Twofish's Blog

January 1, 2007

Post on Han Learning

Filed under: academia, china, confucianism, history, law — twofish @ 2:26 am

http://www.chinahistoryforum.com/index.php?showtopic=15534

QUOTE(Yun @ Dec 31 2006, 10:58 AM) *

I am very impressed by your being able to relate your profession as an astrophysicist to the Han Learning tradition. But I’m afraid your characterization of the Han Learning vs. Song Learning debate seems to be incorrect. Essentially, it was Zhu Xi Neo-Confucianism (i.e. Song Learning) that elevated the Four Books and reinterpreted them in certain ways to purge influences from Daoism and Buddhism, using the argument that Confucianism has been distorted ever since the Han period. Han Learning was a reaction against this blanket dismissal of Han scholarship. Han Learning scholars attempted to restore the importance of the Five Classics which had been eclipsed by the Four Books, and also criticized the liberties that Neo-Confucians like Zhu Xi took in interpreting ancient texts to suit the Neo-Confucian agenda. Furthermore, they were able to prove that some of the classic texts that Song Learning used to justify its doctrines were really post-Han forgeries, the most prominent such forgery being the then-standard version of the Old Text Shangshu.

Correct. And Han Learning scholars such as Dai Zhen then accused Zhu Xi of being overly influenced by Buddhism and Daoism and in order to recover the “pristine copies” of the ancient classics, the Han Learning scholars then turned to evidential research, which meant careful research into philology and language in order to remove the Buddhist contamination. This lead them to research astronomy and mathematics which they believed would be the key to deciphering the ancient classics and return China to the pre-Han golden age. Until the Sino-Japanese War, they were convinced that the science and technology that they were seeing coming from Europe was merely “lost ancient Chinese knowledge” that the Europeans had merely refined. After 1895, this belief was unsupportable, but you see the academies in Zhejiang and Jiangsu which had been founded to conduct evidential research reorient themselves to continue research in astronomy and mathematics, and around this time you have the first foreign students to Japan and the United States, which after a generation or two, leads to me…..

So there is a pretty direct line of transmission between the Han Learning school and me. The irony of the school is that they methods that were using to reconstruct the pre-Han “golden age” by demanding strict observation and evidence (i.e. scientific investigation) would later demonstrate that the golden age that they were looking for, never existed, and that would cause a crisis that would effectively end Han Learning in the 19th century.

At the same time, even though the philosophy of the Han Learning school undermined their project, they do form most of the basis for how I look at the world. I reject the rationalism of Zhu Xi and the possibility of sage enlightenment by pure thought, and the believe that reason should overcome emotion in all cases. Instead, my philosophy emphasizes the need to “seek truth from fact,” emphasizes moral uncertainty, and dismisses the possibility of moral perfectability. It also explains my interest in astronomy, law, and history, which are all efforts to understand the cosmic order.

Because I come from Han Learning rather than Song Learning, I also am at odds with those that would elevate Confucianism to a national religion or the “New Confucianism” which attempts to create a “secular religion.” I’d argue that by emphasizing the Song Learning/Buddhist need to go beyond feeling to rational thought that the “New Confucianism” creates a philosophy which is detached from the human experience.

There are a lot of differences between what I believe and what the Han Learning scholars believed. I’m nowhere as hostile toward Buddhism as they were. I live in a world where China is a nation-state is a rapidly globalizing world rather than a “world civilization.” I’m far more interested in physics and engineering than they were. And most importantly, I realize that their original goal won’t work. However, the basic philosophy of the evidential school outlives their original goals and leads naturally to the epistemology and methods of science in much the same way that medieval scholastics in Europe moved toward the philosophy of science, notwithstanding the fact that it destroyed their original goal (which was to mathematically and logically prove the existence of God).

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December 22, 2006

Director’s notes on previous article

Filed under: china, confucianism, taiwan, war — twofish @ 4:31 pm

A lot of my previous comments came out of the years that I spent arguing the Taiwan issue.  What I found was that most of those arguments involved logical, rational arguments that wasn’t convincing anyone.  Usually these arguments involved started with a self-consistent logical framework and rule and then arguing based on that rule.  The trouble is that if you came up with an answer that you didn’t like, you could reject that logical framework and come up with another one.

Ultimately, I had to think deeply about what is “real” in international relations or domestic relations, and focus on things that could be justified based on observation and empirical data rather than stuff based on logical frameworks without connection to reality.  What is “real” in international relations is “will” and “power.”  This goes back to Clausewitz.

One problem thinking in terms of “will” and “power” is that it destroys power of “rational generalists.”  If you come up with a rational theory of international law and behavior, then you can apply it to every situation without knowing that much about each situation.  However, that theory just will not describe the real world in which people are irrational, and if you want to understand the real world, you have to dig very deep to understand the details of any conflict.  I think I have a good sense of what people are willing to fight and die for in the Taiwan conflict, but this knowledge is totally useless if I were to look at Uganda, which probably has some equally complex set of parameters.

Also, I talk about the irrational, and one of the major fallacies of the twentieth century is that irrationality is bad.  This isn’t the case.  I would go through extreme pain and suffering for my wife and kids.  I wouldn’t go through anywhere near the same amount of pain and suffering for someone elses wife and kids.  This is irrational.  It is also not necessarily a bad thing.  Part of the paradoxes of the discussions of international law and international relations, is that the actors are all based on this irrational human quirk.  The same sort of “sense of belonging” that creates families also creates nations.  Confucius understood this, but most international lawyers don’t.

