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In Search of the I: From Self-consciousness to Becoming a Person 1
NI, Liangkang
Self – A Phenomenological Account: Temporality, Intersubjectivity, Embodiment 21
Sara Heinämaa
The Self 28
Theophilus Okere


A Human “Being” or Human “Becomings”? Family as Community in Confucian Role Ethics 48
Roger T. Ames
Toward a Rehabilitation of the Theory of “Conscience Collective” 67
Kunitake Ito
Towards a Global Non-Exclusive Community 73
Herta Nagl-Docekal
Contemporary African Philosophy and the Question of Humanity: A Critical Review 84
J. Obi Oguejiofor


Still Life 98
Guillermo Hurtado
The Good – As It is Comprehended in Practical Reasoning 106
Sebastian Rödl
The Moral Status of Animals and the Ethics of Our Treatment of Them 116
Peter Singer
The Shared Beauty of Nature and Human Being: The Twofold Horizon of “The Perspective of
Human Being” and “The Perspective of Nature” 117
Yang, Guorong


The Challenge of Anatheism 125
Richard Kearney
Can an Appeal to Spirituality Bridge Cultural and Religious Gaps? 130
Hans Julius Schneider


Are We Still Learning to be Human? The Problem of Continuity Between Tradition and
Transmission. 137
Anne Cheng
The Human, World and Time in Mayan Thinking 147

Mercedes de la Garza
Return to the Human, the Condition of World Peace to Moralize God? 156
Paulin J. Hountondji
From “Learning to be Human” to “Learning to Change Ourselves” 160
Zhao, Dunhua


Familial Affection, the Order of Love, and Community —Commonality and Difference between
Confucianism and Scheler 167
Zhang, Xianglong
Befriending the Things We Use: Beyond Rén and Ubuntu 177
Graham Parkes
Ubu-ntu and Ren: to be a Human Being is to Love Ethically 183
Mogobe B Ramose
Love, the Passions, Relationship: The Contribution of the Medieval Latin Tradition 193
Eileen C. Sweeney


Mind, Body, Brain, Consciousness, Emotions 202
Evandro Agazzi
To Be a Poetic Free Human 210
Zhang, Shiying
A Naturalist Scheme of Interlinking Mind, Body, Consciousness and Emotions 217
Amita Chatterjee
Neural Reuse and Embodied Cognition 225
Shaun Gallagher


The Question of a Philosophy of Margins, Between Truth, Solidarity and Justice 231
Charles Romain Mbele
Solidarity and Social Risk 237
Sally J. Scholz


Systems of Injustice and Sites of Resistance 244
Sally Haslanger
Responsibility in Philosophy and Right 250
Julian Nida-Rümelin
Romancing Extremism? Understanding the violent turn in struggles for rights, responsibility and
justice 258
Chaiwat Satha-Anand

Transhumanism and Biopolitics of Human Enhancement 269
Sangkyu Shin
Being Human 282
Lars Fr. H. Svendsen


Science, Technology, and the Ecological Self 289
J. Baird Callicott
Scaling Up, Scaling Down: What’s Missing? 293
Helen Longino


Creation, Imagination and Aesthetic Sense 303
Jean Godefroy Bidima
Creativity in Art: A Critical View 312
Bashshar Haydar


If It’s Free, It’s Because You are the Producer: A Modest Proposal for Reason, Wisdom, and the
Good Life 319
Maurizio Ferraris
From Virtue to Happiness: a Neoplatonic Reversal 326
Paul Kalligas
Recognizing the Good in Husserl and Heidegger 335
Thomas J. NENON
Joy, Wealth and Wisdom --An Ethical Paradigm of the Good Life in Early Confucian Texts 346
Yao, Xinzhong


Expressibility, Dialogue, Translatability: Chinese Whispers and Philosophical Translation 356
Michael Beaney
Culture, Dialogue, and the Good Life: Toward Learning What It is to be Human in an
Interconnected, Globalised World 365
Paul Healy


“Clarifying Sameness and Difference”: The Language of Diversity, Difference and Communality
within the Classical Linguistic Context of China 375
Wang, Zhongjiang
How to deal with Differences? Logic of Identity, of Difference, and of Overlaps 384
Ram A. Mall
Confucianism in a Multicultural World 393
Sor-hoon Tan


Ancient and Modern Practical Ethics of Humanity: Concrete Humanity from Mencius to
Schweitzer 400
Hans Lenk


Insight and Understanding 413
Ernest Sosa


Sympathy as the Foundation of Morality: A Confucian Emotive Moral Theory 422
Hee-Sung Keel


Spiritual Humanism: Self, Community, Earth, and Heaven 456
TU, Weiming


Gender in Translation/ Beyond Monolingualism 475
Judith Butler


Marx at the World Congress and in the World 488
William L. McBride

In Search of the I: From Self-consciousness to Becoming a Person

NI, Liangkang*

Introduction: The Problem of the Existence of the Ego

I," "self," or "ego"1 -these expressions have always given rise to philosophizing in the course of time.
The ancient Greeks saw "know thyself!" (Γνῶθι σεαυτόν) as the first call of the gods to the people.
And with the saying: "He who knows others is smart, he who knows himself is wise" ("知人者智, 自
知者明", Laozi, chapter 33), Laozi apparently considers self-understanding more difficult than that
of the other. Hume, such a “smart man”, confesses in the appendix to his major work, A Treatise of
Human Nature, with the deliberation and modesty of an empiricist, the error of his earlier
understanding of this problem area and his inability at that time to solve the problem. For as soon as
he touches upon the question of whether the ego exists, he gets into such great and insurmountable
difficulties that he finally has to believe that he cannot solve this problem with his current intellect,
and that he can only hope that somebody will be able to do so in the future when Others or he himself
with "more mature considerations" come up. (Cf. Treatise, pp. 634-6) This hoped-for "mature"
consideration does not even appear later in Kant. Kant probably forgot to include the existence and
non-existence of the ego as the fifth antinomy in his system of philosophy.2
In fact, however, long before and after Hume, we can find many relevant reflections in the
history human thought that, although they could not clarify the problem of the ego to the point of
being finally resolved, they already satisfy Hume's claim by this fact: they already offer “more
mature" solution projects.
Before Hume, for example in the Buddhist tradition, both in Siddhartha Gautama itself, and in
the further development of the Buddhist consciousness theory (Yogācāra), knowledge theory
(Pramana), logic (Hetuvidyā) and Zen school, the existence of a detached being from the flow of
consciousness, independent ego, subject or even an independent soul (Ātman) was decidedly denied;
Also rejected is the existence of objects that are detached from the flow of consciousness,
independently. The only existence here is the life of consciousness, which consists on the one hand
of the perceiving or the intentional act of consciousness (imagining, intuiting), on the other hand the

* Department of Philosophy, Center for Documentation and Research of Phenomenology, Sun Yat-sen University, No.
135, Xingang Xi Road, Guangzhou, 510275, P. R. China, Tel.: 020 84114042 (O); Fax.: 020 84114805, EMail:
hssnlk@mail.sysu.edu.cn, svabhava@foxmail.com.
1 Expressions such as self, self, sva, me, ego, I, me, je, moi, etc. can be used in both Daoist and Confucian prompts of
self-education, such as " 自 知 " (self-understanding), " 克 己 " (self-control), " 修 身 "(Self-cultivation), find their
synonyms. But these expressions are often understood differently in Western and Eastern cultures, as will be seen below.
2 Kant speaks in different senses of "I" and "self," but in both meanings does not go beyond Descartes' sense of the I,
thus continuing within the sense-framework of transcendental philosophy. In Kant, e.g. the talk of the ego or self as the
"mere form of consciousness", as the "consciousness of my thinking" and as the "object of the inner sense" (see KrV,
382, 413, B 156). In general one can say that the ego in Kant corresponds to the "I" of the Cartesian "cogito", ie an
implicit, pronominal "I". This self-understanding is later described by J.-P. Sartre elaborated (Jean-Paul Sartre, La
transcendance de l 'égo, 1937).

perceived or the intentional correlate (imagined, intuited). Chinese Buddhism, such as "成唯识论"
(Vijñāptimātratāsiddhi-śastra), speaks here of "见分" (seeing) and "相分" (seen). Together they are
called "heart" (Citta).
A view of Edmund Husserl from the first edition of his main work, Logical Investigations
(1900/01), clearly agrees with this tradition: Although he does not know Yogācāra-Buddhism and
therefore cannot refer to it, he also rejects a self independent of consciousness experiences as a
substance and as a "peculiar thing that hovered over the manifold experiences". Where in the first
edition of the work the so-called "phenomenological ego" is mentioned, this means nothing other
than the "stream of consciousness in general" or the "experiencing consciousness". (See LU II / 1, A
Only in the second edition of the work, published more than a decade later, does Husserl write
that he "learned to find the pure ego, i.e., learned not to let himself be confused by the worries about
the degeneration of the ego-metaphysics in the pure comprehension of the given." (LU II / 1, B1 361)
"The pure ego" in this sense contains nothing empirical in itself and represents a pole or a bank of the
stream of consciousness. According to Husserl, "in no sense can it be a real piece or moment of which
the experiences themselves apply" (Hua III / 1, p. 123), which is why Husserl calls it a "transcendence
in immanence " (Hua III / 1, p. 124). From the point of view of semantics, it is only a personal pronoun,
not a noun, and therefore has no object-related (gegenständlich) or objective meaning. This is why
Husserl writes about the ego: "If we read the Word without knowing who wrote it, we have the word,
if not a meaningless one, at least one which is alienated from its normal meaning." (LU II / 2, A 82 /
B1 82)
But all experience activities are radiated by this "ego". Husserl calls it "pure ego" or "the I of
pure apperception" (cf., LU II / 1, B1 359f). He calls this "ego" as well as the entire flow of
consciousness that emanates from it "ego" in the sense of a Monad (compare Hua I, § 33). The "I" is
then the uniform reference point of the "ego" (the manifold experiences of consciousness). In this
sense, one can also call his later phenomenology “I-less phenomenology"1 or "Phenomenology of
No-Self"2, even “Non-subjective phenomenology"3. Seen in this light, Husserl's phenomenology is
more like a new Yogācāra school of the twentieth century, rather than "offering a new Cartesianism,"
as he claims, "a Cartesianism of the twentieth century." (Hua I, 3).
But there is already a problem here that has been caused by concepts and words: "I", "ego",
"self", etc. - all these expressions are used by different thinkers in different languages and given
different meanings; as a result, terms such as solipsism, egology, egoism, etc., are often
misunderstood because of the unclarity and confusion of meaning. Not only in Husserl, therefore,
does the question of I-ness (Ichlichkeit) and I-less-ness (Ichlosigkeit) arise. We also see in the recent

1 See Aron Gurwitsch, "A Non-Egological Conception of Consciousness", Philosophy and Phenomenological
Research, Vol. 3 (Mar., 1941), pp. 325-338; Eduard Marbach, "Ichlose Phänomenologie bei Husserl", in: Tijdschrift
voor Filosofie, 35th Jaarg., No. 3 (September 1973), pp. 518-559.
2 Vgl. Gereon Kopf, Beyond Personal Identity: Dogen, Nishida, and a Phenomenology of No-Self, Routledge; 2015.
3See Jan Patočka, "The subjectivism of Husserlschen and the possibility of an 'asubjective' phenomenology", in:
Philosophical Perspectives, vol. 2, Frankfurt aM 1970, pp. 317-334, especially his remark: "The ego appears here neither
as Reason of objectivity, still as sole producing principle of phenomenal world, but from the outset the word is spoken
of a correlation of appearing and appearing; this correlation, conceived as essential law and looked at in evidence, is the
last expulsion ground of beings in their givens. “

literature on comparative studies of phenomenology and Zen Buddhism both the aforementioned
speech of "Phenomenology of No-Self" and the speech of "Phenomenology of the Self in Zen
Buddhism,"1 both in a positive sense.

II. The Point-like Ego and the Pronominal Ego

"The pure ego" in the sense of Husserl can be understood as a quasi-geometrical point which contains
no real surface and no real content.2
It is true that, when we reflect upon ourselves, we can grasp nothing but our own experiences of
consciousness. In the language of the Yogācāra school this means "唯有 识" (Consciousness-only).
But consciousness in this sense is nevertheless given a structural unity by the "I". In other words, the
ego or "self" in itself is not a subject or a substance, but because of it, all experiences of consciousness
receive a unified reference, namely they are "mine". Thus, "I" or "self" represents the latent,
unobjectified first-person pronoun in the Cartesian "cogito" and "sum." It does not signify the
substantiality that occasionally adds self-reflection to the stream of consciousness, but rather a self-
evidence of which the stream of consciousness itself is immediately conscious in its execution.
Descartes, in his reply to the sixth objection to his meditations, called this self-consciousness
"immediate conscii" (cf. Principia Philosophiae, I, 9). Because of this immediate awareness, the
"cogito" becomes primarily certain, that is, not doubtful, but self-evident.
This immediate consciousness is just "svabhāva", which the Yogācāra-Buddhists have been
holding since Dignāga (about the 5th-6th centuries), or "the inner consciousness," or "primordial
consciousness," of which Husserl speaks already in the Logical Investigations, and then also in his
other manuscripts from time to time 3 , and finally the "self-consciousness", about which the
Heidelberg School, E. Tugendhat and M. Frank vividly discuss 4 : the consciousness becomes
conscious in its own execution. In other words, as we perceive the objects, we are aware that we are
perceiving them; and while we love and want someone or something, we are aware that we love and
want them.
According to W. Windelband, we can regard this "awareness" or “consciousness” (Bewusstsein)
as the most suitable German translation of the Cartesian "cogito"5. Today one can also say that the

1Vgl. Shizuteru Ueda, Wer und was bin ich? Zur Phänomenologie des Selbst im Zen-Buddhismus, Verlag Karl Alber:
Freiburg 2011.
2 It can also be understood as a mathematical zero, whereby the existence of the ego resembles the existence of zero.
For details see. Liangkang Ni, "Zero and metaphysics: Thoughts about being and nothingness from mathematics,
Buddhism, Daism to phenomenology", in: Frontiers of Philosophy in China, 2007, 2 (4): p. 1-10.
3 For details see. Liangkang Ni, "Primal Consciousness and Reflection in Husserl," in Husserl Studies 15: 77-99, 1998,
and "Primal Consciousness and Unconsciousness in Husserl's Understanding of Time," in Husserl Studies 21: 17-33,
2005, and Iso Kern, "Selbstbewußtsein und I at Husserl ", in Husserl Symposium Mainz 1988. Academy of Sciences
and Literature, Stuttgart 1989, pp. 51-63.
4 Cf. above all Dieter Henrich, "Self-confidence. Critical introduction to a theory ", in R. Bubner et al. (Ed.):
Hermeneutics and Dialectics. Festschrift for H.-G. Gadamer, Tübingen 1970, pp. 257-284, ders., "Two Theories for the
Defense of Self-Consciousness", in Grazer Philosophische Studien 7/8 (1979), pp. 77-99; Ulrich Pothast, On Some
Questions of Self-Relation, Frankfurt am Main, 1971; Ernst Tugendhat, self-confidence and self-determination.
Language-analytical interpretations, Suhrkamp Publisher: Frankfurt a.M. 1979; Manfred Frank, "Fragments of a History
of Self-Consciousness Theory from Kant to Sartre", in the. (Hrsg.), Self-consciousness theory of spruce to Sartre,
Suhrkamp Published by: Frankfurt a.M. 1991, pp 527ff.
5 See Wilhelm Windelband, Textbook of the History of Philosophy, ed. by Heinz Heimsoeth, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul

most appropriate English translation is "mind" instead of "(I) think". A suitable Chinese translation
for it should be "心" (mind/heart) or "意" (consciousness) instead of "思" (thinking).
Of course, we will still see that the problem of I-ness or I-less-ness persists, leading to the
problem of "self-knowledge," "consciousness," and “unconsciousness."

III. Linear and Personal Self

Although the certainty of self-awareness is point-like at every moment of the consciousness-life, it is

not standing and isolated, but flowing and continuous, because consciousness is always in temporal
flow. Seen in this way, the "self" no longer represents a quasi-geometric point, but rather a quasi-
geometric line.
As the consciousness is in a constant flow, the present self-consciousness becomes
simultaneously with the consciousness in the way of the retention to the past, and at any time in the
way of the memory to the re-presented (vergegenwärtigt) self-consciousness. Of course, when
consciousness is interrupted by sleep or fainting and unconsciousness occurs, self-consciousness also
ceases to accompany it. Therefore, in the sense of phenomenology, the "I" is an interrupted imaginary
line. From the point of view of the ontology of the soul, however, this line is necessarily continuous,
only it does not appear in each of its phases. Otherwise, we cannot explain the fact of the continuous
unity of the self: when we awaken from sleep, the reoccurring perception, feeling, and willing are
once again conscious to us as “ours."
On just this fundamental fact, Mahāyāna-Buddhism, unlike Theravada Buddhism, which
recognizes only six modes of consciousness, develops a new doctrine of eight modes of consciousness.
Specifically, Mahāyāna-Buddhism represents over the eye-consciousness (cakşur-vijānaṃ), ear-
consciousness (śrotra-vijānaṃ), nose-consciousness (ghrāņa-vijānaṃ), tongue-consciousness (jihvā-
vijānaṃ), body-consciousness (kāya- vijānaṃ) and mind-consciousness (mano-vijānaṃ), two more,
"deeper" types of consciousness from a genetic perspective: Alaya consciousness (alaya-vijānaṃ) and
Manas consciousness (mana-vijānaṃ). This three-layered structure of Alaya consciousness, Manas
consciousness and, thirdly, the six types of Theravada consciousness can be compared to Husserl's
distinction between "pre-ego", "primal ego" and "ego", or Freud's differentiation between "id", "ego"
and "super-ego". They can all be interpreted in a genetic-phenomenological way.
While the early Husserl (around 1900/01) still has doubts about the coloring of a kind of "ego-
metaphysics" as described above, the early Freud (1896) with "metapsychology" already names the
present state of "selfhood." But in truth, Husserl's later consideration of genetic phenomenology
prepares a phenomenological solution to a non-metaphysical ontology of the "I". Here again
Heidegger's thesis is confirmed: "Ontology is only possible as phenomenology." (SuZ, 35)
In very general terms, the "self" represents a partly patently, partly latently red thread of selfhood.
The word "latent" here denotes hiddenness in the unconscious or subconscious, that is, the hidden

Siebeck): Tübingen 151957, p. 335: "The usual translation of cogitare, cogitation with thinking is not without danger
of misunderstanding, since thinking in German means a special kind of theoretical consciousness. Descartes himself
explains the meaning of the Cogitare (Medit., 3, Princ. Phil, I., 9) by enumerations; he understands it as doubting,
affirming, denying, comprehending, wanting, detesting, imagining, feeling, etc. For the common feature of all these
functions, we have hardly any other word in German than 'consciousness.' "

part of selfhood. Accordingly, the word "patent" designates the appearance as "self-consciousness,"
that is, the appearing part of selfhood. If we reflect on the "linear ego" in this sense, we no longer
grasp the transverse intentionality relating to the “point-like ego” that we obtain through ordinary
reflection, but that which Husserl called in his lecture on the phenomenology of the inner
consciousness of time "Longitudinal intentionality" in relation to the "linear ego”.1 It consists of self-
presence, self-past and self-future. The "I" in this sense is no longer the "pure ego" as a pole equal to
zero, but the "personal ego" as the "substrate of habitualities" (see Hua I, § 32).
Here one can notice a transition from the point-like, pure I (self) to a linear, personal I. Since the
former represents only an empty but unity-giving pole, Husserl prefers to call it "self" rather than "I."
In the case of the latter, however, one can speak of the "I", because it is no longer "abstract and
indefinite", but represents an ego bound with personal contents - the monadic, linear ego: the ego,
which manifests itself in longitudinal intentionality. (Cf., Hua XIV, 48)
This "longitudinal intentionality" extends continuously through the dynamic, partly latent, and
partly patently expiring time, genesis, and history, and can be grasped by our mind's eye through a
certain feature. From now on, this essential view is called "longitudinal essentiality," although Husserl
does not call it in this way3. The longitudinal intentionality thus manifests itself here as the "[e]idetic
form of mental inwardness", but can "receive the full concretion of the ego as a monad" (Hua I, 102).
And so Husserl gets rid of the problem of whether the "pure ego" may be "too formal." (Cf Ms. A VI
30, 37a, Marbach, 1974, 321)

IV. The Longitudinal Essential View as Self-Reflection

Just as we cannot grasp all aspects of a spatial being, such as a tree, in a spatial intuition, we are not
capable of grasping a temporal being at all times, such as the selfhood of a person, in a temporal

1 According to Husserl, "through the river, there is a longitudinal intentionality which, in the course of the river, is in
constant cohesion with itself". (Hua X, 81) In this covering unity with oneself one can see just that "linear self".
2 Cf. here the consideration of Husserl in 1921, quoted in the manuscript: "Instead of 'I', I might always have to say
'self'", and the "self" here is understood as an unfounded unity. "(Hua XIV, 48) ,
3 The term "longitudinal" stands for "length" in the sense of Husserlian "longitudinal intentionality". In his "Lectures
on the Phenomenology of Inner Time Awareness," Husserl takes up the concepts of "longitudinal intentionality" and
"transverse intentionality" in the light of the dual intentionality of retention. They refer to the two directions, which he
refers to in the time diagram with "vertical row" and "row of ordinates". Due to differing understandings of English
translators, "longitudinal intentionality" is translated as "longitudinal intentionality" (J. Churchill) or "horizontal
intentionality" (J. B. Brough). I first used the latter myself (see Ni, L., "Horizontal Intention: Time, Genesis, History -
Husserl's Understanding of their Immanent Relationship", in D. Lohmar and I. Yamaguchi, On Time - New
Contributions to the Husserlian Phenomenology of Time, Springer, Dordrecht et al., 2010, pp. 187-211). Today,
however, I consider "longitudinal intentionality" to be more apt, because the "length" referred to here, in view of the
great context of the phenomenology of time to the phenomenology of Genesis and History, means: "through time,
genesis, and History throughout ", ie in this sense" longitudinal ".
In addition, it should be noted that Anthony J. Steinbock in his excellent work Phenomenology & Mysticism
characterizes non-essential religious experiences as "vertical experience" or "vertical givenness" (cf Anthony J.
Steinbock: Phenomenology & Mysticism: The Verticality of Religious Experience , Indiana University Press,
Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2007, p.1). The Chinese translator of this book, Lu Yinghua, also translates Mu
Zongsan's (牟宗三) relevant term "vertical" as "longitudinal" (see the "Introduction" of the book by Anthony J.
Capricorn "Vertical Givenness in Human Experience" translated by Lu Yinghua In The Phenomenological and
Philosophical Research in China - Phenomenology and Chinese Thought, Volume Sixteen, 2015, pp. 181-208). In my
opinion, in the light of religious experience, one should rather speak of a verticality in the original sense of the word.
In any case, there are already three different ways of intentionality as well as essentiality to discover, so not only
"transverse intentionality" and "transversal essence".

intuition. Most phenomenologists, such as Husserl, Scheler, Heidegger, but also some mathematicians
and logicians such as Gödel, insist the possibility of the intuition of essence, intuition of ideas, or the
perception of concepts. They dress them in different names and resort to them to varying extents.
If we transfer this mathematical or physical intuition, already recognized for the knowledge of
the external world, to the cognition and understanding of the immanent experience, then an essential
comprehension of our consciousness, carried out in immanent reflection, can arise. In fact, Kant, who
always denied intellectual intuition as a human faculty, used the method of intellectual intuition itself
in the apprehension of the categories of understanding and forms of intuition. The terms "categorial
intuition" and "formal intuition" (see LU II / 2, 667 / B2 195), which Husserl initially uses, are Kant's
critical legacy. Husserl later abandoned these methodological concepts and instead spoke of "a priori
intuition", "intuition of essence " and "intuition of ideas". Strictly speaking, "intellectual intuition",
which Kant "uses daily without knowing it"1, and the "essence" that Husserl often uses in his works
published during his lifetime, are both part of the transversal intuition of essence: that is, the grasp of
the essence of the elements of consciousness as well as their essential connections. This transversal
intuition of essence is related to the transverse intentionality, much like the longitudinal essentiality
is related to the longitudinal intentionality. Only in the later, often unpublished analysis of
consciousness of genetic phenomenology, of the phenomenology of the person, motivation,
association, etc., Husserl tacitly applied the method of longitudinal intuition of essence.
Transversal as well as longitudinal intuitions of essence represent a direct, idealizing
apprehension of the ideal objects: the transversal grasping of the point-like ego together with the
stable and static essential structure of its consciousness experiences, the longitudinal grasping of the
linear ego together with the streaming and changing essence of its consciousness experiences.2
The longitudinal intuition of essence can be used above all for the grasp of the essence of the
linear ego in its consciousness genesis, i.e., for the phenomenology of the person or the genesis of
personality. This genetic-historical approach not only corresponds to Dilthey’s and Count Yorck’s
"common interest to understand historicity,"3 but realizes this concern as a concrete practice, thus
offering the eagerly sought after "Organon for the grasp of historicity". 4 Dilthey therefore considers
the Logical Investigations to be "epoch-making" (GS VII, 14), because he considers Husserl's
methodical possibility of grasping the "logical connection in the humanities" (GS VII, 323). Like
Dilthey, Husserl later characterized this method with the term "self-reflection" (Selbstbesinnung).
If we now consider the method of longitudinal intuition of essence in the context of Chinese
philosophy, we see that it was already involuntarily and tacitly promoted and used not only in ancient
Chinese philosophy, which is explained in detail elsewhere, but its assertion also found a clear
analogy in modern Chinese philosophy. In Confucianism, a relevant consideration of Mu Zongsan
(牟宗三) comes into consideration. His conception of "longitudinal intuition" (纵贯直觉), based on

1 “日用而不知” [《周易·系辞上传》(Yi Jing, Xici, I. Teil, Kap. 5)]

2 Es sei hier noch bemerkt: Husserl postulierte zwar eine Anschauung des Ideellen, aber keine reine, wie Kants
intellektuelle Anschauung, sondern eine sinnlich fundierte.
3 Vgl. William Dilthey-Paul Yorck, Briefwechsel zwischen Wilhelm Dilthey und dem Grafen Paul Yorck von
Wartenburg. 1877-1897, Max Niemeyer: Halle (Saale) 1923, S. 185.
4 Vgl. Iring Fetscher, „Einleitung“ in Graf Paul Yorck von Wartenburg, Bewußtseinsstellung und Geschichte. Ein
Fragment aus dem philosophischen Nachlass, hrsg. von I. Fetscher, Max Niemeyer Verlag: Tübingen 1956, S. 27.

Kant's concept of "intellectual intuition," has a very similar meaning to "longitudinal intuition of
essence." Although Mu Zongsan, as far as I know his work, did not clearly claim the concept of
"longitudinal intuition," much like Husserl did not use the term "longitudinal intuition of essence,"
Mu Zongsan clearly characterizes the basic feature of this method of understanding the historical
intellectual life. Namely by his statement that Kant's "intellectual intuition must be recognized in the
longitudinal system, not in the transversal system of knowledge"1. Mu Zongsan understands by this
intuition "the 'knowledge' in the longitudinal sense that passes through,"2 as well as the way in which
the subject immediately becomes aware of itself.3 He points out that Confucianism, Daoism, and
Buddhism all belong to the longitudinal system, and all that circulate and pass through "the origins
of our lives, our wisdom, our moral creation.”4
Here an important difference between Mu’s and Husserl's conception of intellectual intuition is
already clear: while Mu emphasizes this view more as a principle of creation than of knowledge, 5
Husserl regards it more as an understanding of historicity, as a method of explaining one's motivation
(Hua VI, 226 f.), or a grasp of the essence of the formation of meaning and the sedimentation of
meaning (Hua VI, 380 f.).
And yet, Mu Zongsan's view has in common with Dilthey and Husserl's understanding of the
historicity of the spiritual life and the method of its detection: It is not a reflexive or transcendental
observation and grasping of the subject-object relationship, but rather a reflexive or transcendental
understanding or comprehending of the historicity of the subjects. It is thus a collection of the
essential moments of the general spiritual life as well as of the essential connections and essential
developments of these essential moments that is carried out in the reflection on the individual,
empirical consciousness and with the method of longitudinal essentials. It is a difficult path from the
phenomenology of consciousness, which has the pure structure of consciousness as its task, to the
phenomenology of the spirit (Geist), which seeks to understand the historicity of the universal spirit.
And if you look at it from Husserl's and Mu Zongsan's considerations, it is also a transcultural way.
Strictly speaking, the differences between Mu and Husserl can be united in the principle of
Dilthey's method of spiritual science: this principle establishes an identity of "creating",
"understanding" and "knowing". For example, in Dilthey we can read: "The spirit understands only
what has created" (VII, 148), "the first condition for the possibility of the science of history is that I
myself am a historical being, that he who explores history, is the same one who makes history. "(VII,
278); "The subject of knowledge is here the same with its object" (VII, 191), and the like.6

1 牟 宗 三 (Mu, Zongsan), Neunzehn Vorlesungen über die chinesische Philosophie – Kurze Darstellung der
chinesischen Philosophie und der darin implizierten Probleme (中国哲学十九讲——中国哲学之简述及其所涵蕴之
问题), Taiwan Students‘ Book Office: Taipei 1983, S. 441.
2 Vgl. 牟宗三(Mu, Zongsan), Vorlesungen über die Lehre von vier Ursachen (四因说讲演录), Shanghai Classics
Publishing House: Shanghai 1998, S. 196.
3 牟宗三(Mu, Zongsan), Intellektuelle Anschauung und die chinesische Philosophie (智的直觉与中国哲学), The
commercial press of Taiwan: Taipei 2000, S. 132, S. 142.
4 Mu, Zongsan, Neunzehn Vorlesungen über die chinesische Philosophie, a.a.O., S. 421-422.
5 Mu, Zongsan, Vorlesungen über die Lehre von vier Ursachen, a.a.O., S. 196.
6 It is, however, also a tradition or continuation of the principle of the new science according to G. Vico, who has
already affirmed that "this political world has certainly been made by men; therefore, their principles can be found (for
they must) within the modifications of our own human mind. [... and thus] from the [world of the peoples or the political
world], because men created them, men can also gain knowledge "(Giambattista Vico, Principi di Scienza Nuova

In general terms, Dilthey, Husserl, and Mu Zongsan are all, in a sense, "Neo-Hegelians" in terms
of the subject of historical self-reflection, but in a sense "Neo-Kantians" in terms of method.

V. The Genetic Logic and the Phenomenology of the Person

The linear ego and its genesis in consciousness represent the history of the psychic life of the
individual. The longitudinal intuition of essence is the reflection on the historicity manifested in it, or
even its understanding. Husserl sees in history "from the outset nothing other than the living
movement of coexistence and intertwining of original formation of meaning and sedimentation of
meaning." (Hua VI, 380f.) The "original meaning formation" mentioned here can be understood as
an activity of consciousness of oneself and its consequences. The "sense sedimentation" then
represents the genetic continuation and historical transmission of this life of consciousness and its
consequences. This is precisely the relationship between the "point-like I" and the "linear I": it
corresponds to the relationship between the "transversal surfaces of the consciousness and ego
problem at all "and the" whole of consciousness ". Already in 1917 Husserl remarked in this regard,
"a transversal surface can only be fully understood if one explores its whole". (Hua XXV, 198)
Even before Husserl, in Dilthey (1890, cf. GS V, 101), and after Husserl, in Heidegger (1920,
see GA 59, 157 f.), Thoughts are given on "transversal surfaces" and "longitudinal surfaces" of the
life of consciousness. Both have hopes of supplementing the immediate apprehension of the execution
of life with the understanding of historicity with the method of historical interpretation. Husserl's
longitudinal intuition of essence can provide a methodological basis for this, as it allows for a direct,
intuitive grasp of the "law of the heart (心有其理)" in the sense of Lu Xiangshan (陆 象山, 1139-
1192) or the "Ordre du cœur ", "Logique de cœur" in the sense of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662).1
"Law of the heart" or "Ordre du cœur" state here that the history of the consciousness life of a
person and also of groups of people can be followed logically, be it in the name of "genetic logic" or
"modal logic", or in the name of the "subjective logic" or "transcendental logic". They agree with the
aforementioned "historicity-understanding" according to Dilthey and Yorck, and represent an attempt
to establish a dual identity of history and logic: the logic is historical, the history is logical.
In the history of human thought similar attempts can be found. The doctrine of "dependent
origination (Pratītyasamutpāda)" in Buddhism, especially the doctrine of "Alaya-Pratītyasamutpāda"
in Yogacara, deals with the genesis and development of consciousness as well as its conditions. They
are moving in the direction of a genetic logic. The Buddhist doctrine of "dependent arising" is
ultimately a doctrine of Genesis.

d'intorno alla commune Natura delle Nazioni, Naples 1744, 331; German translation by Vittorio Hösle and Christoph
Jermann, Principles of a New Science on the Common Nature of Peoples, Felix Meiner: Hamburg 2007).
1 Dieses „Coeur a ses raisons“, „Ordre du coeur“ oder auch „Logique de coeur“ gleicht Collingwoods „Tiger im Gras“,
den nur der Blick der Experten ausmachen kann; “‘Nothing here but trees and grass‘, thinks the traveler, and marches
on. ‘Look’, says the woodsman, ‘there is a tiger in the grass.’” (R. G. Collingwood, cf. Ulrich Voigt, David Hume und
das Problem der Geschichte, Duncker & Humblot: Berlin 1975, S. 7)

VI. Person: Nature and Nurture

Back to Hume: Although he is also regarded as a historical philosopher of the 18th century, and also
dealt with the history of mankind under the titles of custom and habit, he still could not enter into the
discussion about the linear, personal ego from the genetic and historical perspective with the method
of understanding the history and the longitudinal intuition of essence, and develop the discussion in
this direction. Because of this, he had to face a dilemma in the face of the ego's problem. It is the
same dilemma that historical philosophers all face on the empirical viewpoint.
The linear personal ego unfolds itself in the genetic essential inquiry in two directions: that of
the natural and that of the habitual self. In his research manuscripts Husserl has systematically dealt
with the problems of the phenomenology of instincts (naturalness) and phenomenology of
habitualities.1 Similarly, the doctrine of the two natures or two Buddha-natures (gotra) - the natural,
innate (本性住种性: prakṛtistha-gotra) and the cultivated, acquired (习所成种性: samudānīta-gotra)
- in the Yogācāra Buddhism2 is also the baseline for what can be called genetic phenomenology or
genetic logic. By "logic" is meant the lawfulness of this double history of the life of consciousness:
the lawfulness of Genesis and the becoming of the species (nature in the sense of gifts) and of the
acquisition (culture in the sense of acquisition).
The phenomenology of naturality (or instincts) and of the culture (or habitualities) are
components of a phenomenology of the person. Because the person or the personality consists mainly
of nature (sensuality, instincts, attachments) and acquisition (education, exercise, reason, judgment).
Here Phenomenologists of Personality can go with Kongzi in the "learning of the heart" (心学) a
common way. Insightful in this regard is Wang Longxi’s (王龙溪, 1498-1583) using the traditional
Chinese conceptual pair "Xiantian" (先天) and "Houtian" (后天) to denote these characteristics of
the person: "What precedes heaven is heart; what follows Heaven is Intention (先天是心, 后天是意).
Further, “To make His heart straight is to learn what precedes heaven (正心, 先天之学也); and to
make his intentions sincere, is the learning of what follows heaven (诚意, 后天之学也) ". 3 By
"Xiantian" is meant the condition before the activity of the heart, with "Houtian" that during and after
the activity of the heart. For cultivating one's own physical person, Confucians demand that they
make an ethical effort both before the emergence of feelings (未 发) and during or after their

1 See as two excellent works on these two topics: Lee, Nam-In, Edmund Husserl's Phenomenology of Instincts,
Phaenomenologica 128, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht et al. 1993; Moran, Dermot, "Edmund Husserl's
Phenomenology of Habituality and Habitus," in Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, Vol. 1, January 2011,
pp 53-77; "The Ego as Substrate of Habitualities: Edmund Husserl's Phenomenology of the Habitual Self," in
Phenomenology and Mind, vol. 6, July 2014, pp. 27-47.
2 Unlike originally in India, where they designate different families or genders, these two essentials in Yogācāra
Buddhism represent, especially in a figurative sense, two self-natures (svabhāva). (For more details, see Ni, Liangkang,
"Zur Doktrin of Two, Gotra 'in Yogācāra Buddhism and Its Genetically Phenomenological Significance ", in Vijnpti-
Matra Studies, China Social Sciences Publishing House, Beijing 2018, pp. 247-260) That's just what Kongzi said in his
quote as" Nature "(性) and" Exercise or Culture "(习) means:" By nature (humans) are close to each other, by exercise
they move away from each other. (性 相近 也, 习 相 远 也.) "(Kongzi, Lunyu, Book XVII, 2)
3 Wang, Longxi (王 龙溪), Wangji (王畿 集) Collected Writings, Jiangsu People's Publishing House: Nanjing 2007, p.
133, p. 445th

emergence (已 发). This means nothing more than an effort to learn what is going on in heaven and
also to learn what follows heaven; or in other words, learning the innate and learning the acquired. 1
This Confucian pair of concepts is later used in Chinese cultural space for the translation of the
metaphysical and epistemological conceptual pair in European philosophy: a priori and a posteriori.
They say "given"2 as much as before and after inductive experience, as well as their interrelationships;
Today, "a priori" and "a posteriori" are again used for the Chinese translation of the term pairs "nature"
and "nurture", which then characterizes the concepts of "genes" and "experience" and their
interrelationships.3 However, the translation of "Xiantian" and "Houtian" is not suitable for a priori
and a posteriori. A better one would be "Xianyan" (先验, before experience) and "Houyan" (后 验,
after experience). However, "Xianyan" has long been misleading and misleading for the translation
of "transcendental," which is why this term, used today, would create false associations. There are
many debates in recent time, but we cannot go into that here.
Returning to "Xiantian", i.e., the state before the activity of the heart, and "Houtian", i.e., the
state during and after the activity of the heart, we can explain both states using the example of
sympathy. To point out the sympathy as original knowledge (良知) that cannot be gained through
learning, and original ability (良能) that one does not acquire through practice, Mengzi cites two
examples. First, "When people first see a child about to approach a well, there is fear and compassion
in all hearts." Mengzi concludes: "Every human being has a heart that cannot see other sufferings.
"4As a second example, Mengzi calls King Xuan of Qi. King Xuan cannot watch as an ox, slaughtered
for bells, trembles anxiously, so slaughters a sheep instead. "The educated regards animals like this:
when he has seen them alive, he cannot watch them being killed, and when he hears their scream, he
cannot bring himself to eat their flesh." 5 Here, Mengzi differentiates two types of compassionate
carriers, most likely even intentionally: on the one hand, each human being has the capacity to pity
other people; on the other hand, only the "educated" (君子) has compassion for animals. This means
that compassion for other people is part of man's natural system, i.e., original knowledge and original
ability. Pity for animals, however, comes first through acquisition and education, so it is not original
knowledge and ability.
Both in the current theory of consciousness and in the old Yogācāra research, it is not denied that
these two essences also have a physiological basis outside the consciousness in the organs and their
functions, be it under the titles of the brain and the nerve cells or of the root (indriya). For example,

1 I take over this German translation of the Chinese terms from Iso Kern, cf. Ders., The most important thing in life:
Wang Yangming (1472-1529) and his successors on the "realization of the original knowledge", Schwabe Verlag, Basel
2010, p. 17, p. 252, etc.
2 Cf. Max Scheler, Writings from the estate, Vol. 1: On ethics and epistemology, GW X, Bouvier-Verlag, Bonn 1986,
p. 433.
3 Matt Ridley, Nature Via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human, Harper Collins Publishers: New
York 2003; Chinese translation: 先天 · 里德利: "后天 VS 后天: 基因, 经验 及 什么 使 成为 人", 黄菁菁 译, 机械 工
业 出版社: 北京, 2015 年 .- The allegedly one hundred year history of the dispute between Nature and Nurture followers
have actually been through millennia.
4 Mong Dsi, The Doctrinal Disciples of Master Mong Ko, translated by Richard Wilhelm, Book II, Gung Sun Chou, 6.
Compassion ("孟子" 卷三, 公孙丑 章句 上, 六).
5 Mong Dsi, The Doctrinal Discussions of Master Mong Ko, Book I, Liang Hui Wang, 7. The Sacrificial Animal and
World Domination ("孟子" 卷一, 梁惠王 章句 上, 七).

mirror neurons may explain the physiological-biological mechanisms of our native sympathy,
empathy, shame, awe, etc., but compassion for animals can only be understood through acquired
abilities and habits. Whether and to what extent the formation of these habits, in turn, has an effect
on the brain and neuronal processes, is an urgent matter to be addressed and clarified. Whether, for
example, possession of power generally leads to limited sympathy and empathy, and even to the loss
of these instincts, or even to brain injuries or nerve damage, is a question that should be considered
and explored from various points of view.
A fundamental collaboration can be observed worldwide here: philosophers and
phenomenologists of consciousness try to use the method of self-reflection to look, describe and
characterize the emotional activities and consequences of their actions; Psychologists try to follow
and confirm the process of change of personality by the observation of the acts and the construction
of the experiments; Neurologists use various tools to observe and describe the internal connections
between the neuronal process and the brain structure in relation to the innate and acquired faculties.
From their point of view, they also develop their own treatment or cure programs.1

VII. "Unperson": Nature and Nurture

The limited number of 30,000 "a priori" or innate genes of humans seems insufficient to explain the
unlimited possibilities of change of the "a posteriori" or acquired behavior of humans. Therefore, the
contribution of the elements of education and culture in the process of evolution of humanity to the
elements of nature seems to require revision.
But here we first have to look at an empirical observation of zoology: entomologists discovered
that the innate genes of ant lions fully determine their ability to dig traps. So no matter how many
times they dig traps in the course of their lives, they do not become more adept. It also means that
there is nothing in their existential abilities of practice and education. With regard to the part that both
abilities, the innate and the acquired, possess, a totality of nature means at the same time a zero
Such full natural ability finds some support and inspiration through research, design and
development of artificial intelligence. On October 18, 2017, the British company "DeepMind"
christened their latest and most powerful version of AlphaGo, an artificial intelligence, "AlphaGo
Zero". DeepMind announced that in just three days of in-program training and learning in a so-called
Tabula Rasa, without any interaction with the environment, AlphaGo Zero had completely surpassed

1 According to the Logical Investigations, Husserl developed the notion and method of "phenomenological reduction,"
excluding the "metaphysical" debate on "the physical thing and the 'unknown cause of phenomena' (see Hua III, § 52),
and limited it the view of research exclusively on the field of phenomenology of pure consciousness. This method
represents the consistent continuation of his viewpoint of critique of psychology in his Logical Investigations and also
satisfies his "principle of the unprincipled nature of epistemological investigations" (LU II / 1, A 19ff./B1 19ff). He
believes he has broken through the circular foundations of Awareness Phenomenology, Psychology, Physiology,
Biology, Physics as well as the circularity of their consequences. This belief comes from his idea of philosophy as a
rigorous science, but makes it impossible to interdisciplinary research exchange in the sense of participation in the
empirical research of these subjects in mutual addition. The possibility of such participation is to some extent already
realized in the exploration of types of consciousness within the framework of, for example, the 'feeling philosophy' and
'theory of feelings'. The latter two not only consult psychoanalysis's views and thought processes, such as psychology,
neurology and cerebrology, but also those of sociology, zoology, history and literature.

all its predecessors, and with it the level of all human players, each through a posteriori exercise and
learning to acquire and increase their play ability.
Of course my "Zero" or "Tabula Rasa" does not mean that AlphaGo version contains nothing
preprogrammed, but that their algorithms in the difficult area begins from "Zero", namely without
any subsequent, human knowledge and experience, and can learn very quickly a superhuman
intelligence. 1 In addition to the algorithms of the previous versions, AlphaGo Zero also contains
statistics, strategies, five million training games and a computer with four special processors. So all
this is innate or programmed ability, nothing is retrieved from outside or otherwise from others or
acquired. Here the innate says as it were the acquired.
The difference between AlphaGo Zero and its predecessor, AlphaGo Lee, is the difference
between a full a priori nature version and a mixed version with a priori aptitude and a posteriori
acquisition. This example shows how artificial intelligence in principle can do away with acquired
habitualities and how all their abilities can exist in preprogrammed a priori characteristics: basic rules,
search algorithms, combination options, artificial neural networks (ANN), deep neural networks
(DNN) and lightning-fast, faceless learning practice - all of this already realizes the transcendence of
the relevant intelligence as well as the cultural tradition of humanity.
The examples given here, however, all concern the problem of a priori rules and a posteriori
exercises only in the field of animals and artificial intelligence. This does not yet pose the problem
of an artificial consciousness or the problem of an artificial mind, which is why they have no direct
relation to the research of the phenomenology of the person. However, only in the case of artificial
consciousness or "artificial mind" can one speak of the problem of personality, even though only of
an artificial one, namely artificial nature and nurture and their mutual effect on each other. For the
term consciousness or mind already implies self-consciousness, free will and different feelings and
emotional states.
Precisely because elements of free will, feelings and emotional states are contained in the natural
consciousness, all such a posteriori, empirical acquisitions, capacity accumulations, cultural
traditions become possible. The resulting habitualities2 and the innate nature make up the personality,
which today biologists and anthropologists generally recognize. The problem with the previously
posed problem of proportion is therefore only how much importance the inherent nature and the
acquired habits each has. In other words, does the share that has hitherto been attributed to the
elements of education and cultivation in the process of human evolution in opposition to innate,
natural elements require a further correction?

VIII. "A Priori-a posteriori" and “Formal-material"

But here we have to emphasize: From the perspective of philosophical anthropology or the
phenomenology of the person, "a priori" and "a posteriori" should not be in a relationship of

1 For details see. "Mastering the Game of Going without Human Knowledge", in: https: // deepmind. com / documents
/ 119 / agz_unformatted_nature.pdf.
2 Husserl, therefore, distinguishes "three very different habitualities," namely, "the habit of taking the same acts out of
mere association under the same circumstances, the general will to follow certain affections over and over, and the
corresponding acts to realization." to bring, and that of conviction. "(Hua IX, 412, note 2)

juxtaposition, not even in a ratio of the respective parts in the sense of biology or physiology, not
even in the relationship of the respective validity. Naturality and habituality, which constitute the
double structure of personality, should rather be characterized by the terms "a priori form" and "a
posteriori matter". In the field of epistemology Kant has formulated "the real task of pure reason" in
the central question: "How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?" (KrV Einl. VI), and tried to
answer them with transcendental analytics and transcendental aesthetics. If we now raise this real
task or central question in the field of practical reason, what Max Scheler later dealt with and what
he described, we will speak analogously of "synthetic feelings a priori" or "synthetic feelings of value
a priori", provided that these relate to a priori forms of feelings and a posteriori matter of feelings.
An "a priori form" is the original, ability of feeling, such as feelings of sympathy, shame, awe,
etc. given before inductive experience. It is one of the inherent naturalities of personality, that is, the
original knowledge (良知) that is not gained through learning, or the original ability (良能) that one
does not acquire through practice. Also the mental factors (心所: caitta) listed in Yogācāra Buddhism,
such as shame (apatrāpya), lust (rāga), trust (śrāddha), anger (krodha), pride (mada), arrogance
(māna), suspicion (vicikitsā), etc., all belong to this category. The current biological-neurological
research could discover their physiological-physical bases in genes or nerve cells. They could also be
discussed under the title of X-complexes by psychologists. Even the free will, which is considered an
elementary factor of the human mind, can be regarded as a kind of a priori-formal, innate natural
faculty: it contains no empirical content in itself, which could be grasped by reflection, is thus
materially empty. But it can be used for all kinds of experiences, especially the acts of consciousness
that have to do with decision and determination, and therefore forms an important prerequisite for the
spiritual development and a posteriori cultural formation of humanity.
Another component of personality is the broader sense of habituation created by a posteriori
education and care. We can also characterize this relationship between instincts and experiences as
one between innate naturalities and acquired habitualities. There are immanent connections between
them, but not proportional relations or those of the validity weight. Here there is more of a ratio
comparable to the ratio of the four sides of a quadrilateral to the area they enclose.
Taking the moral feeling as an example, the relationship between instinct and acquisition is seen
as the relationship between moral instinct and moral custom. Here, the question makes no sense: how
much does moral instinct versus moral custom have in each of our entire moral consciousness and
act? For between form and matter in this sense there is no quantitative proportionate relationship. In
the case of the forms, such as the sympathy, shame, reverence of Mengzi, the original knowledge (良
知) not acquired through learning and the original faculty (良能) not acquired through practice
constitute the a priori form, which in itself does not have empirical content. But whether the object
of sympathy is a relative or an animal, whether the cause of shame is an inability to speak or to cook,
or whether reverence refers to an ancestor, elder family member, God, or bodhisattva, all these are
consequences of a posteriori experience, education, decision and acquisition. Compared to innate
nature or limited genes, acquired habitualities can be infinitely diverse and unrestricted, and manifest
themselves in the most diverse ways of life of humanity. Thus, when we understand "a priori" and "a
posteriori" in the Confucian sense, as shown above, a fundamental relationship between limited a
priori forms of emotion and unrestricted a posteriori emotional material emerges.
Another example is the speech act. The essential relationship between naturalness and
habituality described above also applies to the relationship between the a priori language sense (W.
Humboldt) and a posteriori language acquisition. From this perspective, Noam Chomsky's idea of a
"generative grammar" leads to a new understanding in the form of thought: there is also a relationship
between aptitude and language syntax, or between language and languages, between a priori form
and a posteriori matter.
Wilhelm Schapp (1884-1965), Husserl's first PhD-trained doctor and an important representative
of the early phenomenological movement, in his late period (1953), in retrospect, remarked that it
was "difficult to say what the phenomenological method actually was. It may be said that it consisted
of a priori tracking synthetic sentences in all areas of knowledge. " He reaffirms this later on: "Finally,
it was then a matter of a priori to develop a theory of synthetic sentences."1 This also supports the
understanding developed here to see the method of the phenomenology of the person in a grasp of a
priori emotional forms and a posteriori emotional matter.

IX. About Ego and Alter Ego

Reflections on the naturalness, habituality and related personal being provide the basis for a
phenomenology of the person. But only if one understands the person not only as the personality of
the monad, but also as the intersubjective personality of the spirit, the inner connection between the
history of the individuals, the community and the history of mankind as a whole is discovered. This
is initially the ego, or the monad, and the others and their relationships to each other. According to
Husserl, the phenomenology of intersubjectivity or interpersonality deals with these questions.
The perception of others takes place in the way of empathy. Husserl's pupil Edith Stein defined
the empathy (Einfühlung or Empathie) right at the beginning of her dissertation "On the problem of
empathy" 2as a special type of experience: the experience of the alien consciousness. (See ESGA V,
§ 2)
Our view is fundamentally or essentially our own. That is undeniable and not to change. We may
ask ourselves to be more involved in others, or to advocate for an ethical claim related to others, such
as the Confucian: "Whatever is undesirable to you, do not add to any other" (Lunyu, XII, 2). But even
that is still a self-imposed call for normative ethics, not a fact of purely descriptive phenomenology.
Husserl's analyzes in his phenomenology of intersubjectivity have been repeatedly criticized by
social philosophers, including Husserl's student Alfred Schütz, who instead assume a community or
communicative reason. To this day, many social phenomenologists still believe that Husserl's
phenomenology offers no valid way of thinking from the ego to the other, from individuality to
In truth, the transcendental-phenomenological exploration of the foreign experience does not
begin with pragmatic questions such as, "How to better understand others?", "How to put one's
experience the same way?", etc. Instead, their endeavor is merely to faithfully describe and enlighten

1 Wilhelm Schapp, On the Way of a Philosophy of Stories: Teilband I, a.a.O., p. 59.

2 Edith Stein, The problem of empathy in its historical development and in phenomenological observation, book
printing of the orphanage, Hall 1917.

the way others are given to me. In Husserl's more than thirty years of reflection on the problem of
intersubjectivity, his most typical phenomenological description and analysis is a multi-level and
multi-perspective characterization of empathy or alienation as a special kind of perception that is
neither perception of thing, imagination, illusion, nor inference or hunch.
In addition to other ways of thinking, Husserl distinguishes a threefold originality in his
examination of this problem. Already in her dissertation on the problem of foreign experience, Edith
Stein refers to this term. Generally speaking, perception is original awareness. Stein is also of the
opinion that even the essence or ideation is an original consciousness. The word "original" expresses
concretely an original way of givenness of the objects of consciousness, that is, a direct and present
way of givenness in which the given object or circumstance gives itself. The acts of memory,
expectation and fantasy, on the other hand, are not original, because their objects are non-original,
but are given only mediately and through re-presentation. The empathy for others sees stone as a non-
original consciousness, so it counts them to the same class of acts as memory, expectation, fantasy,
"in which self-experienced is given non-originally." (See ESGA V, 15ff.)
However, Husserl later considered this thesis, which was already advocated by Stein in 1916,
several times and in detail under the title of originality. He does not reject Stein's thesis, but rather
develops a more sophisticated understanding of origins, which also includes empathy. As Iso Kern
shows, in a manuscript written in 1934 Husserl elaborates a basic difference between three different
concepts of "original experience" and "originality", namely primary, secondary and tertiary originality.
My present consciousness life is given to me in primary originality, my remembered consciousness
life is given to me in secondary originality, and the consciousness life as a result of empathy with
others is given to me in tertiary originality.1
These reflections and distinctions shed light on the principle of the phenomenology of
intersubjectivity in Husserl and Stein. Through this insight, many questions, such as whether the
knowledge of the alien consciousness is "immediate" or "indirect", including the "solipsism dilemma",
turn out as illusory problems that are raised in philosophical discussions more out of tactical than
serious interest. How could Husserl's I-less phenomenology, which does not even recognize an
empirical ego, fall into a solipsistic dilemma! And so the question, not of the ego point, but of ego
and alter ego, as such, shows itself as merely the difference of the degree of the originality of the way
of givenness in consciousness. The fact that the strange life of consciousness or the strange soul is
never as original as my own life of consciousness or my own soul is a "phenomenological fact" -
which cannot be solved with all hermeneutic means and tricks - to speak with Scheler. So if the
phenomenological sociologists, like the social philosophers, admit that the I is a social construct, it

1 See also Hua XV, p. 641. See also, in addition, a text written between 1925 and 1928 by Husserl (Hua XIV, text nos.
19, 387ff.) In which he also differentiated originality in three ways: primordial, secondary, and tertiary originality. The
first forms the sphere of "primordinal originality (= originality)", i. the original experience "which abstracts from all
empathy, or to make more precise this indistinct expression, does not allow for empathy, for the holdings of the alien
subject to be experienced". The second is the "secondary originality" that "gives us originality to humans and animals".
The third he calls the "tertiary originality" that "gives us cultural objects, which in turn owe their meaning to the
cultivating subjects" (Hua XIV, pp. 386-391). Iso Kern refers to these two divergent distinctions of a threefold
originality in Husserl's various versions of his unpublished manuscript, "Husserl's Phenomenology of Intersubjectivity
and its Phenomenological Philosophy - A Brief Presentation and Some Further Thoughts" (2016-2018).

simply means that the others and the society that are originally constructed by the ego construct the
ego as well, similar to the general interchange between Noesis and Noema.
In connection with this, we often hear the statement that Confucianism is basically
communitarianism and not individualism. Confucianism, however, is neither communitarianism nor
individualism, but unites communitarianism and individualism: holiness inside and royalty outside
(内圣外王). The best explanation for this was given by Kongzi himself: "As for the moral, he
strengthens others, since he desires to be firm, and he explains others, since he himself desires to be
enlightened." (Lunyu, VI, 28) That means Confucianism takes individuals as the point of departure
and the community as the goal, step by step: from cultivating one's own person (修身) to organizing
the family (齐家), governing the country (治国), and peacemaking in the world (平天下). The "own
person" (身: physical person) is that ego or self, of which here is the speech. The cultivation of one's
own person unites a number of factual contents: correcting the actions (格 物), realizing the
knowledge (致 知), making the willtrue (诚 意), directing the heart (or mind) (正 心). And so
Confucianism is more of a kind of pedagogy, but in the sense of self-education. Here Confucianism
and Husserl's phenomenology are very close. For both are to be called "transcendental" insofar as
they "in looking and struggling action purely inwardly directed" and practice abilities directed to the
pure subjectivity. This is also the main reason why Husserl views Buddhism as "transcendental". (See
Hua XXVII, 125)

X. "Know thyself" and "Learning to Be Human”

The discussion here began with the question "I-some" or "I-less", then took the course of
epistemological and methodological considerations to the "point-like and linear ego" and the
corresponding types of "transversal and longitudinal intuition of essence", and finally to different
directions of genetic phenomenology to achieve the becoming of the person: naturalness, habituality,
personality, interpersonality, etc.
The 24th World Conference on Philosophy, which will take place in Beijing in August 2018, will
focus on "Learning to Be Human". This already implies a moral challenge to cultivate and practice
on the basis or under the condition of self-knowledge and for the long-term purpose of perfecting
one's own person. On the one hand, the path of thought adopted here corresponds to the demand "to
know thyself" in Socrates and the "knowing oneself" in Laozi, but on the other hand agrees with the
claim "knowledge of the heart" as the first task of the practice of becoming Buddha in Buddhism.
According to a report in the classic of the Yogācāra school, Sandhinirmocana Sūtra, Shakjamuni
himself mentioned the condition of becoming Bodhisattva. In response to the question, "How can one
cultivate to attain the great majesty of a bodhisattva?", Shakjamuni replies, "When the bodhisattvas
become aware of the six supports, they are able to produce that great majesty of a bodhisattva. The
first is that they know well the arising of thought. The second is that they know well the abiding of
thought. The third is that they know well the departure of thought. The fourth is that they know well

the increasing of thought. The fifth is that they know well the diminution of thought. The sixth is that
they know well the methods. "1
"Knowing well" (善知) in this sense is also considered in Zen Buddhism as the first task of
gradual self-cultivation for enlightenment. Dōgen (道元, 1200-1253), a teacher of Japanese Zen
Buddhism in the early Kamakura period, writes in his book Shōbōgenzō (The Treasure Chamber of
the Knowledge of the True Dharma), "To experience the Buddha-way means to experience oneself ,
To experience oneself means to forget oneself. To forget oneself means to perceive oneself - in all
things."2 Noteworthy is the second step, "forgetting oneself" or "self-forgetfulness". He is also called
by Zen Buddhists as "heartlessness or non-heart" (无心). In cultivating practice, "self-forgetfulness"
or "I-less-ness" constitutes a mental level attainable only through meditation. The method of this
practice has a very similar function to Husserl's phenomenological method of reduction. 3 What
appears at first glance to be an antinomy between the yogācāra-Buddhist claim to "know well of the
heart" and the Zen-Buddhist to "non-heart" proves to be closer in the order of cultivating practice.
Knowledge about the "non-heart" (无心) is achieved through "knowledge of the heart" (知心), in
other words, through the descriptive determination of the "non-heart" and the normative demand for
This process can also be seen as two sides of the same thing. The Zen master Zonggao (宗杲,
1089-1163) in the Southern Song Dynasty mentions in his book of the same title, Shōbōgenzō (The
Treasury of Realization of the True Dharma), two conversations on "Heart Knowledge" and "Heart
Voiding" of Zen. Master Mazu Daoyi: "A monk asks Mazu: how is the Buddha? Answer: One with
heart (即心) is the Buddha. Question: What is the way? Answer: Non-heart (无心) is the way.
Question: How far away are the Buddha and the way? Answer: The Buddha is like opening the hand,
the way is like clenching the fist." Finally: "One with heart and non-heart, this is the Buddha-way
From the point of view of Husserlian phenomenology, the situation also presents itself: By
phenomenological reduction of consciousness one can experience and comprehend the appearance of
the ego and the trueness of the absolute consciousness (of the heart) in the reflective gaze. This implies,
on the one hand, knowledge of the apparent nature of the ego, and of how many human weaknesses
come from holding on to the ego, and on the other hand also knowledge of the truthfulness of the ego.
All this ultimately leads to the establishment of a normative ethic based on the phenomenological
description and conceptualization of the true states of human consciousness. It contains statements

1 Sandhinirmocana Sūtra, Chapter VI, “The Analysis of Centering”: “若诸菩萨善知六处,便能引发菩萨所有广大

English translation from The Scripture on the Explication of Underlying Meaning, translated by John P. Keenan, Numata
Center for Buddhist Translation and Research: Berkeley, California 2000, p. 72.
2 道元,《正法眼藏》,宗教文化出版社:北京,2017 年,第 19 页,Deutsche Übersetzung von Manfred
Eckstein, Dōgen Zenji, Shōbōgenzō. Die Schatzkammer der Erkenntnis der wahren Dharma, Werner Kristkeitz Verlag:
Zürich/München/Berlin, S. 116, Hervorhebung von mir.
3 Vgl. Fasching, Wolfgang, Phänomenologische Reduktion und Mushin: Edmund Husserls Bewusstseinstheorie und
der Zen-Buddhismus, Verlag Karl Alber, Freiburg i.Br. 2003.
4 宗杲:《正法眼藏》,卷第二之上,卷第二之下:“僧问马祖:如何是佛?曰:即心是佛。云:如何是道?
(载:《卍新续藏》,第 67 册,No. 1309 [0582c07], [0601a24])

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(Translated by Chen Hao)

Self – A Phenomenological Account:
Temporality, Intersubjectivity, Embodiment1

Sara Heinämaa
Academy of Finland, University of Jyväskylä

European philosophy is today often criticized and attacked as an outdated form of thinking, unable to
address the problems of today’s world. It is characterized as individualistic, anthropocentric and
Euro-centric and contrasted to supposedly more pluralistic, communitarian and ecological approaches,
put forward and elaborated most vigorously in contemporary political philosophy, philosophy of
nature and ontology.
Post human(istic), new realistic, materialistic and neovitalistic movements of thought aim at
taking on this challenge by creating alternative conceptualizations for the service of global politics of
equality and justice – not just for all human beings and cultures, but also for the animal kingdom and
ultimately for the earth itself. One of the most prevalent arguments put forward in these discussions
is the claim that the philosophical landscape of Europe must and can be remodeled by fresh
conceptual tools offered by pre-Cartesian forms of thinking, on the one hand, and by non-European
traditions of learning, wisdom and political thinking, on the other. A third, growingly popular set of
concepts is found in mathematical and mathematized natural sciences, most importantly in system
theory, quantum physics and set theory.
What is common to all these approaches is the conviction that the main source of the problems
of contemporary European philosophy lie in its inherited Cartesianism. If this holds, then all Cartesian
principles would have to be uprooted from European thinking if it is to revivified, reinvigorated and
re-energized. The dualistic framework that Descartes left for us as a philosophical heritage – the
framework in which thinking is opposed to extension, mind to body, and ego to whatever remains
alien to it – has to be replaced by a monistic ontology, be it that of unprecedented events or of dynamic
forces and processes.
The Cartesian ego cogito – the thinking self – is taken to be reformulated by Kant in his
contention that the ego is a form that accompanies all our representations. In this Kantian
reformulation, the ego is nothing but a formal factor, a mere form of thinking and experiencing, and
thus universally the same for all human subjects, independently of historical, cultural, spatial and
bodily factors.
However, this Kantian version of Cartesianism is not the only possible way of interpreting and
developing Descartes’ arguments about the centrality of the ego. In this talk, I want to question the
dominant Kantian understanding of Cartesianism by arguing that the basic aspiration of Descartes’
philosophy can and has been developed by 20th century phenomenologists and in a direction that
differs from Kantianism. (The two phenomenologists who most innovatively have developed
Descartes’ philosophical insights are the founder of the phenomenological movement Edmund
Husserl and his French critic Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In his late work The Visible and the Invisible,

1 This is a draft. Do not cite this in public. For the final version of the paper, please, contact the author.

Merleau-Ponty even contends that the debate on Cartesianism is senseless: “The question does not
make much sense, since those who reject this or that in Descartes do so only in terms of reasons which
owe much to Descartes”.
I will here follow Husserl’s and Merleau-Ponty’s expositions and argue that the self that
constitutes the sense of the world is not a solus ipse nor a mere form of representations. Rather than
being a solitary agent or a formal principle, the sense-constituting self is a dynamic formation with
temporal thickness and social embeddedness. Moreover, the phenomenological self is not merely the
subject of the intellectual acts of thinking but also lives in affective sensibility and motility, and in
expression and communication. Thus, the self is not just bound to declare “I think” but is also prone
to state “I sense”, “I suffer”, “I move and I am moved”, “I smile and I am addressed and called”.

1. Temporality

In the fourth of his Cartesian Meditations, Husserl clarifies the account of selfhood by distinguishing
between three different senses: first, the self as an act-pole, second, the personal self (personales Ich,
Person), and finally the self in its full concreteness as a monad. All these distinctions are already in
operation in the second volume of Husserl’s Ideas from the 1910s, but Husserl does not explicate
them fully or clearly until Cartesian Meditations, first published at the end of the 1920s.
In Husserl’s explication, the self as an act-pole is the subject of intentional acts, that is, the self
merely studied as the performer of acts. Husserl argues that every act discernible from the stream of
intentional experiencing radiates or emanates from one identical center; every intentional act is given
to us as such a ray.
The stream of experiencing must thus be conceived as a stream of the egoic acts of intending.
But for Husserl, egoic acts include, not only the theoretical acts of thinking, judging, knowing and
believing, but also the axiological acts of emotion and feeling and the practical acts of willing,
desiring and deciding, and all in their various modes. Moreover, the stream of egoic consciousness
also involves moments in which the ego is passive and operates in the dative form, so to so speak,
rather than in the nominative. “I think” and the “I judge” thus lternate with “I love”, “I hate”, “I
regret”, “I hope”, “I want”, “I decide”, “I enjoy”, “I receive”, and “I am moved and affected”.
So, to begin with, the self, as disclose by phenomenological analyses, is the pole of all the
multiple acts – factual and possible – that stand out from the streaming continuum of consciousness.
It is as if the acts were centered round the self – in a similar manner as they are centered round the
object-poles. However, having made this basic point, Husserl argues that the self is not merely an act-
pole or a common center of transient acts. It also has a temporal structure, and as such refers back to
its own past. Acts are not isolated atom-like units but have internal references to one another and thus
form an integrated continuum.
Husserl uses the terminology of “habits” (Habitus, Habitualität) to describe the temporal
constitution of the self as distinct from the self as the performer of acts. He warns that we should not
take this terminology in the everyday sense of routines and social customs. The reference is to certain
processes in internal time in which intentional acts are established and new acts are layered on earlier
ones thus forming a kind of activity-form or activity-gestalt. This gestalt is unique to the individual,

and we can thus say that the self has a specific mode or style of acting.
Husserl calls “transcendental person” (or “personality” of the transcendental self) (Person,
Pesönlichkeit) the gestalt that is formed in the establishment and habituation of acts in internal time.
For him, the self is not a momentary actor, that wills, enjoys and posits being, but the self has always
already willed, has enjoyed and has posited being. The self is not merely the totality of simultaneous
acts but has an immanent “history” of intentional acting, formed in internal time. In other words, the
self has a genesis, an internal past and origin. And more: the self is its own past.
Husserl illuminates the process of the habituation of acts, both in the second volume of Ideas
and in Cartesian Meditations, by studying the case of judgment formation. He explains that always
when we make a judgment, the judgment becomes our own in a specific way: it becomes part of our
transcendental habitus. The judgment remains our own in this way, until we refute it by another act,
and after this it still remains ours as a judgment once held and acted on, and then refuted. This does
not mean that we repeat the judgment in every moment until we refute it, but that we are, from the
very moment of making the judgement, the ones who thus judge and believe.
For example, when my perception of a patter on the roof motivates me to believe that it is raining
outside, I am bound to the reality of rain and the presence of raindrops. My judgment is transient and
passing: after a moment I am back again in my work, absorbed in the texts that I am reading. The
patter of raindrops no longer occupies the center of my attention but has moved into the background
of my experience. But in this process, I have not ceased to “be” the one who believes that it is raining;
I am still bound to the reality of the rain, even though I no longer actively posit the being of the
The permanence of belief manifests itself in my responses: if I were asked about the patter, even
when absorbed in my work, I would answer – without hesitation – that it is due to rain. The conviction
also shows in non-verbal ways in my behavior. When I go out, for example, I take an umbrella and
put on rubber boots. It is (perhaps) only when I open the door and see the clear blue sky and the
neighbor’s children with the watering hose, that I come to abandon my belief. However, I do not thus
return to the earlier moment or to my life as it was before I paid attention to the patter and judged that
it is raining. Instead, now, after the abandonment of the belief, I “am” the person that “was” convinced
of the reality of rain but “is” not anymore.
In a similar way, when my love dies, I do not in any miraculous way get rid of or liberate myself
from this emotion, but continue carrying it in myself, now in the mode of the past. It is not that I think
that I was mistaken about my feelings, that I had confused love with friendship, desire or lust, for
example. I am aware that I really have loved, but at the same time I am aware that I have lived through
and have passed this love, and that the feeling belongs to my past. I do not live anymore as loving –
now I live as having loved.
Husserl emphasizes that we should not confuse the permanence of decision, belief or emotion,
with the experience of remembering or imagining such states. It is of course possible for me to
remember my experience of a recent shower of rain – really and genuinely recall it as past – but only
after I have abandoned my conviction of the presence of raindrops. As long as I hold the belief, or
carry the emotion, as long as I have not refuted it, I can always return to it and I find it unchanged
and as my own, as part of me. According to Husserl, the permanence of the conviction holds even

through sleep. He claims:

Likewise (as in judgment) in the case of all kinds of decisions, value-decisions and volitional decisions.
I decide: the act-process vanishes but the decision persists; whether I become passive and sink into heavy
sleep or live through other acts, the decision is continuously in validity and, correlatively, I am so decided
from then on, as long as I do not give the decision up.

So as a summary, we can say that with the concept of transcendental person as defined in the
fourth Cartesian Meditation, Husserl starts a new discussion about the temporality of the
transcendental self: the act-pole is an identical center of acts, but the concrete self, the person, is a
structure formed in internal time by the habituation of experiences, transient as acts but permanent as
accomplishments and layered one upon another. The act-pole and the person are not two separate
parts, levels, or phases of the self but essentially bound together, and only distinguishable by analysis.
This explication helps us to see that Husserl transcendental self is very different from that of
Kant: is not universal but individual, it is not fixed or stable but in constant change, it is not beyond
time but trans-temporal. With this understanding of the self, it also becomes easier to see why and
how Husserl would argue that the constitutive basis of the sense of world is not in the transcendental
self but is in the community of such selves, that is, in transcendental intersubjectivity:

The transcendence of the world consists in its being constituted by means of others, by means of
generatively constituted co-subjectivity. It is through the others that the world acquires its ontic sense as
an infinite world.

2. Intersubjectivity and Generativity

In his manuscripts on intersubjectivity from the 20s, Husserl argues that the full sense of the world is
a constitutive achievement of an open community of transcendental selves. The experiencing ego
does not establish the sense of the world by itself or in solitary activity but constitutes this sense in
community and communication with other egos. “Subjectivity is what it is – an ego functioning
constitutively – only within intersubjectivity”, Husserl famously states in The Crisis of European
Sciences and Transcendental Philosophy.
Focusing on such arguments and reflections, contemporary Husserl scholarship has rectified the
surprisingly persistent and tenacious misconception that classical transcendental phenomenology is a
simple reformulation of Kantianism. Its demonstrates that for Husserl the constitutive source of
worldliness is not in an ego that isolates itself from everything alien nor in a universal principle or
form shared by all egos equally and without distinctions.
If one wants to find a proper philosophical predecessor for Husserl’s transcendentalism one must
take seriously his references to Leibniz’ monadology. This comparison helps to accentuate Husserl’s
argument that the constitutive ground of the objective world is in an endless multiplicity of egos
which harmoniously interact with one another. The monadic harmony is not a pre-established state
for Husserl but is a historical task. The radically historical reformulation of the idea of harmony
becomes possible for Husserl since he conceives subjectivity as essentially and deeply temporal and
as including sensibility and living bodiliness. What we have therefore is not a stable fraternity of pure
spirits but a communicative becoming of embodied egos with unique styles of acting and receiving.
In Husserl’s manuscripts on intersubjectivity we read:

Thus subjectivity expands into intersubjectivity, or rather, more precisely, it does not expand, but
transcendental subjectivity understands itself better. It understands itself as a primordial monad that
intentionally carries within itself other monads.

The constituting self is intentionally tied to other constituting selves, and together, in
communicative interaction, these selves establishes the full sense of the world. We find this idea of
transcendental intersubjectivity paraphrased in several different ways by Husserl himself as well as
by his early interpreters. Merleau-Ponty, for example, underscores the operative bodiliness of
transcendental subjects and uses the metaphors of crossroads to illuminate their constitutive

Transcendental subjectivity is a revealed subjectivity, revealed to itself and to others, and is for that
reason an intersubjectivity.

The phenomenological world is not pure being, but the sense which is revealed where the paths of my
various experiences intersect, and also where my own and other people’s intersect and engage each others
like gears. It is thus inseparable from subjectivity and intersubjectivity, which find their unity when I
either take up my past experiences in those of the present, or other people’s in my own.

