhu Xi and Wang Yangmingto “bambooanalysis” (ge zhuzi). Indeed,Ju jing qiong lias an important tradition isalso foundinChristiantheology. Neville is himself a prominent theologian. And, 4) the school also focuses on the idea of internal transcendence.

Neville and Berthrony serve as President and Vice President of the College of Theology atBoston University. They havecollaborated soundly with each otherin building up at the collegea platformof North American Theologians to promoteConfucianism. Recently Neville edited a book entitledA Short Happy Life of Boston Confucianism, which contains several long articles he wrote in the past years. While he is a Christian, Neville also claims that he identifies himself with Confucianism.

Neville raises three questions. The first, Can Confucianism become a dimension or component of international philosophical discussions? His answer is affirmative. Neville is currently President of the World Philosophy Society. He also served as President of the American Religious Association. He has consistently devoted himself to promoting East Asian Philosophical Studies. In his view, like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Whitehead, Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi, Zhu Xi and Wang Yangmingare allimportantcontent ofinternationalphilosophical discussions. The second is the issue of study subject and the foundation of Confucian culture. Neville andBerthrony attach full importance to developing Neo-Confucianism and think Confucian studies at the Harvard University should make this a focus. The two theologians also proposed that university education in the West (including the United States) should include the study of classical Confucian texts, for fear that the curriculum would be too Western-colored and regionalist. The general knowledge of students should include as basic classical textsThe Four ClassicsandXunzi. (In the United States, many educators viewThe Analectsas fundamental text for American adults education.) Then the study of the modern significance of Confucian rites and music would be added to a further level of university education. The Third isthe issue of “self.” Is “self’ an isolated individual entity or a focal center of a net of relations? The latter is what the Confucian promote and take as a fundamental concept; it is different from the narrow sense of individualism promoted in the West.

      In all the abovementioned issues, the South Bank and North Bank (at Harvard University) sections of Confucianism agree to each other. Indeed contemporary Neo-Confucianism’s “internal transcendence” and the “process theology” of Neville and Berthrony comply with each other in many points. Berthrony, former Associate Dean of the College of Theology at Boston University, identifies himself with the Boston School of Confucianism and actively promotes inter-religion dialogues. In his article, Berthrony refutes to Hall and Ames for their denial of the idea of “internal transcendence”; this is exactly where the Boston and the Hawaii schools of Confucianism are distinguished from each other.

Tu Wei-ming, who focuses on the philosophy of Mencius, represents the North Bank Confucianism. Following the three systems of thought of Zi Si and Mencius, Lu Jiuyuan and Wang Yangming, and Mou Zongsan, he attaches importance to the cultivation of mind/heart and has dedicated himself to the reconstruction of the spirit of humanities. Tu founded and has chaired the Association of Confucian Studies at Harvard University for more than twenty years. As a rather loose organization, the association adopts a combination of the approaches of “get-together reading” of the Japanese Sinologists and seminar of the German tradition. The number of participants is usually between twenty and thirty, including visiting scholars from East Asia and Western Europe and professors, Ph.D. candidates, and graduate students from Harvard University and Boston University, and off-campus scholars as well. Their discussions focuses on criticism against Confucianism and the contemporary Neo-Confucianism from various angles, includingliberalism, feminism, Christianity, Buddhism, Neo-Daoism, Neo-Marxism (represented by Arif Dirlick of the Duke University), anti-traditionalism, and historians.

Tu suggests a necessary and sympathetic understanding of the critical arguments from all perspectives against Confucianism, conjecturing their possible angles, examining the basic concepts of Neo-Confucianism from position of modernity, and posing a response to the critiques. Discussions should develop around dialogue and communication between Confucian thought and basic modern values. Through exchange, participants gain a new understanding of the position, modernity, path, and prospect of the development of Confucianism. Tu stresses that globalization does not equal to integration. Human history underwent an axis era. Today it should have a new axis era. By new axis era it means an extension of tradition to the present. We need to transcend narrow and one-sided humanity-centralism and must face several kinds of relationships. How do individuality, self, mind and body integrate each other? How do the individual and community interact to each other healthily? How can humanity have a protracted harmony with nature?

