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Dao (2015) 14:433–449 DOI 10.1007/s11712-015-9454-x
DAI Zhen’s Criticism and Misunderstanding of ZHU Xi’s Moral Theory Zemian ZHENG 1
Published online: 9 July 2015 # Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015
Abstract DAI Zhen 戴震 criticizes Song-Ming 宋明 Neo-Confucianism, especially ZHU Xi’s 朱熹 dichotomy between principle (li 理) and desires (yu 欲) and his claim that principle is received from Heaven and completely embodied in the heart/mind, as if Zhu advocates asceticism and ultra-intuitionism. This criticism culminates in the accusation of “using principle as a means of killing or persecuting people.” In this paper, I argue that DAI Zhen misunderstands ZHU Xi’s moral theory and does not do him justice. At some point Dai’s criticism is similar to the utilitarian criticism of deontology. However, more interesting are Dai’s unique ideas, especially his arguments for desires that covertly appeal to the immanent-monist trends of thought in the Ming-Qing 明清 period. His own ethical enterprise lies in dismissing Song Confucians’ notion of ethics as revealing principles a priori, and then establishing criteria or procedures that enable common moral deliberation. Keywords ZHU Xi 朱熹 . DAI Zhen 戴震 . xing 性 (nature) . qing 情 (feelings) . dichotomy between li 理 (principle) and yu 欲 (desires)
1 Introduction DAI Zhen 戴震 (1724–1777), one of the most significant philosophers and philologists in the Qing 清 period, is also known as a criticizer of Song 宋 Confucianism (mainly of ZHU Xi 朱熹). He famously accuses the “later Confucians” (i.e., Confucians misled by ZHU Xi’s doctrine) of “using principle as a means of killing or persecuting people,” owing to their misinterpretation of Mencius’ thought. He instead argues for a more down-to-earth approach of ethical inquiry based on feelings and desires.
School of Philosophy, Wuhan University, Wuhan, Hubei Province 430072, China
In his Mengzi Ziyi Shuzheng 孟子字義疏證 (Commentary on the Meanings of Terms in the Mencius; hereafter Shuzheng), DAI Zhen says the “later Confucians” believe that the heart/mind (xin 心) is endowed with principle (li 理) a priori, which can be revealed as long as one eliminates the desires (yu 欲) that obscure it. Dai contends that this notion of principle in mind is a great illusion, and that the doctrine of eliminating desires is pernicious in its tendency. These doctrines inevitably lead to ethical and political disasters. DAI Zhen’s accusation led to a century of debates (see Section 3.1 below). However, most of the scholars from both sides take this accusation as merely a critique of the ideological misuse of ZHU Xi’s theory, or at least believe that it is valid only in this sense. I argue that this reading, sympathetic to DAI Zhen as it seems, actually downplays its own worth as an academic critique. Dai does believe that ZHU Xi’s theory has intrinsic problems that lend themselves to ideological misuse. His diagnosis of the problem of Zhu’s moral theory consists of two main points: asceticism and ultraintuitionism. Although on each point Dai does not entirely do justice to Zhu, he nevertheless manages to provide a new approach to ethical thinking. Since the first point about asceticism deals with desires, I would like to point out that, interestingly, two recently published articles discuss DAI Zhen’s notion of desires from two contrasting perspectives: religious and secular. LAN Fei links it to the cosmological view of the life-giving force of ren 仁 (humanity) (Lan 2012), while Justin Tiwald focuses on DAI Zhen’s down-to-earth defense of self-interest (Tiwald 2011). In a draft of this essay written several years ago, I listed Dai’s arguments to justify rational satisfaction of desires. Now that some of these arguments have been discussed by these two authors, I would rather summarize the key justifications, and point out that Dai in this key issue takes a dual stance; namely, he tries to justify worldly desires in a more down-to-earth ethical approach, while he covertly appeals to the traditional religious belief and thus tints desires with heavenly blessing. I present a brief historical account of how he comes to take this dual stance when he follows the immanent-monist trends in the Ming 明 period, making a departure from ZHU Xi’s dualism. This departure in view could be discerned chronologically in Dai’s early writings, where he borrows Zhu’s terminology and still seems to subscribe to his thought. At the end of this essay I also reconstruct the procedure of ethical enquiry sketched by DAI Zhen. The procedural notion of principle is the most original idea of his ethics. In order to introduce the topic of DAI Zhen’s criticism, I would like to quote his last words, which show clearly his theme and intent. In his “Letter to DUAN Yucai” (“Yu DUAN Ruoying Lun Li Shu 與段若膺論理書”) written a few months before his death, Dai says, “The later Confucians’ dichotomy between principle and desires was indeed a Daoist and Buddhist doctrine of eliminating desires. What they meant by the dichotomy between principle and desires was nothing but a contrast between rectitude and wickedness. What they said about preserving principle in mind was nothing but contrasting respect with disrespect, yet they never knew that they had not attained any principle, no matter how severe and serious they were” (Dai 1991: 214; see also Yu 2005: 226). This remark is exactly the main theme that reverberates throughout DAI Zhen’s late philosophical works. QIAN Mu 錢穆 discovered that in the Shuzheng the new idea which had not appeared in DAI Zhen’s earlier philosophical works was exactly the
DAI Zhen’s Criticism of ZHU Xi
refutation against the dichotomy between principle and desires (Qian 1999: 303–306), a thought deeply engrained in Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism. The problems concerned here are as follows. First, the doctrine of eliminating desires and the dichotomy between principle and desires are misguided. These mistakes are based on the misleading proposition that “what does not issue from principle issues from desire and what does not issue from desire issues from principle” (Chan 1963: 713) (Shuzheng 1.10, 1.15, 8.1, 8.2, 8.4 1). Second, there exists no principle a priori. The later Confucians always believe that they have attained principle of Heaven as long as they eliminate desires. However, what they entertain in mind is nothing but opinions. The relevant claim that DAI Zhen repeatedly quotes and criticizes is that “principle is received from Heaven and completely embodied in the heart/mind” (Shuzheng 1.5, 1.9, 1.13, 1.14, 2.4, 5.2, 8.4). DAI Zhen’s criticism of ZHU Xi’s moral theory can be summed up by these two points. The following pages will be devoted to discussion of these points in two dimensions respectively: (1) moral judgments, and (2) the justification of moral rules. Each section consists of two parts: DAI Zhen’s criticism and ZHU Xi’s original meaning. It seems to me that many people today still misunderstand ZHU Xi just as DAI Zhen did.