Husserl argues that the world, by essence, is shared by all possible egos, actual and possible,
present and future. If this holds, then the world can consciously be intended as such only by those
egos who are aware of their own mortality. The idea of future others – successors and descendants –
does not make sense unless we are able to conceive our own lives as finite formations, delimited by
the interruptive event of death. In other words, an ego who lacks the sense of her own temporal limits
is unable to conceive any future others. More concretely, only those who are able to grasp their own
death as a possibility, can consciously have successor and descendants and share the world, not just
with contemporary others, but also with others to come. Thus, the constituting subject of the world
in its fullness is the open community of egos conscious of their own temporal limits.
In order to get to the core of Husserl’s argument that the full sense of the world is constituted by
a generative community of egos, it is instructive to study two special cases: the infant and the animal.
Both are excluded by Husserl from the collective of world-constitutors and on the same grounds:
neither experiences itself as a member of a generation that is connected to other generations and to
an open totality of generations by the means of narration and writing.
Husserl contends that both the infant and the animal consciously participate and intentionally
live in many different types of communities of contemporaries, and even in communities that use
signs for multiple practical purposes. However, what he considers crucial is that neither the infant nor
the animal experiences itself as a being who is born and who will die, a being who shares a communal
past and future with other similar beings that are not present, and cannot become present, in flesh and

The others who in our mature human experience are separated from us by (our) birth and (our)
death are not just contingently absent for us but absent in their very essence: some lived before our
birth, and others will live after our death. Neither type of other can be intended by infant and animal
subjects in so far as these subjects lack the sense of themselves as natal and mortal beings.
We mature adults can reach both types of absent other by means of language, and this can be
realized in several different ways. For example, we hear and read stories about our ancestors and we
may address such others in prayer or orison, but we can also capture their very words as repeated by
our older contemporaries and we can read their writing without any mediation of third parties (or any
mediation other than language). Similarly, we can address our successors by our own writing and we
can rehearse our younger contemporaries to repeat our own words for others. This all is senseless for
the infant and the animal in so far as they do not understand themselves as mortal and natal beings
who have generations of others behind and ahead of them in time. Husserl explains:

An animal (…) does not have a unity of time which spans over generations as historical time nor a unity
of the world which continues through time, it does not ‘have’ this consciously. We, we human beings,
are the ones who have the chains, the successions and branching of (animal, originally: ant) generations
etc. in our world as valid for us. The animal itself has no generative world in which it would live
consciously, no conscious existence in an open endlessness of generations and correlatively no existence
in a genuine environing world, which we humans, anthropomorphizing, attribute to it.

Several deprivations or lacks are implied by the fundamental lack of generative time and trans-
generational communication: in so far as the infant and the animal have no conscious membership in
chains of generations, they cannot participate in transgenerational practices and cannot share the
accomplishments of such practices. This deprives them of culture and cultural tradition in a crucial
sense: cultural-historical goals that are shared with multiple generations in an endless openness;
cultural-historical tools and utensils that are retained, maintained and repaired in the view of coming
generations; and ultimately the cultural-historical world with contains all this openness.
Many familiar animals can of course use practical instruments. In Husserl’s analysis, such
objects are given, and can be given, to the animals in question only in a temporally restricted way,
and thus their givenness is crucially different from the givenness of human tools. Animal and infantile
tools are used merely, or at best, for present purposes and they are only shared with contemporaries.
They are not, and cannot be, experienced by animals and infants as objects inherited from
predecessors nor as objects shared with successors, since the experience of permanently absent others
– other that cannot be or become perceivable – is not articulated for these subjects. In other words,
animal and infantile tools do not, in their practical sense, imply asynchronous non-contemporary
others who share goals with present users despite their fundamental separation in time.

Thus, Husserl argues that the senses of culture, tradition and history go hand in hand, and that
all these senses depend on the senses of death and birth. For him, no subject who lacks these
fundamental senses can intend cultural objectivities as such. Moreover, the historicity and the infinity
of the world itself also depends on the fundamental experiential senses of mortality and generativity.
The open endlessness of generations is necessary for our experience of the world as an infinitely open

whole. More limited senses of world, that is, the world as an environment or the world as an operative
field are possible for non-generative subjects, but the full sense of the world as an endless openness
is possible only for subjects who consciously connect to one another in an endless and endlessly
branching chain of generations.

The Self

Theophilus Okere
President, Whelan Research Academy, Owerri, Nigeria

At this World Congress of Philosophy, it is proper that the situation of the world, all the world, draw
the attention and solicitude of the world’s philosophers. In these multicultural, global times, it is
urgent that philosophy attend to the situation with realism and see here an opportunity to help
humanity towards achieving its natural finality. Today’s world appears to have a dangerous mix of
growing incompatibilities and contradictions, more vice than virtue, more injustice than justice and
the growing poverty of the many facing helplessly the insolent and almost unlimited power of the
What poet Robert Burns defined classically as “man’s inhumanity to man” has only gotten worse
in the centuries that followed. Philosophy must somehow come to the rescue by becoming a real force
of reconciliation and of restoring the humanity of man. It must undertake seriously its job of teaching
man to be human again. And it is in the light of this that I see the place and purpose of my assigned
title on the self.
The self is at the center of what or who is considered human, but in the context of
multiculturalism and pluralism which this congress must also represent, I see my contribution as
offering to the world an African philosophical version to be taken into account, if philosophy is to be
global and comprehensive and if philosophy is to contribute meaningfully to the mutual
understanding that will really help man to be human again. The self is a primary, simple but complex
concept, not easily definable in other terms. The self is, of course, that which each one of us is, but it
seems susceptible to different colorings and conceptualizations in each culture, language, or
philosophic elaboration.
Let us introduce our discussion of the self by first adumbrating the current or commonsensical
understanding of the term. In general, the self is that, whether it is “myself”, “yourself” or another
“self”, which is the subject or author of action, thought or intention at the human level. He or she is
the ultimate actor or agent as well as the carrier of responsibility. The self is the entity behind all the
complexity and unity of attribution, of remembering, reflection, action and passion. The self is the
complete, embodied consciousness- the “I am” plus the I have been”, the “I was” plus the “I will be”-
in other words, the unity and continuity of the subject in time. The self is the sum total of the biological,
psychological, spiritual, historical and cultural continuous identity which one has carried since ever
one can remember and obviously even since before one can remember. Thus, to qualify to be a “self”,
one must be human, that is to say, a person. To talk of the self of dogs or horses or elephants, nay the
“self” of moral entities, such as the “self” of countries or areas like the USA or Taiwan or Vietnam
or of institutions such as the United Nations, can only be a derivative way of speaking, a metaphor.
Thus the “self” in the expression” myself” is not equivalent to the “self” in “itself”, the sea “itself”
or Nigeria “itself”. While self does not always just mean “self-same” or “idem” as it often does, the
human “self” connotes even more, it carries all the weight of the human personality, with all its
properties of rationality and capability of motion and emotion, of action and passion, agency and

responsibility. Human selfhood connotes personhood in the sense that this has been understood
starting from the Christian Church’s definition of the Trinity as three persons in one God in Nicaea,1
to the definitive definition of personhood by the Roman, Christian philosopher/theologian Boethius.2
The Self itself is the core of identity. It has its own properties and activities. The Self is also a
moral entity capable of responsibility. The Self is the “he “or “she” or “I”, but apparently not the
“they” or “the We”. Why? Because the plural is not sufficiently one, substantial, consistent or ultimate.
Thus, the plural as an agglomeration of selves, is itself not a “self”.
The “self” maybe looked at analytically from each of the various perspectives in which the
phenomenon of “self” manifests itself. From this point of view and, granted the stream of
consciousness that seems to suggest unity and continuity, one can legitimately ask: Is there one and
only one individual self or are there several selves perhaps intermittent in time, captured, organized
and unified in the one individual by some mechanism? Are some “selves” fake or false? Are some
forms of the “self” mere epiphenomena? Is there a public “self”, a play-acting “self” a private “self”?
Is there a psychological “self” as distinct from a physical “self”? Is there even a transcendental “self”,
the “self” of our memories, our plans and hopes? Is there an immortal “self” that hopes to survive
into a life with no end, a life after this life? With these questions yet unanswered, one can say that for
all that we think we know about the “self”, it remains an enigmatic entity, vague, and non-descript
like the” soul” which has acquired not only some dualistic associations since Plato but even more
religious association especially since Christianity. Of course, the soul was to be saved from crass
dualism by Aristotle,3 for example in his De Anima, where he made sure to assign this entity as the
principle of life and the form of the body in living things.
But it was with the advice,” man know thyself”, attributed to Socrates,4 after the heavy emphasis
the physiocrats5 laid on nature and the Urstoff of the world, that we have perhaps in the history of
western philosophy, the first serious launch into philosophical anthropology and the first call for the
philosophical search for the “self”. It was a battle-cry that was to rally many of the biggest names in
Western Philosophy6 all through its long history. A “self”- search through introspection led the great
minds through all the branches of philosophy that have to do directly or indirectly with man, notably
epistemology or the philosophy of knowledge, but also psychology or the philosophy of the human
soul or “psyche” and ethics or the philosophy of human behavior, of right and wrong, of good and
But these notions of the “self” though often generalized for humanity are not necessarily obvious
to everyone; not a priori or per se nota to all of us. Each notion has had a pedigree, a “Herkunft” and
has been or is being absorbed and assimilated into our conceptual apparatus as modern philosophers
or educated contemporaries of the 21st century. But a lot of it is a patrimony we have inherited from
our merging cultures and other interests and especially from the thinkers who have become available
and prominent in the last four hundred years.
And so, over the centuries of the history of philosophy, there have evolved a number of emphases,
colorations or constellations of the self, what one might call types of self, clustering around some
subsection of philosophy. That is how we now have come to have what can be roughly grouped as

The Epistemological “Self”: This is the “self” mainly conceived as homo cognoscens or cogitans,
man as knower or thinker. Here we can group the contributions of Plato,7 Aristotle,8 Aquinas,9
Descartes,10 Hume11 and Kant.12 These authors emphasize and privilege self- consciousness and
knowledge as the distinctive mark of the “self”. Though man is acknowledged here as animal
rationalist, it is the rational rather than the animal element in him that gets disproportionate emphasis.
The self is seen here essentially as the knowing self, the res cogitans of Descartes13 or as Kant14 might
put it, the one able to comprehend the manifold of representations in one consciousness or in the
synthetical unity of apperception.
The Psychological “Self”: Aristotle’s study of the “self” in his DE ANIMA15 is typical. Here the
“self” is an embodied, fully integrated soul, where the soul, thanks to the hylemorphic theory, is the
form of the body and where the soul is the act and the body the potency. Plato has the soul not so
much integrated as imprisoned in the body, while in both Plato and Aristotle, the soul is spiritual,
immaterial and even immortal, though for Plato again, the real “self” would be the soul, able to have
access to the world of ideas and whose presence in the body is likened to an imprisonment: “soma
The Ethical “Self”, Confucius philosophy of the self is nicely summarized by D.C. Lau’s: “there
is no individual, no ‘self’ or ‘soul’- that remains once the layers of social relations are peeled away.
One is one’s roles and relationships.”17 Ren is the process of becoming a person, actually a process
of practicing the social virtues, justly responsible roles in society in a selfless way. 18 The European
Middle Ages and its dominant religion, Christianity19 helped to produce a version of the “self” which
subsists till today, a version marked by a special religious sense of God as the Supreme Being, of
man as creature and sinner and endowed with a conscience and an eternal destiny. Added to this is
the increased modern focus on freewill and, in still more modern philosophy, on freedom in general
and we see the rise of the ethical self. This is the “self” as homo agens - the acting, behaving human
being, man as a responsible agent and as the free actor capable of reward or punishment. The self is
the homo ethicus, capable and condemned to be capable of doing right or wrong and having both
responsibilities and rights.
Some authors, including David Hume seem to interchange the concepts of self and person and
one may presume that Locke’s comprehensive definition of person would also be his concept of self
if he had used that term. “We must consider what person stands for”, says Locke, “which I think is a
thinking, intelligent being, that has reason and reflection and can consider itself as itself, the same
thinking thing, in different times and places…. It is a forensic term, appropriating actions and their
merit and so belongs only to intelligent animals capable of a law and happiness and misery,”20 here
combining the emphases on both the epistemological and the ethical self.

The Tilt to The Epistemological Self in Western Philosophy

Even these various perspectives of the “self” have come to be reduced to that of the homo cogitans-
cognoscens, the thinking-knowing self. This rather partial and arguably biased understanding of the
“self”, though heavily influenced by Christianity, became more dominant in modern, post-medieval
philosophy. David Hume it was, who by his doubts and skepticism about the certainty of knowledge,

ironically, unwittingly and perhaps unwillingly enhanced the status of human knowledge and of the
mind as the most noble or typical property of man. Kant himself confessed that Hume woke him up
from his dogmatic slumber and so launched him on his journey of Critique of human knowledge, its
limits and capabilities, in the process continuing to privilege knowledge as the core task of the human
person. We also have clear and distinct ideas of Descartes’ definition of the knowing person as “une
chose pensante, “a thinking thing” and of his clear lines between mind and body21. It is the mind that
knows and the mind alone that defines and represents the “self”. Kant’s idea of the “self” is that of
the subject, who, though he cannot reach the noumenon, has only been equipped to be the keen
observer and master knower of phenomena as well as wielding the transcendental apperception of “I
think”.22 Hegel may take refuge in the Absolute, but the absolute for him is essentially the absolute
mind, the ultimate knower, rather than maker- the absolute is the true and the true is the absolute- and
the whole of history is the phenomenology of the mind.23 Gadamer approvingly quotes Heidegger’s
own verdict that “Understanding (Verstehen) is the original living out form of”, that “ Understanding
is the way of being of Dasein”, and that “Understanding is the original way of being of human life
itself”.24 Grosso modo, there came to reign in western philosophy the assumption that the human self
was essentially the human mind and it can be said that it was this partial grasp of the “self” as the
knowing I, the ultimate knowing subject, that has dictated and dominated the reigning concept that
finally gave idealism the right of city and enhanced rationalism and individualism, while promoting
the Enlightenment as a comprehensive expression of humanism. All these perspectives contributed
to the inordinate cult of the individual which also culminated in the cult of individualism as a universal,
modern ideology. This was enhanced, popularized and even internalized by Christianity in both its
dogma, its morals and in all its catechetical pedagogy until it became incorporated as tradition. The
net result has been an individualist account of morality and indeed of salvation in Christian Theology.
With this, we have today, again, under the impetus of the Protestant Reformation, with its new
ideology of sola scriptura and that of scriptura sui interpres, a near-total privatization of both
morality and Religion. Today we have also a near devaluation of all religion, public opinion polls
only indicating uninformed private opinions and a public opinion devoid of a public moral conscience
and therefore ultimately with no ethics of the collectivity, no responsible communal or corporate
selfhood or personality, and, therefore ultimately, with no responsibility beyond that of the private
individual.25 This Christian tradition has naturally graduated into “the western tradition”. Hence even
in modern international law, unlimited and unbridled national sovereignty is guided and judged only
by the criterion of ‘self-interest”. But such an “individual”, reduced to this private, emaciated version,
shorn of relationships, isolated and severely alone, has never existed and can never exist. It is a pure
abstraction, an artificial creation of the analytical and abstracting mind.
But the “self” remains an elusive subject, and the great philosophers and their modern
commentators in their reflections on the “self”, cannot all be said to be talking of one and the same
concept. Cicero once said that there were as many opinions as there were human beings. Quot
homines, tot sententiae! There are as many opinions as there are human beings and so, the
disquisitions on the “self” in Kant, Descartes and Sartre may amount to no more than each one talking
creatively on a variety of concepts or reconstructions of a presumably univocal concept. Above all,
we should bear in mind that there is bound to be less clarity in the designation of immaterial or

abstract entities such as the self; for while the body and its parts may be relatively easy to designate
and name, there is commonly less consensus in defining what is precisely spirit and complex, and to
what extent it is distinct from psyche, the mind, the soul, reason, understanding or, for some today,
the brain. Even the English spirit does not quite translate the French “esprit” and neither is equal or
same with the German “Geist.”
Some may be scandalized that a common concept like the “self” may not be taken for granted
as obvious and per se nota, a universal one, transcending all cultures and times. But it should be clear
today, as the Hermeneutical revolution26 has taught us, that concepts, ideas and philosophies
originating from man are fundamentally infected by an ineluctable historicity and temporality and are
therefore culture-laden and culture-bound and must therefore reflect and bear the imprint of their
origins and formation. Concepts are not merely products of nature like mountains and seas, but rather
products of time and place, of their process of formation and of their cultural environment, in other
words, products of time and history, and we may add, products of the language that expresses them,
that is, also products of the people who produce them. The concept of “self” cannot be an exception.
The question then may be framed thus: What is the nature of the self as perceived, expressed,
suggested or somehow indicated by elements of Igbo/African culture, more specifically, the language
via the names, proverbs, sayings and other elements of African culture?

Etymologically Speaking

The best practice in philosophizing has always been to philosophize in one’s own language. The best
and greatest philosophers have set the example. Martin Heidegger has famously explored and
exploited to great effect, the hidden possibilities of the German language as illustrated in all his
writings but most brilliantly in Sein und Zeit. One only needs to study his ingenious analysis of the
word Fragen, question.27 I wish to be permitted therefore, admittedly on a much more modest level,
to attempt to base the rest of this lecture on the self, relying on and inspired by some close analysis
and use of the resources of the Igbo language, my first language, a language familiar to those who
ever read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.28 I am attaching a generous glossary to the notes to
help interested and keen readers better appreciate our presentation and argument.
To investigate the concept of the “self” in Igbo culture, one starts naturally with the commonest
usages as they occur in the expressions: myself, yourself, himself, etc. In Igbo one refers to oneself,
as Mụ nwa -Myself, Gi nwa-Yourself, Ha nwa- Themselves, where Mụ means” I”, Gị means “you”,
and Ha means “they”. The attached nwa is a demonstrative which means “This here”. Thus, Mụ nwa,
literally “This I” or “I here,” is essentially an emphatic pronoun. But the primitive noun that names
the “self”, the core concept in the structure of the “self” is ONWE as in Onwe m “myself”, onwe gị
“yourself”, onwe ya “himself” or “herself.” Nwe, which seems to be the original root, means to own;
onwe would then mean “he who owns,” an owner. Thus, the above-mentioned expressions would
translate literally: Onwe m- “he who owns me” or “myself,” onwe gị - “he who owns you” or
“yourself,” etc. Onwe is therefore a self-owner, an independent self, unattached to no one else.
Dialectal variations would include ike m and ogwe m, each with rather more obscure etymologies. Ike
could possibly derive from the root -ke meaning division or creation and Ike m could originally be

construed as my portion or my own piece of reality. Ogwe is literally a log and in its use as self, is
reminiscent of the expression commonly used by witnesses: anom noshishi m ya emee literally “I was
there in my trunk when it happened,” that is, planted there and solidly present as myself. The nearest
other term is the “Onye,” the “who”, as in English depicting only humans, that is persons, but not the

Onwe, Ike, Ogwe

Onwe or Ike or Ogwe roughly meaning self, is the core subject of identity that perdures and endures
all human experience. It is barely describable and even less definable as it has no name and no
function except as the ultimate author of all the functions of the individual human person and the
carrier of all experience. It is the link between the experiences of yesterday and today, the basis of
that proprietorship by which these fleeting multitudes of experience are connected and are mine. The
onwe or “self” is that part of me (in a manner of speaking, because it is not just, and cannot be just, a
part of me) of which I cannot speak in the third person. The possessive adjective m in Onwe m (my
in myself) is not exactly the same as the m in ahu m (the my in “my body”) which latter does convey
some distance, some alterity, a subject-object relationship. Self is not an object but rather the ultimate
subject. As the saying goes, myself is myself: Onwe m bu onwe m. Here we are talking of identity as
distinct from mere equivalence.
The “self” is the basic unit of autonomy. If the etymology of onwe traces back to the root -nwe,
to own, then one must remark how perfectly this fits in with the Igbo expression for freedom. While
the Greek would say: We are free because we are autonomous,29 that is, we give ourselves our own
laws, the Igbo, instead of using the idea of lawgiving and self-lawgiving, would define their freedom
from the idea of ownership and self-ownership. To say that we are a free people is: Anyi nwe onwe
anyi -, We own ourselves or negatively, Ọdịgh onye nwe anyị nị, i.e., there is no one who owns us.”
Freedom is therefore conceived as self- ownership; a free person is a self-owning “self”. The basic
assumption is that the “self” is not owned by any other. The expression Onye nwem nị - He who owns
me, though occurring mostly as a flattering, endearing invocation, is used to designate the closest
relationship, especially of blood. Ndi nwegị nị-those who own you - designates the most immediate
family, the innermost circle and last line of defense for the individual. It is the utmost insult and
challenge to threaten someone with: Mmechaa gị ihe m echere ndi nwegịnị, i.e., after dealing with
you I will wait to deal with those who own you, that is your most intimate family, those to whom you
are precious and who would be your most reliable defense. But basically, to be free is to be one’s
own owner and not be owned by anyone else.

Muo or Spirit

But around the kernel of Onwe, Ike and Ogwe or “self “, there is a cluster of other elements most
intimately involved with it and somehow contributing to its makeup. Here perhaps lies the very
specificity of the Igbo concept of self as Igbo, since in other cultures a constellation of other elements
might come into play as in the “body and soul” formulas common in some cultures. For that reason,
the concept of self cannot be the same in all cultures and it is the specificity of the Igbo concept that
I now set out to demonstrate. In Igbo, foremost among the contributive elements is Muo or Spirit.
Muo is a metaphysical concept designating a class of beings, invisible, inaudible, untouchable but
more living and more powerful than man. Although Muo is the principal, generic name for immaterial,
superhuman beings, gods, ancestors, masquerades and ghosts, it is used also to designate the
immaterial but most active constituent element in the human being. This indicates that man is thought
of as sharing, in some way, in the peculiar being of spirit or that there is spirit in man. The Muo or
spirit in man is clearly conceived as the cause or principle of life in the individual because when
someone dies it is often said that his spirit has left, his muo has gone out.
Further usage of the notion of spirit shows that it is regarded as the seat of emotions as when it
is said that “What he said quite killed my spirit, dispirited or demoralized me”30 “What he said
touched me in the spirit, in my inmost depths.”31 And when we say: My spirit refused to accept it (a
suggestion). My spirit rejects it”.32, we are talking of a deliberative power within me, that is identical
with me, that is deciding for or with me. Muo is therefore conceived as the intangible, invisible
element in man, the seat of will and emotions, the principle of life and point of connection, similarity
and sharing with the world of spirits. It is the spirit, the Muo in man that is responsible for the
following activities without which the idea of Onwe/Self could neither emerge nor be sustained:

Thinking, considering, reflecting33 with some anxiety over one’s lot. Thinking out, remembering,
recalling,34 plucking, grasping, understanding.35 Deliberating on something.36 Being wise, clever.37
Imagining.38 Planning.39

These and all such activities derive from the Muo or spirit in man. A dead man cannot perform
them, neither can an animal or any being lacking spirit. They are therefore typical of the “self” of
which Muo is some-how a constituent part and it is from its aspect as Muo that the “self” can do them.
Notice that as many as these activities of muo/spirit are, unlike in other traditions that virtually reduce
the self to the intellect or mind, here the muo is seen as only one of many constituent elements of the

Obi or the Heart

To take care of a whole variety of functions and emotional and moral attitudes that add to the make-
up of the self, the Igbo use the concept of Obi -literally the heart. It is the psychological center of
emotions, sensations, attitudes and sympathy.40 There are distinctions between heart and heart, that
is, between self and self, A heart that is mature or ripe, means a brave heart41. A heart break is the
splitting or cracking of the heart42; onye obi miri (a person of watery heart) means a weakly,
sentimental person43.
Beyond the psychological role it plays, the Obi has also moral relevance and function. 43 (lit. a
heart dry like firewood) means a wicked one.44(lit. a quiet, soft heart) means gentleness and meekness;
a strong heart means heartlessness, 46 a bad or ugly heart means wickedness and cruelty47, while a
good or beautiful heart, obi ọma means kindness;48 a heart of pity means a sympathetic, merciful and
pitying heart49. For all practical purposes, Obi is the seat and center of virtue and vice, of conscience
and morality and as such, a significant constituent of the self.

The expression Mkpuru obi “the seed of the heart”, the heart of the heart accurately designates
the anatomical heart of an animal or man. But in one of those notorious twists of missionary/colonial
linguistic history by which a foreign concept is foisted rather incommensurably on a native word, it
has acquired a strange but strategic function in Igbo Christian theology and catechesis, as it has been
used to translate the Christian concept of the soul, that spiritual element in man destined eventually
for eternal life and salvation or eternal doom or damnation. Yet the heart (Obi) often is said to know,
to hide or tell information. There is a classic proverb to the effect that the heart will not deny
information to its grandfather.50 Here the grandfather is the Owner, the onwe, the “self”. The
expression is used to extract or extort hidden information from a close relation on the basis of the
assumption that there can be no secrets when relations are so close, just as the heart keeps no secrets
from the “self” to whom it is so close. This shows that the Obi(heart) reveals and confesses to the
“self” whatever it knows, that the Obi is itself not the “self” or Onwe, but relates to the Onwe (self)
as child to grandfather, and that it is the Onwe that is the core of the “self”.

Ahu or the Body

Another key element in the concept of “self” identity is ahu, the body, perhaps derived from hu which
is the verb “to see”, and therefore, perhaps designating the seeable, visible, tangible, sensible part of
the “self”. Generally, it is not spoken of as external to the self or as an object apart. The nearest one
would come to objectifying the body would be in phrases such as anụ ahụ meaning simply the meat
of the body, that is, bodily appearance51. Similarly, the popular greeting: Gi na nwa ahu?52 (lit. You
and your little body) means: How are you? Is your body well? i.e., How is your health?) Also, what
of your body, Ahụ gị kwanụ?53 often rendered by some other groups in Pidgin English by the well-
known “How body? meaning, how are you? In these expressions, Ahụ/Body is thought of as the
indicator of the state of health. - Bad body54 - is the normal expression for illness. In the pet names
“Her husband’s body and Her Father’s body” for a beloved wife and a favorite daughter respectively,
a person is called a body. This could be no more than a bold, though reductive metaphor, but the body
is invoked to depict the utmost endearment, closeness and intimacy as indeed the body is so close,
dear and intimate to the “self” that it is hardly distinguishable from it. Ahụ di ya55 and Ahụnna56
amount to the expression alter ego.
Ahụ is used also to portray and perhaps locate depth of feeling and emotion as in Mmetụ nahụ57
(body touching) for very touching, which is said of chilling news as it shocks someone. What he said
touched me in the body, i.e. moved me deeply. Iri ahụ,58 lit. body-eating, actually means blood-
curdling, disgusting and Ihe na eri ahụ59 is some touching, pitiful, blood-chilling business. Oriela ya
ahụ owuwu60 in the song indicates that it was a blood curdling story. In ḷgbaji ahu,61 literally to shatter
the body, actually meaning to show disrespect to someone, and ono na mmekpa ahụ,62 literally being
constrained in the body, in bodily straights, meaning being in trouble or difficulty, he is in real trouble,
we see that closeness of the body to the “self “by which disrespect, insult and difficulties for the body
symbolize and translate into insult and difficulties for the whole “self”. The same identification of
body and “self”, or the designation of the “self” through the body alone, shows in the phrase: Gbam
na ahụ,63 lit. run away from my body, that is, leave me alone, give me a break. Stop importuning me.

The Personal Chi

Another important element for constituting the concept of the “self” is the Chi, the enigmatic but
crucial notion or principle with which the Igbo explain their experience of history and religion, their
intimacy with God or the presence of God within them. In Igbo, the name for God is Chiukwu, the
great God, so Chi is the god in man. Percy Amaury Talbot64 terms it the oversoul or the multiplex
ego and compares it to the Roman “genius” and the ancient Egyptian “Kra”. Contemporary West
African peoples such as the Yoruba of Western Nigeria and the Akan of Ghana seem to have the same
or similar concepts, but there is really no Western philosophical or theological equivalent. The Igbo
Chi is the divine double or personal guardian and protector that is variously conceived as part of God
in man, or a divine part of man, intimately indwelling in man, but presiding essentially over the
individual as he or she works out his or her destiny. Considered a personal deity, Chi is distinguishable
from the “self” since the “self” can pray to it, honor and worship it, blame or praise it. He can persuade
his chi, manipulate, coax and negotiate with it. But Chi is not only a religious entity; it is also a
philosophical concept. As such, it is also part of the individual’s identity and is seen as the prime
moving force and principle of individualism in Igbo culture. As such, it is strictly personal and
indivisible, not shared or shareable with others as the proverb says: Same mother but not same Chi,65
that is, a person has the same mother as his siblings but his Chi is strictly his. Thus, Chi combines a
complexity of ideas and has been variously understood as.
A divine force, agent or power unique to the individual, and, as such, dubbed the principle of
individualism. A guardian, resident deity deputizing for the Supreme God Chukwu or Chineke, but
resident within the individual, often called God’s double, God within the individual or an individual
inhabited by God. In either case, it is the principle of destiny as well as of fortune. Every individual
has a distinct destiny, his allotted path in life, a path however, which is so delicately laid out that it
has opportunities, failures and success strewn along it. The individual’s Chi enables, helps and
collaborates with him in manipulating these possibilities for his self-realization. Hence the
paradoxical juxtaposition of both limitation and enablement which connects the Chi idea with destiny
in the sense of fatalism, but also makes it the very agent enabling and prodding the individual towards
success and achievement as he bursts the molds of fatalism.
Chi as a guardian is given credit when the individual exclaims: My Chi is vigilant,66 after
escaping a danger one knows not how. One cannot be greater than his Chi. As the name goes: Who
is greater than his Chi?67 One cannot therefore go beyond that which is within his allotted path. Yet,
to be greater than someone is to be greater than his Chi;68 this means that not even his Chi can bring
someone higher than has been allotted to him. Chi is so identified with the individual that one is rated
as high or low as the other and no more. As Chinua Achebe has famously quoted, neither can one
challenge his Chi to a wrestling match.69 But one’s failure is attributed to his Chi: Wherever one has
fallen, it is his Chi that has pushed him down.70 Great achievements are attributed to one’s Chi, (It is
all due to my good Chi) 71 just as catastrophic failures are blamed on the same Chi, then regarded as
treacherous or weak or ill-fated (My Chi has ruined me).72

The Name

In this culture more than in most that are known to the author, the Name is identity and power and is
noumenal, just as in the Indo-European cultures73, where name is nomme, is Namen, is Nomen, is
nombre, is Numen, which ancient Latin poetry used to mean a god74. When Christians begin their
prayers “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”, or when Peter in the
Scriptures cures “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth”, they are invoking more than the literal
“name”. They are thereby invoking the power and awful majesty and Holiness of divinity. So also in
Igbo. The name is godly. The name is power. It is part of personality and of the self. Igbo parents,
grandparents or other representatives of the ancestors, during a quasi-religious ceremony, carefully
choose the names they impart on newborns. These names reflect family history and fortunes,
triumphalist declarations against enemies, sarcastic survival prayers against death, exclamations of
joy or other emotions, sentiments or reflections, ideologies or philosophies of life reigning at time of
birth. Whatever these names, their accompanying sentiments are believed to determine or are
manifested in the subsequent dominant character of the subject. People act out their names as they
are governed by their noumena. The Igbo proverb says it bluntly: Aha agụrụ manụ anaghị alagbụ
ya75 -the name conferred on someone at birth never abandons him, literally never misses its target.
Another saying goes to the effect that the name that you call or give to a dog is what he answers to.
Thus, the name is numen. The name is character. The name is determinant. The name is destiny. The
name in Igbo is therefore a constituent and leading element of the self as we more or less live our
lives under the influence of our noumen, our name.

Ilouwa or Reincarnation

Belief in Reincarnation is universal among the Igbos, wrote G.T Basden in 193976 and, I might add,
perhaps is still strong in many contemporary cultures, especially those that never seriously came
under a prolonged influence of Christianity.77 The Igbo theory of reincarnation helps us to see another
dimension of the “self” and we may start by asserting that the Igbo expression for this phenomenon
reveals a different anthropology from that inherited from Plato which has been the foundation of the
dualism that has dogged Western philosophy ever since. Reincarnation is a concept first made
possible in the platonic soul/body context. If literally life is the union of body and soul while death is
the separation of body and soul, then reincarnation is the return of the soul to the body. Re-incarnare
literally means entering again into the flesh. The Igbo concept, ilọ uwa, on the other hand, literally
means returning into the world by the self, whole and entire. Here it is not a question of the body/soul
union, separation, the survival of one or the perishing of the other or the complexities and
contradictions of their reunion. Rather it is the whole of the self who returns to the world. The question,
“Whose world or destiny did he return to?”78 clearly shows that it is not only a question of the physical
universe, but rather of the inner world, the lot or destiny, or perhaps more accurately the life cycle of
the individual, who often would talk of “my next life cycle”79 or “in his first life cycle”80or to use the
well-known expression, “in whatever future life cycle I may return to”.81 However we want to explain
it, what is clear is that the “self” alone subsists in all this process, whether or not it uses one and the
same or one or more souls or faculties. Such a “self” is obviously different from and not reducible to

any one or indeed any number of its components, for instance the soul, that might then be said to
reincarnate in the context of a body/soul division.


The same may be said in the case of the Igbo belief in ghosts often reputed to be visible to watch-
dogs, to sick persons in delirium or to visionaries, but not necessarily to others. The ghost, though
having some bodily qualities like shape, sound and motion, remains intangible and may retain other
powers that normally would be attributed to spirits. Think of the ghost of Hamlet’s father.82 But what
is it that appears as a ghost? Who is it behind the ghost? Finally, we have the case of metempsychosis
or a transformation at will into the shape and exhibiting the characteristics of animals such as tigers
or buffalos, often in order to use their physical powers to harm enemies. We also have the widespread
belief in witches who appear in the form of rats and bats at night, roaming around as vampires in
search of prey while simultaneously they are sound asleep at home.

Ultimate Identity

Prescinding however from any judgement of truth or falsehood over these beliefs and inquiring only
what understanding of “the self” enables the Igbo to make these multiple attributions to the one “self”,
one is obliged to think that the concept of “self” is essentially one of ultimate identity. The many and
varied activities of mind and body, of soul and spirit, of emotions and imagination, of intellect and
will, of various categories of soul and oversoul and the forms of existence as ancestor or ghost or
reincarnation, all these are so many masks behind which there is one and only one major operator,
namely: the self” or Onwe. Whether or not the self is simultaneously aware of these multiple
attributions must remain a moot point.
Professor Donatus I. Nwoga made a very perceptive observation in his 1984 Ahiajoku Lecture
which I would like to quote at some length. “The Igbo person is principally an identity. The reflexive
pronouns-Oneself, himself, myself, yourself are not really compliments to emphasize statements. But
they are based on a pronoun “self” which a dictionary goes into great strains to define as “an identical
person, personality, ego, a side of one’s personality, what one is, personality, identity”. When the
Igbo person uses Onwe m, I believe that we are dealing not in imagery but in primary statement of
reality. For the Igbo, it is this identity that is made manifest in the biological, social and religious
activities in which the individual engages or in which he is involved. That identity has a reality of its
own which has characteristics that cohere to it. The biological processes are essential to the person.
He has to eat and drink and keep the body from harm. Religious activities invigorate the person,
supplying him with help from deities and unseen external forces and also protecting the person from
the dangerous activities of spirits. But though the person is dependent on these activities, they do not
define the person. There is still the person whose valour is aided and abetted, but not subsumed under
these activities. That is the identity that sickens/or strengthens to determine the status of the person.
Initiatory rites act on that identity to release it for heightened performance of the person…In
masquerade performance, it is this identity that is transformed.”83 This identity of which Nwoga
speaks is no other than the “self”, the Onwe, the personified bundling together of all these categories.
The Outer Structure of the Self

But we cannot round off this study of the “self” in Igbo thought without at least a brief mention of
the defining context in which this identity lays itself out. If we have been looking at the inner layers
or structure of the kernel of the “self”, one must immediately add that this hard core is surrounded by
a thicker layer of enveloping relationships. The “self” as so far studied, remains, in a way, only an
abstraction. Even though one can be thought of as a unit and in abstraction from anything else, this
exercise remains strictly a mere abstraction; in reality, the “self” is never alone. It always exists within
something else. The individual is never a pure isolated individual. There is an Igbo saying to the
effect that a human being does not fall like a bolt from the blue, literally no man falls from the sky
like the oil bean cotyledon, that is, by some inexplicable explosive mechanism. There is no big bang
that throws up the human being from nowhere. This is often quoted by parents to children to insist
that everyone has a source, a link, a belongingness, the parents being the source for their children84.
Everyone comes into the world belonging and relating, and like a tree, he has roots, stem, branches,
and leaves. The “self” does not come as an unrelated individual into the world. Foremost British
Metaphysical poet, John Donne, said it all too well in his Meditation 17: “No man is an island, entire
of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the maine; any man’s death diminishes me
because I am involved in mankind.”85 There is therefore an exterior core no less intimately bound to
it, indeed a constitutive dimension of the self.
The human being is conceived as the locus of a web of relationships. He is related first of all to
parents and siblings but gradually to a whole kinship network that widens in concentric circles to
include the entire kindred, village group or town. Parents are an integral part of personal wholeness.
Igbo folklore is replete with the evil and misfortune that is the lot of the orphan, that is, the fatherless
and / or motherless.
Next to the parents are, of course, brothers and sisters, umunne na umunna, and the more of them
there are, the richer and fuller is one’s sense of self. An Olu nwa, an only child, is pitied and thought
somehow incomplete and disadvantaged. And a polygamous household, just by having a houseful of
offspring, of half-brothers and half-sisters, that is a multitude of close relationships, produces a
greater enhancement of the self.86 Beyond the nuclear, but within the extended family, cousins, aunts
and uncles and more distant relations are referred to as brothers and sisters and special rights and
obligations accrue taking care especially of children, widows and orphans and assuming corporate
responsibility on behalf of all members. The individual lives and moves within this orbit of solidarity.
This solidarity continues in diminishing degrees towards the exterior peripheries of consanguinity,
but it remains vibrant within the limits of the village-group or town. The prefix Ụmụ, the children of,
attaching to thousands of place names in Igboland and indicating that every local group is blood-
related: Ụmụonyike Ụmụkabịa, Ụmụchima, Ụmụelemaị and Ụmụleri, demonstrates the important role
of kinship in defining the Igbo person’s self-understanding. It makes a statement of corporate
solidarity based on blood relationship even when some sub-groups are known to be relatively new
immigrants. It also makes this statement of solidarity within the geographical ancestral land shared
by these villages, which is a piece of land consecrated and bequeathed by the ancestors, and ruled
and protected by the earth deity, conferring on this solidarity a quasi-religious character. It is this

convergence of blood and soil, “Blut und Boden” without its bloody, fascist associations, which
creates and supports the living space and the network of relationships where the Onwe, the “self” sees
itself as part of, indeed as the center of a living, natural community. And this is why, in this and in
similar cultures, the “self” is a congenitally communitarian “self”, incapable of being, existing and
really unthinkable except in the complex of relations of the community.


All these internal and external layers must somehow be tied together to me, to the I, the individual
and cemented into one to produce and sustain the unity and identity by which the self is defined. This
is the quality in me which may be termed, for want of a better name “Mineness”, a quality, unique to
me by which I can claim and categorize people and things and qualities as mine, as relating to me and
as defining me. “Myself” would be different or even non-existent but for the people and things I call
mine. So mineness attaches to me and those elements or rather relates me to them. Subtract them
from me and it would be a different me and so, not my “self”.
Self is something of a bundle, to use David Hume’s favorite word, though not a bundle of mere
sensations or perceptions. As Robert Roth SJ observes in his article “Hume and James on personal
identity”, “Hume omits to ask or answer the question of who or what it is that is aware of a single
perception or that unites the various perceptions into a bundle or collection.87 The Self is therefore
something of a bundle or rather a package, an agglomeration of elements coalescing concomitantly
into a unit that performs or is ultimately responsible for all our sensory, intellectual, social, ethical
and spiritual acts and functions.
This distinction between the various elements of the self- muo, ahu, chi etc, can only be
theoretical, a mental analysis made for the sake of understanding and clarity. In reality, these elements
are all one in the self. But even if the self is so constituted, nothing prevents an analysis that isolates
one or other of its many, individual parts, in order to look at them, one by one, discreetly and staccato
as one might take apart the feet, the eyes, the ears or the tusks of an African elephant. But like the
elephant, the “self” as self must be taken as a whole, as a totum indivisum et indivisibile, an undivided
and indivisible whole. In other words, the self must be somehow unified, otherwise it would have no
identity, since identity means to say: one and the same - through time, through all variety and
experience etc.
We might observe here that the self as we have tried to depict it is doubly composite. It has both
an internal structure, made up of the individual I, the mụọ, its spirit, the obi, the heart, the ahu, its
body, the chi, its god within. But it has as well, as an external, enveloping, outer layer, the social
structure of parents and siblings, kindred and society. When a person refers to himself, he refers to
both his internal structure and make-up as well as to his environing, surrounding, human and other
environment, including place and time. With a web of relationships within and another web of
relationships without, the individual self is already constitutively a complex bundle, internally and
externally. The same individual self, already such a bundle, is born into another bundle of social

Is this a definitive list of the constituent elements of the self? By far not. This list may be termed
rather provisional and principal, for, granted the fluid and shifting nature of culture, the cradle of the
self-idea, some new element might at some place or at some time come to the fore. Being black in
the USA, for instance, cannot but become part of a Black American’s identity and sense of self.
Elements such as race in some countries, nationality in others, may come to become part of the self
at some stage, while other elements such as DNA may lie hidden for ages and later be recognized as
the base of uniqueness, identity and self. And blood relationship that early prohibited incest and today
still determines affinity among individuals and peoples, must be reckoned as a constituent factor of
the self.
If the self is such an onion with its many inner and outer layers, all these dimensions contribute
to its structure- all the experience that the self has ever had forever attaches to it and forms it; all the
history, conscious and unconscious; all the geography, where one has ever been, home or abroad, at
work or at play; all the motivation of all one’s action or reaction; all the influence of all the
environment come into play. What an enigma of a complexity within and around the individual!
The self here, rather than being, as for Descartes, only a res cogitans, a thinking thing, a pure
consciousness, that is, a part rather than a whole, or as for David Hume, a mere bundle of expressions
and feelings, a banquet of experiences and expressions, is rather a well-nit bundle of kin, experience,
environment or world and all the constituting universe. This self is also different from the Buddha
saying that we fashion the self, for when the Buddha says “wise people fashion themselves”, he is
enunciating a correct and sound principle of education, that is, the best way to become wise, but he
is not defining what the self is nor how it is constituted.
How far we are here from that rugged individualism promoted by some philosophies and
ideologies, and despite the evils it has wrought on humanity, being celebrated today in some cultures
as the destination of human civilization! But a mere atomized individual is, as defined long ago,
“indivisum in se et divisum a quolibet alio,” that is: undivided in itself and divided from everything
else. Clearly the emphasis in individualism is on abstraction, division, partition, isolation, subtraction
and separation. What if the emphasis were now reversed to suit the concept of the self we have been
elaborating? It would have to shift to addition, merging, composition, cumulation, complexity and
wholeness? Here lies the difference and the weight of the concept we have tried to depict as against
the self as an isolated individual.
This latter concept of the severely isolated, lone individual has become the ideology of
modernity and in fact has led the modern world to the extremes of that rugged individualism for
which it now stands distinguished. It has given the world its atomized individuals of the lonely crowd;
its ideologies of national interest narrowly defined as self- interest; its savage, ruthless, capitalism;
its failed, unjust system of distributive justice; its aggressive militarism where wars, not laws, have
ruled men’s affairs and where might sits unashamed in the place of right.
Much as the concept of the “person” has been credited with modifying and mollifying human
society and history by promoting a civilization that has given us today a sharp sense of human rights,
so can this Igbo/African concept of the “self” if given serious hearing, help us to engender for our
world, a new and more inclusive awareness of human solidarity, a sharper sense of the concept of a
fellow human as a “co-self” rather than as the “adversarial other”. It can certainly help us to learn to

be human by fostering a spirit of togetherness and greater mutual obligation to a sense of fairness, of
justice and even of love for every fellow human and so redefine society itself. Then man may no
longer be defined as cast away into a lonely exile in a strange wild world, but rather as being thrown
and cast into a bondedness and a belongingness or fellow feeling among fellow humans.


1. Nicaea - The First Ecumenical council summoned by the Emperor Constantine to settle the Arian
Heresy by defining the doctrine of the Trinity - three persons in one God.
2. Boethius - Anicius Manlius Severinus, Roman senator, Christian theologian and philosopher
who gave the classic definition of person as “Naturae Rationabilis Individua Substantia- an
individual substance of a rational nature” in his “Contra Euthycen et Nestorium” in Boethius,
Loeb Classics, Theological Tractates. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).
Not surprisingly, there was a theological purpose for this formulation as is clear in Joseph W.
Koterski, “Boethius and the Theological Origins of the Concept of Person,” American Catholic
Philosophical Quarterly 78 (March 1, 2004): 203–24.
3. Aristotle - De Anima, Penguin Classics, Translated by Hugh Lawson Tanqred,1986.
4. Socrates - “Gnothi Seauton, in Latin “Nosce Teipsum” related to the saying “The unexamined
life is not worth living”. The origin of this saying is disputed, variously attributed to Socrates,
Solon, Thales, and even to ancient Egypt. It was first popularized as an inscription on the temple
of Apollo at Delphi and introduced into philosophy by Plato’s Socrates in the Phaedrus.
5. Physiocrats and Urstoff, Aristotle remarks in the Metaphysics that, whereas the Presocratics
concentrated their attention on the question of the material stuff of which the world was made, it
was Socrates who first turned philosophy’s attention to the questions of Ethics and of the
definition of terms. “Socrates, however, was busying himself about ethical matters and
neglecting the world of nature as a whole but seeking the universal in these ethical matters and
fixed thought for the first time on universals.” Aristotle: Metaphysics, Bk 1. Chap 6, 987b.
6. Biggest names in Western Philosophy -Thinkers …prominent in the last 400 years - in one way
or the other, there is explicit or implicit reference to the self from Plato right up to Martin
7. For Plato, the soul and the soul alone is the human person or the self. It is the soul that acts and
thinks and knows, despite, rather than in union with, encumbered rather than accompanied by
the body. The soul is the person and the person is his soul. This dualistic concept of the human
person marks the beginning of an anthropology and metaphysics tradition that has dogged
western philosophy ever since.
8. Aristotle - Self as Soul/Body in the De Anima where he masterfully uses the hylemorphic theory
to forge a unity that takes care of the puzzling variety of the hierarchy of souls.
9. Aquinas - Aquinas in saying that “man’s ultimate happiness consists in the contemplation of
truth” as much as says that man’s most essential nature consists in knowledge (Summa contra
Gentiles, Chapter 37) This further indicates how heavily the speculative intellect, the mind,

weighs on the question of the self and virtually substitutes for it. (Basic Writings of St Thomas
Aquinas. vol 2. Edited by Anthony C. Pegis. New York: Random House, 1945).
10. Descartes “I am therefore precisely nothing but thinking thing, that is a mind or intellect or
understanding or reason...” Meditations in First Philosophy 27 (Hacket Publishing Company),
11. Hume - Hume’s concept of self, that is, his denial of the ‘self” is consequent on the logic of his
initial, if idiosyncratic premise, namely, that every mental act is reducible to fleeting sense
impressions. However self or person is not any one impression. Neither can it be right to speak
as Hume does, of “that succession of perceptions which constitutes our self or person”. “The
Treatise of Human Nature, Bk 1, Part 1V, Section 6, Personal Identity,” in Hume Selections, ed.
Charles W. Hendel, Jr., Charles Scribners Sons (New York, 1955), 83.
12. Kant - Critique of pure Reason Kant showed in his Critique of Pure Reason how much he valued
knowledge and how he wanted to establish for philosophy the solid basis such as Newton had
established for Physics. Man was still for him mostly a knowing subject. The Critique was to
serve only to define the limits of human knowledge.
13. Descartes Op. Citatum
14. Kant - Critique de la raison Pure §16- De l’unité originairement synthétique de l’aperception p.
110, presses universitaires de france.
15. Aristotle - De Anima
16. Plato: Soma Sema; The body is the prison of the soul- The Phaedo.
17. D.C Lau quoted in the article on “Confucius in Tom Butler Bowdon,” in 50 Philosophy Classics,
(London/Boston: Nicholas Brealey), 8 & 81.
18. Ibidem
19. Christianity has influenced philosophy and Western culture for two thousand years. It is to
Christianity that we owe the introduction or at least the enhanced discussion of philosophical
problems such as Creation, Providence. Eternity, Freewill and notions such as person,
immortality, death, conscience, world history and immortality or, most eminently, providing
proofs for the existence of God, all have, thanks to Christianity, become eminent
20. John Locke, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” ed. Ridditch (Oxford, 1975).
21. Descartes proving his existence from the fact of his thinking, the famous “I think, therefore I
am”, goes on to ask: But what then am I? A thing that thinks. What is that? A thing that doubts,
understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses and that also imagines and senses.” Rene Descartes,
Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. Donald A. Cress
(Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993).
22. Kant- The original synthetical unity of apperception, where he talks of “The transcendental unity
of self -consciousness” or “The unity of apperception is the highest principle of all human
knowledge.” Critique of Pure Reason Par 16, trans. F. Max Müller (New York: Anchor Books,
Doubleday &Co. Inc. Garden City, 1966), 77.
23. Hegel and the absolute - Phenomenology of mind. Philosophy enables consciousness of absolute
knowledge. Science is the discovery of our own minds and of consciousness itself.

24. Hans Georg Gadamer: Wahrheit und Methode 2 Auflage, (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1965), 245-
25. Theophilus Okere, quoting John Daly CSSP, in “Religion and Morality: Private or Public in
Okere” in his own words, The Hermeneutics of Culture, Religion and Society p 141-150,
https://www.amazon.com/okere-in-his-own-words-hermeneutics See also Theophilus Okere in “The
poverty of Christian individualist morality and an African alternative in Okere” in his own
words… vol. 1 p 174; Religion and morality: Private or public? Ibidem, vol. 2 p 141,
26. After Martin Heidegger- (Sein und Zeit) and Hans Georg Gadamer (Wahrheit und Methode) it
has become crystal clear that philosophy is Hermeneutics and Hermeneutics philosophy.
Wahrheit und Methode - the search for truth and meaning in philosophy is accompanied,
coloured and determined by the method. Method is dictated and governed by environment which
is itself governed by history and time.
27. This famous passage in Heidegger’s Sein u Zeit, p 5, brilliantly illustrates what can be suggested
to a philosophical mind by an ordinary, day to day word such as questioning, as the author reads
out the implications of Fragen- to ask, Gefragtes- what is being asked for, Befragtes- who is
being asked, Erfragtes- what results from the asking, Fragen nach- asking after, Anfragen-
inquiring about and Frager- the one who asks.
28. Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (William Heinemann Ltd, 1958).
29. Autonomous- the Greek “autonomos” literally translates: self-law giving
30. Ihe okwuru gburu muo m
31. Ihe okwuru metutaram na muo
32. Muom anabataghi ya
33. Chebara ya echiche
34. Ncheta
35. Nghota - Ina aghota ihe m n’agwa gi?
36. Izu/Igba izu
37. Iko Ako
38. Igba ngenge
39. Ituzi na ihazi
40. “The Igbo verb has a peculiarly dynamic structure whereby the ta enclitic confers on the verb
root the notion of bringing forth into existence or into presence (for example, Nku-ta means to
earn or bring in by labour or oku, Nzota to bring home by competitive struggling or izo azo.
Hence, Ncheta is strictly speaking to fetch out from the past by thinking, iche uche. Ncheta is a
crucial function since it is not only useful in storing the memory of events but also accumulates
them and unifies them into a continuity that makes them into a story and thus helps to give the
“self” its unity and identity. Altzheimers, the new disease, is so unsettling and incomprehensible
precisely because by devastating the memory of the patient to the extent of non-recognition or
even non-awareness of the most intimate life-time relations, it virtually destroys the patient’s
very identity and indeed his “self”.
41. Obi kara aka

42. Obi mgbawa
43. Obi miri
44. Obi kporo nku
45. Obi nwayo
46. 44.Obi ike
47. Obi ojoo
48. Obi oma
49. Obi izizi
50. Obi anaghi awo nna ya ochie uka
51. Anu ahu - A certain epileptic patient known to this writer and whose arms and shoulders had
been badly charred by fire burns sustained during some of his many fits became famous in the
village for the following aphorism: Provided the inside of my body is good (healthy), it does not
matter how the outside looks. Here (the inside of the body) has a meaning already transcending
the merely material and approaching the idea of a healthy condition that is not visible but still
felt or enjoyed by the individual.
52. Gi na nwa ahu
53. Ahu gi kwanu
54. Ahu ojoo
55. Ahu di ya
56. Ahunna
57. Nmetu na ahu
58. Iri ahu
59. Ihe n’eri ahu
60. Oriela ya ahu owuwu
61. Igbaji ahu
62. Ono na mmekpa ahu
63. Gbam n’ahu
64. Percy Amaury Talbot, The Peoples of Southern Nigeria Vol II (London: Frank Cass & Co Ltd,
1926), 279-295.
65. Otu nne na amu mana owughi otu chi na eke
66. Chim mu anya
67. Onyekachi
68. Onye ka mmadu ka chi ya
69. Madu ona ario chi ya mgba
70. Ebe onye dara o wu chi ya kwadara ya
71. O wu chi m oo, chi oma moo
72. Chim; egbuo m oo
73. In the Indo-European culture: The words in English - Name, in French - Nomme, in Latin -
Nomen, in German, Namen and Nombre in Spanish, come obviously from the same root and
correspond with the Latin for deity, numen. Kant’s noumenon, designating the real but
unknowable reality belongs to this family of words.

74. Numen, as in Virgil, “Quo numine laeso”. Virgil, Aeneid 1, 8, Loeb Classical library no 63,
(Harvard University Press, 1978).
75. Aha agụrụ manụ anaghị alagbu ya
76. G.T Basden, Niger Igbos, 1939.
77. Perhaps the Missionaries campaigned against nothing more seriously than against the widespread
belief in reincarnation as it seemed so diametrically opposed to their own doctrines of
eschatology, especially the doctrine of heaven and hell, a doctrine that to the Igbo looked so
implausible for taking no account of highly revered ancestors.
78. Oloro uwa onye?
79. Uwam ozo
80. Uwa ya mbu
81. Uwa na uwa m n’alo la
82. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act 1, Scene 1.
83. Nwoga D.I., “Ahiajoku Lecture – 1984,” Ahiajoku Lecture (Owerri: Ministry of Information,
Culture, Youth and Sports), 46.
84. Father and mother, Nne na nna (the Igbo reverse the order) are the sacred source of one’s
existence. An insult to one’s parents is an insult that touches one to the depth of one’s being. The
ultimate curse among young people and which inevitably starts a fight is: May your mother die!
Conversely when one wants to touch someone with a solemn appeal or prayer, he virtually
disarms him with, please may your mother not die: biko nne gi anwuna! and goes on to make the
85. John Donne -Poems, Meditation 17,” For whom the bell tolls”, 错误! 超链接引用无效。>
86. The sibling relationship is particularly valued and nourished by the use of specially reserved
terms of endearment and courtesy which designate the level of kinship, the sex and especially
the age and seniority relationship. An elder brother is addressed as deede, an elder sister as daada,
an aunt as adee and an uncle as opannaa or opaa. In some places Ndaa is the all-purpose term to
cover all genders and age groups but fulfils the same function of asserting intimacy, courtesy and
respect to the addressee as well as corporate belonging.
87. Robert Roth SJ- Hume and James, on personal identity American Catholic Philosophical
Quarterly 1990, 233-247.

Glossary Igbo / English

Mu - I
Mụnwa - This I, emphatic
Gi - you
Onwe - Self
Ike - Self
Ike m - My Self
Ogwe - Self
Ogwe m - My Self

Nwe - Own
Anyị nwe onwe anyị - We own ourselves - We are free
Ọdighị onye nwe anyị - No one owns us
Onye nwem nị - He who owns me - My Lord
Onye nwe gị nị - He who owns you - Your Lord
Muo - Spirit
Uche - thought
Iche Uche - thinking
Ncheputa - Thinking out
Nkuta - To earn by one’s labour
Ncheta - Remembering
Nghọta - To pluck, to catch, to understand.
Izu - Counsel
Ako - Wisdom, Nwaevula akọ - the wise lamb
Ngenge - Imagining
Atụmatụ - Planning
Obi or Heart
Obi karaka - a ripe heart, a hard and cruel heart
Onye - who, a person, a human being, not an animal
Obi kpọrọnkụ - a dried up heart, a cruel, unrelenting heart
Obi ike - a strong heart, a strong headed, heartless
Obi ọjọọ - a bad heart, a person of ill-will, cruel, unforgiving
Obi ọma - a good heart, merciful, well meaning
Obi izizi - a pitiful, sympathetic heart
Mkpụrụ - Seed
Ahụ or Body
Ahụnna - Her father’s body
Ahụ di ya - Her husband’s body
Mmetụ - Touching
Iri - to eat
Chi - The part or double of God within, personal and immanent to the individual
Chukwu - The Great God
Chineke - The Creator God, another name for Chukwu
Aha - Name
ḷlo ụwa - Returning to the world - Reincarnation
Ụmụ - children - The prefixing of Ụmụ- children of, to most place names is the clearest indication
that Igbo social groups and their locations are essentially clusters of patrilineal groups.

A Human “Being” or Human “Becomings”?
Family as Community in Confucian Role Ethics

Roger T. Ames 安乐哲

Berggruen Institute Fellow, Department of Philosophy, Peking University

There are several related claims in this essay. First, there is no “human being” in Confucian
philosophy; there are only human “becomings.” Secondly, family does much of the work of
community for Confucian role ethics. This being the case, “family reverence” (xiao 孝) has been the
governing moral imperative in this tradition, and is thus one important way of saying “Confucian role
ethics.” In the introduction of Chinese philosophy and culture into the Western academy, we have
tended to theorize and conceptualize this antique tradition by appeal to our own familiar categories.
I and my collaborator Henry Rosemont have introduced the notion of “Confucian role ethics” as an
attempt to articulate a sui generis moral philosophy that allows this tradition to speak on its own terms
and to have its own voice. This holistic philosophy is grounded in the primacy of relationality, and is
a challenge to a foundational liberal individualism that has defined persons as discrete, autonomous,
rational, free, and often self-interested agents. Confucian role ethics begins from a relationally
constituted conception of person, takes family roles and community relations as the entry point for
developing moral competence, invokes moral imagination and the growth in relations that it can
inspire as the substance of human morality, and entails a family-centered, a-theistic religiousness that
stands in sharp contrast to the Abrahamic religions.
Of course, the concept of role ethics is not unknown within the Western philosophical narrative.
Moral philosopher Dorothy Emmet in her efforts to reconcile ethics and sociology sees the
contemporary discipline of sociology following this same logic of “internal relations” and the various
implications for personal identity it brings with it:

Some Idealist philosophers have held a doctrine of “internal relations,” according to which the world is
thought of as a system in which everything is so related to everything else, that nothing can be understood
except with reference to its total context, every part of which attributes to making it what it is, so that it
cannot be transposed to another context without becoming something different. It might be said that
sociology is the contemporary refuge of the doctrine of internal relations. This of course gets qualified
in practice, . . . and some things may make a lot of difference, some very little.


Emmet far from scoffing at such an organic, ecological reading of the cosmos, worries instead about
how such a focus-field way of looking at the world might compromise our capacities to operate
effectively within it. As she continues:

Indeed, this is probably all quite true; but if we are to talk and act with any effectiveness, we cannot just
say there is one big web of reciprocal and ramifying relationships. . . . It is not necessary, even if we
admit interconnections, only to think of the world as one great system in which everything is related to
everything else.2

And such an interpretation of our world is challenging. The fact of the interpenetration of roles and
relations requires of us a fundamentally different way of thinking about identity and identity
construction. Emmet insists that good sociology is able to discern different kinds of horizons within
the broader organism and discipline this ecological worldview into meaningful patterns of
relationships, patterns “of overlapping ‘fields,’ some of which may be affecting others, but whose
special internal properties can be studied.”3 With specific reference to roles, Emmet can be helpful in
bringing further illumination to how we might want to understand the complex notion of roles and
their social implications. First, for Emmet:

The notion of role refers to such a special relationship, . . . and in any given society there will be certain
ways of enacting a role considered appropriate (as we have already seen, the notion of a role has a
reference to a norm of behavior built into it). . . . Within this, there are constellations of roles, e.g. in
family relations, and in professional relations, and these are not necessarily coherent; in fact their
obligations can and do conflict.4

And Emmet is clearly aware that roles are not fixed or final. Old roles are reauthorized and new roles
emerge as society evolves:

Sometimes changes in circumstances, and sometimes new ways in which some dominant individual plays
a role, will establish a new pattern, and make it necessary to form a concept of a new role type, or give a
different content to the old one.5

1 Emmet, Rules, Roles and Relations, p. 90 Emmet is clearly associating the doctrine of internal relatins with Hegel’s
idealism, but given Hegel’s teleology and thus linear dialectic, there are tensions in Hegel that suggest that he is perhaps
not the best example. On one interpretation of Hegel at least, his commitment to a strong, objective principle of teleology
as an apriori concept provides the explanatory principle needed to discipline our empirical investigations and carry us
beyond the limits of our empirical sciences. Hegel’s strong teleology that is decidedly theological in its cast would bring
logic and history together by conceptualizing both nature and history as having an inherent logical necessity, and such
necessity vitiates the open-ended, emergent, and aesthetic assumptions that come along with a coherent doctrine of
internal relations.
2 Emmet, Rules, Roles and Relations, p. 139.
3 Emmet, Rules, Roles and Relations, p. 140.
4 Emmet, Rules, Roles and Relations, pp. 140-146.
5 Emmet, Rules, Roles and Relations, p. 148.

Emmet herself puzzles over the question of whether in fact all social behavior does not amount
to behavior in a role. Deciding that this is at least partly a terminological question, she herself chooses
to reserve the term role for relationships sufficiently structured to be classified under a common name.
She introduces a distinction between persona and person, where the former term captures the
generalizable roles while the latter corresponds to the proper name:

The notion of persona answers to the impersonal aspects of morality; it stands for the detachment from
“proper names,” the attempt to look objectively at a situation, at rights and obligations and at the
requirements of the job to be done.1

Such a dualistic distinction between persons and their putatively impersonal persona or roles can
certainly be of service as a tool of social analysis, and can also be of functional value in allowing for
a degree of objectivity in, and even detachment from, our roles. Such distance might be needed for
resolving the conflicting demands within our roles, and in giving us the space for self-consciously
cultivating a personal style or image. Still, given the fact of associated living and the irreducibly
social definition of persons, I would argue that such a persona-person distinction can be no more than
a question of terminological convenience. To take it any further in reifying “individuals” as being
discrete and thus somehow separate from their associations, while perhaps at times functional, is still
fallacious thinking of the first order that can come at a high cost.
While certainly having important theoretical implications, what is compelling about the
Confucian project and the process cosmology that grounds it is that it proceeds from a relatively
straightforward account of the actual human experience. Rather than appealing to ontological
assumptions about fixed, essential natures or supernatural speculations about immortal souls and
salvific ends, all of which would take us outside of the world of our empirical experience, the
Confucian project focuses instead on the possibilities for enhancing personal worth available to us
here and now through enchanting the ordinary affairs of the day. In this Confucian ethic, there is a
tacit awareness of what Bernard Williams concluded in his own long career as an ethicist. Williams
in his search for “thick,” “world-guided,” and “action-guiding” ethical concepts is famous for his
reservations about the capacity of any moral theory to tell us what is right, what is wrong, and what
we ought to do. In the preface to Moral Luck, Williams announces:

There cannot be any very interesting, tidy or self-contained theory of what morality is, nor, despite the
vigorous activities of some present practitioners, can there be an ethical theory, in the sense of a
philosophical structure which, together with some degree of empirical fact, will yield a decision
procedure for moral reasoning.2

Williams is saying here that no ethical theory, no ready-made set of rules, no moral system, can in
any particular situation tell us what is the right course of action. The best responses to our moral
quandaries must emerge out of intelligent reflection on the specific conditions of experience, where

1 Emmet, Rules, Roles and Relations, p. 171.

2 Bernard Williams, Moral Luck: Philosophical Papers 1973-1980, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981, pp.

much of human flourishing is dependent upon dexterity in the exercise and application of our moral
imagination. In our search for doing what is most appropriate, the abstract and theoretical can have
at best only an instrumental function in providing direction and some general guidance for such
Confucius by developing his insights around the most basic and enduring aspects of the ordinary
human experience—that is, personal cultivation in family and communal roles, family reverence,
deference to others, propriety achieved in our roles and relations, friendship, a cultivated sense of
shame, moral education, a communicating community, a family-centered religiousness, the
intergeneration transmission of culture, and so on—has guaranteed the continuing relevance of this
accumulating wisdom. In addition to being focused on such perennial issues, one further
characteristic of Confucian philosophy that is certainly present in the words of Confucius himself,
and that has made his teachings so resilient in this living tradition, is the porousness and adaptability
of his philosophy. His enduring contribution was simply to strive to take full ownership of the cultural
legacy available during his time and place, to adapt this compounding wisdom from the past for the
betterment of his own present historical moment, and then to recommend to future generations that
they continue to do the same.1
Indeed, what makes this Confucian tradition more empirical than empiricism—that is, what
makes Confucianism a radical empiricism—is the fact that while grounded in the soil of an antique
culture, it is also prospective and evolutionary in respecting the uniqueness of the omnipresent
particular. Rather than advancing doctrines as universal principles or organizing experience around a
taxonomy of natural kinds grounded in some notion of strict identity, Confucian philosophy proceeds
from analogy with, and always provisional generalizations derived from, those particular historical
instances of successful living. Confucius’s signature neologism, “aspiring to consummate conduct in
my roles and relations” (ren 仁), for example, is not an appeal to some higher order, antecedent
principle or generic virtue, but is rather a vision of the exemplary human life as it is aspired to through
assiduous personal cultivation that in its achievements, can be of service to succeeding generations
as a guiding source of value. Of course, exemplary narratives are nested within and informed by a
continuing confluence of the particular narratives of exemplary persons over time and they produce
the patterns of deference that define the social fabric of ensuing generations.
What we are calling Confucian role ethics begins from the primacy of vital relationality within
our lived roles and relations. Stated simply, it assumes rather than argues for, the bare fact of
associated living. The initial claim here is that nothing and no one does anything by itself. All of our
physical, conscious, and social activity is collaborative and transactional. We walk because we have
the ground, breath because we have the air, see because we have the sun. And we exchange opinions,
share insights, and dismiss rumors because we live in families and communities. But whereas these
transactional associations are merely descriptive, once such associations are identified and stipulated
as occurring within the specific roles we live with others, they become normative. Our different roles
then—the activities of daughters and grandpas, teachers and neighbors, shopkeepers and lovers—are

1 Analects 7.1: 子曰:「述而不作,信而好古,竊比於我老彭。」The Master said, “Following the proper way, I do

not forge new paths; with confidence I cherish the ancients—in these respects I am comparable to Old Peng.”

simply specific modes of association that in their specificity take on value and a clear normative cast:
Am I a good daughter? Am I a good teacher? Am I a good grandmother? And while this
grandmother’s love for her grandson is one of the most familiar and ordinary of things we will ever
encounter, in Confucian role ethics it is a profound source of moral education for her grandson, and
has high value as one of the most extraordinary products that the life experience has to offer. After
all, her grandson can only learn to love others by being loved himself, and there can be no higher
value in the human experience than our love for each other.
Confucian role ethics appeals to a “gerundive” understanding of persons in this tradition—that
is, persons are something that we do rather than what we are, and that we do together or not at all.
Such a holistic, focus-field conception of persons as focal identities within continuing personal
narratives resists our seemingly default assumption that discrete individuals as exclusive entities are
concrete existents rather than second-order abstractions from their narratives. It eschews the belief
that persons can be accurately described, analyzed, and evaluated independently of their
contextualizing environments, including first and foremost those environments in which they have
dealings with other human beings. Role ethics begins from the notion that, in any interesting moral
or political or religious sense, persons cannot be understood apart from the other family and
community members with whom they interact. Indeed, persons are best understood and measured in
terms of the specific roles that guide their conduct in their transactions with these specific others.
Simply put, moral conduct itself is nothing more than behavior that conduces to growth and
flourishing in the roles and relations we live together with others, and immoral conduct is the opposite.
Being considerate, listening attentively, acting upon an empathetic imagination, looking for ways of
being helpful, lending encouragement—these very ordinary gestures are the substance of morality.
Being self-absorbed, ignoring the interests of others, being dismissive, failing in our commitments,
being thoughtless or obstructive, being inflexible, lacking resolution—these are negative, immoral
dispositions that lead to diminution in our relations. From this perspective, it is easy to see how the
grandmother’s love for her grandson can be didactic, not only in deepening her grandmotherly
relationship with him, but also in teaching him how to best grow his relations with others. Taking the
irreducibly social nature of persons as our starting point, we have tried to articulate and bring clarity
to Confucian role ethics not as an alternative “ethical theory,” but as a capaciousness, sui generis
vision of the moral life that begins from, and ultimately seeks its warrant in, a relatively
straightforward account of the human experience as we find it described in the Analects and other
early Confucian texts. Indeed, the normativity of role ethics arises from whole persons aspiring to
live whole lives.
My claim in introducing the notion of “Confucian role ethics” has been that I am trying to allow
Confucian philosophy to use its own language to speak for itself in an effort to avoid the familiar
asymmetrical pattern of shoehorning Confucian axiology into Western ethical categories. My good
friend Daniel Bell has pointed out rightly that a prominent theme in this argument for role ethics is
how family and communal relations function as the entry point for developing moral competence.
This being the case, Daniel asks, what is the Chinese term that does the work of “community” in
these canonical texts? Indeed, the Expansive Learning (daxue 大學) is the first of the Four Books
that is credited as being foundational and most succinct statement of the Confucian project. The

passage in this text that is often cited as the mantra for the radial and reflexive process of personal
cultivation is:

For the ancients who sought to demonstrate real virtuosity in the world . . . once their persons were
cultivated, their families were set right; once their families were set right, their state was properly ordered;
and once their states were properly ordered, there was peace in the world.1

There is certainly no mention of “community” in this passage, and on reflection, in the canonical
writings broadly. And if there is not an equivalent for “community” in these texts, asks Daniel, am I
not perhaps importing insights from the contemporary Western communitarian tradition to define
Confucian role ethics?
My first point would be that this Confucian project as stated in the Expansive Learning is clearly
holistic, and even though there is no specific mention of “community” per se, the radial, rippling
pattern of cultivation is inclusive of the direct, shared sense of identity and the significant quality of
relationships that we associate with the communal dimension. The central message of this terse yet
comprehensive document is that while personal, familial, social, political, and indeed cosmic
cultivation is ultimately coterminous and mutually entailing, it must always begin from a commitment
to personal cultivation, with the cosmic context providing the resources available for such cultivation.
A second way of arguing that the notion of community is integral to Confucian role ethics is to
derive community from the ubiquitous use of the term “exemplary person” (junzi) in the early
Confucian canons. It is a commonplace that Confucius as depicted in the Analects reinvents this term
junzi, transforming it from denoting nobility of birth and blood (king, ruler, vassals, high ministers)
to nobility of conduct (persons who serve as exemplary models for family and community). This
being the case, junzi still retains a social and political reference in the sense that human beings can
only become exemplary in their conduct through full participation in the social and political life of
their family lineages and communities. Several of the early glosses and texts—the Er Ya, the
Hanshiwaizhuan, the Baihutong, and others—underscore this social dimension when they define the
term jun 君 paranomastically—that is, by semantic and phonetic association—as qun 群 “to gather
around;” that is: 君者群也 “exemplary persons are those to whom the community repairs.” As Daniel
notes, this is the same term used to translate “community” (shequn 社群) in modern Chinese.
Yet another dimension of the argument I would make on behalf of an implicit sense of
community is that, historically, “family” (jia 家) in this same Expansive Learning definition of the
Confucian project is inclusive of community. Zhou Yiqun again cites the late Qing scholar, Yan Fu,
who claims that social and political order in the two millennia of imperial China was from its
beginnings “seventy percent a lineage organization and thirty percent an empire,” that is, a function
of lives lived within family lineage (jiazu 家族 or shizu 氏族)and the social fabric such communities

1古之欲明明德於天下者 . . . 身修而後家齊,家齊而後國治,國治而後天下平。
2 Yiqun Zhou, Festival, Feasts, and Gender Relations in Ancient China and Greece, New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2010, p. 19-55.

Given the centrality of family as the entry point for pursuing moral competence, a key term
appealed to in the Confucian corpus that expresses this notion of role ethics is nothing less than the
prime moral imperative in this tradition, “family reverence” (xiao). Xiao has conventionally been
rendered “filial piety” in English, but Rosemont and I have translated it as “family reverence.” What
recommends “family reverence” as a translation is that it in degree disassociates xiao from the duty
to God implied by “piety” and from the unilateral obedience that is assumed in paterfamilias. “Family
reverence” is collateral, with the elder generation receiving appropriate deference from their younger
members within their family lineages, and the younger generation deriving pleasure from deferring
to those who have given both meaning and substance to their lives. “Family reverence” also retains
the sacred connotations that are certainly at play in the ritualized culture of ancestral sacrifices.
The collaterality of “familial reverence” (xiao 孝) is captured in the character itself, constituted
as it is by the combination of the graph for “elders” (lao 老) and that for “son, daughter, child” (zi
子). Like ren 仁 that resists any formulaic understanding, xiao requires us to access and to build upon
our own existential sense of what it means to optimize our specific roles within family and community.
Xiao has immediate reference to our lived experience within the narrative of succeeding generations
as we remember our own parents and grandparents, and as we attend to our own children and
grandchildren. Xiao quite literally means the roles and relationships that constitute the communities
of elders and youth across successive generations, and the relations that obtain between the present
generation and those generations that have gone before. It references the inseparability of
grandparents and grandchildren, of fathers and daughters, of progenitors and progeny, and how such
roles can only be lived and learned together. In fact, when we examine the earliest form of the
character for “elders” (lao 老) as it is found on the oracle bones, we find that it depicts an old person
with long, disheveled hair, leaning on a walking stick bringing immediately to mind the famous
photograph of Albert Einstein. In the Small Seal script this same graph becomes stylized as ,
anticipating its present form 老. In comparing this character for “elders” with the earliest instance of
the character for “family reverence” (xiao) found later on the bronzes , we discover that the image
of a young person has quite literally taken the place of the walking stick as a source of support on
which the elders can lean.2 But importantly, while xiao certainly provides the support that succeeding
older generations can enjoy from the reverential progeny that follow them in their wake, the
complement flows in the other direction as well. That is, xiao is also the vital process whereby the
younger generation is transformed into and becomes a novel yet persistent embodied variant of those
to whom they have deferred. The older generation is a reservoir of culture from whom the younger
generation can draw sustenance and meaning, and in so doing, enable their progenitors themselves to
live on in the bodies and in the lived experience of these generations that follow.
The centrality of xiao in the Confucian project of aspiring to become consummate in one’s roles
and relations (ren 仁) becomes immediately apparent on examining one familiar passage from the

1 Kwan, Tze-wan, “Multi-function Character Database:” at http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/

甲骨文合集 CHANT 00394.
2 Kwan, “Database” 西周晚期 CHANT 3937.