A large proportion of Tu’s discussion is focused on the third stage of the development of Confucianism. In his view, for the third stage of development, Confucianism must have creative and constructive response to the values embodied in Western civilization but missing in Confucian tradition, for instance, science, democracy, religious tradition, and deep consciousness of Sigmund Freud’s psychology. In addition, Confucianism needs to deals with issues relevant to current Chinese culture and opportunity of survival and rebirth in the mainland of China and other East Asian countries. On top of the two issues, Confucianism should also “engage itself in a mutual beneficial manner in the communication and dialogue with the spiritual traditions in the rest of the world.” For example, it could exchange and communicate with Christianity, Catholics, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism,Jainas, Sikhism, Shinto and various regional religions. Tu contends that Confucianism should open a wider path, which fully embodies the spirit of communicative rationality and is beneficial to itself and others and with equality, insistence, and impartiality.

Tu delivered a speech entitled “The Spirit of Confucian Civilization and Civilizational Dialogue” at the “Tu Weiming Millennium Academics Report” at the Yuelu Academy. He stated further the importance of civilizational dialogue. As he pointed out, there is a Confucian cultural block, which includes China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Korea, perhaps also part of Japan, all the regions that were influenced by Confucian culture.Karl Jasperssuggested from a pluralist perspective in 1957 that there were four tremendously important philosophers who played extremely important role in shaping human civilizations. No matter one is from which system of civilization, he should know about the four philosophers, who, as he named, were Socrates, Sakyamuni, Confucius, and Jesus. If we expand the category, it may also include Mohammed, Moses, Laozi and Zhuangzi. Although apparently different, they can communicate with each other. Let Christianity, Islam and Buddhism engage in a dialogue; while in the process, Confucianism can play a role of intermediary. Confucian humanities can be an intermediary; this is not to say Confucianism’s role is to unite and lead.That’s impossible.But its role is to help a communication. We have gradually begun this job. Therefore, the lowest principle is “what you don’t want do not do to others.” Meanwhile, however, we can foster the possibility for healthy interactions by means of “establishing ourselves by establishing others or attaining our goals by letting others reach their goals.” This is thus a road to the future. We have had a dialogue between Islam and Confucianism in Indonesia, and another one between Christianity and Confucianism in the United States. Not long ago we had an engagement of Judaism with Confucianism in Israel. These were tough jobs, while they were possible.

Tu stresses the far-reaching significance of engagement between Confucian and Islamic civilizations from the height of global dialogue between civilizations. Today, a new world order has replaced the bipolar opposition of the two superpowers (capitalism vs. socialism). People cannot help having simple generalizations when they look at this issue – the end of history, the clash of civilizations, or “the Pacific epoch.” In fact what we have seen is but the true starting point of the entire world history rather than the ending of history. From the perspective of comparative cultures, this new starting point must start with dialogues between different civilizations. We are aware of the danger of clash of civilizations due to their embedment in diverse races, languages, territories, and religions, while this situation makes dialogues even more pressing.

As hegemonic politics abates, we welcome the morning sunshine of the age of communications, relations, negotiations, interactions, discussions and co-operations. Because the pluralism of the contemporary global society is seen obviously, any one which declares superiority of its culture would only reveals haughtiness and arrogance. It is inevitable that different societies must mutually refer to each other. Civilizational dialogue is not only expectable but indispensable. As civilizations’ mutual reference develops, dialogues with Sough Asia and the civilization of Islamic world would be significantly beneficial to East Asia.

In terms of the relations between the Cultural China and Confucian tradition, many have misunderstood Tu, believing that he would like to see Confucianism to be the single flower that towers over or is dominanting all other civilizations as he is so devoted to Confucian Studies. As he states, he never had such idea. He only feels, as he states, it is so bad that Confucianism had so sorrowful a fate in the past one or two centuries in modern history. Because of its miserable experience, to speak for it and let it grow with strength of revival would make our responsibility. He never dreamed nor had any illusion that he could make Confucianism the single flower over others. As he thinks, even if it could, it would not be healthy. His general standpoint is cultural pluralism; he would view the spiritual resources of Confucian tradition from the perspective of cultural pluralism.