2 On Moral Judgment: DAI Zhen’s Criticism of the Principle-Desire Dichotomy 2.1 DAI Zhen’s Criticism of Asceticism In the Shuzheng, DAI Zhen points out that the later Confucians read Buddhist and Daoist doctrine into Confucian classics, either consciously (the Lu-Wang 陸王 school) or unconsciously (the Cheng-Zhu 程朱 school). This doctrine holds that principle and desires are mutually exclusive, that is to say, “what does not issue from principle issues from desire, what does not issue from desire issues from principle” (Chan 1963: 713). It advocates that one should purge himself of feelings and desires. It is on this doctrine that DAI Zhen’s first point of criticism concentrates its fire. The sentence quoted above is worth analyzing, because the subject of the sentence is ambiguous, and the meaning of “from” (chu yu 出於) is vague. We can conjecture the meaning by adding possible subjects to the sentence: (A) “A motive” that is not from desire can only be from principle, and vice versa. (B) “A rule” that is not (made/constituted) on the basis of desire can only be on the basis of principle, and vice versa.
The Shuzheng text I quote is based on the Complete Works of DAI Zhen (Dai 1991). Given that it is the central text to which this article will repeatedly refer, and the same text has different editions and translations, I quote the text by its chapter and section numbers instead of page numbers, so that readers with different editions can easily find the citations they need. The Shuzheng consists of eight chapters. Each chapter explains a term, beginning with an introduction and then a series of questions and answers. I number the introduction as section 1, and each set of questions and answers in the following is numbered 2, 3, and so on. For example, Shuzheng 2.1 refers to the introduction of the 2nd chapter, Shuzheng 1.10 refers to the 9th set of question and answer in the 1st chapter.
The former is about motives for moral judgments (e.g., judging a person’s character or the ethical worth of his behaviors), while the latter deals with the criteria for moral rules. DAI Zhen says, “It is correct to say that what does not issue from rectitude issues from perverseness and what does not issue from perverseness issues from rectitude, but not correct to say that what does not issue from principle issues from desire and what does not issue from desire issues from principle” (Shuzheng 1.10; Chan 1963: 714). Namely, this sentence is valid only in the sense of moral judgment, but not in the sense of the criteria of moral rules. What he means here is that the later Confucians, due to their overemphasis on respect and rectitude, confound the rule of action with the motive out of which one takes this action. On the one hand, whether a motive is correct or perverse depends on whether or not it is in accordance with propriety (Shuzheng 1.15). Therefore, correctness and perverseness are mutually exclusive. On the other hand, every moral rule has its form and material, that is, the regulative norm and the object of desires. DAI Zhen says, “Desires are the wu 物 (materials/things) and principles are the ze 則 (norm)” (Shuzheng 1.10). 2 Therefore, desires and principle comprise a moral rule and are not mutually exclusive. To use DAI Zhen’s own example, the “material” of a rule is that I want to lead a better life, the “norm” is that I would also improve the life in others.3 This distinction is crucial in DAI Zhen’s ethical thinking. It is strikingly similar to J. S. Mill’s criticism of deontology. In his Utilitarianism, Mill says that the “disinterested character” in deontological theories is “too high for humanity.” There is no point in flaunting the Entsagen (renunciation) as the necessary condition of all virtues (Mill 1971: 21). Mill says the objectors to utilitarianism, including deontologists, “mistake the very meaning of a standard of morals and confound the rule of action with the motive of it. It is the business of ethics to tell us what are our duties, or by what test we may know them; but no system of ethics requires that the sole motive of all we do shall be a feeling of duty.… The motive has nothing to do with the morality of the action, though much with the worth of the agent” (Mill 1971: 25). Similarly, the historic moment of DAI Zhen’s criticism is no doubt a utilitarian challenge of Song Confucians’ overmuch emphasis on moral motives. In contrast with Mill, Dai keeps from going to extremes and does not explicitly tell us whether “motive has nothing to do with the morality of action.” Arguably he would have thought that motive has at least an instrumental value, since feelings such as compassion, love, and experiencing sorrow and joy with others (Shuzheng 1.15) are conducive to their well-being.4 DAI Zhen thinks that the doctrine of eliminating desires has many disastrous influences on both private and public life. First, it imposes demanding moral rules on common human life. Even a very good person could be accused of not fully living up to the highly disinterested criteria (Shuzheng 8.4). Second, the doctrine breeds hypocrisy 2 The pair of terms wu (material/things) and ze (norm) appear in the Odes (No. 260): “Heaven produces the teeming multitude. As there are things there are their specific principles. When the people keep their normal nature they will love excellent virtue” (Chan 1963: 54). These lines are quoted by Mencius exactly in the passage where he explains his theory that xing (nature) is good. DAI Zhen’s interpretation of these terms in his commentary Shuzheng is creative, not strictly based on the Mencius. 3 “The life in others” is a translation of ren zhi sheng 人之生 from the Shuzheng 1.10. The term “life in others” is preferable to “life of others,” in that the latter refers to the welfare of others during their lifespan, while the former not only refers to the quality of life but also suggests a connotation of an overarching cosmological process of growth and reproduction (shengsheng 生生). I am very grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers for this suggestion. 4 I am grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers for the comment on this point.