Exemplary persons (junzi) concentrate their efforts on the root, for the root having been properly set,
their proper path in life (dao) emerges therefrom. As for family reverence (xiao) and fraternal deference
(ti), these are, I suspect, the root of becoming consummate in one’s roles and relations (ren).1

Two qualifications are needed here. First, we must resist any simplistic equation between family
reverence (xiao) and obedience. Xiao that is focused on the bottom-up deference children owe their
elders must be distinguished clearly from paterfamilias that we associate with Roman law as the juridical
patria potestas or power and privilege of the father. Indeed, there are times when being truly filial within
the family, like being a loyal minister within the court, requires courageous remonstrance (jian 諫) rather
than automatic compliance. And indeed, such remonstrance is not perceived merely as an option or a
possibility, but as a sacred obligation. In the Chinese Classic of Family Reverence, Master Zeng who is
to become the paragon of family reverence in the Confucian tradition, asks Confucius explicitly if strict
obedience is the substance of family reverence:

Master Zeng said, “Parental love (ai), reverence and respect (jing), seeing to the well-being of one’s
parents, and raising one’s name (ming) high for posterity—on these topics I have received your
instructions. I would presume to ask whether children can be deemed filial (xiao) by obeying every
command of their father.”2

Confucius responds impatiently to Master Zeng, making his case that such an easy an attitude of
automatic compliance to one’s elders, far from constituting family reverence, can on the contrary be a
source of gross immorality in conduct:

“What on earth are you saying? What on earth are you saying?” said the Master, “. . . . If confronted by
reprehensible behavior on his father’s part, a son has no choice but to remonstrate with his father, and if
confronted by reprehensible behavior on his ruler’s part, a minister has no choice but to remonstrate with
his ruler. Hence, remonstrance is the only response to immorality. How could simply obeying the
commands of one’s father be deemed filial?”3

Indeed, the Xunzi devotes an entire chapter to stories that provide examples of how blind obedience to
the older generation, far from reflecting family reverence, produces a full range of dire consequences
that offend against this very same value.4
And the second point here in clarifying the meaning of family reverence is that the immediate
family is only the beginning of such deference. It must become a pattern of conduct that, with
unrelenting attention, is extended out from family to include all members of the community, and

1 Analects 1.2: 君子務本,本立而道生。孝弟也者,其為仁之本與.

2 Chinese Classic of Family Reverence 15: 曾子曰:「若夫慈愛、恭敬、安親、揚名,則聞命矣。敢問子從父之
令,可謂孝乎?」Master Zeng is best remembered as a proponent of xiao—the devotion and service that the younger
generation directs to their elders and ancestors, and the pleasure that they derive in doing so. A natural extension of this
affection for one's family is friendship, and Master Zeng is portrayed in the Analects as being able to distinguish between
the sincerity of his fellow student, Yan Hui, and the rashness of another student, Zizhang.
3 Chinese Classic of Family Reverence 15: 子曰:「是何言與!是何言與!. . . 當不義,則子不可以不爭於父,臣
4 See Xunzi chapter 29.

polity, and even nature itself. Indeed, in the “Three Powers” chapter of the Chinese Classic of Family
Reverence, xiao has cosmic reference, correlating the relationships that obtain among the heavens,
the earth, and the human world within this moral imperative. It is because these three powers are
mutually implicated in each other that such cosmic relations, providing context for the human
experience, have themselves a moral aspect that can serve as a model for the proper accord that can
be achieved within our human institutions:

Master Zeng replied, “Incredible—the profundity of family reverence!” The Master continued, “Indeed,
family reverence is the constancy of the heavenly cycles, the appropriate responsiveness (yi) of the earth,
and the proper conduct of the people. It is the constant workings of the heavens and the earth that the
people model themselves upon. Taking the illumination (ming) of the heavens as their model and making
the most of the earth’s resources, they bring the empire into accord (shun). This is the reason that
education can be effective without being severe, and political administration can maintain proper order
without being harsh.1

Relationally constituted persons are born into the broadest swath of family, community, and
cosmic relations—they do not exist exclusive of them, nor can they grow without them. By locating
the notion of persons within the relational cosmology that serves as interpretive context for these
texts, we can argue that terms such as “root,” “potential,” “cause,” and “source” that are sometimes
taken to be exclusive terms to be associated with a given human nature have to be reconceived as
referencing always collateral, reciprocal, and reflexive processes. In this ongoing transactional
process of associated living, cultivation of one’s unique person within one’s specific and often
changing relations is the root from which a full canopy of interdependent personal bonds grows to
define the various radial spheres of family lineage, neighborhood, community, village, polity, and
ultimately, cosmos, with each mutually implicated dimension making its own contribution to the
prevailing social ethic. As the Expansive Learning (大學 Daxue) enjoins us, in the singularly
important project of becoming consummate persons, personal cultivation in the relations that
constitute us is fundamental, and we must give it our highest priority:

From the emperor down to the common folk, everything is rooted in personal cultivation. There can be
no healthy canopy when the roots are not properly set, and it would never do for priorities to be reversed
between what should be invested with importance and what should be treated more lightly.2

That is, taking “root” as our example here, while the root may be thought to grow the tree, the
tree also in turn grows its roots. The “root” and its flourishing canopy are perceived as aspects of an
interactive and organic whole that grow together symbiotically, or not at all. Continuing this familiar
root and branches metaphor, root and canopy must grow together, with the tree spreading its roots
outward beneath the earth and simultaneously stretching its branches upward towards the sky. In the

1 Chinese Classic of Family Reverence 7: 曾子曰:「甚哉!孝之大也。」子曰:「夫孝、天之經也,地之義也,

2 Daxue 1969: 2b: 自天子以至於庶人,壹是皆以修身為本。其本亂而末治者否矣,其所厚者薄,而其所薄者厚,
未之有也!I have borrowed this translation of the title of the Daxue rather than the familiar Great Learning from Jung-
Yeup Kim because it captures the expansive radiality of the Confucian project as it is rehearsed in this foundational text.

same way, aspiring to become consummate in our conduct as persons (ren) is the expansive process
of persons becoming increasingly rooted in virtuosic habits of conduct extending themselves outward
in our relations within family, community, and cosmos as something that we do, and that we either
do together, or not at all. Indeed, the Record of Rites (Liji 禮記) version of the Expansive Learning
fascicle concludes the excerpt cited above by declaring that personal cultivation does both: it sets the
root deeply while at the same time growing the social intelligence needed for a flourishing world. In
the words of the text itself:

This commitment to personal cultivation is called both the root and the height of wisdom.1

Here again, personal cultivation as the “root” and its erstwhile product, “wisdom,” are to be
perceived as an organic whole that in growing together are two ways of viewing the same
phenomenon. Said another way, the practice of personal cultivation and the ensuing wisdom that
characterizes our conduct are aspectual abstractions from the concrete narrative of living
consummately within the relations of family and community.
This understanding of the root and the tree as a symbiotic process stands in contrast to thinking
of the root as some independent, single source. Such symbiosis reflects the holistic cosmological
assumptions that require a situated answer to our most fundamental and perennial philosophical
questions: “Where does meaning come from and how is it conveyed?” In the Abrahamic traditions,
the answer is simple: Meaning comes from a Divine source beyond and independent of the individual
person. Yahweh, or God, or Allah provides us with a continuing vision of life’s purpose, and each of
us must return to this source when we lose our way. For the Confucian project, on the other hand,
with no appeal to some independent, external principle, meaning arises pari passu from a vital
network of meaningful relationships in the process of intergenerational transmission of a living
civilization. A personal commitment to achieving relational virtuosity within one’s own family
relationships is both the starting point and the ultimate source of personal, social, and indeed, cosmic
meaning. In cultivating our own persons through aspiring to and extending robust relations in our
families and beyond, we enlarge the cosmos by adding meaning to it, and in turn, this increasingly
meaningful cosmos provides a fertile context for the project of our own personal cultivation.
We must bear these alternative meanings of “root” and “source” in mind when we reflect upon
a passage in which Confucius in the Analects describes his role in the transmission of that living
tradition in the following terms:

The Master said: “Following the proper way, I do not forge new paths; with confidence I cherish the
ancients—in these respects I am comparable to our venerable Old Peng.”2

When Confucius allows that in “following the proper way, I do not forge new paths,” he is
clearly disassociating himself from the term zuo 作. Zuo is conventionally translated as “initiating,”

1 Liji 禮記 (Record of Rites), A Concordance to the Liji, D.C. Lau and Chen Fong Ching, editors. Hong Kong: Commercial
Press, 1992: 43.1/164/30: 此謂知本,此謂知之至也。
2 Analects 7.1: 子曰:述而不作,信而好古,竊比於我老彭。

but wanting to maintain the “path” metaphor here, I have translated it as “forging.” Since this term
throughout the canonical texts is often coupled with “sages” (shengren 聖人) and what they are able
to do, we might assume that Confucius is modestly demurring from such an association here.
But there are commentators across the centuries who have read this passage as a portrait of
Confucius as a cultural fundamentalist. As early as the Mozi, for example, Confucius is taken at his
word as being wholly a transmitter, and is criticized roundly for offering the world a lifeless

Again, the Confucians say: “Exemplary persons follow and do not innovate.” But we would respond by
saying: “In ancient times, Yi introduced the bow, Yu introduced armor, Xizhong introduced the carriage,
and the tradesman Qiu introduced the boat. Such being the case, are today’s tanners, smiths, carriage-
makers, and carpenters all exemplary persons, and are Yi, Yu, Xizhong, and the tradesman Qiu simply
petty persons? Further, since whatever it is the Confucians are following had to be introduced by someone,
doesn’t this mean that what they are in fact following are the ways of petty persons?”1

The logic of this Mohist criticism is impeccable if we take Confucius’s self-description to be

expository rather than being an expression of his profound deference to the cultural tradition, and a
token of his personal modesty. And just such a Mohist criticism of Confucianism is alive and well in
the commentarial tradition as it extends down to the present day. The contemporary political
philosopher, Hsiao Kung-chuan (Xiao Gongquan) 蕭 公 權 , describes this ostensive Confucian
conservatism at length as the project of “emulating the past” (fagu 法古). 2 More recently, Ted
Slingerland, in interpreting this same passage from the Analects, aligns himself with a retrospective
understanding of a Confucianism that harkens back to the Golden Age of the Zhou dynasty.
Slingerland observes:

It is more likely that transmission is all that Confucius countenanced for people in his age, since the
sagely Zhou kings established the ideal set of institutions that perfectly accord with human needs.3

Contra this conservative reading of Confucius—a position that I must disagree with
profoundly—I want to suggest that this passage speaks rather to Confucius’s understanding of the
nature and the dynamics of intergenerational transmission. And in this process of transmission, the
patterns of deference captured in the notion of “family reverence” (xiao) serve as a key factor.
Borrowing the language of the Book of Changes (Yijing), I would argue that Confucius as he is
remembered historically is in fact a particularly good example of the cosmological assumptions that
grounds this canonical text. He, like the Book of Changes, assumes that the unfolding of the natural
and cultural narratives can best be expressed in the language of “continuity and change” (biantong

1 Mozi 63/39/19: 又曰:「君子循而不作。」應之曰:「古者羿作弓,杼作甲,奚仲作車,巧垂作舟,然則今之

also 81/46/50.
2 Hsiao Kung-chuan, A History of Chinese Political Thought Volume 1, trans. F. W. Mote, Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1979, pp.79-142.
3 Edward Slingerland (trans.), Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries, Indianapolis: Hackett
Publishing, 2003, p. 64.

變通) and of “ceaseless procreation” (shengsheng buyi 生生不已). To describe him in these terms is
not to deny that, with Confucius’s reliance upon the core canons of the tradition, he is a most effective
transmitter of a persistent worldview and an abiding commonsense. Indeed, his personal gravitas lies
with the authority he embodies though the traditional assumption that it was he who compiled or at
least edited the canonical Five Classics. At the same time, however, with Confucius’s own
contribution to the development of a specific philosophical vocabulary, he is also a clear exemplar of
creative new insights within a living tradition. Indeed, appreciating his modesty here in demurring at
the suggestion that he has been an innovator, we still have substantial evidence to comfortably assert
that although Confucius was without question an effective transmitter, he was also transitional as
someone who took the tradition in significantly new directions.
In broad strokes, the self-understanding of Confucius is that he self-consciously sees himself as
continuing an antique tradition that reaches back into the second millennia BCE:

The Master said: “The Zhou dynasty looked back to the Xia and Shang dynasties. Such a wealth of culture!
I follow the Zhou.”1

The source of Confucius’s education has been the compounding culture of the generations that
have preceded him as this tradition lives on in the people of his own day. As he says when confronted
by a perilous situation when traveling through the district of Kuang on his way from the state of Wei
to Chen:

With King Wen (literally, King “Culture”) long dead, does not our cultural heritage reside here in us? If
tian were going to destroy this cultural legacy, we latecomers would not have had access to it. If tian is
not going to destroy this culture, what can the people of Kuang do to us!2

At the same time, however, as we have witnessed above, Confucius has been singularly responsible
for introducing, redefining, and elaborating upon a set of key terms as an authorized philosophical
vocabulary for an evolving Confucianism: ren 仁 (aspiring to consummate conduct in one’s roles and
relations), junzi 君子 (exemplary persons), yi 義 (an optimizing appropriateness), and li 禮 (achieving
propriety in one’s roles and relations). Again, it is Confucius who promotes personal cultivation as
defining of the Confucian project, and who grounds Confucian role ethics and the vision of the

1 Analects 3.14: “‘周監於二代,郁郁乎文哉!吾從周。’”See also Analects 8.20:“舜有臣五人而天下治。武王曰:

以服事殷。周之德,其可謂至德也已矣。’”Shun had only five ministers and the world was properly governed. King
Wu also said, “I have ten ministers who bring proper order to the world.” Confucius said, “As the saying has it: 'Human
talent is hard to come by.' Isn't it indeed the case. And it was at the transition from Yao dynasty to Shun that talented
ministers were in greatest abundance. In King Wu's case with a woman, perhaps his wife, among them, there were really
only nine ministers. The Zhou, with two thirds of the world in its possession, continued to submit to and serve the House
of Yin. The excellence of Zhou can be said to be the highest excellence of all.”
2 Analects 9.5: 文王既沒,文不在茲乎?天之將喪斯文也,後死者不得與於斯文也;天之未喪斯文也,匡人其如
予何?According to the biography of Confucius, Confucius had left Wey and was on route to Chen when he passed
through Kuang. The people of Kuang had recently been ravaged by Yang Huo, also from the state of Lu, and mistook
Confucius for him. See Sima Qian 司馬遷, Shiji 史記 (Records of the Historian), Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959, p. 1919.
See also Analects 11.23.

consummate life in “family reverence” (xiao 孝). This being the case, it is not surprising that when
Zhu Xi 朱熹 selects the Four Books as the core texts of the tradition, he describes the Expansive
Learning (Daxue 大學) as the most basic text that sets the Confucian project of personal cultivation.
He then canonizes the Analects and the Mencius as the second and third of the Four Books,
respectively, with the explicit reason that these texts provide the fundamental vocabulary for this
Confucian project, and in addition, offer the tradition a narrative example of such personal cultivation
in the person of Confucius. Again, it is Confucius himself who, in what Zhu Xi celebrates as the
highest and most exuberant statement of the Confucian project we find in the fourth of the Four Books,
Focusing the Familiar (Zhongyong 中庸), is described as the very embodiment of the “massive
transformations” that occur in the evolving cosmic order:

Confucius revered Yao and Shun as his ancestors and carried on their ways; he emulated and made
illustrious the way of Kings Wen and Wu. He modeled himself above on the rhythm of the turning seasons,
and below he was attuned to the patterns of water and earth. He is comparable to the heavens and the
earth, sheltering and supporting everything that is. He is comparable to the progress of the four seasons,
and the alternating brightness of the sun and the moon. All things are nurtured together and do not cause
injury to one another; the various ways are traveled together and are not conflicted. Their lesser virtuosity
is to be seen as flowing streams; their greater virtuosity is to be seen as massive transformations. This is
why the heavens and the earth are so grand.1

There are several corollary entailments that can be drawn from the primacy of lived family
and community relations as the ground of Confucian role ethics, corollaries readily illustrated by
passages from the Analects. There is a fundamental uniqueness of persons as they are defined by
their specific patterns of relations,2 there is an interdependence among persons as they live these
relations,3 there is a correlative, engaging and reflexive nature to all personal activity, 4 and there is
an underlying processive, provisional, and emergent conception of both the natural and the social
order.5 And there are also mutually entailing historical and cosmological implications that follow

1 Focusing the Familiar 30: 仲尼祖述堯、舜,憲章文、武;上律天時,下襲水土。辟如天地之無不持載,無不

2 Analects 15.36: 子曰:「當仁不讓於師。」 The Master said, “In striving to be consummate in your person, do not
yield even to your teacher.”
3 Analects 6.30: 夫仁者,己欲立而立人,己欲達而達人。能近取譬,可謂仁之方也已。」 “As for consummate
persons, they establish others in seeking to establish themselves; they promote others in seeking to get there themselves.
Correlating one's conduct in those near at hand can be said to be the method of becoming consummate in one’s conduct.”
4 Analects 7.8: 子曰:「不憤不啟,不悱不發,舉一隅不以三隅反,則不復也。」The Master said, “I do not open
the way for students who are not driven with eagerness; I do not supply a vocabulary for students who are not trying
desperately to find the language for their ideas. If on showing students one corner they do not come back to me with the
other three, I will not repeat myself.” And 7.22: 子曰:「三人行,必有我師焉。擇其善者而從之,其不善者而改
之。」The Master said, “In strolling in the company of just two other persons, I am bound to find a teacher in them.
Identifying their strengths, I follow them, and identifying their weaknesses, I reform myself accordingly.”
5 Analects 9.17: 子在川上,曰:「逝者如斯夫!不舍晝夜。」The Master was standing on the riverbank, and
observed, “Isn't life's passing just like this, never ceasing day or night!”; 2.11: 子曰:「溫故而知新,可以為師矣。」
The Master said: “Reviewing the old as a means of realizing the new—such a person can be considered a teacher.” and
15.29: 子曰:「人能弘道,非道弘人。」 The Master said: “It is the person who is able to broaden the way, not the
way that broadens the person.”

from this primacy of relations. For example, there is the holistic, unbounded, and nested nature of
relationships, and a holographic conception of person as defined in focus-field rather than part-
whole terms. Further, Confucianism as a philosophical aestheticism, registers all of the relationships
that constitute each person as being relevant in degree to the totality of the effect that is achieved as
someone’s personal identity.
Because many of the most significant personal relationships obtain among and between family
members, much of the totality of the effect will be seen therein. But the relationships must also extend
outward from family lineage to the larger social order. The relationships are also intergenerational,
as noted earlier, and are to be understood in terms of the roles between benefactors and beneficiaries.
And these relations with the ancestors and cultural heroes who have come before, reach beyond the
immediate social and political order to inspire the tradition’s family-centered religiousness. The
Analects consistently seems to be saying that a full and flourishing human life requires that some of
our relations be with those younger than ourselves, others with our peers, and still other relations with
those generations that have preceded us, and who live on in our own persons, and in our progeny.
With this primacy of relationality, if the Latin root of “religious” as religare does in fact mean
“binding tightly” (as in the cognates “ligament,” “obligation,” “league,” and “ally” )—then we can
see that “family reverence” (xiao) so described has a profoundly religious import, referencing those
familial, communal, and ancestral bonds that together constitute a resilient and enduring social
fabric. 1 And it is with this profoundly religious sense of “binding tightly”—that is, with the
strengthening of family and communal bonds—that we would interpret the Master’s autobiographical
response when asked by his disciple Zilu what he would most like to do:

I would like to bring peace and contentment to the aged, share relationships of trust and confidence with
friends, and to love and protect the young.2

In the Chinese Classic of Family Reverence, Confucius declares that this “way of family
reverence” is the very substance of morality and education: “It is family reverence (xiao) that is the
root of moral virtuosity, and whence education (jiao) itself is born.”3 The opening chapter of this
same text goes on to provide us with a familiar radial progression that we find consistently in the
Confucian literature from a primary center to the extremities, beginning from concern for one’s own
person and what is closest at hand, extending to the care for one’s family and kin, and then
culminating in service to the ruler and to posterity. In this passage, King Wen—that is, King “Culture”
(wen)—is once again singled out as the source from which the current generation draws its inspiration
and to whom with the cultural dividends it has accrued, makes appropriate return.

Your physical person with its hair and skin are received from your parents. Vigilance in not allowing
anything to do injury to your person is where family reverence begins; distinguishing yourself and
walking the proper way (dao) in the world; raising your name high for posterity and thereby bringing

1 Sarah F. Hoyt, “The Etymology of Religion,” Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol. 32, No. 2 (1912), pp. 126-
129 provides some interesting textual evidence for this very old and often disputed etymology.
2 Analects 5.26: 子路曰:「願聞子之志。」子曰:「老者安之,朋友信之,少者懷之。」
3 Henry Rosemont, Jr. and Roger T. Ames, The Classic of Family Reverence: A Philosophical Translation of the Xiaojing
孝經, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009, p. 105: 子曰:夫孝,德之本也,教之所由生也。

esteem to your father and mother—it is in these things that family reverence finds its consummation.
This family reverence then begins in service to your parents, continues in service to your lord, and
culminates in distinguishing yourself in the world. In the “Greater Odes” section of the Book of Songs it
says: “How can you not remember your ancestor, King Wen? You must cultivate yourself and extend his

The charge in this passage to keep the body intact certainly refers to one’s own carnal physicality,
but it also lends itself to a broader, cultural reading: that is, each generation has the responsibility of
keeping the corpus of culture that we come to embody, whole and alive. Without the formal and
determinate dimension provided by embodied living and by the social grammar of meaningful roles
and relations, there is a very real question as to whether the significant refinement achieved in and
through our life forms would even be possible. Put simply, determinate forms in their many different
variations—body, ritual, language, the institutions of family and ancestral reverence, and so on—are
a necessary condition for cultural refinement.
Confucian role ethics in substance is perpetuated through family lineages that have complex
political, economic, and religious functions. There are two cognate characters that are integral to the
dynamics of “family reverence” (xiao) in the intergenerational transmission of the continuities of the
family lineage: ti 體 (“embodying,” “body,” “forming and shaping,” “category,” “class”) and li 禮
(“ritual,” “achieving propriety in one’s roles and relations”). The “living body” (ti 體) and its
“embodied living” (li 禮) is the narrative site of a conveyance of the culture—language, religious
rituals, the aesthetics of cooking, song, and dance, the modeling of mores and values, and so on—
through which a living civilization is perpetuated.
An important dramatis persona in the Analects who in his own conduct underscores this primacy
of relationality is Confucius’ protégée, Master Zeng 曾 子 , whom we have met above as the
paradigmatic figure most closely associated with the fullest expression of “family reverence” (xiao

Master Zeng was gravely ill, and when Meng Jingzi asked after him, Master Zeng said to him, “Baleful
is the cry of a dying bird; felicitous are the words of a dying person. There are three habits that exemplary
persons consider of utmost importance in their vision of the moral life. By maintaining a dignified
demeanor, such persons keep violent and rancorous conduct at a distance; by maintaining a proper
countenance, they keep trust and confidence near at hand; by taking care in their choice of language and
their mode of expression, they keep vulgarity and impropriety at a distance. As for the details in the
arrangement of ritual vessels, there are minor functionaries to take care of such things.”3

1 Rosemont and Ames, The Chinese Classic of Family Reverence, p. 105: 身體髮膚,受之父母,不敢毀傷,孝之始
「無念爾祖,聿脩厥德。」 Book of Songs 235.
2 In exploring the meaning and function of the character xiao in the Analects that shed some light on this key philosophical
term, one can complement such an analysis by an appeal to the many references to Master Zeng himself where he appears
as the personal embodiment of xiao.
3 Analects 8.4: 曾子有疾,孟敬子問之。曾子言曰:「鳥之將死,其鳴也哀;人之將死,其言也善。君子所貴乎

In this passage, Master Zeng, plainly aware of his own impending demise, begins by exhorting his
listener to pay serious attention to what he is about to say, for Master Zeng believes that his last words
as he will utter them on his deathbed are of consequence.
Master Zeng’s message then is that all three of the habits of deportment considered by exemplary
persons to be vital to the moral life—that is, a dignified demeanor, a proper countenance, and a
commitment to effective communication—are essential to the productive growth of interpersonal
relations. And it is this growth in relations that is the substance of Confucian ethics. On the other
hand, a failure to cultivate such dispositions precipitates vulgarity, impropriety, and violent,
rancorous actions. This kind of behavior is an immediate source of diminution and disintegration in
one’s relations, and as such, is for the Confucian the substance of immoral conduct. By way of
contrast with this vital concern about the quality of personal relations, the formal and material
trappings of a refined life—the example given here is the arrangement of ritual vessels—is of
relatively marginal significance. It is thus that the familial and social roles are seen to have normative
force, serving us as concrete guidelines for how we ought to proceed, and quite felicitously, what we
should do next. Indeed, it is this continuing process of elevating, refining, and deepening our lived
roles and relations to make the most of our associated lives that prompts us to describe Confucian
morality as an ethics of roles, and to claim that Confucian role ethics, in our view, is importantly a
sui generis vision of the moral life.
In Confucian role ethics, the assumption is that the social and political order emerges from and
is dependent upon personal cultivation within the institution of the family and by extension, the family
lineage. The renowned sociologist Fei Xiaotong reflects upon the contemporary configuration of the
Chinese kinship-based sociopolitical model of governance that can be attested to as early as the
canons and the bronze inscriptions of the early Zhou dynasty.1 Fei introduces distinctions that contrast
the Western group of discrete individuals and their rule-governed social organizations functioning
within clearly defined boundaries—what he calls “the organizational mode of association”
(tuantigeju 團體格局)—with the Chinese kinship model that he calls “the differential mode of
association” (差序格局).2 The image Fei uses for the organizational mode is of individual straws
collected to form a haystack—a bundle of discrete, individual entities. This contrasts with Fei’s
analogy for the differential mode of “the concentric circles formed when a stone is thrown into a lake,”
a relational image that is reinforced by the fact that the character for “ripples” or “rippling” (lun 淪)
is cognate and homophonous with the graph for “relational order” (lun 倫). Perhaps the important
implication in Fei’s distinction between these two different modes of association is the presence of a
common organizing principle that makes persons equal in the organizational mode of association
(some variation on the concept of “God” or “law” in the broadest sense) verses the interrelated and
graduated differences in personal roles and relations that are at play in the differential mode. This
implication is evident in different assumptions in the construction of personal identity, that is, a

1 Yiqun Zhou, Festival, Feasts, and Gender Relations in Ancient China and Greece, p. 147 also argues that “the home,
where one engaged in daily practices of kinship-centered moral precepts and religious ceremonies, was the site for the
most fundamental education in Zhou society.”
2 Fei, Xiaotong, From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society, A translation of Xiangtu Zhongguo 鄉土中國 by
Gary G. Hamilton and Wang Zheng, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992, p. 63.

tension between an appeal to one’s perceived rights and entitlements on the one hand, and attention
to the managing of one’s personal connections on the other.
Fei Xiaotong insists that “Confucian ethics cannot be divorced from the idea of discrete centers
fanning out into a weblike network”1 that is “composed of webs woven out of countless personal
relationships.” 2 He would further claim that this predominant pattern of kinship relations in
hierarchically defined roles and relations produces its own distinctive kind of morality in which “no
ethical concepts . . . transcend specific types of human relationships.”3 That is, kinship as the root of
human relations is defined by the values of “family reverence” (xiao 孝) and “fraternal deference” (ti
悌). And friendship as the way of extending this pattern of kinship relations to include non-relatives
is pursued through an ethic of “commitment and resolve” (cheng 誠), “doing one’s utmost” (zhong
忠), and “making good on one’s word” (xin 信).4 All such ethical values are aspired to within the
specific personal relationships of family members and community.
This intimate relationship between ethical values and social roles brings to mind a passage from
the Mencius in which this relation-based vocabulary of role ethics is historicized, taking it back to the
earliest stages of evolution of human civilization that took place in the Xia dynasty. During the reign
of Yao and then Shun, the land was cleared, and Yu drained the waters to make the cultivation of
crops possible.

(The minister of Shun and legendary cultural hero) Houji 后稷 taught the people how to sow and reap
their crops, and how to plant and grow the various grains. When these grains ripened, the people
flourished. But human beings have their proper way, and even when they have full stomachs, warm
clothing, and comfortable housing, without education they are little more than animals. These sage rulers
were much concerned about this situation, and sent Xie as Minister of Education to teach the people by
appealing to propriety in human roles and relations: that is, there is affection to be had in the roles of
father and son, the pursuit of optimal appropriateness to be had in the roles of lord and minister,
appropriate distinctions to be made in the roles of husband and wife, a proper hierarchy to be observed
in the role of elders and juniors, and fidelity to be achieved in the role of friend and friend.5

It is because the entry point for developing moral competence in the Confucian vision of the
moral life is family relations in the broadest sense that xiao 孝 as “family reverence” has its singularly
important place in the Analects. And to better understand the notion of xiao itself, we need to clarify
the nature and the significance of the institution of family within this Confucian context. Again, Fei
Xiaotong, draws a contrast between the nuclear “family” that for anthropologists takes on its major

1 Fei, From the Soil, p. 68.

2 Fei, From the Soil, p. 78.
3 Fei, From the Soil, p. 74.
4 See for example Analects 1.4 and 1.8. There is an ambiguity in the expression “associates and friends” (pengyou 朋友)
as it is used in the documents of the Western Zhou and Spring and Autumn period where these texts do not distinguish
non-related friends from agnatic male relatives—that is, paternal relatives such as brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins, and
so on. Some scholars have argued that pengyou becomes a term commonly used to denote non-kin friends specifically
only in the Warring States period. See Yiqun Zhou, Festival, Feasts, and Gender Relations in Ancient China and Greece,
pp. 110-111 and 137-139.
5 Mencius 3A4: 后稷教民稼穡。樹藝五穀,五穀熟而民人育。人之有道也,飽食、煖衣、逸居而無教,則近於

significance as the site of reproduction, and the dominant historical pattern of premodern Chinese
families. Such families are lineages of persons with the same surname (shizu 氏族), and by extension,
are clans (jiazu 家族) made up of several lineages who share the same surname. While such lineages
also have the function of reproduction, Fei insists that within the Chinese experience they have the
singularly important institutional role as “a medium through which all activities are organized.”1 That
is, in addition to the perpetuation of the family, such lineages have complex political, economic, and
religious functions that are expressed along the vertical and hierarchical axis of the father-son and
mother-daughter-in-law relationships. Lineage relations are again reinforced socially and religiously
through the institutions of ancestor reverence, a continuing practice that archaeology tells us dates
back at least to the Neolithic Age.2
In the early Shang, the ancestors—at least those of the king and the noble families—were
believed to be directly and significantly responsible for the good or ill fortune in the lives of their
descendants, necessitating a propitiating of these progenitors through sacrifice. This belief died out
only slowly, which helps to explain Confucius’s comment that “sacrificing to ancestral spirits other
than one’s own is being unctuous.”3 A part of the genius of Confucius was to appreciate the fact that
these ritual sacrifices could continue to provide a good deal of meaning for human lives and serve as
a binding force in the family and community overall, even when, at least among the intelligentsia, the
supernatural raison d'être for their performance was no longer credible.
Of course, given the fact that the structure of Chinese family lineages has changed dramatically
over time, such generalizations must be qualified by time and place, and by regional and temporal
variations. Having said this, Yiqun Zhou marshals scholarly consensus behind her claim that
premodern Chinese society was “for several thousand years largely a polity organized by kinship
principles.” 4 In weighing the extent to which social and political order was derived from and
dependent upon family relations, Zhou insists that in contrast with the Greeks, “the Chinese state was
never conceived as a political community that equaled the sum of its citizens,” and that “the
relationship between the rulers and the ruled was considered analogous to the relationship between
parents and children.”5 Confucius himself is making an astute observation when he asserts that within
this cultural tradition, the proper functioning of the institution of family is integral to the production
of the socio-political order of the state:

Someone asked Confucius, “Why are you not employed in government?” The Master replied, “The Book
of Documents says: ‘It all lies in family reverence. Being filial to your parents and finding fraternity with

1 Fei, From the Soil, p. 84.

2 See David N. Keightley, “Shamanism, Death, and the Ancestors: Religious Mediation in Neolithic and Shang China,
ca. 5000-1000 B.C,” Asiatische Studien 52, (1998), pp. 763-828. Yiqun Zhou in her analysis of the dominance of kinship
and the inalienable bond between ancestors and their progeny in early Zhou society points out that “Nearly one-sixth of
the Odes pertain to ancestral sacrifices, including the ceremony proper and the subsequent feast. These pieces demonstrate
the central importance of the ancestral banquet for our understanding of the Zhou discourse of sociability.” And further,
that “ancestor worship entails not only memorial rituals that are regular, systematic, and continuous, but also, more
important, incorporation of the dead into a descent group as permanent members endowed with an essential role in forging
group solidarity.” Yiqun Zhou, Festival, Feasts, and Gender Relations in Ancient China and Greece, pp. 104 and 112.
3 Analects 2.24: 非其鬼而祭之,諂也。
4 Yiqun Zhou, Festival, Feasts, and Gender Relations in Ancient China and Greece, p. 19.
5 Yiqun Zhou, Festival, Feasts, and Gender Relations in Ancient China and Greece, pp. 17-18n51.

your brothers is in fact carrying out the work of government.’ In doing these things I am participating in
governing. Why must I be employed in government?”1

Indeed, it is this persistent family-based sociopolitical organization of Chinese society that has
within this antique culture, late and soon, elevated the specific family values and obligations
circumscribed by the term xiao to serve as its governing moral imperative.

1 Analects 2.21: 或謂孔子曰:「子奚不為政?」子曰:「《書》云:『孝乎惟孝、友于兄弟,施於有政。』是


Toward a Rehabilitation of the Theory of “Conscience Collective”

Kunitake Ito


However large or small, a community is not an aggregate of its members. It is an entity sui generis.
What is the unifying and driving force of our community? More than a century ago, in the 4th World
Congress of Philosophy, held in Bologna, 1911, Émile Durkheim answered that it is the “conscience
collective” which is the forming and driving almost all kinds of community. I believe that it is
important to rehabilitate his theory today, because, firstly, his concept of this special consciousness
is much better than any model of social mentality proposed in the 20th century philosophy, for
example, structuralist and post-structuralist analyses of social mentality (Lévi-Strauss and Derrida),
and, secondly, his vocabulary is still under the spell of representationalist understanding of human
mind and, therefore, needs to be renovated by way of the linguistic understanding of human mind
(Peirce and Wittgenstein). I point out the merits of Durkheim ‘s theory and try to reformulate it in an
upgraded form, the theory of collective consciousness fully linguistically interpreted.

In 1911, at the fourth international meeting of our World Philosophy Congress held in Bologna, Émile
Durkheim made an address under the title of “Value judgements and judgments of reality”, which
was soon to be published in the special issue of Revue métaphysique et morale in the same year. Even
though it is more than one hundred years old, his talk is still very important, because its theory of
social mentality, i.e., the theory of so called “collective consciousness”, is the most promising idea
concerning the essential factor of community formation in general, and also because it provides a
very interesting theory of the social values in general.
Durkheim’s theory is, however, needs a sort of rehabilitation because his theory is formulated
in the terms of representational viewpoints of late 19th and early 20th century philosophies. We have
experienced the linguistic turn in 20th century philosophy. So, we need to reformulate his theory in
the style of linguistic philosophy. In this talk, I am, firstly, going to point out the significance of
Durkheim’s ideas and then, am going to present its core ideas in a morel explicitly linguistic scheme.
My talk is basically a lesson in the history of philosophy, but, needless to say, it is not simply that. I
use the theory of Durkheim as a starting point, and hope that from this point grows a new productive
vision of social mentality.

1. A Theory of Social Mentality

We are almost always identifying our existence and characters in terms of our membership in some
communities. The identification is usually not single fold but multifold. I am a member of my family,
my city, my university, my amateur orchestra group, my volunteer working group, etc. etc. We are
members of many overlapping and crisscrossing groups. Aristotle said we are political animals. We

are communal existence. The communitarian theory of ethics can be considered to be a branch of
much more general communitarian theory of social existence and values.
Now, Durkheim’s theory of collective consciousness in early 2oth century is unique in its
comprehensiveness. It explains both the nature and formation of our communal existence and values.
It is almost forgotten in the domain of current philosophical discussion about human sociality. The
main reason of this lack of interest in his discussion of social mentality is, perhaps, its apparent
similarity to Hegel’s concept of Objective Spirit. But Durkheim’s theory has nothing to do with the
Hegelian theological orientation. His philosophy of religion is deeply imbedded in his theory of
sociality. In his case, a theory of collective consciousness provides with the theoretical foundation of
social religiosity, not vise versa, as is the case of Hegelianism.
Durkheim said that individual minds are able to enter into close relation with and work upon
each other, from their “synthesis” arises a new kind of psychic life. It is clearly distinguished by its
special intensity from mental life led by isolated individual. Sentiments born and developed in the
group have a greater energy than purely individual sentiments. A man who experiences such
sentiments feels himself dominated by outside forces that led sentiments and pervade his milieu. He
feels himself in a world quite distinct from that of his own private existence.
According to Durkheim, this world of collective psychic life is a world not only more intense
but also qualitatively different. Following the collectivity, the individual forgets himself for the
common end and his conduct is oriented in terms of a standard outside himself. At the same time, and
owing to their theoretical nature, those forces are not easily controlled, canalized and adjusted to
closely determined ends. They need to overflow for the sake of overflowing, as in plays without any
particular objective, at one time in the form of stupid destructive violence or, at another, of heroic
folly. It is in a sense a luxurious activity since it is a very “rich” activity. For all these reasons this
activity is qualitatively different from everyday life of the individual, as is the superior from the
inferior, the ideal from the real.
Durkheim’s vision of human mentality is, thus, clearly anti-Cartesian and strongly anti-
individualistic. This is a most distinguished virtue of his theory, because the 20th century philosophy
failed to formulate a thoroughly non-individualistic vision of human being. We are still prone to
search for both an anti-individualistic and anti-Cartesian philosophy of human being, but in vein, as
is clear from the cases of structuralism and post-structuralism. This search is in vein because theories
like Levi-Strauss or Derrida are indeed anti-Cartesian but not an-individualistic. It is an individualism
of other than Cartesian sort. It is a Rousseau type individualism and not a thorough avowal of the
dominance of social mentality over the individual. It is a peculiar individualism of “other than myself”
Now, how could this kind of mental synthesis be formed by the interactions and communications
between plural individuals? Durkheim explained this possibility of synthesis by means of the model
of linguistic exchange. He developed an original theory about human communication in his major
works on Social Division and other philosophical essays. We can summarize his analysis in the
following three points.
(1) There is nothing in principle in the individual’s mental world which has not been derived
from the social consciousness. Almost all mental states in our personal psychic life are not possible

in the completely solitary conditions. The forms of our conceptual thinking largely depend on our
social environments. If transformed into different milieu, our styles, forms, meanings, contents of
consciousness become very different.
(2) The channels of the interactions of social consciousness and personal consciousness are
language and symbols. The interactions are reciprocal and the evolutions are mutual. The collective
consciousness develops by the social-personal mental interactions.
(3) The original source of higher rational thinking lies in the domain of social consciousness.
The fundamental categories of exact sciences and highly spiritual morality and religion are derived
from the working of collective consciousness. There are so many kinds of categorical distinctions in
our factual and value judgements, but the most basic conceptual distinction is, perhaps, that of sacred
and profane. This distinction is very much significant not only in the religious thinking but also
theoretical, scientific thinking because there is a sort of analogical resemblance between various kinds
of dichotomous distinctions between, say, space and time, good and evil, past and future, fact and
value etc. etc. The formal logic of social consciousness is therefore summed up to be distinction and
analogical association.
We will think about these points in more detail below, but here we must first give attention to
the fact that this is a unique kind of “Realism” of social mentality. Durkheim treats collective
consciousness as an entity outside of our individual beings, which are energetic and working on us
by itself. He takes this kind of mentality realistically. He take it also as a synthesis of personal
consciousness. There is a mutual formation between individuals and community. How is the mutual
formation possible? The answer is “By way of the linguistic and symbolic communication”. What is
the fundamental logic of this communication? The answer is “The participation into the categorical
distinction and analogical association”. We can characterize this theory as “a communicational
realism of social consciousness”.

2. A General Theory of Social Values

Now, as we have seen in the previous section, Durkheim thought that the collective consciousness
works, in contrast to our individual mental life, as an ideal form of mentality. It means that the very
awareness of his own society forces the individual not only to feel the working of strong energy
coming from outside into himself but also transcend himself and to participate in a higher form of
life. A community cannot be constituted without creating ideals. These ideals are simply the ideas in
terms of which society sees itself and exists at a culminating point in its development.
To see society only as an organized body of vital functions is to diminish it, for this body has a
soul which is the composition of collective ideals. Ideals are not abstractions, intellectual concepts
lacking efficient power. They are dynamic beings, because behind them are the powerful forces of
the collective. They are themselves collective forces, natural and moral at the same time. The reason
why the ideal can partake of reality is that it derives from it while transcending it. The elements that
combine to form the ideal part of reality, but they are combines in a new manner and the originality
of the method of combination produces the originality of the synthesis itself. Left alone, the individual
could never find in himself the material for such a construction. Relying upon his powers, he could

never have the inclination or the ability to surpass himself. His personal experience might enable him
to distinguish ends already realized from those to be desired, but the ideal is not simply a future goal
to which is lacking and aspires.
The ideal has its own reality and nature. It is to be thought of rather as looming impersonally
above the individual wills that it moves. If it were the product of the individual will, it could not be
impersonal. If we appeal to the impersonal reason of humanity, it will not have its efficient power. If
minds are at one to this degree, it is because they derive their homogeneity from a common source
and in fact participate in a common reason.
Now, it is not difficult to note that here is a clear echo of William James’s emotional theory of
human mentality. Durkheim thought that our mentality has an “action dynamogénique” character. He
admitted that he had learned this aspect of human mentality from The Principles of Psychology of
James. Durkheim’s theory is in this sense a modification of James’s pragmatic philosophy.
However, contrary to James’s rather individualistic understanding of psychic power, Durkheim
lays stress on the social dimension of ideality and transcendence. Our power of aspiration for any
ideal action is deemed to be weak at the level of personal resolution, but can become strong by means
of social association among the members of some community. Our mentality can see their ideal and
transcendental values because our mentality has an ability to be invigorated by common source.
This idea of communitarian value-formation is important in our age, because too much shocking
pictures of all kinds of tragic conflict are deeply implanted in our imagery of present society. There
are indeed too much of political conflict, economic disorder, ideological antagonism, religious
confusion on every corner on earth. But we must keep in mind that it is only from the mental solidarity
of collective beings that any hope for the transcendence of these difficulties for the direction of ideal
conditions can be effective. Durkheim’s theory of social value-formation has a significant practical
value for its reminder of this simple but often forgotten fact.

3. A Reformulation of Durkheim

We picked up the main theses of Durkheim’s concept of the collective consciousness ((1) (2) (3) ) in
the previous section. And we can easily find some theoretical analogues to each of these theses in the
tradition of linguistic philosophy of the 20th century philosophy.
(1)There is nothing in principle in the individual’s mental world which has not been derived
from the social consciousness. Almost all mental states in our personal psychic life are not possible
in the completely solitary conditions.
The most famous modern version of this social conception of “Meaning” is Wittgenstein’s
language game theory. Our mental episode derives its sense, significance, meaning from the shared
“meaning” in our social way of life, rule of game, institution, habit and custom. I and my friend go
together to the voting place of our mayor. I vote for a candidate and he votes for another candidate.
We don’t share opinion about the best candidate, but we are following the same system of voting,
and both my action and his action are getting the same common meaning, which is held by and
sustained by the collective consciousness.

(2)The channels of the interactions of social consciousness and personal consciousness are
language and symbols. The interactions are reciprocal and the evolutions are mutual. The collective
consciousness develops by the social-personal mental interactions.
The most prominent model of this communicative interaction between the individual and the
collective is the semiotic theory of Peirce. Our thinking is possible only in the dynamics of doubt and
belief, and this dynamic mental movement is possible in the context of the exchange between
perspectives of personal and communitarian. Persons and the system of signs are educating each other.
The development of consciousness is nothing but the development of this mutual education/
(3) There are so many kinds of categorical distinctions in our factual and value judgements, but
the most basic conceptual distinction is, perhaps, that of sacred and profane. This distinction is very
much significant not only in the religious thinking but also theoretical, scientific thinking because
there is a sort of analogical resemblance between various kinds of dichotomous distinctions between,
say, space and time, good and evil, past and future, fact and value etc. etc.
The similar view about human conceptual thinking is given, most perspicuously, in the paradigm
theory of Kuhn’s scientific revolution. Our scientific thinking is almost always double faced. The one
face is a practice of normal science which is usually doing basically analogical practices according
to the standard exemplary paradigm. The other face is a trial of revolutionary paradigm for the
solution of anomalous problems. Because of this double faced nature, science may be seen as a
practice essentially dominated by the spirit of distinction and association.
We can thus translate the basic creeds of Durkheim into our vocabulary of linguistic philosophy.
The significance and relevance of his theory is now clear because its theoretical message can be easily
conveyed by our own familiar terminology. However, unfortunately, these language philosophical
reformulation of Durkheim’s theory is not enough for the full appreciation of Durkheim’s insight.
We still need to include the value theoretical aspect of this theory into the linguistic model of human
sociality. The theory of collective consciousness seen above insists that our social mental processing
has a highly energetic value-creating function, and that because of this function the collective
consciousness has a power to prompt the individuals to pursue actions for the ideal. How can we
integrate this aspect of value-creating function into our picture of language game
theoretic(Wittgenstein), or semiotic mutual educational (Peirce) , understanding of language and
It is my own personal opinion that this question is the most important one which could lead our
linguistic philosophy in this century into more fruitful analysis of human reason and action. How can
we see our linguistic competence and performance as a vehicle for the ethical and religious
transcendence. We have not yet the answer, but we can find some hints somewhere in the history of
Josiah Royce, James’s colleague and rival in the philosophy department of Harvard University,
proposed an ethical theory based on the concept of “Loyalty”. Loyalty is a freely chosen and practical
devotion to a cause or goal. Members of any community tend to feel, more or less, consciously or
unconsciously, the urge to be loyal to the cause of their community. But, of course, a cause can be
good or bad one. Loyalty itself is ethically neutral. We can easily imagine the strong feeling of loyalty
shared by the members of some racketeering association. Loyalty becomes ethical only when it

becomes a virtue which makes all social life possible. According to Royce, such a virtue is nothing
but the loyalty to loyalty itself. This virtue is both personal and social at the same time, i.e., both
subjective and objective. It is an ethical tie of personal mentality and social mentality.
Thus, if we wish to understand linguistic communication as a site for the ethical and religious
transcendence, we should find the possibility of this virtue in the interaction of personal speech act
and common meaning. Can we think that our linguistic competence and performance have such a
potentiality toward pursuit of loyalty for the sake of loyalty itself Royce thinks so. We are living in
the world of infinite interpretation. We are involved in a number of different communities (political,
legal, economic, moral, religious, etc), each of which is defined by its purpose or the goal for which
it exists. Our understanding and awareness of own existence is always expressed in terms of the
purposes of these overlapping communities. Therefore, our communicative actions always involve
our orientations toward a variety of social goals and purposes. All of us are the virtual members of
this open and infinite communication. Royce’s semiotic theory of sociality is a theoretical twist of
Peirce’s semiotic theory of thinking. We will perhaps make up a more productive reformulation of
Durkheim’s insight of collective consciousness by making use of Royce’s philosophy of loyalty and
the community of infinite interpretation.

Towards a Global Non-Exclusive Community

Herta Nagl-Docekal
University of Vienna, Austria

Social Pathologies

Examining the conditions of contemporary life, many authors highlight one problem in particular:
the propensity towards an atomistic isolation of the individual that leads to a disintegration of social
bonds and dwindling solidarity. One crucial finding is that these “social pathologies” 1 are rooted in
the fact that the logic of market economy has intruded into all spheres of life. Jürgen Habermas notes:
“Today, the all-pervasive language of the market puts all interpersonal relations under the constraint
of an egocentric orientation towards one’s preferences.” (Habermas 2003, 110-11) Similarly, Fred
Dallmayr maintains that, today, “competition and agonistic struggle” are causing processes of “social
atomization.” (Dallmayr 1993, 249)
Obviously, many people voicing a general condemnation of “Western ways of life” take aim at
this state of affairs. However, a careful distinction is required here: while a rejection of egocentric
attitudes is certainly needed, any sweeping dismissal of “Western values” fails to consider that such
social deficits do not represent the logical consequence of concepts of justice, morality and social life
that have been elaborated since the era of the Enlightenment. It is important to note, for instance, that
Rousseau, Kant and Hegel presented perspicacious assessments of the exaggerated individualism that
has emerged under the conditions of modernity, and that these authors provide us with well-argued
theories of communal life. The following reflections address ways to employ (elements of) their
complex concepts as we seek to counteract social atomization today.

Four Types of Community

It is a received opinion today that the concepts of community that have been introduced within the
framework of the controversy “communitarianism versus liberalism” (in the late 1970s and the 1980s)
are marked by considerable deficits. Currently, more nuanced approaches prevail that suggest
incorporating legitimate communitarian concerns2 in more comprehensive theories. One case in point
can be found in the approaches elaborated on the basis of Discourse Theory. Rainer Forst, for instance,
contends that – in order to capture fully the social challenges facing contemporary people – we need
to differentiate four “contexts” and their respective normative demands. All individuals, he argues,
find themselves involved simultaneously in four different types of communities. Thus we need to
specify the concepts of (firstly) “the ethical person (as a member of an identity-constituting ethical
community),” (secondly) “the legal person (as a bearer of individual rights and a member of a legal

1 For an explanation of this term see: Honneth (1994).

2 Although theories that are commonly lumped together under the title “communitarianism” vary considerably in many
regards, the term is used here for the sake of focusing on one core line of argument.

community,” (thirdly) the citizen (as a member of “a political community” of “politically responsible”
persons), (fourthly) the “moral person” (as a member of the “moral community of all morally
autonomous actors”) (Forst 2002, 4). Let us take up some elements of this distinction, bearing in mind
the question of where further differentiation might be called for.
The concept of “ethical community,” as discussed in the context of Discourse Theory, is based
on the thesis that the legitimate concerns of communitarian claims can be brought to light only by
discarding the exaggerated objections to liberal theories of justice which often constitute an integral
part of these claims. It is, indeed, important to note, for instance, that John Rawls’ concept of the
contract partners “under the veil of ignorance” (Rawls 1971, 136-42) must not be read as an
ontological theory maintaining that human beings are, in fact, isolated subjects. Rawls clearly
explains that his concept rather represents the idea of a hypothetical contract which is intended to
specify the foundation of the constitutional state that protects the equal rights of all citizens. Thus,
critics blaming liberal theories of justice for being “forgetful of context” (Forst 2002, 3), and for
advocating an atomistic concept of society have fallen prey to a misunderstanding. This problem
marks, for instance, Michael Sandel’s thesis that Rawls views the human being primarily as an “un-
encumbered self” (Sandel 1982, 50)1.
Setting aside this exaggerated criticism allows us to focus on reflections addressing the
communal basis of individual identity. Complex studies focusing on this issue have been elaborated
with reference to Hegel’s theory of the “ethical life (Sittlichkeit)” (Hegel 1991, §§ 142-181; Hegel
1970, §§ 513-548), for instance by Charles Taylor (Taylor 1989). Forst summarizes these reflections
in the following way: From the very beginning of our lives we are imbedded in communities that
introduce us into a particular world which is based upon shared values. As members of such an
“ethical community,” we adopt a common view of the world which constitutes a “framework of
strong evaluations” (Forst 2002, 283) that provides us with practical orientation. These shared values
differ from universal moral norms, as they address what is “good for us” (Forst 2002, 283) in terms
of our common self-understanding.2 The family as well as communities defined by ethnicity, religion
or other comprehensive teachings are usually cited as paradigms of this type of communal life, with
a shared language viewed as a common but not necessarily required feature. Since the shared values
are implemented in respective social practices, ethical communities are structured by conventional,
complementary social roles. As one crucial thesis highlights, it is only within the framework of such
a shared communal life that individuals are capable of developing their “unique life history” (Forst
2002, 258). The term “constitutive community” (Forst 2002, 259) signifies that individuals, in order
to understand themselves in terms of their “qualitative identity,” need to be esteemed and recognized
by others who embody the same collective identity. Thus, “one’s ownmost particular individuality is
defined and constituted […] through community with others” (Forst 2002, 285), in a process that is
not without tensions, though, as “the identity of persons is formed in the force field between the ‘I’
and the ‘we’” (Forst 2002, 284).

1 For a well-argued analysis of Sandel’s claim see: Forst 2002, 8-16.

2 Forst notes: “Here no moral ought sentences are formulated that raise a claim to reciprocally and generally nonrejectable
validity” (Forst 2002, 260).

Taking a closer look at this concept of the “ethical community,” we find good reasons for both
affirmative and critical responses. On the one hand, it certainly proves a valid claim that being
imbedded in a particular world, based upon shared values and respective social practices, constitutes
a prerequisite for the first formation of individual identity.This primary socialization remains an
integral part of our identity even when we have fully detached ourselves from the community we
originally belonged to, and from its values. On the other hand, however, we need to consider that, in
real life, conventional ethical communites imply a potential for oppression and discrimination with
regard to internal as well as external relations. For instance, as feminist research has pointed out,
common gender roles have created asymmetrical relations, with women being placed in subordinate
positions in the family as well as in society at large. In more general terms, Kant, in his Doctrine of
Virtue, emphasizes that where “custom, mos, is raised to the dignity of a law […], a tyranny of popular
mores” is likely to result that would be contrary to the duties we have to ourselves (Kant 1991, 256).
Additional problems arise from the fact that conventional ethical communities typically define
their shared identity by operating with the distinction of “we” and “the others.” There is no doubt that
this kind of external delimitation carries with it a propensity for an attitude of superiority and for
humiliating practices of exclusion. 1 Today, tensions of this kind are aggravated by the fact that
practically all countries across the globe embrace a plurality of groups shaped by different
“reasonable comprehensive doctrines” – to cite a term introduced by Rawls (Rawls 1999, 573).
As we face both the internal and external asymmetries that mark traditional communites, it is
obvious that people who suggest that current phenomena of social disintegration ought to be
overcome by adopting, in a wholesale manner, conventional ways of communal life, fail to be
sensitive to the manifold human suffering these forms of life have caused. As is well known, the
liberal constitutional state claims to be capable of curbing both sets of social problems. Of course,
only a brief sketch can be provided here.

The Legal Community

Laws based upon the principles of equality and liberty are intended, on the one hand, to protect
individuals from being oppressed within traditional social arrangements, and to secure their right of
exit, while providing, on the other hand, a forceful framework that allows particular communities to
live according to their shared values, albeit on the basis of respecting the right of all co-existing
groups to do the same. As Rawls emphasizes, it is the crucial achievement of the modern rule of law
to prioritize “the just” over “the good” (as defined by ethical communities). Thus, the protective force
of the liberal state is defined primarily in negative terms, as it aims at warding off attacks on equality
and liberty. On this basis, however, the liberal state is concerned with issues of community in an
affirmative manner in several regards. First of all, it is the very principle of “the ethical neutrality of
law” (Forst 2002, 30) that allows for state support to be granted to diverse particular communities.
Forst explains this implication of the contractual framework as follows: “It is precisely the mode of
reciprocally and generally justifying general norms that makes it possible to do justice to the
communitarian concern for recognizing particular, communal, as well as ‘different’ ethical identities”

1 See, for instance, Chantal Mouffe’s examination of the “constitutive external” (Mouffe 1993, 68).

(Forst 2002, 231). Following this line of thought, states may, for instance, consider it a matter of
justice to grant public funds to institutions owned by religious communities, such as schools or
hospitals. Additionally, the general principles of equality and liberty provide a guideline for people
who seek to modify conventional social practices so as to overcome their hierarchical implications.
Efforts to this effect have already been taken up in the context of different cultures – for instance,
with the aim of replacing oppressive gender relations within the family as well as in the spheres of
the economy and politics.
Most importantly, Rawls claims that the citizens, as they lay down the basic principles of the
constitution “under the veil of ignorance,” form a specific kind of community. With recourse to
Hegel’s critique of Hobbes, Rawls explains the crucial difference between his and Hobbes’s
conception of the contract. In the Leviathan, he argues, the citizens follow their “separate happiness
or security,” lacking a shared aim, and therefore the institutions they establish resemble “a private
society,” as they fail to found a public political life (Rawls 2000, 365). In contrast, Rawls contends
that his Theory of Justice follows the approach of Kant, who maintains that “all citizens understand
the social contract as an idea of reason” that implies the shared end “that they politically establish a
social union”. On this doctrine, “citizens have the very same end of securing for other citizens, as
well as for themselves, their basic constitutional rights and liberties” (Rawls 2000, 365). From this
perspective, the term “legal community” (as introduced by Forst) seems justified.
We need to consider, however, that even just institutions cannot prevent the gradual corrosion
of social bonds in both the private and the public sphere. As Habermas notes, this development leads
to “the transformation of the citizens of prosperous and peaceful liberal societies into isolated, self-
interested monads who use their individual liberties exclusively against one another like weapons”
(Habermas 2008, 107). As we face such tendencies, it seems imperative to turn to morality for a
viable way out.

The Moral Community

In the contemporary “postmetaphysical” discourse numerous authors contend, in a way of arguing

commonly termed “Kantian”, that we need to appeal to universal moral norms in order to establish
the ultimate basis for social life. For instance, Rainer Forst, in his distinction of four different
“contexts” (cited above), places universal moral norms at the very top of this architecture, arguing
that they provide the most fundamental yardstick. 1 As he explains, “moral norms do not replace
ethical values or political norms; rather, they enter into competition with them only where these
ethical values or political norms become morally questionable, that is to say, where they deny persons
basic recognition.” (Forst 2002, 237-8)2 Since, in several variations, this perspective has dominated
the discourse-theoretical mainstream, let us take a closer look at the concept of morality maintained

1 It seems legitimate to leave the third context specified by Forst – the “political community” – unconsidered here, since
its concern, although reflecting important issues, is not of prime relevance for the the ultimate thrust of this paper.
2 With regard to systematic architecture, Forst’s approach differs significantly from Honneth’s (in Honneth 2014), since
the latter, following Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right, defends the priority of the ethical sphere over the
spheres of formal law and morality to a greater extent.

Significantly, moral justification of our actions is considered a matter of discourse. In fact,
discourse is of double relevance here: first, moral issues are seen as generated by conflicts among
actors; secondly, the universal principles that provide the basis for justification are viewed as having
discursive roots as well. As Habermas states, “moral judgements explain how conflicts among
different actors can be resolved on the basis of a rationally motivated agreement” (Habermas 1991,
11)1. Forst, who also views moral issues as conflict-based, emphasizes the right of persons who are
irritated or offended by the actions of others to “request reasons.” Correspondingly, he claims that
each person must be granted the “right to justification” (Forst 2014). As to the criteria of such a self-
defense, Forst adopts the claim of a “discourse-theoretical transformation of the categorical
imperative” (Forst 1994, 403), in agreement with Habermas’s thesis that “‘correctness’, in the moral
sense of a well-founded norm, means that the respective norm ‘deserves’ to be universally
acknowledged in the light of good reasons.” (Habermas 2016, 818)2 Elaborating this thought, Forst
introduces his concept of the “moral community”. He argues that “action-guiding norms,” in order to
proof their “moral validity,” need to be “justified with reasons that cannot be rejected reciprocally
(by ‘concrete’ individuals) or generally (by all the members of the moral community).” In other words,
“the community of all human beings is the justification community in moral questions” (Forst 2002,
268-269), which is guided by “the criteria of reciprocity and universality.” (Forst 2015, 22)3 Basically,
the demand is “respect for other concrete persons with whom one […] is connected within a common
‘context of being human’.” (Forst 2002, 271)
Let us examine whether this concept of morality provides a sound basis for counteracting social
atomism. First, it is important to note that this concept is shaped by the logic of contract. This logic,
while representing the crucial foundation of the liberal state, generates significant problems where
morality is concerned. In order expose these shortcomings, it proves helpful to examine the ways in
which theories that are commonly termed “Kantian” depart from Kant’s original moral philosophy.
A close reading of Kant’s differentiations brings to light, furthermore, that his concept is congruent,
to a large extent, with our ordinary views on moral issues. Only a few aspects can be addressed here,
Firstly, as Kant emphasizes, contractual agreements are, by definition, incapable of generating
a moral attitude. Agreements on rules of action can only concern the “external” aspect: the action as
an observable process. Kant defines norms based on contract as being “directed merely to external
actions and their conformity to law.” (Kant 1991, 42). As regards the “internal” aspect, however –
that is to say the perspective of the agent – it is obvious that I cannot be bound by contract to making
a certain end “my end.” (Kant 1991,187)
Secondly, a circular argument is at work here. The thesis that moral principles represent a matter
to be decided in an unrestricted public discourse fails to take into consideration that moral principles
are required in the first place to make such a discourse possible. With recourse to Kant, Otfried Höffe
addresses this issue lucidly as he challenges Forst’s approach. Human rights, Höffe contends, are

1 Transl. H. N.-D.
2 Transl. H. N.-D.
3 Tansl. H. N.-D.

“precedents, such as the protection of life and limb,which make equal access to the discourse possible
in the first place, and therefore cannot then be suspended in specific discourses” (Höffe 2007, 3)1.
Thirdly, the thesis locating the origin of moral issues in conflicts among actors fails to take
adequately into account what is commonly called “conscience.” It does not reflect, for instance, that
we may view some of our actions as morally wrong, even if no one has observed or contested them.
Significantly, Kant’s approach takes the opposite direction, as he locates the primary source of
morality in the acting subject rather than in discourse. Defining the differentia specifica of humans,
Kant highlights “the original moral disposition in us” (Kant 1998, 69). To explore this shared ability
to distinguish good and evil is the core concern of his theory of the categorical imperative. It is
important to note that the exclusive addressee of this imperative is the subject.2
As regards the others who are affected by our actions, there is a need for differentiation. In order
to implement the moral duty properly, we certainly have to cultivate our sensitivity as to whether
others might be offended or harmed by our actions. In this respect, it is obvious that we need to engage
in discourse wherever possible.3 Critical responses voiced by others can provide invaluable incentives
for our self-examination. The importance of such consultations does not, however, provide evidence
for the claim of a “procedural transformation of the categorical imperative.” On the basis of this
sweeping claim, the moral evaluation of actions would be committed to the public, ultimately denying
the relevance of the agent’s conscience. (We also need to consider the danger of pretence: it is evident
that public pressure on individuals to justify their actions may induce individuals with a talent for
sophistry to hide their actual intentions behind “good reasons” that agree with widely accepted norms,
whereas less sophisticated persons might find it impossible to verbalize adequately their true
motivation.) In general terms, Kant expresses a clear warning, stating that “it is the pure attitude of
the heart that represents true moral value, yet this is never fully perceived by others, very often even
Fourthly, the claim that moral norms are relevant only where ethical or political norms deny
certain persons “basic recognition” (Forst, as cited above), suggests that moral norms primarily
concern the negative duty to refrain from actions that disregard the dignity of human beings. In
common understanding, however, to cultivate a moral attitude requires far more than observing this
negative duty. One crucial feature is the commitment to provide unconditional help and support to
others. Kant focuses on this comprehensive understanding in his Doctrine of Virtue (Kant 1991, 243-
254). (This complex edifice cannot be pursued here, though.5)
Fifthly, the concept of “moral community,” as introduced from the perspective of discourse
theory, appears rather vague. Statements referring to “the community of all human beings” as
“justification community in moral questions” clearly do not suggest that people across the globe are,
in fact, united in explicitly sharing this task. Rather, the idea seems to be that of a thought experiment:

1 Transl. H. N.-D.
2 See, for instance, the following formulation of the categorical imperative: “So act that you use humanity, whether in
your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.” (Kant 1997,
3 See: Nagl-Docekal 2014a.
4 Kant, Reflexion 6858 (1776-78), in: Bittner & Cramer 1975, 125. Transl. H. N.-D.
5 For an in-depth commentary on Kant’s theory of duties see, for instance: Baron (1995).

Facing a concrete conflict, we ought to consider whether a certain norm ‘deserves’ to be universally
acknowledged” (Habermas, as cited above) . Thus, the notion of “community” seems misleading, as
this theory appeals to the equality of all human beings as persons rather than to an actual bond uniting
Kant, however, examines how it might indeed be possible to create a moral community that
includes all human beings. It seems worthwhile to take a look at his reflections, with today’s pressing
issues in mind.

A Global “System of Well-disposed Human Beings”

Kant emphasizes that human beings, while each is familiar with the moral law, do not find themselves
embedded in a moral community. Rather, they encounter what Kant, transferring Hobbes’s concept
of the bellum omnium in omnes from the political sphere to that of morality, terms an “ethical state
of nature” (Kant 1998, 106-8). This term highlights that individuals tend to hinder one another’s
endeavors to abide by the moral law. Kant notes: “Envy, addiction to power, avarice, and the
malignant inclinations associated with these, assail his [the individual’s] nature […] as soon as he is
among human beings. Nor is it necessary to assume that these are sunk in evil and are examples that
lead him astray: it suffices that they are there, that they surround him, and that they are human beings,
and they will mutually corrupt each other’s moral dispositions and make one another evil.” (Kant
1998, 105) Thus, Kant claims that human beings will fail to implement fully the moral law, as long
as they seek their moral improvement only on an individual basis. He argues that “the highest moral
good will not be brought about solely through the striving of one individual person for [his/her] own
moral perfection but requires rather a union of such persons into a whole toward that very end, i.e.
toward a system of well-disposed human beings” (Kant 1998, 109) .
It is important to note that these reflections do not suggest any modification of the concept of
the constitutional state. Kant rather insists on the need to establish both the “political” and the “ethical
state” alongside, yet clearly distinguished from, each another. Examining the relation between these
two types of community, he points out that the ethical state “can exist in the midst of a political
community and even be made up of all the members of the latter […]. It has, however, a special
unifying principle of its own (virtue).” (Kant 1998, 106) (Since the German term Kant uses –
“ethisches Gemeinwesen” – has often been translated as “ethical community,” it is important to note
that this term has a specific meaning in Kant that differs decisively from the way the term is employed
with regard to communities based on a shared identity.)
As Kant emphasizes, it is a specific kind of duty that the moral law imposes in this regard: “In
addition to prescribing laws to each individual human being, morally legislative reason also unfurls
a banner of virtue as rallying point for all those who love the good, that they may congregate under
it.” (Kant 1998, 106) Kant introduces a meta-level here, as the obligation “to become a member of an
ethical community” (Kant 1998, 108) concerns duty as such. We are obligated to contribute to
establishing a society “in accordance with, and for the sake of, the laws of virtue – a society which
reason makes it a task and a duty of the entire human race to establish in its full scope.” (Kant 1998,
106). As this reflection indicates, the ultimate aim is to establish a community of global scope. Kant

argues that “since the duties of virtue concern the entire human race, the concept of an ethical
community always refers to the ideal of a totality of human beings.” (Kant 1998, 107) This
inclusiveness means that the “ethical community” clearly differs from any conventional community
defined by a particular shared identity. Moreover, since it abstains from the logic that draws a line
between “we” and “they”, the “ethical community” implies a source of criticism with regard to
practices of exclusion.1
Addressing the question where we might find an “ethical community,” at least in a rudimentary
form, Kant introduces a link between the spheres of moral life and religion, stating that the concept
of an ethical community “cannot be realized (by human organization) except in the form of a church.”
(Kant 1998, 111) With reference to his insight (cited above) that the laws of virtue cannot be taken
as having been laid down by humans, Kant argues that “if the community to be founded is to be a
juridical one, the mass of people joining in a union must itself be the lawgiver (of constitutional laws)
[…], and the universal will thus establish an external legal constraint. If, however, the community is
to be an ethical one, the people, as a people, cannot itself be regarded as legislator. For in such a
community all the laws are exclusively designed to promote the morality of actions (which is
something internal, and hence cannot be subject to public human laws).” (Kant 1998, 109)2 Therefore
Kant notes that, ideally, “an ethical community really has nothing in its principles that resembles a
political constitution.” (Kant 1998, 112)
This thesis presents itself as applicable to all religious communities. Referring to the epochs of
world history, from early on, Kant contends that the great diversity of religious narratives and
practices may be viewed as so many efforts to realize, within the respective particular cultural
contexts, humanity’s most demanding moral task. This thesis is certainly of interest with regard to
current conflicts with religious connotations: Kant’s prime focus is not on addressing the disparities
– or similarities – of religious confessions on the surface level, as it were, but on considering their
shared moral basis. Significantly, from this perspective every creed, since humanity’s earliest
religious ideas, has intrinsic value, and the task is to examine which contribution each of them has
made to creating a community whose members jointly seek to support and improve their moral lives.

The Duty to Make a Beginning

What follows from all this, here and now? It seems that Kant’s theory of the “ethical community”
could induce significant initiatives with both believers and agnostics. (1) Religious people might be
inspired to re-consider the concept of “church” in a way that leads beyond a narrow, parochial
understanding. Re-reading the basic teachings of their respective creeds, they might be able to shed
new light on the inclusive, moral implications of any religion. Such a renewed interpretation might
help to overcome the duality of over-simplified options common today: either to uphold traditional
teachings and practices un-reflectedly, or to reject dealing with this sphere toto genere. Furthermore,
it would become evident that the term “religious community” requires specification: while empirical

1 Kant’s argument clearly supports Dallmayr’s objection to Chantal Mouffe’s claim that communities are defined
unavoidably by their “constitutive external.” (Dallmayr 1996, 522).
2 For a careful reading of Kant’s conception of “church” see: Anderson-Gold (1991) and Langthaler (2018).

research that explores the pluralistic condition of contemporary societies tends to focus on distinction
and delimitation, the perspective of the believers is, ideally, rather concerned with universal
responsibility. (There seems to be a misunderstanding when Forst locates the topic of religion
exclusively in the realm of communities defined by shared identity, thus disregarding the universalist
claim which relates religion to the fourth context he distinguishes, namely the context of morality.)
(2) From the agnostic perspective, as adopted by substantial segments of the population in many
parts of the world, it seems obvious that Kant’s concept of “church” is obsolete; this view is even
common among Kant scholars. However, in regard of current atomistic trends, it might prove
inspiring, nevertheless, to re-consider his thesis that all human beings are called to commit themselves
to forming a community under the “banner of virtue.” Taking up this call in a secular context will
require the development of innovative practices.1 In which way Kant questions views that define
morality in terms of reciprocity is of relevance here. He introduces an important distinction:
reciprocity, he argues, is a core element of an ideal moral community – something to hope for in the
long run, but this does not justify the thesis that, from a moral point of view, we ought to make
symmetry a precondition of our present actions. In general, the moral law rather imposes on us a
unilateral duty: I am obliged to respect and treat others as persons, even when I have good reasons to
doubt that they would behave likewise towards me. (Kant1991, 247) 2 Poignantly phrased, Kant
contends that the moral imperative appeals to the subject to make a beginning.
Valuable guidelines may be drawn from Kant’s reflections on the respect (Achtung) we are
obliged to show towards all other human beings, simply because they are humans (Kant 1991, 255).
He explains that, while it is impossible to provide a positive comprehensive definition of this duty,
we need to focus on attitudes that inhibit due respect. Kant specifies the vices of “arrogance”,
“defamation” and “ridicule” (Kant 1991, 257-259)3. Obviously, major efforts are needed today in
order to subdue such attitudes, for instance, in the field of the so-called “social media.” It also seems
worth considering humble first steps towards establishing the community of virtue. Reflecting on
manners such as sociability, courtesy, and gentleness, Kant notes that, although they do not contribute
directly to this end, they may “promote the feeling for virtue itself” by at least “associating the graces
with virtue.” (Kant 1991, 265) Why not heed this thought when, on the staircase of our anonymous
apartment building, we meet neighbours whom we do not know, by showing them our kind

1 In fact Kant addresses, in a favorable manner, the issue of establishing an “ethical community” by leaving behind any
traditional churches in a favorable manner, maintaining that the latter only represent historical vehicles toward the united
state of virtue. (Kant 1998, 128)
2 For an in-depth analysis of this issue see Nagl-Docekal 2014b.
3 A detailed comment on this approach is provided in: Sensen (2013).
4 Further inspiration regarding the task of forming a “republic of virtue” can be drawn from Kant’s reflections on moral
education (not only of children). See, for instance, Kant 1991, 266-80.