From this perspective, the concept of Cultural China is broadened because cultural China’s spiritual resource is not absolutely limited to Confucian tradition; there are other traditions such as Daoism and Buddhism. In popular religious traditions of China, there are elements that belong to Confucian tradition but many others don’t; they are Buddhist. Buddhism had far more influence on Chinese culture than Confucianism. This can be clearly seen in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Perceiving from the broader discursive context of Cultural China, Tu believes there would be an East Asian model of modern civilization. Hence, he proposes the concept of “modernity pluralism”; this is a topic that has undergone much discussion in the West in recent years. Nowadays, as both globalization and regionalization loom large, they are not contradictory but complementary, for the situation has made “identification consciousness” loom striking. In the United Nations’ Civilizational Dialogue Year of 2001, Tu proposed two basic Confucian values as the foundation for civilizational dialogue, that is, the principles ofshu,or “what you do not want do not do to others” andren, “establish oneself by establishing others, attaining ones goals by letting others attain their goals.” It has long been thought that the modern West is the only stage of significant progress of the world and that the Confucian East Asia, Islamic Middle East, and Hindu India and Buddhist East South Asia have only passively been receiving the Western modernization process. Modernization will eventually conclude cultural diversity, and it is inconceivable that Confucianism or any other non-Western spiritual tradition might be conducive to modernization process.

The development from tradition to modernity is inevitable and irresistible. Nevertheless, tradition has continued its existence in modernity. Indeed, diverse cultural forms that rooted deep in old traditions have always conditioned modernization process. Confucianism upholds equality higher than freedom, sympathy than rationality, ritual education than rule of law, responsibility than rights, human relations than individualism. These seem to contradict the values of the Enlightenment Project. For this reason, it is not a surprise that there has often been a mocking attitude in the West toward the claims of Asian values by such political leaders likeLee Kuan Yewand Mahatir.

However, the crisis of societal deconstruction at all levels from family to the nation apparently proves the need for social justice, spiritual communication, mutual understanding, and the consciousness of responsibility and co-existence. As Louise Henkin strongly argues, Asian or Confucian values, just like the values of the Enlightenment, have universal significance. As political ideology, the morality of businesspeople, family values, or protest spirit, Confucian teachings have gained reviving vigor in the industrializing East Asia since the 1960s and the socialist East Asia since 1980s. It has been a combination of many factors. Indeed, for more than a century the intellectuals in the East Asia have been enthusiastically learning from the West. But very often they unconsciously seek help from local traditions in reorganizing and reordering whatever they have learned from the West. Their creative absorbing and utilizing knowledge has helped their creation of a new integration of the enlightening rationality and Confucian humanism. Confucian tradition has long been playing a role from its Great Unity systemic foundation. In the same time, it has shown its being deep-rooted in the foundation of agricultural economy, family-oriented societal structure, and paternal political system, too. Needless to say, as reaction to the torrential encounter of the West, all the aspects have underwent fundamental transformation into a renewed structure.

The political ideology of Confucianism has provided rich symbolic resources for the founding of the countries such as Japan and the four small dragons (Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore). In East Asia and China (including Hong Kong, Macaw, and Taiwan) economic culture, family values and business morality are expressed in Confucian terms. All the concepts such as “wangluo ziben zhuyi (network capitalism),” “ruanxing quanwei zhuyi (soft authoritarianism),” “tuandui jingshen (group spirit),” and “xieshang zhengzhi (consultative politics), which are found everywhere in economy, politics and society in East Asia, verify that Confucian tradition has continued playing a role in the modernization project in East Asia.

