8 minute read

Consciousness

Chinese ThoughtConsciousness Of Human Self

The development of morality in Confucianism and Mohism heightened the development of human consciousness of humanity as both individual and community. We can explain this first in terms of the formation of the li (ritual) as an institution that links the human individual development to the development of a society or community and to the state.

Li serves to maintain a social order founded on family relations. It is therefore a particularistic and concrete practice of relating people so that the society not only becomes ordered but also becomes affectively consolidated. In a deeper sense li is the sentiment showing practical care for concrete people in particular contexts and thus becomes a matter of ren (benevolence, humanity, human-heartedness, human goodness). But when li becomes merely a form without the concern or the feeling, it loses its meaning. This is the background against which the Confucian Analects and Records of Li (Liji) called for the reform of li and an awakening to ren.

Ren is the deep feeling of a person beyond desires, a feeling of the unity of humanity, and a consciousness of an underlying bond among human persons that would lead to the love, care, and regard of one for the other. This deep feeling of unity is experienced as inherent in human existence. Confucius (551–479 B.C.E.) believed that the practice of li based on the feeling of ren would render li a meaningful and living force that would both regulate oneself inside and harmonize human relationships outside. On this basis, the world would be ordered, and the well-being of people would be secured.

Confucius thus suggests that li can be restored and instituted as part of social and community life. With ren, old forms could be modified and new forms of conduct could be adjusted and made to fit particular relationships and situations. The individuating principle of yi (righteousness/rightness) enables us to see how differences in situations and relationships exhibit a need for relating, which is only fulfilled by the formation of the concrete rules of li.

Hence, Confucius proposed three sets of virtuous relationships: the relationship between ren and yi is one of generalization and particularization; the relationship between ren practice and li is one of a general content and general form; the relationship between li and yi is one of concrete form and particular content. These three relationships represent a challenge to the old order of morality that depended exclusively on the particular forms of li. The principles of these relationships also form an endowment for the human mind to define its own forms of understanding and conduct. The power of seeing right and acting right is wisdom (zhi), which is native but which needs to be refined by practice and experience. Having attained zhi, a person will not be perplexed, just as having attained ren, a person will not have anxiety. Confucius also speaks of moral courage (yong) as absence of fear. When one acts right with genuine heart for ren, there is natural absence of fear, and there is moral courage.

Ethics and morality.

Confucius takes ren as the basis of both ethics and morality. If ethics means norms governing human relationships, it is clearly founded on ren in consideration of human relationships. It is ren embodied in yi (righteousness) and li (propriety) as guided by zhi (wisdom). There is a dimension of ren that reveals the deep bond of universal humanity with heaven conceived as the ultimate metaphysical source of humanity. Confucius says the ultimate truth, or Dao, may be found in light of the experience of this ultimate source.

This deepened and heightened sense of ren as a vertical and uplifting force contrasts with the horizontal and expanding sense of ren, which includes a family, a clan, a community, and a whole world of people. We can see ren in either sense as a form of transcendence, a transcendence of inclusion and absorption as earlier described. In the ideal state the vertical uplifting sense of ren may even include the horizontal and expanding sense of ren (while the latter may not include the former). It is in this ideal state that we can see how the moral consciousness in Confucianism comes to a full realization of the humanity in a person.

Mencius and Zhongyong, Daxue and Xunxi.

Confucianism developed in two distinct ways: Mencius (Mengzi; c. 371–c. 289 B.C.E.) and Zhongyong emphatically expounded the upward-transcending aspect of ren (or ren in a vertical uplifting sense), while Daxue and Xunxi (c. 298–c. 230) expounded the across-transcending aspect of the Confucian ren (or ren in a horizontal expanding sense).

The uplifting sense of ren leads Mencius to explicitly define the essence of a human being as a moral being, with four root feelings of morality: sympathetic care, self-restraint, reverence, and distinction between the right and wrong. Zhongyong explicitly recognizes human nature as derived from heaven or from the mandate of heaven (tianming) and hence capable of participating in the creative and ceaseless creation and preservation of being. Zhongyong further identifies the uplifting sense of ren as a sense of reality by holding that if one is sincere (in the sense of having full reflection of oneself without self-deception and without withholding oneself to the openness to reality) one's mind will become illuminated.