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Contemporary African Philosophy and the Question of Humanity:
A Critical Review

J. Obi Oguejiofor
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria

Abstract: Contemporary African philosophy has been marked by the issue of identity, seen directly
in the thought of such thinkers as E. W. Blyden, W. E. B. Dubois, P. Tempels, L. S. Senghor, etc; and
indirectly in such trends as the quest for historical precedence of African philosophy, as well as the
debate on it nature and existence. This paper argues that broadly interpreted the quest for identity is
epiphenomenal of the crisis of humanity in the African context reflected both in the often occluded
views of many Western philosophers and their surreptitious counter by contemporary African
philosophers. Relying on the views of such thinkers as T. Serequeberhan and F. Eboussi Bulaga, it
affirms that right hermeneutics of contemporary African philosophy indicates that the furtive quest
for humanity, being in some sense metaphilosophical, should not constitute the main axe of a
philosophical tradition. Reflecting on Marcien Towa’s view about having philosophy and being
philosophers, and Ben Ramose’s universalism of human rationality, it concludes that contemporary
African philosophy in being today more contextualized than ever is making ground breaking changes
in the right direction.
Key Words: Humanity, Racism, Contemporary African Philosophy, Enlightenment, Philosophy
Born of Struggle.

One of the best descriptions of contemporary African philosophy is that it is “philosophy born of
struggle.” As it is very well known this description originates from Professor Leonard Harris a
foremost African-American thinker. Harris employed this description as the title of his anthology of
African-American philosophers published in 1983.1 The struggle referred to in this title is thus not
exactly the same and not within the same context as the struggle of Africans in the continent, but the
two struggles are fundamentally very similar coming from the conception or misconception of
humanity. It is hence not difficult to see diverse aspects of the struggle that is originative of both
contemporary African and Afro-American philosophy: the struggle for freedom, for the franchise, for
equality, for justice, for respect, for fairness etc. In all the quest for these ideals must be different
being differently situated, but their foundation is in all cases the struggle for the humanity of the
human. Thus expected divergence not withstanding hermeneutical interpretation enables us to go to
its root, to explore the foundation, and review how colonial subjugation, openly given intellectual
and “philosophical” backing by so many Enlightenment thinkers helped in making humanity an issue
in contemporary African philosophy. While avoiding sweeping generalization, this will be done under

1 Leonard Harris ed., Philosophy Born of Struggle: Anthology of Afro-American Philosophy from 1917, Kendall/Hunt,
Dubuque, 1983.

the background of how contemporary African philosophy has tried to engage the issue by making it
a real centerpiece of its reflections; followed by a critique of the attempt to make philosophy a
measure of humanity.
That the question of humanity is being raised in the context of contemporary African philosophy
indicates that earlier periods of African philosophy did not necessarily have to be engaged with the
issue of humanity. Whereas for many reasons, the area today known as Africa was relatively poor
and comparatively technologically backward, 1 this reality did not in any way create a sense of
inferiority and any questioning of humanity. For all intents and purposes, if the Africans encountered
at the time of partition are representative of the rest, there is evidence that they were naturally imbued
by self-assurance before the invading colonialists. The Izzi people of the present Ebonyi State of
Nigeria were wont to tell the representatives of the colonial government that they differed to the
heavens above and the earth beneath, but after these two cosmic potentates, they were the third force
and could not take orders from any other human beings. This confident attitude is attested to by other
colonial officials with respect to other parts of Igboland.
Frank Snowden’s research on ancient attitude to blacks and African indicated that in general
their image was very positive in the ancient period:

It is important to emphasize that the overall, but especially the more detailed Greco-Roman, view of
blacks was highly positive. Initial, favorable impressions were not altered, in spite of later accounts of
wild tribes in the far south and even after encounters with blacks had become more frequent. There was
clear-cut respect among Mediterranean peoples for Ethiopians and their way of life. And above all, the
ancients did not stereotype all blacks as primitive defective in religion and culture.2

Given the atmosphere described above, it goes without saying that the issue of humanity
embedded in racism would not arise in the ancient times. Snowden pinpoints the turning point in the
conception of blacks as the moment when blacks were taken to be slaves by virtue of their colour. In
ancient times slaves were men and women from all climes, white and black, who happened to fall
under the circumstances in which they were enslaved. In fact there were more white slaves than black
slaves among the ancients but “anti-black racism developed or increased in intensity after black and
slave had become synonymous.”3 In Westerman’s view: “it spelled the death knell of slavery itself
within the European cultural area.”4 The implication is that Africans came to the new world shackled
and heavily disadvantaged by irrational prejudice. The “need” for slaves in the new world meant
economic and social disorder in the African continent as millions of young and able bodied men and
women were transported across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas and also to a lesser degree to the
As always, practice needs a theoretical support, and the dehumanization of Africans became
backed up with pseudo theories with false and unjustified references to the Bible. Black skin was

1 Cf. John Iliffe, The African Poor: A History, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1987.
2 Frank M. Snowden, Jr., Before Race Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks, Harvard University Press, Cambridge,
1983, pp. 58 – 59.
3 Ibid., p. 70
4 W. L. Westermann cited in F. Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizens: The Negro in the Americas, New York, 1947, p. 110

taken as punishment from God himself, against the background of black-white symbolism,1 and in
the words of Roger Bastide Christians “invented causes for the malady, intended to justify in their
own eyes a process of production based upon the exploitation of Negro labour.”2
Colonialism followed the abolition of slavery and slave trade by its major world practitioners.
As slavery colonialism needed to be justified by a discourse that was not based on fact and that was
self-serving. In all cases there were dubious conclusions drawn to justify anti-human practices.
Hanneh Arendt points out the role of colonialism in fostering inhumanity in the name of racism in
the following words:

It is highly probable that the thinking in terms of race would have disappeared in due time together with
other irresponsible opinions of the nineteenth century, if the ‘scramble for Africa’ and the new era of
imperialism had not exposed Western humanity to new and shocking experiences. Imperialism would
have necessitated the invention of racism as the only possible ‘explanation’ and excuse for its deeds,
even if no race-thinking had ever existed in the civilised world.3

Thus it was what Aredt named “Western Inhumanity” that in turn gave rise to racism as
justification of imperialism or colonialism. Before colonialism came fully to Africa, philosophers of
the Enlightenment had prepared the ground by fostering negative conceptions and pseudo-
philosophical theories about the continent and its people. It is ironical that the Enlightenment
movement that apparently underscored the importance of reason against prejudice and authority,
against the suffocation of tradition in order to give free reign to human unbiased reflections ended up
being apologist of the “most iniquitous transaction in human history.” 4 Among the most prominent
advocates of the epochal dehumanization were thinkers who still belong to the hall of fame in Western
philosophy: Hegel, Hume, John Locke and Charles de Monstesquieu.
As attested by M. B. Ramose, Locke aided the infamy of dehumanization by foisting
superficialities as the essential characteristics of the human being.5 Shortly precedent to him Chareles
de Montesquieu earned distinction as one of the Western thinkers who directly and clearly stated that
Africans were in fact not human beings. The argument behind this ridiculous conclusion was the flat
nose and the black skin of the African: “il est naturel de penser que c’est la couleur qui constitue
l’essence de l’humanité,” (it is natural to think that it is colour that constitutes the essence of
humanity). Again he contended that God could not create a soul due for salvation and then infuse it
into such ugly body as that of the black person. However these pseudo arguments are like subterfuges.
Montesquieu could not hide the hypocrisy in his philosophizing and was able to open up to the true
reason for denying humanity to people on account of the colour of their skin:

1 Frank M. Snowden, p. 70.

2 See Roger Bastide, “Color, Racism and Christianity,” Daedalus 96 (1967): 312 – 327.
3 V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy and the Order of Knowledge, Indiana University Press,
Bloomington, 1988, p. 108.
4 Joseph Anene, “Slavery and Slave Trade,” in African in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, J. C. Anene and G.
Brown eds., Nelson, London, 1966, p. 92.
5 Mogobe B. Ramose, African Philosophy Through Ubuntu, Mond Books, Harare, 2002, pp. 12 – 13.

It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men because allowing them to be men, a suspicion
will follow that we ourselves are not Christians.1

This short statement clearly indicates that his denial of humanity to human beings was solely in
order to justify this treatment in order at least to maintain a veneer of Christianity. In this regard, he
country man Voltaire was more direct if more critical or cynical:

We tell them that they are men like ourselves, that they are redeemed by the blood of a God who died for
their sake, and then, they are made to work like beasts of burden; they are worse fed; if they try to escape
they have a leg cut off; they are given a wooden leg and put to the manual labour of turning shaft sugar
mills. And then we have the effrontery to talk about human rights.2

Hegel’s dialectics was a dream-like structure that distributed the excellence of races based on
what amounts to half knowledge, or outright ignorance, of the people about whom he is pontificating.
Of course in Hegel’s system his Prussian folks represented the highest manifestation of human
ingenuity while Africans were placed at the lowest rung, and in fact outside his self-conceived
humanity-grading system. Hegel knew very little or nothing about Africa, but presented a fiction
about Africa that suited the prejudices of his time. Accordingly Egypt because of the evidence of high
civilization was taken out of Africa and considered together with Western and Eastern spirit: “Es ist
nicht dem Afrikanischen Geist zugehörig.” He was talking about “das eigentliche Afrika (the real
Africa!), but he knew nothing about this real Africa. For him it is the “… Fast unbekannte
Hochland.”3 “Thus the greatest philosopher of the “most advanced” section of human species spent
his time describing in detail – and with vacuous confidence – what he confessed was virtually
The consistency of David Hume in denying humanity to human beings was not better than that
of Hegel. He claimed the superiority of whites over all other races and proclaimed that there was no
invention or claim of civilization among black people. When he was challenged by a counter example,
he reversed his statement5 but again quipped that the mark of invention referred to was like comparing
the sounds of parrots to human words.6
Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze’s Achieving Our Humanity, reads back the racism of David Hume
into the deepest recesses of his philosophy, especially his theory of knowledge. Reasoning, according
to Hume, is nothing but comparison of which there are three levels. ‘In ascending order they are:
when two objects are present, when neither is present or when only one is present.’ Hume names the
first intelligence, the second he calls perception where the mind merely registers what appears before
it without thinking. According to Eze, if all Negroes as a race lack eminence in thought, it means that
the only level of mental activity available (by nature) to them is perception. In other words, they have

1 Charles de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, Benton, Chicago, 1952, p. 110.

2 Cited in A. J. Ayer, Voltair, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1986, p. 103.
3 G. W. Hegel, Vorlesungen űber die Philosophie der Geschichter, vol 11, Glockner, Stuttgart, 1928, p. 135
4 J. Obi Oguejiofor,”In Search of Elusive Humanity: Philosophy in 159 Years of Africa’s Independence,” International
Journal of African Renaissance Studies, 2 (2007), pp. 61 – 62.
5 J. Immerwahr, “Hume’s Revised Racism,” Journal of History of Ideas, 52 (1992) pp. 481 – 483.
6 J. Immerwahr and M. Burke, “Race and the Modern Philosophy Course,” Teaching Philosophy, 16 (1993), p. 23.

passive not active minds. In the section of his Treatise of Human Nature entitled ‘Of the reason of
animals’ (1978, 327), Hume assigns to mere animals the same level of mental activity that he had
earlier assigned to the ‘inferior’ races, and this level is far removed from the proper operation of the
intellectual faculty.1

If, then, for Hume the mental capacity of Negroes as a race – which is to say the level of their humanity
– is more nearly animal than white, is there any reason why the Negroes could not be sold by the white
like a horse … For Hume, the Negro was, in the language common at the time, a legitimate ‘article of

There is ample evidence that not all philosophers of the Enlightenment shared the views
expressed by the foregoing thinkers, Rene Descartes clearly stated that “reason is found whole and
entire in every human.”3 That is why Harry Bracken affirmed that “if one is a Cartesian, a defender
of mind/body dualism, it becomes impossible to state a racist position. Man’s essential properties
reside finally in his spirit. His colour, his language, his biology, even his sex are in the strictest sense
accidental.”4 We have stated the view of Voltaire, and the fact that Hume did have some opponents
to his view. But it is also clear that these anti-human thinkers were sophistic mouthpieces of the
inhumanity of their generation in spite of their pretensions, and so the more balanced and in fact
correct views of some majorly rationalist thinkers were forgotten. It is therefore true that the level of
humanity allotted to blacks among the major Enlightenment thinkers was close to zero.5
It is important to emphasize the fact that the more reasoned and by far true philosophical position
of thinkers of the ilk of Descartes, James Beattie and Spinoza with regard to humanity was virtually
ignored. It all the more emphasizes the influence of the Zeitgeist on philosophers of all ages. In this
regard, there is what we choose to describe as the unfortunate complicity with the racism of the
Enlightenment in subsequent traditions of Western philosophy with regard to what we can confidently
call today the errors of the Enlightenment. Almost all histories of Western philosophy still present
Hume, Hegel and Montesquieu without any reference to their racist views. It means that today it is
still possible to pass through years of philosophical studies in Europe, for example, without hearing
any allusion to the views of Kant, Hume and Hegel on race.
The monumental work of Norman Kemp Smith (1966) on David Hume did not mention his ideas
on the superiority or the inferiority of races. 6 Ram Adhar Mall’s work, Hume’s Concept of Man
(1967), also assiduously avoids acknowledging that Hume advocated the notion of gradations in
humanity. In these two works, James Beattie, Hume’s philosophical opponent, is demonised.
According to Kemp Smith, Beattie did not understand Hume and poured invectives on the empiricist.7

1 David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, ed. A. Selby-Bigge, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1978, p. 327
2 Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Achieving our Humanity: The Idea of a Postracial Future, Routledge Publishers, New York,
2002, p. 67.
3 Cited in Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, p. 54.
4 Harry Bracken, “Essence, Accident and Race,” Hermathena, 116 (1973), p. 83.
5 J. Obi Oguejiofor, p. 62.
6 Cf. Norman Kemp Smith, The Philosophy of David Hume: A Critical Study of its Origin and Central Doctrines,
Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005.
7 Ibid., pp. 544 – 546.

For Mall, Beattie’s reactions to Hume’s writing are ‘hard, rude, and roughly personal.’ 1 However,
Mall omits to use similar description to describe Hume who described Beattie as a ‘bigoted silly
fellow.’ More telling is Beattie’s optimism that “succeeding ages will be astonished to hear that their
forefathers were deluded or amused by such fooleries (i.e. Hume’s opinions).” However, as Mall
rightly points out in a footnote “the treatment that Hume has got in the hands of posterity is just the
opposite of what Beattie prophesied.”2
If Beattie, the anti-racist professor, eventually turned out to be a false prophet, it is squarely
because the Western tradition of philosophy utterly failed to take account of its inglorious past.
Chukwudi Eze decried the fact that a good reference work on Kant; A Kant’s Dictionary (Caygill
1994), did not mention a word on Kant’s view of race – even though Kant wrote five treatises on the
subject.3 Earlier philosophers who studied Kant’s philosophical anthropology including Max Schiller,
Martin Heidegger, Ernst Cassirer, Michel Foucault, van de Pitte all avoided Kant’s theories on race.
Kurt Steinhauer’s Hegel: Bibliography (1995) which compiled essays on Hegel from the past one
hundred years contains not even one article on his views on Africa. Failure to address such inglorious
moments in any tradition indicates either a lack of concern for truth, or that the attitudes which
underlie such moments are still very much alive. No wonder that as late as 1916, Lord Bertrand
Russell was still insisting that Germany had the right to own colonies:4 a ‘right’ which Adolf Hitler
actualised a few years later by seeking to acquire colonies within Europe.
Sweeping such negative views under the carpet has two notable consequences. The first is on
the West itself: rampaging imperialism was given pseudo theoretical backing by philosophers with
their views based on the perceived barbarity of other races and the refinement of the Caucasian race.
This reading of history was defended intellectually/philosophically, in turn, by the vaunted
uniqueness of Greek philosophy and its development. Philosophy thus becomes a sudden appearance,
once upon a time, on the shoulders of Greek genius, moving North to Europe, supporting marvelous
scientific advancement that proved the higher level of humanity of its bearers. Thus philosophy
becomes a test of the humanity of the human as such. It is not surprising that the nation that is heir to
the greatest philosophers of that tradition ended up also producing Nazism which, for V.Y. Mudimbe,
is the ‘natural product’ of Western philosophy. 5 Nazism is therefore not much more than
universalising (by extending to Europe) the same practice that had been unleashed on the rest of
humanity during the heyday of imperialism, and amply supported by its philosophical tradition as
William Shirer amply demonstrated in his Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.6
The second consequence concerns the victims of such inhumanity. The road from being
oppressed to being the oppressor is an easy one. Failure to address inhumanity, and especially failure
to make it as disadvantageous as possible to its perpetrators, leads to its replication in society. The
oppressed hankers for liberation, and this can mean a desire to supplant the master, not in the name

1 Ram Mall Adler, Hume’s Concept of Man: An Essay in Philosophical Anthropology, Allied Press, New York, 1967, p.
2 Ibid., p. 26, n. 6.
3 Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze (ed.), Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, p. 3.
4 Bertrand Russell, Principles of Social Reconstruction, Allen and Unwin, London, 1916, p. 61.
5 V. Y. Mudimbe, p. 104.
6 William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Fawcet Crest, New York, 1959, especially Chapter 4 and the
section on “The Intellectual Roots of the Third Reich,” pp. 142 – 152.

of justice, not as an attempt to restore respect for humanity, but in order to reverse positions. The
story of Liberia is a case in point. A few hundred Afro-Americans who settled in the country and
gained independence in 1847 later established a one-party state with the Whig Party, which ruled
Liberia from 1877 to 1980. It retains the record of the longest uninterrupted reign of any single party
in the history of party politics. The models of these American- Liberians were the white settlers in
other parts of Africa. Despite their own experience of oppression, they colonised, denigrated,
subjugated and exploited the rest of the African population in Liberia. In the then Liberia, only
property owners were entitled to vote, and consequently the vast majority of non-property-owning
Africans did not have the franchise.1 This situation lasted until the ascendancy of Samuel Doe to
power in 1980, through the barrels of guns.
Like Western philosophy, much of contemporary philosophy has also in our opinion not been
properly critical of questionable socio-political-economic and intellectual and cultural standards of
their ambience. In Africa South, this is seen in the dominance of the analytic tradition in the country,
and in the so to speak asocial or apolitical attitude of philosophic workers especially in the so-called
English universities. This tendency still reflects the influence of Apartheid in academic circle in South
Africa. There is first the evident neglect of African philosophy. As Ndumiso Ndlala puts it
“philosophy departments in South Africa have remained willfully ignorant of African philosophy.”2.
In the words of Percy More, this “willful ignorance” is theoretically justified with the argument that
philosophy qua philosophy as an analytic engagement as such should shun social and political
engagement. “According to [them] philosophy is a second-order activity concerned mainly with the
logical analysis of concepts and their meaning. Social and political issues are not accordingly the task
of the philosopher qua philosopher but qua active citizen.” 3 Such thinkers thus hide under the
erroneous reading of analytic philosophy as apolitico-social while reaping full benefit of oppression
or of the denial of dignified humanity to others.
Like the analytic tradition in South Africa, it is our view that in generally contemporary African
philosophers did not rise to the level of philosophical challenge demanded by Western inhumanity in
the form of slavery and imperialism, aided by cohorts of major philosophers denigrating the human
person. We can see this by brief critical review of some major figures in the annals of this philosophy:
E. W. Blyden, Placide Tempels and Leopold Sedar Senghor.
Edward Wilmot Blyden was the first contemporary African philosopher to defend the humanity
of the African by his emphasis on African personality. He was also the originator of pan-Africanism.
His pan-Africanism was aimed against “any forms of racial prejudice and social chauvinism and as a
catalyst to a constructive solidarity among Africans.” He holds that pristine African culture provided
the foundation on which African personality will be built. Focusing on Africa’s glorious past, he calls
on Africans to become consciously aware of their obligation and to the specific character of their race.
This was a responsibility which Africans should not check if they were not to earn the disdain of

1 Martin Meredith, The Fate of Africa: From the Hope of Freedom to the Heart of Despair, Public Affairs, New York,
2005, pp. 545 – 547.
2 Ndumiso Ndlala, “Against an Analytic Conception of Race/ism: An African Philosophic Hermeneutic Perspective,”
(Unpublished MA Thesis, University of South Africa, 2016), 24.
3 P. More, “Philosophy in South Africa: Before and After Apartheid (1994),” cited in Ndumiso Ndlala, “Against an
Analytic Conception,” 41.

other people. It is a divine mandate the abandonment of which will be tantamount to “the worst type
of suicide.” Blyden can thus pass for a very early precursor of Negritude. He rejected the unreal and
negative image imposed on the Negro by white explorers and missionaries, and scorned the
dehumanizing education the African was receiving at the hand of white teachers:

They sang of their history, which was the history of our degradation. They recited their triumphs, which
contained the records of our humiliation. To our great misfortune, we learned their prejudices and their
passion, and thought we had their aspirations and their power.1

Blyden’s main focus was thus traditional Africa. His reflections written before the scramble of
Africa, initiated in Berlin in 1885, and before the parceling of parts to different colonial overlords,
indicate that psychological denigration of Africans or blacks was virtually operative before direct
colonialism. But Blyden preempted what Snowden was to achieve by his research more than a
hundred years later by hacking back to classical times. i.e., that the contempt of blacks was a modern
invention which was unknown to the classical period. “In Greek and Latin languages and their
literature, there is not, as far as I know, a sentence, a word, or a syllable disparaging to the Negro.”2
However his answer to the problem of denigration of humanity was to appeal to traditional African
culture, pan-Africanism and the African personality. Blyden thus virtually set the pace for the quest
for identity in contemporary African philosophy.
Much later in the 1940s Placide Tempels emphasized this issue of identity and humanity of
Africans by explicit recourse to philosophy. His Bantu Philosophy is a testimony to his conviction
that Africans had a philosophy, “their own philosophy.” His effort was to codify this philosophic
principle which in his paternalism is the duty of the European to do. The principles he wanted to
codify among the Bantu include the unity and interaction of beings; brotherhood of human beings;
familyhood and values of kinship relationship; hospitality; fertility; altruism, etc. The main aim of
Tempels’ effort in codifying Bantu philosophy was in order to testify to the humanity of the subjects
of Bantu philosophy. This aim is backed by the conviction that philosophy was a cultural universal,
and so a mark of humanity. Thus Tempels asserts: Celui qui prétend que les primitive ne possèdent
point de système de pensée, les rejette d’office de la classes des homes (He who claims that primitives
do not possess a system of thought, excludes them automatically from the class of human beings).3
Tempels’ work was unique in its boldness. He was by no means outlining a monolithic
philosophy. It is clearly not “our type of philosophy,” but one specific to the African. The boldness
of his project is evidenced in the reception of his book. While it was given a warm greeting by African
and liberal intellectuals, 4 the then Bishop of Katanga demanded that the book be condemned as
heretical that Tempels be expelled from the Congo. It was completely out of tune to attribute a
philosophy to a people that were primitive and who need the nurturing of colonialists and missionaries.

1 V. Y. Mudimbe, p. 121.
2 Cited in V. Y. Mudimbe, p. 110
3 Placide Tempels, La philosophie Bantue, Présènce Africaine, Paris, 1948, p 15.
4 See for instance L. S. Senghor, Senghor: Prose and Poetry, Heinemann, London, 1965.

But the main issue was the attribution of philosophy to these primitives. As Mudimbe stated, the work
would have received a less antagonistic reaction if he avoided the word philosophy in his title.1
But Tempels’ project and its title were heavily influenced by the self-image acquired by
philosophy through the ages – the image of being the highest expression of the human intellect or
rationality. This conception was initiated by Aristotle in the first book of his Metaphysics where he
opined that philosophy should not descend to the level of day to day engagement; that philosophy is
not an utilitarian endeavour and should be engaged in only when the basic needs of the human have
been fulfilled. It is thus an activity reserved for the well to do, to the highest rung of humanity, and
even for the gods.2 It is with this conception that philosophy entered modern African intellectual
vocabulary as can be seen from Tempels’ Bantu Philosophy.
It is as well the quest for the humanity of the human that is the hidden inspiration of Leopold
Sedar Senghor’s Negritude. Negritude was a reaction against the historic denigration perpetrated both
by slavery and imperialism. “Negritude represents an African crisis of consciousness.” 3 French
colonialism introduced the policy of assimilation with the intent of creating new French people from
all French colonial subjects. This entailed the complete abandonment and denial of the cultural value
of the subjects, and a pretention that humanity is realized in French culture. Negritude hacks back to
African and Caribbean heritage to counter the pride of French colonialism. Incidentally its method of
doing this is to show the sublimity of the culture or background of its proponents. Senghor himself
clearly stated that each culture must come to the world stage loaded with its contributions, and without
the intent to deliver such value it is not better than a museum piece.4 That is the underlying quest for
specificity. And Senghor only sang with his poetic acumen, the excellence of Africa: its environment,
its culture, its women, it history. He went as far as propagating an epistemology specific to the
African, 5 and thus inadvertently embraced the otherness of the other, the very principle which
inspired Western rampaging denigration of humanity.6
It is fair though to note that Senghor’s philosophy constitutes an implacable quest for pan-
humanity. For him, the only pan that exists is really Pan-humanity. His theory of the civilization of
the universal is thus the ultimate point of his negritude. Inspired by Teilhard de Chardin’s doctrine of
omega point in his book Le phenomene humaine, Senghor sought the positive values and virtues of
each civilization in a symbiosis of giving and receiving.” 7 Civilization of the universal is thus
described by Washington Ba as the “pan-human convergence towards which mankind is tending.”8
But it is clear that in this pan-humanity, what is fundamental is not so much the humanity that each
person or culture comes with but rather the values they purvey. It is therefore a clear pointer that in a

1 V. Y. Mudimbe, p. 141.
2 Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book 1, 982b 1 – 30.
3 Kamal Salhi, “Rethinking Francophone Culture: Africans and the Carribean between History and Theory,” Research in
African Literature 35 (2004), 13.
4 L. S. Senghor, “Pierre Teilhard de Chardin et la politique Africaine,” in J. Reed and C. Wake (ed.), p.99
5 J. Obi Oguejiofor, “Negritude as Hermeneutics: A Reinterpretation of Leopold Senghor’s Philosophy,” American
Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 83 (2009), pp. 88 – 90.
6 Tsenay Serequeberhan, The Hermeneutics of Africa Philosophy: Horizon and Discourse, Routledge, London, 1994, p.
7 Sylvia Washington Bă, The Concept of Negritude in the Poetry of Leopld Sedar senghor, Princeton University Press,
New Jersey, 1973, p. 179
8 Ibid., p. 153.

somewhat hidden way, the logic is that of founding humanity on something not synonymous with
humanity, on something extrinsic to humanity ontologically speaking. Thus his quest for specificity
unwittingly reaffirms the presupposition of historic dehumanization. In seeking for the values of
civilization of the African, he insists that “these values are what characterized the humanity of the
human in Negro-African existence.” 1 The cultivation of such values are indeed natural and thus
“nature has arranged things well in willing that each people, each race, each continent, should
cultivate with special affection certain of the virtues of man; that is precisely where originality lies.”2
This rather brief review of these contemporary African philosophers serves our purpose in
testifying to what Serequeberhan said of the struggle of African-Americans: “there struggles are
directed at reclaiming humanity within the ambient that has neglected it.” 3 While we have
concentrated on some early major figures in contemporary African philosophy, it is very arguable
that the tendency which can loosely be described as the quest for humanity underlies many issues in
African philosophy. This can in a way be seen in the great attention given to the question of being of
the human, seen communally in the elevation of Ubuntu to the ontological level, where “I am because
we are,” becomes what characterizes the African not in any particular circumstance but always and
everywhere. Again, and almost in the same line the debate on personhood throws back to the quest
for humanity. Personhood is interpreted in many ways, in a communalist perspective; 4 in integrative
perspective.5 Sometimes this is done without critical attention to the implication of what is being
projected or argued.
A clear example is the communalist interpretation of African idea of personhood. The basic idea
that the communal conception is what confers personhood appears to have the same foundation that
racist Enlightenment thinkers had in rejecting the humanity of blacks. It is all very easy to foist
communalism on the African philosophic scene for the sake of specificity while not being critical
enough to note that African communalism, like most social behavior, is the creature of particular
circumstances. The pseudo-arguments of the racist Enlightenment thinkers were also what can be
called communalist conceptions about the humanity of the Other. We have described them as
mouthpieces of their contemporaries, devoid of the critical benefit of proper philosophic discernment.
But the quest for humanity in contemporary African philosophy is to a great extent inspired by
what we have called the honorific conception of philosophy, starting as far back as Aristotle’s
Metaphysics. The basis of this conception is the idea that human beings are rational and that
philosophy is the highest expression of their rational endowment. This is what actually gave rise to
the erstwhile debate on the nature and existence of African philosophy in the 1960s and 1970s in
African departments of philosophy. It is like a furtive quest for humanity. It is backed by the really
unexpressed conviction that philosophy is a human universal, i.e., that every human society must also
have its own philosophy. Tempels gave expression to this as we have seen above; ethno-philosophy
that followed his inspiration argued in favour of philosophy mostly not presented for public scrutiny.

1 Tsenay Serequeberhan, The Hermeneutics of African Philosophy, p. 44.

2 L. S. Senghor, “The Spirit of Civilization or the Laws of African Negro Culture,” cited in Tsenay Serequeberhan, p. 45.
3 Tsenay Serequeberhan, Our Heritage: The PAST in the PRESENT of AFRICAN-AMERICAN and AFRICAN
EXPERIENCE, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, 2000, p. 74
4 See Bernard Matolina, Personhood in African Philosophy, Cluster Publications, Dorpspruit, 2014.
5 See Ike Odimegwu, Intergrative Personhood: A Communalist Metaphysical Anthropology, Lit, Mȕnster, 2008.

The historical trend in African philosophy sought to do the same by its back to Egypt movement, with
its aim clearly spelt by George G. James: “for all people and races who accept the new philosophy of
African redemption, i.e. the truth that the Greeks were not the authors of Greek philosophy; but the
people of North Africa; would change their opinion from one of disrespect to one of respect for the
Black people throughout the world and treat them accordingly.”1 The counter-current to this position,
the professional trend sought to limit philosophy to the ivory tower, debunking for the same unstated
reason both the existence of pre-contemporary African philosophy and its distinct non-Eurocentric
nature. The implication of this discourse for humanity is best expressed in the words of Serequeberhan:

The presence or absence of philosophy in some “honorific” sense has been taken thus far by both sides
of the debate as a substantiation or default of the humanity of African existence. In all this, “philosophy”
is tacitly and surreptitiously (i.e., without even the benefit of an argument) privileged as the true measure
and standard of the humanity of the human as such.2

F. Ebousi Boulaga confirms the view expressed by Serequeberhan. In his opinion contemporary
African philosophy that follows the inspiration of Tempels, either in aping or opposing it constitutes
an attempt to measure humanity but from a more foundational point of view an effort to affirm a
contested and if we may add, a rejected humanity. Boulaga poses the question and provides the
answer in the following words:

Que révèle et cashe tout ensemble la prétention africaine de posséder des philosophies? Par la .prise en
considération du lieu et des conditions où se produisent des discours qui revendiquent le “nom”
philosophie, on s’apercoit que l’enjeu réel est le suivant: le désire d’ attester un humanité contesté.3 (What
does the African pretention to possess philosophy reveal and hide? Taking into consideration the place
and the conditions where these discourses which claim the name philosophy are produced, one can see
that the real issue is the following: the desire to attest to a contested humanity.)

The acceptance of philosophy as a test of humanity or as an attempt to attest to a contested

humanity is wholly tantamount to buying into the presuppositions of the denial of the humanity of
the African and other humanity. It should never be forgotten that thinkers of the ill of Hegel, Hume
and Montesquieu drew the conclusion from their supposed view of Africans and other (to them) “sub-
human” human beings by falsely referring to the absence of inventions or productions, and only rarely
to the physical features of the dehumanized. For Hume there is nowhere found any black that has
made any invention, and that for him in his two publications were enough to consign them to the level
of brutes. The fault line in the quest for humanity through philosophy which is a mark of
contemporary African philosophy is that the same logic of basing humanity, not on itself but rather
on some other factors, inventions, ingenuity, or philosophical acumen returns to a vicious circle. It is
after all on account of some presumed lack that they were dehumanized or thrown out of the circle of

1 Geoge G. M. James, Stolen Legacy: Greek Philosophy is Stolen Egyption Philosophy, Africa World Press, Trenton,
1992, p. 153.
2 Tsenay Serequeberhan, The Hermeneutics of African Philosophy, p. 4.
3 F. Eboussi Boulaga, La crise du Muntu: Authenticité africaine et philosophie: essai, Présence Africaine, Paris, 1977, p.
7. (The translation is mine.)

humanity. Whatever that particular factor is taken to be, still amounts to the acceptance of the faulty
logic of the oppressor.
The quest for humanity through philosophy filters into what Wiredu called the fallacy of
uniqueness; 1 it is found in the preponderance of the search for identity which for Masolo also
significantly marks contemporary African philosophy. 2 For Boulaga erecting philosophy as the
ultimate symbol of humanity means that “philosophy is an attribute of power. But it is the West which
habours (and distributes) this power. There is no philosophy except it is associated with power, with
mastery.” (La philosophie est an attribute de pouvoir. Or, c’est l’Occident quie détient (et distribute)
celui-ci. Il n’ya de philosophie qu’associée au pouvoir, à la maiîtrise.)3
Viewing humanity in this manner speaks of many failures. The first is the failure to criticize and
exposed the dismal historic inadequacies of Western philosophy, especially the movement of the
Enlightenment. In our view, this failure owes to the fact that contemporary Western philosophy as
we have seen has remained virtually silent about this aspect of its past. Hardly any history of Western
philosophy contains references to the denial of humanity recorded on the pages of the Enlightenment.
It is possible that if histories of Western philosophy paid adequate attention to this sad failure of it
giants and heroes, a much later philosopher like Martin Heidegger would perhaps not have fallen so
easily into his adventure with Nazism.
On account of the domination of philosophical programs in Africa on Western philosophy,
Western philosophers are still studies in many parts of Africa with complete dependence on such
texts. Consequently it is still possible today to go through philosophical programmes without as much
as being informed about the failure of Western philosophers before the issue of humanity of the other.
This situation also leads to the failure to expose the vacuity of what we choose to call the vaunted
sublimity of philosophy, especially Western philosophy. It is this bloated self-image that led to the
erection of philosophy as the measure of the humanity of the human. It is quite clear that on a realistic
plane, there is little evidence that philosophers are generally known to think beyond the context of
their engagement. This in turn raises the question of hermeneutics as the most appropriate description
of and method in philosophy. It is clear that whether philosophers like or know it or not, the influence
of their ambience is much more consequential than many like to believe.
Our view is that foisting philosophy uncritically as the test of the humanity of the human; in
trying to affirm contested humanity by recourse to philosophy, contemporary African philosophy
failed in its critical function, and gave credence to the false suppositions of earlier thinkers that did
not proclaim the common and share humanity of the human. The right critical stance should have
been to challenge and expose the errors of thinkers of the ilk of Hegel, Hume, Kant and Montesquieu.
Doing so would not only have served as a caveat to future thinkers, but also lead to a better and more
realistic self-conception of philosophy. Against this general failure, one can still single out two
philosophers who were able to see through the pretention of philosophy both Western and African
and tried to properly direct their philosophic concern to the right end.

1 Kwasi Wiredu, “Problems in Africa’s Self-Identification in the Contemporary World,” in Alwin Diemer (ed.), African
and the Problems of its Identity, Peter Lang, Frankfurt a.M., 1985, p. 222.
2 See D. A. Masolo, African Philosophy in Search of Identity, University Press of America, Bloomington, 1994.
3 Ibid., p. 8 (The translation is mine.)

Mogobe B. Ramose returns frequently to the issue of the rationality of the human being, and
how this so to say essential feature was denied not only to blacks but also to women, Amerindians,
and Australasians. Ramose takes this error as the basis of racism and colonialism which have left
lasting consequences on the colonized and the dehumanized. He avers that this false assumption,
meant to aid both unjust conquest and subsequent colonization was based on “basic contradiction in
internal logic.”1 Even when such manifestations like scientific racism was completely trumped by the
truth, it was not thereby laid to rest. It is on record that European Christians were debating seriously
whether human beings had a soul and that at a particular point the Supreme Pontiff Paul III, in 1537
had to declare in a Papal bull Sublimis Deus that “all men [and women] are rational animals.” For
Ramose, the ripple effects of these communal errors continue to be felt to the present day:

In our time the struggle for reason is rearing its head again around the globe especially in the West under
the familiar face of resilient racism. Despite the defeat of scientific racism long ago, it is pertinent to note
its current resurgence appositely called the bell curve wars in the United States of America. Similarly the
political ascendency in Western Europe of political parties less accepting of people in many ways unlike
them means that the triumph of science against racism continues to have minimal political effect.2

Ramose was writing the above lines in 1999, and was alluding to the bell curve movement. In
1994 R. J. Herrnstein and C. Murray wrote a book titled The Bell Curve, intended to demonstrate the
superiority of white people to other races of human beings.3 It speaks of the resilience of racism and
the inhumanity that follows on its heels that after all that has been scientifically proven against
scientific racism; such arguments as the bell curve, no matter how obtuse were given attention in
Western media. The rise of ultra-right political parties has since been on the increase. The United
State of America today has a president who finds it difficult to condemn the misdeeds of racist groups;
and in Europe Austria once again made history by having an extreme right party in government
through electoral victory. Victor Urban in Hungary is not in the least doing badly on account of his
racist and intolerant views and in Germany, though the extreme right party is not exactly in
government, its performance in the last election and its large number of parliamentary seats point to
how well this movement is doing in 2018.
While Ramose challenges the irrationality of inhuman and racist attitudes, Marcien Towa
underlines the futility of seeking humanity through a show of philosophy. In his famous words: “that
we have a philosophy does not mean that we are philosophers.”4 This is of course a reference to the
quest for philosophy which Boulaga and Serequeberhan have referred to. Towa’s opinion is that in
fact having had philosophy in the past is not of much use if today we are unable to key into the
positive values of that philosophy. It strikes against philosophy as mere honorific genre. Indirectly
also it strikes against the use of philosophy to affirm humanity and challenges the continual

1 Mogobe B. Ramose, African Philosophy Through Ubuntu, revised edition, Mond Books, Harare, 2002, p.5
2 Ibid., p. 2.
3 R. J. Herrnstein and C. Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, Free Press, New
York, 1994.
4 For a reflection on this statement see J. Obi Oguejiofor “Reflections on Marcien Towa’s Unique Idea of Contemporary
African Philosophy,” in J. E. Mabe (ed.), Apologie de la raison: Homages a Marcien Towa (1931 – 2014), Verlag
Traugott Bautz, Nordhausen, 2015.

reaffirmation of any value which philosophy pretends to purvey. Towa’s statements also entails that
being philosophers should also include being able to be critical vis-à-vis the errors of the past whether
it is our own past or the past of others. In being philosophers of the present age we are thereby
challenged to rise about the foibles and insensitivities of the past which as we have seen is not very
much evident in contemporary Western philosophy.
Failure of the Enlightenment to affirm the common humanity of the human, and that of
subsequent European philosophy to learn from this failure, also the failure of much of contemporary
African philosophy to rise to the meta-philosophical level and to accept the common humanity of all
as a given; more so to try to seek humanity through philosophy indicate that right philosophy in our
time needs a new direction. In Africa, philosophy is today challenged to play a role in development;
to be relevant in the life of the subjects, socially, politically, economically and culturally. Philosophy
is being challenged to abandon its cozy ivory tower and to engage in the amelioration of the human
predicament in Africa. That indeed is a step in the right direction.
We have tried to show that the issue of humanity in contemporary African philosophy was
generated by the dehumanization of the Africans by historical events like slavery and imperialism.
These events were as inhuman as they may be judged were amply supported by major figures in
Western philosophy especially though not limited to the Enlightenment period. The surreptitious
reaction of much of contemporary African philosophy was to demonstrate the humanity of the
oppressed by recourse to philosophy, not in terms of criticism of the obtuse logic of defenders of
inhumanity but by showing that Africa has its own philosophy. This is tantamount to keying into the
logic of dehumanization by basing it on incidental, not essential factors. The failure of both Western
and African philosophy before the humanity of the human deflates the exhaulted self-image of
philosophy. And so it is an invitation to continuous and constant such for a better direction by making
philosophy responsive to the demands of humanity in all its dimensions, social, political, economic,
religious, etc. That much of African philosophy is doing this today is bold step in the right direction.

Still Life

Guillermo Hurtado
National Autonomous University of Mexico

In still lives, victuals and flowers are portrayed placed in domestic spaces. When they display food,
the paintings often include plates, vessels, cutlery and similar utensils, and when they show floral
arrangements, they incorporate vases, books, clocks and various instruments. In Spain, paintings of
the first kind were called bodegones, and the ones from the second kind were called floreros.1 In
spite of its popularity during the XVI and XVII centuries, the genre was considered as minor:
decorative painting, regardless of the excellence of the artist's technique.2
It was not until the second half of the XVIII century that this genre began to be known as
"naturaleza muerta" (still life). This denomination, shared with French, nature morte, and with
Italian, natura morta, contrasts with the one preserved in Northern Europe, Dutch, stilleven, German,
still-leben, and English, still-life. The terminological difference is not innocuous since it gives way
to two hermeneutics that do not always coincide.3 It is not the same to describe objects as fixed in a
place or moment than to declare them deceased, although they are being portrayed as appealing and
fragrant. However, beyond this discrepancy, it should be noted that both denominations are
suggestive metaphors.
The phrase “naturaleza muerta” is a nominal idiom in the form of noun + adjective, like
“rational animal" or "common sense". The word “naturaleza” (nature) comes from the Latin word
“natura”, which proceeds from “natus”, participle of the verb “nasci”, whose Spanish equivalent is
“nacer” (to be born). Given that "morir" (to die) is the opposite of "nacer", the phrase "naturaleza
muerta”, although not quite an oxymoron, gives off an air of paradox, even of cruelty. Calling a
painting of a harmless fruit bowl “naturaleza muerta” creates an unrest that moves us to reflect on
life and death.
Hans Blumenberg defined absolute metaphors as those that indicate “the certainties, the
conjectures, the fundamental and supportive values that regulate activities, the expectations, the
actions and omissions, the aspirations and illusions, the interests and indifference of a certain time."4
Is the phrase “naturaleza muerta” an absolute metaphor? It is not obvious that it is. However, I
consider that it can be worthwhile to examine it by employing a similar methodology as the one
employed by the German philosopher.5
The metaphor “naturaleza muerta” was adopted in the aesthetic discourse because it reveals
something significant about a set of artworks. Notwithstanding, the hermeneutic relationship
between the metaphor and those canvases is not unidirectional. Those same paintings can help us
unveil the existential key points of the metaphor, this is to say, what it tells us about the meaning of

1 Peter Cherry, Arte y naturaleza. El bodegón español en el Siglo de Oro, Editorial Doce Calles, Aranjuez, 1999.
2 Antonio Palomino, El Parnaso español pintoresco laureado, Tomo Tercero, Madrid, 1724.
3 Omar Calabrese, “Naturaleza muerta”, en ¿Cómo se lee una obra de arte?, Editorial Cátedra, Madrid 1993.
4 Hans Blumenberg, Paradigmas para una metaforología, Madrid, Editorial Trotta, 2003, p. 63.
5 Hans Blumenberg, Salidas de caverna, Madrid, Editorial Antonio Machado, 2004 y Naufragio con espectador, Madrid,
Editorial Antonio Machado, 1995.

our lives. This is the assumption I will adopt here. In order to examine the metaphor, I will not only
use literary or philosophical texts, but also a succession of paintings from the Baroque period –not
all of them from the still life genre- and, towards the end, also some pieces of contemporary art. I
will deal with these works as if we were doing a tour through the rooms of an imaginary museum.1
I will warn that this route will not be done using art history or art theory standards, but rather
borrowing from the philosophical history of metaphors or, if one prefers, from the concepts that
comprise it, or even better, from the way in which those concepts have intertwined with each other.
Although the phrase "naturaleza muerta" did not have its current usage when the majority of these
works were made, while analyzing them we will adopt a hermeneutic sequence form of deployments
and retreats from that metaphor. The ultimate purpose of this study is to move forward in the
understanding of the Baroque concept –particularly Spanish, moreover, Catholic- of existence, in
order to compare it with the concept we have nowadays.

1. Flowerpots and Nuns

Portraying a flowerpot is not an innocent task. Flowers are never just flowers. The symbolisms
associated with them throughout history are countless.2 I will not get lost in this semiotic maze. My
first observation will be the confirmation of a biological fact. An artist who portrays a flower vase
cannot delay his task. Although flowers remain still, they invariably rot within a couple of days. This
is why although their paintings are commonly known as “fixed lives”, flamenco masters also painted
true dying lives, that is to say, representations of the expiration of life.
It is often said that a defining characteristic of still lives is the exclusion of any living being,
especially human beings.3 However, some works of the genre convey a subtle message about the
meaning of our existence. Observe the oil painting of Jan Brueghel the Elder, Bouquet of Flowers in
a Ceramic Vase (FIG. 1). A superb flowerpot is placed on a table. Next to the container, as if it was
a mistake from the painter, we find withered petals, coins, rings; in other words, symbols that give
the work a poetic message on top of its merely ornamental value. Brueghel’s painting is more than
just a flowerpot: on its edges, he tells us something about the fugacity of human life. There is nothing
in the world that remains unchanged. The objects portrayed in stilleven paintings are not an exception.
Whoever wishes for his beauty or wealth to remain fixed forever lives in deceit. This lesson has been
recorded in the phrase vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas. This is how the sub-genre vanitas separated
from the still life genre -in particular from flowerpots-. In this type of paintings, skulls and similar
objects are portrayed, not only indicating the briefness of life, but also the vanity of human objects.
For example, in an elegant artwork of Adriaen van Utrecht, the timid suggestions of Brueghel
become the core of the work: a skull, clocks, books, withered petals (FIG 2). In the vanitas, flowers
transform into allegories. Still life acquires a philosophical meditation bias, moreover, moral lesson
one. As summarized, in an unforgettable verse, by Sor Juan Inés de la Cruz while referring to the

1 André Malraux, El museo imaginario, Madrid, Cátedra, 2017.

2 Lucia Impelluso, La naturaleza y sus símbolos, Random House Mondadori, 2005.
3 Norman Bryson, Volver a mirar. Cuatro ensayos sobre la pintura de naturalezas muertas, Madrid, Alianza Editorial,

proverbial rose: “With learned death and foolish life, living you deceive and dying you teach”.1 It is
in Spain, with the work of Juan de Valdés Leal, that vanitas achieve their gloomiest condition by
completely eradicating any natural element, with the exception of human skeletons. These are not
the paintings -samples of the darkest Hispanic baroque- that interest me, but others from the same
period that convey a very different message. To examine them we must enter a different room in the
In Iberoamerican baroque painting, some elements from the still life genre were incorporated
into a sub-genre of portraits: the crowned nuns. In these works, executed in the Viceroyalties of
Perú, Nueva Granada, and Nueva España, novices were represented embellished with magnificent
crowns and flower palms before entering the convent. The nuns’ floral arrangements were so rich
and elaborate as the ones from a flamenco flowerpot. These paintings were made to be hanged in
domestic spaces: the family houses of the novices or the convent cloisters that hosted them. They
are not allegories, but portraits of flesh and blood women, with names and forenames. Let us observe
the Profession Portrait of sor Ana María de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo (FIG. 3). In this artwork,
there are several elements with symbolic value that are repeated in portraits of this kind: the crown
of virtues triumph, the flowery palm of virginity and the lit up candle of faith.2
The novices left the world of vanity -some of them came from rich and powerful families- to
adopt the austere discipline of the cloister.3 Upon their physical death they left the earthly world and
departed to the grave, with the ornaments of a wife who would finally meet her mystic husband.
This spiritual passage was embodied in the portraits of dead crowned nuns. Let us contemplate Post
Mortem Portrait of Sor Magdalena de Cristo (FIG. 5). This artwork evokes still lives not only
because of the abundance of flowers. The corpse of the old abbess also takes the symbolic place of
the animal corpses that appear in the bodegones. For a greater precision, we might call this a case of
human still life.
The subject of deceit is one of the main topics of Baroque culture: nothing is what it seems.
Still lives of this time are no exception. For example, there have been studies on the close link
between the genres of still lives and trompe-l’œil (optical illusion).4 The ploy is more sophisticated
in the portraits of dead crowned nuns. Here, flowers are symbols of life and death seeking for
redemption. Likewise, nuns die in earthly life and are reborn in eternal life. Portraits of dead crowned
nuns are a naive expression of the supreme paradox of Christianity: human still life is the most alive
one because death is conquered when dying in faith. This paradox is famously phrased by another
nun, Santa Teresa de Ávila, with the sentence “I die because I do not die”.5
The comparison between dead crowned nuns and the vanitas is relevant. In the latter, flowers
represent vanities, while in the former, they represent virtues. A still life of a bouquet, while denoting
the finitude of existence in the vanitas, here it symbolizes resurrection. How did this re-significance

1 Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, “Rosa divina que en gentil cultura”, en Segundo Volumen de las Obras de Sor Juana Inés de
la Cruz, Edición Facsimilar, México, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, UNAM, 1995, p. 279.
2 Alma Montero, Monjas coronadas. Profesión y muerte en Hispanoamérica virreinal, México, Museo Nacional del
Virreinato/ Conaculta/INAH/Asociación de Amigos del Museo Nacional del Virreinato/ Plaza y Valdés Editores, 2008.
3 Asunción Lavrin, Las esposas de Cristo. La vida conventual en la Nueva España, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica,
4 Patrick Mauriès (Dir.), Le Trompe-l'œil: De l'antiquité au XXe siècle, Paris, Gallimard, 1996.
5 Santa Teresa de Jesús, “Vivir sin vivir en mí”, en Obras Completas, Madrid, Editorial Plenitud, 1958, p. 933.

come to be? It has been pointed at the iconic influence of the veneration of Santa Rosa de Lima, and
also at the legend of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.1 We could also add the usage of flowers
and food during the celebrations of the day of the dead in Mexico. This is not the right place to study
this fascinating story. What is important to remember is that, although natural elements are the same
in both cases, the portraits of crowned nuns represent the opposite of the vanitas.

2. From Still Life to the Crucifixion

Let us go back to the room of still lives. Since antiquity, a distinction has been drawn between
megalography and ropography.2 The former refers to paintings of objects or important issues, while
the latter refers to paintings of things or trivial events. The bodegones are a typical example of
ropographic painting, that is to say, of scenes that can be found in any kitchen, with disregard for
the abundance or exquisiteness of the delicacies. However, in Spanish Baroque painting, the still life
genre shifts from the humblest ropography to the most sublime megalography.
It has been said that a difference between still lives for Catholics and Protestants lies in that for
the former they are understood as a gift or offering, while the latter they are taken as a mere aggregate
to perishable goods.3 For example, let us observe the conspicuous bodegón of Jan Davisz de Heem,
which shows a table with hams, seafood, and fruits (FIG. 5). We stand in front what Simon Schama
called the “shame of the treasures” of Dutch life in the XVII century.4 Abundance is a sign of success,
but for a side of protestant sensitivity it might come across as excessive, embarrassing, and even
sinful; this is why it is so easy to jump from there to the sub-genre of vanitas. None of this is felt in
the still lives painted by a Spanish Carthusian monk. The bodegones of Juan Sánchez Cotán stand
out for their austerity and humility (FIG. 6). There is no palace food to be seen in them, but rather a
convent of poor monks. Foods are not displayed in the refectory nor in the kitchen, they are instead
stored in a cellar, literally in a dark cellar (bodegón). Framed in a sort of window, we find small
birds, a few crops, and a thistle which stands out for its elliptic whiteness. The most famous bodegón
of Sánchez Cotán minimizes the amount of food in order to testify on the monastic poverty, and also
on its spiritual concentration (FIG. 7). The modest thistle, placed in the same site, acquires a
disturbing individuality. One might say that the artwork is not about a cellar anymore, but a portrait
of that thistle; moreover, this might not even be considered as a portrait, but a religious scene: the
thistle, in its simplicity, is a gift, a link between God and men.
Still life as an offering reaches its ultimate expression with Francisco de Zurbarán. The
Sevillian artist painted several bodegones in which he depicted with sensitivity ceramic cups and
plates in front of a black background. These are not the paintings that I am interested in here, but
rather in others in which he boldly crosses the borders of the genre. Some authors have noted the
passage that Zurbarán makes from still lives to religious painting, for example, in his representations

1 James M.Córdova, The Art of Professing in Bourbon Mexico: Crowned-Nun Portraits and Reform in the Convent, Latin
American and Caribbean Arts and Culture Publication Initiative, 2014.
2 Charles Sterling, La nature morte de l’antiquité à nos jours, P. Tisné, Paris, 1952 p. 11.
3 Jacques Darriulat, “Vanité de la peinture et peintures de Vanité”, en Pierre Arnaud y Élisabeth Ángel-Pérez, Le regard
dans les arts plastiques et la líttérature, Presses de la Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2003.
4 Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches. An interpretation of Dutch culture in the Golden Age, New York, Alfred.
A. Knopf, 1987.

of the Verónica canvas. 1 However, it seems to me that the most extraordinary shift is found in
another of his famous paintings. Let us admire his painting Agnus Dei, in which he portrays a lamb
with its feet tied up (FIG. 8). The staging reminds us of the bodegones of Sanchéz Cotán: the kitchen
or storage room of a tavern or convent. The sweet whiteness of the animal is highlighted by the
dramatic darkness of the background. The beast awaiting with resignation for its execution is a
metaphor of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. With this work of Zurbarán, the genre of still life, accused
of ropograph, reaches the genre of religious painting, the ultimate summit of megalography.
The Agnus Dei respects the rule of the genre of still life by not portraying human beings. If we
exit again the room of still lives we find ourselves with a work by Zurbarán that surprises us due to
its intertextual references. Let us compare his Agnus Dei with his San Serapio (FIG. 9). Notice how
some formal characteristics of the bodegón have been transferred to this religious painting. The body
of the Mercedarian martyr, tortured by the Saracens, hangs from the roof as if it was a fruit from a
painting of Sánchez Cotán. The saint also has his wrists tied up with a string, just like the feet of the
lamb in Agnus Dei, while his robe is as white as the fur of the animal.
The most extraordinary trans-generic shift that we can guess from the artwork of Zurbarán is
from still life to crucifixion. There are two types of crucifixion paintings: in some, Jesus Christ is
still alive, while in others he is already dead. Zurbarán painted some crucifixions of the second type
that deserve our attention. The Crucified Christ is made with the same technique as the finest still
lives from the artist: the same contrast between the luminescence of the bodies and the silent dark
background, the same solitude of the objects in the representation cap, the same sculptural density
of the simplified volumes, the same fading out exterior horizon (FIG. 10). In this extreme
crucifixion, everything else has been erased: there are no other characters, no landscape, no
narrative. Jesus Christ has been taken to a mysterious inner space that could be the chapel of a
church, the cell of a monk or the hallucination of an enlightened.
Zurbarán’s Jesus Christ is so defunct that the message of resurrection earns an intense meaning.
To display it, let us use a distinctively baroque rhetoric resource. In a pun, two concepts turn around
each other. Like that, from the phrase “naturaleza muerta” we move to “muerte natural” (natural
death). If the concept of “naturaleza muerta” is artistic, then “muerte natural” a forensic medicine
one. Natural death happens due to illness or age, not due to an accident or crime. Crucifixion is not
a natural death because it is wildly violent. Nevertheless, the death of Jesus Christ in the cross had
nothing natural to it -in the widest sense of the word- because it was the death of a God. In front of
Zurbarán’s painting, we witness the mystery of a God that dies like a human being, and of a human
being who conquers death as a God. The image of the crucifixion is the fundamental chiasmus of
Western culture.
Zurbarán offers a naturalist image -in other words: a realist, objective, reliable one- of the
corpse of Jesus Christ. His style is very different from the stridencies of El Greco or Rubens, and
also from the prosaic naturalism -as labelled by José Ortega y Gasset2- of Velázquez. There is no
horror nor compassion for the crucified in the canvas. The painter even dares to show the first

1 Víctor I. Stoichita, “El bodegón a lo divino”, en El Bodegón, Barcelona, Galaxia Gutenberg, El círculo de lectores,
2000, pp. 87-106.
2 José Ortega y Gasset, Papeles sobre Velázquez y Goya, Madrid, Revista de Occidente, 1950.

manifestations of postmortem lividity. Yet, Zurbarán’s naturalism is a baroque ploy. The more dead
appears the nature of Christ, the more powerful will be the announcement of eternal life. Compare
this naturalism with Rembrandt’s one in The Anatomy Lesson from Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (FIG. 11). The
violet corpse portrayed by the Dutchman stands out for of its impassioned anatomic accuracy. But
it is not the corpse, not even the lesson, what matters the most in this work, but rather the portraits
of the surgeons who paid the young painter to be included in the group.1 This is another baroque
ploy, although of another kind. Let us return to the comparison between Zurbarán’s and Rembrandt’s
naturalism. The former does not claim the definitive conquer of death, because in the human being
what is natural -properly organic- is dependent on human freedom and on the action of the Divine
Grace. The latter accepts our mortality as a self-evident fact, or -as Spinoza would say- as a fact of
natura naturata.2 This does not mean that the Dutch painter minimized the human being to his
biological or physical characteristics. As pointed out by Georg Simmel, Rembrandt always portrayed
individuals.3 However, there does not seem to be in his pictorial universe a resource going beyond
the finitude of the immanent. The inner light of the characters in Rembrandt’s portraits ceased to
shine when they made their last breath.

3. The Last Room

We have finished our tour through the room of Baroque painting in our imaginary museum. What
we saw there belongs to the past. By walking through the door, we cannot stop thinking that in the
XXI century the phrase “naturaleza muerta” or “still life” has gained different meanings.
If metaphors are historical, then they are also perishable. Our fear is that the phrase “naturaleza
muerta” ceases to be a metaphor in order to become a death certificate. We imagine a wold in which,
in the worst scenario, nature will not exist because it has extinguished, or in a less catastrophic
scenario, in which some remains are kept in artificial conditions. When the phrase “naturaleza
muerta” finally ceases to be a metaphor, then there will be no more metaphors.
What kind of still life can an artist create once the death of nature has been announced? Let us
enter the last room of our imaginary museum to search for an answer. Compare the Agnus Dei of
Zurbarán with Away from the Flock (FIG. 12) of Damien Hirst. An innocent lamb moves away from
its herd and gets trapped in a formalin tank. Why? Is this evoking a sacrifice?.4 There are no answers
to be found. What in turn seems evident is that we find ourselves in front of the perfect still life: this
animal cannot be more natural, because it is real, and thus, it could not be more dead. Hirst has
reached the last frontier of the genre. As it usually happens with this type of works the title is an
inseparable element from its message. The herd that the label refers to could be the Roman Church,
the Judaeo-Christian tradition, or the Western Society as a whole. Quite a few people feel suspended,
just like Hirst’s lamb, for having departed from their ancestral herd. The most pessimistic would add

1 Alois Reigl, The Group Portraiture of Holland, Los Ángeles, Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the
Humanities, 1999.
2 Baruch Spinoza, Ética, México, UNAM, 1977, proposición 29.
3 Georg Simmel, Rembrandt. Ensayo de filosofía del arte, Buenos Aires, Editorial Nova, 1950.
4 George Bataille, “Esquema de una historia de las religiones”, en La religión surrealista, Buenos Aires, Las cuarenta,

that we should not take for granted the fact that this experience is still able be expressed as a
metaphor. I don’t want, however, to end this tour in such a dark tone.
Counter Reform Baroque reckoned that we human beings could conquer death because, aside
from being people, we are also creatures. The predominant philosophy in secular societies teaches
us something different: people are not creatures, not even individual substances, but evanescent
individuals in constant self-construction. Our nature does not define us anymore. Is there a way to
recover something from the Baroque conception? If Baroque, as declared by Eugenio D’Ors, is a
constant cultural category, there will always be Baroque art whose manifestations await for the
lessons that we can extract from them.1
Hirst is the author of a piece that has been interpreted as a contemporary example of the vanitas
genre. For the Love of God is a platinum skull completely covered in very fine diamonds (FIG. 13).
None other artwork has ever reached a higher price and, yet, we know the day will come -maybe in
a thousand years- where it will end up ruined in a corner as any other contraption. However, this is
not the only interpretation that has been done on this piece.2 Hirst has declared that For the Love of
God is inspired in the skulls garnished in precious stones of the Mesoamerican burials.3 This hint
points in a direction that eventually passes by the original Baroque culture developed in Mexico
since the XVI century.4 In this light, For the Love of God is not a vanitas, on the contrary, it is a
celebration of human life and, in particular, of the effort to escape in a thousand ways -one of them,
through art- not only death’s sentence but something much worse, death into life, what Baltasar
Gracían called the cave of nothing.5 The museum is about to close -which, although imaginary, still
follows a timetable- and we do not have any more time to develop this baroque cosmovision. If you
ask me, I would summarize its message with these words: thanks to God, yes, but also thanks to our
genius, is that death does not absolutely prevail. Have you realized that some skulls are smiling?


Jan Brueghel, Bouquet of Flowers in a Ceramic Vase, 1599, oil on canvas, 51 x 40 cm. Art History
Museum, Vienna.
Adriaen van Utrecht, Vanitas, 1642, oil on canvas, 67 x 86 cm., private collection.
Anonymous, Profession portrait of sor Ana María de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, 1760, oil on canvas,
no measurements, Denver Art Museum.
Anonymous, Post mortem portrait of sor Magdalena de Cristo, 1732, oil on canvas, no measurements,
Museo de Arte Religioso, Ex convento de Santa Mónica, Puebla.
Jan Davidsz. de Heem, A Still-Life with Lobster, oil on canvas, The Wallace Collection, Londres.

1 Eugenio D’Ors, Lo barroco, Madrid, Tecnos/Alianza, 2002.

2 Rudi Fench, 'Victory over Death', en Damien Hirst, Beyond Belief, Other Criteria/White Cube, 2008.
3 Paul Westheim, La calavera, México, Antigua Librería Robredo, 1953.
4 Francisco López Ruíz, Artefactos de muerte no simulada: Damien Hirst en México, México, Universidad
Iberoamericana, 2009.
5 Baltasar Gracián, El criticón, edición facsímil, Madrid, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2009, 3 vols.

Juan Sánchez Cotán, Bodegón de caza, hortalizas y frutas, 1602, oil on canvas, 69 x 89, Museo del
Prado, Madrid.
Juan Sánchez Cotán, Bodegón con cardo y zanahorias, oil on canvas, 62 x 89, Museo de Bellas Artes,
Francisco de Zurbarán, Agnus Dei, oil on canvas, 38 x 62, Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Francisco de Zurbarán, San Serapio, oil on canvas, 120 x 103, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford.
Francisco de Zurbarán, Cristo crucificado, oil on canvas, Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla, Sevilla.
Rembrandt H. Van Rijn, The anatomy lesson of Nicholas Tulp, 1632, oil on canvas, Mauritshuis, La
Damien Hirst, Away from the flock, 1994, lamb suspended in formalin, 96 x 159 x 51, National
Galleries Scotland.
———. For the love of god, 2007, skull of platinum, diamonds and human teeth, White Cube Gallery,

(Translated by Felipe Barrientos; Proofread by Yu Shiyang)

The Good – As It Is Comprehended in Practical Reasoning

Sebastian Rödl

1 Introduction

It has been debated whether practical reasoning concludes in a state of mind – a judgment, an intention
– or whether in concludes in an action. The debate has failed to recognize the form and the
significance of its question.
First, the form: the question is misconstrued as it is thought to address a natural psychic power,
found in human beings and perhaps other animals as well, and to be answered by the study of this
natural reality. Rather, the question asks for an articulation of the understanding of its conclusion that
is internal to practical reasoning. When it is so understood, the answer is clear: the conclusion of
practical reasoning is an action. Second, the significance: the significance of this answer to the
question resides in its being an understanding of nature: in it, nature is understood to be governed by
the good as the supreme principle of all reality. As the understanding in question is internal to
practical reasoning, practical reasoning is ethical knowledge of nature.

2 The Question

One may reason with a view to ascertaining what is the case. And one may reason with a view to
ascertaining what to do. In the latter case, we may say one’s reasoning is practical, in the former,
She who reasons with a view to ascertaining what is the case concludes judging that such-and-
such is the case. The conclusion of theoretical reasoning is a judgment. It has been said that she who
reasons with a view to ascertaining what to do concludes recognizing that such-and-such is good to
do or that she ought to do it. It also has been said that her reasoning concludes in her doing what she
recognizes is good to do. The conclusion of practical reasoning has been said to be a thought, and it
has been said to be an action.
If practical reasoning concludes in doing something, it does not do so to the exclusion of
concluding in the thought that it is good to do. All reasoning concludes in a thought. It may be taken
to conclude in a mere thought, a thought that is not the subject’s doing what she thinks is good to do.
However, as we will see, there is no such thing as thinking that practical reasoning concludes in a
mere thought. For in practical reasoning one understands its conclusion to be one’s doing what one
sees is good to do.
I proceed as follows. I consider, in section 3, Frege’s explanation of what we mean when we
speak of inference. Frege’s topic is inference whose conclusion is a judgment. In section 4, I say how
practical inference shares in the character of inference Frege describes. Section 5 explains why the
conclusion of practical reasoning, in virtue of having this character, cannot be a mere thought. Section
5 remarks on the significance of this result.

3 Theoretical Reasoning

Frege writes: “Judging, being conscious of other truths as justifying grounds, is called inferring.”
(Gottlob Frege, Logik, p. 3: “Urteilen, indem man sich anderer Wahrheiten als
Rechtfertigungsgründen bewußt ist, heißt schließen.”)1 So this is what we mean when we speak of
inference: inferring something is judging it understanding other things to justify this judgment. I want
to elaborate this understanding of its conclusion that an inference itself is.
A judgment that is such as to be a conclusion of reasoning may be just or not. Only then can
something make it just, justify it. If talk of a judgment’s justice sounds forced, we may speak of its
validity and say that inferring is judging being conscious of other truths as validating one’s judgment.
A judgment’s validity is its truth, and what validates a judgment shows it to be true. As only truths
can show something to be true, Frege speaks of the justifying grounds as truths.
When someone infers something, then not only are there truths that show her judgment to be
valid. She is conscious of these truths, and is conscious of them as justifying grounds, that is, as
establishing the validity of her judgment. Inference is this consciousness: inferring is judging in the
consciousness (“indem man sich bewußt ist”) of other truths as justifying this judgment; the
consciousness of these truths as justifying the judgment is that judgment. So the judgment that
concludes an inference is the thought of other truths as establishing its validity.
Inferring is judging being conscious of other truths as justifying so judging. Therein it is judging
being conscious of other truths as explaining why one so judges. Perhaps something can justify a
judgment without explaining it. Perhaps something can explain a judgment without justifying it. But
when someone infers that such-and-such is the case, when she judges that it is the case understanding
other truths to reveal it to be valid so to judge, then those truths explain why she so judges.
I said, when someone infers something, then what, as she understands, justifies her judgment,
explains why she so judges. This does not report an observed regularity. As though we had found
that, in general, that in the consciousness of which someone judges, being conscious of it as a
justifying ground, explains why she so judges. Then it would make sense to devise experiments to
ascertain whether this finding is robust. This is not the way to understand what I said. What I said
does not report an observation, but articulates the understanding of its conclusion that an inference is.
She who judges, in judging, understands her judgment to be justified by other truths. In so
understanding it, she understands her judgment to be explained by these truths. For, her judgment is
her recognition of its validity; so she understands it. Therefore she cannot think of anything as
explaining her judgment that does not explain how she recognizes its validity; and nothing can explain
how she recognizes the validity of judging that something is the case that does not show that it is the
case. Conversely, understanding something to show that it is the case, she understands herself to
recognize that it is the case, and to recognize that by the very thing that shows it to be the case.

1 Frege says: “Judging ... is inferring.” He identifies an inference with the judgment that is its conclusion. He is right to
do so, for the premises, namely their understanding as justifying the conclusion, are internal to the conclusion. Kant, too,
identifies the inference with its conclusion. Matthew Boyle, in “Making Up One’s Mind”, has recovered this insight. It
appears unknown to all participants in the debate on inference published a few years ago in … This is curious in the light
of the fact that Paul Boghossian, one of the participants, takes his clue from the Frege passage quoted above. However,
he works from a botched translation of the passage, which obscures the internality to the conclusion of the premises and
their understanding as justifying the conclusion.

It follows that, as she understands, explaining why she judges that such-and-such is the case is
nothing other than laying out the truths that justify her judgment; she who judges that such-and-such
is the case, being conscious of other truths as justifying grounds, explains her judgment by speaking
this consciousness. There is nothing more familiar than this. Let it be that she judges p, being
conscious of q as justifying her judgment. When she is asked, Why do you think p?, she answers:
because q. She explains why she judges p by the truth that she recognizes to establish the validity of
so judging.
It may be said that this is how she who infers understands her judgment and its explanation. By
contrast, when we think of someone else’s judgment, we can, do, and must distinguish what
establishes the validity of judging as she does from what explains why she so judges. Now, it is
misleading to say that this is wrong. Rather, it cannot be entertained by anyone who partakes of
human discourse. For it excludes the form of exchange we described. He who asks someone why she
judges that such-and-such is the case must be able to receive her answer in the sense in which she
gives it. Then he challenges her answer by questioning whether what she presents as explaining her
judgment shows it to be valid. If he did not take her answer in this way, there would be no common
theme among them: judgment and its explanation. Unless I understand what someone gives me as
justifying her judgment to explain why she so judges, explain it precisely as justifying it, I have no
idea of her judging anything at all, not if this is to be the idea of her doing what I do, judging
something in the consciousness of other truths as justifying grounds of my judgment.
Inferring is judging understanding one’s judgment to be justified by other truths. An inference
is a judgment that understands itself. We express this understanding, the understanding of its
conclusion that an inference is, when we say: what reveals a judgment to be valid explains it. And
not per accidens, as though these were two things that happen to have come together: it justifies the
judgment, and it explains it. No, what justifies the judgment explains it as justifying it.
The ground of the judgment’s validity explains its actuality. Comprehending why a judgment is
requires nothing more and nothing other than recognizing its validity. And since the judgment is itself
the recognition of its validity, it is itself the thought of what explains its actuality. A judgment is not
explained by anything of which it is not itself the recognition. A judgment is itself the recognition of
what explains its actuality. 1 Again, this is understood in judging. And again, while it takes
philosophical language to express this understanding, the understanding so expressed is nothing
esoteric. It is present in any two-year-old who is able to speak and on display in the most elementary
human discourse.
A judgment is and understands itself to be the recognition of what explains its actuality. Nothing
that lies outside what is known in the judgment itself explains its actuality. This is to say that judgment
is absolute: there can be no condition on which the actuality of a judgment depends different from
this very judgment. For if there were such a condition, it would have to be possible for it to obtain
without the judgment’s being actual. And she who judges, in judging, rules out this possibility. Hegel

1 Nagel describes this – what is judged explains its being judged – as reason’s direct relation to truth. And he observes
that this is an obstacle to any form of naturalism that is of a different order altogether from that posed by the purple haze.
See his Mind and Cosmos, (It is unclear how he thinks the natural teleology he imagines in the last chapter of this book
can be held together with this insight.)

says it is an error to suppose that knowledge and the absolute are distinct. He goes on to say that it is
equally erroneous to suppose that we are something other than knowledge. The latter point will begin
to acquire contour as we consider, in the light of what we said of theoretical reasoning, practical
reasoning and its conclusion.

4 Practical Reasoning

Frege speaks of inference whose conclusion is a judgment. Practical inference exhibits the character
of inference Frege describes. As the conclusion of practical inference is anyway a thought, we first
consider it as such, in order then to inquire whether it is a mere thought.
Practical reasoning aims at ascertaining what to do. Its conclusion answers that question and
thus is a thought of doing something. When we seek to say how such a thought represents doing
something, various words suggest themselves: we may say it represents something as good to do, as
to be done, as right to do, as something one ought to do, etc. Here there is neither the need nor the
possibility to make a choice among these terms. No need, for our reflections will not turn on the word;
it will be possible to rephrase what we say in terms of any of them. No possibility, for we are in no
position to comprehend differences that these terms may mark; such comprehension may spring from
our reflections, but is unavailable at their beginning. I use the term “good”: practical reasoning
concludes in thinking something good to do. I call such a thought a practical thought.
It may be said that a practical thought need not represent doing something as good simpliciter.
It may represent something as good for something, perhaps, me. To this we may say, first, that there
is practical reasoning that concludes in a thought that such-and-such is good to do simpliciter and that
we shall speak exclusively about practical reasoning of that form. This will not detract from the
significance of our findings. We may say, secondly, that no practical reasoning concludes in a thought
that such-and-such is good for A. For practical reasoning answers the question what to do, and a
thought of this form does not answer that question.
Inferring is judging something being conscious of other truths as justifying one’s judgment. Let
q be this truth: one infers p from q, that is, one concludes that p in the consciousness of q as showing
it to be valid so to judge. One does not conclude that p must be true, provided q is. This conditional
judgment may be a premise, but it is not the conclusion of one’s inference. Of course, in order for
one’s inference to conclude in the unconditional judgment, the grounds the consciousness of which
as justifying one’s judgment is called inference must be, and one must understand them to be, truths,
as Frege says. In the practical case, inferring is thinking that such-and-such is good to do being
conscious of things as justifying thinking this. Among the premises of the inference, there may be the
thought that doing such-and-such is good for A. But this is not the conclusion of the inference. For it
is possible to ask whether it is good to do what is good for A. Speaking vaguely, we can say that the
answer to this question will depend on whether A is good, more precisely, whether it is rightly thought
through the very concept of good that would figure in the conclusion of the inference. Just as the
conclusion of a theoretical inference is the consciousness of itself as true on account of other truths,
so the conclusion of practical reasoning may be a consciousness of something as good to do on

account of other things good. (It need not; a practical inference need not involve a thought to the
effect that doing something is good for something at all.)1
Inferring, when it is practical, is thinking something to be good to do in the consciousness of
things as justifying grounds. Hence a practical thought may be just or not, so that something may
make it just, justify it. Again, instead of a thought’s justice, we may speak of its validity. Concluding
a practical inference is thinking something to be good to do being conscious of certain things as
showing it to be valid to think this. This consciousness is internal to the conclusion of practical
reasoning: the thought that concludes practical reasoning is itself the thought of its validity and what
establishes it.
A practical thought thinks it good to do such-and-such. This is a species of validity: it is valid to
do such-and-such. So in practical reasoning, validity appears twice: a practical thought is the thought
of its own validity as it is a conclusion of inference and thus a consciousness of things as establishing
its validity; and it is the thought of the validity of doing something as it is a practical thought and
answers the question what to do. There is validity of thinking the thought and there is validity of
doing something, which is thought in this thought. Now this is one validity: the validity of a practical
thought is the validity of doing that of doing which it is the thought, and vice versa. First, if one
needed to think anything beyond thinking it good to do such-and-such in order to think it valid to
think that, then the thought of its being valid to do such-and-such would not itself be the thought of
its own validity. Conversely, if one needed to think anything beyond thinking it valid to think the
thought in which practical reasoning concludes in order to think it valid to do such-and-such, then the
grounds that justify that thought would not as such justify doing what it is the thought of doing. And
then one would not, thinking the thought in the consciousness of its grounds know what to do. The
question of the rightness or goodness of doing it would have been left open. So there would be no
such thing as ascertaining what to do through inference. The idea of a practical inference is the idea
of a thought whose validity is the validity of doing something. Using “good” to signify this validity,
we can express what we understand in practical inference in this way: the same goodness is in doing
something and in the recognition that it is good to do.
A valid judgment is true: things are as, in the judgment, they are judged to be. This holds of
practical thought: a valid thought that it is good to do such-and-such is true, that is, it is good to do
what in this thought is thought good to do. Yet, when the validity of a practical thought is its truth,
then truth in a thought that concludes practical reasoning is goodness. For the validity of a practical
thought is the validity of doing what it thinks of doing. As this is but one validity, a valid practical
thought has what the doing has of which it is the thought. So we can say the truth of practical thought
is goodness. Or we can say goodness is the truth of action. What we cannot do, without dissolving
the idea of practical inference, is assign truth to its conclusion and goodness to the doing of which
that conclusion is the thought.