As Tu argues, East Asia is the first non-Western region that has realized modernization. The cultural significance of the rising Confucian East Asia is far-reaching. The modern West provided worldwide societal transition with initial dynamic. Of course, the values of the Enlightenment Project such as instrumental rationality, freedom, rights, due procedures of law, privacy right, and individualism, are modern values of universal significance. Nevertheless, just as proved by the examples of the Confucian East Asia, sympathy, justice of distributions, consciousness of responsibility, ritual education, public welfare concerns, and communitarian orientation constitute the modern values of universal significance, too. Just like the values of the Enlightenment, which must undergo reorganization and reordering in the process of modernization in East Asia, Asian values would also become appropriate and important reference for the modern life styles of the West.

The modernization of Confucianism proves that, fundamentally speaking, modernization is not Westernization or Americanization. Does this mean that the rise of East Asia is a sign for the replacement of the old paradigm by a new one? It is not. Nevertheless, this makes a manifestation to the West, particularly to the United States, that there is the need to transform a civilization into a style that not only preaches to others, but also learns from them. Modernization in East Asia implies pluralism rather than any other type of unilateralism. The success in realizing general modernization rather than wholesale Westernization in the Confucian East Asia has been a clear suggestion that modernization can take different cultural forms; the Buddhist, Islamic, and Hindu cultural forms are not only possible, but have high potentiality.

Overall, the theories of the two Boston Confucianism schools can be generalized as four aspects: 1) emphasis of original sin, acknowledgement of the internal human nature as either good or amoral, emphasis of external societal evils, or original sinfulness; 2) focus of external norms of rites (li); 3) amendment-making to the principles of explore thoroughly into the nature ofliwhile maintaining attentively and seriously the fundamental consciousness of mind/heart (ju jing qiong li) and internal virtual cultivation; and 4) emphasis of internal transcendence. The appearance of the Boston Confucianism proves that Confucianism has potentiality to become universal principles. Confucianism can become a portion of American culture. Confucianism can certainly go out, grow and blossom all over the world.


Hawaii Confucianism

The central figure of the Hawaii Confucianism is Cheng Chung Ying, whose approach is called the Principle of Ontological Hermeneutics. Cheng aims a communication between Chinese and Western philosophy in terms of language, concepts, conception and ontology. In doing this, he “deconstructs” Chinese philosophy for the purpose of reconstruction and renovation and eventually modernizes to let it go out to the world. His “Ontological Hermeneutics” bears heavy influence of Western philosophy, particularly in terms of rational analysis; it aims its target eventually on Chinese philosophy, though. This is because, as the highest philosophical ontology of hermeneutics, it finally ends in the form of life ontology of holistic interactionism; and knowledge is also unified as the conception of mind/nature, or what is known as the knowledge of values. Prior to the founding of ontological hermeneutics, Cheng had devoted many years to the study of theYijing. He gained imminent understanding of the function ofyi(meaning) by means of the contemplation ofxiang(image). His thorough comprehension of “harmonization” and systematic vision and thinking pattern have directly drawn on and benefited from theZhouyi. In the subsequent philosophical consideration, comparative Chinese and Western philosophy remained a stimulating area, on which he has focused his effort. Hence, on the surface level, his ontological hermeneutics has heavy Western color, but at root, it is solidly and deeply embedded in Chinese philosophical thinking.

Cheng first proposed the presumptions of ontological hermeneutics in early 1980s. After that he delivered a series of speeches and written plenty of articles; there were response over the years. He included some of the most systematic ones in hisThe Choice around the Century.His latest plan is to accomplish hisThe Philosophy of Zhou Yi: The Original Form of Ontological Hermeneutics,which aims at improving the system of ontological hermeneutics theoretically and methodologically and then unfolding its two practical phases: Management theory and Ethics.He also engages himself in reinterpreting the histories of Chinese and Western philosophies from the theoretical and methodological perspective of ontological hermeneutics. As he states in the Preface of his bookIntegrate Internal and External Daos: {???} Confucian Philosophy,