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in society (Shuzheng 8.4). The last and most serious problem is that the dichotomy between principle and desires, which held undisputed sway in the realm of politics and ideology in DAI Zhen’s time, is very pernicious in its tendency because it breeds disregard and contempt for desires and renders persons in positions of authority without compassion for those in need (Shuzheng 8.1, 8.4). These are in direct opposition to Mencius’ political ideal of ren or humane government. Therefore, DAI Zhen tries to justify the rational satisfaction of desires through reinterpretation of the ancient Confucian classics. I list briefly his reasons (partly philosophical and partly exegetical) as follows: First, desire is intrinsic to human nature. In Du Yixici Lun Xing 讀易繫辭論性 (An Interpretation of Nature in Appended Remarks on the Yijing), DAI Zhen says desire (yu 欲) is a matter of nature (xing 性) (Dai 1991: 28). He quotes Mencius’ words that “for nourishing the mind there is nothing better than to have few desires” to corroborate his contention that desire cannot be eliminated, but can only be reduced and regulated (Shuzheng 1.10). In what follows, he compares xing to water and desires to the flow of water (Shuzheng 1.11, 1.12), which illustrates that desires cannot be extinguished, only be regulated.5 Second, Dai tries to justify morality by its profitability. Desire is the source of motivation for human activities. Without desires, the Way of giving life and nourishing growth would decline and society could not exist (Shuzheng 8.4). Third, he gives a psychological explanation of morality to point out the fundamental role that desire plays in a moral agent’s deliberation. Mencius says that everyone has a feeling of alarm and distress when one sees an infant on the verge of falling into a well (Mencius 2A:6). This has become a well-known example of one of the four sprouts of virtue. The Song-Ming Confucians often use it to indicate the immediacy and spontaneity of the moral response of the xin (heart/mind). However, DAI Zhen says that the feeling of commiseration issues from the awareness of care for life and fear of death. A person without such basic human desires for oneself would be numb and indifferent to others; he would not fear the death of the infant at all (Shuzheng 3.2). Therefore, the existence of desires is the basis for moral sensitivity and deliberation. Fourth, for both the ancient and the Song-Ming Confucians, dao 道 resides in human relations and daily activities. DAI Zhen puts even more emphasis on this idea, but ascribes a different connotation to it. He says, “What the ancient virtuous sages mean by dao is nothing but human relations and daily activities” (Shuzheng 5.2). Elsewhere he holds that dao (Way), ren (humanity), propriety, and rites cannot be sought beyond the realm of human relations and daily activities (Shuzheng 5.3, 5.4, 7.1, 8.1). Dao is just a matter of satisfying feelings and desires in common human life. Fifth, the idea of giving and nourishing life (shengsheng 生生) from the Yijing 易經 (The Book of Change) has been emphasized ever since DAI Zhen’s early philosophical works such as Yuanshan 原善 (On Goodness) and Du Yixici Lunxing. Early in Yuanshan, Dai says that food and sex are the dao of life and nourishing, and are the way Heaven and Earth maintain the life-giving process (Dai 1991: 24).6 For the According to this comparison and the underlying idea, Justin Tiwald articulated a very interesting “damming the desire” argument (Tiwald 2011: 36–40). 6 LAN Fei also paid close attention to this notion (Lan 2012: 482). My translation slightly differs from Lan’s. I translate zhisuoyi 之所以 as “the way how,” rather than “(the reason) why,” in order to avoid a teleological tone. 5
Song-Ming Confucians, shengsheng is the manifestation of the Goodness of Heaven. Dai draws on this idea and ascribes a stronger ethical connotation to it. Nourishing xueqi 血氣 (blood and vital energies) and developing xinzhi 心知 (the heart that understands) can also be regarded as part of the process of shengsheng and dao (Shuzheng 5.1, 6.1), and ren (humanity) is the virtue or power of shengsheng (Shuzheng 6.1). Therefore, the fulfillment of desires as part of this cosmological picture is respectable. Elsewhere he says, “The desire of the sage is nothing else than excellent virtue” (Shuzheng 1.15). Finally, DAI Zhen’s justification of the rational satisfaction of desires culminates in the political idea that “in governing the world, the sage understands the feelings of the people, satisfies their desires, and the kingly way is thereby completed” (Shuzheng 1.10; Chan 1963: 714). This view has been described by HU Shi 胡適 as DAI Zhen’s formulation of the utilitarian “greatest happiness principle” (Hu 1999: 51).7 DAI Zhen’s consequentialist and psychological ethics shares many characteristics with utilitarianism, and is therefore open to a variety of objections to utilitarianism, such as the confusion of three basic moral concepts: the good, the right, and moral worth; the failure to distinguish between morality and legality, that is, between “according to duty” and “from duty”; and the naturalist fallacy of deriving value from mere fact. However, instead of imposing demanding criticism on Dai, I would only point out his covert appeal to the immanent-monist trend of thought in the Ming-Qing period.8 From the fourth and fifth reasons mentioned above, we can tell clearly that DAI Zhen’s notion of desire is obviously not ethically neutral. He does not simply say that satisfying desires is allowed as long as it does not harm oneself or others. His position is stronger in that he believes satisfying desires, including self-interested ones (as Justin Tiwald highlights), is not ethically neutral, but rather positive and respectable. I agree with LAN Fei that this notion is religiously value-laden in the context of shengsheng 生 生 (giving and nourishing life) and dao. Dai’s justification of satisfying desires by pointing out that it is part of the process of giving and nourishing the life of dao and that desires are intrinsic to human nature (xing) is very distinct from other theories of utilitarianism. For almost every Confucian, shengsheng and xing are not merely facts but also sources of value. Ever since the Yijing, the great virtue (de 德, also translated as “characteristic” in Chan 1963) of Heaven and Earth has been understood as a lifegiving power (sheng 生), and the ever-renewing process of shengsheng is exactly what is meant by yi 易 (change), the theme of the Yijing (Chan 1963: 266, 268). DAI Zhen’s view of the unity of fact (human desires) and value (moral worth) is deeply rooted in his belief of dao as the unity of value and fact. He seems to appeal covertly for his justification of utility to this belief, which has been strengthened by the immanentmonist trend of thought in the Ming-Qing period. 7 One difference between DAI Zhen and utilitarianism might be that impartiality is deemed as an important assumption for consequentialism including the utilitarians’ “greatest happiness principle,” but scarcely mentioned by DAI Zhen. Utilitarianism treats all happiness as an agent-neutral good, since the overall amount of happiness is determined independent of any particular agent. On the other hand, presumably, Dai would follow Mencius in advocating “graded love.” It still remains a question how balance could be found between the consequentialist impartiality and the Mencian tradition, if Dai were to embrace both. I am very grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers for alerting me to this point. 8 I borrow this term from LIU Shu-hsien’s 劉述先 book on HUANG Zongxi 黃宗羲 (Liu 2006). He used it to label a general tendency in the ethics and metaphysics of Ming dynasty thought.
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The conceptual shift from ZHU Xi’s dualism to DAI Zhen’s monism takes three stages from the Song and Ming to the Qing period. First, ZHU Xi, the Song-period thinker, distinguishes between li 理 (principle) and qi 氣 (material force/vital energies): the former is the ideal pattern or principle of a thing (either an object or an event) or of a person, while the latter accounts for why a thing or a person happens to have some particular qualities. Not only could the ideal li be manifested in pure qi, but it could also be covered or contaminated by the latter. Li is prior to qi in a certain sense (not in a temporal sense), since without li nothing could come into being. For ZHU Xi, a human being is like a micro-cosmos whose xing 性 (the ideal nature in humans) and qing 情 (feelings) are the li and qi endowed in humans. According to this conceptual structure, the ideal norm of a person can be discerned in feelings or desires, but cannot be reduced to them. Second, in the Ming period comes an immanent-monistic trend to reject ZHU Xi’s metaphysical dualism, and instead to discern the li or norms or patterns directly in the material world, in regards to humans, in the process of lives that involves desires and feelings. In this new sense, most of the Ming Confucians believe that the ultimate reality and value resides in and cannot be separated from human relationships and daily lives. Third, the Qing-period thinker DAI Zhen follows the general trend of the Ming period, and takes an even stronger position that dao is nothing but human relations and daily activities. In this sense he dismisses the transcendent dimension, the basis of the unity of value and ultimate reality, while still maintaining the belief in the unity of value and fact (in this case, the natural reality of desire). Correspondingly, ZHU Xi’s basic philosophical idea that li (principle) resides in qi but is prior to qi and cannot be reduced to it, gave way to the idea that li is nothing but the order of qi. With the same conceptual structure, moral rules are meant only to regulate desires and feelings. The genesis of DAI Zhen’s ethics from the general metaphysical conceptual structure can still be detected chronologically in his writings. In his early philosophical works, Dai uses the immanent-monist conclusion to support his ethical view that principles are derived from the process of giving and nourishing life (shengsheng) (in the earlier version of Yuanshan, see Dai 1991: 4). Though such an expression seems common to the Confucian thought in general—indeed, ZHU Xi is DAI Zhen’s precursor who in his Renshuo 仁說 (A Treatise on Ren) relates ren (humanity) to sheng (producing/giving life) and yuan元 (origination) of Heaven—in his early works DAI Zhen ascribes, perhaps unknowingly, to this idea a different connotation that principles are not prior to desires. This attitude does not gain an explicit expression until he declares in the Shuzheng that principles are merely a regulative means to satisfy desires. We can find another use of the immanent-monist conclusion in his Xuyan 緒言 (Fragmented Sayings), which was written several years before the Shuzheng, and in which Dai begins to argue against ZHU Xi’s view that li (principle) is prior to qi, and elaborates the idea of tiaoli 條理 (order) that resides in things. On this ontological ground the empirical method of fen-li 分理 (principle of differentiation) is based, which is stated at the beginning of the Shuzheng. Fen-li as an ethical method means to examine the minutest details of things, such as feelings and desires, and to make necessary distinctions of principles about them, which serve as a regulative means to attain balance of qing (feelings). To conclude, if we trace the course of the development of DAI Zhen’s ethical theory, we can see clearly how he covertly appeals to the immanent-monist tendency in MingQing thought to ascribe value to otherwise ethically neutral desires, and thus to tint his notion of desires with heavenly blessing.