1 Michael Thompson helpfully defines action theory as the discipline that investigates human action without the concept
of an ultimate end or, equivalently, the unconditionally good. When this is action theory, then there can be no mention of
practical reasoning in it. The question whether practical reasoning concludes in an action lies outside the province of
action theory. (That does raise the question whether anything lies inside that province.)

Inferring is thinking it good to do such-and-such understanding certain things to show that it is
valid to think this. She who so reasons understand her thought that it is good to do such-and-such to
be her recognition that it is valid to think this on account of the grounds that justify thinking it.
Therefore she cannot conceive anything as explaining why she thinks this that does not provide for
her recognition of the validity of thinking it. She cannot comprehend anything as explaining her
thought that does not show that thought to be valid. Conversely, she explains why she thinks that it
is good to do such-and-such by giving the grounds in the consciousness of which she thinks it. Therein
she understands that which shows it to be valid to think what she thinks to explain why she thinks it.
She understands her thought’s validity to be the ground of its actuality.
Since her thought is practical, we can describe its validity – the validity that grounds its actuality
– in two ways: as goodness and as truth. A valid practical thought is true: it is valid to think it good
to do such-and-such as it is good to do that. So she who concludes her practical reasoning, thinking
it good to do such-and-such, understands its being good to do that to explain why she thinks this. Or
we describe the validity of the thought as its goodness: it is good to think it. Then she who infers
practically understands the goodness of thinking what she thinks to explain why she thinks it. Its
being good to do what she thinks is good to do explains why she thinks this, or its being good to think
this explains why she thinks it. This comes to the same as the goodness of doing something is none
other than the goodness of thinking it good to do.

5 The Conclusion of Practical Reasoning

We ask whether practical reasoning concludes in merely thinking that such-and-such is good to do or
in doing it. Therein we ask whether someone’s doing something, that is, something’s happening, can
be explained in the way in which a conclusion of reasoning is.
Thinking it good to do such-and-such in the consciousness of grounds that justify thinking this,
I explain why I think this by these grounds, grounds that establish that such-and-such is good to do.
I think that such-and-such is good to do, and as I think this in conclusion of practical reasoning, I
understand my thinking it to be explained by what shows it to be good to do that. The goodness of
doing what I think good to do is the ground of the actuality of my thinking it good to do. If practical
reasoning concludes not in a mere thought that such-and-such is good to do, but therewith in an action,
then what we said of my thinking holds of my doing: what explains why I am doing such-and-such
is that which shows that it is good to do it. So the goodness of doing what I am doing explains why I
am doing it; the goodness of my action is the ground of its actuality. By contrast, if the conclusion of
practical reasoning is a mere thought, as opposed to an action, then there is no explaining why I am
doing something by revealing it to be good to do.
Those who say that reasoning does not conclude in action still think that there is, or at least may
be in favorable cases, a connection, something non-accidental in the co-occurrence, of the thought in
which someone’s reasoning concludes and her doing what, in this thought, she thinks is good to do.1

1 If practical reasoning concludes in doing something, then we readily understand why someone would want to think
there is a connection: he would in this ostensible thought give distorted expression of what he knows practical reasoning
to be. How one might explain how one comes by that thought on the supposition that practical reasoning does not conclude
in doing something is obscure. For the assertion that this connection is discovered by experience is baseless.

But they hold that this connection is not one of reasoning. This means that, however we specify the
connection, it will not be the case that it is in virtue of its being good to do what someone thinks good
that her thinking this gives rise to her doing it. The causality of her thinking it good to do is distinct
from the validity of thinking this; her thought gives rise to her doing what, in this thought, she thinks
is good to do, in a manner that is indifferent to whether it is good to do that thing.
When I hold that practical reasoning concludes in a mere thought, this is what I think. It is not
possible to comprehend why I am doing what I am doing by recognizing that it is good to do. In this
way I comprehend my thinking that it is good to do that. As I think this in conclusion of my practical
reasoning, I understand my thinking it good to do such-and-such to be explained by its being good.
This thought of mine may give rise to my doing such-and-such. But when and where it does, it does
so in a way that is indifferent to the goodness or lack of it of doing what thereby I am doing. My
thought causes my action, but I do not understand how it has this effect by comprehending the
goodness of doing what, in this thought, I think is good to do. My insight into what is good to do,
afforded by my practical reasoning, does not supply me with comprehension of the causality of this
very insight. It does not make it intelligible to me why that is happening: I am doing it.
If the conclusion of practical reasoning is a mere thought, then comprehension of the causality
of the thought in which practical reasoning concludes lies outside ethics. It lies outside the science
that aims at the good. For the representation of its causality, representing practical thought as a
thought to the effect that such-and-such is good to do, while it deploys the notion of goodness, does
so only in quotation marks; the account does not itself use the idea of something’s being good to do.
The account can be valid even if ethics as such is a fraud and there is no such thing as something’s
being good to do.
If practical reasoning concludes in a mere thought, then it is never possible to explain why
something is happening by its being good. The good provides no understanding of what is happening.
This is to say the good is nothing real at all. It enjoys at best an ideal existence in our thinking it good
to do this or that. Conversely, if the conclusion of someone’s practical reasoning is not a mere thought
of hers, distinct from her doing what, in that thought, she thinks good to do, but is her doing it, then
its being good to do what someone is doing may explain why she is doing it. Its being good may
explain why what is good is actual. The good may explain why things are happening that are good.
If practical reasoning concludes in a mere thought, then whether something is good or not is
irrelevant to whether it is actual. Conversely, what is actual as such is indifferent to its goodness of
lack of it. This is an attempt at ethical nihilism. No one ever embraces nor has embraced it
understanding what she thereby thinks. For this thought undermines practical reasoning; it
undermines the very idea of knowledge that it is good to do such-and-such. Conversely, it is rejected
in every practical inference.
Someone’s thought that it is good to do such-and-such is to give rise to things happening in a
manner that is indifferent to whether or not what, in this thought, she thinks good is good. This means
that the efficacy of her thought cannot be comprehended in terms of the goodness of its effect. Its
efficacy must be explained in a manner indifferent to the goodness of what is happening on account
of it. It must be explained in a manner indifferent to whether what in this thought is thought good to
do is good to do. But this is to say that her thinking it good to do what thereupon she is doing is not

explained by its being good to do that. For nothing can explain something without therein providing
for its efficacy. However, this understanding of one’s thought is (is called, Frege might say) practical
Conversely, if we concede that her thought that it is good to do such-and-such is explained by
its being good to do that, then we thereby exclude that an explanation of her doing it can be silent on
whether it is good or not to do that. For therein we concede that it is possible to explain someone’s
thinking it good to do such-and-such by its being good to think this. Now her thinking this is
something actual. For while it is not itself something’s happening, it underlies her doing what she
thinks is good to do. And only something actual can underlie something actual. So conceding that her
thinking something good to do is explained by the goodness of thinking this, we concede that the
good is not as such unreal, for we conceive the goodness of thinking the thought as explaining its
actuality. Having conceded this much, we cannot maintain that the good, which we concede is able
to be the ground of someone’s thinking something, is incapable of being the ground of someone’s
doing something. For saying this, we assert a gulf separating thinking and happening that no nexus
of causality could possibly span. But then a thought of the good, precisely on account of being
explained by its being good, is unthinkable as giving rise to someone’s doing something. And then it
is unintelligible as a thought about what to do.
This shows that the conclusion of practical reasoning is an action. It shows it in this way: it
shows that the thought of its conclusion as an action is internal to any practical inference; conversely,
the alleged denial of this thought is the dissolution of all practical reasoning and therewith the
dissolution of the topic about which the denial means to deny something.

6 The Absoluteness of the Good

The conclusion of practical reasoning is an action. This means that its being good may explain why
that is which is good. Its goodness may ground the actuality of what is good. This thought, the thought
of the good as a ground of the actuality of what is good, is a thought of the actual as such. Thus
practical reasoning is metaphysical knowledge. We may call this knowledge a metaphysics of morals,
meaning not a special metaphysics, distinguished by its topic, but the general metaphysics that is
afforded by and contained in morality, or knowledge of the good.
It may seem as though the question whether practical reasoning concludes in action as opposed
to mere thought asked whether a certain section of what is, as opposed to what is as such, can be
known in the knowledge that is internal to practical reasoning, namely, actions of those who reason.
It may seem further as though the relevant segment of being were my being, or our being. For the
knowledge of action afforded by practical reasoning is first personal; it is knowledge of my or our
doing such-and-such. Thus we are drawn to say that there is a region within what is actual – a region
within the realm of change and becoming – that we circumscribe by means of the first person pronoun:
we and our actions. This region is metaphysically special, for it is subject to a special form of
explanation: one that explains why something happens by what justifies it, revealing it to be good. In
this region, then, something may be actual in virtue of being good. By contrast, the rest of what is
actual, the rest of the realm of becoming and change, the part of it that is other than us, or not us, is

indifferent to goodness. If we want a term for this rest, we may call it nature and say that what is
nature, or natural, is not intelligible in this way: one cannot understand why something is happening
in nature by showing it to be good; its goodness is not why it is.
This line of thought expresses the notion that Hegel warns we should not make the basis of our
reflections: the notion that we are something other than the absolute. Equivalently, it expresses the
notion that the first person, singular or plural, refers to a certain element of what is.
That in which practical reasoning concludes is explained by its goodness. If practical reasoning
concludes in my doing something, then my doing it is explained by its being good to do what thus I
am doing. My doing something is something’s happening. And there is no limit to the internal
relations by which something’s happening is joined to other things happening, being joined to them
as to conditions of its actuality. The thought of something’s happening is the thought of a totality of
things’ happening in which alone its comprehension – the understanding of why it is and why it is as
it is – can be complete. Someone’s doing something, insofar as it is something’s happening, cannot
be insulated in explanation and comprehension as a segment of this totality. It cannot be explained
and comprehended in thought insulated from the explanation and comprehension of the rest of what
is actual, the rest of change and becoming. Indeed, thinking the conclusion of practical reasoning to
be so insulated is thinking it to be a mere thought, distinct from anything’s happening.
As its being good is the ground of the actuality of my doing what I recognize to be good to do,
the efficacy of the good is illimitable: it embraces the very totality that is thought in the thought of
something’s happening: the realm of the actual. This thought of the good – its illimitable efficacy in
what is actual – is internal to practical reasoning. And thus it is internal to my doing anything, insofar
as I comprehend my doing it to be such as to be a conclusion of practical reasoning. Human action is
the knowledge of the good as the ultimate ground of what is actual. This is the true definition of
human action, the definition it gives of itself.
It is true that the thought of my doing such-and-such that concludes my practical reasoning is
first personal. For that thought is no mere thought, but is the doing of that of which it is the thought.
It is a thought that is nothing other than that of which it is the thought, and this is the nominal
definition of first person thought. It is also true that, did practical reasoning not conclude in action,
then there would be no such thing as a first person thought of one’s doing something. Consequently
there would not even be the mere thought that allegedly concludes practical reasoning. For even if
this thought is to be a mere thought, it must be a first person thought. For it is internal to practical
reasoning that she who acts on its conclusion is the same as she who embraces this conclusion. So
the idea that the conclusion of practical reasoning is a mere thought does undermine the very thought
of my doing anything. And that is a reductio of this idea in its own right. However, in the absence of
comprehension of the first person, or self-consciousness, its significance is obscure. It may be
misrepresented. It may be represented to reflect an interest that I am to have in some manner to
possess my actions, an interest in their being mine. It may be suggested that it would somehow be
uncomfortable not to own one’s actions, not to see one as their author, and so on. It may be said that
this is a form of estrangement, which is to be something that is somehow bad and to be avoided.
The significance of the reductio of the notion that practical reasoning concludes in a mere
thought that dwells on the conditions of first person thought of action emerges only when it is seen

to be identical with the reductio above: the first person thought of doing something, the first person
thought of something’s happening, is the recognition of the illimitable efficacy of the good. An action
is mine as I comprehend it to be the conclusion of practical reasoning, and thus understand it to be
grounded in the good. The mineness of my action resides in this: that my doing what I am doing,
precisely as I am doing it, is founded in the absolute. Here we begin to see what Hegel means when
he says it is wrong to suppose that knowledge is something other than the absolute and we something
other than knowledge.
In understanding the conclusion of practical reasoning to be nothing other than my doing what,
in so reasoning, I understand to be good to do, I know the good to govern what is actual as such.
Hence the good is not a power of a certain species of animal, an aspect of a specific life-form. No
such power governs what is actual as such. Thinking the good to be a power of a certain animal
species is the same as thinking the causality of the good, which constitutes practical reasoning, to be
limited to a section of the actual as opposed to governing the realm of change and becoming as such.
It is wrong to think of practical reason as a power to act; it is wrong to think of human action as the
exercise of such a power. The categories through which we think the animal explode around us as we
think ourselves in practical reasoning, thinking the good.
Since its being good explains what is good, there is nothing in the order of change and becoming
that can have any power to stand in the way of the good. It is inconceivable that the good fails to be
actual on account of the work of forces of nature. It is equally inconceivable that it be explained by
moral forces. This holds of the efficacy of the good in what is happening. It also holds of its efficacy
in the will. Here, too, nothing can have the least power to stand in the way of the good. Hence the
thought of myself in practical reasoning is that I am nothing but good, unmixed and unaffectably.
This does not mean that I have a power to act well that cannot be affected by temptation, wrongful
desire, and so on. On the contrary, it shows that there is no such power. If I thought of the good as
my power, then I could not think that it was unmixed and unaffectable. On the contrary, I would see
this alleged power to be frustrated over and over again. Kant’s absurd response to this – his attempt
to hold to the corrupt idea that practical reason is a power – is to postulate an infinite path along which
I may progress toward moral perfection (although I cannot know myself to do so). This repulsive
response is the only one available when practical reason is thought to be a power I possess, a power
to act well. It is precisely the thought that I am good, unmixed and unaffectable in my goodness, that
I recognize that am nothing at all and have no power whatsoever.
To work this out is to work out the idea of the absolute that is internal to practical thought. This
is for another occasion. The point here is that practical reasoning understands its conclusion to be
something happening, and that this understanding is one of the good as absolute.

The Moral Status of Animals and the Ethics of Our Treatment of Them

Peter Singer


In this talk I shall summarize and defend the ideas presented in my book Animal Liberation, first
published in 1975, and now available in a revised edition in China from Hu’an Publications, Beijing.
I shall briefly trace the development of our thought on this topic, in both the Western tradition and in
Eastern, especially Buddhist, thought. I shall then discuss what I refer to as the “mainstream” view
today, and offer a critique of this view. I will argue that, notwithstanding this progress made over the
past 40 years, our treatment of animals remains wrong because it is “speciesist.” I shall explain the
concept of “speciesism” and indicae why it is not an ethically defensible view. I will argue that we
owe nonhuman animals equal consideration of their interests, and I will explain what the implications
of this equal consideration view are.

The Shared Beauty of Nature and Human Being: The Twofold Horizon of
“The Perspective of Human Being” and “The Perspective of Nature”

Yang Guorong
East China Normal University

In the wake of historical development, ecology has gradually become an issue which people have no
choice but to face squarely. From a substantial level, the ecological problems that have arisen are
interrelated with the existence of human being himself. As we all know, human being came from
nature and are intrinsically natural, but also have left nature and resist it. Discussions surrounding the
debate between nature and human being (tianren zhi bian, 天人之辩) within Chinese philosophy
involves this relationship. The original world does not have any ecological problems. It is only when
human being splits away from nature and becomes a separate being from nature that ecological
problems happen. Before human being appeared, nature indeed experienced many changes such as
earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and droughts, but this evolution of nature happened
before human being existed on the earth and did not constitute an ecological problem. After human
being separated themselves from nature as “the other,” not only did human being’s actions create
various kinds of ecological problems, but also natural evolution, which originally did not have
ecological significance, was gradually given ecological significance. Following the emergence and
development of human being, pure natural phenomena such as earthquakes, floods, and droughts
transformed into important aspects of ecological evolution, mainly because these changes had a direct
impact and influence on the existence of human being. Ecological problems are indeed difficult to
separate from human existence and it can be said that ecological problems are primarily human
Ecological problems arose out of the existence of human being and are interrelated with distinct
features of the existence of human beings themselves. Only human being have the consciousness to
create value and have the ability to create value in this world, and it is only human being that are able
to effect various types of indelible imprints on nature through their own creative actions. In fact,
human’s live in the actual world, different from the original existence, which human being themselves
have formed through their own creative action. What the Confucianism referred to as “supporting the
transforming and nourishing powers of nature” (赞天地之化育) affirms the productive process of
human being participating in the world.
The process of producing value is simultaneously the process of producing meaning, and
meaning itself has many connotations: it can express an active or positive aspect and can also express
a passive or negative aspect. From the perspective of the relationship between nature and human
being, active or positive meaning manifests as a harmonious relationship between nature and human
being, and, conversely, passive or negative meaning manifests as a unilateral relationship between

nature and human being. In fact, ecological problems stem from a unilateral relationship between
nature and human being, and this implies going from the balanced relationship to an imbalanced one.
An important reason for the imbalance between nature and human being stems from people
pursuing their own value goals and creating their own values while ignoring the laws of nature. The
process of value creation is related to people’s value goals, but this process necessarily originates
from reality and the laws internal to it. If the pursuit of value goals and the creation of values ignores
or even despises the laws of nature, various types of tension between nature and human being will be
formed and this tension will lead to the separation of the two, thus bring about various ecological
problems. This relationship between the process of creating values and the occurrence of ecological
problems in one aspect manifests the correlation between ecological problems and the existence and
activity of human being.
Put it in short way, people leaving nature and resisting it serves as the historical precondition for
the occurrence of ecological problems. Expressing this using Chinese philosophic concepts, this
precondition takes the separation of nature and human being as its content. Using the perspective of
the separation from or relationship with nature and human to understand ecological problems
specifically involves a dual horizon: the view of human and the view of nature The resolution of
ecological problems and the rational construction of an ecological relationship are inseparable from
the specific understanding of this dual horizon.

The horizon of ecological problems is firstly expressed from “the perspective of human being.”
Speaking broadly, “the perspective of human being”is understanding and appraising the world from
the horizon of human being. This type of view includes multiple meanings. It not only involves
rational cognition in the narrow sense, but also concerns values. Rational cognition is specifically
expressed as the grasp on a factual level of nature itself and the relationship between nature and the
world. The concern with values orients the significance of values between nature and human being.
Chinese philosophy had very early on recognized these aspects. Mencius points out “to be
affectionate to ones parents, to be benevolent to people generally, and kind to things” (亲亲而仁民,
仁民而爱物).1 This involves three different objects: parents, the people, and things, and three types
of value positions or attitudes; affection (associated with family love), benevolence (treatment with a
compassionate heart), and kindness (cherishing and protective treatment), the latter of these belonging
to a broad sense of “perspective”, that is, inspecting and grasping objects on the level of values. Not
only should one ascribe value to “parents” (members within the domain of family ethics) and “the
people” (members of general society), but one should have emotional position of cherishing and being
protective towards “things” in a broad sense. On a substantial level, this type of emotion should
permeate value content. The Neo-Confucianism went a step further and said “the people are my
brothers and I share life with all things on earth”2 , this point of view implies understanding all things

1 Mengzi, 7A45.
2 Translator’s note: “The ten thousand things” (wanwu 万物) is a common term in Chinese literature which is otherwise
translated as “all things” or the myriad things.”

of the world as correlated with people and providing to them a corresponding value signification.
This perspective requires us to show proper value concern to natural objects other than human being,
and this perspective also reflects the view of human value connotations.
Chinese philosophy not only involves value concerns towards nature and other objects, but also
mentions how to carry out the general ideas and principles of these types of value concerns. For this
latter aspect, we can use an important proposition from the Doctrine of the Mean to summarize as
follows: “The all things on earth are nourished together without harming one another.”1 From the
perspective of the treatment of nature, “the all things are nourished together without harming one
another” implies that every individual and every object within nature has its reason for existence and
can exist together without excluding one another. Looking at the relationship between human being
and nature, nature acts as the object coexisting with human being and its existence has equal
significance. From the perspective of the relationship between nature and human being, this reflects
the value orientation of the understanding and treatment of nature.
Extending this further, “the all things on earth are nourished together without harming one
another” does not merely express a theory of understanding nature and the relationship between
human being and nature, but also constitutes a starting point for grasping relationships among human
beings. From a primitive level, different individuals, social classes, groups, ethnicities, and countries
within human society should each have their own living space within the social domain and ought to
exist together without excluding one another. In connection with this, these individuals, social classes,
groups, ethnicities, and countries should have equal rights in enjoying and utilizing natural resources.
In accordance with the principle that “the all things on earth are nourished together without harming
one another,” the rights of different individuals, social classes, groups, ethnicities, and countries
should receive recognition and respect, and the members of one group of humanity should not be
given more power to negate or exclude other members with equal rights. However, in the
development of human history, these principles have never truly been realized, rather, in contrast, we
have seen that often some social class, group, ethnicity, or country will exploit and consume natural
resources in a way that far surpasses or even overwhelms other social classes, groups, ethnicities, and
countries. This sort of phenomenon is undoubtedly related to inequality within human society and if
this sort of inequality is left uninhibited, it will equally lead to ecological problems. When certain
members of society or countries excessively consume natural resources, the lack of equilibrium
between nature and human being will be exacerbated just as the previous generation’s excessive
occupation of nature will lead to ecological disasters for later generations. As the above facts indicate,
there is connection between today’s ecological problems and society’s unbalanced utilization of
natural resources.
As can be seen from the above, relationships among people are contained after the relationship
between nature and human being. In one respect this expresses the perspective which had already
been mentioned, that is, ecological problems are ultimately human problems. Correspondingly,
resolving ecological problems requires investigation and understanding from the human perspective.
As previously expressed, using the human’s “view” involves using a rational method to understand

1 Zhongyong, 31.

the world, including looking upon the world from a value horizon. Speaking logically, if we
understand the relationship between nature and human as well as interpersonal relationships purely
based on an instrumental level, it will often lead us to a strong utilitarian consciousness and thereby
create an imbalance in people’s relationships and the relationship between nature and human. The
value concerns involved in “the perspective of human being” which aim to restrict these tendencies
towards partiality no doubt have positive significance.
Of course, as will be discussed later, if we merely stop at the horizon or view of human being,
or excessively emphasize this horizon, it will often lead to a narrow anthropocentric worldview.
Narrow anthropocentrism is primarily displayed as taking the immediate benefit of humanity as the
only starting point for investigation of how to deal with the relationship between nature and human
being, and thus directing us to unilaterally taking possession of and obtaining nature. The logical
result of the orientation of values discussed above would lead to many different forms of ecological

Related to the ecological domain and “the perspective of human being” is “the perspective of nature.”
Taking this as a horizon is to reject regarding the world merely from the perspective of value goals
of the human being, but rather emphasizes inspecting nature based on the laws of nature itself, thereby
grasping the actual conditions for the harmonious relationship between human being and nature.
Human being himself are part of nature, and sustaining their existence requires food, water, sunlight,
etc., and thus are also classified as part of the ecological chain. As a member of nature, human being
must obey the laws of the natural order and, as such, the actions and process of development of human
being should be consistent with the circulatory system of nature itself. Looking at the historical
development, when early human being were still in the hunting gathering stage of existence, to a
certain degree human being and nature maintained a cyclical relationship in the primeval sense. “At
sunrise go to work, at sunset rest” in one respect reflects the cyclical relationship between human
being and nature. The circular movement of people going back and forth between “work” and “rest”
and of nature’s “sunrise” and “sunset” present a consistency between human being and nature. During
the agricultural and nomadic periods of civilization, the problem of the relationship between human
being and natural ecological balance began to become much more diversified and complicated. After
industrialization people gradually began removing themselves from the circulatory system of nature,
and as a result of unilateral intervention, conquered nature and brought about various ecological
problems. The system of nature is the fundamental precondition on which people’s survival relies,
and the destruction of nature ultimately threatens human existence, so in a sense we can say that
protecting nature is protecting the human race. Equally significant, the defense of human existence
should extend to the defense of nature itself. From “the perspective of human being”, human being
are often taken as the ultimate end, and extending the protection of human existence to the protection
of nature can be seen as an extension of taking human being as the ultimate end.
From a philosophic horizon, the Daoists have a relatively conscious awareness of the
relationships mentioned above. Daoists take nature as the first principle, demanding to respect the

laws of nature, presented as “following nature”1. Of course, “following nature” does not simply mean
no action at all, and in fact, the Daoists also affirm human action. However, for the Daoists, the
precondition for human action is for it to be in accordance with natural laws. This includes two aspects:
purposiveness and accordance with natural law. The Daoists emphasize that the purposiveness of
action should not deviate from natural law. Related to this, the Daoists also refer to “act in the way
of no action” (“wei wuwei, 为无为”). Within this horizon, non-action means one unique method of
acting, and the unique characteristics of this type of acting is that it takes accordance with the laws
of nature as its fundamental precondition for action. It can be easily seen that the Daosits provide a
fair amount of concern to the aspect of “the view of nature” within the relationship between nature
and human being.
However, the tendency to idealize nature also exists within the Daoist philosophic school of
thought. For Daoists, primordial nature is the most ideal form of being which one should preserve,
protect, and to which one should return. As a result, Daoists tend to have an equal view of nature and
human being, and regard nature and human being as having equal value significance. This idea
implies to eliminate the differences between human being and nature, and from this view it is difficult
to recognize that human being are beings who have the consciousness and ability to create value. In
fact, once human beings’ capacity of creating value is eliminated, then ecological problems
themselves will be eliminated; it implies a return to the primeval world with no separation between
nature and human being, a time during which, although there were many types of changes in nature
as previously mentioned (e.g. earthquakes, floods, etc.), the changes did not constitute ecological
Perhaps here we can make a distinction between narrow anthropocentrism and “the perspective
of human.” As described previously, narrow anthropocentrism mainly has its origins in an excessive
exaggeration of “the perspective of human,” which, in its broad sense, is expressed as connecting
human’s value goals to an understanding of the relationship between human being and nature. We
should try to refrain from this sort of bias, however, we are unable to completely break away from
the “the perspective of human being” in broad sense. Regarding ecological problems, the reason why
we strive so hard to establish an ideal and harmonious ecological system is ultimately for the sake of
creating a more perfect and fair environment for human existence. In the same way, the occurrences
of ecological problems and human being are interconnected, we are unable to separate the solving of
ecological problems and the existence of human being. If we completely reject “the perspective of
human being,” then it often easily leads to ecocentrism. The Daoist position of an equal view of nature
and human admittedly does include many implications, but if we inappropriately emphasize this
viewpoint, it seems that we may replace the human horizon with nature’s horizon, thereby leading us
to ecocentrism.

In the next step, I will separately investigate the twofold horizons of “the perspective of human being”
and “the perspective of nature.” From the perspective of resolving ecological problems, a reasonable

1 Daodejing, 25.

way of proceeding is the blending of this twofold horizon. In other words, “the perspective of human
being” and “the perspective of nature” should not exclude or stand opposite to one another, but rather
should be integrated together. In terms of ecological philosophy, the above mixture of horizons
contains multifaceted significance.
This first thing to deal with is the unification of purposiveness and accordance to natural law.
Purposiveness implies human action and the creation of values in the world, which is the process of
pursuing value goals. This is an important characteristic of a person’s existence and activity. People
are not able to abandon this type of pursuit of value goals and ideals. If they completely give up and
deny the pursuit for value goals and ideals it may lead to the partialities which the Daoists expressed,
the logical result of which is once again returning to the natural form of being in which there is no
distinction between nature and human being, thereby eliminating the ecological problem.
The pursuit of purposiveness should not depart from the laws of nature. This can be understood
from at least two perspectives. In one respect, people’s value goals are based on their own needs and
ideals rooted in reality. This reality includes nature and its intrinsic laws, so in this way value goals,
from the point of their formation, are inseparable from nature and its internal laws. From another
aspect, the realization of value goals is inseparable from practical activity, and within the process of
realizing value goals, human beings' practical activity is equally unable to ignore laws of nature, but
rather must respect and obey these laws in all circumstances. The history of humankind continuously
tells us the following: showing scorn for the laws of nature will inevitably result in nature’s merciless
If it is said that denying people’s value goals directs us towards narrow ecocentrism, then
alienation from the laws of nature directs us towards narrow anthropocentrism. Taking the unification
of purposiveness and accordance to natural law as a precondition, narrow ecocentrism should be
transcended and the narrow anthropocentrism should be discarded.
The blending together of the dual horizon of “the perspective of human being” and “the
perspective of nature” simultaneously involves an understanding of the relationship between nature
and human being. The separation of nature and human being serves as the precondition for occurrence
of ecological problems, and correspondingly,the blending of the dual horizon of “the perspective
of human being” and “the perspective of nature” and the question of how to deal with the relationship
of nature and human being are not separated with each other. Generally speaking, the understanding
of the relationship between nature and human being generally now tend towards emphasizing their
unification, however, if we inspect this “unification,” we might find that it includes many different
implications. One of it can be an original, pre-civilized state of affairs. In a primitive world and natural
state of existence, all objects fall under the form of “unified.” Similarly, the early period of human
existence and their activity with nature (such as the hunting-gathering mode of living) displayed a
unified relationship in a primitive sense. If we had stayed at this type of primitive “unification” then
the basic precondition to the historical development of human being would be lost, ecological
problems would not occur, nor would there be any need to investigate and resolve such problems. Of
course, the development of humanity cannot merely take the distinction between nature and human
being as its direction forward because this biased and unbalanced view has led to the origin of
ecological problems. A more reasonable direction we should take is, with nature and human veing

having already separated, to continuously rebuild this unity within the process of historical
development. In other words, what is truly important here is not to return to a unified primitive form,
but rather to continuously transcend the separation and confrontation between nature and human
being at different historical stages and for both of them to achieve a higher form of unity. In fact,
from a historical perspective, ecological problems are only able to be resolved through continuously
rebuilding the unity between nature and human being. Merely admiring the primitive form of nature
and singing praises of nature and human original unity is only able to achieve a type of abstract and
shallow fulfillment rather than truly resolving ecological problems. The ecological crisis was caused
by human being and can only be overcome by the rational activity of human being. This ecological
predicament was caused purely by human being, but to reject human activity is nothing other than
cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Here, it is through human’s intent and hard work, oriented
with positive meaning, that the unity between nature and human can be continuously rebuilt within
the course of historical evolution. Through this type of rebuilding process, on one hand human beings'
value goals will continue to be realized, and on the other hand, people once again become part of the
circulatory system of nature on a higher level and create the harmonious relationship between human
and nature as well. Circular economy, as a part of economic development, has a similar connotation
as this above concept. Here, the ecological cycle in the sense of purposiveness in the pursuit of values
and reestablishing the unification of nature and human being demonstrates mutual integration and a
parallel relationship.
Looking at this for a more metaphysical level, the above direction is simultaneously manifested
as the unification of the dao of nature and the dao of human. Within the meaning of value sense, this
emerges as the unification of the principles of humanity and principles of nature. The principles of
humanity include “the perspective of human being”, that is, affirming the person’s value goals and
value pursuits. Principles of nature are expressed as “the perspective of nature,” that is, respecting
and affirming the internal laws of nature itself. The internal concepts reflected in the oneness of nature
and human on a historical level is the continuous unification of the dao of nature and the dao of
human being, principles of nature and principles of the humanity. In this also lies the essential
significance of the unification of the dual horizon of “the perspective of human being” and “the
perspective of nature.”
Understanding this from a broader background, investigating the interaction between nature and
human being and the blending of the twofold horizon mentioned above, what follows next involves
the relationship between the ethical and aesthetic horizon. “The perspective of human being” does
not only imply emphasizing people’s value pursuit, but it also implies the demand to assume various
value responsibilities, which include people’s responsibilities to themselves as well as responsibilities
to nature. Responsibility and duty are of an identical sequence and both have inherent significance
and thus awareness of responsibility is founded within the ethical horizon.
Associated with ethic view is aesthetic horizon. Early on, the Daoists recognized “heaven and
earth have great beauty, yet are silent,”1 that is, nature itself has an aesthetic dimension. Fair and
harmonious ecological relationships always present aesthetic significance, and an ecological system

1 Zhuangzi, Zhibei you.

having been damaged is often unable to provide people with an impression of beauty. In certain
regions of the earth today, polluted rivers, barren wastelands, dusty paths, and smog filled skies are
pervasive. These types of ecological phenomena do not only present negative significance on the
level of values, but also seems to lack a sense of beauty from an aesthetic perspective. Comparing
these types of ecological phenomena to the bright blue skies, clear rivers and streams, and verdant
fields, these equally do not only have positive value significance, but also provide a delightful sense
of beauty: when we take bluer skies and clearer water as ideal goals for ecological systems, it
simultaneously embodies aesthetic pursuits. Speaking in these terms, the unified twofold horizon of
“the perspective of human” and “the perspective of nature” undoubtedly intrinsically involves the
unification of the aesthetic horizon and the ethical horizon. The aesthetic horizon takes beauty as its
subject and the ethical horizon is related to the good. In this sense, the blending of these two
simultaneously manifests the unification of beauty and the good, and this constitutes human beings'
pursuit of value ideals in a wider dimension.
When discussing ecological problems from the perspective of the relationship and interaction
between nature and human being, the ultimate ends is a harmonious human society with sustainable
development. Within this type of course of development, on one hand human being themselves work
towards perfection through the creation of values, and on the other hand the world in which human
being live continuously tends towards perfection on a higher level. It can be seen, then, that the
perfection of human being and the perfection of nature has inherent unity, and this type of unity can
be understood as “the shared beauty of nature and human being.” It is just this ecological concept
towards which the twofold horizon of “the perspective of human” and “perspective view of nature”

The Challenge of Anatheism

Richard Kearney

Anatheism means ana- theos – in Greek, after God. It is a way of thinking about God after the death
of God. It means retracing the remnants, revenants and returns of the divine after the disappearance
of the old familiar divinities we thought we possessed like idols of gold. Or to be more precise, after
the deconstruction of the Omni-God of dominion and delusion - famously initiated by Freud, Marx
and Nietzsche - whatever survives is what we could call ana-theism. Anatheism is a spirituality of the
remaindered God: a God who may be if we let it be, a sacred promise always still to come.
“Ana” is a prefix defined in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as: “Up in space or time;
back again, anew.” As in anamnesis, analogy, anagogy, anaphora. So understood, the term supports
the deeper and broader sense of “after” contained in the expression “God after God.” Ana opens a
semantic field involving notions of retrieving, revisiting, reiterating, repeating. But if it repeats the
sacred, it does so forwards not backwards. It is not about regressing to some prelapsarian past, but
rather a question of coming back “afterwards” in order to move forward again. Reculer pour mieux
It is in this sense that we use the term ana-theism as a “returning to God after God:” a critical
hermeneutic retrieval of sacred things that have passed but still bear radical potentialities that may be
more fully realised in the future. As such, it gives a future to the aborted or truncated divinities of
history. Ana-theism may be understood accordingly as “after-faith,” which is more than an “after-
thought” or “after-affect.” After-faith is eschatological – something ultimate in the end that was
already there from the beginning. And that is why the “after” of ana is also a “before.” A before that
has been transposed, so to speak, into a second after. As Sophia/Wisdom says when she plays before
the face of the Lord in Proverbs: ‘Before He made the world I was there…constantly at his
side….filled with delight, rejoicing always in his presence’ (Proverbs 8: 26-29). And this Hebraic
sense of ana-chrony is aptly echoed in Jesus’ startling claim: ‘Before Abraham was I am’.
But let me be clear: anatheism is not a dialectical third term which supersedes theism and atheism
in some Hegelian synthesis or final resolution. True, anatheism contains a moment of atheism within
itself as it does a moment of theism. Or to be more precise: anatheism pre-contains both – for it
operates from a space and time before the dichotomy of atheism and theism as well as after. The
double “a” of anatheism holds out the possibility but not the necessity of a second affirmation once
the “death of God” has done its work. But it differs from Hegel’s “negation of the negation” which
sees the return as an ineluctable synthesis or sublation (Aufhebung). In contrast to such a logical
theodicy, anatheism is always a wager – a risk that can go either way. It is a matter of discernment
and decision on our part, responding to the call of the instant. A replay of faith and wisdom, again
and again. The event does not take place behind our backs, irrespective of our agency, like Hegel’s
dialectic of Absolute Spirit. There is no “Ruse of Reason” unfolding through particulars into a Final
Totality. Anatheism is not about Upper Case Divinity dictating a predetermined dialectic. Au

contraire! Anatheism has nothing to do with Alpha-Gods or Omni-Gods. It is about re-imaging – and
re-living – the sacred in the ‘least of these’. It is lower case from beginning to end.
Anatheism concentrates on unfulfilled or suspended possibilities often experienced in a moment
of a-theist non-knowing; the “a-” here being a gesture of abstention, privation, withdrawal.1 Such a
gesture is less a matter of epistemological argument against God than a pre-reflective lived
experience of ordinary lostness and solitude - a mood of Angst or abandon, an existential “dark night
of the soul” which almost everyone experiences at some moment in their lives. Even Christ on the
Cross declared ‘My god my god why have you forsaken me?). This privative “a” of atheism is
indispensable to anatheism. But in “a-n-a” we have two A’s. And the second “a” is the “not” of the
“not.” The death of the death of God. The yes after the no which repeats the first yes of creation. This
double A-A of anatheism thus signals a reopening to something new, strange and ineffable. A dance
of twelve steps which the AA movement calls yielding to a ‘higher power’ – once one recognizes
one’s radical existential abandonment.
So, I repeat, the ana- is not a guarantee of ineluctable rational progress. If anything one could
say that the end of religion brings us back to its beginning – to a fore-time preceding the division
between theism and atheism. And in this respect, we might think of the poet John Keats’ famous
definition of poetic faith as ‘willing suspension of disbelief’, a returning again to Adam’s experience
on the first day of Creation when everything was fresh and up for grabs, when anything could happen,
for better or for worse. Keats called this originary moment of not-knowing ‘negative capability’ –
‘the ability to experience mystery, uncertainty and doubt, without the irritable reaching after fact and
reason’. And this has echoes, I believe, of Kierkegaard’s famous ‘leap of faith’ in Fear and Trembling.
A sacred repetition – not to be understood as a regression to some original position but as a primal
ontological disposition towards the radical incoming Other.2 Abraham has to lose his son as ‘given’
(someone taken for granted) in order to receive him back as ‘gift’; he has to abandon Isaac as
possession in order to welcome him back as promise. Isaac does not belong to his father Abraham’s
(as filial extension, acquisition, property, projection); Isaac is himself as another, another’s, a gift of
the Other (the return gift of what Kierkegaard calls the “Absolute”).

1 Ricoeur acknowledged the indispensible passage through atheism (at least for us moderns) on the way towards what he
called a new kind of “post-religious faith.” But the drama of atheism at the very heart of anatheism is not a matter of
going from primary religious faith through atheism to a second religious faith, which could be seen as some final
triumphalist summation. A-theism is the move beyond the naïveté of first faith – one’s childish certainties, facile
assumptions, acquired presuppositions or dogmas – into an open space of possibility. An Open which may lead either to
a choice of atheism or a theism after atheism. That is the space or time of anatheism and it is always open – for no atheism
or theism can presume to be certain of itself without falling back into another dogmatism (of belief or anti-belief). So
whether it is a matter of what I call “anatheist atheism” or “anatheist theism” – a second theism or a second atheism – it
is for us to choose: it is a wager, a hermeneutic task. The anatheist moment is the moment before a choice between theism
and atheism in so far as it liberates into wager, action and commitment. And in this sense it comes “after” we abandon
the dogmatic unfreedoms of first theism or first atheism. In moving from religion through atheism to faith, a hermeneutic
moment of “suspension” is indispensible. Or to put it in terms of Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutic arc, unless one allows the
masters of suspicion – Freud, Marx, Nietzsche (and I would add the mistress of suspicion, De Beavoir) – to unmask the
theological corpus one is less likely to reach a faith worth living, intellectually speaking. Such iconoclastic atheists may
be deemed allies in process of hermeneutic suspicion which may lead in turn (for those who so chose) to a hermeneutic
reaffirmation of the sacred. See P. Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil, transl. by E. Buchanan, Beacon Press, Boston 1968
and Id., “Religion, Atheism, Faith” in Id., The Conflict of Interpretations, ed. by D. Ihde, Northwestern University Press,
Evanston 1974, pp. 440-467.
2 Cf. S. Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, transl. by A. Hannay, Penguin, New York, 1985.

In short, anatheist faith is a retrieval of something that been lost. It involves reiterating the former
as latter, the earlier as later – a replay which surpasses the model of linear chronological time, where
one moment succeeds another, in favor of a time out of time: an epiphanic moment (Augenblick or
Jetzzeit) where Grace crosses the instant.1 “Ana” is a prefix that seeks to capture this enigma of past-
as-future, before-as-after.2
To say this is not, however, to deny that ana involves historical time. Far from it. Infinite time
is in-finite, as Levinas reminds us; it traverses finite temporality and cannot exist without it. As such,
ana-theism today consorts with a concrete historical situation that comes after the death of God,
culturally, socially and intellectually. It is, as mentioned, marked by the secular exposés of the
Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the modern critiques of Ideology, Patriarchy, Unconscious
fantasies and unfettered Power. It expresses a deep current concern with what Max Weber termed the
“disenchantment” of the world, the desacralising of society, the general malaise of the abandonment
of God and loss of faith. In this sense anatheism is indeed an historical-cultural phenomenon which
engages with our contemporary humanist culture. But not in any teleological manner, assuming we
were ignorant for millennia and have now finally seen the light – that all faith was delusion and we
are at last free. For anatheism, losing the illusion of God (as sovereign superintendent of the universe)
offers the possibility of re-engaging with the original promise of the sacred Stranger, the absolute
Other who comes as gift, call, summons, as invitation to hospitality and justice in every moment. In
sum, anatheism signals radical openness to a mystery that was lost and forgotten by western
metaphysics3 – and needs to be recalled again and again (ana). And here, I think, we can move from
the historical formulation of the anatheist question – what comes after the disappearance of God? –
to the more existential one: how do we experience this today in our concrete lived existence?
This is why anatheism cares less for speculative theories than for living “testimonies” – vivid
examples of welcoming the Stranger in our everyday actions, and also in the arts (in the broadest
sense of making things anew). This is why anatheism may be said to call for theopoetics: that is,
creative representations of lived abandonment and disillusionment followed by a turning towards
something ‘more’ (what Socrates called periagoge, what Augustine called conversio). The negative

1 In this sense Christ can say “Before Abraham was I am” and “Remember me until I come.”
2 I think that several thinkers after Kierkegaard – such as Benjamin, Derrida or Agamben – are saying something similar
when they talk of “messianic time.” Though I personally prefer the notion of “kairological” or “eschatological” time: the
kingdom already was, is now, and is yet to come. It is always already and is still to come.
3 There is a certain deconstructive moment here of which Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida, amongst others, have
much to teach us. Levinas talks about atheism in Totality and Finity as the greatest gift which Judaism has given humanity.
What I think he means is that Judaism is a prophetic prohibition against idols and illusions; its promissory messianism
signals a atheist moment of “separation” from fusion with being, including fusion with God (sacrificial paganism); and
that separation gives the “I,” the self, a freedom and a responsibility to respond to the other, the stranger. If there is no
such “atheistic” separation, there can be no ethical encounter with the stranger, who, Levinas argues, bears the face of the
wounded, the destitute, the naked – “the widow, the orphan, the stranger” – which is itself, for Levinas, the “trace of God.”
Derrida, for his part, talks about a “religion without religio.” And if there is a difference between Derrida and myself here,
it is a difference between “without” (Derrida’s sans) and “after” (ana). I talk about religion after religion where he talks
about religion without religion. But as he himself said in his discussion of my “God-of perhaps” (Peut-être), there is but
the “thinnest of differences” at times between his atheism and my anatheism. Cf. my dialogue with Derrida, entitled
“Terror, Religon and the new Politics” which took place in New York in October, 2001, and was published in R. Kearney,
Debates in Continental Philosophy: Conversations with Contemporary Thinkers, Fordham University Press, New York
2004, pp. 3-15. See also my related essay, “Derrida’s Messianic Atheism” in The Trace of God: Derrida and Religion,
ed. by E. Baring and P. Gordon, Fordham Press, New York 2014.

moment of letting go is, let me repeat, indispensable to a proper appreciation of anatheism, for without
it we have just cheap grace – God as confidence man, a supernatural joker peddling comforting
illusions, quick fixes, snake oils and opiates for the people. Which is why we need to honor the
moments of abandon and abandonment, as so powerfully witnessed in the mystics’ “dark night of the
soul,” or Dostoyevsky’s sense of faith arising from the ‘crucible of doubt’, or Gerald Manley Hopkins’
dark sonnets (“I wake and feel the fell of dark not day!”). Or, in an exemplary sense, Christ’s
penultimate sense of dereliction on the Cross – an atheist cry preceding his ana-theist leap of faith:
‘Unto thee I commend my spirit’ 1 An atheist cry preceding his ana-theist faith: ‘Unto Thee I
commend my spirit’.
These are all concrete moments of emptying (kenosis) which open the possibility of a return to
the inaugural moment of anatheism: the wager of yes to the Stranger. This primal wager is first and
foremost an existential one – not a purely logical one à la Pascal (which is more a wager of knowledge
than of flesh, epistemological rather than ontological). The primordial anatheist wager – to turn
hostility into hospitality – signals, I believe, the inaugural moment of all great wisdom traditions.
And with respect to the Abrahamic tradition specifically, it invites us to recall certain “primal scenes”
of hospitality in sacred Scripture and religious works of art: for example, Abraham and Sarah
encountering the three strangers at Mamre; Jacob wrestling with his dark angel in the night; Mary
engaging with a stranger called Gabriel in Nazareth; Christ who comes as a stranger (hospes) seeking
bread and water (Matthew 25) - a sacred Stranger who in turn serves as host to the least of these
(elachistos). (The same term hospes means host and guest). Because anatheism is a call and response,
we are free to say yes or no in an endless wagering of hosting and guesting, giving and receiving.
Spirit depends on humans to dwell amongst us, to be made flesh in the world. The invitation is there:
it is up to us in the end.
And let me add one more thing at this World Congress of Philosophy: if the examples I have
have cited of anatheist hospitality derive from the Western Abrahamic tradition, this is because this
happens to be my own hermeneutic heritage, my particular spiritual tradition dependent upon the
cultural time and place in which I was born and bred. But I would insist that anatheist spirituality is
in no way confined to this Western Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition of the Bible. It applies to all
great Wisdom Traditions and world spiritualities - from Buddhism and Hinduism to Taoism and
Confucionism and the many indigenous spiritual cultures of Africa, Austral-Asia and the Americas.

1 Read anatheistically, the Cross is not some cruel expiatory sacrifice by a bloodthirsty, patriarchal God, bent on
ransoming his son for our sins. It is a moment of surmounting such an injurious “theistic” temptation in a moment of
“atheistic” letting go so as to open up an “anatheistic” disposition towards the new, the surprising, the gracious, the gift.
Yet one more radical discovery of God after God. And I say “one more,” for as Christ himself revealed, it has been going
on from the beginning and will never end: “Before Abraham was I am….Now I must go so that the Paraclete can come.”
Christ-here-and-now is always Christ-before-and-after: ana-chronic, ana-Christ. In other words, on the Cross and in all
his human woundedness, Christ abandons the Omnipotent Father God who has abandoned him. His final ultimate lesson
is one of radical kenosis and letting go of lost illusions and attachments, so as to open himself to the new, the other, the
strange. “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” is the atheist moment of negation and negative capability which
opens the space for a releasement and liberation into new life beyond old life – “Unto thee I commend my spirit.” In this
anatheist return, Christ is entrusting himself to the “thee” of each God after God, every stranger who seeks or receives
food and love – his hungry disciples at Gallilee (“come and have breakfast”), Mary Magdalene at the garden tomb
(“Myriam!”), his fellow travellers on the road to Emmaus. Christ keeps coming back (ana) to his followers after (ana) he
has left them, as a hospes they do not recognize – until he hosts them with food and touch. Only as guests again (ana) do
they recognise the divine host.

A recent volume I edited, Hosting the Stranger: Between Religions (Bloomsbury, 2012), is a study
of the wager and wonder of anatheist hospitality in five major spiritualities of the world. And let me
conclude by saying that I am convinced that interreligious hospitality is not just a luxury for anatheism
but a necessary imperative. To open oneself to another God after the death of the last God is an
endless opportunity not only to rediscover the lost or unexplored possibilities of one’s own spirituality
but also and essentially of others’ spiritualities. Hosting the stranger begins and ends with hosting
religions other than one’s own.

Optional Epilogue:

Gerard Manley Hopkins describes the moment of literary epiphany as an act of “aftering and
seconding” - an “over and overing” of experience which replays the secular as sacred (10). He speaks
of a retrieval of past experience that repeats forward, profering new life to memory, giving a new
future to the past. This poetic retrieval involves a detour of distance and disenchantment after which
we may return to our first experience in a new light, over and over. Or as Freud would say,
nachtraglich (Though Freud is speaking of ‘trauma’, this temporal repeating après coup is equally
true of poetic ‘wonder’: both terms come from ‘wound’ referring to a fright or surprise which breaks
open our normal sense of time and space). A Jesuit poet, Hopkins refers to a sacramental reimagining
of everyday things. But this notion of holy repetition is not confined to the Catholic or any other
particular religion. It extends, I suggest, to any poetic movement of returning to “God after God.”
God again after the loss of God. As in the replay of a child’s game, “gone, back again.” “Fort/Da”.
We learn young that what disappears as literal comes back again as figural – that is, as sign and
symbol, as a second presence in and through absence. And by symbol here we do not mean untrue or
unreal. The return of the lost one – in the case of religion the lost God – may well be the most “real
presence,” theopoetically speaking. It may in fact be a more powerful and moving presence precisely
because of the detour through separation and letting go. This involves a new notion of time -
kairological rather than chronological – a time which traverses and reverses time, as in the Eucharistic
formula: ‘we do this in memory of him until he comes again’. Anatheism is about coming again,
creating again, aftering, time after time. In a word: ana-poiesis. Theopoetics is anapoetics.

Can an Appeal to Spirituality Bridge Cultural and Religious Gaps?

Hans Julius Schneider

University of Potsdam, Germany

1. Introduction

The goal of this paper can be stated with help of a slight change in the formulation of its title.1 It then
reads: how can we understand the concept of spiritualty in such a way that it helps in bridging gaps
between religions and cultures? In our age of terrorism the practical side of religious conflicts is
obvious, but they also have a theoretical background. It can be seen when we look at two positions
that influence our view of what can or cannot be done to resolve them: ethnocentrism and relativism.
Ethnocentrism is the view that it is only my own religion (or, more broadly speaking, my own
culture) that tells me what the world is like, what a good human life should be and what expressions
like ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’ mean. Some versions of this view even claim that only my own
religion should properly be signified by this term.
Today, however, most educated persons find ethnocentrism inacceptable. But it is worthwhile
noting that it might have developed from an idea that has a grain of truth in it. It is this: The first
apprehensions of what the world is like and what a good life should be grow from the experiences we
have of our closest social environment at a very early age. These experiences are closely connected
to our early emotional life and to the first steps of developing an identity. Therefore one can say that
the first understanding of life is a particular understanding. It is the one that we ourselves have
developed of what it means to be human. It is at first mostly implicit but will soon be articulated in
many different ways, for example stories about living beings of which some scare us while with
others we identify. This first understanding will influence our outlook for the rest of our lives,
regardless of our later contacts with other perspectives. We can see from this that there is a ‘natural’
tendency to ethnocentrism. But to admit this fact does not mean that we cannot or should not later
learn about and from other cultures and religions.
In contradistinction, relativism is a position that is aware of the imperialist, the violent side of
ethnocentrism, and, more generally, is aware of the dangers of refusing to consider as potentially
valuable perspectives that are different from one’s own. Relativism, therefore, can be said to aim at
overcoming the negative sides of clinging to one’s early conceptions. It urges to respect other cultures
by tentatively stepping back from one’s own convictions, by taking serious the dangers of prejudices,
i.e. of the limitations we have without being aware of them.
Characterized in this way, relativism is the more respectable of the two positions because of its
readiness to learn. It is a form of tolerance; it tries to get an unbiased picture. But, as the dubious
position of ethnocentrism may have grown out of an idea that has a positive side, so the

1 A more detailed discussion of some of the views that are sketched in this paper can be found in Schneider 2006, in my
book (Schneider 2008, in German) and in some recent papers: Schneider 2016, 2017a, 2017b.

philosophically more respectable position of relativism can develop a negative side. This happens
when it is understood as including the claim that it is impossible to seriously discuss the merits and
faults of different views of human life as they are articulated in different religions. Then tolerance
can easily become indifference.
This move towards indifference seems to be supported by the high esteem we today have for the
sciences. It can lead to the conviction that the traditional forms of articulating what life is all about
are outdated, are something to be abandoned. Then it is taken to be a matter of enlightenment to
eliminate the traditional forms of religious articulations from academic as well as political discussions.
This, I think, is a philosophical and also a political mistake.
So the claim of this paper is that both the imperialistic version of ethnocentrism and the
indifference version of relativism are misguided. In this evaluation I am following an argument
developed by Charles Taylor in his discussion about a “language of perspicuous contrast”. 1 He shares
the common critique of ethnocentrism, but, as a defender of a ‘hermeneutic’ or ‘understanding’
approach in the field of social studies, he also criticizes relativism because (as he rightly says) this
position cannot even adequately state what the topics are that are treated in the articulations of a
culture we do not understand.
My aim in this paper is to take one further step and to argue that considerations we find in the
philosophy of language of the later Wittgenstein will strengthen Taylor’s position, namely, that also
in religious studies an understanding approach is necessary as well as possible. Wittgenstein’s
thought will shed some more light on the nature of what this approach involves. In this way it will
also help to understand why intercultural conflicts go so deep and can so easily become irrational and
even violent.

2. The Concepts “Spirituality” and “Religion”

If, for the sake of interreligious dialogue, we have given up ethnocentrism and allow the possibility
of a multitude of different social institutions that despite considerable differences in doctrines and
non-linguistic activities deserve to be called religions, we must be able to say what it is that makes
them all specimens of one phenomenon. The answer cannot be given in terms of one particular
religion. For example we cannot simply say that they all are about one and the same transcendent
being that in Christianity is called God, because we know (firstly) that there are religions (like for
example certain forms of Buddhism) that do not have the idea of such a god and because (secondly)
it is not at all clear what it would mean to say that two different religions refer to the same god
although they are using two different names for this purpose. Moreover and more generally: In the
Philosophy of Religion it is a logical mistake to use the vocabulary of any one particular religion to
define all the others. We need a more neutral term if what we aim at is a truly open intercultural
dialogue about what religion is and in what religions can differ.
In this situation the term spirituality is used to signify a dimension of human life, of which
particular religions with their particular ways of expressing themselves are articulations. In using this
term the speaker tries to avoid all particular forms in which this dimension gets articulated and in

1 Taylor 1981, 205; 2002, 287.

this way tries to avoid ethnocentrism. But how can we see to it that a very abstract term like
spirituality will not be empty, how can we give to it a meaning that is (one the one hand) sufficiently
clear and that (on the other hand) is not restricted to articulations of just one particular religion?
One type of answer to this question is to name a function that all religions share, instead of
naming an object or a person that is treated by all of them. Sometimes non-theistic names like the
Transcendent or the Numinous are used here, but like the expression the Spiritual they are problematic
because of the danger of emptiness. So it is promising to look for a common function of religions, not
for an entity (concrete or abstract) that they are about. There must be some common human concern
if an attempt to compare different ways in which it is realized is to be meaningful.
So what I am proposing here is a functionalism, but it is of a somewhat special kind. For it
characterizes the function of religion not in terms of a view from outside its own concerns, not in
terms for example of sociology or psychology. Instead, it attempts to speak from the point of view of
a person who herself tries to articulate a spiritual outlook. I will for this reason call it an existential
How this is possible might be seen from two tentative definitions, one of the spiritual dimension
of life, and secondly, building on this, a definition of religion.
(1) The spiritual dimension of human life is what gets into view when an attempt is made to
achieve an understanding of and an attitude towards human life as a whole, an understanding that is
honest and truthful. This includes seeing and accepting those sides of life that are mysterious to us.
Also, such an account must not close its eyes to life’s unpleasant sides, like suffering, sickness, and
death, and the feelings of fear and despair these sides might cause. Last but not least it must also
include what Rudolf Otto 1 has called the ‘fascinating’ side of the sacred.
(2) Religions then can be defined as specific articulations and practices that according to their
own ambitions, articulate, and practically help their followers to achieve and sustain such an
understanding of human life. Religions, moreover, typically entail the promise that to identify with
their understanding of life will be helpful. In the best cases this will bring to their followers a deep
form of peace. What this means can best be explained in the words of William James who
characterizes it as “a superior denomination of happiness, and a steadfastness of soul with which no
other can compare.”2
Let me mention in passing that it is the absence of this practical side of helping their disciples
to lead their personal lives that today most clearly separates philosophies from religions.

3. Articulations vs. Theories

When we now turn to linguistic religious articulations and what we might learn from Wittgenstein’s
philosophy of language, the first important point to be mentioned is that, according to Wittgenstein,
what gets articulated in religious doctrines are not theories or descriptions in a sense as they are at
home in the sciences. When we think of cosmology and evolutionary biology we may well say that
these together try to treat the whole world. But when we make the same claim about a religion, we

1 Otto 1963.
2 James 1982, 369.

mean something quite different, namely that the whole lives of the people addressed are the subject
matter of its articulations, more exactly, their lives as experienced by themselves. And this is not what
the sciences are about. They aim at giving an objective, detached description. The help they offer is
mostly of the technical, not of the existential kind.
And if indeed what religious teachings articulate are not theories, these articulations can neither
aim at finding an all-encompassing theoretical account of this world, nor can the conflicts between
religious articulations be resolved in the manner in which conflicts between scientific theories are
resolved. For the same reason, religious conflicts cannot have their roots in the fact that their teachings
are incommensurable in the sense discussed in the philosophy of science.1
In the short time provided in our context is not possible to discuss more than just one detail for
substantiating the outlines given so far. My chosen example is an important change in Wittgenstein’s
philosophy of language, namely, a change in his attitude to pictorial ways of speaking. This is a theme
that is clearly of central importance for understanding religious articulations.
In his Lecture on Ethics, a text that in many respects belongs to his early philosophy, we find
the following reasoning. Wittgenstein had imagined that his interlocutor might raise an objection to
his claim that language cannot express what he calls ‘the higher’. These higher things are what
disciplines like Ethics, Aesthetics, and Religion are attempting to treat. As an example of such an
attempt he mentions that in a religious context he himself feels inclined to say something like ‘I feel
absolutely safe’.2 But he has second thoughts about this, and, still using the science-oriented criteria
put up in his Tractatus,3 considers this sentence in is religious meaning to be nonsensical.
Wittgenstein then imagines his interlocutor to object in the following way. The sentence, the
partner would say, should not be taken in a literal sense, but should be taken as a simile; then it might
no longer be nonsensical. But Wittgenstein rejects this objection. At the time when he wrote the
Lecture, he claimed that a simile, if meaningful, must be translatable into a literal expression. And
for this literal expression to be meaningful he demands that it be about a ‘state of affairs’ in the
science-oriented sense he had sketched in the Tractatus. In a next step he correctly observes that a
fulfillment of this requirement would have as a consequence that the sentence in question would no
longer convey the intended ‘higher’ meaning, but instead would say something about a state of mind
as a physical state of affairs.4 So in his Lecture Wittgenstein claimed that there is something we cannot
do with the help of language, namely, to express something higher.5 If this were so, this fact would
strengthen relativism because it puts spiritual contents out of our critical reach.
When we now look at his later work as documented in the Philosophical Investigations we find
that Wittgenstein has changed his mind on these points.6 Now he has something quite different to say
about the workings of pictorial language and the limits of what language can do:

1 Cf. Schneider 2017a.

2 Wittgenstein 1965, 8.
3 Wittgenstein 1922.
4 “But what I mean is that a state of mind, so far as we mean by that a fact which we can describe, is in no ethical sense
good or bad.” (Wittgenstein 1965: 6).
5 In the Tractatus we read: „Propositions cannot express anything higher.” (Wittgenstein 1922: 6.42).
6 Wittgenstein 2009.

The great difficulty here is not to present the matter as if there were something one couldn’t do. As if
there really were an object, from which I extract a description, which I am not in a position to show
anyone. – And the best that I can propose is that we yield to the temptation to use this picture, but then
investigate what the application of the picture looks like. (PI § 374)1

So instead of keeping quiet and resisting the temptation to say something he had thought to be
nonsensical, and instead of trying to offer a translation into a language that would be acceptable from
a Tractatus point of view (which he takes his interlocutor to be proposing but which he thinks to be
impossible), but also instead of claiming that there is a special field of mystical objects of which we
might have some kind of private knowledge or even a private description, but about which we just
cannot speak in our shared human language, he now says that we should yield to the mentioned
temptation. We should speak in the way we felt inclined to, and this means that we should trust that
pictorial language can be meaningful, - although its way of having meaning is different from the ways
allowed in the Tractatus: It does not rest on a relation between an object and its name.
So the next step for Wittgenstein is not to look for an object, but to “investigate what the
application of the picture looks like”. Speaking in this way of the application of a picture implies
that in the kind of investigation he now proposes we should not isolate a constituent word from the
place it occupies in a complex pictorial phrase and then try to answer follow-up questions about the
meaning of just this word (for example ‘God’) with the understanding that explaining the meaning
demands that we can point to something that this word names. With this move Wittgenstein points to
the possibility that different pictures that are at home in different cultures and religions may have a
similar use in various attempts that human beings in different parts of the world have made to come
to terms with their condition. And this means, according to the definitions given above: In our human
attempts of articulating the spiritual dimension of life quite different pictorial articulations might
fulfill similar existential functions.

4. Conclusion: Learning to be Human

In conclusion I would like to name the most important consequences that the sketched understanding
of spirituality will have for closing gaps between religions and cultures. We have seen that to
understand the application of pictorial expressions as wholes is a necessary step in those cases of
intercultural communication that are close to religious matters. We have also seen that language
games involving such expressions are acquired in life quite early, when identities are first build and
when the experiences made have strong emotional meanings. Therefore, it is to be expected that the
people who have been brought up by them embrace these pictures with great tenacity. Thirdly we can
understand that in the case of conflicts between competing pictures these cannot be resolved by
putting them together to form one single encompassing picture. Here we might think of the Christian
conception of a last judgment, as compared to the Buddhist conception of a favorable or not so

1 Die große Schwierigkeit ist hier, die Sache nicht so darzustellen, als könne man etwas nicht. Als wäre da wohl ein
Gegenstand, von dem ich die Beschreibung abziehe, aber ich wäre nicht im Stande, ihn jemandem zu zeigen. – Und das
Beste, was ich vorschlagen kann, ist wohl, daß wir der Versuchung, dies Bild zu gebrauchen, nachgeben: aber nun
untersuchen, wie die Anwendung dieses Bildes aussieht.“

favorable rebirth: These are alternative pictures, they cannot be just added one to the other; they are
not horizons that could be fused (Gadamer). And, fourthly, we have seen that the methods we have
for resolving conflicts between scientific theories are not applicable in cases of religious conflicts.
These points taken together help to understand (but not to justify) the readiness to use force in
religiously inspired conflicts.
What then can we learn from Wittgenstein’s considerations when the goal is to understand the
theoretical questions on the way to avoid violence in religious and cultural matters? The answer
emerging from the considerations presented here is the following: We have to learn to combine two
things: On the one hand we have to be able to use pictorial expressions seriously for the articulation
of our own existential questions and aspirations. This will avoid the indifference-version of relativism.
But on the other hand we should also avoid that the pictures we are using in these attempts of self-
articulation (in Wittgenstein’s words) hold us captive.1 We should not become the slaves of our own
pictorial expressions. If we succeed in this, we avoid ethnocentrism by having gained some freedom
in our relation to these pictures, without giving them up. We then can understand and we can take
seriously perspectives that are articulated in pictorial languages that are foreign to us.
To train this freedom, I propose, is part of what the phrase ‘learning to be human’ means. What
is at stake here can be seen in a remark of Charles Taylor I would like to quote to end my presentation.
Taylor, as you might know, is a Roman Catholic, and the sentence to be quoted is taken from his
discussion of certain cruel rites of sacrifice that the Spaniards were confronted with when they
encountered the Aztec culture:

But that the Mass and Aztec sacrifice belong to rival construals of a dimension of the human condition
for which we have no stable, culture-transcendent name is a thought we cannot let go of, unless we want
to relegate these people to the kind of unintelligibility that members of a different species would have for


James, William: The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1982.

Otto, Rudolf: Das Heilige. Über das Irrationale in der Idee des Göttlichen und sein Verhältnis zum
Rationalen, München 1963.
Schneider, Hans Julius: William James and Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Philosophical Approach to
Spirituality; in: J. Moore, C. Purton (eds.), Spirituality and Counselling: Experiential and
Theoretical Perspectives, Ross-on-Wye 2006, 50-64.
Schneider, Hans Julius: Religion. Berlin 2008 (in German).
———. Religiöse und nicht-religiöse Sprachspiele - Grenzen und Grenzüberschreitungen. In: Rico
Gutschmidt, Thomas Rentsch (Hrsg.), Gott ohne Theismus? Neue Positionen zu einer
zeitlosen Frage, Münster 2016, 149-164.

1 PI § 115.
2 Taylor 2002, 294.

———. Horizontverschmelzung, Inkommensurabilität und sprachliche Bilder. In: Wittgenstein-
Studien 8/2017a, 211-238.
———. Sacred Values and Interreligious Dialogue; Analyse und Kritik 2017b; 39 (1), 63-83. DOI:
Taylor, Charles: Understanding and Explanation in the Geisteswissenschaften, in: Steven H.
Holtzman, Christopher M. Leich (Hrsg.): Wittgenstein: to Follow a Rule, London 1981, 191-
———. Understanding the Other: A Gadamerian View on Conceptual Schemes, in: Jeff Malpas,
Ulrich Arnswalt, Jens Kertscher (Eds.): Gadamer’s Century. Essays in Honor of Hans-Georg
Gadamer, Cambridge Mass. 2002, 279-297.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, ed. C.K. Ogden, transl. C.K. Ogden and F.P.
Ramsey, London 1922.
———. A Lecture on Ethics. In: Wittgenstein’s Lecture on Ethics. The Philosophical Review 74
(1965) 3-12.
———. Philosophical Investigations/Philosophische Untersuchungen, ed. P.M.S. Hacker and
Joachim Schulte, transl. G.E.M. Anscombe, P.M.S. Hacker, and Joachim Schulte, New York

Are We Still Learning to be Human?
The Problem of Continuity Between Tradition and Transmission.

Collège de France, Paris

While we are at the beginning of the third millennium of the common era, after such a long process
of humanization and centuries of philosophical reflection on the question, are we still learning to be
human? Recent history and current events remind us at all times that this learning is far from being
achieved and that it is actually constantly to be renewed if we do not want to switch into brutality and
barbarism forever. Now this is precisely where the heart of Confucian teaching lies, which could be
summed up in the single word xue 學 "to learn", the very first of the Lunyu 論語, interviews attributed
to Master Kong (Kongzi 孔子, 551-479 before the common era), known in the West under the
Latinized name of Confucius. The entire Confucian tradition that has followed for 1,500 years and
still continues today basically speaks only of this: how to learn to become ever more human?
After having been perceived philosophically by the Enlightenment elites informed by Jesuit
missionaries present in China in the 17th-18th centuries, Confucianism was relegated to the status of
religion by the philosophical magister, then by the new science of religions. in nineteenth-century
Europe. Following the disasters of world wars and large-scale genocides of the twentieth century,
Confucianism reappeared as a new humanism with universalist claim. It is therefore for us to seek to
evaluate the universal scope of this Confucian worldview by going back to its origins rooted in the
ritualism characteristic of the ancient Chinese civilization. We note that the latter is underpinned by
a concept that can be described as "anthropo-cosmic" (possible translation of the famous formula tian
ren he yi 天人合一 "Sky and Man together in one whole"), in which the human world is in a relation
of continuity with what exceeds and encompasses it - the natural and cosmic universe, but also the
numinous, invisible world of superhuman powers. At the foundation of this continuity is what
connects the world of the living to that of the ancestors perceived as having been part of the human
community, while having the power to intercede with spirits and divinities, when they are not
themselves deified. The devotion to ancestors is certainly the oldest, the most durable and the most
widespread in the history of Chinese civilization, especially in the privileged forms it has taken the
rites of mourning and filial piety and which still persist today in communities of Chinese descent
around the world. It is this continuum between the human and the supra-human that makes it difficult,
if not impossible, to bring it into the category of "religion" as it has been elaborated in the perspective
of monotheistic religions, without however remove it from its universal character.
If we insist as much on the continuum character of the anthropo-cosmic and ritualistic vision of
ancient China, it is because it is at the heart of the interrogation concerning the Chinese claim to
universality. In fact, on the one hand, this continuum makes it possible to encompass Heaven, Earth
and Man (tian-di-ren 天地人) in one single whole. In this sense, it is even more than a universalism.
And, on the other hand, it also ensures continuity over time. This is affirmed expressly in the ritualistic

sources that we have cited and studied: Man (the human world) has its constancy just like Heaven-
Earth, by the continuous transmission of a certain idea of humanity civilized from generation to
generation. Uninterrupted transmission which is translated in ritualistic terms by the perfect
continuity between filial piety (veneration marked to the living parents) and worship to ancestors and
deceased parents (devotion rendered to the dead). Funeral rites and rites of mourning, carefully
described in particular in the Treatise of Rites (Liji 禮記), consist of purification fasts aimed at
visualizing the dead as they were in their lifetime, and sacrificial offerings, which must be done to
the deceased as if they were present, still alive. As summarized by the often quoted formula of the
Confucius Talks (III, 12):

祭如在, 祭神如神在。子曰:「吾不與祭, 如不祭。」

We offer sacrifices [to our deceased parents] as if they were present, just as we sacrifice to the spirits as
if they were indeed there. What makes the Master say: If I do not really participate in the sacrifice, it is
as if there is no sacrifice.

This word ru 如 ("as" or "as if") comes back too frequently, even obsessively, in the ritualistic
sources (see in particular the Treatise of Rites, chapter "Tangong", A § 19, as well as the first sections
from Book X of the Conversations) to not signify anything important: it is probably an answer, or at
least an attempt to answer, to the question raised by Jean Levi about the culture of sacrifice specific
to archaic China and in which Confucius was born, and summed up in these terms by Jean Francois
How much did it take to serve a deceased master [or a father] as he was served in his lifetime?
Could the sacrifices presented to him be effective if the victims were not real? The ritualists who
claim Confucius will defend the idea that to the dead, who are both absent and present, should be
made sacrifices absent and present, that is to say, symbolic. So there has never been a break [it is I
who underlines]. Human sacrifice has never been condemned. It has been overshadowed, it has
become the shameful "primordial scene" hidden in the heart of the Confucian tradition. This idea is
perhaps questionable, it must be discussed. It seems to me capable of illuminating phenomena which
resisted any explanation. I think of the filial piety, the obsessional, even pathological forms that she
sometimes took afterwards.
Jean Levi goes even further by recalling that the practice of human sacrifices to accompany the
deceased to the grave by their entourage (wives or servants) and thus allow them to extend their
lifestyle as they were alive, was still far to be decided in the time of Confucius. In the Treatise on
Rites ("Tangong", A § 74 and B § 155), there are remarks attributed to the Master that refer to a
compromised solution of introducing into the grave of the deceased, no longer the servants or wives
in flesh and bone, but straw figurines. But, says Confucius, it is better that they are not wooden
mannequins that would think too much of real human beings and run the risk of falling back into the
practice of human sacrifices. In the same way, the utensils that are placed in the grave must resemble
the utensils of everyday life, but not be made to really give service, in order to mark well that they
belong to the world of manes and spirits, and not to that of the living. These utensils are called
"mystical utensils" (mingqi 明器), like vessels that resemble those of everyday life, but are not made

to be used as containers, or bells and lithophones that cannot emit sounds because they are not hooked
to posts.
Therefore, the importance and recurrence of the "as if" (ru 如 ) in ritualistic texts is
understandable: one must constantly stand on the razor's edge, on the thin line between considering
the dead as really dead and definitively buried (which, as the Treaty of Rites makes it say to Confucius,
would be a lack of humanity) and considering the dead as still an integral part of the world of the
living (which, according to Confucius, would be unreasonable). It is therefore necessary to make "as
if" - but only "as if" - the deceased parents were still there to keep their memory alive and to express
to them the gratitude which is due to them, but at the same time to make it clear that we are in the "
as if "so that the life of the living may continue without being totally burdened by that of the dead.
Marcel Mauss had therefore some reason to observe that in China, "the life of the dead clutters
that of the living". One could even go so far as to say that funerary ritualism means that the life of the
dead threatens at every moment to press that of the living. Similarly, there is a risk of deprivation of
children's lives in the practices of filial piety which are based essentially on the duty to feed the
parents, materially during their lifetime, then symbolically after their death, as the sentence of the
Treaty of Rites ("Ji yi", § 4) summarizes, in a parallel construction underlined by a rhyming effect:

君子生則敬養, 死則敬享。
The good man, during the lifetime of his parents, puts all his respect to feed them and, after their death,
to make them sacrificial offerings.