Confucianism was mainstream intelligence of Chinese culture. Nevertheless, it was of course no historical contingent that it had become the mainstream. Indeed, it was a condensation of multiple and invaluable cultural elements that had developed naturally. Based upon historical sources and data and documents unearthed in contemporary times, we have attained far more profound understanding of Confucius’ life, career and practice, the social setting, and thinking orientations of the philosophical schools of his time. These sources also reflect the profoundity of outlooks of life, society, and the universe of the Chinese nation’s classical culture. Scholars are familiar with and may slickly tell the Confucian school’s later development and its intermingling, mutual penetration and integration with the Chinese politics, society, economy, ethical education and personality cultivation. Nevertheless, the unlimitedness, potentiality, height, and depth of Confucian philosophical thinking and its development are a subject that deserves our unlimited exploration. This book is a collection of philosophical essays on Confucianism I accomplished over many years. These essays comprise a system of its own, which on the one hand theorizes the relationship of Confucianism with modernity, on the other hand reveals the values and visions of Confucianism that we must acknowledge and develop further. Even more importantly, these essays focus on digging into Confucianism’s internal structures ofyi(meaning) andli(principles) and the leading function of human nature, and have tried to maintain coherent and continuous totality. My basic approach is to assume an in depth philosophization of Confucian ideas, which is not only limited to the question of how it may be incorporated into modernity. I believe if we comprehend the utmost of Confucian philosophy and rationality, then its modernity, post-modernity and post-post-modernity may gain an appropriate status and fair appraisal. In particular, on the three grand subjects, -- supplementing the shortage of Western cultural values, promoting progressiveness and development of Chinese culture and society, and expanding the values and future of entire humanity (including ethics of living, ecology, and economy), Confucianism is able to make unusual and great contribution.


Cheng has categorized hermeneutics as “hermeneutics based upon ontology” and “ontology-seeking hermeneutics.” All Western or classical metaphysical systems belong to the former, that is, the presumption of thea prioriontology, and then the interpretation in its terms, while the latter is absent of any presumed or presumablea priori, and rather an emerging worldview in the process of contemplation. The worldview is combined with an outlook of the individual’s self to constitute “his” ontology. This “ontology” is the individual hermeneutic, which seeks and generalizes evidence provided by the external world. As the “context” varies constantly, the content of the conceptual ontology changes. Therefore, this ontology is dynamic “self-ing ontology,” rather than static “toward-ingontology.”

Based upon his unique understanding of ontology of Chinese philosophy, Cheng divides his hermeneutic system into two large phases: “the starting of ontological consciousness” and “the knowing of rational consciousness.” In total the two phases have ten principles. These principles include a comprehensive contemplation of form and ontology, experience and rationality, which comprises an organic multilevel and temporal network system. Seen from a forward-moving path of particular hermeneutic, these principles may present themselves as four stages: “phenomenal analysis,” “ontological thinking,” “rational critique,” and “order emerging.” “Phenomenon analysis” may be considered the combing of complexity and multiplicity, which reorganizes a totality according to the principle of correlativity of the yin-yang nuclear polarity. “Ontological thinking” is an effort to attain a command of completeness and entireness starting with ontology on the basis of “phenomenal analysis” and in order to satisfy the requirement of “completeness and entireness.” “Rational critique” is following obtaining a command of ontology and phenomenon to represent them with rational methodology, which includes linguistic communication, order-constructing, and comprehensive understanding. This is a double-way process involving both unfolding experience with rationality and experience’s conditioning and leading rationality. “Order emerging” means adjusting, appropriating, transforming and developing rational order under the conditions that rationality is being represented, and so much so that the interaction of experience and rationality gains utmost efficacy and a periodical unit of ontology is realized and paves way for hermeneutics to start unfolding.