2.2 DAI Zhen’s Misunderstanding One important topic—DAI Zhen’s misinterpretation of ZHU Xi’s contrast between tianli 天理 (principle of Heaven) and renyu 人欲 (lit. “desires of humans”)—remains to be considered. It sounds formidable to modern readers that the Song Confucians would have regarded renyu as bad or evil. This is a misunderstanding that even Chinese native speakers nowadays might have. In fact renyu is a special term from the “Yueji 樂記” (“Record of Music,” a chapter in the Book of Rites), where it is contrasted with tianli (principle of Heaven). It does not refer to human desires in general, but only to desires that transgress ethical bounds. We may draw a rough distinction between renyu and yu (desires): the former is pejorative, while the latter is neutral.9 To be sure, ZHU Xi always emphasizes the li-yu contrast as if yu (desires) are always problematic. To some extent he is liable to DAI Zhen’s criticism, but he does acknowledge that yu (desires) are good and respectable when they are in accordance with li (principle) and yi 義 (propriety). First, desires are regarded as originally good. ZHU Xi says that the satisfaction of food and drink is tianli (the principle of Heaven), while overmuch desire for them is renyu (human desires) (Zhu 1986: 224). Renyu issue out only when tianli is not well settled down (Zhu 1986: 223). Therefore, he says that renyu are “made” from “inside” tianli and that there is tianli in renyu (Zhu 1986: 224). When asked whether renyu is originally tianli, he answers that what is inborn for human beings is all tianli, while the “unguarded” renyu issues out afterward (Zhu 1986: 224). This notion of renyu as a derivative actually comes from the “Yueji 樂記”: “Human beings are born with peacefulness (ren sheng er jing 人生而靜), such is the nature of Heaven (tian zhi xing 天之性); when they are activated by stimulations of things (gan yu wu er dong 感於物而動), such is the desire of nature (xing zhi yu 性之欲). When things come and the awareness distinguishes, likes and dislikes are formed; when they lose control inside, and awareness is tempted outside and can no longer reflect, the principle of Heaven is lost.” After describing these three stages, the “Yueji” concludes that the consequence would be “the principle of Heaven (tianli) being lost and desires of Humans (renyu) unlimited.” ZHU Xi comments on this text that neither the first (nature of Heaven) nor the second stage (the desire of nature) is ethically problematic. Evil issues out only at the third stage when desire of nature loses modesty and control by awareness (Zhu 1986: 2252). Second, ZHU Xi always speaks of principle and desires as the objects of the awareness (zhijue 知覺) of the xin (heart/mind). In this context, li (principle) and yu (desires) refer to the differentiation of motives. For example, he says that renxin 人心 (the heart/mind of humans) and daoxin 道心 (the heart/mind of the Way) are one; when awareness is directed at yu, the xin is renxin; when awareness is directed to yi and li, the xin is daoxin (Zhu 1986: 2009). The xin is peaceful and at ease with the natural or “self-so” (ziran 自然) characteristics of tianli, while in the indulgence of renyu it is restless and precarious (Zhu 1986: 224). Certainly, every moral agent has physical desires, and thus has objects of senses in any moral actions. What makes the difference between renxin and daoxin is not whether the zhijue (awareness) has an object, but whether the determining ground of the zhijue is 9
There are exceptions. ZHU Xi sometimes used a pair of abbreviated terms li-yu 理欲 to mean tianli-renyu 天理 In these cases, yu is also pejorative according to the “Yueji” usage. On the other hand, yu (desire), originally as it is, is also good and even respectable in ZHU Xi’s thought, not just neutral. DAI Zhen’s thought could also be considered a continuation of ZHU Xi’s. 人欲.
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the object of desires or tianli as supreme principle. Nearly all Song-Ming Confucians agree that the self-cultivation of virtue and the learning of principle are practiced in and can by no means be separated from human relations and daily activities, but they insist that the ground of all actions and motives should be respect and sincerity/wholeness (cheng 誠), which guard against the intervention of certain deviant and problematic elements. Therefore, the hard and fast distinction between principle and desires is not a dichotomy as DAI Zhen thought it would be. Finally, although ZHU Xi does overemphasize the contrast between principle and desires and seems to confound the contrast between correctness and perverseness (which are mutually exclusive) with the contrast between principle and desire (which are not mutually exclusive but comprise a moral rule as its form and material) as DAI Zhen criticizes, ZHU Xi does seem to see the difference between them in some cases. This is indicated by the different uses of li-yu 理欲 (principle and desires) and yi-li 義利 (propriety and profit). In most of his discussions, li and yu refer to the object or determining ground of zhijue (awareness) or will, while the pair of yi and li deals with whether an action is proper. Yi means “what is proper according to tianli” (Zhu 1983: 73) or “what is proper for things” (Zhu 1983: 52, 201, 333). To decide what is yi does not exclude considerations of consequences and the li (Zhu 1986: 702). The relationship between yi and li is a matter of priority, and not mutually exclusive. For these reasons, we can draw the conclusion that DAI Zhen does not do justice to ZHU Xi’s moral theory. However, the merit of Dai’s thought should not be diminished for this reason. It seems that Dai projects uncharitably upon Zhu a view which Dai finds repugnant, thus his representation of Zhu is unreliable. However, from such projection we could still learn more about Dai’s own concern.