In traditional Chinese education, the inculcation of filial piety from childhood has sometimes
given rise to what Jean François Billeter has described as "obsessive or even pathological forms". It
is enough to mention the Twenty-four examples of filial piety (Er shi si xiao 二 十 四 孝 ), a
compendium compiled by Guo Jujing 郭居敬 during the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty (13th-14th
centuries) to serve for the edification of future generations. With obviously didactic aims, this
collection contains a succession of anecdotes of all times featuring pious sons, ready for the worst
excesses of zeal to provide their old parents their favorite dishes. It has been the subject of many
editions with wide distribution, including illustrated one. In fact, this theme now comes back to one
of the official media, anxious to restore to honor the sense of filial piety that would be part of,
according to them, "cultural genes" unique to all Chinese. In reality, the obligation to offer aids to
elderly parents is barely veiled to overcome the shortcomings of the retirement system, especially in
an aging population as is the case in China today.
It would almost be forgotten that the polarization of the Confucian ritualist culture on filial piety
was one of the main targets of the revolutionary iconoclasm of the modernist intellectuals of the early
twentieth century. Chen Duxiu (1879-1942) who was one of the leaders of the iconoclastic movement
of May 4, 1919 and one of the co-founders of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, is known to
have stated that filial piety is the worst of all and the origin of all vices. The great writer Lu Xun
(1881-1936) devotes a critical text to the Twenty-four examples of filial piety illustrated in his
collection Flowers in the Morning Collected in the Evening, published in 1927.

In The Diary of a Madman, published in 1918 in Xin Qingnian ("Youth"), founded by Chen
Duxiu, Lu Xun renders a fierce and hallucinatory vision to Confucian piety: “In the past, humans
were often eaten I remember it, but not very clearly. I opened a history book to check, no
chronological indication, but on all pages, written in all directions, we read the words "Humanity,
Justice, Way, Virtue" (key terms of Confucian morality). Not getting any sleep anyway, I thoroughly
examined it in a good part of the night and finally discerned characters between the lines, the book
was filled with the words "eat man"!
The theme of cannibalism has continued to haunt modern Chinese literature and is reflected in
the recent work of Mo Yan who, in a 1999 interview, long before he was awarded the Nobel Prize
for Literature in 2012, explicitly recognized the existence of practices that are similar to cannibalism
in ancient and even contemporary China. If this theme can be perceived as a pure literary
phantasmagoria, it actually joins the words of Jean Levi on funerary practices that pushes the
ritualistic logic of continuity between dead and alive to the human sacrifice that Jean François Billeter
underlines has never been clearly convicted. The embarrassment associated with this "sacred
repressed" gave rise to an intense process of internalization that remained in the submerged part of
the great iceberg of "Confucian humanism".
If the denunciation of the excesses, reverses and perverse effects of continuum has any reason
to be so radical, it is that filial piety has probably been the major and central feature of the Confucian
vision of the world and of society, it is to be understood as main factor of its claim to universality –
Chinese style universality. The textual source that has made filial piety a universal value (in the true
sense of the term) is undoubtedly the canonical book devoted to it, the Xiaojing 孝經. A short work
made of hammered and repetitive formulas, totally devoid of literary quality, it is traditionally
attributed to Zengzi 曾子, a disciple of Confucius, reputed to have been a model of filial piety. Its
dating, like that of most of the ritualistic compendia studied previously, is controversial, but most
historians agree today to situate its compilation in the Han era (2nd century BC). - 2nd century AD).
Some even make it an invention proper to the founding phase of the imperial era and motivated by
purely ideological considerations.
In any case, Xiaojing gives xiao 孝, filial piety, a metaphysical dimension, equivalent to that of
the Dao. In the chapter "San cai 三才" (the three powers), xiao is related to the cosmic triad Sky-
Earth-Man, which is mentioned in the chapter of the Xunzi 荀子 dedicated to Heaven, the "Tian lun

子曰: 「夫孝, 天之經也, 地之義也, 民之行也。」

The Master says: The filial piety is what makes the constancy of the Sky, the sense of justice of the Earth,
the good behavior of the men.

In addition to the continuum between the cosmos and the human world and between the living
and the dead, we must highlight the one that links the family dimension and the political dimension
more widely. Indeed, the blood relationship between father and son - the organic link above all - is
the archetypal model of the political relationship between the prince and his subjects. Thus, during
the Han Dynasty, a homology was established between, on the one hand, the filial piety (xiao 孝)

which is supposed to characterize the relation of the son to the father and, on the other hand, loyalty
(zhong 忠) which must ground the ideal relationship of the minister or the subjects to his prince. See
Xiaojing, "Guang yang ming 廣揚名")

子曰: 「君子之事親孝, 故忠可移於君。事兄悌, 故順可移於長。居家理, 故治可移於官。是以

行成於內, 而名立於後世矣。」

The Master says: The filial piety with which the good man serves his parents can be transposed (yi 移)
in the form of loyalty to the prince. The way he serves his older brothers can be transposed as respectful
docility to the older ones. The way in which he orders his family can be transposed in the form of good
government on an administrative charge. Thus the perfection of his conduct in private makes his fame
known to posterity.

Filial piety was not only the exclusive subject of a so-called canonical work, it became the first
cardinal virtue under the Han, covering all aspects of the social, religious, political and institutional
life of the new imperial order. The dynastic annals precede the posthumous names of the Han
emperors by the qualifier xiao 孝, "filial". More generally, a reputation for filial piety could reward
important political and social satisfactions to a person and his family. Throughout the second part of
the dynasty (Han Orientals), the best way to gain an official position was to secure a reputation of a
man "filial and integrity" (xiao lian 孝廉), a title created in 134 BC. J.-C. which allowed obscure
individuals living in outlying areas to stand out and bring on an official career.
The civilized world bordered and limited by rites is therefore made up of a tight web of relations
of continuity that intersect in all directions. One of the main threads that cross all this mesh is filial
piety. It takes on a "cosmo-political" dimension by becoming the very engine of human action placed
in homological relation with the activity of Heaven-Earth, and by founding the political order in a
supposedly "natural" order of things, that of filiation. Filial piety is in fact the organic bond of blood
between son and father, the matrix of the political relationship between the subject / minister and the
prince. Here too there is a continuum that allows the father-son relationship to be passed without
interruption to the relationship between prince and minister, loyalty being the political translation of
filial piety or, if one prefers, the extension of the filial feeling of the father to the prince. This process
of extension is done in a continuum, but it goes through different stages which are in relation of
homology, that is to say that all the stages are on the same model, but on different scales, like what
shows in the chapter "Xiao zhi" 孝治 of Xiaojing:

The Master says: Formerly, it was through filial piety that kings emanating the light of their virtue ruled
the world under Heaven (tianxia 天下), they would never have had the impudence to look down on the
ministers of the small vassalages, and a fortiori the dukes, marquises, counts, and barons! Thus they
assured the enthusiastic adherence of the ten thousand countries in the maintenance of the worship
rendered to their royal ancestors.
治國者, 不敢侮於鰥寡, 而況於士民乎? 故得百姓之歡心, 以事其先君.

Those who ruled a country (guo 國) would never have had the arrogance to humiliate widowers or the
forlorn and let alone officers and common people! Thus they ensured the enthusiastic adherence of one
hundred families (of the people) in the maintenance of the worship rendered to their seigniorial
治家者,不敢失於臣妾,而況於妻子乎?故得人之歡心,以事其親。 .
Those who were at the head of a family (jia 家) would never have thought of neglecting their servants
and concubines, let alone their wives and sons. In this way they ensured the enthusiastic adherence of
clan members to the service of their parents.
Under these conditions, in their lifetime, [the parents] lived in the security provided by the members of
their clan, [after their death] their manes accepted the offerings presented to them.
This is how the world under Heaven (tianxia 天下) was in harmony and in peace, disasters and
calamities did not occur, misfortunes and disorders did not appear. It is thus that the brilliant kings of
their virtue governed the world by filial piety.
As it is said in the Odes: To one who has an enlightened and virtuous behavior, all countries at four
directions submit themselves voluntarily.

Many textual sources from the end of antiquity and the beginning of the imperial era bear
witness to the recurrence of the three levels tianxia 天下 (all under Heaven, the world), guo 國 (the
country) and jia 家 (the family). Contrary to appearances, the difference in scale between the three
levels is not so much spatial or geographical order, it is primarily dictated by ritualistic constraints.
This is made clear in this passage in the Treatise on Rites which concerns the duty of revenge of a
pious son whose father or mother has been murdered and who, in the name of filial piety, has the duty
to avenge the deceased parent, to try to kill the murderer. See "Tangong" 檀弓, A § 53:

子夏問於孔子曰: 「居父母之仇如之何?」
Disciple Zixia asks Master Kong: How should a son behave towards the murderer of his father or mother?
The Master answers: He must sleep on straw and take his shield as a pillow, he must not assume any
office (so as to remain totally available and constantly ready to fulfill his duty of revenge), so as not to
share with the murderer the same world under Heaven (tianxia). If the son meets the murderer at the
market or at the court (where, in principle, one is not armed), he must not have to return to take his
weapon, but must be able to provoke him to fight on the spot.
曰: 「請問居昆弟之仇如之何?」
Question: What is the attitude towards the murderer of his older brother or younger brother?
曰: 「仕弗與共國; 銜君命而使, 雖遇之不鬥。」
Answer: He can assume an office, but not in the same country (guo) as the murderer.
If he is sent (into the country of the murderer) and carries a mission from his prince, even if he encounters
the murderer, he must not provoke him in combat (in other words, as long as the murderer is in an another
country, there is no obligation of revenge.)

曰: 「請問居從父昆弟之仇如之何?」
Question: What is the attitude towards the murderer of an uncle or a paternal cousin?
曰: 「不為魁, 主人能, 則執兵而陪其後。」

Answer: He must not take the initiative of revenge. If the person concerned (i.e. the son of the uncle or
cousin) is able to do so, he is content to take his weapon and follow him second.

Here, the three levels (tianxia, guo, jia) are determined by the degree of kinship between a man
and his murdered relative: if it is the father or the mother, he does not share the same Heaven (in other
words, he never ceases to avenge the death of his father or mother by killing the murderer wherever
he may be); if it's the brother, he can let the murderer live, but in another country; if it's a cousin, it's
a simple family affair and it's up to the cousin's son to take the initiative for revenge. So here we have
a practice of what would be called elsewhere vendetta in a ritualized form to the extreme (here we
are capable of noting that ritualism does not exclude violence and bloodshed, quite the contrary). The
ritual treaties agree that vengeance is a moral obligation linked to filial piety, and that the degree of
obligation is directly proportional to the degree of kinship between the victim of the murder and his
avenger, exactly on the model of rites. funerals and mourning, which, significantly, must be continued
until revenge is honored. In this, vengeance is closely associated with the ritualism of mourning to
which it is substituted or conditioned, in that it also determines the degrees of proximity in kinship.
The distinction between three levels (tianxia, guo, jia), which is determined in the case of the
ritual duty of vengeance by the degree of kinship, is found in other passages of the Treatise of Rites,
starting with the chapter "Li yun 禮 運 "(Evolution of rites, § 3):

「故聖人以禮示之, 故天下國家可得而正也. 」
Since the wise made known the rites, the whole world, the countries and the families could be ruled in

See also chapter "Zhongyong 中庸", § 9:

子曰: 「天下國家可均也, 爵祿可辭也, 白刃可蹈也, 中庸不可能也。」

The master says: One can find men wise enough to govern the empire, a principality or a domain of
minister of state; disinterested enough to refuse offices and emoluments, or brave enough to walk on
naked swords; we do not find any that are able to stand in the invariable environment.

This same staging of the socio-political order on three levels grouped in a single expression is
found in the Mencius (Mengzi 孟子, IV A 5):

孟子曰: 「人有恆言, 皆曰「天下國家 」天下之本在國, 國之本在家, 家之本在身。」

Master Meng (Mencius) says: People have this consecrated expression: "World, country, family. The
root of the world is in the country, the root of the country in the family, the root of the family in the
person [of its leader].

This stratification (tianxia, guo, jia, shen) is also found in the non-Confucian and even anti-
Confucian source, Laozi 老子, cf. § 54:

善建不拔, 善抱者不脫, 子孫以祭祀不輟。

That which is built (planted) solidly does not let itself be torn off, that which is firmly embraced is not
allowed to be removed, the filiation of the sons and grandsons through the sacrifices (which they offer
to their deceased parents) is not to interrupt.
修之於身, 其德乃真;
Whoever cultivates it in his own person, his virtue will be authentic
修之於家, 其德乃餘;
Whoever cultivates it in his family, his virtue will be superabundant
修之於鄉, 其德乃長;
Whoever cultivates it in his village, his virtue will continue
修之於國, 其德乃豐;
Whoever cultivates it in his country, his virtue will be rich
修之於天下, 其德乃普。
He who cultivates it everywhere under Heaven, his virtue will spread everywhere.
故以身觀身, 以家觀家, 以鄉觀鄉, 以國觀國, 以天下觀天下。
This is how to look at the self from within, the family from the family, the village from the village, the
country from the country, the world from the world.
吾何以知天下然哉? 以此。
And how do I know that this is the case with the world? Like this!

These quotations echo the equally famous beginning of what was originally a chapter of the
Treatise on Rites, but which later acquired the status of a canonical text in its own right, the
Daxue 大學 (The Great Study). In the corpus of the Confucian scriptural canon, the Great Study
is certainly one of the most frequently and widely commented texts, both in time (for more than a
millennium, from the eleventh century until today) and in space (having been the subject of many
important comments in Korea, Japan and Vietnam). The idea that the three levels (world, country,
family) ultimately take root in the person (shen 身) of the ruler / father is explained in the long
development that opens the text of the Great Study and that every Confucian scholar knew by heart:

大學之道, 在明明德, 在親民, 在止於至善。

The Dao of the Great Study consists in making the light of virtue shine forth, be close to the people also
of their family, and stop only in the supreme good.
Knowing where to stop can be fixed; once fixed, the mind can know repose; repose leads to peace, peace
to reflection, reflection helps to reach the goal.
Everything has a root and branches, all events a beginning and an end. Who knows what comes before
and what comes next, that one is close to the Dao.

In antiquity, to make the light of virtue shine through the whole universe, one began by ordering one's
own country. To order one's own country, one began by settling one's own house. To settle one's own
home, one began by perfecting oneself. To perfect oneself, one began by making one's heart right. To
make his heart right, one began by making his intention genuine. To make one's intention true, one began
by developing one's knowledge; and one developed one's knowledge by examining things.
It is by examining things that knowledge reaches its greatest extension. Once the knowledge is extended,
the intention becomes authentic; once authentic intention, the heart becomes upright. It is by giving
uprightness to the heart that one perfects oneself. It is by perfecting oneself that one's house is regulated;
it is by regulating his house that his country is ordered; and it is when the countries are ordained that the
Great Peace is accomplished by the whole universe.
For the Son of Heaven as for the ordinary man, the essential thing is to perfect oneself. Leave the essential
to the disorder while hoping to control the accessory, that is impossible. Neglecting what is important to
you by attaching importance to what does not, that has never been seen.

The success of the Great Study can be explained, of course, by its conciseness (the integral text
stands on a single printed page), but also, paradoxically, because of the repetitive formulations and
constructions in chains (of the type "Si A, then B, if B, then C, etc. ") of the introductory part:" In
antiquity, one began by ordering one's own country. To order one's own country, one began by settling
one's own house. To regulate one's own home, one began by perfecting oneself, etc., etc. Such a
construction, obviously aimed at mnemonics, helps to create an effect of continuity and orderly
succession. The beginning of the text describes the Way of the Great Study as a gradual, step-by-step
progression of the personal development of the ruler (shen) which spreads in concentric circles at the
level of the family (jia) and then of the country (guo) and finally of the world (tianxia), thus
establishing a relation of continuity between the moral dimension of the culture of self (xiu shen 修
身) and the political dimension of the governance of the world (zhi guo 治國), continuity which
remained the paradigm central to the text. This image of the moral influence of the prince, which
develops and spreads into ever wider circles or concentric waves as the prince himself grows as a
moral being, presents the fiction of a continuity between the moral culture of the elite and the political
control of the social body. The seamless passage from "inner sanctity" (nei sheng 内聖) to "outer
kingship" (wai wang 外 王) evoked at the beginning of the Great Study, illustrates a Confucian
idealism still extolled today by the Sino scholar American Tu Wei-ming 杜維明:

Just as the self must overcome to become authentically human, the family must overcome nepotism to
become authentically human. By analogy, the community must overcome parochialism, the state must
overcome ethnocentrism, and the world must overcome anthropocentrism to become authentically human.

In this article, we discuss the concepts of egoism, nepotism, parochialism, ethnocentrism and
anthropocentrism to "form one body with Heaven, Earth, and the Myriad Things".

Tu Wei-ming takes up again here the different stages through which the continuous development
of the sovereign's moral person in concentric circles of ever greater breadth: the self, the family, the
community, the state, the world, and concludes on the all-encompassing, universalist character of
Confucian humanism. The final quote "to be one body with Heaven, Earth and the ten thousand
beings" is an allusion to the formula of the great Ming period thinker, Wang Yangming 王阳明 (1472-
1529), in his Daxue wen 大學問 (Questions about the Great Study):

大人者, 以天地萬物為一體者也, 其視天下猶一家, 中國猶一人焉。

The great man is the one who conceives Heaven-Earth and the ten thousand beings as one body. He
considers the world as one family, and the central country (s) as one man.

However, this sentence of Wang Yangming itself refers to a passage from the already cited
chapter of the Treaty of Rites ("Liyun" § 18):

Thus, the Sage has a mind wide enough to consider the world as one family, and the central country (s)
as one man ...

It is striking that even in the twentieth century, such a canonical formula is more vivid than ever
under the brush of Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培 (1868-1940), figurehead of Chinese modernity, in a vibrant
call for resistance against the Japanese invasion appeared in 1936 and entitled 中國為一人, 天下為
一家 ("China is one man, the world one family"). This short text, which remains engraved in the
memories, testifies to the durability, from antiquity to the modern era, of a cosmo-political schema
that makes appear in the same sentence and in an analogical parallelism zhongguo 中國 and tianxia
天下, thus associating the centrality and universality that both China, central nation and "all under
heaven" claim at the same time.

(Translated by Li Dan; Proofread by Feng Li)

The Human, World and Time in Mayan Thinking

Mercedes de la Garza


Mayan groups settled in a continuous territory covering the current Mexican states of Yucatán,
Campeche, Quintana Roo, and parts of Tabasco and Chiapas, while also including the Central
American countries of Guatemala, Belize, and Western parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The total
extension of the Mayan territory was of almost 400,000 squared kilometers.
Approximately thirty ethnic groups, each one with its own language, inhabit this territory.
Among them we find the Mayan yucateca, chontal, tzotzil, tzeltal, quiché, cakchiquel, tzutuhil mam
and ixil. Mayan languages form a linguistic group of common origin.
The great Mayan area has an extraordinary rich and varied geography. There is warm and humid
weather, jungles of immense trees, high rainfalls, extensive swampy regions, and abundant rivers,
like the Grivalja and Usumacinta, cross through the area. Likewise, there is also cold weather,
mountain ranges of volcanic origin with peaks reaching up to 4,000 meters high, great lakes, and
dense forests, where impressive constructions were built. At the same time, there are plain regions,
almost devoid of rivers or rainfall, with poor vegetation, but with countless water flows and
subterranean water deposits that the Mayans called dzonot (cenotes), which were and continue being,
the main water source for the locals, besides having also a special symbolic meaning as access points
to the underworld.
The animal variety in the area is also striking, as there are diverse species of monkeys, deer,
boars, tapirs, and other mammals. Jungles are populated by innumerable species of insects, reptiles
and birds, where among them stands out the quetzal, considered to be the most beautiful bird, and the
remarkable tropical rattlesnake, both animals being symbols of the heavenly supreme God. Likewise,
it is worth noting the jaguar, whose sole predator is the human being, which was an epiphany of the
Sun in its passage through the underworld.
Mayan culture cannot be understood without considering the extraordinary natural setting where
it developed, given that animal and plant symbols are commonly found in their religion and in the
artistic creations of their culture. Similarly, the natural forces, valleys and mountains, inspired their
understanding of the origin and shaping of the world, as well as the establishment of sacred locations
in the heart of their large cities, which came to be conceived as microcosms.

The Idea of Humans in The Cosmogonic Myth

In the books written by the ancient Mayans during colonial times, employing their own languages
while using the Latin alphabet learnt from the Spanish monks, varied versions of the cosmogonic
myth have been preserved, all of which seem to have been shared by the diverse groups of Mayans
during pre-Hispanic times. With formal differences, tales of the origin were based on the main idea
that the universe was formed by the gods to shelter men, and that it also follows a cyclical process of

creation and destruction in which the main elements, animals, plants and stars progressively appear,
while human beings, key players in the process, evolve through the different ages that lead them to
become the creature that the gods need in order to be revered and fed, given the fact that they become
the only conscious creature. This expresses the idea that gods are mortal, and that if they are left to
die, the cosmos, which in turn they sustain and feed, also perishes. In this manner, the existence of
the world rests on the hands of humanity, and its care and continued existence are its most radical
The most complete version of the Mayan cosmogonic myth is found in the Popol Vuh of the
Guatemalan quichés, written in quiche language using the Latin alphabet. The Popol Vuh myth begins
with the decision of the gods to create the cosmos, with the human being as its central creature. The
purpose of the creation of the world is for it to serve as a home for the living being that will be
entrusted with the mission of worshiping and feeding the gods.
The human being’s formation is performed through different stages of creation and destruction,
which correlate to the different cosmic ages. It should be noted the use of plant and animal materials
to shape the human beings, and also the transformation of some creatures into others, which evokes
an idea of co-participation rather than indifference. The division set by Western science between
animals, plants and minerals is foreign to the Mayan natives, since for them the human substance is
not different from the rest of the world’s. For Mayans, everyone has a soul.
The myth tells that gods firstly made humans out of clay. However, given their inability to come
to life, they were destroyed by a water flood, which was depicted (as we can see in the image) in one
of the three codices that survived the Spanish conquest.
Looking for a more solid material, the deities created men out of wood. These, although managed
to speak and reproduce, were not conscious, did not have blood, nor humidity, and were only able to
crawl, thereby not being able to satisfy the needs of the gods to be adored and fed. Thus, men of wood
were transformed into monkeys, and its world disappeared under a flood of hot resin.
By describing the shortcomings of these failed men of wood, the myth reveals, by contrast, what
the quichés considered to be the defining notes of human nature: as said, they did not have any
consciousness, heart, blood, humidity, and they crawled. This signals that human form, existence,
language, and even reproduction, are not sufficient to become a human being. Rather, what makes
men human is their soul, which is conceived here as understanding and memory, and it is radically
linked to the vital principle of blood. Thus, for Mayans, consciousness can only exist in a human
being, with a heart, blood and humidity, as what determines the existence of soul is the type of matter
that constitutes the body. In this sense, the Popol Vuh reveals that body and soul are not absolutely
different and separated substances, while highlighting the fact that an upright posture is also
definitory for the human being.
Finally, with the help of several animals (wildcat, coyote, parrot and crow) the gods found a
sacred matter: maize or corn. With its mass they formed a new man, able to recognize the gods and
to assume its mission on Earth. In the Memorial de Sololá of the cakchiquel ethnic group, where this
myth was also recognized, it is said that tapir and snake blood were added to the corn’s mass, both
being sacred animals associated with water. This indicates that humans are composed of plants and
animals, hence confirming a brotherhood with nature, and the idea of an essential coexistence among

all the living beings of the world. Therefore, the myth reveals the Mayan idea (expressed also in
multiple artworks, hieroglyphic inscriptions, myths and rites) of a consubstantial unity of man with
nature, which is the basis for the care and respect for the surrounding world.
What is central for this mythological conception is that these new humans recognized and
thanked their creators, for they emerged knowing and seeing everything. Yet, precisely due to this
perfection symbolized by sight, the deities decided to blur the human’s eyes so they could not see
beyond the immediate, as their wisdom would mislead them to not reproduce and not worshipping
the gods. This is how, in the end, men are devised with a specific difference that makes them, on one
hand, bearer of an extraordinary nature, and on the other, contingent and limited creatures, servant to
the deities.
The myth specifies that the first humans to be created were four males. Once their knowledge
was restricted, the gods formed women to provide company and offspring for the males. The
consciousness of the corn-made men enabled them to respect and to take care of the natural world,
which is intrinsically held by the gods; while they should offer, mainly, the vital energy contained in
the blood, the sacred substance that human beings must give them in return. In the Mayan religious
understanding, the gods are invisible and intangible energies, which also manifested themselves with
animal and plant traits. But what is more significant is that gods are insufficient by themselves, and
can even starve to death and thus cease to hold the existence of the world. The human being is
therefore understood as the driving force of the cosmos.
The human being idea expressed mythically in the Popol Vuh was the basis of the ritual, the
main human activity in pre-Hispanic Mayan times. The ritual was present in the entire life of these
peoples, even in their most “mundane” activities, such as commerce and war. Ritual life has been
preserved until today in Mayan communities, which continue to enrich their daily existence by
believing in the infinite spaces of the invisible where the sacred forces reside.

The Idea of Human Being for the Current Mayans

Many current Mayan groups have preserved myths in which the core concepts of the pre-Hispanic
cosmogonic myth are to be found, such as the idea of cyclical cosmical creation and destruction, but
with a new significance, as a result of the Mayan-Christian syncretism. The idea of the human being
as the maintainer of the gods and the world, expressed in the Popol Vuh, has been lost.
Nowadays Mayans preserve another peculiar conception of the world and the human being
which underlies their culture, and that also comes, essentially, from the pre-Hispanic period. One
aspect of this complex cosmovision is the notion of the universe as a reality made of diverse spheres:
the visible and tangible one, which is perceived in everyday experience, and also other co-existent
spaces, inhabited by countless forces and supernatural and immaterial powers which determine the
existence of the cosmos, and that the human being can also access with the immaterial part of his
Both yesterday and today’s Mayans know that animals are the most similar living beings to
humans, so much in their shapes and biological behavior, while in addition, they are expressive
creatures who make possible to keep close communication with. Thus, not only dominance and

submission ties are to be established with them -that are the outcome, among other things, of a natural
struggle for survival-, but also ties of friendship, love, consubstantiality, and even kinship. Due to
these bonds, animals are also demiurges between the human being and the “other”, is to say, what is
the farthest and strangest: the mysteries of the heavens, the underworld, of life and death.
Here I will only highlight two Mayan insights relating to the human-animal brotherhood, which,
although originated in pre-Hispanic times, are still substantially prevalent nowadays: the idea of an
animal alter ego and the shamanic ability to transform into animals.
Present Mayans believe that the human soul is made up of several visible material parts -like the
body-, but also of other invisible and intangible ones, that is to say, of subtle matters, which live in
different parts of the corporeal. The main ones are the pixán, which inhabits the brain (for the
yucatecos Mayans), or the ch’ulel, a word that means “besides the body” which lives in the heart
(tzeltales). Other subtle and invisible matters are the ol, which is the vital energy of the heart and
blood, and the wayjel or wahy, which resides in the animal alter ego of human beings. What is
important is that this body-soul duality in nowadays Mayan thinking does not correspond, in any way,
to the substantial dualism predominant in Western thought. The human being, for the Mayans, is
essentially a unit, and simultaneously, a multiple being composed of subtle matters which are located
in different parts of the body (the heavy matter), and may be projected outside of it in special states
of consciousness.

The animal alter ego

The wayjel, resides in an animal creature -generally a wild one-, since the birth of the human being.
This animal creature shares the destiny of the human being. The wayjel is mortal: it dies with the
animal and with the human body. Due to residing in a wild animal, the wayjel is alien to the social
life of the human, and it represents the unconscious, irrational and passional aspects of the human
being. Consequently, its place is in the wilderness, where it is guarded and controlled by the ancestral
gods. Therefore, each human being is a one-double creature, human and animal, where the latter
determines his personality. For instance, if the animal is shy, thus the man will be; if it is fierce and
smart, thus the man will be.
The natives believe that in an alternate spiritual world there is a pyramid-shaped secret mountain
with thirteen levels (just as Heaven). In this way, there is a co-presence of souls, both in the natural
and in the supernatural world. This sacred mountain is a spiritual equivalent to the physical world.
There, everything is ch’ul, in other words, devoid of any tangible substance. In the different levels of
the mountain lives the animal alteri ego of human beings, ranging from the most powerful to the most
modest ones. The ancestral gods, who also live there, protect and feed their animal companions in
special farmyards, since they represent the irrational and passional part of the human that must be
controlled. If a human does something mad, like violating social and moral norms, this causes his
animal to be expelled from the farmyard, and to wander lost in the woods at the mercy of other animal
alteri ego who may kill or devour it.
Once this happens, the human becomes seriously ill of “soul loss” and must be cured with
prayers, magic and healing herbs in order for him to seek for his animal and to return it to the
farmyards of the sacred mountain.

The notion of an animal alter ego enables humans to exert some sort of control over the unknown
and threatening world which lies beyond their area of influence. The zoomorphic alteri ego
constitutes a bond that ties the human world with the natural world. This is a much deeper link than
any other, given that it is a consubstantial link by which humans integrate nature through creatures
of that kind, while simultaneously incorporating their own souls to the natural world, which is
embodied by these same creatures, that is to say, the wild animals that fulfill this function for being -
among all other natural creatures- the most similar to the human being.

The shamans
The common man’s soul releases itself from the body and enters “other worlds” in a natural way,
through dreams. Meanwhile, the shaman’s soul does so through dreams and ecstasy. Shamans are
born with a “gift”, and they receive from the deities, in one or several dreams, the order to devote
themselves to the different activities of shamanism, such as healing of diseases and fortune telling.
They are able to voluntarily enter other realms of reality, both through ascetical practices such a
fasting, insomnia, abstinence, bloody self-sacrifices, and through the usage of psychoactive
The supernatural powers of the shaman grow throughout their lifetime. Among them is the
control over dreams, the training to have “lucid dreams”, that is to say, to realize that he is dreaming,
and the ability to transfigure at will into an animal -maybe one of his alteri ego, given that they have
thirteen of them-. This belief, which is held by all current Mayan groups, also comes from the pre-
Hispanic period, as it is stated in multiple visual and sculptural works, as well as in colonial
indigenous texts.

The Idea of Time

The astral time

The Mayan notions about the meaning of life and human nature are part of a complex conception of
temporality developed in pre-Hispanic times. For them, there is a daily reality, ruled by the astral
movements, and also of “other times”, in which the spiritual parts of humans inhabit different realities
and where sacred creatures roam.
In Mayan thinking, time is the movement of space, and not an abstract concept, and it is a
movement that follows a cyclical law. The dynamism of spatial reality -the cosmic change-, is
produced, mainly, by the passage of a sacred being which was the core of Mayan cosmovision: the
Sun (K’in, a word that also means “day” and “time”). The movement of the Sun was understood as a
circular movement around the Earth, including a daily and a yearly cycle, and was measured in 365
The Equinoxes and Solstices, key points of the Sun’s annual cycle, where exactly specified by
the Mayans, as shown in an architectonic complex in the city of Uaxactún, Guatemala, group E. The
apparent trajectory of the Sun, seen from the Earth, determines the changes happening in it (day and
night, fertility and drought, cold and hot). This is why time was conceived as a cyclical movement
which was measured by the sunrises and sunsets of the Sun and of other stars, such as the Moon,
Venus and maybe even Mercury.

Likewise, the Solar trajectory determines the quadripartite division of space, an idea shared by
many cultures, as drawn by the Mayans in one of their codices.
Therefore, temporality was for Mayans the evident and eternal dynamism of space, which gives
living beings multiple qualities and meanings, sometimes even contradictory, depending on the sacred
influences that unfold in the world at the different times. But this movement is not arbitrary: it follows
stable laws, as manifested in the regularity of the natural cycles and in human life itself. For Mayans,
time is the mobile order of the cosmos.
These impressive men invented, for the first time in history (around 1,000 b.C.), the use of the
number zero and the positional value of the numerical digits, which were only three: the zero, the
point -with a value of 1-, and the bar -with a value of 5-. Numbering was vigesimal: number 20 was
formed with a point and a zero. Mathematics were an indispensable tool for measuring the astral
With mathematical and astronomical knowledge, Mayans developed a complex calendar system
which included a solar cycle (of 365 days) and a ritual cycle (of 260 days), whose combination
constituted the Calendar Round, a cycle of 52 years. Furthermore, they created an “era date” or “day
zero”, the starting point for time counting, in order to specify dates with extraordinary precision. The
“era date” was determined by closing a Baktún 13 in the day 4 Ajaw 8 Cumkú, which is, in the
Gregorian calendar, the 13th of August of 3114 B.C. This date is, obviously, part of the mythological
time which is interlocked with the chronological time, as it registers the beginning of the current
cosmic era according to the religious ideas of the Mayans on the origin of the cosmos, which they
believe follows a cyclical movement of creation and destruction of worlds. The choice of that date is
because of number 13, which is sacred for Mayans for it corresponds mainly to the thirteen layers of
This dating system has been called Long Count or Initial Series Calendar, and is based on periods
that range from one day or K’in, to an Alautun, a period of approximately 64 million years,
multiplying always by 20 in a vigesimal system. In general, the dates registered to list the relevant
historical events in the hundreds of monuments that have been conserved, especially during the
Classical period (300 to 900 a.C), they all begin with the Baktún, a cycle of 400 years, and the day is
set with the Calendar Round, that is to say, the combination of a solar calendar day with a ritual
calendar one.
The great achievement that is the Long Count Calendar gives time a meaning that goes beyond
a simple eternal return to the same starting point, because time, although still cyclical, can be
measured to the past and to the future through a complex spiral of cycles which prevents its repetition,
thanks to the anchoring in the era date. Thus, coexisting a cyclical and a linear idea of time.
With mathematical systematization, humans are able to manage time, transience is controlled,
while the great cycles allow for a periodical ritual return to the origin’s mythical moment to regenerate
the universe and to extend its existence to infinity.
Time is measured forward and backwards from the “era date”, and surprising dates, millions of
years before the existence of humans and of cosmos itself, are set, all of which shows that these great
sages enjoyed the dominance over the future.

For Mayans, it was even possible to control infinity, as the concept of time cycles which deploys
to the past and to the future implies the idea of an eternal universe. For them, there will never be an
absolute end of times or an end of all worlds, but rather an eternal recreation.
It is evident that this amazing time-space notion reveals an extraordinary capacity of observation,
intuition, knowledge, from those peoples who, without any devices or technology, but with an unusual
mathematical capability, managed to understand and control the future.

The other times

The Mayans also dealt with other ideas of time, engaging in other temporalities, in other future spaces,
which eluded the systematic course of the astral cycles. These other times were, firstly, the one in
which sacred stories and myths unraveled, and secondly, the temporality of other reality spaces,
where gods and deified ancestors reside and to which humans (like shamans) may access in particular
states of consciousness. In the frame of time, thus, both the time of myths and the time of dreams
participate, ecstasies and death, combined with the chronological world, with the profane time, or
with daily reality.

The time of myths

Sacred stories, which we call myths, take place in a different time, in which players, although
humanized, may live extensive periods that surpass the average life expectancy of a human being.
Also, in the time of myths, just as in the time of dreams, ecstasies and death, there is coexistence of
past, present and future, so that the players can move freely in all these time moments, that is only
The time of myths is “another” time. In the palencano texts, for example, we find records of a
cosmogonic myth that includes dates that provides some of their stories superhuman time frames.
These texts describe the cosmogonic myth of the origin of a new cycle starting from the “era date”.
But they also seem to mention scenes from other previous worlds, dated one million 246 thousand
826 years in the past, where a primal deity, apparently heavenly, rose to power: the “squared-shaped
nose snake”. This is a remarkable example from the time of myths.
Therefore, both times, of myths and of daily life, are juxtaposed, they coexist, and, through the
ritual which brings back the origin of times, they are “lived” simultaneously.
What I have highlighted here about the notion of time confirms that Mayans, by combining a
cyclical elapsing to the cosmic time, the time of myths and the time of other worlds, managed to
channel the future and to face finitude, chaos and death.


My goal here was to address three pillars of Mayan thinking: the idea of the world as a harmonic
unity; the idea of the human being as the creature responsible for the world; and the idea of time as
an infinite path that rules the world and human creatures.
The Mayan notions of the human being, which I have highlighted here, show that Mayans, from
pre-Hispanic times until today, have had an exceptional respect towards nature that we can refer to
as a sort of brotherhood. In particular, the connection of humans with animals and plants is one of the

most rewarding, with something that is not human nor a human creation. For Mayans, every being,
including objects created by humans, have a similar soul to the human one.
The relation of Mayans with the natural world reveals an exceptional notion of a human-nature
unity that relates to the cosmic unity, which was, and still is, fundamental for their culture. Their
myths and beliefs about humanity and its interactions with natural beings, convey a relation of
brotherhood and even consubstantiality that is not only established with animals, but also with varied
creatures of the plant world.
The understanding of the cosmos as a living unit, to which humans have the obligation to care
and protect, is a distinctive feature of Mayans. Veneration and respect towards the astral, plant, animal
and mineral universes is essential for these peoples who have managed to transcend the mere material
world to find and project deeper and more binding meanings, in search for a true cosmic harmony.
This transcendent unit notion also allows to strengthen community ties between human beings,
increasing the respect towards the existence of “others”. These Mayan concepts may enlighten the
bleak and opaque awareness of the current world, in order to create paths for the conservation of the
The loss of these links in Western tradition show a lack of wonder, admiration and reverence
towards the natural world, which has lead humanity to assume their place as absolute owners of the
world, using nature for their own benefit, leading it to dreadful destruction.
Respect towards the miracle of life and the recognition of mankind’s place as just another
component of the world -and not its owner-, will lead to the protection and maintenance of nature, as
expressed in the Mayan cosmogonic myth, a remarkable example of self-awareness and human
responsibility for the conservation of the universe.
With the Spanish conquest, which brought decisive religious transformations through the violent
imposition of Christianity, some Mayan myths, beliefs and traditions, far from being lost, were
preserved, but acquiring new meanings, obviously influenced by the historical path and the new
socio-economic situation in which natives where marginalized and subdued in their own territories,
doomed to poverty and humiliation.
The natives were deprived from their best lands, their religion, their ways of living, their
astonishing civilization, but they remain there, speaking their languages, preserving their daily
customs, practicing a syncretic religion, in which we find some of their original beliefs, but where
their ancestors’ great civilization has not been properly preserved. A painful memory of the brilliant
past is manifested in the ceremonies that many of them perform in the ruins of their ancestors.
I would like to conclude with two Mayan texts.
A few years after the Spanish conquest, the Mayans wrote texts such as this one:

Every Moon, every day, every year, every wind… also walks and passes through. Also every blood
reaches a place of stillness, as it reaches its power and its throne… Measured was the time in which
they could meet the goodness of the Sun. Measured was the time in which they could look admire the
starry grid above them, from where, looking after, the gods would contemplate them, gods who were
trapped by the stars… back then, everything was good and then they were dejected…(Ch. B., 58)

And I will conclude with a passage from a current day shaman, which reveals, with profound
significance, the everlasting link of the Mayans with nature, and also the great tragedy of poverty and
neglect in which current natives live today:

There are trees that grow

There are trees that sprout
There are trees that appear.
Let them be.
How happily they sprout!
Maybe they will become a place for the birds to rest,
Maybe their place for them to rejoice,
Maybe a place for them to nest.
And we chop them off. I chop them off.
I sharpen my machete and chop them off.
But, is it a sin?
The tree is not in sin.
How beautifully it grows!
It is full of desire to grow.
What is its crime then?
It is my inner desire
For food and beverage…
All for the crime of my stomach…
The tree is not in sin.
It is full of desire for growth,
Let it be!
(Colby y Colby, 137)

(Translated by Felipe Barrientos)

Return to the Human, the Condition of World Peace to Moralize God?

Paulin J. Hountondji

1) A Huge Problem

The threats to peace are numerous and manifold. Religious extremism is one of those threats, it is one
of the oldest sources of insecurity and a huge problem. In the name of God, it has certainly happened
that we do good things or even very good things. But in the name of God, too, it has happened that
we do very bad things. It has happened that people kill, that people massacre innocents - people who
had absolutely nothing to do with the faith or with the "just cause", which they claimed to be just that
they wanted to defend. For this reason, it seems to me urgent, even extremely urgent, to "moralize
God", that is to say simply to moralize the use that we make of God. There are gods who would
benefit from being truly recycled, rethought, recreated, reinvented, readjusted and brought into
conformity with human morality, simply human. And it is in the name of this rediscovered humanity
that we must learn from each other to put into perspective and, if possible, to relativize our respective
creeds so that our religious options do not prevent us from looking at each other as human beings and
to talk to each other, and that these options do not lead to mental confinement, ideological
imprisonment, or intellectual closure – the kind of blindness pairing with deafness which would result
in a tragic inability to see each other and to hear the other.

2) The Right to Belief

No one can blame anyone for believing in God or believing in his gods. No one can blame anyone
for feeling supported by a superior force that have created him and keep him in order in every instant
of his existence. The feeling of one's own precariousness and dependence on an invisible power, the
sense of the distant, the call of transcendence, are certainly not felt by all, but those who experience
and express them deserve something other than taunts and have the right to be respected. The case is
similar to those who see deities everywhere behind natural phenomena and try to secure their favors
through various rituals. Polytheists, monotheists, real or pretended atheists, all are equal, all are as
helpless as others to the difficulties of life and the hard problems of existence.
That's not all, though. There are several versions of polytheism and monotheism, many forms of
pantheism too. Religions are multiple, and within each religion, sects, denominations, communities
of faithful grouped by affinity are multiple as well. None of them should feel superior to others. None
of them should claim to deny others the right to exist.
The only acceptable attitude is tolerance, acceptance of the other as it is in itself or as he/her in
him/herself, acceptance of difference in the name of deep identity that we must always in all
circumstances learn to find, and in the name of solidarity that this identity inevitably calls for, which
is also solicited together by the common humanity, the shared misery, the challenges that face all
people together.

3) The Religious Language

So rest assured: our purpose in this presentation is not to know whether God exists or not. Our
question would be rather: if you believe in God, what do you do with this belief? What impact does
it have on your behavior, your relationship to others and to society?
I do not think it is possible, indeed, to prove the existence of God, any more than it seems to me
possible to prove that it does not exist. Every proof of its existence rests, directly or indirectly, on the
ontological argument: the argument to which Kant has done justice simply by recalling in the Critique
of Pure Reason that existence is not a predicate. I also find that this question, from Saint-Anselm to
Descartes, in which we can see the metaphysical question par excellence, arises only in connection
with the God of creation and only has meaning for a monotheistic thinker.
I would like, however, to suggest one thing: a virtuous atheist is infinitely better than an immoral
devotee. A man or a woman who does not believe in God, but who knows that one must not kill, that
one must not lie, that one must not steal or harm one's neighbor, and who does best to make himself
useful to others and to his society according to what his conscience dictates to him, is infinitely better
than a person who would talk all the time of God for singing his praises and preach His word, but
would have no qualms about to lie, steal, kill and injure others in a thousand ways.
Religious language doesn’t absolve any person of responsibility. It does not erase what can be
wrong and objectionable in the actions of an individual. Religious language is often just a
smokescreen. You have to know how to break through this screen to appreciate the real value of each
other. For God is not and cannot be an excuse.
Conversely, when good things happen, when luck smiles on us individually or collectively, when
the effort fulfilled in success or when a happy combination of circumstances makes us escape a
predictable catastrophe, it is certainly not meaningless to see in this favorable situation the
intervention of God, the action of a benevolent power, but it would be an exaggeration to believe
oneself predestined to this favor, as if one had more merit than the others. In the country where I
come from, a complex entanglement of political, economic and social circumstances made it possible,
at the beginning of the 1990s, to move the society smoothly, frictionless and without bloodshed from
a fairly ferocious dictatorship that claimed to be Marxist-Leninist to a regime of pluralist democracy.
Since that time it has been customary to repeat in every tone: "God loves Benin". Nobody, of course,
could say the opposite. But all in all, is there in this vast world a single country that God does not
love? Even countries where the war is raging, or who are helplessly affected by natural disasters such
as the explosion of a volcano or the outbreak of a tsunami, who can pretend that God does not love
It is better in these conditions to face things and try to understand the real mechanism. Better
than gargling words, stick to the facts and try to explain them, try to learn from them to improve the
human condition here below. I would like to draw from this reflection a first precept: the precept of
sobriety. Human beings would gain, if they really want to get along, to talk about God as little as
possible and to minimize, in their communications and discussions, the religious parameter. Saving
God, that would be here in a way, the golden rule.

4) God: Which God?

The gods are multiple indeed, such is the drama. Monotheism itself is plural. The religions of the
book profess, of course, a unique God, and it is easy to show that even in paganism, the many
recognized deities refer to a single God. But the unique God of one and the other is approached in
many ways, adored in various ways, conceived, imagined, determined under completely dissimilar
faces. The God of the gospel is not that of the Old Testament, the God of the Bible is not that of the
Koran. And each of these sacred books gives place, today as yesterday, to a multitude of
interpretations from which stems, for better or for worse, the infinite variety of sects.
That's not all, though. This God, variously perceived, gives orders. He prescribes behaviors and
actions. He commands and his commandments can be good or bad, just or humanly unacceptable.
The reader of a sacred book will always need a minimum of lucidity to place in their historical, social,
cultural context what, in the divine prescriptions, comes from the contingent context and what can be
on the other hand considered as essential.
But there is worse. Beyond the sacred books and the necessarily limited number of those who
can read them and judge for themselves, the divine commandments are transmitted to the multitude
by a crowd of preachers, interpreters assigned to the divine will, true leaders of men who can,
according to the cases, lead their flock on the right way, or on the contrary on the tortuous paths of
wrongdoing. Priests, pastors and imams can be, as the case may be, honest and virtuous guides or
unscrupulous manipulators. They are the first ones to put before their responsibilities. It is to them
that it is appropriate to say, as much as to their faithful and potential victims: if your god orders you
to do evil, speak to him. If he orders you, for example, to break the twin towers of the World Trade
Center in New York at the risk of your life and that of thousands of innocent people, he is an immoral
god. If he orders you, as he did in the Middle Ages, to go on a crusade against the heretics of the
Middle East, he is hardly better. If your god orders you to bulldoze to ground the mausoleums of
Timbuktu, he surely needs to be recycled.

5) Back to The Human!

We know the famous slogan of HUSSERL: Zurück zu den Sachen selbst! - Back to the things
themselves! The founder of phenomenology thus appealed to our immediate experience of things
beyond the lucubration of philosophers. He invited us, in particular, to return to our immediate
perception of numbers and mathematical idealities in general, to recognize them in their objectivity
and their immediate meaning beyond scholarly explanations of their psychological genesis and their
construction in the human mind.
I am tempted to write, on the same model: "Back to the human! Beyond the diversity of religious
sects and their discordant prescriptions, we must return to the human, to the simple human. Before
belonging to a particular religious denomination, I am man. As such, I stand in solidarity with all
other human beings and submit, like them, to what must be called a natural law dictated by the
demands of our living together, of our collective flourishing, and even more so of our survival. The
religious prescriptions themselves must be appreciated in the light of this natural law. They are good

or bad, acceptable or unacceptable, moral or immoral, depending on whether they are compatible or
incompatible with this law.
I can only repeat here what I have already said elsewhere. I would like to warn against a
temptation: that of wanting to establish a universal and inclusive dialogue on the basis of faith: The
Christian faith, for example, and the precepts of the Gospel. I believe that in this dialogue that claim
to be universal, we must find a truly secular language, concepts and terms that do not presuppose that
the other necessarily adheres to the same faith and religious convictions as we do. The universal is
beyond our particular religions and confessions. Ethics is likely to be universal only if we do not seek
to enclose it in the discourse of faith. On this point, Kant was certainly right: morality must be able
to support itself without seeking a fulcrum either in heaven or on earth.1
In short, we have an interest in secularizing ethics. We must question our religious practices,
confront our ideas of God with the requirements of elementary morality, that is to say in a certain
way, to moralize God. Beyond our particular religions, beyond the rites and beliefs that they induce,
we must be able to listen to "the voice of conscience" and establish, on this basis, norms and values
acceptable to all, something as a secular Decalogue that everyone can agree to. Only at this price will
we replace in their place the various theocracies, the shariahs of every kind, the norms inspired by
particular religions, which are supposed to be erected in absolute terms.
Let's conclude briefly. Everywhere, in our fledgling democracies, we have become aware of the
need to "moralize public life". On the agenda now is the fight against corruption, against arbitrariness,
injustice and human rights violations, even if these great words still, for the most part, only express
wishful thinking. What we are trying to suggest here is that we must also moralize many other sectors:
political life, economic life, judicial practices, religious practices. In the interests of peace and
reconciliation, all the absolutes must be challenged. Our God will be truly God only if he survives
the test at the level of every believer, if he is another name of the Universal, if, far from leading us to
fanaticism or to lock us into a short-sighted particularism it opens us to the world, and helps us to
understand others.

(Translated by Li Dan)

1 “Now we see here philosophy placed in a critical situation: it is necessary that philosophy finds a stable position without
having neither in the heaven or on the earth, a fulcrum or an attachment point.” I. Kant, Fondements de la métaphysique
des mœurs, 2ème section. Trad. Victor Delbos, Paris, Delagrave, 1966, p. 145

From “Learning to be Human” to “Learning to Change Ourselves”

Zhao Dunhua
Peking University

As a professor of Peking University, firstly please allow me to say a welcome message often
expressed at international conferences held in China: "it is a pleasure to have friends coming from
afar." This expression, being derived from the first paragraph of the Analects, is recited by many
Chinese when they were young. Here my quotation is a story about the origins of tradition, which in
accordance with the theme today. Confucius is regarded as the founder of Confucianism. The
Analects is Confucius’ words collected by his disciples, which seems unrelated. However, in my
opinion, the beginning and end of the Analects are classical preface and conclusion that are necessary
for a book about the theory of philosophy.
Chapter “Xue Er” quoted three teachings of Confucius to explain the purpose and causes of this
book. In the first paragraph, the first sentence reads, “isn’t it very delightful to recall and review from
time to time?” 1 This is a description of the joyful life of self-studying at home. The second “isn’t it
very pleased to receive the visit of the con-disciple from afar?” 2 This expressed the happy meeting
with other disciples from distance. The third “isn’t it very virtuous for the gentleman who is not
resentful when is not understood by others?”3 This summarized Confucius’ attitudes towards those
who agree or disagree with his teachings.
Those words all together presented the vivid experience of disciples’ learning, recording and
collecting Confucius’ teachings. We can imagine three steps of editing the Analects. At first, when
the disciples went back home they studied hard alone what having learnt from the Master. Secondly,
they were not only satisfied with the self-learning but enjoying meeting with other disciples to
exchange the knowledge and understanding, as what we do in the academic symposium today. Lastly,
during the meeting, they recorded and collected not only Confucius’ teaching at class and dialogues
among teacher and students, but also brought witness of Confucius’ public virtue during tours of

1 Liu Baonan (Qing Dynasty), The Accurate Meaning of the Analects (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1990), “shi (time) refe
rs to four sessions of spring, summer, autumn and winter”, “xi (learning)” refers to reciting, learning by heart. (vol. 1, p.
3) Huang Kan (Liang Dynasty in the Northern and Southern Dynasties), Meaning and Commentary on the Analects (Be
ijing, Zhonghua Shuju, 2013), “xi” means reviewing what was learnt before. That is to say, learning must reviewing day
and night continuously. “yi (too)” refers “again”, meaning that learning was already delightful, while reviewing is to re
member and repeat the previous delight and therefore is “very delightful”. (p.3)
2 Liu Baonan, op.cit., “peng (friend)” refers to “men (door)”, “tongmen (same door)” to “students taught by the same m
aster” (vol.1, p.3). Huang Kan, op.cit., “peng” refers to the party of students taught be the same master, “you” refers to c
omrades, “pengyou (friend) to members belonging to the same party(dang). This is to say that because of the reputation
of our Master’s virtue, friends from afar join the party. It is pleased to have conversations together, and especially with f
riends from afar, therefore “it is very pleased” (p.3)
3 Liu Baonan, op.cit., “not understood by others” is to mean that rulers of that time didn’t know about the elevating use
of our learning; “yun(resent)” refers to angering. This means that the gentleman is not feel angry at anyone who don’t u
nderstand him (vol.1, p.4). Huang Kan, op.cit., There could be two sort of interpretation. The first says that the ancient s
cholar learn for oneself, and learning the Tao of ancient kings glorifying myself internally this is the virtue of gentlema
n. Furthermore, he doesn’t anger at people who don’t know about him, which is again virtuous, and so the gentleman is
very virtuous. The second interpretation is that the gentleman doesn’t expect things] to be perfect, and therefore tolerate
s and shows no angry at the slow-witted who doesn’t understand his teaching. The ruler should be so too. (p.4)

some states. These disciples who companied with Confucius at tours saw Confucius’ indifference,
fear and disgrace. Weather he was treated with courteous reception or misunderstood by rulers,
attacked by mobs, and ridiculed from different people, Confucius showed no angry nor complaint,
and did not murmur at Heaven or blame on people, just let his message sent up and reached down,
regarding this to be his mission. All of the sayings and attitudes of the Master were written into the
Analects. Due to the difference in the opportunity of presence as well as in understanding, the
Analects were composed of records from different oral sources. This may explain why this book lacks
a solid framework.
Nevertheless, the Analects still could show the coherence of Confucius’ thought. The last two
volumes of the book were discovered from the old wall of the Confucius Mansion in the middle of
Han Dynasty, more than four hundred years after Confucius’s time. Textual critics have argued for
or against the veracity of them.1 I adopted the last two volumes as a conclusion, for its reactor Zi
Zhang generalized Confucius’ teachings on the virtuous politics in accordance with the traditional
kingship. The last volume began with a brief survey of political virtues of ancient kings Yao, Shun,
Yu and Wen, Wu. Zi Zhang then asked Confucius’ how to rule properly. “The Master replied, honor
five beautiful ways and banish four bad ways”. Please allow me thereby interpose a reference to
Plato’s Republic.2
Through a proper translation and interpretation, it is not difficult to propose a correlation
between Confucius’ five beautiful ways and Plato’s four cardinal virtues of Kallipolis. “Benefiting
people without extra-expenditure” to justice,3 “pursuing the desirable without avarice” to moderate,4

1 Liu Baonan, op.cit., Di Hao’s challenge in The Criticism of Errs in the Four Books isn’t convincible, for the Analects
was not written by one person. The last two volumes were what was expected to record yet didn’t find before. Those tw
o are genuine article discovered in the old wall of the Confucius Mansion. Scholars in Qi and Lu (Confucius’ homeland)
had combined the two volumes into one. Di Hao is especially wrong to consider the last volume as an epilogue written
by somebody in the Han Dynasty. For among the unknown writers of the Analects can one ascertain who the true writer
of this volumes was? At the end of the volume eight Kings Yao, Shun Yun and Wen Wu were already mentioned. Is thi
s also an epilogue? (vol.2, 755)
2 Qutations from the Republic are cited from translations by Desmond Lee (Penguin Books, 1974), checked with transla
tions of G. M. A. Grube (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 1992) and Tom Griffith (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Few changes of manner of speaking is of my own.
3 Liu Baonan, op.cit., “ruling for people” means ruling to cultivate people, and thereby to accommodate people’s nature.
People living at five lands are different in advantages. The monarch follows their advantages to appease them and does
n’t alter their advantage. This is to rule for mercy and benefit people without extra-expenditure (vol.2, 767). Cf. Republi
c, “we have different natural aptitudes, which fit us for different jobs” (II. 370b); “justice is the requirement that in our s
tate one man was to do one job, the job was naturally most suited for” (V. 433a); “guardian will work simply for their k
eep and get no extra wages as the others do. Hence, if they want to take a private trip way from the city, they’ll not be ab
le to; they will have nothing to give to their mistresses, nothing to speed in whatever other ways they wish, as people do
who are considered happy.” (V. 420a)
4 Huang Kan, op.cit., Desires are various ways, one is desiring the appetites for money and sex while another desiring f
or humanity and rightness, the former is called avarice. The monarch ought to desire humanity and rightness and advoca
te humane and right things, doing nothing of the avarice for money and sex appetites. This is to mean that “desiring hum
anity obtains humanity, there is no avarice at all.” (p. 522) Cf. Republic, “moderation is surely a kind of order, a control
of certain desires and appetites. So people use ‘being master of oneself’ and similar phrases as indications of it.” (IV. 43

“self-composed dignity” to reason, 1 and “powerful without fierce” to brave, 2 all of which are
correlative in a manner that “words are not exhausted with books”.3
By the same token, “four bad ways” can be correlated to four unjust states in the Republic. The
“cruelty” of “killing people in uncultured ways” to the “tyranny”, 4 the “oppression” of full duty of
work on people without instruction to the “timarchy”,5 the “stingy storehouse” of paying people to
the “oligarchy”6, and the “injury” of “idle order and promise in vain” to the unbridled “democracy”,7
are all correlated in a manner that “sense are not exhausted with words”. Analects ended in chapter
“Yao Yue” with Confucius’ saying that the virtuous person knows about the fate and is insightful
into people, while establishes himself on social institution. The last words remind us of the ideal of
the philosopher-king of Plato.8

1 Huang Kan, op.cit., Being capable of multiplying and greatness refers to the dignity of myself, while dare not ignore f
ew and little refers to without arrogance. This is to say of “self-composed dignity without arrogance”. In one’s commen
t, “the gentleman let his mind open and deal people with esteem, he is not affected by the mass or few, nor dare changin
g mind by the big or little, while not ignore anything. This means “self-composed dignity without arrogance.” (p. 522) C
f. Republic, “greatness towards his own fellows and neighbors requires a philosophic disposition and a love of learning”
(II. 376c); “reason ought to rule, having the wisdom and foresight to act for the whole, and the spirit ought to obey and
support it.” (IV. 441e)
2 Huang Kan, op.cit., to be awed by the sight is powerful, while to be warmed through access is not fearful. (p. 523) Cf.
Republic, “guardians ought to be gentle towards their fellow-citizens, and dangerous only to their enemies”, “if we depri
ve them of either quality, they won’t make good guardians” (II. 375c, d).
3 Interpretations that “words are not exhausted with books” in this and “sense are not exhausted with words” in the follo
wing are borrowed from Confucius’s saying in The Book of Change (Xi Ci Zhuan 1: 12.2),
4 Huang Kan, op.cit., The employment of killing prior to the training of education is what cruel and vicious ruler did. (p.
523) Cf. Republic, “there’s nothing, no taboo, no murder, however terrible, from which the tyrant will shrink” (IX. 575
a); “the longer and more extensive a tyrant’s power, the greater and more lasting his unhappiness really is.” (IX. 576e)
5 Huang Kan, op.cit., A monarchy watched people’s doing of no good, and ought to admonish them again and again; if t
hey didn’t obey punishment would be needful. Without admonishing and help, urging people to carry out the present tas
k for a hastily success caused the decline of cultivation, which is what did by a harshly minded monarchy. Harshness is
a bad less than cruelty. (p. 523) Cf. Republic, “the “timarchy has one salient feature, due to its emphasis on the strenuou
s element of ambition and the competitive spirit” (VIII. 548c), “the individual in that society must be more self-willed, a
nd rather less well-educated……He will be hash to his slaves……He will be ambitious to hold office himself, regarding
as qualifications of military achievements and soldierly qualities……there are flaws in his character because he has lost
his best safeguard” (VIII. 548e-549b)
6 Huang Kan, op.cit., A monarchy who is stingy for paying people acts as the storehouse-keeper, and so “is named store
house-keeper”. In one’s comment, “wealthy always get in and go out, if stingy to keep it in and hard to pay out, that is t
he job of storehouse-keeper, but not the rule of monarch. (p. 524) Cf. Republic, “oligarche was a result of lack of restrai
nt in the pursuit of its objective of getting as rich as possible (VIII. 555b)”, “there would be a good deal less shameless
money-making and a good deal less of evils……their young men live in luxury and idleness……they themselves care f
or nothing but making money, and have no greater concern for virtue than the poor” (VIII. 556b).
7 Huang Kan, op.cit., to be trustworthiness to people and to promise a vain expectation, expectation with no discipline a
nd order is indolent goal. If expectation is not realized, the monarch exerts killing and punishing, he is a thief-like injure
r (pp. 523-524). Liu Baonan, op.cit., Indolence of discipline came first and effected in breaking off the expectation and
made people indulged. And then accusing against them with criminal penalty is to crook them. (vol. 2, p. 768. Cf. Repu
blic, “democracy really look down on the high principles we laid down when founding our state” (VIII. 558), “an excess
ive desire for liberty at the expense of everything else is what undermines democracy and leads to the demand for tyrann
y.” (VIII. 562c)
8 Liu Baonan, op.cit., Lightening the fate, one knows oneself as valuable than things, followed by knowing humanity, ri
ghtness, propriety and wisdom, he will be satisfied with good, pleased to follow reason. This man is called gentleman. T
his is what was meant by Confucius’ saying that “there would be no gentleman without knowing the fate”. (vol.2, 769)
Huang Kan, op.cit., Confucius knew the fate and therefore didn’t engaged in ruling. The fate determines weariness or fl
ourishing, premature end or longevity. Man is born with a fate bestowed from the heaven, which has to be known. To de
mand what is unknown can’t be the virtue of a gentleman, so is “not what a gentleman should do”. Propriety leads to rev
erence, simplicity, honest, solemn, such is the basis to make one settled. Without knowing propriety, one could be settle
d oneself in the world.” (p. 524) Cf. Republic, “a man will combine in his nature good memory, readiness to learn, bread
th of vision and grace, and be a friend of truth, justice, courage, and self-control. Grant education and maturity to round

I am spending words on interpreting preface and conclusion of the Analects in comparison with
the Republic. It is aimed to illustrate how a tradition was originated with books which were created
jointly by master and disciple. Confucianism and other great traditions walked the same track. Karl
Jaspers raised the question why those great traditions which have transmitted up-to-now all originated
in the “axial period” (ca. 800-200 BC.). He shifted the inquiry of the cause to an explanation of the
meaning. 1 I intend to back to things themselves, considering things themselves as the making of
classic books. This might explain that different traditions originating in the axial period is not
coincidence. It was like this. After the evolution of human civilizations for a long time, some
convenient tools of writing were commonly used in some communities at the same period, which
enabled specialists in writing to record ideas of previous oral traditions, collect old ideas along with
new ideas of the present time, and finally edite those records and collection into books. Classic books
initiated literal traditions in different areas, and provided resources for their further expansions and
integrations. Taking Plato’s dialogues as example, Socrates played the role of the Arche-Philosopher.
Interlocutors of the dialogues included Homer, Hesiod, pre-Socratic philosophers, contemporary
dramatist, writers and mathematicians. Plato’s dialogues represented the past and current situation of
various cultures in Greece and its surrounding areas, thus they became the source of the Greek
rationalism tradition. Alfred North Whitehead even reduced the European philosophical tradition to
“a series of footnotes to Plato”.2In China, Confucius confessed himself only to “pass on the ancient
doctrines and not to create anything new” (Analects 7:1). He evaluated the culture of three dynasties
by saying that “Zhou was safeguarding the previous dynasties and generously civilized and so, I am
following Zhou.” (Ibid. 3:14) He embraced all useful things of the three dynasties, “to follow the
calendar of the Xia dynasty, ride the carriage of the Shang dynasty, wear the ceremonial cap of the
Zhou, and as for music, enjoy the play of Shao.”(Ibid. 15:10) The Six Books which were said to be
edited by Confucius, together with the Analects, Tao De Jing, Zhuangzi and other masterpieces in the
pre-Chin period, formulated the Chinese tradition in general.
Human traditions were numerous. It is regretful for me only to compare the Chinese and the
Greek. As for human traditions in general, I want to pass three judgements. First, all traditions which
are known to us are those written records. Second, all traditions which have been left to date are those
keeping changing. And lastly, all traditions which have important impacts on human civilizations are
those which changed in collaboration with one another. The first concerns the origin of traditions,
and the latter two concern the maintenance and prevalence of traditions. In contrast, the latter two are
more important. It is so important indeed that almost all the historical books have to discuss the
change of traditions, about which I can say a few words.
Let me start with the Chinese classic the Book of Change. Accordion to traditional narrative,
Confucius was the editor of that book. As the title implies, the kernel of the book is change and it

them off, aren’t the only people to whom you would entrust you state?” (VI. 487a) But “the daimonic sign” has kept So
crates out of politics (see Republic 476c, Apology 31c-32a); “it only needs to be one, surely, with a city which is obedie
nt to him, to bring about all the things which are now regarded as impossible. …… After all, if a ruler establishes the la
w and way of life we have described, it is presumably not impossible that citizens will be prepared to follow them.” (VI.
1 See Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History, trans. M. Bullock, Routledge, 2014, pp. 13-21.
2 Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, ed. D.R. Griffin and D. w. Sherburne, Free Pr
ess, New York, 1978, p. 39.

consists of some well-known proverbs. For examples, “Tao is predicated of yin and yang” (Xi Ci
Zhuan I, 5:1), “the change is predicated of living life” (Ibid., 5:2), “predicament leads to change,
change to development and development to everlasting.” (Ibid. II, 2:5), “situations up and down are
impermanent, things harden and soften are interchangeable, a cannon is not suitable, only changes
apply.” (Ibid II. 8:1) Those sayings are quoted from the part entitled Xi Ci Zhuan. Feng Youlan said
that this part is especially important for the philosophical system of the Book of Change. 1 But how
could proverbs like those present a philosophical system? Feng Youlan later explained the system at
issue in terms of “universal algebra”, that is, a form which can be fulfilled with every sort of things.2
For our purpose of illustrating the feature and trend of traditions, I would like to combine the form of
change as expressed in proverbs of Xi Ci Zhuan with contents of history, experience and
transformation of traditions as explicated by modern thinkers.
The change of traditions is the development of history. According to the Xi Ci Zhuan, images of
the tradition of divination had already been given in the remote ancient and the book of divination
was not written until the middle ancient. It asked, “did the writer on Change predict the danger and
hardship?” (Xi Ci Zhuan II, 7:1) 3 And it confirmed that “therefore his words were hazarding”, 4 and
that “the Tao of change was predicated of fearing from beginning to end, no damaging is
crucial.”(Ibid., 11:1) 5 As shown throughout the human history, every tradition would encounter
obstruct and crisis and only change could survive it. Otherwise it would decline or even perish. This
trend of history has proved to be the testing touchstone of traditions, those which go with it will
prosper while those which go against it will extinct. In this sense Harold Berman defined tradition as
“an ongoing historical continuity between past and future”. 6 He cited Jaroslav Pelikan who said that
“traditionalism is the dead faith of the living, tradition is the living faith of the dead”. 7 Or, in Edward
Shills’ words, tradition is “not the dead hand of the past but rather the hand of the gardener, which
nourishes and elicits tendencies of judgment which would otherwise not be strong enough to emerge
on their own.” 8 According to the traditional view of history, the prevailing historical traditions were
developed after the origin of the "axis period". Between the 11th and 13th centuries, in order to cope
with crises within and without, the Christian world integrated three different traditions – the Greek

1 Feng Youlan, Complete Works at San Song Tang, Henan People’s Press, 2001, vol. 7, p. 451
2 Ibid., vol. 13, p. 412
3 Li Daoping (Qing Dynasty), A Collection of Commentaries on Book of Change (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1994), Fu
Xi was in the remote ancient, King Wen in the middle ancient, Confucius in the later ancient. Xi Ci Zhuang II said, “Th
e rise of the Change was between the end of Yin Dynasty and the flourishing of virtues of Zhou. That referred facts con
cerning kings Wen and Zhou.” The appendix of Ming Yi (the thirty-sixth Hexagram) said, “King Wen was adopted hims
elf to be civilized internal and meek external to endure the suffering”. “Did the writer on the Change predict the danger
and hardship?” This was referred to King Wen. (p. 660)
4 Li Daoping, op. cit., King Wen was jailed at Youli (a client state of Yin Dynasty), suffering in hardship. Words in the
Change therefore expressed the saving in peril. (p. 678)
5 Li Daoping, op. cit., “fearing from beginning to end” is symbolized in all three hundred eight four images with the con
clusion of no damaging. No damaging was due to good at mending one's ways, The heavenly Tao blesses the modest, an
d so “it makes the fearer easy”, while “the earthly Tao is full of easiness” and “the Tao of man full of evil”, and so “it m
ake the careless hazarded”. (p. 678)
6 Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution, II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition,
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2003, p. 3.
7 Footnote given in Harold J. Berman, op. cit., p. 385: See Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition (New Haven,
1984), p. 65.
8 Footnote given in Harold J. Berman, op. cit., p. 385: See Edward Shils, The Virtue of Civility: Selected Esays on Liber
alism, Tradition, and Civil Society (Indianapolis, 1997), p. 107.

rationalism, the Hebrew spirit of religion and the Roman law – into a new beginning which is called
the western tradition today. In the same period of China, the three traditions of Confucianism,
Buddhism and Taoism were converged and merged into what is now called the grand tradition of
Chinese culture as well.
“Traditio” in Latin was originally used in Roman law to refer to the concept of legal transfer and
inheritance. The change of tradition is not equal to the flowing of history, for it is always founded on
inheritance. Inheritance is both succession and exclusion, and also accumulation. In every dynamic
tradition, people preserve and carry out experience, handing on the process to meet the needs of
survival and development. In this way, the Book of Change spoke about the change of never-ending
living life in terms of “rich possession”, “daily renew”,1 about “creating things and handling affairs”,2
about “the primeval and the essential ending were applied to timing and things”. 3 Those poetic
expressions can be interpreted to mean that historical sediments are creation and accumulation of
living experience. Some metaphors used by modern thinkers portray the mutual complement of
tradition and experience very well. Ludwig Wittgenstein analogizes our language of experience to a
river, includes “the river-bed” to “the inherited background against which I distinguish between true
and false” and “a state of flux”, “though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other”, he
admits. 4 John Dewey says that “experience” is “a double-barreled word”, in that “’experience’
denotes the planted field, the sowed seeds, the reaped harvest, the changes of night and day, spring
and autumn, wet and dry, heat and cold, that are observed, feared, longed for; it also denotes the one
who plants and reaps, who works and rejoices, hopes, fears, plans, invokes magic or chemistry to aid
him, who is downcast or triumphant.”5 We can imagine how our lands were formed by deposited
sands of historical rivers, and what have created through working in the fields. Just as the poem of
Geoffrey Chaucer, “For out of olde feldes, as men sayth, Cometh al this newe corn from yer to yere,
and out of olde bokes, in good feyth, Comes al this new science that men lere.”6

1 Li Daoping, op. cit., Things are provided for all walks of life, so is called “rich possession”. Changing is endless, so is
“daily renew”. “Kun” (the second Hexagram) symbolizes expanding production, by moving and resting, all are assembl
ed together and reproduced abundantly, and so, “things are provided for all walks of life. This is called ““wealthy posse
ssion”. The change between Kun and Qian (the first Hexagram) symbolizes “changing endlessly and daily renew”. (p. 5
2 Ibid., “Creating things” refers to Pao Xi (the primitive King) first introduced eight diagrams, and doubled them to sixt
y-four hexagrams, extending elements of scheming to eleven thousand five hundred and twenty, as the number of the m
yriad creatures, so is called “creating things”. By “handling affairs” it was meant that the sages observed images and acc
ordingly created analogous groups of fishing nets and farming plows to handle affairs of the world, so is called “handlin
g affairs”. (p. 595)
3 Ibid., This means that the Change as a book indicated the primeval of things, as “Qian” at the low situation of yang sa
ys that “the diving dragon is not functioning”, which is the primeval. Besides, it grasps the ending essential. as “Qian” a
t the upper situation of yang says that “the excessive dragon is regressive”, that is the “essential ending”. Again, “the pri
meval and the essential ending” is regarded as substance and essence. The diving dragon and the excessive dragon as ex
emplified at the beginning and ending of one Hexagram, are at all Hexagrams in fact, in which six elements are yin and
yang. Such is “overlapping situations and slipping equilibrium”. “The hard and soft are images of day and night”, this is
way “yang consists of timing yang, and yin of timing yin”; “Qian indicates things of yang, Kun things of yin”, yin and y
ang are overlapped and slipped in timing and things. This means “applied to timing and things” (p. 670)
4 Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. D. Paul and G. E. M. Ansco
mbe, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1972, sections, 94, 97, 99, p. 15e.
5 Experience and Nature, in John Dewey, The Later Works, vol. 1, ed. J. A. Boydston, Sourthen Illinois University Pres
s, Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1988, p. 18
6 he Riverside Claucer, 3rd., ed., L. D. Benson, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1987, p. 385.

