Thursday, July 18, 2019

Can you believe in Eastern philosophy such as Taoism-Daoism and be a Republican?

The question is, "Can you believe in Eastern philosophy such as Taoism/Daoism and be a Republican?"  If we take Wang Yang-ming's (1472-1529) criticism of Taoism and Buddhism seriously  (such as found in "Instructions for Practical Living and Other Neo-Confucian Writings") one cannot be either a Taoism or a Buddhist at all.  The fundamental problems that Wang points to would be a political criticism that would apply to being a Republican, Democrat, Socialist, Communist, Stalinist or Maoist.  Life requires involvement in the world at the level of basic functionality no matter what one believes in.   If being a Republican means to be an "active" participant in solving real social, economic and moral problems along the lines that Wang describes then the answer would be no one can be a Taoist. 

This is not necessarily a textual criticism internal to Taoist beliefs.  No political system or philosophy would escape having to overcome (or fail to overcome) Wang's primary position: "knowledge is the beginning of action, action is the completion of knowledge."  "[P]eople today distinguish between knowledge and action and pursue them separately, believing that one must know before he can act.  They will discuss and learn the business of knowledge first, they say, and wait till they truly know before they put their knowledge into practice.  Consequently, to the last day of life, they will never act and also never know. This doctrine of knowledge first and action later is not a minor disease and it did not come about only yesterday.  My present advocacy of the unity of knowledge and action is precisely the medicine for that disease," (Wang 11-12).  Remember, Wang's criticism is first leveled at the Confucians of his own time. 

Wang’s position is that one cannot prepare in accumulating knowledge in preparation to action but that when in coordination action influences and corrects knowledge in ways that are infinitely insightful.  Wang's criticism of both systems (Taoism or Buddhist) comes out of his philosophy.  Consequently, any ideas who advocated the view that any kind of isolation is the highest form (the goal) of life falls prey to Wang's criticism. 

By-the-by, Wang's criticism would equally apply to Plato and Aristotle and the division between "men of thought and men of action" that is pervasive in Western philosophies.  For Wang the concept of an armchair philosopher would not only be a violation of what is fundamentally required for all human beings but it distorts the goals of higher order learning (made possible by a meshing of knowledge and action that human beings ought to strive for).  I add to this a need for a conceptuality that makes possible a congruence between mind and body, subject and object, self and other and at the same time a simultaneous metaphysical uniqueness.  The former is more behavioral the latter is more conceptual.

Let us apply Wang to this question. 

"Merely to engage in taking no action, to be unable to adjust the government according to the time ... to insist on practicing the customs of antiquity is the way of Buddhist and Taoist learning,” (Wang 22).

"Merely to talk about manifesting the clear character and not talk about loving the people would be to behave like the Taoists and Buddhists," (Wang 56).

In response to Hsiao Hui fondness for Buddhism and Taoism Wang say, "From youth I was also earnestly devoted to the two systems.  I thought I had learned something and thought the Confucian system was not worth studying.  Later while I lived in barbarous territory for [nearly] three years, I realized how simple, easy, extensive, and great the doctrines of the Sage are, and I sighed and regretted having wasted my energy for thirty years. ... what you have learned from them is their dregs, and you are so self-confident and self-satisfied.  You are like an owl which has stolen the rotten carcass of a rat!" (Wang 81).

"Is it really possible that an unenlightened scholar, living in deep seclusion, sitting erect, and uniformed, can thus be able to achieve the extension of knowledge" [education] "and the manifestation of clear character?  Even if he becomes tranquil and has some realization and to a certain degree intuits his own nature, what he gets is but useless views of calmness and wisdom.  Can he really know past and present and understand the change of events, and apply his knowledge to concrete matters of the state and the world?" (Wang 102).

"On the other hand, Buddhist insist on getting away from things and events completely and viewing mind as an illusion, gradually entering into a life of emptiness and silence, and seeming to have nothing to do with the world at all.  This is why they are incapable of governing the world,” (Wang 220).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Murphy's Law is one reason not to give up any weapon or capacity.