3 On the Justification of Moral Principle: DAI Zhen’s Criticism of Ultra-Intuitionism and His Misunderstanding 3.1 DAI Zhen’s Criticism of Ultra-Intuitionism Another saying from the Classified Conversations of ZHU Xi (Zhuzi Yulei 朱子語類) is often quoted and criticized in the Shuzheng: “Principle is received from Heaven and completely embodied in the heart/mind.” We shall first examine how DAI Zhen understands it and why he fiercely criticizes it, and then clarify what ZHU Xi actually means by it and whether Dai’s criticism to Zhu is fair. According to DAI Zhen, the later Confucians often believe that principle resides in the mind as if there is a thing very distinct from desires and qi (vital energies), and can be revealed and applied in all situations as long as one eliminates desires. Dai argues that the li (principle) as moral rules can only be derived from human relations and daily activities. In order to attain li, one should develop the faculty of cognition in one’s endowment of qi to the state of spirit-like clarity of the xin (heart/mind) (Shuzheng 1.6, 1.7), and learn the li which pertains to qi. Otherwise, what one holds in mind are merely opinions (Shuzheng 1.5, 8.4). If the ruler takes the wrong opinions as principle, and applies it to all ethical and political cases, he will cause his subjects numerous disasters (Shuzheng 1.5, 1.6). Even if the ruler knows some proper moral rules and applies them out of respect, rectitude, and hatred toward evil, he may hold on to some rigid moral
rules and ignore the fact that one rule may override another in particular situations, and therefore fail to weigh circumstances and judge situations before he applies a certain moral rule (Shuzheng 8.1). For these reasons, together with the pernicious dichotomy between li and yu, the later Confucians were accused of “using principle as a means of killing or persecuting people” (Shuzheng 8.4; see also Dai 1991: 212, 214, 224). This accusation is the most provocative contention in DAI Zhen’s works. It gained prevalence at the beginning of the 20th century, especially when it was associated by HU Shi with “cannibalism of the institution of rites” (lijiao chiren 禮教吃人) (Hu 1999: 54).Many philosophers and historians have reflected on this accusation. FANG Dongshu 方東樹 (1772–1851) retorts that the Song-Ming Confucians’ li is a doctrine of selfdiscipline that serves as a binding force of moral constraints on rulers, rather than an alienated ideological control imposed on subjects (Fang 1937: 44; see also Qian 1999: 313). ZHANG Taiyan 章太炎 reconciles DAI Zhen and the Song Confucians and thinks that Dai’s subversive criticism is against the Qing rulers rather than the Song Confucians (T. Zhang 1985:  122–124; see also Qian 1999: 313). WEI Zhengtong 韋政通 says that the Song Confucians’ doctrine is necessary in private ethics, but dangerous when it is uncritically extended into the realm of public ethics. According to Wei, DAI Zhen’s criticism makes sense only in the latter case (Wei 2003: 1005). LAO Sze-kwang 勞思光 and CHENG Chung-yi 鄭宗義 say that DAI Zhen is right in pointing out that the principle of moral life cannot be misused as the principle of political life, but he commits the same mistake by applying the latter directly to moral life (Lao 2005: 657; Cheng 2000: 251). ZHANG Dainian 張岱年 says that it was the ruler who killed or persecuted people in the name of li; the Song Confucians were not responsible for the disasters, because their doctrine was misused (D. Zhang 2005: 102). The main theme of the reflections mentioned above is that private and public ethics should be carefully differentiated, and that “using principle as a means of killing or persecuting people” results from the wrong application of principle. I agree with their conclusions, but I think we can dig deeper into DAI Zhen’s criticism, otherwise its intellectual contribution would be trivialized. According to these common interpretations, what Dai condemned would just be the misuse of principle, while ZHU Xi’s ethics remains intact. Were it really the case, then what Dai attacked was only a straw man, and FENG Youlan 馮友蘭 would have been successful in defending Zhu by saying that what Dai managed to refute is just the failure of confounding principle with opinions, not Zhu’s principle itself (Feng 2007: 7). However, Dai already says explicitly that it is when opinions are taken as principle that ethical and political disasters arise (Shuzheng 1.4, 1.5, 8.1, 8.4; Dai 1991: 224). The problem at issue here is that Dai thinks that Zhu’s ethics provides no approach to tell principle from opinions. He seems to criticize some “ultraintuitionalist” view according to which “the mind embodies myriads of principles and responds to all events” (Shuzheng 8.2). DAI Zhen’s attitude toward this saying is best indicated in his own remarks. He says, “If li is regarded as a thing received from Heaven and completely embodied (ju 具) in the xin (heart/mind), there could hardly be one who does not confound it with opinions” (Shuzheng 1.5).10 Elsewhere, he makes a caricature of ZHU Xi’s belief, saying that “if the myriad principles are completely embodied in the xin, then it responds with one principle when one thing happens, and replaces the principle with another when another thing happens, and then one hundred principles, one thousand, 10
DAI Zhen’s quotation in Shuzheng 1.5 is from Zhu 1986: 2514.