The Book of Change, like an elder who had experienced a suffering life, told stories of “bliss”
(Tai, the eleventh Hexagram) comes out of the depth of “misfortune” (Pi, the twelfth Hexagram), the
togetherness of new “reform”(Ge, the fortieth Hexagram) and the old “tripod”(Ding, the thirty-ninth
Hexagram) “the great strong” (Da Zhuang, the thirty-fourth Hexagram) going “before the dawn”
(Ming Yi, the thirty-sixth Hexagram), and “after crossing”(Ji Ji, the sixty-third Hexagram) coming
“not yet crossing”(Wei Ji, the sixty-fourth Hexagram). Traditions were full of such flowing of
transformations. Transformation is characterized with fundamental changes of belief system, view of
values and criteria for truth and falsity. If it’s gradual change, that’s an evolution or improvement; If
it's too rapid and radical, that's a revolution. There were few transformations in history that had a
major impact on the course of human civilization. But over the past few hundred years, the speed of
social and thinking transformation has increased rapidly. Karl Marx declared in 1848, “the
bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal
productive forces than have all preceding generations together.”1 Since then the developed industrial
societies have transformed from the steam engine age to the electrification age and the information
age, and the current age of intelligence. The scientific revolution and high-tech have not only changed
the material world in an all-around way, but also profoundly changed human. Rapid and radical
transformations have bothered traditional humanists very much.
The theme of our Congress is "learning to be human". The human is, however, neither completed
forever nor unchangeable. They change alongside the change of traditions and the world. We are
actually discussing the theme of “learning to change ourselves”. This is to mean that we learn not
only how to change the world, but also how to change ourselves, and learn not only from the tradition
of our own, but also from the others, for instances, from other traditions and cultures, other knowledge.
Isn’t it very happy for lovers of wisdom to learn from each other and to change ourselves?

1 The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd. ed., ed. R. C. Tucker, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1978, p. 477.

Familial Affection, the Order of Love, and Community
—Commonality and Difference between Confucianism and Scheler

Zhang Xianglong
Philosophy Department, Zhongshan University at Zhuhai

The Confucians talk about “[being] affectionate toward his (the sage) family is what allows him to
be humane toward the people and loving toward creatures.” 1 Why is there this kind of moral
movement from “being affectionate toward one’s family” to “being humane toward the people,” from
“one family” to “one state”? Is this kind of shift brought about through education or is it a tendency
people are in original possession of and thus is a kind of “innate knowledge” or “innate ability”? The
Confucians have always worked hard to discover, explain and defend this kind of movement, but did
they explain the mechanisms of philosophical transferences of meaning? It is as if there is quite some
space to continue this work. Moreover, this explanation is about the philosophical fate of
contemporary and future Confucianism.
Even though their differences are unavoidable, the phenomenological ethics of Max Scheler can
help us understand and explain the origin and method of this kind of movement in a philosophical
sense. Below let us first briefly go over the parts of Scheler’s thought that can help us understand
Confucianism and then we will go over their differences in regard to the question of community.

Familial Affection Can Have an a Priori Value

Scheler was inspired by the intentional phenomenology of Husserl, he saw that our experience of
consciousness from the beginning already possesses an original structure. This structure, moreover,
is not like that of the empiricists who talked about passively receiving impressions and then through
associations connecting these impressions to concepts. What the theory of intentionality maintains is
that what we see first of all already includes the original possibility of the “things in themselves,” for
example, this cup, this drawer, and this is not simply their presenting to us a reflecting surface. In
other words, our perception of a cup already includes within in the “possibility of seeing” it again
from the perspectives of left, right, inside, etc. When I listen to a musical composition, every moment
that I hear will not be the sound of a physical timestamp, instead, it is bound to be at the same time
the sound previously heard and that which is about to come. From the perspective of physics, it is
only the presence and non-presence of a sound, the coexistence of a real sound and the possibility of
a sound that allows us to hear the melody instead of just noise. Therefore, in looking at this cup, in
listening to this musical composition, what I see and what I hear is not just “this one thing,” instead,

1 Translator: This is passage 45 from Mencius 7A. The translation used above is from P.J. Ivanhoe, see: Mencius:
Columbia University Press, 2009, p. 155. James Legge translates this as “He is affectionate to his parents, and lovingly
disposed to people generally.” (Legge’s translation can be found at ctext.org) Robert Eno simply translates it as “He loves
his parents and treats people with humanity, treats people with humanity and cherishes things.” (refer to
http://www.indiana.edu/~p374/Mengzi.pdf) If we desired to preserve the symmetry of the original qinqin 亲亲 which
Ivanhoe translates as “being affectionate toward his family,” we might translate it as “treating family as family,” “treating
kin intimately,” “treating those close closely,” or as “family-ing family” etc.

it is a possibility, it includes a “fabrication” of this thing, therefore, there exists within this thing the
possibility of moving to that [one] thing and even to many things. This is where the possibility of
moving from “sensuous intuition” to “categorical intuition” or “intuition of essence” lies.
However, Husserl limited this movement from the particular to the universal (the possible
universal and not the actual universal) to the value-neutral object, therefore it is unrelated to the
emotional experience of being affectionate toward one’s family. According to his theory of the
division of experience, or “phenomenological household division,” there must first be an appearance,
an object provided by judgement or a “proof of residence,” before there can be the possibility of
emotion or other spiritual capabilities being given values. If it is like this, then the value of the
movement of being affectionate toward one’s family cannot be understood. This is because here we
have a tricky problem, that is how is the object which contains value able to transfer this value to
another or multiple (possibly unfamiliar) objects? Every particular has its own uniqueness, why will
it accept and contain the value of another particular? In conclusion, if the object comes first and value
comes second then this makes the transference of value from particulars to generalities exceedingly
difficult and later Husserl discussed the difficulty of how intersubjectivity is possible. Kant’s
formalism or universalism explains the case of moral nature and thus from the very beginning he
excludes the experience of being affectionate toward one’s family.
Scheler used the breakthrough of intentionally in regard to traditional theories on experience to
break through the theory of the priority of the object. Since the position of priority of sensuous
impressions toward objective intuitions cannot stand its ground, why can the position of priority of
objects towards value intuitions stand its ground? The intuitions of value-ness in our feeling (Fühlung)
that we receive are not lesser or later than the sensuous intuition of objects. When we eat a banana,
do we first eat the banana as a physical object and then imbue it with a value of deliciousness, or do
we directly eat the deliciousness of the banana as soon as we put it in our mouths? To use the words
of Wang Yangming, do we first “see a color (a good-looking woman)” before we establish an
intention to like her, or do we have an intention to like her as soon as we see her? “Detesting bad
scents” are also like this. (See the first scroll of Chuanxi Lu). Naturally, Yangming thought that
“seeing a good color” and “liking good colors,” “smelling bad scents” and “detesting bad scents”
happen at the same time. These two are not split into before and after, there is no such thing as a
division between an objective foundation and an upper level of value. Scheler is also like this, and he
even goes farther than Yangming in thinking that value precedes the object. Does not our perception
of the world and objects have at its base an original significance of good and bad meanings? Since
our perceptions are intentional from the start and do not in their entirety passively receive impressions,
then how would they not receive latent guidance and influence of foundational value (i.e. habit,
customs, pop fashion, life goals, etc.)? Intentionality is actually just directionality of intention and
“directionality of intention” is in the end “orientation of meaning,” and value is the shape of meaning
which affects human beings the most. How could it not lead our intentional perception?1

1 Trans: The author is here making a play on words. “Intentionality” in Chinese is 意向性 (yixiangxing) and what I have
translated as “directionality of intention” the author writes as “向意性”, reversing the 意 and 向. 意 (yi), within context,
points to consciousness (意识 yishi) and 向 points of “direction 方向 fangxiang” or “orientation 趋向 quxiang.” Thus I
feel “directionality of intention” is an appropriate translation, perhaps we could also use “directionality of consciousness.”

If the relationship between a person and others and the world is as Scheler has described it, if
value is a priori and guides the perception of objects, then the transference of value from “being
affectionate toward one’s family” to “being humane toward the people” and toward even more
external people and even things (“be humane toward the people and have love for things”), then this
makes sense. According to Scheler, the nature of value is dynamic, it is constructed via the directions
of likes and dislikes, loves and hates and are directly felt (fühlen) by us. Therefore, value is different
than the felt-state (Gefühlszustand), it has a very strong non-objective aspect. Hunger is a felt-state
of the body, the desire to eat is constructive value acts. People usually produce the desire to eat when
they are hungry, but Scheler says that in terms of people, there are some times when they do not
desire to eat even though they hunger, for example, anorexia, and sometimes people desire to eat
when they are not hungry leading to obesity.1 Liji – Tangong and Mengzi both have the explanation
of “would rather die from starvation than eat unworthy food.” Obviously, values and value-acts have
a unique power of construction, they can surpass the value object. When we love a person, perhaps
we can still have this love regardless of whether or not that person also loves us, or perhaps we can
keep this love regardless of whether or not that person still exists. Obviously, love only needs genuine
purity, it has a non-objective self-motive power and overflowing capacity. Being affectionate toward
one’s family is the most genuine pure love in all of the world, of course it has a kind of value which
overflows and is self-motive in nature. Therefore, it must not be limited to the objectified person of
one’s love, instead, it has an a priori tendency to flow towards other people. From this, “being
affectionate toward one’s family, being humane toward the people and having love for all things”
obtains a preliminary proof for its philosophical significance.
Scheler’s a priori value does not imply that value is unrelated to a posteriori experience, instead,
it simply implies that this kind of value is not an object of experience nor is it decided by an empirical
state. It has its own unique realm and is related to human beings’ nature. Being affectionate toward
one’s family is naturally empirical, it can be said that it is the most intimate experience, but because
it is most sincere and void of deceit, this kind of intimacy is not contingent on the object of one’s love
and is self-structuring. This is Mengzi’s so-called “innate ability (liangneng).”

The Internal Order of Value, the Person, and Love

If value comes from the differences produced by likes and dislikes and ethical values come from the
differences of love and hate, then the importance of value lies in differences and not in bearers or
objects, therefore all values presuppose differences. How should we then understand this kind of
difference? Where does it originate? Structuralism thinks that the structural differences of linguistic
symbols create linguistic meaning (Saussure), in regard to Scheler, original meaning is value, so then

The author also plays on the homophony between 意 and 义 yi (significance/meaning; Modern Chinese has the word 意
义 yiyi, which itself means “meaning” or “significance.”) and says that “directionality of intention” is the same as 向义
xiangyi, that is the “orientation of meaning” or “oriented meaning.”
1 Scheler, Max: Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die matierale Wertethik. Neuer Versuch der Grundlegung eines
ethischen Personalismus. Original citation from: Lunlixue Zhong de Xingshizhuyi yu Zhiliao de Jiazhi Lunlixue, Ni
Liangkang (trans.), Beijing: Sanlian Shudian, 2004, pg. 252. (This page number refers to the original German text which
appears in the margin of the Chinese translation.)—this will be referred to as “Ethics” throughout the essay. The translator
requests the reader’s forgiveness for translating from the Chinese translation into English.

what differences produce value? It appears that Scheler has not explored this question deeply, unlike
Husserl and Heidegger who in phenomenological time and temporality find the original structure of
difference; instead, it is only the “person” who points to this structure. In regard to persons, Scheler
very strongly asserts that persons cannot at all be objectified (naturally!), they are a different kind of
unity of act-essences.1 He already saw that there is fundamental relation between it and difference,
therefore, it cannot be objectified, idealized or substantialized, thus good and bad—they are values
of personality—cannot be grasped as object concepts or value goals. They can only be carried “on
the backs” of ethical actions, otherwise it will create hypocrisy or deceit; however, it appears that he
lacked earnestness and experience in regard to this point, even to the point that he used the “identity
of existence” to summarize it.
This kind of incomplete thought has some consequences, among which is the demarcation of the
different levels of value itself. Value comes from differences, but this does not mean that different
values have a fixed hierarchy. This kind of demarcation goes against the principle of the structure of
Scheler divided value into four levels: emotional value, life value, spiritual value (includes
aesthetical, ethical, and epistemological ones), and divine values. From these we can see the influence
of Plato and Christianity. Differentiating different values is necessary, but their arrangement into
different castes—having fixed hierarchical differences—thus loses the original meaning of value. For
example, divine values are already the highest, what does it rely on to win for itself the highest value?
Is it only its relationship with lower values? Then it only relies on its substantial self-nature in order
to maintain this difference and it betrays the principle of difference which produces value. When
Scheler says that personalities are the identity of different act-essences, he perhaps intends to
emphasize that all values, including divine values, come out of the structure of difference. However,
when his levels of value become set then it is the same as identifying this structure of difference with
the divine value or the pure personality which Scheler had in mind. In this way, the thought of an
original non-ready-made personality—perhaps it exerted some influenced on Heidegger’s
“Dasein”—began to become the superlative, or in this sense it began to be present-at-hand and
Why is it that sensuous values (not felt-states) must be of the lowest order? In Wang Yangming’s
vision, although sensuous value acts of “liking good colors and detesting bad scents” differ from
ethical value acts such as “seeing one’s father and naturally knowing filial reverence,” there is no
determinate difference between them in “the unity of knowledge and action”. If King Xuan of Qi who
“loved good colors is able to share what he loves communally,” that is to say to allow other people
to also satisfy their sensuous value impulses for beautiful women, then this sensuous value act—it
will allow King Xuan of Qi to feel spontaneous value construction—will ascend to become an ethical
value act. Why are life values necessarily lower than spiritual or divine values? The Daoists would
not agree with this determination of values. Can the use of floods or wildfires (Genesis) that annihilate

1 Scheler: “Personalities are particular and self-sufficient existential unities of different value-acts, they are, of themselves
(thus they are not ours, προς ημας), prior to disparities between value-acts (they are especially prior to external and
internal sensations). The existence of personalities “founds” all different kinds of value-acts.” Scheler: Ethics, pp. 382-3.

life on behalf of a spiritual or divine value or judgement such as God’s judgement of man’s fall and
the promotion of world values really be defended?
However, to say that love has an internal order is correct; then the question is how do we
understand it? The creation of love (or hate) and its creative value relies on the structure of difference,
but this kind of difference is not necessarily one of fixed levels, it can also be a difference in distance
or time. He who is benevolent “loves others.” (Lunyu – 12) This love certainly originates in difference,
it also has a certain internal order. Benevolence necessarily originates in intimate family love. 1 This
is the internal a priori order of benevolence, it takes the differences between kin and non-kin as a
premise; intimacy thus comes from the differences of generational temporality, it takes the lengthy
and profound existence of humans as its premise. Obviously, the order of love talked about by
Scheler—which takes value arrangements as its foundation—is hierarchical, tiered, and essentially
static and takes God or the divine as its peak; however, the Confucians maintain that the order of love
is horizontal having a path to flow on as well as disparity. It has its origin (in the family), but it does
not have a read-made top position, even though benevolent people and sages also cannot surpass this
Scheler also wanted to reduce the ossification of persons and the order of love, other than the
emphasis mentioned above on the non-objectification of the person, he also maintained that persons
and value acts are complementary. Personality is recreated unceasingly by such acts, and the reason
these acts even have value to speak of is because this kind of person exists. All values are produced
out of the flow of meaning that happens within differences, therefore they all enter into a “a process
of essentially unlimited” “resistance of finality.” 2 This infinite process “in pure satisfaction of
pleasure expresses itself by rapidly changing objects, in the highest particular love, it shows itself by
increasingly and deeply penetrating into the increasing abundance of ‘this one’ God.” 3 Therefore, the
“highest” level, regardless if it is expressed as the highest value, person, or the order of love, take
God as ultimate, and this God is not substantialized, instead it is just love.4 However, love is just an
attempt to bring that which you love “into the perfect direction of one’s own values,” it is a kind of
“building act and constructing act.”5 She cannot, furthermore, possess and monopolize this “perfect
direction.” This direction always carries with it a dimension of origination and cannot be obtained
through a single focal point, because this focal point is without difference. This is the insight of
ancient Chinese, especially pre-Qin, philosophy, thus they talk about “non-polarity and polarity”
(wuji er taiji), “polarity is rooted in non-polarity” (taiji ben wuji); and through yinyang discuss the
principles of the polarity and of love. That is, it is a non-substantial and purely generative
“deconstructive” means to become aware to the ultimate polarity.
According to the research of Husserl and Heidegger, the flow of time which we immediately
experience has meaning in itself, or it produces original difference and meaning. This is an important

1 Translator: “Benevolence” in Chinese is 仁爱 (ren’ai) which is contains the character “ai 爱,” which means “to
love/love.” “Intimacy (亲爱 qin’ai)” is composed of the characters for “(blood) relative, to treat affectionately (亲
qin)”and “love.”
2 Scheler: The Order of Love, in Scheler, Max: The Order of Love. Original citation from Ai de Zhixu, Sun Zhouxing, Lin
Keyi (trans.), Beijing: Beijing Shifan Daxue Chubanshe, 2017, p. 108.
3 Ibid. p. 109.
4 Ibid. p. 105.
5 Ibid. p. 103.

philosophical discovery and is very similar to the Upanishads, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism
of the East. In terms of Scheler’s ethics, it does not matter how pure or how natural the consciousness
of time is, it possesses value and it also produces value. Actually, understanding the personality which
Scheler talks about through this kind of temporal flow is more appropriate than understanding through
a highest God. Accordingly, Scheler later abandoned Catholicism and turned towards pantheism, I
surmise that this is related to the contradiction in his view on God. If he later left phenomenology,
then one of the reasons for that being the case would have been that he did not fully grasp and digest
Husserl’s thought on time and post-Husserlian phenomenology.
Confucianism will completely agree with the insights of Husserl’s, Scheler’s and Heidegger’s
phenomenology because they produced a Confucian orthodoxy explanation of “coincidence” on
behalf of “being affectionate toward one’s family and being humane.” Being affectionate toward
one’s family is the production of meaning cross-generationally or the production of the meaning of
love, moreover, the flow of this meaning of love is not unidirectional, instead, because the “time halo”
(Zeithof) naturally layers up, entangles and reverses on itself sequentially. Therefore, filial love—the
“requited love (Gegenliebe)” 1 in response to parental compassion—is possible, this point
differentiates man from animals. Furthermore, this love of being affectionate toward one’s family,
because of its spontaneity and genuineness will certainly produce value acts which tend toward
goodness and help to form healthy personalities. That filial love is especially so is because it, being
the reversed stream of love and a dynamic happening which is hidden in passivity, is the expression
of the structure of phenomenology’s “time halo,” therefore this most clearly manifests the a priori
ability (innate ability liangneng) of love’s ethical value complex. This is why it was viewed highly
by the Confucians as the “root of virtue” and “that from which education is generated.” (The Classic
of Filial Piety)
In comparison to the love of people for God or that of God for people—divine love—which
Scheler talks about, the special characteristic of intimate love (including parental compassionate love
and filial love) is its closeness to the actual lived experiences of human beings, thus it is most original
and most possesses the intuitive evidence emphasized by Husserl or the ethical insightfulness talked
about by Scheler. Actually, intimate love is still situated within the “temporal horizon” (Zeithorizont)
of the flow of time, two people who have an intimate relationship, such as a mother (or father) and a
baby are not isolated particulars, instead, they are the living holding onto momentary pasts and the
projecting of momentary futures (or the retention and protention) that together participate in the
construction of existential meanings and values-halo. Therefore, Levinas views the family as the
“origin of time.”2 Other kinds of love can all be seen as being derived from intimate love, and these
are already not the original meaning of love (namely, in the sense within the time-halo) that is
constructed and emergent in the present, instead it is re-presented. People know the meaning of love
and its original value from their original knowledge (innate ability, liangneng) of intimate love, and
then they can appropriately love others, for example, relatives, neighbors, fellow townsmen,

1 Scheler: Ethics, pp. 524-525.

2 Levinas: Totality and Infinity. Originally cited as Zongti yu Wuxian, Zhu Gang (trans.), Beijing: Beijing Daxue
Chubanshe, 2016, p. 299. Levinas writes: “As the source of time for human beings, the family allows for the subjectivity
situated underneath scrutiny to at the same time retain speech. It is a kind of an unavoidable metaphysical structure.”
(Translation from the Chinese)

countrymen, spirits and even God. Scheler’s order of love actually requires that people begin from
loving God or from the feeling of having received God’s love so that true love can be known. “Every
love is a kind of love for God that is yet to be complete, often dormant or a longing for, or as if one
has stopped on the road to take a short rest.”1 This kind of absurdity undoubtably will lead to deceit
(Täushung), that is to bring something which is not present into the current and actual situation,
because people cannot self-evidently and directly experience God’s love and also produce a
corresponding requited love, but this must be experienced through scripture, the explanations of
priests, the church collective and other such things in order to indirectly experience it. This is thus a
great space for the appearance of deceit, manipulation by the church, and the constraints left behind
by the collective. Every theory, school, and society that talks about love faces the threat of deceit and
hypocrisy, Confucianism is no exception, therefore Confucius was extremely aware of the
“hypocritical Confucians” and petty people. The Zhongyong, the Daxue, and the Mengzi all employed
their own methods to “obtain knowledge of things and extend knowledge, make sincere own’s
thoughts and straighten one’s mind,” and the reason why being affectionate toward one’s family
cannot be done away with is because no matter what time or in regard to what person, it is only this
kind of intimate love that possesses the least possibility for hypocrisy and deceit. It is the singular
and most sincere way of the gentleman.

The Other Within and Between Communities

Scheler divides social units (Sozialeinheit) into four levels, that is the masses, life-community
(Lebensgemeinschaft), society and the collective person (Persongemeinschaft). 2 This division
roughly corresponds with the four divisions of values. What must be paid attention to is that they are
not actual social groups, instead they are the social units which make up social groups. Therefore,
there can exist some or even whole social units at the same time within villages or social communities.
These four social units have two “communities,” that is the life-community and the collective person.
Classic examples of the life-community are the “family, clan, and ethnicity,” its form is mainly
“marriage, family and the village collective.” 3 Classic examples of the collective person is the
Christian congregation. He obviously (or I think he obviously) thought the collective person fully
embodies the person, therefore the person is the highest level social unit among these four. Its main
characteristic is that it allows individual persons (Einzelperson) and total persons (Gesamperson) to
exist simultaneously without mutual interference and to even mutually promote each other. If a
community has an experience of communal love and hate that becomes a center for communal
experiences, moreover, if this accords with the definition of person (the unity of different act-
essences), then there is a total person. Society is constructed out of social contracts, there are only
individual persons and no total persons. According to the logic of this way of thinking, the life-
community should have total persons and no individual persons, and the masses have no person to
talk of whatsoever. However, Scheler is even more serious in regard to the life-community and views

1 Scheler: The Order of Love, p. 104.

2 Ethics, Chapter 6 pt. B section 4 point 4, p. 515.
3 Ibid. 535,537

it as having neither individual or total persons, there is only a kind of solidarity. The masses
sometimes come together but do not have solidarity.
This kind of discrimination against the life-community or the family and kin relations is the
characteristic of Western culture, especially of Plato and Christian theology. But the point in Scheler’s
devaluing the life-community is that he rejects that it has individual persons, therefore their solidarity
is at a discount or is “replaceable.” Thus, one of his criticisms of the life-community is that it “lacks
any distinction between my-experiences (Meinerleben) and your-experiences (Deinerleben).” 1 In
other words, because this kind of community lacks any solitary individual persons therefore it lacks
you and me in an individual sense or the distinction between me and others. Further, in Scheler’s
view, a community that does not have individual persons cannot have total persons, therefore he
rejects the total persons of life-communities. 2 Actually he rejects that life-communities have
This criticism cannot hold its ground. First of all, this is because a life-community that is lead at
the front by family relations does not lack individual persons. Let us look at a passage from the
Classic of Filial Reverence:

Zengzi said: “……I dare to ask if a son following his father’s order can be called filial reverence?” The
Master said: “What kind of saying is this! What kind of saying is this!” In the past, there were seven
ministers who weren’t afraid to criticize the Son of Heaven, so even if he was without the Way, he did
not lose all under heaven; …… if a father has a son who is not afraid to criticize him, then his person
will not fall into impropriety. Therefore, if there should be impropriety then the son cannot but criticize
his father and a minister cannot but criticize his ruler. Therefore, when there is impropriety then it must
be corrected through remonstrance. [Blindly] following the orders of one’s father, how could that bring
about filial reverence!” (Classic of Filial Reverence – Remonstrance 15)3

The relationship between parents and children is the most important family relation, these are
not simply composed of orders, education, obedience, and compliance (this kind of “filial compliance”
is often misunderstood as “blind obedience” by contemporary Confucians), instead it is composed of
“appropriateness (义 yi).” “Therefore, if there is impropriety, then a son cannot but criticize his father.”
The traditional character for “appropriateness” (義 yi) has the character for “me” or “I” in it (that is,
wo 我). This clearly shows that proper behavior begins from my own person: “That which is proper
[is that which is] mine…… appropriateness must have things not done and restraint.” (Duan Yucai’s
saying)4 The “appropriateness” in this passage is being used with this precise meaning. Moreover,
Confucius’ words not only require remonstrance with fathers on behalf of propriety, but also at the
same time actually affirms that this kind of filial propriety or proper filiality in undertaking affairs
(can) certainly exist(s) within familial relations. From our own experiences and observations in regard

1 Ibid. p, 515.
2 Ibid. p.517.
3 A similar saying can also be seen in The Record of Rites – Inner Principles. Confucius, in Analects – 4 says: “In serving
one’s father and mother their mistakes should be pointed out. If you see that in their actions they have not listened to your
criticism, then you should still be respectful and not protest while maintaining worry within without begrudging them.”
4 Commentary on the Shuowen Jiezi (Shuowenjiezi zhu) (Han) Xu Shen (compiler), (Qing) Duan Yucai (commentator),
Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 2011 (1988), p. 633.

to our families, we can also affirm that the deed of filial children—sons and daughters who deeply
love their parents and who communally experience ethical lives together with them— “remonstrance
with one’s father on behalf of propriety” is internally linked with their identity. A person who truly
loves his/her parents is a person of love, what such a person does not wish to see the most is for their
parents to perish in “impropriety,” therefore, when there is impropriety there must be remonstrance,
even if it is extremely subtle and slight. What this promoted was the “goodness” (that is the
connotation of the yang 羊 in the character yi 義) of society and family and not the separation of
family relations. This explains that the filial child situated within the same family relations as their
parents affirms the individual person in Scheler’s sense of the word, it is that it makes this filial child
able to directly feel “propriety,” and because of this want to expend effort so that a parent does not
“fall into impropriety.”
Kongzi also said: “People tend to like those who show them affection and love and avoid those
who show baseness and vulgarity……thus there are few who love a thing yet know where it is not
good and dislike a thing yet know where it is good……this is what we mean by you cannot bring
together your family without cultivating your person.” (Daxue 8) The objectification of people’s love
and hate does not give love and hate uniqueness, freedom, or self-evident clarity; therefore, people
deceive themselves in their partiality for what they love and deceive themselves in the partiality for
what they hate. However, original love and hate imbues likes and dislikes with an objective spiritual
value, that is to know the flaws and insufficiencies of a person at the same time you love that person
or to know the goodness in a person at the same time you hate that person. Through “self-cultivation,”
it is possible to get rid of the tendency to objectify the object of one’s love which causes it to lose its
originality, to also fall into a tendency towards “that which you love,” and to establish the a priori
position of value-acts already contained within intimate love. From this we see the original
appearance of intimate love which can bring families together. The Daxue views “self-cultivation” in
this way, thus it says: “this is what we mean by you cannot bring together your family without
cultivating your person.” The clear possession of an individual person in the “self (shen 身)” in “self-
cultivation (xiushen 修身)”—it is different than particularity—guarantees that the total person of the
family or the family person also guides self-cultivation. This differentiates it from the self-cultivation
of Daoism, Mohism and Christianity.
Clearly, Scheler’s criticism of the life-community as “lacking any distinction between my-
experiences and your-experiences” cannot stand its ground at all when facing this conclusion that
affirms individual persons within family relationships. There is certainly consciousness of the other
within the family community, otherwise, how could there possibly be “sons who point out propriety
to their fathers”? Also, the family is humanity’s method for coherence and this center of coherence
cannot be done without, it manifests as family customs, family education, clan genealogies and
unspoken rules, etc., therefore, this family community which does not lack individual persons affirms
total persons; this is the family person or the household person (家人格 jiarenge and 家庭人格 jiating
renge respectively, the latter focusing on the people in the household as opposed to the house itself).
From this, the saying that “if one family is benevolent then benevolence will flourish throughout the
state” will make sense because the relation between the family and the state is not one of a micro-
community and a macro-community. If things are like this then there is no foundation for the
benevolence in the family to transfer to benevolence in the state, but if we view the family and the
state as a relationship between family persons and state persons then the transference of value from
the family to the state will be unobstructed because persons are non-objects and possess the power of
value transference.
On the other hand, Scheler’s approval of the collective person which takes the Christian church
as its example— “the collective of love,” “the most perfect expression of personhood”—also might
have been praised too much. As we said above, the distance and remoteness of divine love requires
that it be explained, but the central place in explanation which the church and doctrine occupies lead
to a non-phenomenological situation., that is its believers following blindly because they are not
situated in a self-evident and direct experience of love. Therefore, even though the church or the
collective person possesses a transcendent spirit and an internally condensed love, as soon as it enters
into a doctrinal explanation or the division of church leadership authority, then this condensed love
will turn into condensed hate. For example, the Christian church is harsh and severe to internal
heresies and the appearance of new religions leads to religious war; or, for example, the long-term
animosity, discrimination and bloody conflicts that even persists to this day between the Christian
church and other collective persons (Judaism, Islam). Therefore, Scheler himself in the concluding
part of his Ethics also talks about a kind of “essential tragedy” for collective persons (“between
persons who are most perfect, possess the highest value and a limited good”).1 This explains that
between Scheler’s so-called collective persons there lacks a consciousness of the other and the
construction of a corresponding ethical value that expresses itself as the absence or lack of genuine
tolerance between religions.
However, because the Confucian collective person is rooted into an intimate love that has little
to no deceit and personal relationships, they, therefore, on the contrary have a consciousness of others
between collectives. Historically, other than a few instances of friction, the Confucians have basically
been at peace with other religions. After the Tang and Song dynasties there was even a tendency
toward being mutually complementary between Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism. It is not
possible to see this in the history of Western religions, and it cannot also be related to the recent
separation of church and state which lead to some kind of religious tolerance. What we regrettably
see is that the “clash of ‘civilizations’” is still happening. The key point is: from the perspective of
phenomenology, intimate love and divine love have different experiential qualities or structures, that
is, there is no fundamental clash between intimate love and there will be a clash if the divine love
which is related to intimate love is broken away from. From this there appears a problem in need of
our serious consideration: what kind of collectivity does the collectivity of future humanity require:
is it the collectivity of intimate love or is it the collective person which should be taken as our model
for survival?

(Translated by Kevin J. Turner)

1 Ethics, p. 575.

Befriending the Things We Use: Beyond Rén and Ubuntu

Graham Parkes

If we are to become fully human or humane, in the sense of the Confucian term rén 仁, one way is to
extend the love that obtains among members of the family to other human beings. This process would
be compatible, as far as I know, with the notion of ubuntu in African philosophy. In view of the savage
and warlike traits in human nature, these are fine ideas. But considering the violence and destruction
we visit upon other living things on the planet, some of which we depend on for our lives, it’s clear
that we’d benefit from a more comprehensive understanding of human flourishing than humanistic
notions like rén or ubuntu provide.
Of course, in order to sustain ourselves we human beings have to be anthropocentric—just as
any species has to be species-centric in order to survive. But if we narrow our concern to the field of
the human too much, anthropocentrism may be our undoing, insofar as we have long been
compromising the integrity of the natural ecosystems on which our survival depends. And if we are
interested in thriving, we do well to get beyond our anthropocentrism and take care not only of
ourselves and our fellow creatures, but also of the things, or ‘inanimate’ entities, we use in our day-
to-day lives.
Indeed our current environmental predicament—global warming, pollution of the air, earth, and
water, deforestation, decimation of fish and wildlife populations—stems to some extent from a deeply
dysfunctional relationship with the things around us. Belongings, possessions, stuff—usually way
more than enough of them. We tend to be especially alienated from natural things, cut off by
urbanisation and the screens of information technology, but our interactions with human-made things
are often similarly impoverished.
An unobtrusive factor in our destruction of other life forms is insidiously effective: plastics.
Plastic production increases relentlessly, and the deadly debris continues to accumulate. There are
microparticles of plastic everywhere, including in the stomachs of whales, fish and sea-birds—and of
most people who eat seafood. Projections of plastic production predict a steady increase, which will
wreak further havoc on ecosystems around the globe.1
Our dependence on plastics is emblematic of our dysfunctional relations with things in general:
we acquire them almost without noticing, accumulate more than we need, end up with many more
than we can take care of—and usually end up throwing them away. Wouldn’t our lives be enhanced
if we paid more attention to things, extended our concern to them, took better care? One thing that
would follow from this would be a halt to producing synthetic things like plastic and anything else
that doesn’t biodegrade and becomes waste that disrupts natural ecosystems.
If we step back to ask about the thinking behind this dismal state of affairs, we find a prime
suspect in the view of the physical world as mostly lifeless. This worldview regards animals as lacking
soul or personality, vegetation such as grass, flowers, and trees as lacking awareness, and ‘inanimate’
things such as rocks or tools as lacking any kind of life. Such things are to be used and manipulated
for our own purposes, and to be cared for only insofar as they’re useful to us. Obvious as it may seem
to us moderns, this is actually an unusual way of viewing things.

The first philosopher of the Western tradition, Thales of Miletus, is believed to have said that
‘the whole world is ensouled’, and to have ascribed soul to ‘inanimate’ things—in part because ‘the
Magnesian stone and amber’ are able to move iron.2 And in Plato’s cosmology, as presented in the
Timaeus, the world is regarded as ‘a truly living thing, endowed with soul and intelligence’, and as
animated throughout by what the Neoplatonic tradition would later call the ‘world soul’ (anima
However, some time before Plato a peculiar idea of the human soul had emerged in Greek culture,
deriving from shamanism and what has been called the ‘Orphic-Pythagorean’ tradition. On this view
the human soul exists prior to the body—is even ‘eternal’ and thus infinitely more ‘real’—and the
body is regarded as a ‘tomb’ for the soul, a prison, from which it will be finally released at death. 4
Christian philosophy would later develop a modified version of this dualism, in the light of its
regarding the body as fallen and a site of sin, which eventually resulted in an understanding of the
entire physical world as inanimate.
In the course of the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, philosophy took an
extraordinary turn when the Cartesian thinkers deprived the physical world (res extensa) of soul,
denying it even to animals, in spite of their name (anima = psuchē = soul). They affirmed that only
human beings, as thinking things (res cogitans), are ensouled. The physical world became unanimated,
dead matter in motion, machine-like, an enormous mechanism. Dualism taken to the extreme.
This way of thinking had become mainstream by the nineteenth century, when Western
anthropologists studying ‘primitive’ cultures started thinking about the way their subjects appeared
to experience the world. So when the great pioneer of cultural anthropology, E. B. Tylor, introduced
the term ‘animism’ in his monumental classic Primitive Culture, he applied it in a special sense to
‘savages and barbarians’, who are strongly inclined to ‘personify’ things. From Tylor’s postCartesian
scientific perspective, which understands material objects are lifeless, if ‘primitives’ experience the
world as alive with ‘personal souls’ and ‘spiritual beings’ inhabiting natural phenomena, they must
be unconsciously projecting aspects of their own psychic lives onto the inanimate world around
This sense of ‘animism’, soul projected onto material things by primitive minds, refers to a
remarkably recent phenomenon (since the seventeenth century). Indeed it’s only when you get the
parochial (northern Europe) and peculiar idea (never occurred to the Chinese) of Cartesian ‘mind-
matter’ dualism that you need a word like ‘animism’ to mean the projection of human feelings and
qualities onto inanimate beings. For most people during most of human history, the world naturally
presents itself as animated, or ensouled, from the start.6
Now that the environmentally devastating consequences of the modern scientific worldview are
becoming obvious, we are retreating from the extreme view that only humans have soul. Nevertheless,
while Western advocates of biophilia and deep ecology extend their concern to all living things, they
tend to get stuck at the stage of ‘biocentrism’ without going all the way to include the mineral realm
of rocks and mountains—and from there inanimate things of use.
Are we really so sure that ‘inanimate’ things are lifeless? And when we shout at a tool that breaks
at the worst possible time (usually due to our carelessness), are we regressing to a primitive belief
system—or is there something to the feeling that a high-tech gadget like a laptop computer can appear

to pick up on our moods? After all, if we turn to the highly sophisticated philosophical tradition that
developed in China, we find that the distinction between animate and inanimate is relatively irrelevant.
When the Confucians promoted ritual propriety as a way of enhancing social harmony, this
required a careful cultivation of one’s interactions with things as well as persons. Not only must the
garments be appropriate to the occasion, but also how one wears them: you have to pay close attention
to the angle of the hat, the sweep of the sleeve. Special care is required when handling ritual
implements—and by extension all things of use.
The Daoist thinkers recommend we move beyond anthropocentrism by extending the Confucian
practices of reciprocity (shù 恕), putting oneself in the other person’s position, to animals and plants
and the rest of ‘the ten thousand things’ as well. This move is based in an understanding of the world
as a field of qì 氣 energies. The Zhuangzi talks about how ‘all creatures take shape between
Heaven and Earth and receive qi energy from the yin and yang’. Qì energies transform
themselves along a continuum from rarefied and invisible, as in the breath, to condensed and palpable,
as in rock.

The birth of a man is just a convergence of qi. When it converges he lives; when it scatters he dies. …
Hence it is said: ‘Just open yourself into the one qi that is the world.’7

Being all one energy, qì is not just ‘life energy’: it also constitutes rivers and rocks—what we in
the West regard as ‘inanimate’ matter—as well as the animal and vegetal realms. In short: it’s all
things, the whole world.
It so happens that in ancient Greece, shortly before the time of Confucius, the Presocratic thinker
Anaximines came up with a remarkably similar idea. He identified ‘the underlying nature’ of all
things as ‘one and infinite: air’ (aer in Greek), which when ‘rarefied’ by heating becomes fire, and
when ‘condensed’ by cooling becomes ‘wind, then cloud, water, earth, stones’ and so forth.
Anaximines also assimilated aer with psyche, meaning ‘soul’: ‘From air all things come to be, and
into it they are again dissolved. As our soul, being air, holds us together and controls us, so does wind
[breath] enclose the entire cosmos.’ This wind as the one underlying nature is ‘always in motion’,
making the notion even more consonant with Chinese qì philosophy.8
The Chinese thinkers regarded the entire field of qì as conditioned by a process of ‘sympathetic
resonance’ (gănyìng 感 应 ), as when similarly tuned strings on musical instruments vibrate in
sympathy with one another. It’s a matter of interaction among things of similar kinds when they
mutually affect and respond over distance, in the absence of any visible or tangible medium—or,
rather, through the medium of qì energies at their most rarefied or quintessential (jīng 精).9 Even
though the process works most powerfully between things of the same kind, it can also work across
kinds, between us and ‘inanimate’ things. For instance, an expert craftsman’s interaction with tools
and materials can be so intense that the product has an almost supernatural (shén 神) quality to it—
‘daemonic’, as Goethe called it.10
A well-known story in the Zhuangzi ascribes the consummate skill of Butcher Ding to his contact
with the daemonic. After many years of dismembering oxen, he no longer perceives the carcass with
his senses but rather handles it through ‘the daemonic’ or ‘spirit’, at a level beneath conscious

experience where he can intuit the natural ‘energetic’ structure of the matter at hand. The text doesn’t
mention the term, but it sounds as if he’s carving on the basis of sympathetic resonance with the
inanimate ox carcasses—such that after nineteen years of use, his cleaver is still ‘as sharp as if it had
just come off the whetstone’.
In another story in the Zhuangzi Woodworker Qing is able to carve bell-stands with such skill
that they appear to be ‘the work of spirits’. When asked how he does it, he explains that it’s a matter
of attuning his qì energies and emptying himself of all thoughts and human expectations, so that he
can ‘feel’ the natural structure of the appropriate wood. Then the carving and shaping are a matter of
‘matching up’ the natural energies of his body, honed by long practice, with the natural energies of
the wood which have produced this particular grain.11 Another case of sympathetic resonance:
consummate practitioners using tools as extensions of their bodies, resonating with things through
things they’ve made and then incorporated.
The Zhuangzi was a special influence on the first great Chinese Buddhist thinker, Sengzhao (fifth
century), whose basic philosophy was that ‘the transformations of things … are all one qi’.12 Chinese
Buddhism later came to understand the unity of all things in terms of ‘the same breath’, or energy, of
buddha-nature—the capacity to awaken to a realisation of one’s participation in the whole
interdependently -unfolding world.13
A succession of thinkers from different schools argued for the buddha-nature of all sentient
beings rather than just humans; then for the ‘attainment of buddhahood by plants and trees’; and
finally the buddha-nature of everything that exists—the great earth, soil, and even ‘particles of dust’.14
And if all the things we deal with are buddha-nature, they deserve our attention and respect insofar
as this view makes them close relatives, and companions on the way to enlightenment. Centuries later,
the Neo-Confucian thinker Shao Yong elaborated the Zhuangzi’s non-anthropocentric worldview into
a qì philosophy in which sympathetic resonance with other beings enables us to appreciate their

The sage reflects the universal character of the feelings of all things. The sage can do so because he views
things as things view themselves; that is, not subjectively but from the viewpoint of other things. …
When one can be happy or sad with things as though he were the things themselves, one’s feelings may
be said to have been aroused and to have responded to a proper degree.15

The notion of arousal and response is helpful in highlighting the affective aspects of
understanding: it’s not a matter of knowing things in the framework of an abstract epistemology, but
of getting a feel for them, sympathizing with them.
The last great Neo-Confucian thinker, Wang Yangming, emphasised human interdependence
with things by using the term ‘one body’:

At bottom Heaven, Earth, the myriad things, and the human form one body. … Wind, rain, dew, thunder,
sun and moon, stars, animals and plants, mountains and rivers, earth and stones are essentially of one
body with the human.16

This way of thinking—it’s all a field of qì energies, within which the human body is a particular
configuration: all things one body with the human—remained central to Chinese philosophy through
the ensuing centuries and up to the present day.
The idea of qì can’t simply be dismissed as scientifically unverifiable, because it’s more a
philosophical than a scientific notion. Nevertheless it did inform and support the development of an
advanced tradition of natural sciences in China.
Indeed the notion of qì underlies several other key aspects of Chinese culture: statecraft,
traditional Chinese medicine, fengshui, martial arts and exercise regimes, calligraphy, painting,
architecture and garden making. It all hangs together. And to understand oneself as being ‘one body’
with things of nature and things of use transforms our experience of them and thereby our interactions
with them.
If we can make do with fewer things, and more congenial ones, it’s easier to realise we’re one
body with them. We find a philosophy advocating just this in Japan’s Zen Buddhism, which grew out
of the Chan school of Chinese Buddhism and developed a practice of tending things with the utmost
care. The great Zen thinker from the thirteenth-century, Dōgen (道元), encouraged monks who
worked in temple kitchens to use the polite forms of the Japanese language when referring to the
materials of their craft: ‘Use honorific forms of verbs for describing how to handle rice, vegetables,
salt, and soy sauce; do not use plain language for this.’17 He also recommended treating the kitchen
utensils as well as the ingredients with the careful attention.

Put what is suited to a high place in a high place, and what belongs in a low place in a low place. Those
things that are in a high place will be settled there; those that are suited to be in a low place will be settled

In keeping the kitchen well ordered, the order doesn’t derive from a plan in the head of the cook
but rather from paying attention to suitabilities suggested by the things themselves. This allows us to
situate the utensils so they’re ‘settled’, and thus less likely to fall down or get damaged.
Once we get down to cooking, we find that the creative interplay between activity, utensils, and
ingredients is what Dōgen calls ‘turning things while being turned by things’.19 We need a sense both
for how things are turning so that we can align ourselves aright, and for how our turning is in turn
affecting what is going on. Optimally, beneath it all, there’s an effortless interplay among hands,
implements and ingredients.
If we wanted to make this kind of activity into a chore, we could, simply by framing it in terms
of means-to-ends: I need to keep the kitchen tidy in order to cook and eat efficiently, so as to make
time for the really important stuff— whatever that may be. The way we so often structure our
experience and activities, distinguishing the fulfilling ends we aim for from the burdensome chores
we have to discharge in order to achieve them, condemns us to a great deal of drudgery. Of course
we need some means-ends thinking in order to survive, but beyond that, if we free things from
enslavement to our purposes, we find our engagement with them is much enhanced.
For example: some time ago my wife and I were living in Japan, which meant that every morning
after getting up we had to remove the bedding from the tatami-matted floor and store it for the day on
shelves behind sliding doors along one side of the room. We eventually realised that if we didn’t want
this first shared task of the day to be a chore, we could make it into something more like a dance. It
had been clear early in our marriage that we would never be the next
Astaire and Rogers, but the field of putting away bedding is far less competitive. In folding the
sheets, once you synchronize your actions with those of your fellow folder, the interplay becomes a
joy to participate in. Attention to efficient body movements lets you avoid unnecessary exertion and
postures that produce strain: that way, the motions flow easily and smoothly, and on a cold morning
the exercise has a pleasantly warming and tonic effect. The enjoyment becomes richer as you learn
to harmonise your movements not only with your partner’s but also with the size and weight and
texture of whatever you’re folding, responding to the sheet or blanket as a third participant in the
early morning dance.
When storing the futons becomes with practice more spontaneous, you lose the sense of
performing the movements and gain a feeling for the unfolding of the activity from a centre that’s
somewhere among the participants. You know where the futons, once folded, belong; and things go
better if, instead of your having to heave them into place, you simply help them get to where they
need to be—again as suggested by the things themselves.
Well, there’s a great deal more to say about this topic, but time is up and so I’ll close with a little
prediction. Namely, if we can celebrate ‘turning things while being turned by things’, we’ll surely
enjoy them more—not as a substitute for, but as an enriching complement to, our social and
interpersonal interactions.

Ubu-ntu and Ren: to be a Human Being is to Love Ethically

Mogobe B Ramose
Department of Philosophy, University of South Africa

Abstract: This essay examines two kin concepts in African and Chinese philosophies, namely,
the ubu-ntu and the ren. The philosophical implications of these concepts are varied but share
the common obligation to seek the way of truth in the complexity of life as a wholeness. Truth,
according to these philosophies, is understood as a complex lived practical experience of love
in search of justice and peace with regard to the individual human being and, all other human
beings including all that lives. Love of, with and, for another human being is impossible without
the practical acceptance of another human being as one’s ontological equal. This is doing justice
to oneself by upholding truthfulness. It is to accept the ethical imperative to renounce self-
deception in the practice of daily life. Underlying this renunciation is the recognition that love
for oneself is meaningless unless it accepts relatedness to, with and for others as the context
within which truth, justice and peace may be attained. Accordingly, the fundamental thesis of
ubu-ntu and ren is that to be a human being is to love ethically; it is to have pun jen – a humane
heart (goba le pelo) – through, with and for others in the quest for truth, justice and peace. To
illustrate this, ubu-ntu and ren will be placed in dialogue in this essay.

The finding that the human being originates from Africa is of special interest for many reasons. First
it gives rise to the question why the exodus from Africa to other parts of the world appears to have
promoted the affirmation of identity in terms of differences among human beings. Often, the
concentration on differences led and, still leads, to sometimes deadly conflict among human beings.
This continuing deadly conflict appears to ignore or to be oblivious of the finding in contemporary
science that: “At the DNA level, we are all 99.9 percent identical. That similarity applies regardless
of which two individuals from around the world you choose to compare. Thus, by DNA analysis, we
humans are truly part of one family”. (Collins, 2007: 125-126) It is significant that the author uses
the concept “identical”. This underlines the oneness of humanness.
Second, the doctrine of Discovery (Miller, 2011) emphasised difference among human beings
by inventing a false ontological hierarchy based on the imaginary racial superiority of human beings
with pink skin colour referred to symbolically as whites. As a result, a large segment of humanity
was enslaved and coerced into structural and systemic poverty. This condition is so normalised
through subtle coercion and manipulation that it has now attained surreptitiously the status of being
natural. The dominant economic model today focuses on this condition in the name of “poverty”,
“development” as well as the tension between “employment” and “unemployment”. Despite the
formal abolition of slavery in many parts of the world, epistemic enslavement – a living residue of
the original epistemicide of the doctrine of Discovery – continues to reinforce widespread global
economic and social injustice. Social justice cannot be complete without epistemic justice.

Today, the rich countries of the North state that they are faced with the two-faced problem of
“migrants” and “refugees”. Many of them appear to be totally oblivious of their over enthusiastic
attraction and absorption of “migrants” from foreign countries into their own countries especially
after the second world war. The purpose was to have the “migrants” participate as workers in the
reconstruction of their economies destroyed by war. “Migrants” then served as the solution to the
problem of economic reconstruction. The relationship between economic reconstruction and social
welfare speaks for itself. It does not need special pleading. The success in economic reconstruction
turned many of the countries into social welfare states.
A variety of complex reasons combined to urge the rich countries of the North to adopt policies
for the repatriation of “migrants” willing to return to their countries of origin. The heavy and rapid
waves of “refugees” into the rich Northern countries exacerbated the “problem” of sharing wealth
with the “leftovers” (Francis, 2013: paragraph 53) – human beings second to none in their ontological
status as human beings - discarded ruthlessly by the dominant global economic model. This “problem”
arises at a time when most of the rich Northern countries are experiencing a decline in their population.
They have the self-made artificial problem called the shortage of babies. From an ethical standpoint,
this artificial problem can be solved precisely by welcoming “migrants” and “refugees”. But this
solution is hardly contemplated. Instead, they are dealing with this “crisis” primarily from the
perspective that efforts should be intensified to persuade “migrants” to return to their countries of
origin and, to ensure that a controlled minimum of “refugees” is granted asylum.
In the midst of this “crisis” there is complete and total silence about the many economic refugees
from the rich countries of the North living in the many poor countries of the South. These economic
refugees come under the guise of “foreign investment”. They are visible in many forms such as the
Volvo, Ford, Renault, Jaguar, BMW, Rolls Royce, Alfa Romeo, Peugeot, Fiat, Mercedes Benz as
well as other technologies and “services”. The invariable and primary purpose of their presence in
the countries of the South is to make financial profit and thus to increase their wealth. What is the
ethical basis for condoning the presence of these economic refugees in the poor countries of the South
while at the same time unwelcoming “migrants” and “refugees” who are the structural and systemic
product of the dominant global economic model supported unto death by the rich countries of the
The above question must be answered from the premise that it is not the first time that limitless
and immoderate love of money led to moral decay and decadence in the cultural history of the West.
“The Spartans were remarkable for their money. It was made of iron, and was so heavy that a strong
ox could carry only a little of it. We are told that Lycurgus made the money heavy so that no one
would ever be fond of it, for he firmly believed that money is the root of all evil”. (Ogan, 1938: 575)
Aware of the moral decay of the society of his time, Solon - quoted in Seaford - observed that “Of
wealth there is no limit that appears to men. For those who have the most wealth are eager to double
it”. (Seaford, 2004: 165) He advised “moderation” as the remedy to the ensuing moral decay. (Seaford,
2004: 166) But ethics was overcome by moral blindness intensified by eagerness to double one’s
wealth at any cost, (Arnsperger, 1996: 12-13) including the ever-ready strategy of deliberate
collective suicide: the nuclear weapons strategy of annihilation known appropriately as MAD –

Mutual Assured Destruction. And thus the nascent pecunimania of ancient Greece became a full-
blown disease of our time affecting and infecting every sphere of the life of human beings.
Pecunimania continues to be propelled relentlessly by “competition” understood mistakenly
(The Group of Lisbon, 1995: 90) as seeking against “the other”. It has turned human beings into
preying wolves devouring one another ruthlessly. The wealthy few wield economic power to subdue
the many to ethical paralysis in the service of limitless financial profit-making. So it is that “the
sovereignty of money” (Vandevelde, 1996: 481-483) has overtaken democracy surreptitiously in our
time (Herz, 2001) and replaced it with timocracy. But the world without ethics can never be the home
of human beings.
Third, bounded reasoning underlies the prevailing understanding that physical and cultural
boundaries created by human beings exclude those outside them. Bounded reasoning is the
epistemological imperative to create boundaries in order to derive and attach meaning to whatever
exists around us. That which is encircled within the boundary claims particularity by reference to
being separate from that which lies outside of the boundary. This view also underpins the concept of
state as a political entity. State sovereignty is the axiom and, virtually the dogma of contemporary
international politics. Bounded reasoning is epistemologically necessary for the construction of
individual and collective identity but it may not be ethically decisive in the construction and
constitution of human co-existence. This proviso is exemplified by “the moon treaty”.
Under the United Nations "Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and
other Celestial Bodies, (1979)," colloquially referred to as "the moon treaty", humanity has shown
that the divisiveness of state sovereignty is ethically unnecessary for the construction and constitution
of human co-existence. This was done through the unconditional, total and comprehensive
renunciation of any claim to sovereign jurisdiction insisting upon exclusive ownership of any part of
the Moon, including other “Celestial Bodies”. In this case, humanity opted for communal pluriversal
non-ownership based on the principle of equality. (Westen, 1982: 547-548) It is paradoxical that the
Moon, which is generally associated with madness, should be the inspiration for sane, sober and
solid ethical reasoning about the organization of human relations on the basis of equality for the sake
of justice and peace. President Trump’s recent announcement that the United States of America
intends to have “a space force” is certainly a threat to this ethical condition brought about by sane
lunatic reasoning. (Ramose, 2016: 78-81)
The crucial point about the “moon treaty” is that its ethical dimension should be implemented
into practice in the sphere of human relations here on planet Earth. Mother Earth is the contingent
ontological panarium for all born of her. No single human being is a stranger, a “migrant” or a
“refugee” to mother Earth. Even birds migrate without a visa to any part of the world. After all,
boundaries may be understood as porous intersecting lines forming a fluid and complex wholeness.
This understanding opens the way for humans to pursue an answer to the question of what it means
to be a human being in the world. We now turn to consider this question against the background of
the context we have just described. Our consideration will focus on the African and Chinese
philosophies of ubu-ntu and ren. The appeal to these philosophies is the recognition of intercultural
philosophy as an ethical imperative of our time.

Intercultural Philosophy

The trade between Africa and China today is not a new phenomenon. It happened in the distant past.
(Needham, 1975: 170-190) One may assume that the trade was not confined only to merchandise.
There was probably a cultural exchange as well. In the light of this, it is not odd to have ubu-ntu and
ren in dialogue. The dialogue between ubu-ntu and ren here is an important advancement of
intercultural philosophy. To understand intercultural philosophy as an ethical imperative of our time
is to acknowledge that reason does not, by ineluctable necessity, lead humans to give identical
answers to the same set of questions. Difference thus arises with regard to the ways of thinking and
doing. This condition of human existence is a challenge to seek the Tao – the way of truth - of living
together in one planet.
Consonant with the philosophies of ubu-ntu and ren, we suggest that “truth” is a complex
construct of multiple experiences crystallised as a specific temporal and changeable perspective on a
particular aspect of reality. Accordingly, “truth” is not a metaphysical immutable timeless datum
subsisting aprioristically and, independently of the concrete existential experience of living human
beings. (Bohm, 1993: 16-17) The Tao of truth is an unrelenting immanent quest for the best ethical
outcome in given existential conditions. To seek the Tao, (Chang, 1958:51) the way of truth, is to
challenge the understanding of boundaries – physical, spiritual and cultural - as impermeable isolated
enclosures subsisting without reference to the other excluded human beings but allowing the inclusion
of the excluded primarily for the well-being of those already enclosed.
One of the conditions necessary for intercultural philosophy or the polylogue of world
philosophies is the presupposition that all human beings do have the power of reason. This is a crucial
point to make since it was not always presupposed, for example, in the Western philosophical
tradition. (Williams, 1990, Isaac, 2004: 35-37, and, Wrenhaven, 2013: 10-21) If this were otherwise
then it would have been unnecessary for Pope Paul III to issue the Bull, Sublimis Deus. (Hanke,
1937:71) It is significant that the opening sentence of the Bull is that: “All men are rational animals”.
Also, women in the Western philosophical tradition have not always been held to be endowed with
the power of reason. (McMillan, 1982:1-15; Spelman, 1983:17-30)
For some the irruption of difference is construed as opposition. The logic of opposition often
follows the path of suppression and, even the destruction of difference in order to sustain one’s
original position. It is, however, the case that the logic of opposition in the face of difference is neither
the necessary nor the only answer that reason must provide. The power of reason also provides that
difference may be construed as an invitation to engage in a dialectical and critical encounter with the
other remaining open to the possibility to learn both about oneself and the other. This is
transformational learning. The indispensable condition for the attainment of transformational learning
is the willingness to listen. (Kimmerle and van Rappard, 2011:12) This must be predicated on the
recognition that one’s ways of thinking and doing are on the same level as those of the other and may
therefore be compared. Comparison proceeding from this premise is non-invidious (Healy, 2000:64-
65) since it is not aimed at establishing a hierarchy of ways of thinking and doing coupled with ethical
evaluation. The fundamental issue here is the validity of making comparison without prior and
coincidental endorsement of either the methods or the purposes of the comparison. The suspension

of judgement on the methods and purposes of comparison is crucial since it provides the space for
dialectical and critical discussion with the other.
The condition of “comparable validity” (Healy, 2000:65) discussed above must be
complemented by the principle that all human beings are ontologically equal in their status as human
beings. Differences arising from biology, physiology, economic, political or social standing may not
be invoked to invalidate this principle. The principle of ontological equality thus emerges as an
indispensable condition for engagement in the polylogue of world philosophies. Together with the
two conditions mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, this principle makes it possible for dialogue
to proceed on the basis of equality, (“dialogical equality”). (Healy, 2000:65) All the three conditions
mentioned together constitute the ethical basis for intercultural philosophy. (Wimmer, 2002;
Kimmerle, 2002; Kimmerle, 2009; Leezenberg, 2010:38)

Ubu-ntu and Ren

Ubu-ntu is the philosophy (Ramose, 2005: 35-46) of the Bantu-speaking peoples of Africa since time
immemorial. Like Chinese philosophy, it places special emphasis upon the practical, lived experience
of a philosophy. Ubu-ntu is a doing word; a verbal noun that is conceptually linked to umu-ntu or mo-
tho, the human being. As an abstract verbal noun, ubu-ntu finds concrete expression through the
activity and, more specifically, through the ethical conduct of the human being, namely, umu-ntu.
Ubu and umu follow the same logic that they are indefinite abstract concepts signifying the highest
level of both generality and uncertainity. Only when they are combined with the suffix –ntu do they
assume a specific character, namely, a gerundive in the case of ubu-ntu and a concrete noun in the
case of umu-ntu. The uncertainty associated with ubu and umu underlines the ontological
understanding of be-ing as –ness because motion is recognised as the principle of be-ing. On this
reasoning, the multiplicity of beings that manifest the wholeness (Bohm, 1980) of be-ing are
recognised as being subject to change, temporality and evanescence.
Furthermore, the recognition of motion as the principle of be-ing is the ground for the rheomode
language of ubu-ntu; a language attuned to the philosophical conception of be-ing as being in constant
motion in its various concrete manifestations. The rheomode language is incompatible with any –ism
reasoning on the ground that such reasoning tends to claim immutability and eternity by dogmatic
fixation to ideas. Umu-ntu as an embodied percipient produces an epistemology. Epistemology is the
ground – no doubt recognising its contemporaneity with ontology – for the emergence of the ethics
of umu-ntu. This ethics is called ubu-ntu. The ethics of ubu-ntu revolves around umu-ntu for as long
as umu-ntu continues to be the ontological concretisation of be-ing.
According to our explanation in the two preceding paragraphs, human-ness is the core meaning
of ubu-ntu. It is the condition of leading an ethical life through moral acts affirming oneself as a
human being through the affirmative recognition of other human beings as ontological equals of
oneself. Here we note a significant coincidence of insight between ubu-ntu and ren. In the words of
Confucius; “wishing to establish himself, he seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged
himself he seeks also to enlarge others”. To live ethically is to be constantly engaged in learning to
be human by sharing goodness and the necessaries of life with others in pursuit of mutual well-being.

Already it is to be noted that ren is described in many texts as “humanness”. We should like to
stress in particular this concept of “humanness” because it agrees with our understanding of ubu-ntu
as humanness. This is an important concept that disallows anterior dogmatic fixation to whatever
ethical principle especially when the living reality of the time may require either a modification of
the existing principle or its total abandonment in preference to a new one better responsive to the
given situation.
“Promote life and avoid killing” (Bujo, 1998: 77) is the point of departure of the ethics of ubu-
ntu. It ramifies into all spheres of being. One of its enduring principles is: mo-tho ke motho ka batho.
This means that every human being is an ethical touchstone of value. Because of this human conduct
ought to be ethical in all spheres of life. Human conduct that is contrary to ethics reduces, in the
metaphorical sense, the individual involved to a non-human status. At this point it is said in one of
the Bantu-language vernaculars, in this case, Northern Sesotho: gase motho selo se; meaning; this
individual has denigrated itself to the level of the non-human. The contempt associated with this
designation speaks to a very strong censure against the immoral act at issue.
The concept of the qi in Chinese philosophy has a close affinity to the elan vitale or “African
vitalogy” in African philosophy. (Nkemnkia, 1995:165-70) In Chinese philosophy, the qi is
understood to consist of the male and female principles, the yin and the yang respectively. The
unceasing interaction between these two principles generates continual changes that challenge the
human being to seek the way of truth. (van der Leeuw, 2010:118) In the present essay, the challenge
is limited to the question of distributive justice. The basis for the challenge is that ren has a political
dimension. The Wang Tao or the Kingly Way in Chinese philosophy will be considered together with
the African philosophy of “life is mutual aid”, letsema in the Northern Sotho Bantu language or, obra
ye nnoboa, in the Akan language of Ghana. (Wiredu, 2002:293) To accept this challenge is to give
the joint response of ren and ubu-ntu philosophies to the context that we have already described above.

The “Unbearing Heart” Illuminates the Dark Road to Justice

According to Mencius, one of the transmitters and transformers of the teachings of Confucius, “All
men have a mind which cannot bear (to see the sufferings of) others. The early kings, having this
‘unbearing’ (pu jen) mind, thereby likewise had an ‘unbearing’ government”. (Fung Yu-lan,
1983:119) Instead of allowing human suffering or being just a passive spectator on it, the “unbearing”
mind would seek ways to prevent, remove or alleviate the suffering. In ubu-ntu philosophy, pu jen is
conveyed as goba le pelo, meaning, to have a humane heart. A human being with a humane heart is
struck by the suffering of other human beings as well as other living beings. To this motho wa pelo
(the human being with a humane heart) responds positively by doing the necessary to promote life
and avoid killing. Our understanding of killing is that it can be a physical act terminating the life of
another human being. It can also be a psychological act, in the form of torture, for example, or the
spiritual destruction of another human being.
Pu jen is an ethical imperative in the realm of interpersonal relations and, also in the wider
domain of politics. It is not only a mere declaration. It is, most importantly, the will to actually die as
a matter of necessity in order to give life to others. To give life to others is to die ultimately in defence

of truthfulness (Kung, 1968: 36) in the concrete historical struggle for justice. In both the
interpersonal and the political spheres truthfulness and truth are indispensable for the realisation of
justice and the achievement of peace. A government with an “unbearing” mind is the appropriate one
for the administration of distributive justice.
It is significant that the pu jen is rendered as “unbearing”. The point of significance here is the
word jen. Jen is one of the four basic principles constituting “human nature”. The other three are, I,
(justice) Li and Chi. (Chang, 1958:45) Jen is the name of virtue in its entirety. It requires that one
carries five things into practice. The five things are: respect, magnanimity, sincerity, earnestness and
kindness. “With respect you will avoid insult; with magnanimity you will win over everyone; with
sincerity men will trust you; with earnestness you will have achievement; and with kindness you will
be well fitted to command others”. (Fung Yu-lan, 1983:73) Together with these one must have the
five Confucian virtues, namely, benevolence, righteousness, propriety in demeanour, wisdom and
good faith. (Fung Yu-lan, 1983:27) The bearer of this kind of “human nature” is a Sage (Fung Yu-
lan, 1983:117) and deserves to be the ruler.
The understanding of the various aspects of pu jen as constitutive of “human nature” is rendered
in ubu-ntu ethics as: kgosi ke kgosi ka batho; the king attains the status of kingship through and with
the ruled for the purpose of pursuing justice and peace in the kingdom. The king who acts against this
aim is not deemed to be a Sage and deserves to be removed from office. (Davidson, 1973: 195, 197
and 204) From both perspectives of African and Chinese philosophies, the Sage is the one who must
pursue the “Kingly Way” of government.

The Wang Tao or the Kingly Way of Government: Letsema

In ancient China, the ching t’ien or “well-field” system (Fung Yu-lan, 1983:10-11) benefited the
noble class. Mencius converted this into “an economic institution with socialist implications” (Fung
Yu-lan, 1983:118) beneficial to the peasants and the serfs. This conversion reveals a striking
coincidence with Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa. (Nyerere, 1975:512-15) Whereas Fung Yu-lan describes
this as “socialist” it would, from an African philosophy point of view be described as communalist.
In this context, the institution of letsema is the African “Kingly Way” for the administration of
distributive justice. The African philosophical basis of letsema is the thesis that life is mutual aid:
obra ye nnoboa.
Land was indeed allocated to individuals for own use intended to ensure survival. The cultivation
of land was not the exclusive concern of the family. On the contrary, other families participated in
the cultivation of land on the understanding that their land would also be cultivated by other members
of the community. In addition, communal land for cultivation was also the common concern of the
community. The yield from the land was for the people reserved in seshego. The king on the advice
of his councillors dispensed of the yield to the community on the basis of need. Underlying this
institution was and, still is co-operation for the sake of the well-being of all. It was indeed competition
in its original meaning of seeking together. Under those circumstances, the peoples of ancient China
and some of contemporary Africa were able to live so that they may “nourish their living and bury
their dead without dissatisfaction”. (Fung Yu-lan, 1983:119)

The situation described in the preceding paragraph is characterised by the primacy placed upon
the well-being of everyone and all. This affirmed yet another of the maxims of ubu-ntu ethics, namely,
feta kgomo o tshware motho. It means that whenever one was to make a choice between preserving
the life of another human being, thereby promoting its well-being and accumulating wealth then the
option ought to be for the preservation of human life. Thus, money, if there was any at all, played an
insignificant role in the respect, protection and promotion of the life and well-being of everyone.
Unlike today, pecunimania then was the remotest possibility.
The constitution of the community was predicated on the understanding that the family was prior
in fact to the gathering together of human beings to form the community, the commonwealth or the
state. These kinds of artificial gatherings of human beings were subject to the achievement of the aim
of establishing optimal conditions to ensure individual and collective well-being. Failure to achieve
this aim was a warrant to repudiate such associations. (Rerum Novarum, paragraph 10) Today the
“moon treaty” is a living example of the peaceful repudiation of the state.


In our time, the Kingly Way is replaced with timocracy in which money is the measure of all things.
The relentless, intensifying march of economic globalisation feeds on the historical trinity of
structural, systemic and systematic impoverishment of the many for the benefit of the few. This
condition is a challenge to distributive justice as understood and practised in ancient China and in
some parts of contemporary Africa. It is the reason for the invocation of ubu-ntu and ren in the quest
for the Tao of the “unbearing mind” under the changed conditions of our time.
The water that mother Earth offers to drink is for everyone and, so is the bread that she offers to
eat. Mother Earth is the panarium of all human beings to share and eat together as one family. This
demands love for one another and not egoistic genuflection at the altar of an economy which insists
upon the coercive exclusion of others and spawns violence. Ogotemmeli the African Sage reminds
us of the wisdom of ethical love through pun jen thus: “As each man gives to all the rest, so he also
receives from all. A perpetual exchange goes on between men, an unceasing movement of invisible
currents. And this must be so if the universal order is to endure. … for it is good to give and to receive
the forces of life”. (Griaule, 1965: 137) And this is the rheomode of ubu-ntu ethics. Ubu-ntu and ren
may best be described separately or jointly as philosophiae amoris.


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Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Love, the Passions, Relationship:
The Contribution of the Medieval Latin Tradition

Eileen C. Sweeney
Boston College

In this paper I will attempt to illuminate some of the ways in which the Medieval Christian tradition
makes a distinctive contribution to the understanding of love and the passions. Though influenced by
ancient Western accounts in Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics, we find transformations of these ideas in
the Latin Christian tradition within the larger structure of the desire for and union with God as both
transcendent and personal and as the aim of human life in these Christian thinkers. One of the
consequences is that relationship becomes central to what it means to be human, not just to God but
also, ultimately, human relationships. And because the God to whom humans are related absolutely
transcends our understanding, the affective is valued over the cognitive as the only way of being
united to God as the beloved. Union with that which is outside of and transcending the self cannot be
achieved as something we do but something (or someone) we receive, and, thus, the culmination is
in ecstasy rather than self-mastery or self-sufficiency.

1. Augustine and the Centrality of Love

Augustine makes the most important basic claims about the centrality of love in the Christian tradition.
Augustine transforms Stoic principles by placing them into an ethics of love. Augustine accepts the
Stoic principle that one should not love what can be taken against one’s will, even accepting that the
category of what can be taken against one’s will includes not only the material goods of wealth and
one’s own body and its health and well-being, but also other human beings whom we might love.1
This becomes the distinction between uti and frui, what is to be loved for its own sake versus being
loved for its usefulness. As Augustine’s De doctrina christiana makes clear, the only thing that can
be frui, loved for its own sake, is God, all else is merely uti, useful for the end of loving God. As
much as this would seem to discount the world of our passions and our human loves and relationships
(and it is that), it still leaves love and relationship at the center of human life. The relationship that is
defining is with God rather than other human beings, but the ultimate foundation is affective, as
opposed to reason and the self-contained, self-sufficient life of Stoic virtue.
We see very clearly the story of the turning rather than turning off of the affections in
Augustine’s Confessions. The Confessions, of course, is full of emotions and affective attachments –
besides Augustine’s sexual relationships and his friend’s addiction to the violence of the games, there
are Augustine’s intense affections for his friends and his mother, his experiences of love and grief
that are overwhelming and gripping. These relationships and feelings are in principle disapproved of
by the kind of Christianized Stoicism that reserves love for God, but also, clearly, on another level,
Augustine affirms these affective experiences, and not just as stepping stones toward transcendence.

1 Augustine, On the Free Choice of the Will, Bk. 1, chapters 12-16.

Scholars have defended Augustine from the charge that he sees human relationships only as a means
rather than an end in itself, citing especially his sermon on the Gospel of John in which Augustine
comments on love, God as love, and the command to love one another. In the sermon, Augustine
makes clear that love of neighbour means loving and acting for their benefit, not our advantage. This
much is found in Aristotle, but it is clear that for Augustine, the language of love has in effect
superseded the language of virtue. Augustine’s critique of pagan virtue paints it as prideful and selfish.
By contrast for Augustine, love, whether for God or neighbor, is focussed on the other rather than
self. It is an ethic in which the affections are both primary and outwardly directed. This is the outline
that will come to filled in in the coming centuries.

2. Friendship and Affection in Anselm

The centrality of the affections finds further expression in the work of Anselm of Canterbury. Anselm
is far ahead of his time in creating an intensely personal and passionate spirituality. Known for his
stated reliance on “reason alone,” Anselm is also the creator of some of the most emotional, personal,
and elaborate prayers of his time, focused not on coolly convincing the intellect but on arousing the
passions and will toward love of God. The prayers exhort not, as philosophers are wont, the calming
of the passions but rather the stirring up of feelings of love, hope, longing, and sorrow. The prayers
ask the reader to join in the sufferings of Christ’s passion and describes the love the sinner seeks from
Jesus, Mary, and the saints in terms of intimate human love – that of lovers, parents and children,
brother and brother, nurse and nursemaid.1
The importance and emphasis on the affective life is also found in Anselm’s letters. Unlike
friendship in both Aristotle and Cassian and to a much greater degree than Cicero, Anselm's letters
express passionate longing and anguished grief at separation, using the language of physical grief and
longing. Strikingly different from the rhetoric in Augustine’s letters, Anselm’s letters express fervent
love for individuals, placing all his bliss in their presence and despair at their absence. 2 Here is a
typical passage: "My eyes long [concupiscunt] to see your face, my most beloved; my arms stretch
out to your embraces. My mouth pants for your kisses; whatever remains of my life desires your
conversation, so that my soul may delight in complete joy with you in the next life." 3 As with later
notions of romantic love, the very intensity of this love explains, at least partly, how it can last forever
regardless of the parties' separation from one another.4 It is not just that Anselm borrows his language
of longing and fervor from physical and sexual love, but also that he uses the language of love of

1 See Eileen C. Sweeney, Anselm of Canterbury and the Desire for the Word, (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University
of America Press, 2012), 13-37.
2 Cf. Augustine’s correspondence with Nebridius as a possible analogue to Anselm’s letters to his fellow monks. However,
the rhetoric of Anselm’s letter is much more extreme than anything between Augustine and Nebridius, which is much
less effusive and is without the kind of appeal of physical longing and grief found so frequently in Anselm. Moreover,
the letters between Augustine and Nebridius move almost immediately after opening greetings of affection into
discussions of philosophical and theological matters; their main topic is not the relationship itself, as it is in so many of
Anselm’s letters. Augustine and Nebridius are engaged in philosophical dialogue. See letters 3-13 of Augustine’s
correspondence, in Augustine, Letters, Roland Teske, trans., John E. Rotelle, ed. The Works of Saint Augustine: A
Translation for the 21st Century, pt. 2, vol. 1, (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2001), 19-43.
3 Anselm, Epist. 120, ed. Schmitt, vol. III, p. 258, ll. 8-12.
4 Anselm, Epist. 75, ed. Schmitt, vol. III, p. 197, ll. 7-10.

something for its own sake rather than as a means, treating those human relationships as frui rather
than uti.1
In his letters, Anselm ultimately reverts to a more Augustinian model of a love of the other not
as passionate or particular but in God, arguing that the attachment is so perfect the parties need neither
words nor physical presence, and even that this intense and apparently particular love can be
transferred without loss to any monk of the community. To those looking for ever more particular
professions of love, this response was met with disappointment. Nonetheless, what is striking is that
Anselm begins from a model of friendship that looks like the opposite of the Augustinian/Benedictine
model. Like the evocation of the intimate love between mother and child, brother and brother,
nursemaid and baby in his prayers, Anselm’s letters acknowledge and affirm the human desire for
these kinds of intense, physical, and exclusive attachments. While Anselm tells monks to abandon
their families, exhorts them not to leave the cloister to help family members on the outside, urges
husbands and wives to give up their marital relationship to join the cloister, he does not disparage the
desires those relationships are designed to satisfy. Rather he argues that those most intimate, specific,
concrete and physical desires are fulfilled rather than obliterated in the spiritual relationships of the
monastic life.
Anselm has combined elements of earlier forms of classical friendship and sexual love in poets
like Ovid, put together the moral basis and stability of classical friendship with the intensity of longing
and desire in erotic love, to describe a model of human relationship that anticipates the advent of
romantic love in the 12th century. The borrowing of the language of erotic love for a higher love has
precedents, of course, in Plato’s ascent of the soul and, even closer to Anselm, in Christian mysticism,
where longing for union and union itself with God is described in erotic terms. However, Anselm
uses the kind of language mystics use for love of God for his love and longing for his fellow monks.
He takes his language not just ‘up’ from erotic love but also ‘down’ from mystical union to human
relationships. The reapplication of the language of mystical longing and union to human relationships,
even the spiritual relationships of the monastery, places passionate human relationships at the center
of human life; they are neither the optional ornament of virtuous life, nor characterized primarily by
their careful management by reason. What emerges in the 12th century directly influenced by Anselm
is an affective spirituality and the development of the notion of courtly love.