As founder of “ontological hermeneutics,” Cheng believes any activity of knowing can be considered a dimension or aspect of the ontological entireness, which has dimensional limitation. The same as it is in terms of any value activity, which would also be a dimension or aspect of the ontological entireness, which has limitation in efficacy. Hence we must develop values with knowledge, andvice versa. Only when knowing and willing mutually reflect each other can there be coherence and continuity betweenti(ontology) andyong(its application), separateness of subtlety and detail, attainment of both certainty and wisdom, entailment of subjectivity and objectivity, and hence mutual growth ofliandqi. It is so much so that the entireness of ontology can show its consistency, richness and creativity.

Cheng first presented the concept of ontological hermeneutics in his commentary onHans-Georg Gadamer’sThe Truth and Methodology. He applied the concept to the explanation of Zhu Xi’s philosophy. As he states, the idea of “ontological hermeneutics” can be traced to as early as in the statement of theYijingthat ayinand ayangare what is calleddao.Yinandyangare both mutually different and opposite and mutual growing and complementary. So are willing and knowing (zhi4andzhi1) which can be referred to a functional analogy ofyinandyangand seen as both mutually different and opposite and mutual growing and complementary. The conception of ontological hermeneutics leads us not only to rethinking the ontology of philosophy, but also to understanding the dialectic relations between diverse modalities of philosophical thinking. “Ontological hermeneutics” may be thought as “ontological dialectics” and “dialectic ontology.” This is because it is receptive to multiple opposite but complementary categories, and to the prerequisite of consistency of temporal extension and spatial inclusiveness. Ontological hermeneutics can be employed in constructing a modernized Chinese philosophy as well as enriching modern Western philosophy and thus the two can be globalized into a consistent and integrative whole.

Cheng claims that ontological hermeneutics entails interpretation but not merely interpretation; it renders profoundness of comprehension. This profoundness of comprehension is not only in terms of the external world but also of self. The target of study of ontological hermeneutics may include a historical tradition, a cultural phenomenon, and a knowledge or philosophical system. It goes deep into the system and represents its significance in an inward-out manner by means of mastering the objective ontology and life experience and the truthfulness of life it contains in terms of creative conceptualization. It then falls on ontology. This intellectual approach seeks a consistent and continuous ontology through interactive exchange of understandings between objectivity and subjectivity and expansion of visions.

     Chenshan Tian is Cheng’s student and colleague. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and does research, translation and US-China exchange programs for the Center for Chinese Studies at UH. He emphasizes on many occasions and in many articles that Confucianism has a modality of correlative thinking, which can be differentiated from the modality that separates things from each other in the mainstream Western intellectual tradition. He calls the distinctive but not necessarily unique modality of Chinese thinking “tongbian.” As he claims,tongbiannot only belongs to Confucianism, but also Daoism and many other schools of thought in Chinese tradition. In addition,tongbianalso became the common people’s way of thinking. He follows the lines of argument of Cheng Chung-ying, David Hall and Roger Ames that “cosmos” in Confucian terms is not thestate of static reality that makes a Prime Mover a logical necessity. Instead of being moved by any transcendental Being, the Chinese world isziran(self-so-being) andziwei(self-so-goingorself-so-doing). The moving forces, or changes, come from the interactions of the complementary and contradictory polarities, from the ten thousand things themselves rather than from an external mover. What Confucianism explores isdao,wayin which the ten thousand things correlate with each other in constancy and continuity. The changes in the ten thousand things come from correlativity of paired elements, aspects and things, or the kind relationship of complementary opposition, constancy and continuity as ofyinandyang. We may state that unlike Western tradition, Confucianism’s self-so-ing cosmos and correlative thinking modality cannot give rise and are not subject to ultimate conception and principles. With certain novelty, Tian’s position is indeed an explanation from the perspective of ontological hermeneutics.

On the issue of individual identity, Tian states that the basic standing point of Confucianism in the development of the idea of individual identity, if there is any, is never separated from correlative consideration and particular pairing category. What has been well developed in Confucianism is the idea of internal-enlightenment and self-discipline. The Confucian concept “ren” denotes human relationship. It is also internal-enlightenment and self-discipline. In a Western linguistic flavor, perhaps it may be called internal self-identity and external self-identity. Externally, it is to follow or observe rites, which asZuozhuanstates, is that “if one often behaves in ignorance of rites, then the result would full upon himself.” (“duo xing wu li, bi zi ji ye”); internally, it is to love others (ai ren). Because the Confucianism’s individual identity is to recognize correlative relations, it leads to basic consciousness of equality. For example, this is expressed in the phrases “to establish others so one may establish oneself; to help others reach their goals so that one may attain one’s own goal,” and “what you do not want don’t do to others.”