DAI Zhen’s Criticism of ZHU Xi
ten thousand, one hundred million… No one knows the end” (Shuzheng 8.2). Dai apparently regards it as a dogma that trusts a bunch of random and immediate intuitions, without even recognizing any need for moral reasoning, and criteria to tell truth from opinions. His main concern is that the Song Confucians’ principle (li) is not susceptible of any proof in empirical materials of natural desires and feelings, and is therefore subject to the danger of opinions. To the problem of moral justification, we owe a reflection. 3.2 DAI Zhen’s Misunderstanding Does ZHU Xi believe that all moral rules are intuitive? Obviously not, but he insists that tianli (principle of Heaven) as the sole fundamental principle of morals is self-evident; that the basic order of human relations, such as filial piety, is based on the ethical predisposition of human beings; and that the four sprouts of virtue are innate and internal. Then we may ask: what is the relation between the fundamental tianli and particular moral rules? How is the acquired knowledge of the details of moral rules integrated with the intuitive? It is evident that ZHU Xi’s tianli is universal, eternal, and unchanging; it is the foundation of moral order. In order to see this, we may consider how he interprets Confucius’ creed of “yi yi guan zhi” 一以貫之 (a thread running through doctrines) with CHENG Yi’s 程頤 idea of “liyi fenshu” 理一分殊 (principle is one but its manifestations are many). The saying yi yi guan zhi comes from Analects 4.15, where Confucius told Zengzi 曾子 that “there is one thread that runs through my doctrines.” When Confucius left, and Zengzi was asked by his fellows what Confucius meant, he replied that Confucius’s Way (dao 道) is nothing but zhong 忠 (loyalty / doing one’s best) and shu 恕 (reciprocity/ altruism). According to ZHU Xi, this only means that zhong and shu are not far from the Way, and perfectly indicate what the Way involves (Zhu 1986: 671; 1983: 72–73). The myriad principles are many (wan shu 萬殊), but they share one single root (yi ben 一本) (Zhu 1986: 677, 679, 684, 686). We may call the former the first-order principle, and the latter the second-order principle. In his interpretation ZHU Xi makes yet another emphasis which is absent in the classical text; namely, before Zengzi heard Confucius’ creed, he made great effort to learn myriads of principles and rites. It is this preparatory effort that enables him to be enlightened by Confucius and realize that all of them are characterized by the sole principle. Lest his disciples misunderstand him and conceive the sole principle or tianli as something distinct from the myriad principles, ZHU Xi emphasizes that “the myriads are the root, the root is the myriads” (Zhu 1986: 677). When asked whether it is the “ultimate One” that penetrates (guan 貫) the myriads, he replies that it is not necessary to say “ultimate” (Zhu 1986: 684). Unlike his objector, LU Xiangshan 陸象山, Zhu emphasizes the efforts of learning many details as the condition of attaining a penetrating insight into the One. He repeats the creed of his teacher, LI Tong 李侗, that it is not as difficult to attain the one root as it is to learn the myriads (Zhu 1986: 674, 677, 680, 681, 689). With this creed in mind, Zhu is very unlikely to be an ultra-intuitionist. DAI Zhen considers ZHU Xi to be an ultra-intuitionist, who would believe that an ideal heart/mind can issue a principle to cope with each situation; and that one immediately realizes principle if one is without desire, hence rendering any moral reasoning superfluous. Obviously this reading of ZHU Xi does not do him justice. Zhu would acknowledge the need of reasoning at, at least, three levels: (1) descriptive (factual): to investigate the situation before one can decide what to do; (2) instrumental (factual knowledge but relative to normative ends): to learn the ways that attain the ends desired by the moral agents (for
example, to learn about warming one’s parents’ bed in winter for their comfort); and (3) normative: balancing different claims of norms in moral conflicts (or deciding the measure of outcome that the action aims at attaining). For example, too many sympathetic affections of ren 仁 (humanity) without the balance of yi 義 (propriety) is like too much maternal affection that might spoil a child; reversely, too much yi without the balance of ren might lead to cruelty. A proper balance of different virtues in actions and moral deliberations is compared to a good balance of seasons or of yin and yang. These descriptions are richly documented in volume VI of Classified Conversations of ZHU Xi, in which Zhu teaches his followers how to compare and balance different virtues. In sum, at these three levels of reasoning, Zhu’s ethical method can hardly be described as ultra-intuitionist. However, ZHU Xi’s thought could still be considered a moderate form of intuitionism, for intuitionists might also acknowledge the necessity of the three levels of reasoning mentioned above, while still maintaining their position in an ultimate sense; that is, the most important moral knowing does not come from discursive reasoning.11 It is true that ZHU Xi nonetheless acknowledges at least a certain intuitional dimension of morality, which either comes from sources other than reasoning (for example, that the feelings of ren are inborn) or dispenses with reasoning, for example, Zhu compares that the sage’s (or Confucius’) principle flows from the heart/mind effortlessly and spontaneously, while the learner’s (or Zengzi’s) way still relies on moral efforts and deliberation in terms of reciprocity, in the context that Zengzi interprets Confucius’ creed “one way that penetrates the myriads” (Zhu 1986: 676). These might suggest that ZHU Xi is more comfortable than DAI Zhen in allowing room for a certain intuitionist element in ethics. In order to understand this ultimate sense of the One Way, let us turn to this creed. What is the essence that characterizes the myriads? ZHU Xi says that it is the “ought-so” (dangran 當然). In order to attain the sole principle, we should learn the ought-so that lies in everything (Zhu 1986: 677–678), because everything we possess or contact has the norm (ze 則) of ought-so that does not allow for stopping (burongyi 不容已). This is the meaning of yiguan (the one that penetrates the many) (Zhu 1986: 680). The essence that characterizes the moral rules is the necessity of ought-so, which, to the highest experience of it, resembles the necessity of natural things which he called should-be-so (biran 必然) or why/how-so (suoyiran 所以然). That is why he says that everything has the ought-so (which does not allow for stopping) and the why/how-so (which admits of no exceptions, burongyi 不容易). These are the objects of ethical inquiry (investigation of things, gewu 格物): the universal li (principle) (Zhu 2001:  24). The system of nature and that of morality are integrated in the ultimate reality and necessity of tianli. This teaching of ZHU Xi is criticized by WANG Yangming 王陽明 and DAI Zhen from each of their opposite perspectives. Wang, from a more intuitivist perspective, criticizes that Zhu confounds the necessity of morality and that of nature, as if we could directly learn moral rules from the objects, and extract the willingness of action from them. Dai, from the opposite perspective, draws another caricature of Zhu, as if the latter believes that all principles are self-evident in mind, and thus all empirical learning is dispensable. Indeed, ZHU Xi insists that we all have some innate ethical knowledge, but we should not confine the object of ethical inquiry to it, because we already know it and the investigation of which is not necessary. Innate knowledge and impulse can help us deal with emergencies (such as saving an infant who is on the verge of falling into a well) 11
I am grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers for this point.