3. 12th century: Affect over Intellect

More than Anselm in the 11th or Aquinas or even Bonaventure in the 13th century, Hugh of St. Victor
(d. 1141) makes some of the most important innovations on the nature and role of love in human life
in the Western Christian tradition. Hugh’s short work, Soliloquoy on the Betrothal Gift of the Soul, is
an internal dialogue between the soul and the self, which explores the soul’s desire to be loved
uniquely, for and as itself, and exclusively. As we saw, Anselm takes that desire and tries to argue
that it is fulfilled in the love of the monastic community, in the love that all monks have for each
other, but for Anselm there is still something general about this love in which each monk is loved the
same as every other. Hugh does not try to redirect or sublimate the desire for particular love, only to

1 Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, I, 3, 3.

show how it is fulfilled in God’s love. In the dialogue, the soul protests that the gifts of creation are
given to reptiles and worms as well as the sinful and, thus, do not satisfy the desire to be uniquely
loved.1 The “self” attempts to respond that holding some gifts in common is better than having them
all to oneself (it is better, for example, to share the natural world with other human beings than to
possess it exclusively but be alone), but the soul persists in demanding gifts from itself alone.2 The
self’s reply consists in a description of creation and salvation history in terms of the unique love of
God for the individual soul. God’s gifts to the individual come first in the form of existence and then
the beauty of form: “Formerly, when you were not, he loved you and so he made you. Afterwards,
when you were sordid, he loved you and so made you beautiful.” The actions and relationship to
Jesus Christ are also explained in terms of particular love, “Your spouse, your lover, your redeemer,
your God, chose and preferred you. He chose you among all and took you up from all and loved you
in preference to all.”3 Only then is the soul satisfied, replying: “God does nothing else except provide
for my salvation, and he seems to me so completely occupied with guarding me that he forgets all
others and chooses to be occupied with me alone.”4
The little treatise ends with a description of the soul’s experience of something he knows not
what: he has found himself “completely alienated from [it]self and drawn away.” “[I] see myself to
be elsewhere, I do not know where” but have “hold of something in the embraces of love.” 5 Is this
the beloved, soul asks? It is, self replies, the beloved who “comes to touch you, not to be seen by you”
“comes to move you, not to be grasped by you….”6 In his description of the connection with God in
terms of being “touched” and “moved” rather than being “seen” and “grasped,” Hugh points to
another of his important contributions, in the transformation of mystical union in affective rather than
intellectual terms.
The latter is evident in Hugh’s influential commentary on the treatise of Pseudo-Dionysius,
which transform the purely intellectual Neoplatonic ascent in Pseudo-Dionysius into one completed
in love rather than knowledge, as the fiery love of the Seraphim overtakes the intellectual grasp of
the lower order of the Cherubim. In Dionysius’ Mystical Theology Moses ascends to union with God
only by the negation of all his intellectual capacities in an experience so far exceeding knowing as to
be described as “unknowing.” As Paul Rorem’s careful analysis reveals, Dionysius does not explain
the fieriness of the Seraphim in terms of love; this is rather an addition found in Scotus Eriugena’s
commentary on the text, and Hugh, taking over Eriugena’s language of love in the Seraphim and
knowledge in the Cherubim, makes the further important claim that Seraphic love exceeds Cherubic
knowledge.7 Hugh’s long digression on the Seraphim in his commentary weds their fiery love with
the images of conjugal love from the Song of Songs, using the language of mutual penetration to
describe the lover’s union, concluding, “love [dilectio] surpasses knowledge, and is greater than

1 Hugh of St. Victor, Soliloquim de arrha animae, English version: Soliloquoy on the Betrothal Gift of the Soul, in On
Love: A Selection of Works of Hugh, Adam, Achard, Richard and Godfrey of St. Victor, ed. Hugh Feiss, O.S.B., (New
York: New City Press, 2012), sec. 21, p. 210.
2 Hugh, Soliloquoy, sec. 31, p. 214.
3 Hugh, Soliloquoy, sec. 50, p. 219.
4 Hugh, Soliloquoy, sec. 65, p. 226.
5 Hugh, Soliloquoy, sec. 69, p. 227.
6 Hugh, Soliloquoy, sec. 70, p. 228.
7 Paul Rorem, “The Early Latin Dionysius: Eriugena and Hugh of St. Victor,” Modern Theology 24:4 (Oct. 2008), 609.

intelligence. He [the beloved] is loved more than understood, and love enters and approaches where
knowledge stays outside.” Boyd Taylor Coolman’s study of Thomas Gallus traces the further
elaboration and transmission of this affective Dionysianism to Bonaventure and the whole Franciscan
tradition. The final ecstasy of union with the beloved requires a shift from the active seeking of the
intellect to the task of enstasis (as opposed to ecstasis), a stretching and hollowing out, so that one
can receive the beloved one cannot actively grasp. 1 This affirmation of passivity and receptivity
stands over against the standard (if not universally held) view in ancient Western thought that
denigrates passivity as feminine. Virtue is much more often cast in masculine tones as activity and
self-sufficiency, and the roles of lover and beloved are set in opposition, lover as male and active,
and beloved as female and passive. But the Victorine account, all human beings are receivers of
divine love, and, even more surprisingly, union is cast in terms of mutual indwelling, as both partners
are received into the other. In this valuing of and reconfiguring of love and affectivity, Hugh and
Gallus are not merely forging an interpretation of Dionysius but are, as Coolman points out,
expressing “a conviction regarding how human beings are most basically constituted and how they
relate most fundamentally to God.”2
In the Franciscan tradition affectivity even confers a kind of ‘understanding’ and a certainty
distinct from that found in science. In the Franciscan Summa fratris alexandri from the 13th century,
theology is described as perfecting the affections rather than the intellect and as truly wisdom
(sapientia), because it is cognition according to taste (sapor) rather than sight. 3 Conceding that
science has greater intellectual certitude, the writers distinguish between affective and intellectual
certitude. The latter is ‘through the mode of vision,” but the former, affective certitude “is through
the mode of adherence, namely through the will or love.”4 The Summa fratris alexandri writers, like
Bonaventure, take the view that this affective understanding is higher both because about higher
things and because oriented toward action to achieve the good, making us good rather than mere
knowers of it.5

4. Thomas Aquinas: The Passions and the Transformation of Aristotle

In Thomas Aquinas, the elements of the Victorine account of affectivity makes it out of mystical
theology, where it had been explicated as the character of love of God, into the treatise on the passions
of the sensitive appetite. While Eleonore Stump (who was originally scheduled to be speaking in this
symposium and for whom I am an inferior substitute) has argued that Aquinas’ ethics deviates from
Aristotle’s in the more important role of the passions and of relationships, she makes that argument
based on elements of Aquinas’ thought that come from the theological notion of the “gifts of the Holy
Spirit” and the theological virtues, I want to maintain that we can find evidence of this shift within
Aquinas’ account of the passions.

1 Boyd Taylor Coolman, “The Medieval Affective Dionysian Tradition,” Modern Theology 24:4 (Oct. 2008), 623.
2 Coolman, “Medieval Affective Dionysian Tradition,” 616.
3 Summa fratris alexandri, q. 1, cap. 1, cor. in Doctor irrefragabilis Alexandri de Hales ordinis minorum summa
theologica, ed. Pacific Perantoni, 5 vols. (Quarrachi: Collegii S. Bonaventurae, 1924-48), vol. 4, p. 2.
4 Summa fratris alexandri, q. 2, M. 3, cap. 5; vol. 4, pp. 35-36.
5 Summa fratris alexandri, q. 1, cap. 1, cor.; vol. 4, p. 2.

This happens in two different movements. The first is an understanding of the passions in terms
of natural movement toward fulfillment mapped onto the three stages of motion: first, the inclination
toward an end contained in the nature; second, the movement toward the end, and, third, the rest or
fulfillment in that end. Aquinas takes these three moments and generalizes them; the original
inclination of nature toward the full actualization of its form (the acorn’s movement to become oak
tree) becomes the movement all natures have toward good and away from evil. He then maps 11
major passions on to this basic trajectory. Hence, love is the inclination toward the good; desire is
movement toward it; hope, the movement toward it as an attainable but arduous goal; despair, the
turning away from an unattainable good; joy or pleasure, the resting in the good possessed. So too
hatred is the disinclination to evil; aversion, the movement away from evil; fear, the movement from
the arduous future evil, shunned rather than defeated; daring, the tendency toward evil in order to
defeat rather than be subject to it; sorrow, the resting in subjection to evil; and anger, the movement
toward evil in revenge for an evil done. 1 For Aquinas all passion in some way reducible to the
tendency of things to seek what is suitable to their nature and flee the contrary, all are movements
which presuppose a likeness or aptness to that toward which they tend.2 In this way, he uses the model
of nature and its fulfillment as a way of affirming the passions as naturally good when directed toward
real rather than apparent good.
When Aquinas considers whether the passions themselves are morally good or evil, he argues
against the Stoics and with the Peripatetics that passion is not an evil, not a disturbance of the soul or
nature, unless unchecked by reason.3 But he goes further, citing Augustine, that any passion itself is
good if it turns to what is truly good and tends away from what is truly evil.4 This Augustinian claim
is used time and again as the pivot to shift the orientation of the discussion toward love of the good.5
The centrality of love as the inclination toward good makes possible and animates this schema; in an
important sense love is the cause of all other passions and always that in terms of which they are
analyzed and explained: "The end is the good desired and loved by each one. Hence is it manifest
that every agent of whatever kind does every action whatever from love of some kind."6 Against not
just the Stoic rejection of pleasure as good, but also the Platonic view that no pleasure can be the
greatest good, Aquinas affirms that the greatest good of human being is in the pleasure/joy in the last
However, alongside the emphasis on the model of nature to understand the passions, an account
of love and the passions begins to emerge which is less contained by the Aristotelian model of moving
toward becoming actually what one already is potentially. There is a subtle shift from movement
toward the fulfillment/completion of a thing’s own nature to movement toward the good, which can
cover not just what is contained in but is beyond nature. The shift becomes seismic in the question
considering the “effects” of love. Merely the title of the articles tell us that we have left Aristotle

1 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, part I-II, q. 23, a.1.

2 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, part I-II, q. 25, a. 2; q. 26, a. 1; q. 27, a. 4.
3 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, part I-II, q. 24, a. 1.
4 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, part I-II, q. 24, a. 4, ad 2.
5 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, part I-II, q. 24, aa. 1 & 2, sed contra.
6 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, part I-II, q. 28, a. 6.
7 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, part I-II, q. 34, a. 3.

behind to join the Victorines: Aquinas asks whether union, "mutual indwelling", the ecstasy of lover
and beloved, the zeal of and wounding of the lover are “effects” of love. Aquinas considers how
‘wounding’ can take the forms of “melting,” “enjoyment,” “languor,” and “fervor” -- all language
that comes from the Song of Songs, and taken as describing the effects of seeking intimate knowledge
and satisfaction, possession and identification of feeling with the beloved.1 The question as a whole
is grounded in two sources, the Song of Songs and Pseudo-Dionysius, the very same sources Hugh
of St. Victor and the Victorines tied to together to forge a new account of affectivity as at the center
of human life.
In these passages, Aristotelian orexis, directedness toward the end in the fulfillment of nature,
is superseded by mystical love, in which the object is outside and exceeding the self, in which the
aim is union with that other, not fulfillment of the self. Love is ecstatic in three ways, Aquinas
explains, first, as the beloved dwells in the lover’s mind, second, in concupiscence, not being satisfied
with the good one has, and seeking a good outside oneself, and, finally, most completely in the love
of friendship where “affection goes out from itself absolutely” wishing and doing good for the friend
for his sake.2 Aquinas also argues that a passive love based in the sensitive appetited for God is more
"godlike" than a rationally grounded dilection: “it is possible,” he explains, “for man to tend to God
by love, being as it were passively drawn by Him, more than he can possibly be drawn to Him by his
reason, which pertains to the nature of dilection.”3 Aquinas, thus, repeats the Victorine claims valuing
the affective over the cognitive, receptivity and passivity over activity, but goes further in expressing
that view not in the context of mystical experience but the passions of the sensitive appetite. While
clearly Aquinas takes the sensitive or bodily appetite to be inferior to the higher/intellectual appetite,
the desire for non-bodily goods (because always needing change and replenishment), but by outlining
the positive character of appetite in general in the account of the sensitive passions, and by elevating
them by association with mystical union, he gives them a value and place in human life beyond what
is found in Aristotle. He even, as in this case, finds aspects of the sensitive appetite, its passivity and
non-rational nature, as being more fitting for the love of God because God as object exceeds our
rational capacities.

5. A Brief Look Forward: Late Medieval and Early Modern Developments

Juan Luis Vives, who carries forward aspects of the Thomistic view into the modern period in his
influential treatise on the passions, reasserts Victorine and Thomistic confidence in love of the good
as the underlying force in our affective lives. Vives, however, understands that while love of the good
might be the root of our affective lives, the branches multiply out in many confusing directions.
Rather than trying to bring back the diversity of objects and reduce the alchemical mixtures of
passions to the simplicity of love of the good and aversion to evil as Aquinas does, Vives seems to
value those affective responses in all their diversity. He belittles the Stoic rejection of mercy and
compassion, not only because we are more ready to help others when we feel for them in their

1 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, part I-II, q. 28, aa. 1-3.

2 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, part I-II, q. 28, a. 3.
3 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, part I-II, q. 26, a. 3, ad 4.

suffering but also because “bending your soul to the affliction of others” itself alleviates others’ pain
and suffering. “No help is more welcomed and more efficient,” he concludes.1 Compassion is the
effect of the love and attachment human beings have for each other, and to be without it is inhuman.2
Vives catalogues the varieties and perversities of love, which is the mainspring of the passions, but
most striking of all is his conclusion: “Love created us, perfected us and makes us happy.” He is
referring not only to the love of the divine but also to its many diversions and permutations onto other
objects, and concludes by wondering at “[love’s] incredible and inexhaustible strength and
mysteriousness.”3 He expresses an appreciation of all of it -- funny, petty, perverse and profound, not
a Platonic (or Thomistic) call toward conversion of loves toward the one, true good. The only blanket
condemnation of passion Vives issues is of those that proceed from apparent evil rather than apparent
good; these emotions, he says, “brutalise and degrade.”4 A tendency to value the positive emotions,
no matter the true value of their objects, turns up later in Descartes’s work on the passions, where
Descartes notes that despite the ephemeral or mistaken character of our loves and desires, we are
better off loving than hating, desiring than fearing. Here the defining moral feature of the passions
for Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas drops out: the objects as true goods to be sought or evils to be avoided
is exchanged for a valuing of the passions, at least the positive ones, in themselves regardless of their
objects. Not to love (no matter the object) is to fail to be human.
Though clearly more Stoic than these earlier figures, Descartes’s Les Passions de l’Âme, on the
one hand, constructs a program for managing the passions. But, on the other hand, Descartes still
manages to end in a place of tolerance, noting that since we cannot always avoid being deceived about
the true good or evil of an object, we should seek the positive emotions of love and joy, avoiding
hatred. In the end he finds the passions, even the negative ones, to possess a kind of sweetness,
granting to human life a fullness it would lack without them. 5 Descartes concludes that wisdom
teaches us “to manage [the passions] with such ingenuity, that the evils they cause can be easily borne,
and we even derive joy from them all.”6 As the covers of many women’s magazines and the pages of
many self-help books attest, nothing is more contemporary than such conclusions, but also nothing
more clearly has its roots in the Middle Ages.

6. Conclusion

The medieval account of affectivity, the importance and value of love and particular relationships as
central in human life, comes down to us in the Western ideal of romantic love. My closing suggestion
is that, in the tradition of Charles Taylor, we bring the value of love and relationships back to its
moral and religious sources in the Middle Ages, not to try to go back in any sense, but to deepen our
understanding of it and perhaps deepen the way in which we inhabit it, not just have it live unhappily
and inconsistently beside the Western ideals of individualism and authenticity. As Taylor has shown

1 Juan Luis Vives, The Passions of the Soul: The Third Book of De Anima et Vita, trans., C. G. Noreña, (Lewiston, NY:
Edwin Mellen Press, 1990) Bk. III, 46.
2 Vives, The Passions of the Soul, Bk. III. 46-47.
3 Vives, The Passions of the Soul, Bk. III, 37.
4 Vives, The Passions of the Soul, Bk. III, 60.
5 Descartes, Les Passions de l’Âme, ed., G. Rodis-Lewis, (Paris: Vrin, 1991), Bk. II, 140, 142; Bk. III, 212.
6 Descartes, Les Passions de l’Âme, Bk. III, 212.

about the Western value of authenticity, it cannot be fulfilled without relationships to others and
connection to shared notions about the human good. Just so, the valuing of love and passion for its
own sake, the utterly unrealistic weight put on the idea of the one, true and eternal romantic love as
the aim and redemption of human life needs some rethinking. These Medieval Christian sources show
us the origins of this ideal, reminding us of its connection to receiving rather than taking, to
vulnerability as inherent in the human condition rather than avoidable by the accumulation of power,
and to desires which transcend our own abilities to achieve. We find in them a model of love is less
polarized and gendered in the roles it assigns than ancient or modern pictures, and reveals and affirms
the depth of our desires for love and union, desires which are so clearly beyond the capacity of any
one person to satisfy. An examination of these sources might move us away from the desire for private
and individual salvation in “true love” toward a broader community of others, both to love and be
loved by.

Mind, Body, Brain, Consciousness, Emotions

Evandro Agazzi

Some Ontological Considerations

What kind of entities denotes the words “mind”, “body”, “brain”, “consciousness”, “emotions”? To
answer this question we may resort to well-known traditional ontological notions like those of
substance and accident and, perhaps, be inclined to maintain that body and brain are substances
because they are well individualized concrete things existing in space and time, whereas
consciousness and emotions seem more properly qualifiable as accidents because they do not show a
kind of autonomous existence, but are rather properties or states of some concretely existing entity,
such as an individual person. Despite its commonsensical plausibility, this argument is rather
superficial because it considers the referents of these words as entities subsisting in themselves
independently of any context. But when we consider them ‘jointly’ (that is, in the context of a
discourse where they occur in some kind of correlation) we easily understand that their referents too
are not scattered pieces of reality, or unrelated ‘things’, but are linked by certain relations that directly
concern their way of existing. Therefore, what really has the defining characteristic of a substance
(that is, the fact of existing in se - in itself - and not as something which exists in alio – as a property
or a part or a constituent of something else) is the single individual, while its body, its brain, its hands,
its legs, its consciousness, its emotions have no independent or autonomous existence, but exist only
‘in the individual’: not in a rough spatial sense (that is, in the sense of being ‘inside’ it), but in the
correct ontological sense of being parts of the constitution of the single individual. For this reason
they share the defining characteristic of accidents.
What we have said does not exclude that the same words can denote autonomous referents within
other contexts. For example, “body” is used in physics to denote any entity endowed with mass and
situated in space and time (physical body), and in anatomy also the human body is considered ‘in
itself’ and described disregarding the complex relations it has with other constituents of a living
individual. For similar reasons the brain can be considered sometimes as a physical entity (e.g. when
we measure its mass), or the object of anatomical or physiological inquiry (broadening in such a way
the contexts in which it is considered), and within the approach of the neurosciences also its relations
with consciousness and emotions are today deeply scrutinized. This, however, does not prevent
psychology from investigating as autonomous ‘objects’ the phenomena of cognition, consciousness
and emotions.
The above reflections can be summarized by saying that each of those ‘parts’ reveals itself as a
complex individual entity endowed with an internal structure constituted by correlations among its
own parts. In such a way this individual entity shows certain properties and functions that characterize
it as a whole and are different from the properties and functions of its internal parts. This individual
entity, however, is embedded, in turn, in a complex net of correlations with other individual entities
endowed with a similar internal complex structure and with their specific properties and functions, in

such a way that they ‘jointly’ constitute a superior complex entity endowed with other properties and
functions different from those of its constitutive parts. It is not difficult to recognize, under this
discourse expressed by using common notions of ordinary language, the description of the ontology
of general system theory: every individual entity is a system, that is, a complex whole consisting of a
structure of subsystems and endowed with specific properties and functions, that in turn is a subsystem
of broader super systems to whose properties and functions brings a specific contribution while
receiving in turn, inputs supporting and directing its own properties and functions. The consideration
of this multilevel hierarchic ontology entails a methodological attitude: when the intended referent
of an investigation or a discourse is a certain system, a rich amount of knowledge can come from
considering its subsystems and super systems, at the condition, however, that this consideration
remains free from reductionism, that is, from the temptation of ‘explaining away’ the specific
properties of the intended referent in terms of the properties and functions of its subsystems or super
systems. This caveat leads us from the ontological to the epistemological focus.

Some Epistemological Remarks: Unity of the Referent, Diversity of the Attributes

Galileo is usually (and correctly) considered as one of the ‘founding fathers’ of modern science not
only for his original contributions to the incipient discipline of mechanics, but also for the explicit
presentation and application of certain fundamental epistemological and methodological criteria. The
most decisive among such criteria was the option to abandon the pivotal principle for the construction
of science that had dominated Western culture from Plato and Aristotle until the late Middle Ages:
the knowledge of a certain kind of substances attains the fullest dignity of being a science if the
scattered true sentences attained through factual ascertainment are justified by a logical deduction
showing that they are the logical necessary consequence of the essence characteristic of that kind of
substances. This essence, in turn, was expected to be grasped by a process of intellectual intuition.
The decisive turning point, explicitly affirmed by Galileo, that marked the birth of modern
natural science is his claim that, in the case of the “natural substances”, the proposal of grasping by
speculation their “intimate essence” is a hopeless enterprise, whereas a reliable knowledge can be
attained if we remain content with the apprehension of “some of their affections”. 1 The affections
were, in the terminology of Scholastic philosophy, a certain kind of accidents, while the essence was
one of the fundamental meanings of “substance”. Therefore, the bold move of Galileo consists in
reversing the classical paradigm: reliable knowledge can be attained regarding the accidents and not
the essence.
A substance, however, has a lot of accidents, i.e. properties, relations, functions, that we shall
call attributes for brevity; and this entails that any choice of a particular set of attributes (which is
always finite and practically small) can allow only for a partial – though perhaps exact and rigorous
– knowledge of the substance. This is what Galileo, Newton and their followers have actually done
and the magnificent building of physics that has been realized by applying that ontological and
epistemological choice, testifies of the fruitfulness of such an approach. We can call that approach

1 See the third letter to Marcus Welser on sunspots, in Galileo Galilei, Opere. vol. 5, eds. Favaro Antonio et al. (Florence:
Barbera, 1895), 187-188.

the adoption of a particular point of view or particular perspective on reality, and this without any
subjectivist flavour, because this amounts to focusing only on certain real attributes accessible
through a particular methodology. It is obvious, however, that many other sets of attributes can be
selected and investigated by using other suitable methods and instruments of inquiry that will
characterize different ‘points of view’ or ‘perspectives’ on the same substance, many of which may
give rise to genuine different sciences. These different approaches are not mutually ‘at variance, but
rather ‘complementary’, and the intellectual challenge will consist in finding how they can be
correlated in some comprehensive view, in which the partial knowledge offered by different sciences
is considered as the knowledge of different aspects of the same substance.
This approach is particularly fruitful in the effort of understanding such a complex reality as is
the human being, especially because in this endeavour we are still confronted with the difficulty of
suitably correlating the ‘natural sciences’ with the ‘human sciences’. This difficulty is a late
inheritance of the old ‘classical’ way of distinguishing the sciences according to the kind of
substances they are investigating, and not by the kind of attributes that a science intends to study.
Therefore, those scholars who wanted to oppose materialism, to save the reality of spiritual entities,
and also the spiritual dimensions of man, were almost irresistibly led to favor a “dualism of substances”
whose proponent was notoriously Descartes: there exist material substances (on which the natural
sciences have unrestricted competence), and immaterial or spiritual substances (whose investigation
is the exclusive task of metaphysics and theology). A human individual is not a substance, but a
conjunction of two independent substances: the body, that belongs to the class of material substances,
and the spirit, that belongs to the class of the immaterial thinking substances. Hence, total freedom
of investigation was left to the natural sciences in the study of the human body, with the implicit
understanding that the “highest part” of man, that is, his spirit, remained within the competence of
philosophy and theology. Theology was soon marginalized by the trend of secularization that has
characterized modern culture, while philosophy was considered the proper discipline for the
investigation of the spirit.

How Different Sciences Can Investigate the Same Referent

How can different sciences investigate with their different methods and tools one and the same
referent that becomes in such a way the object of each of those different sciences? This issue was not
ignored by traditional epistemology which introduced the distinction between the “material object”
and the “formal object” of a science. The material object is the thing, the subject matter, the topic on
which the investigation is made, while the formal object is the particular point of view or approach
from which this thing is considered (or better said, it is this thing “as far as” it is considered only from
that particular point of view). It is obvious that one and the same material object can become the
formal object of several disciplines, and every discipline determines its formal object by means of its
specific methods of investigation. A kind of refinement of this old doctrine is offered by our previous
discourse in which we have maintained that every discipline considers only certain attributes of reality
and this is its particular ‘point of view’ or perspective (we can say that the specific object of a given
science is the structured set of attributes that are taken into consideration by it).Therefore, if it

happens that in a certain thing are present the attributes specifically considered in the point of view
of a given discipline, this thing automatically can become the object of this discipline that describes
and studies it under this limited aspect. This last point is very important: the fact that a certain thing
can be a referent of a given science, because it exemplifies the predicates entering in the definition of
the objects of this science, does not entail that the latter is sufficient for offering a total interpretation
and explanation of this thing: the attributes that have been ignored in the process of “objectualization”
which is specific of this science might well be of great significance and be relevant from the point of
view of another science or even from non-scientific points of view. This remark holds indifferently
when the referent is a single individual entity (like the solar system in astronomy or Napoleon in
historiography), or a “natural kind” (like mammals in zoology or parliamentary democracy in political
The discourse that we have developed here in general terms applies in particular to the study of
man, that we consider not as a single individual, but as a “natural kind”, something like an ideal entity
that is exemplified by all the individual human beings. The human being is characterized by a large
display of attributes, that are grouped in some fundamental clusters which characterize certain ‘parts’
or ‘constituents’ of the human being (according to a colloquial way of speaking) like body, mind,
psyche, sentiments, but which we could better consider as aspects of the global constitution of man.
These clusters, in turn, are composed of subclusters of a decreasing order of generality and an
increasing order of specialization, among which at certain points appear those ‘structured sets of
attributes’ which (as we have seen) constitute the objects of scientific disciplines. It is precisely this
variety of structured sets of attributes, to which corresponds a variety of perspectives in the
knowledge of the human being, that is the foundation for the specificity and autonomy of these
approaches, and at the same time the stimulus for looking for a certain ‘unity’ of these approaches in
consideration of the fact that they concern one single referent (or ‘material objet’, to use the traditional


Looking for a way of attaining the unity of the multiplicity is a fundamental need of the human
intellect and is at the roots of philosophy in its traditional sense. This same need, however, is present
also inside the single sciences, and corresponds to the effort of ‘broadening’, so to speak, the scope
of this science (which is originally partial) up to the point of coinciding with the whole.
“Reductionism” is the denomination usually given to this program, and we must understand both its
motivations and its limits.1
It is very natural and legitimate that every science tries to interpret and explain as much as
possible of reality ‘from its own point of view’, and this often amounts to claiming that a certain
“fundamental” science F is able to interpret and explain “in terms of” its concepts and laws the
attributes and facts that constitute the ‘object’ of a different science S. Such a process is usually called

1 For a more detailed discussion of the theme of reductionism, see Evandro Agazzi, “Reductionism as Negation of the
Scientific Spirit,” in The Problem of Reductionism in Science, ed. Evandro Agazzi (Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer
Academic Publishers, 1991), 1–29.

reduction and is expressed by saying that science S can be “reduced to” science F. Logical-
epistemological studies have shown that the conditions for its full obtaining are rather demanding and
difficult to obtain. But even ignoring these difficulties we can ask a simpler question: are we really
ready to maintain that astronomy “reduces” to celestial mechanics, that acoustics or optics “reduce”
to chapters of the mechanics of elastic bodies, that thermodynamics “reduces” to kinetic theory of
gases? Probably none would make such a claim, if “reduces to” should mean “is nothing but”, and
this owing to the obvious remark that investigations, discoveries, experiments in the said sciences are
performed by means of specific methods and instrumental devices which are suitable for singling out
certain specific attributes different from the purely mechanical attributes of mass, position in space
and time and force. This means that, in the best of the cases, there are certain “mechanical aspects”
in the phenomena investigated by the other sciences, or, in the less favourable cases, that it is possible
to find out “mechanical analogies” of the phenomena investigated, analogies that do not imply the
ontological identity of the respective objects.
At first sight, one could think that reductionism rests simply on a methodological mistake, that
is, the fact of confusing the formal objet with the material object (to use the traditional terminology
already mentioned), by arbitrarily claiming that the partial perspective characterizing the formal
object actually exhausts the characterization of the material objet. In some way this is true, but
unfortunately it is not merely a question of inadvertence, since it is the consequence of an ontological
view, the view that the only real attributes of the whole are those studied by the “fundamental” science.
Therefore, reductionism is, in the last analysis, a metaphysical position, since it claims that reality as
such, or the essence of reality is constituted only by certain attributes. Defending this position is
legitimate, but with a clear awareness that it is a metaphysical position and, as such, it must be
defended through metaphysical arguments. Moreover, this is contrary to the spirit of modern natural
science inaugurated by the Galilean prescription, as we have seen, according to which science should
not try to grasp the intimate essence of things, but to investigate only delimited attributes. Far from
being a coherent attitude inspired by science, reductionism reveals itself as a dogmatic metaphysical
tenet that works as an a priori limitation of the intellectual freedom of scientific investigation.1

The Unity of the Referent2

The referent, as we have seen, is the entity to which “refer” a though, a discourse, a cognitive act in
general, and its ontological status is linked only with the criteria that allow us to refer to it. A referent
is ‘identified’ through a limited cluster of attributes, which we could call “referential attributes”. They
need not be particularly important or profound. They must simply be sufficient for an unambiguous
identification of the referent within a given community and, for this reason, they are usually rather
simple, descriptive and even ‘superficial’. But this does not prevent one from investigating the

1 For the relevance of systems theory to the problem of reductionism, see Evandro Agazzi, “Systems Theory and the
Problem of Reductionism,” Erkenntnis (1975-) 12, no. 3 (1978): 339–58.
2 A much more extensive development of the following discussion can be found in Evandro Agazzi, “Some
Epistemological Remarks: Unity of the Referent, Diversity of the Attributes, Specificity of the Scientific Approaches,”
In Moral Behavior and Free Will: A Neurobiologial and Philosophical Approach, ed. Juan José Sanguineti, Ariberto
Acerbi, José Ange (Morolo: IF Press, 2011), 25-45.

referent so identified from other points of view and from discovering or studying other clusters of
attributes the referent may possess, among which also ‘more essential’ attributes can appear.
A referent constitutes a unity in itself, a unity consisting in the being together’ of all its attributes,
a being together that, even from a cognitive point of view, is prior to the recognition of the single
attributes. For example, when I know an orange, I do not say that I perceive a spherical shape, a
particular color, a sweet flavor, an agreeable smell, a certain tactile roughness, and then ‘pack up’
these attributes together and say that I am knowing an orange. On the contrary, I first have a global
apprehension of an individual entity, that I ‘recognize’ as being an orange only if I live in a
community where oranges are rather familiar, and then I can proceed to analyze the attributes of this
entity (actually of this natural kind) and perhaps discover certain ‘hidden’ virtues it has (such as that
of being rich in C vitamin). The progress in the knowledge of the orange comes from the contribution
of different sciences, from botanic to biochemistry. The most productive trend is that of passing from
a purely multidisciplinary approach (in which different disciplines offer separately their specific
contribution) to an interdisciplinary approach, in which these contributions are interrelated and try to
reflect in their mutual relationship the ontological unity of the referent. This approach is particularly
necessary when the referent is clearly a system, that is, an entity endowed with specific global
properties and functions, which in turn is constituted by parts that are subsystems, being themselves
characterized by specific properties and functions, but at the same time depending for their survival
and functioning on the good functioning of the whole system.

Brain and Mind

The brain is the principal ‘material object’ of the neurosciences and, since the number of these
sciences is not small, we must say that this material object can become the ‘formal object’ of several
disciplines, each of them being characterized by its own specific approach: just to mention a few of
them, not only anatomy, physiology, and pathology investigate the brain from their own point of view,
but also biochemistry, electrodynamics, cybernetics, information theory, computer science have
provided their results and offered their methods and modelling possibilities in the study of the brain.
The reason for which all these different sciences, that are well definite in their specific cognitive
approach and methods, could often give rise to a sub-domain (within their general domain)
characterized by the prefix “neuro” is the fact that their discourse is specifically oriented toward a
particular referent, namely, the nervous system of which the brain is the most important constituent.
These considerations clearly show that the “unity of the referent” was the ground for the flourishing
and cross-fertilization of these disciplines.
What are the ‘referential attributes’ of the human brain? That is to say, which attributes enable
people to spontaneously and almost immediately recognize something as a brain? It seems natural to
answer that these attributes are the quality of being an organ in a living organism, located in the head
and having a great deal of physical connections (called nerves) with almost every other organ. (From
the Greek etymological root “neuro” for “nerve” derives the words “neurology”, “neurological” and
“neuroscience”). Therefore, the brain is a system endowed with certain specific structures and
functions, which is a subsystem of the organism and stays in mutual ostensible relations with the

other subsystems. This system can be studied as an isolated entity, for example in order to describe
its configuration and structure in an anatomic perspective, and in this case it is like ‘dead’, whereas
the study of its functions (physiology) cannot be done without considering its being systemically
connected with the other parts of the organism. The great advancements in specific technologies made
possible to monitor or to “observe” in vivo the structure and behavior of the parts of a “living” brain
or of the nervous system. To be precise, one could not say that a brain is alive or dead, since only the
global organism can be such. This is a clear indication of the systemic nature of the issues regarding
the brain. For sure, for certain particular reasons (linked with the practice of organ transplants), the
notion of “brain death” has been coined, but this was done, significantly, in order to take the ceasing
of the brain activity as the sufficient indicator of the death of the human individual as such, in spite
of the fact that certain elementary “vital functions” can be artificially continued for a certain time.
If we consider the concepts used in the discourse of the neurosciences, we easily see that they
are all of a “physicalistic” nature. This is absolutely obvious if we simply consider that these sciences
are the application of the discourse of a sector of biology to the study of the brain, while modern
biology is in turn characterized by a pervasive use of knowledge, concepts and theories derived from
chemistry and physics. We want to put, however, a question. Any system is usually a subsystem of a
larger system, which in turn is also a subsystem of a broader system, and we have seen that the human
brain is a subsystem of the whole human organism. Now, here is the question: “Is the organism really
‘the whole’ with respect to which the brain is a subsystem”? The answer must be negative: the
“whole”, correctly understood, is the human individual, who is not limited to his organism. To see
that this statement is by no means paradoxical it is sufficient to consider other subsystems of the
human individual that cannot be located in the organism, such as the system of his beliefs, his thoughts,
his emotions, his projects, his moral principles, his free choices, and so on. The reality of such things
is absolutely undeniable, and every normal adult human being is able to refer to them in his
conversation with other humans. Their ontological status can be questionable, and it has been
questioned many times in the history of philosophy, but what is certain is that they are different from
the ontological status of our organism and its parts. A suitable term for denoting the whole of this
system can be (in English) the mind. Without entering here too complicated questions, we can simply
say that the mind, understood simply as the system of what we often call the “mental states”, is a
subsystem of the human being, a subsystem that is articulated into several mental subsystems and
which, in particular, is also connected and correlated with the other non-mental subsystems
constituting the organism. The “mind-body” problem consists in the investigation of the correlations
between these two ‘large’ subsystems of the human individual, while the “mind-brain” problem
investigates the more direct relationships existing between the brain and certain subsystems of the
mind considered as especially linked with the brain activity.

The Systemic Unity of the Human Being

The systemic point of view gets rid of certain wrong dichotomies such as that of dualism-monism,
that have inspired endless controversies regarding the mind-body or mind-brain relationships. The
wrong tacit and implicit presupposition was that mind and body are two separate substances. If so, it

is problematic to see how they could mutually communicate and interact. Note that also the materialist
monism is prisoner of the same presupposition, while it only tries to eliminate or to “explain away”
the mind as a simple product of the body. The correct position seems to be that neither the mind, nor
the brain, nor the heart, nor the lungs, nor the hands, etc. are substances, since they are only
subsystems of the whole individual human being, which is the substance. Only of a human individual
we can say that he has “his” ideas, beliefs, brain, hands, mind and so on, whereas it would be
inappropriate to say that the brain has “its” feelings or thoughts, or the tooth has “its” pain. Therefore,
the idea that one must not violate the principle of the “physical closure” of causality appears to be an
arbitrary extrapolation of the form of causality, which is specific of a certain subsystem, in order to
cover all possible ways of infrasystemic and intersystemic causality. How arbitrary is this alleged
methodological prescription is something that easily emerges from the consideration that also every
human individual is a system embedded in several other systems that constitute together his “global
environment” or his world of life or his existential situation. The contents, structures and dynamics
of his mind are correlated and even causally depend (not totally, but certainly in part) on this
environment, much more than on his brain. Our ideas, concepts, values, criteria of judgment are
formed almost directly by what we receive from our cultural historical environment, from our
education, from the intrinsic dynamics of our reflection, decisions, commitments. We do not need to
appeal to any brain function in order to understand and explain these rich contents of our mind. Of
course, without a well functioning brain, our mind could not function well even in the most favorable
of the existential environments. This means that the brain is a necessary condition for the functioning
of the mind, but it is no less true that a brain isolated from the whole organism and belonging to an
animal organism unable to communicate and interact with the human world of life could never
“produce” a mind.


Agazzi, Evandro. “Reductionism as Negation of the Scientific Spirit.” in The Problem of

Reductionism in Science, edited by Evandro Agazzi, 1–29. Dordrecht/Boston/London:
Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991.
———. “Some Epistemological Remarks: Unity of the Referent, Diversity of the Attributes,
Specificity of the Scientific Approaches.” In Moral Behavior and Free Will: A Neurobiologial
and Philosophical Approach, edited by Juan José Sanguineti, Ariberto Acerbi, José Ange, 25-
45. Morolo: IF Press, 2011.
———. “Systems Theory and the Problem of Reductionism.” Erkenntnis (1975-) 12, no. 3 (1978):
Galilei, Galileo. Opere. vol. 5. Edited by Favaro Antonio et al. Florence: Barbera, 1895.

To Be a Poetic Free Human

Zhang Shiying

My topic is “To be a poetic free human.” First of all, what is freedom?

It is well-known that “freedom is to understand necessity.” Is this definition of freedom
comprehensive and adequate? It comes from some generalization of Spinoza’s thought. Spinoza
believes that “All things in reality are determined by necessity, and everything depends on something
else. A human is free as long as he understands the necessity and acts on it” (Spinoza, Ethics, The
Commercial Press, 1958. P206). “A human who lives by reason pure and simple” (ibid) is one who
“understands necessity and acts on objective necessity” (ibid, P202). “The nature of reason lies in the
fact that it regards everything as necessary” (ibid, P77). In other words, freedom means that one turns
an external and forced necessity, by means of knowledge, into an internal and voluntary necessity. A
free human is one who follows universal necessities and acts on them willingly.
It certainly makes some sense for Spinoza to argue that one can acquire freedom through
knowledge. He was one-sided, however, when he completely denies free will in human mind.
Bertrand Russell has pointed out that ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus “was not a determinist”,
“Though we have to obey natural powers, which can be studied scientifically, we still have free will,
and in a certain extent, are masters of our own destiny”(Bertrand Russell, A History of Western
Philosophy. Vol. I, Commercial Press,1963. PP.312,313). Epicurus informs us that we have a sphere
of freedom where we are the maker of our decisions apart from scientific research –the “natural power”
of scientific knowledge that calls for absolute “obedience.” Freedom is neither mere “knowledge of
necessity” nor willing obedience to natural necessity.
Christian Father Augustine, a transition from ancient times to the Middle Ages, is the first
philosopher who clearly puts forward a theory of free will. He argues that a human is able to act freely,
that is, he is determined not by external conditions but by his own will completely. Through free will
a human was liberated from natural necessities. Because of free will, he must be responsible to what
he does. The sole cause – the ultimate reason that makes a human lose his mind of virtue and commit
evil is his free choice. So Augustine said: “I am aware that I have a will, just as I am aware that I live.
Therefore, it is me not anyone else who wills or does not will, am aware or am not aware; and I come
to see more clearly that this is the cause of my sins” (Augustine, Confessions, Commercial Press,
1963. P116). Though he becomes a determinist in later years, and believes that human actions are
caused by prior conditions which may lead to God in the end, Augustine always admits that a human
has a space of freedom and autonomy, and some action still comes from one’s internal will despite
some external conditions. Augustine’s implicit meaning is that a human must be responsible for his
evildoing and must put the blame on himself.
The Renaissance liberated humans from the bondage of God and provided him with certain
freedom, however, it is confined to the freedom of “understanding necessity.” Actually a human was

determined by causal necessity. After the Renaissance Kant offered a systematic and detailed
philosophical theory of human free will for the first time. He believes that a human has two key
characters: the one is natural, and the other of free will. The natural character is determined by causal
necessities such as human needs for clothing, food, shelter and means of travelling as well as sex,
which are determined by objective natural conditions, independent of human subjective free will. But
his other character is independent, autonomous and self-determining (Kant, Foundations of the
Metaphysics of Morals. Commercial Press, 1959. P67).
The two human characters come from the opposition between “phenomenon” and “noumenon”:
what a human usually experiences and understands is phenomenon where one thing is causally and
necessarily related to other things, and “understanding,” as one of human cognitive faculties, only
grasps the necessary phenomenon, hence no freedom at all; however, phenomenon is not “thing-in-
itself” but mere representations or manifold things through which the “whole” or “thing-in-itself”
shows itself. Reason, as a higher cognitive faculty, requires to understand “thing-in-itself”, i.e. to
grasp “the noumenon” or the “whole” which is not limited by necessities, but unfortunately it has
failed, in other words, “reason” has this need, but cannot meet it, so “thing-in-itself” (the noumenon,
the whole) lies beyond understanding; Kant believes that this unknowable “thing-in-itself” may be
grasped by “faith.” Faith is the “postulates” of reason that are real rather than fantastic or dreamlike,
and we believe they are what they are - some “presuppositions” derived from reason, or say human
reason requires some “whole” as “thing-in-itself.” Individual things in the world of phenomenon all
exist in the chain of causal necessity, only the “whole” as “noumenon” or “thing-in-itself” is
independent and free because nothing is outside of it as some limit. Therefore, subjectivity exists only
as “thing-in-itself” – the “whole” (see Kant, Critique of Practical Reason. Commercial Press, 1960.
P102). Kant said that, as the subject of morals, a human has freedom, and “this subject” “is aware
that he is the thing-in-itself,” “not determined by time” (i.e. not determined by necessity) (ibid, P100).
Finally Kant reduced the free will from the “whole” (the noumenon or thing-in-itself) to human
“conscience” (ibid, P100-101). “As thing-in-itself” (the whole or noumenon) the “conscientious”
“subject” acts on some “imperatives” which “spontaneously” take moral actions, yet this “spontaneity”
cannot be explained through physical necessity (ibid, P102).
Kant’s analysis of the nature of human freedom completely overturned the view that freedom is
nothing but to understand necessity. Kant clearly argues that freedom means to go beyond necessity,
and he has made careful and systematic discussions about the nature of human freedom for the first
time in the history of western philosophy. This is a great contribution Kant has made.
Kant’s philosophy clearly informs us that to be a free human who has gone beyond necessity is
to be one who acts on the “imperatives” of moral conscience. Unfortunately Kant’s discussions are
abstract and hard to understand in the sense that he classified freedom under the sphere of
transcendence, out of touch with reality; as to his view that moral actions are fully free, I think it
deserves a second thought, to which I will turn below.
In any case, Kant as well as Epicurus and Augustine argues that a human is able to transcend
necessity to become free and independent – a view opposite to the belief that “freedom means to
understand necessity,” a deeper definition of the nature of freedom, and the locus of the deeper
essence and dignity of a human as what he is.

From the daily experience of consciousness we are personally aware that our thought is free and
independent, not limited by anything out of it. For example, I may imagine at will that I could fly
high to the sky like a bird despite that this is impossible in reality. You may say this is fantastic,
illusionary or subjective, yet fantasy, illusion or subjectivism is, after all, human free thought.
Subjective thought and objective impossibility are questions at different levels, and the former cannot
be limited by the latter. Shakespeare’s Hamlet has a famous saying: “Though shut up in a nut shell, I
might think as well that I was the sovereign with unlimited space.” How boundless a space does a
free thought enjoy! French philosopher Derrida even argues that a human may think illogically. For
example, “To imagine that a square is round makes some sense.”


All in all, a human lives in an objective real world and must deal with real things. As Spinoza said
above, real things “are determined by necessity, and one thing depends on other things.” Thus in
dealing with real objective things human subjective freedom of thought may be hindered, and he or
she can be free as long as he or she understands this necessity and acts on it. This is the freedom given
by human cognitive faculty – the so-called scientific knowledge. But as mentioned above, this
“freedom,” derived from “understanding necessity,” only knows how to follow external things,
therefore it is not the independent and autonomous free will that originates from inner mind.
Then how is it possible that, on the one hand, a human lives in the real world and deals with real
things, on the other hand, he enjoys independent and autonomous freedom, not limited by necessity?
In the course of one’s self-development, a human moves gradually from the consciousness of
necessity and non-necessity to the consciousness of “good” and “bad”, up to the consciousness of
duty and responsibility he undertakes to others, thus a development from cognitive consciousness to
moral consciousness. Psychologists believe that the “self” at this level has gained the sense of duty
and responsibility, that is to say, a human has the freedom of self-choice and self-determination, and
“considers himself the master of his destiny” (J. Loveinger, Ego Development, trans. Wei Zimu.
Zhejiang Education Press, 1998. P. 18-20).
Nonetheless, there is some distance from the individual and independent free will to the
advanced and perfect “sphere of morality.” To attain this sphere, a human must go further to nourish
a consciousness of respect for others’ free will as well as their independence and autonomy.
I think the universe is a network whole 网络整体where “all things are interconnected 万有相
通.” The network whole is neither transcendental nor above time or space, but real, just in time and
space; it is infinite in time and space, but knowable. Situated in this network whole, a human may
observe concrete things from the viewpoint of both concrete things and the network whole. The
former leads to the view that all things must bow to necessity, hence no real freedom at all; by contrast,
the latter leads to a fully independent and autonomous free will because nothing is outside the whole.
Moral will originates from the viewpoint that one looks at things from the perspective of “all things
are interconnected.” To look at things and people from this point of view, I attach importance not
only to my own independent and autonomous free will, but also to that of other people and other
things which I regard as what I am, as indispensable elements of me, and as flesh and blood of mine,

so that I attain a sphere where “all people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my
companions” 民 吾 同 胞 , 物 吾 与 也 – a sphere where the division of subject and object is
transcended and all things and I have become one, namely a free will to respect others’ independent
and autonomous free will. This is what morality means.
We see that at the root of the transition from “knowledge” to “morality” lies the transition from
observing things from the perspective of things (to look at particular things from the angle of
particular things) to observing things from the perspective of the whole, i.e. a transition from subject-
object dichotomy to subject-object oneness, with the result that the freedom of understanding
necessity is sublimated into the freedom “that has transcended necessity.” Obviously the freedom
“that has transcended necessity” is no longer the unreal and subjective freedom mentioned above, but
one that has integrated subject with object and observes real things from the angle of the whole.
Yet “the moral sphere” is neither the highest level of freedom nor the acme of one’s personality.
First, Hegel said: “The view of morality is the view of ‘relationship,’ of ‘ought’ and of ‘request’”
(Hegel, Werke,Suhrkamp, 1986, P206). “Ought,” “request” and “relationship” all refer to the distance
that still exists between subjective ideal and objective reality, or between subject and object, and they
have not yet achieved complete integration as a whole, therefore the freedom of mind is limited to a
certain extent. It is said that morality talks about “ought,” but “ought” implies constraint, though the
“ought” in moral sphere is a voluntary constraint. Second, “the moral sphere” talks about seeking
others’ benefit, however, a moral consciousness that is completely detached from benefit is
unpractical. Talks about benefit – seeking utility, means that external objects serve as human tools,
which means necessity, and implies that “the moral sphere” has not yet completely divorced from the
model of subject-object dichotomy, and subject is still limited by object to some extent.
The highest sphere of mind is “aesthetic审美.” Compared with “the moral sphere,” the aesthetic
sphere enters further into the kingdom of “the freedom that has transcended necessity.” First, the
“aesthetic” has transcended the “cognitive” in the sense that it no longer attaches importance to the
question of “what particular things are” in the external relationship between subject and object (the
limitation of necessity is always there), on the contrary, the subject has integrated object into itself to
attain a sphere where one’s feelings and the natural setting are perfectly blended, and subject and
object become one (borrowing a term from the traditional Chinese language, we call it “heaven-
human oneness”天人合一), hence a completely free and independent subject, beyond which no
limitation of necessity from the object. Wang Yangming said that if there is no mind, then there will
be no heaven, earth and myriad things, conversely, if there is no heaven, earth and myriad things,
then there will be no mind; mind and heaven, earth and myriad things “are permeated with one
material force一气流通,” integrated into one body “without separation,” and this inseparable “one
body”一体 is uniquely real. When I see the flowers in the mountain, their colors “at once show up
clearly,” yet “the colors of the flowers” that “at once show up clearly” are concerned with both
humans and heaven which are inseparable at any instant; the relationship between me and the flowers
here is not cognitive at all because I do not, as a biologist, consider, analyze or understand the flowers
to be red or green, or light red or light green, etc.. It is when I look at the flowers that I attain the
artistic sphere意境 where their colors “at once show up clearly,” a sphere that is concerned with both

the flower and the mind, and they “are permeated with one material force” without any “separation.”
The mind here does not mean knowledge or thought, but a feeling, sentiment or experience. We say
“artistic sphere,” “mental sphere心境” or “situational sphere情境,” all of which contain Chinese
characters like “sphere” and “mind,” or “sentiment” and “artistic,” in fact they all refer to the
integration of humans and the world or the heaven-human oneness; so aesthetic consciousness is no
other than an “artistic sphere,” “mental sphere” or “situational sphere.” Chinese poetics often uses
the term perfect blending of feelings and natural settings or of feelings and natural situations 情景/
情境交融, which means the same thing in reality. “The Physical World” 物色篇 of the Literary Mind
and the Carving of Dragons文心雕龙 by Liu Xie刘勰 in the Liang Dynasty of the Southern
Dynasties writes: “Feelings will change when things have changed, and words are derived from
sentiments”情以物迁,辞以情发. Here is implied the perfect blending of feelings and natural
settings. Jiao Ran 皎然 of the Tang Dynasty says that only through the natural setting景 is the poet
able to express his true disposition, therefore the poet’s artistic sphere is made up of the perfect
blending of feelings and natural settings. SikongTu 司 空 图 of the Tang Dynasty argues that
“conception and natural settings go hand in hand”思与境偕. Wang Fuzhi王夫之in the late Ming and
early Qing dynasties contributed a more systematic theory about the perfect blending of feelings and
natural settings. He said: “Feeling is not empty but may be set out naturally, and the natural setting is
not empty but may contain feelings”情不虚情,情皆可景;景非虚景,景中含情 (Anthology of
and Commentary on Ancient Poems古诗评选, Vol. 5). That is to say, neither feelings without natural
settings nor natural settings without feelings can make up aesthetic images.
Second, based on the above argument we see that “the aesthetic sphere” also transcends the
practical relationship in “the cognitive” and “moral spheres.” Hegel said: “Desires fade away in the
aesthetic,” and the object, which used to be “a useful tool,” thus an “alien goal,” “has now
disappeared,” so has the “limited relationship” of “the mere ought” (ibid, P155). “Because of these,
the aesthetic observation is characterized by freedom, in that it turns its object into part of a human
which is free and unlimited, hence the object no longer as something useful to meet his or her limited
demands or intentions, or to satisfy his or her possessiveness or pursuit of fame and wealth” (ibid,
In short, aesthetic activity transcends not only the limit of desires and usefulness, but also the
limit of “ought,” and attains the sphere of freedom that is completely above and beyond the bounds
of necessity. Human love and pursuit of beauty is derived from “the nature” rather than the “ought,”
and that is the reason why “aesthetic activity” is superior to “moral activity” and becomes the highest
sphere of human mind. Though superior to moral sphere, aesthetic sphere is not immoral but includes
it because a human in the aesthetic sphere must obey moral rules and do what is morally good,
however, he does what is morally good naturally, without any constraint. Seen from this perspective,
unlike what is usually taught that to be a human means to be one who merely acts on moral dogmas
(one “ought to” or “should” do something), to be a human means to elevate one’s sphere of mind,
and to be one who lives in the “aesthetic sphere” and naturally does what is required of him.
Actually in the second half of the eighteenth century, German aesthetician Schiller has clearly
advocated that to be a human means to be an “aesthetic human” because only the “aesthetic human”

is a “whole human” or “free human.” He argues that mere “sensual impulse” makes one be “limited”
by sensual desires, and mere “rational impulse” makes one be “limited” by rational rules (including
one’s obligations in the form of moral rules), thus both of them make one unfree because a full
realization of one’s humanity lies in the transcendence of his or her “limits” to attain the “limitless,”
and Schiller calls this limitless “free activity” “game impulse”, i.e. “aesthetic consciousness.” Schiller
said that “aesthetic intuition” contains both sensual images and intellectual or rational things, i.e. both
of which were integrated in “aesthetic intuition” so that sensual desires do not occupy a dominant
position due to their lack of reason’s dignity, meanwhile rational rules (including moral obligations)
are not considered an imposition due to their lack of sensual desires. In this way the sense of limit
and imposition that mere “sensual impulse” and mere “rational impulse” caused within us “will be
excluded.” “A human in game” (an aesthetic human) attains the highest level of freedom (Schiller,
Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, Letter 23, 15).
Beauty is usually divided into different levels such as the beauty of senses感性美 (the beauty of
sound and color), the beauty of type典型美 and the beauty of artistic image意象美 (the beauty of
appearance and disappearance 显隐之美). But which one makes a human perfectly free?
In different articles and books I have argued that the beauty of artistic image in Chinese tradition
is the highest level of beauty. I will not go into details here. But I want to emphasize how the poetic
quality 诗意 of the artistic-image beauty inspires a human to become perfectly free.
The universe is a network whole where “all things are interconnected,” and every intersection
(every event, human and thing) on the network includes both its present conditions and its background
of limitless connections. Using the terms of the Chinese aesthetics, the former may be called
“appearance” 秀, and the latter “disappearance” 隐; using the terms of the western philosophy, the
former is called “presence,” and the latter “absence” (Heidegger called the former “unconcealment”,
and the latter “concealment”). It is the latter that makes up, builds or achieves the former, as the origin
and mother of it. Every event, every human or everything in the universe must be a unity of “presence”
and “absence,” or a fusion of “appearance” and “disappearance.”
The aesthetic theory of artistic image in Chinese tradition claims that “beauty lies in artistic
image,” that is, beauty shows in the “significance” beyond the “image,” or the feeling beyond the
words; another example is the famous saying that “Things that happen around us are called
appearance, and the feelings beyond the words are called disappearance”状溢目前曰秀,情在詞外
曰 隐 , which also claims that beauty lies in the pursuit of the hidden origin - “feelings” or
“significance,” hence a return to the whole of appearance-disappearance unity.
Any work of beauty may exist either in sound or color, or in words, and it must have an “image”
(“the present”). The “theory of the artistic image” tells us that the sense of beauty means to
comprehend “the significance beyond the image” and “the feelings beyond the words,” i.e. “the
absent.” This is not only the beauty of senses at the low level, but also the beauty of artistic sphere
and of the mind at the high level. Why must a human move beyond the image to attain the sphere of
beauty? I think the reason lies in the fact that any work of beauty is an intersection on the network
whole of the universe, something currently “present,” but it originates from the organic and
inseparable relationships between it and the limitless network whole behind it. In other words, any

work of beauty must be a crystalization of limitless relationships (including all other intersections)
behind it. To be specific, the limitless network of relationships refers to the social and historical
background as well as the people and things behind the work. To appreciate a work of art is no more
than to reveal in our imagination the countless contents (“the absent”) of “the present” condensed in
the work for pondering; it is nothing but a return to the original whole from which the work has
developed, thus we come to realize that “So that is how matters stand,” hence a free and relaxed
satisfaction. That is what we usually call “aesthetic pleasure” or “aesthetic enjoyment,” not a sensual
entertainment or satisfaction, but a spiritual or mental contentment. Why does Van Gogh’s painting
“Peasant Shoes” produce aesthetic pleasure? Heidegger provided a vivid explanation: It is the
“present” peasant shoes that leads the appreciator to return to a series of “absent” things behind it –
the peasant woman who labored for bread along the rugged road day and night, exposed to rain and
wind all the year round, and poverty, injustice, backwardness, etc., all thisare the source of the holes
on the shoes. It is in this return that the appreciator is awakened, hence a mentally free and relaxed
Traditional Chinese culture is characterized by the beauty of connotation 含蓄之美, which
actually means that the author leaves his feelings or significance behind the superficial image or
words for the appreciator to understand or experience “the absent” hidden behind the work, i.e. the
feelings or significance of the relationship network in the universe to get the satisfaction of awakening.
We often use the words “pondering infinitely” 玩味无穷 to describe our appreciation of certain
outstanding works. “Pondering” can be “infinite” only because “the absent” hidden behind the works
are “infinite.” Of course, the extent of “pondering infinitely” varies because it is determined not only
by the quality of the works, but also by the literary cultivation of the appreciator. Originally the
aesthetic consciousness is the product of the fusion of author and appreciator.
Usually there are two views of beauty, the one advocates beauty for beauty’s sake, and the other
beauty for life, in order to make beauty actualized or art life-oriented. The current situation of our
culture calls for the latter. To make aesthetics actualized or art life-oriented does not simply mean the
sensual styles of dress or ornamentation in daily life, but more importantly, it suggests that humans,
as the aesthetics of “artistic image” asserts, look at all things in everyday life from the perspective of
a lofty aesthetic sphere – the holistic view of the unity of appearance and disappearance. In other
words, rather than fixing their eyes solely on the things present at hand and confined to this finite
“image” to calculate immediate gains or losses, humans should look out for the original whole hidden
behind all this – “the significance” of the infinite, to broaden their vision in order to wander leisurely
in the free and relaxed sphere. Both Kant and Hegel emphasize the liberating function of aesthetics
and poetry. I believe the poetic quality the beauty of artistic image contains in Chinese tradition may
best perform this function indeed. We cannot require everyone to become a poet, but we hope that
everyone can be more or less aware of the beauty of “the artistic image,” hence a poetic human. To
be simpler or more understandable, it should be feasible that everyone may look at his or her daily
life from a lofty and holistic perspective. The freedom a human enjoys when he or she enters such
sphere is not only real but also independent and autonomous.

A Naturalist Scheme of Interlinking Mind, Body, Consciousness and Emotions

Amita Chatterjee
School of Cognitive Science & Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University

Let’s begin with an imaginary scenario. Suppose you see five discrete dots on a piece of paper or a
white board. Immediately you will start wondering ‘why these dots?’ Your in-built curiosity will not
let you stop here. Next you will ask what do they stand for? If someone knowledgeable gives you the
names of objects they stand for, you will pose the next question and then the next, the next after
next…What kind of objects are they? How do they function? What do we do with them? Can these
dots be connected? Given a large number of possible connections, how are we supposed to choose
amongst them? Can these be brought under one umbrella, one overarching frame? Only after
receiving an affirmative answer to the last question you may pause for some time. Here, instead of
five dots we are given five concepts -- mind, body, brain, consciousness and emotions. Incidentally,
none of these has been unanimously defined. Philosophers and scientists attempt to connect these
concepts in different ways, having determined their initial meaning. In my talk, I shall present some
reflections on interconnections of these concepts from the perspective of a group of Indian thinkers
of a broadly naturalistic persuasion.
A naturalistic worldview exhibits the following characteristic features1. (a) Nature is admitted
to be homogeneous and is constituted by physical/ material things and their properties; (b) Interaction
among physical things are governed by law-like regularities; (c) Naturalistic explanations are
generally reductive in nature, i.e., higher level regularities are explained by causal interactions
amongst lower-level constituents till the basic level is reached; (d) At the basic level usually it is
possible to say how things at that level are interconnected but not why; (e) Though the basic level is
not fixed, basic phenomena are expected to be amenable to the same level of description. Post-
positivistic science still considers the level of physics to be the basic level, therefore anything non-
physical cannot be branded as basic. Thus a common naturalist is likely to treat mind and
consciousness as surds.
Why do I call protagonists of this discourse broad naturalists? The simple answer is: because
they construe nature rather widely. If we look at their ontology we shall find that they have
accommodated different kinds of entities within nature. In other words, they subscribe to a pluralist
ontology. Hence they can easily talk about law-like causal connections obtaining amongst things of
different kinds, even among conscious mental states and bodily actions, considered almost a sacrilege
in modern western philosophy. They individuate and explain the concepts under discussion on the
basis of our lived experience. That is, they theorize on these concepts at the person-level, not at the
level of physics or neuro-sciences, using the ordinary language vocabulary eminently suitable for
expressing human experiences. They have posited an inner sense organ, manas, to account for mental
functions – cognitive, conative and affective but did not know much about salience of brain. But that

1 ‘Naturalism and the Problem of Consciousness’, Todd Moody, The Pluralist Vol. 2, No. 1, 2007.

should not bother us because though brain functions constrain our mental and bodily states, yet, we
all know, there is an explanatory gap between our person-level experiences and their neural correlates.
Besides the levels of description of person-level phenomena and neural phenomena being different,
our protagonists do not fall back on sub-personal brain-functions in order to explain our mental and
bodily experiences; their explanations rely more on subjective introspection and their hetero-
phenomenological corroborations.
The main opponents of our protagonists are the so-called ‘spiritualists’ who have their base in
the Upaniṣadic monism, later developed in the hands of proponents of different schools of Vedānta.
It is interesting to note that hardcore spiritualist systems also admitted the significant role that body
and the bodily properties play in our empirical existence. However, in all these systems including the
nineteenth century transformations of the Upaniṣadic monism, attempts at transcending the bodily
constraints of our empirical existence in order to participate in the exalted life of eternal bliss were
evident. Sri Aurobindo1, for example, integrated the material/ the bodily, the vital, the psychical, the
mental and its higher stages with the Supramental, the essence of which is existence-consciousness-
bliss, in his narrative of emergent evolution. As the human mind climbs higher and higher peaks, ego-
centric emotions are eliminated making room for experiencing the most exalted emotions associated
with the delight of existence. In this scheme mind, body, brain, consciousness and emotions are inter-
related and inter-dependent. Each has a value of its own, no doubt, but Spirit or Consciousness
remains the source, the end and the guiding principle of creative evolution.
K.C. Bhattacharyya2, acknowledged as the most original and creative Indian philosopher of the
colonial period, also offered a scheme of inter-relating body and the bodily properties with
consciousness, emotions and subjectivity, solely from an Indian perspective. Following the Vedanta
tradition he gave an account of graded consciousness and the alternative ways of realizing the
Absolute through the process of dissociation. According to him, our feeling of body from within or
our bodily subjectivity gives us the first taste of freedom by dissociating itself from all objects
surrounding it and serves as the ground of higher stages of subjectivity. Psychic subjectivity, to which
we have access through introspection, urges us to dissociate mental/psychic states from their
intentional contents, say, images, ideas and thoughts that possess merely quasi-objectivity. He
distinguished amongst various levels of introspection to show that each would lead to greater freedom
from objectivity. Bhattacharyya maintained that in feeling one is completely free from objectivity
and one experiences the subject as freedom, not limited by any objective constraint. He designated
the subjectivity realized through feeling ‘spiritual subjectivity’ because he held that attaining absolute
freedom from objectivity was a spiritual demand. Thus by dissociating consciousness gradually from
objectivity of all kinds, one reaches the final stage of Subjectivity as felt freedom. It is true that in
Bhattacharyya’s scheme mind, body, brain, consciousness and emotions all are important players but
to reach the highest form of freedom body and the bodily finally falls by the way-side.
Another proponent of the Upaniṣadic monism, our Nobel-laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore too,
highlighted the role of body in the onward march of Humanity toward perfection, toward greater and
richer realizations of unity, love and freedom. Tagore was much impressed by Darwin’s theory of

1 Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine,Dutton, New York, 1951.

2 Bhattacharyya, K.C., The Subject as Freedom, The Indian Institute of Philosophy, 1930.

evolution, yet in his Hibbert Lectures (1930) 1 he presented a vision of humanity going beyond
physical evolution by responding to the call of the Eternal Spirit that dwells deep in human heart. It
inspires in human beings a spirit of supreme sacrifice in the midst of their self-centred life style.
During earlier part of evolution the struggle for survival was mainly decided by size and strength of
body till the coming of humans who started ruling over the roost by their wit and intelligence. Human
body and brain evolved sufficiently to pluck and eat the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge. ‘It is the
consciousness in Man of his own creative personality which has ushered in this new regime in Life’s
Kingdom… This consciousness finds its manifestation in science, philosophy, and the arts, in social
ethics, in all things that carry their ultimate value in themselves.’ Of all creatures, said Tagore, man
lives in an endless future of which our present is only a part. ‘From individual body to community
and from community to universe, from universe to infinity – this is the soul’s normal progress.’ Thus
Tagore also places consciousness and soul at a higher rung than brain and body.
Our protagonists, on the other hand, begin and end with the concept of embodied mind where
mind and body remain closely connected. In their metaphysics they enumerate different kinds of
entities, viz. soul/self (ātmā), body (śarīra), sense organs (indriya), objects of experience (artha),
knowledge / consciousness (budhhi), inner sense (manas), etc. A summary account 2 of these
metaphysical entities shows that all these kinds of knowable objects are inter-related. Here, an
individual soul (ātmā) is the seer of all things, enjoyer of all things, knows and experiences. The
distinguishing feature of a soul from any material object is that the former alone has the potency of
being conscious during its embodied existence alone. Hence consciousness is an adventitious quality
of soul. It is not located in any special part of body. Body is the site of all sorts of experiences
cognitive as well as affective including enjoyment and suffering. The sense organs are the means of
knowledge and enjoyment. Manas is the internal sense organ, with the help of which we introspect
our inner states. It is physical in nature and atomic in size. Body is said to be the substratum of effort,
sense organs and pleasure and pain. By ‘effort’ is meant voluntary action, i.e., action performed by
an individual in order to obtain an object of desire, or to avoid an undesirable object. Volition (pravṛtti)
is that which leads to physical and mental acts. Affection, aversion and stupidity are listed as faults
(doṣa-s). Transmigration (pretyabhāba) means the series of births and deaths through which an
individual soul travels until attaining liberation. Birth means connection of a soul with a gross body,
senses, and so forth; death means their dissociation. Hence soul cannot be individuated without a
body. Consequences of activities are mainly of two types: pleasure and pain which are also limited
by the body. That is, our body actively shapes the life of an individual. The means of release from
the cycle of life and death is the correct knowledge of different types of entities which enables one to
distinguish between self from not-self. It is evident from the above account that if the excellence of
an individual lies in its knowledge, its sentience, its attempt to avoid painful existence – it cannot be
an abstract essence – a soul minus its bodily entrapments. It has to be a self-body continuum immersed
and engaged in meaningful pursuits of life in its journey towards emancipation – towards absolute
cessation of all sufferings.

1 Rabindranath Tagore, Religion of Man, The English Writings of Tagore, Volume 3, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1996;
reprinted 2002.
2 Vātsyāyana, Nyāya-sūtra-bhāṣya, ed. Anantalal Thakur, Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi, 1997.

Even when dissociated from a body, the prospect of the mental life of an individual is determined
by the contingency of its relationship with a body. It has been stated that desires (rāga) are
conditioned and determined by one’s biological body – human beings having human body possess
human desires, other animals having other kinds of body have differential animal desires 1 . An
objection may be anticipated to this position 2 . Since our protagonists believe in transmigration,
theoretically it is possible that a human baby is born with dispositions of its past non-human life. If it
had lived in the body of an elephant then instead of human desire it would crave for things usually
sought after by the elephant cub. This objection has been ruled out on the ground that the character
of a child’s desires depends on the body he has in his present birth and not that of an elephant cub the
life of which it underwent in one of its past lives. This view, says Ganeri3, anticipates the ‘embodied
mind’ thesis of Shapiro in The Mind Incarnate, that ‘minds profoundly reflect the bodies in which
they are contained’.
Even then, the relationship between soul/self and body is much more intimate than the simple
container-contained relation. Body is the locus/residence (adhiṣthāna) or the home (āyatana) of the
senses, etc. Senses in their turn are said to be the instruments of experience (bhogasādhanam). That
means when one wills to obtain something which one desires, it is the body where an action occurs.
The body is also said to be the locus of the senses because senses are benefitted by the benefit of the
body and are harmed by the harming of the body. That is, sense-organs, external or internal, could
not perform their function without the body. This claim can be substantiated with an example of
(visual) perception which can be extended to any other kind of perception up to mānasa. Besides,
perception being the basis of all other types of cognition, it will follow that human cognition is
without exception body-based.
We have already mentioned that the perceiver or the knower, according to our protagonists, is
an embodied soul. In their causal account of perception, they point out that perception of the world
depends upon threefold contact – the soul/self comes in contact with manas (the inner sense), manas
comes in contact with the appropriate external sense organ and sense organ comes in contact with the
object, the immediate outcome of which is perception. Perception, therefore, is the result of the self-
manas-sense organ–object-in the world acting together in consonance. Not only that, perception is
not a modular process in the sense of being an informationally-encapsulated process, but depends on
the perceiver’s intention and sensory abilities. When our visual sense organ comes into contact with
water, first, we have indeterminate perception of water and water-ness and in the next moment we
have a determinate perception of the form, ‘This is water’. After perceiving water, the perceiver, if
thirsty, proceeds to drink it. But this action is preceded by knowledge that this water is potable and
will quench thirst. But how does the knower determine that the water he has perceived is desirable?
He can because of his previous experience that clear and limpid water is potable. However, if the
perceiver were not thirsty, he would have simply ignored it, without taking any action. If the perceived
water appeared dirty and undrinkable, then the perceiver would have refrained from drinking it. Thus

1 Vaiśeṣika-Sūtra 6.1.13, ‘Desire (rāga) is also determined by the particular biological kind.’ Ed. Muni Sri Jambubijaya,
Gaekwad’s Oriental Series 136, Oriental institute, Baroda, 1961.
2 Vācaspati on the Nyāya-sūtra 3.1.26., Nyāya-Vārttika-Tātparyatīkā, ed. A. Thakur, Indian Council of Philosophical
Research, New Delhi, 1997.
3 Ganeri, J., The Self, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2012.

perception is always action-guiding. Again, suppose someone comes across a glittering piece of tinsel
which he mistakes as a silver coin. If the perceiver were in need of money or of a greedy disposition,
then he would proceed to pick up the coin, otherwise he would simply ignore it. Hence it appears that
the perceiver always guides his action depending on his local situation – psychological, biological
and cultural.
One might object at this point and say so what? No one is unwilling to admit that our perceptions
are dependent on the structure and abilities of our body, but that is trivial. Can we say that our higher
cognition and psychological properties are also body-dependent, not merely actions and action-
guiding basic perception as well as our emotions? Our protagonists would unhesitatingly affirm that
our perceptual experiences, higher order intellectual activities as well as our affective attitude – all
are grounded in our bodily capacities.