Internal enlightenment and self-discipline are the matter of education and cultivation. This is the reason why, while in the West people seek endlessly the essence of individuality, Confucianism clams that one should not worry about others’ ignorance of himself, but his own possible misunderstanding of others.” (Analects1-4.2) With the similar persistent effort, what Confucianism seeks is not the answer to the question of “Who I am,” but rather “examining oneself three times a day. Can I be with others without sincerity or be with friends without trust, only communicate with people by paying lip service but not actually doing so?” (“Xueer(Analects: ???) Confucian individuality can mean as broad as in continuum with the sky and earth and ten thousand things. Mencius states that the ten thousand things are all stored with me.” In hisKnowing Ren,Ming Dao, he contends thatrenshares entirely the same continuum with things.” In Lu Xiangshan’s view, the cosmos (yuzhou) is my mind-heart, and my mind-heart is the cosmos.” As he also says, “the affairs happening in the cosmos (yuzhou) are all that for my duty (fen nei shi).” On the lines of Zhuangzi, Zhu Xi strings through withlifrom the category as broad as the cosmos to that as tiny as a molecricket and ant. As he states, “For things as large as the sky and earth to that as small as a molecricket and ant, their lives are all as such.”

The kinds of claim are just too many to be all cited here; so we learn that the Confucian conceptrenis to identify individuality with the “universe” oryuzhou. Zhu Xi and Lü Zuqian compiledJin si lu, which quoted Cheng Yi as says,

Renshares as a whole with the sky and earth and ten thousand things. All are not but the “self.” If one recognizes self in such terms, is there anywhere one could not go? If one is not aware of self in such terms, then it seems that one has anything to do with his own “self.” This is just like that his hands and feet do not have feelings, for the reason thatqican no longer get through and his hands and feet do no belong to him.


It is interesting to note that whereas in the West the conception of individual identity claims the uniqueness of individuality, trying every means to separate self from any other entity for fear that self would share any sameness with any “other,” Zhang Zai tells us that there is nothing out there in the world that could not be identified with self. What Cheng Yi means by “truly we possess them in our ‘self’ is to allow one to feel oneself as in a whole withwanwu(ten thousand things). Internal enlightenment and cultivation is the process of internal mind/heart consciousness of correlativity with the affairs of the natural world and human as well and psychological adjustment. Humanity needs to adjust itself in order to gain appropriate relations with natural and human affairs. This adjusting process is also the process of human nature development. Hence, human nature in Confucianism is not unchangeable essentiality but process of change.

David Hall and Roger Ames are two more important figures of the hermeneutic school. Ames earned his Ph.D. in London University, England. Hall did it at the University of Yale. They share common interests in American philosophy and comparative Chinese and Western philosophies. Although Hall was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at El Paso and Ames, a Professor of Philosophy and Director of Chinese Studies at the University of Hawaii, since they jointly published many influential works in this area, perhaps it is plausible for us to consider their thought in terms of the Hawaii Confucianism. For Hall and Ames, Chinese and Western philosophies represent two cultural systems, each has its own fundamental grammar and terminology. As two different languages, the two philosophical traditions share similarities and differentiate from each other in certain aspects. As compared with sameness, differences are more fundamental and deserve attention.