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very well even without reflection. Nor is it sufficient to rely on innate knowledge, because there is a great deal of empirical knowledge (including the details of ethical rules and rites) to learn about (Zhu 1986: 286–287). In a word, Zhu Xi’s doctrine of gewu zhizhi 格物致知 (investigating things and extending knowledge) involves enlarging the scope of knowledge by approaching and contacting things, and extending the intuitive knowledge to the utmost through integrating the empirical data of learning. In this sense, three levels of knowledge are well organized in ZHU Xi’s ethics: (1) the a priori knowledge of tianli as the prerequisite for true knowledge and exhaustive investigation; (2) the innate knowledge of basic ethical order, such as ren (humaneness) and filial piety; and (3) the discursive and inductive knowledge of particular ethical rules. As CHAN Wing-tsit puts it, “He was careful to emphasize equally both the deductive and inductive methods and both objective observation and intuitive understanding” (Chan 1963: 591). It is unfair to accuse ZHU Xi of mystical rules and arbitrary adoption of them. In some cases, Zhu says that even a sage should learn more in spite of his innate knowledge. His textual evidences from the Analects include, for example, “At fifteen, I [Confucius] had my mind bent on learning” and “When he [Confucius] entered the ancestral temple of the State, he asked about everything” (Zhu 1986: 1139). ZHU Xi even speaks in a humorous tone, “don’t speak too high of the sage” (Zhu 1986: 1140). Then what does ZHU Xi emphasize by his two claims: “the mind embodies myriads of principles, and responds to all events,” and “principle is received from Heaven and completely embodied in the heart/mind”? DAI Zhen simply regards them as an ultraintuitionalist view that the mind somehow “contains” all particular moral rules, presumably because the meaning of ju 具 (have/embody) is ambiguous. Ju is used in conjunction with you 有 (have/exist) to mean having something, in conjunction with bei 備 (sufficient) or wan 完 (complete) to mean having something completely, and in conjunction with ti 體 (body) to mean embodying something completely, for example, juti er wei 具體而微 (completely embodied but smaller, Mencius 2A:2; see Zhu 1983: 234). Ju has been widely used by the Buddhist Tiantai 天台 school to interpret the doctrine of yi nian san qian 一念三千 (the three thousand worlds immanent in an instance of thought). In Tiantai Buddhism, the word ju perfectly explains the relation between yi nian 一念 (the instance of thought) and san qian 三千 (the three thousand worlds). Ju is different from sheng 生 (produce) and han 含 (have/include). The one mind neither produces nor includes all dharmas (elements of existence). Rather, one mind is all adharmas and all adharmas are one mind (Zhiyi 1983: 36). This special connotation of ju is highlighted by the Tiantai school. There is little evidence that ZHU Xi’s usage of ju was influenced by Tiantai Buddhism, but the connotation that “one is all and all is one” is obviously one characteristic of his philosophy. He follows closely CHENG Yi in the idea of liyi fenshu (principle is one but its manifestations are many), which is suspected to have come from Buddhism, particularly the Huayan 華巖 Buddhist doctrine of “harmony of principle and things” (lishi yuanrong 理事圓融). Ju is also used by the Huayan Buddhists to elaborate the relation between one and all, between principle and things, and among things. Perhaps ZHU Xi does not merely mean “having” or “containing” by ju. Based on the unique usages of terms, I submit that ZHU Xi believes one’s heart/mind (xin) has/embodies (ju) all principles in the sense that xin originally has an authentic understanding of the “ought-so” (dangran 當然), that is, the essence of normativity of all principles. For Zhu, although one originally possesses an understanding of morals, one should nevertheless deepen his understanding of moral necessity through a long,
detailed empirical enquiry of many things, until he ultimately realizes that all of them issue from the inner source in xin. In a word, DAI Zhen’s criticism of ultra-intuitionism is based on a misunderstanding of ZHU Xi’s “principle is received from heaven and completely embodied in the heart/mind.” Dai is concerned with the justification of any particular moral rules, while Zhu’s original meaning is about the ultimate self-understanding in moral lives. These are the different dimensions which Dai has confused. It is also possible to understand this issue in terms of the social dimension of ethics. Although ZHU Xi acknowledges a non-metaphysical anchor of morality which could even include considerations of utilities and other social concerns, and although he also participated in political debates and was himself a victim of political persecution, he did not stress the need for a social anchor of morality so much as DAI Zhen did.12 For Zhu, Confucianism is “learning for one’s own self” (wei ji zhi xue 為己之學). Only a nonutilitarian ethos among learners, who mostly aspire after a political career, could prevent them from corruption and maintain in them an independent and noble personality. Hence he defines the highest aspiration for learners to be one’s self-understanding in terms of metaphysical insights. Unlike ZHU Xi, DAI Zhen sees a much stronger need to establish a procedure for ethical inquiry which has a proper social anchor. From Dai’s view, the ethos of ZHU Xi and other Song-Ming Confucian schools would seem to be dogmatic, unpractical, and haunted with opinions. It should also be pointed out that besides his ultra-intuitionist caricature of ZHU Xi’s saying, DAI Zhen does acknowledge that ZHU Xi differs from LU Xiangshan and WANG Yangming (deemed as truly radical ultra-intuitionist) in that Zhu still regards learning as an indispensable way to restore the inborn principles which are contaminated by qi (Shuzheng 1.14).13 However, it does not mean that Dai has correctly understood Zhu and distinguished between the two levels of intuitionism. He thinks that ZHU Xi’s idea about the contamination of li by qi is merely a sophistic defense of his doctrine about the nonempirical source of principle, in that it bridges the gap between the intuitionist theory that everyone originally has the knowledge of principle and the fact that no one has it (Shuzheng 3.8). ZHU Xi’s narrative of qi’s contamination and restorative learning of li are just a pretense to cover his ultra-intuitionist view of the non-empirical source of principle, of which DAI Zhen disapproves. At this point, Dai sees no difference between Zhu and other schools of thought. In this sense, Dai is not satisfied with simply pointing out that Zhu allows moral reasoning at several levels. Herein lies DAI Zhen’s approach to ethics, which departs from intuitionism to a more tangible procedure of moral reasoning. 3.3 DAI Zhen’s Notion of Principle and the Procedure of Moral Reasoning Despite these misunderstandings, it is still one of the most brilliant moments in the history of Chinese thought when DAI Zhen challenges that ultra-intuitionism is incapable of any justification, and thus cannot provide a criterion to distinguish truth from opinions. In contrast with ZHU Xi’s ethical learning as a way of revealing pre-existing intuitive principle (li) from the heart/mind, DAI Zhen tries to provide criteria or procedures through which one can tell whether he really attains principle. This leads to a great shift of meaning, from a metaphysical notion of li (principle) to a methodological/procedural notion. 12 13
I am grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers for suggesting this point. I am grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers for this point.
