From Eucken to Kant: Zhang’s later reflections on the problem of life
Zhang revisited his early relationship with European life-philosophy and the worldview and science debate of the early and mid-1920s in his later article “My
Philosophical Thoughts” published in the journal Zaisheng (The National
Renaissance; more literally, “rebirth”) in June 1953.109 He wrote that he returned to China after his period in Germany with a commitment to ideas of free will, the free cultivation of individuality, and the human capacity to transform itself to promote happiness and well-being.110 He describes how Hu and Ding declared war against him after his speech on the necessity of humanistic understanding for the appropriate application of science and technology. In Zhang’s Kantian and life-philosophical influenced argument, which he did not perceive to be opposed to science as such, the European Enlightenment faith that knowledge alone could transform the world for the better had fallen into crisis, an insight also developed in Husserl as discussed in Chapter 6. In particular, science and logic have lost their appropriate relationship to ethics that guides their application in practical life.
Eucken and Zhang had noted thirty years earlier Zhang’s idea of the close affinities between Kongzi and Kant in The Problem of Life in China and Europe.111 Contrary to the pursuit of profit and utility, of utilitarianism and pragmatism, Confucius and Kant maintained the unity of theoretical and practical rationality through the priority of practical reason and the primary role of the ethical in structuring and orienting practical life. Zhang’s explicit argumentation for the deep affinities between Confucian and Kantian philosophy in elucidating a holistic understanding of rationality and human nature, and its significance in both theory and practice, can be traced from The Problem of Life in the early 1920s through “My Philosophical Thoughts” in the early 1950s.112
Zhang elucidates in his 1953 article how, analogously to Confucian and Buddhist philosophers, Kant emphasized both dimensions of rationality and their intrinsic interconnection. Kant had not only written the Critique of Pure Reason on the scope of purely theoretical knowledge, but he composed the Critique of Practical Reason on the foundations of morality active in practical life.113 Confucian philosophy correspondingly emphasized the cultivation of benevolence (ren •?) and wisdom (zhi ^), and Buddhist philosophy the cultivation of wisdom (zhi) and universal compassion (bei ®; Skt. karuna). This is why, according to Zhang, Kant remains such a significant thinker for contemporary philosophy insofar as his thought pursues the cultivation of both sides of life.114
Zhang describes next how the trajectory of his philosophical thinking began with Eucken and Bergson and led increasingly to Kant. He criticized the philosophies of Eucken and Bergson in this article for overemphasizing the stream of life and for an anti-intellectualism that ignores the flourishing modern discourses of knowledge. Zhang admits that he never found life-philosophy convincing and adequate in itself; he read these works alongside Kant and the Neo-Kantian philosophers, as can be verified in his early writings discussed previously, to gain a more comprehensive perspective that encompassed and integrated knowledge and practical life.115
Zhang remarks that he appreciated how Eucken and Bergson expounded the philosophy of changes and the stream of becoming, as well as the free will and freedom of action. They know change and action, he wrote, yet they do not know the constant in change and how to distinguish better and worse, correct and incorrect, actions.116 They discuss knowledge and morality, but do not consider how they are stabilizing elements of culture, ethical life, and the lifeworld.117 Zhang compares their thinking to the mountain in Chinese landscape painting; your vision is consumed by the strange mountain suddenly arising in the landscape before you while you forget the actual flat and easy mundane road you are on. Such philosophies have left behind issues of practical life addressed more adequately in Confucian and Kantian practical philosophy.
Zhang notes that there are innumerable philosophical masters in the modern West, but for him only Kant deserves true appreciation.118 Kant is the philosopher of modernity for Zhang whose thinking must be actively tested and reinterpreted through later developments such as Einstein’s theoretical physics. Kant recognizes how knowledge and reason are interlinked with the human heart-mind (xin A).119 We can conclude from Zhang’s analysis that Kant could be regarded as a Confucian philosopher of sorts, insofar as his philosophy is grounded in the same phenomenon: the recognition of the fundamental unity of reason and the heart-mind, a key insight of the Confucian tradition in Zhang’s portrayal that is missing or undeveloped in Western rationalism and irrationalism.
Zhang reports how he read widely in and was inspired by Kant’s philosophy, and modern Western philosophy more broadly. He concluded, nonetheless, that one can realize even in this distant cultural context that—evoking Wang Yangming’s phrase—the “world is one body” (wanwu yiti —M).120 Zhang blends three
ideas from the Chinese philosophical tradition without mentioning their textual sources to explicate this thesis, noting how: (1) Confucius recognized in Analects 6:30 the truth that one can only establish oneself by establishing others, and establish the other by establishing oneself (ji yu li er liren, ji yu da er daren В ^АШАА,В^^ШЖА); (2) the Yijing suggests that the Way (dao)
prior to taking form (xing er shang ШША) and the formed concrete particular things (xing er xia ШША) are one and the same; and (3) Lu Xiangshan ШШ Ш stated, concerning the oneness of principle and world, that there is no dao without things and there are no things shang without dao.121 Presupposing the
Chinese philosophical concept of the harmony of field-figure and essence- function (ti-yong МД), there is an intricate network between things, each with their own essence/function in interconnection with the whole, which are all in communication with one another.122
China is the land of Confucianism according to Zhang.123 And Confucianism is a philosophy of the infinite and unrestricted communication between things; that is to say, a holistic philosophy of the rationality operative in humanity and the cosmos.