They call their approach “comparative philosophy” while thinking the usual comparative studies are “cross-cultural comparative.” These two kinds of studies are both related and differentiated from each other. The major differences are that cross-cultural comparison enables us with an optimistic attitude towards understanding other cultures. It starts with a presumption that cross-cultural understanding is possible. As comparative philosophy would argue, however, we would indeed like to understand another culture, but before we understand a culture, we should not first presume that we have the capability. In the language of hermeneutics, “cross culture comparison” presumes that it is a natural thing to get to understand other cultures. But comparative philosophy would assume that there is misunderstanding everywhere in the exchange process between cultures. The critical issue is to clarify what causes misunderstanding and what leads Westerners to misunderstanding Chinese philosophy.

Hall and Ames have a concise answer to the question – China and the West have two different sets of grammars and terminology. Of course to say so is only in terms of the philosophical contexts. It is obvious that, in the eyes of Hall and Ames, this conclusion is applicable to all cultural domains. The problem is that the entire cultural domains are too complicated to be reduced to the most concise category as that of philosophy.

Ames has divided the differences between Chinese and Western philosophies into three categories: self, truth, and transcendence. Chinese philosophy is just on the contrary to the Western in these issues. An understanding of the differences in the three critical categories may conveniently lead to a comprehension of other differences.

Ames has trained many students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. For example,Jim Behuniakstudied Mencius and has attempted an in depth analysis of Mencius’ classical texts and perhaps a passable communication from the position of American pragmatism.

The formation of the Hawaii Hermeneutical School has been a result of thinking through multi-intellectual traditions. The common characteristics are that it is influenced by Western philosophy, in particular the approaches of rational analysis. It includes phenomenology, logic empiricism, linguistic analysis, process philosophy, pragmatism and social critical theories. It has created value and knowledge theories that are converge to a life ontology, which consists the nuclear of Chinese philosophy. It has created abstractness of Chinese philosophy and raised its status in the world. The hermeneutical school makes an extraordinary contribution to the development of traditional Confucianism.

With an open attitude, the Boston and Hawaii Confucianisms have employed synthetic methodology of broader significance and incorporated process philosophy, analytical philosophy, hermeneutics, phenomenology, existentialism, and structuralism, the most popular philosophical trends in the West, into a whole system with the Chinese philosophy. Dialogue engagement and hermeneutic thinking have built up the Boston and Hawaii schools of Neo-Confucianism and enriched Confucian thought. Both attempt the modernization of Chinese traditional philosophy, an integration of the East and West, of the existence of humanities and science, and a balance of rationality of values and instrumentalism. The two schools’ work satisfies the double for developing science and democracy in China and rescuing values of humanities in the West following the Western modernization. Their efforts have made it possible for Confucianism to encounter the world. The two schools have played a role in helping Confucianism participate in global integration. In order to undergo a true modernization, it is a necessity that Confucianism first goes to the world. In this respect the Boston and Hawaii Confucianisms have taken a lead.

Cai Degui, Shandong University

(Translated by Chenshan Tian, University of Hawaii, June 22, 2004)

Roger T· Ames (Roger T.Ames)

Roger T. Ames was born in 1947 in Toronto, Canada. As a professor at the University of Hawaii, an advisor to Nishan Shengyuan Academy, Chairman of the World Association of Confucian Culture Studies and Vice Chairman of the International Confucian Association, he is an internationally famous expert in Sinology. He is a leading figure in Chinese & Western philosophy and is famous in China and abroad for his translation of books such as theAnalects of Confucius,Sun Tzu’s Art of War,Huainan Tzu andTao Te Ching He was the Chief Editor toPhilosophy of the Occident and Orientas well as theInternational Chinese Book Reviewand the author ofConfucian Philosophical Thinking,Thinking from the Han: Self, Truth, and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture,Anticipating China: Thinking Through the Narratives of Chinese and Western Culture,the Art of Rulership: A Study into Chinese Political ThoughtandDemocracy if the Dead: Dewey, Confucius and the Hope for Democracy in China. Roger T. Ames once received the guidance of Liu Dianjue and became proficient in classical Chinese, then to one of the most outstanding modern scholars of Classical Studies. In 2013, he was awarded the "Confucius Culture Award" by the 6th World Confucian Congress. Then he won the second "Huilin Prize Award" in 2016.…
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