Unlike Zhongyong, who relates the self to ultimate reality, Daxue confronts the self with the extended world of things, so that the self has to have an experiential understanding of the real world before one can relate to things and then relate to other people. Whereas the bright virtue (mingde) of Daxue focuses on one's ability to love and renovate people with one's self-cultivation and the cultivation of moral relations, the daqingming (great purity and clarity) of Xunzi focuses on renovating people with institutional design for education and governmental organization. In other words, Xunzi's approach to renovation of the people is political and economical rather than merely moral and moralistic.

It is obvious that classical Confucianism developed a system of morality that integrates humanities, education, and even religion. It is a unique system based not on a single idea of value, but on a unity of principles and ideas of ren and li. This system is truly both knowledge and value. It includes both the theoretical and the practical. As this system is continuous and coterminal with the onto-cosmology described in the first section, it can be regarded as a human development of the onto-cosmology, which leads to the unity of the heaven and the human (tianren heyi) through a unified process of self-reflection, self-cultivation, and self-practice (zhixing heyi).

Philosophical Daoism and Mohism.

Two alternative systems exhibit equivalent consciousness of totality and human action. Both are critical of the Confucian system: the Daoist system rejects the practice of li and together the invention and development of culture and knowledge. The Mohist philosophy sought to redefine yi in order to achieve a standard of social justice.

Two great classical Daoists who respectively represent the initiation and development of the school of philosophical Daoism were Laozi and Zhuangzi. Laozi presents the Dao as a source of being from which things rise and to which they would return. He urges a simple style of living that is consistent with the primordial dao. His vision of reality is in fact a partial adaptation from the Yijing's onto-cosmology with an emphasis on the principle of receptivity and passivity as the ground and as reason for the natural creation of the world. Hence he sees human culture as a blocking of the Dao. But for Zhuangzi (c. 369–c. 286 B.C.E.), the emphasis is not on a variant of onto-cosmology, but on how one may practice the nonseparation between oneself and the Dao where the Dao is to be embodied in all things in the world, large or small. The whole world of being is to be understood by an open and creative mind, which would link the out-world of nature to the inner world of human spirit.

The Mohist philosophy as represented by Mozi (468?–376B.C.E.) criticizes Confucianism for its excessive engagement with li and thus for lacking a sense of universality and a sense of productivity. In the spirit of li, the Confucians practice ren as self-control and graded love, which Mozi sees as leading to a society of hierarchy of difference and circles of dissension. Further, Mozi sees Confucianism as dividing social classes into the ruled and the ruling, which lack a common base for solidarity. He sees the continuous wars of his time as an inevitable result of an inequitable society that lacks a sense of social justice. What then is social justice? According to Mozi, social justice must be founded on one identical standard. He uses the same word, yi, that Confucius used, but he intends a meaning that is objective. To establish this identity and objectivity of yi, Mozi appeals to the will of the heaven (tianzhi), with which everyone should comply. But his doctrine of identity compliance (shangtong) is also hierarchical, as he assumes a hierarchy of ranks that enforce the compliance. This would amount to enforcing the ideology of those upper-class leaders in the name of the tianzhi and this no doubt assumes or leads to a political dictatorship or totalitarianism that Mozi would build on the foundation of selection/election of the talented who are devoted to the government and consequent meritocracy.

Mozi diagnoses the cause of continuous wars as the lack of love among people. In order to reach peace among warring states, he advocates the doctrine of universal love (jian-ai). Love is universal (jian) if it can be shared on an equal basis. Thus one should love other people's family as one loves one's own family. The point is that we should not love our own family to the exclusion of other families in consideration of benefits to be shared. (But later Mencius misinterprets this as meaning treating another's father as one's own father and thus denies the unique status of one's own father). The doctrine of universal love if universally practiced would eliminate wars because it allows each group of people or state to care for its own land and property without trying to ravage lands of other states and other groups of people. There is also the more desirable consequence of this doctrine: namely the mutual benefit of states and peoples. This leads to the ultimate ideal of Mozi: every person, every people, and every state would live on an equitable basis, and a society of human life would flourish just as a society of natural life flourishes under the compassionate will of heaven.

This social idealism of Mozi is criticized for its unrealistic and utopian projections. But a more serious difficulty is the contradiction between his prescription for social justice on the basis of identity compliance and his argument for equitable love of mutual benefit. The problem results from his lack of consideration of the feelings and moral freedom of the individual, which the Confucians make great efforts to evince as the natural basis of society and government.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Condensation to CoshConsciousness - Chinese Thought - Cosmological Consciousness, Consciousness Of Human Self, Political Consciousness, Conclusion, Bibliography