DAI Zhen’s Criticism of ZHU Xi
I already indicated this view in my translation (in Section 2.1) of “yu, qi wu ye; li, qi ze ye 欲, 其物也; 理, 其則也” as “desires are the wu 物 (materials/things) and principles are the ze 則 (norm)” (Shuzheng 1.10). This is clearly a more procedural sense of principle as regulative in balancing the satisfaction of each one’s desires; namely, not to substantially tell the contents of a bunch of fixed ethical rules, but to more formally provide a procedure through which one can get to know a proper way of actions. Amazingly, at the beginning of his last work, the Shuzheng, DAI Zhen states his general ideas of such ethical enquiry, almost as seriously as to define a new field of knowledge and a method for such a discipline. We can extract three theorems from it, and construct this procedural notion of principle as follows: (1) Concerning the subject-matter: “principle consists in qing’s not being in error” (qing means feelings or what is genuinely so, Shuzheng 1.2). (2) Concerning the measure for (1): “that which is neither excessive nor deficient in terms of qing is called principle” (Shuzheng 1.3). (3) Concerning the test for the validity of (2): “only that which is commonly approved by all xin (hearts/minds) is called principle” (Shuzheng 1.4). In the translation above I keep the Chinese term qing 情 because it is notoriously ambiguous. It could refer to feelings or to facts (what is genuinely so).14 Qing (feelings) is a collective name for emotional states such as joy, anger, sorrow, delight, and so on. This usage has become conspicuous in Xunzi 荀子. In Shuzheng 4.2, human inborn capacity is categorized in three types: yu 欲 (desires), qing 情 (feelings), and zhi 知 (knowing). In contrast with the cognitive zhi, yu and qing are inborn affective capacities. However, yu (desire) is more directly oriented with the objects of senses, and is subject to the interplay of five natural forces (wuxing 五行). By contrast, qing (feelings) comes rather from inside, and involve a not yet conceptualized attitude and perception of one’s own predicament or favorable situations. Qing’s pre-understanding or quasi-reflective dimension is important because in this original capacity a clearer ethical reflection is rooted, activated by imagining oneself in other people’s shoes and seeing whether one’s qing favors or dislikes what one proposes to do to them. In DAI Zhen’s own terms, to attain principle is “to gauge other people’s qing with my own qing” (Shuzheng 1.2). In this sense, “what is disapproved by qing would in no case be approved by principle” (Shuzheng 1.2). If this observation is correct, then there is no inconsistency in Dai’s formulation concerning the seemingly ambiguous qing (feelings, what is genuinely so), because even when qing refers to fact, it does not refer to any indifferent facts, but mostly to the fact of our common inner moral perceptions of a situation, either one’s own or others’. DAI Zhen says, “It is called qing no matter whether it is in me or in others” (Shuzheng 1.3). The first theorem already gives us the subject-matter; it also tells us how to conduct ethical reasoning. According to the second theorem, the measure of genuine knowledge lies in the degree to which the requirements of one’s qi-based feelings and desires are fulfilled. The third theorem is the most strikingly original idea. This is quite a formal condition about what could serve as a principle, and hence provides a test for any ethical claims we try to extract from qing. DAI Zhen in the following explanation emphasizes that only when approved by all people from all times could an ethical rule be considered as principle; any ethical claims that do not fulfill this requirement are just opinions. Hence it serves as a formal test. Clearly this new formulation departs from Mencius’ own saying, “What all xin (hearts/minds) approve is li (principle) and yi (propriety)” (Mencius 6A:7). 14
SHUN Kwong-loi has discussed the dual connotations of qing in DAI Zhen (Shun 2002: 221).
Mencius’ idea of principle is more substantial. DAI Zhen adds a new word shi 始 (only when, not until), and completely changes the sentence into a conditional statement; namely, only what all hearts/minds approve could be called principle. Now the general picture of DAI Zhen’s ethical thought is clear: (1) with regard to moral judgment, Dai distinguishes moral motives and moral rules as the English utilitarians did, and criticizes the Song Confucians for confounding them, which leads to asceticism (eliminating desire); and (2) concerning moral justification, he holds that the Song Confucians believe that one can reveal the principle in mind as long as he is without desires. For this reason they are ultra-intuitionists, and fail to provide any criteria that tell ethical truth from opinions. DAI Zhen then submits a more methodological (rather than metaphysical) notion of li (principle), which highlights the procedures of how one attains a due way of actions. This mode of thinking has not yet been properly appreciated by modern scholars. In many cases Dai’s criticism does bear some resemblances to utilitarians’ criticism of deontology. I follow a long interpretative tradition represented by HU Shi in comparing DAI Zhen with utilitarianism, due to his emphasis on the role that desires and feelings play in ethics. Another reason why I associate Dai with utilitarianism in this paper is that DAI Zhen’s distinction between moral motive and moral rules (Section 2.1) is almost echoed in J. S. Mill’s Utilitarianism. However, apart from utilitarianism, I think what is more important is Dai’s overall enterprise: to provide a criterion or procedure that enables a common ethical deliberation, private and public (to this general enterprise, utilitarianism and deontology are proposals in their respective ways), 15 so that moral reasoning could cope with the ever-changing world, rather than simply appeal to the rigid rules of conventions that only seem to be self-evident. With this move, the previously conventionally fixed rules become at least arguable. Interesting to ponder is whether this would have paved the road for a rational social reform (as the English Utilitarians actually did), had it become prevalent in DAI Zhen’s times.16
The two elements in DAI Zhen’s ethics—one more substantive (about Utilitarianism), the other more procedural—coexist in his thought, although they do not necessarily imply each other. Further research in DAI Zhen’s ethics may not be restricted to the utilitarian part; it could be extended to exploring how Dai’s thought resembles other moral theories that emphasize the social anchor of morality and ethics, for example Jurgen Habermas’s communicative ethics (I am very grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers for this point). 16 It is not the aim of this paper to assess how far DAI Zhen and his followers have contributed to this. Dai has long been considered a pioneer in criticizing the old value system of China. A newly published paper by Tiwald also contrasts DAI Zhen with the Song Confucian CHENG Yi, who “condemns starving widows who aspire to remarry, suggesting that they put their desire to survive before their moral integrity,” and suggests that “it is safe to say that Dai would not so condemn them, and at the very least that he would find it right and humane that they want to remarry and continue to live (for their own sake), even if they decide for some reason that they should not” (Tiwald 2011: 36). Different voices on this issue could be heard from CHEN Lai, who argues that DAI Zhen does not aim to destroy the whole value system of Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism; for example, he finds in Dai’s writings pieces of epitaph and biography which praise those women who lived by the old moral standards, enduring hardship or even sacrificing their own lives (Chen 2004: 6). CHEN Lai’s discovery weakens the revolutionary figure of DAI Zhen partly invented by some 20th-century scholars. However, to be fair to Dai and Tiwald, it might be cruel if the former wrote an epitaph for the women, criticizing the ideas they willingly died for. Out of basic respect or pity to the departed, it would be the only choice to write the same appraisal as Dai did, even if one does not subscribe to their actions. Anyway, a relatively conservative attitude toward some particular ethical rules might be held by a thinker whose thought and influence are revolutionary. For example, David Hume’s subscribing to traditional ethical opinions about women might have disappointed some readers, yet at the same time he is a thinker who argues for an ethics of sympathy and whose influence on the forerunners of utilitarianism is tremendous.
DAI Zhen’s Criticism of ZHU Xi
Acknowledgments I am very grateful to Professor HUANG Yong 黃勇, editor of Dao, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments, advice, and kind support. I owe a lot to Professor WU Genyou 吳根友 of Wuhan 武漢 University, where I wrote the draft of this paper in 2007, for his advice. The draft was presented in 2010 at the Asian and Comparative Philosophy Annual Conference in California, thanks to the support of the Graduate School of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I am indebted to several participants of the conference for their feedback. This paper was improved owing to Professor SHUN Kwong-loi’s 信廣來 advice. The revision was finished during my research period funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) “Förderkennzeichen ZUK 33/2.” I am thankful to Dahlem Humanities Center and Dahlem Research School, Freie Universität Berlin for their support.
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