December 14, 2006

Added to the Dai Zhen article – relation to international relations

Filed under: academia, china, confucianism, international law — twofish @ 8:49 pm

I added some entries to the Dai Zhen article on wikipedia. It is interesting (and not a coincidence) that his criticism of Neo-Confucianism parallels my criticism of international law (that it ignores individual people and that it ignores the element of passion and emotion) . The problem is that Neo-Confucianism believed that one could become a sage by clearing one’s mind of emotion. Dai Zhen argued that this was incorrect and that it was destructive to ignore human desire because it would then be impossible to manage one’s own desires and also that it would make it impossible to feel empathy toward other human beings.

Homework question: Dai Zhen’s criticism of Neo-Confucianism is that it ignores the value and importance of human emotions. Is it a coincidence or not that the Neo-Confucianism idea of rational discovery of the universe also matches the modern idea that emotions are only the reserve of “primitive people” and that “advanced people” should control their emotions (i.e. the British stiff upper lip). Is it possible that this idea was borrowed through Jesuit missionaries or Cantonese traders or something else? Or is there some deep philosophical connection that caused these ideas to develop independently? Or is this all a coincidence?

December 9, 2006

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October 31, 2006

The non-existence of a Chinese world view

Filed under: academia, china, confucianism — twofish @ 4:25 am

An interesting thing happens when people start talking about Chinese civilization, in that people add certain things and leave out certain things and what they add and leave out tells you more about them, than about the thing they are describing.  For example, in talking about an “Chinese world view” people often talk about spirituality and anti-materialism, and leave out things like a scientific and technological viewpoint.  This is because the people who are doing the talking are usually disenchanted with science and technology and so look for something that is anti-science and anti-technology, and they find it in “Eastern phliosophy.”  However, this misses that they are focusing in part of the whole, and the part that the focus on is as much about them as about the “East.”

The problem with this view is that it associates cultures with certain ideas which has the effect of limiting that culture.  If someone finds something in Chinese civilization which is appealing to them because of its otherworldliess, its mysticism, and its appeal to anti-materalism, that’s fine, but that shouldn’t be taken to say that there aren’t philosophies within the Chinese traditions that are completely different, and that adherents to those philosophies are somehow less Chinese.  For example, the philosophical tradition that I’m an heir to (the Evidental school of Dai Zhen), puts a lot of  emphasis on rational investigation of nature which is why I’m interested in both astronomy and economics.  It’s a *different* set of philosophical assumptions than a lot of the things associated with Chinese philosophy, but it’s not somehow “less Chinese” or “more Western” because of it.

What I mean by the non-existence of a Chinese world view is that one of the nice things about Chinese world views is that they are so many of them that contradict each other.  This is good because one can choose which one works for one’s situation, and it is also good because it means that with so many different conflicting ideas, it is likely that someone has something close to the truth.

August 12, 2006

Feelings….

Filed under: confucianism, wikipedia — twofish @ 3:55 pm

A lot of this is being influenced by the Chinese philosopher Dai Zhen, who spent a lot of time trying to construct a moral philosophy based on empathy, and who argued that the Cheng-Chu school had erred in viewing feelings and emotions as things to be removed to get at one’s inner goodness. I’ve been starting to read more of Dai Zhen.

But one of my observations is that by labelling some feelings as “bad” that society has done itself a massive disservice. Why is it that anger and hate get expressed in Jerry Springer rather than at the ballot box? Why is it that lust gets expressed in one-night stands rather than in Shakesperan sonnets? What seems to have happened is that society has developed a split-personality in which feelings are expressing themselves in ways that are not terribly constructive or pretty.

Part of it has to do with corporate mentality. Corporations and bureaucracies hate feelings because they are powerful and unpredictable. I’ve worked in one, and they only want you to be passionate about things that they consider “safe”, and if you actually believe and care about something, they really consider that dangerous, and there are all sorts of social controls that come into place. The powers that be really want people to be angry watching Jerry Springer. Having people be angry at their health care, or the fact they are being exploited and drastically underpaid, well….. That’s too dangerous….

August 11, 2006

Feelings….

Filed under: confucianism, wikipedia — twofish @ 12:23 pm

A lot of this is being influenced by the Chinese philosopher Dai Zhen, who spent a lot of time trying to construct a moral philosophy based on empathy, and who argued that the Cheng-Chu school had erred in viewing feelings and emotions as things to be removed to get at one’s inner goodness.  I’ve been starting to read more of Dai Zhen.

But one of my observations is that by labelling some feelings as “bad” that society has done itself a massive disservice.   Why is it that anger and hate get expressed in Jerry Springer rather than at the ballot box? Why is it that lust gets expressed in one-night stands rather than in Shakesperan sonnets?  What seems to have happened is that society has developed a split-personality in which feelings are expressing themselves in ways that are not terribly constructive or pretty.

Part of it has to do with corporate mentality.  Corporations and bureaucracies hate feelings because they are powerful and unpredictable.  I’ve worked in one, and they only want you to be passionate about things that they consider “safe”, and if you actually believe and care about something, they really consider that dangerous, and there are all sorts of social controls that come into place.  The powers that be really want people to be angry watching Jerry Springer.  Having people be angry at their health care, or the fact they are being exploited and drastically underpaid, well…..  That’s too dangerous….

August 8, 2006

Education is life – John Dewey and the Chinese-American academic family

Filed under: academia, china, confucianism, wikipedia — twofish @ 11:18 pm

In an earlier article I posted the statement “school is life” in the context of the Chinese-American academic family. What I didn’t realize until wikimania was that I was quoting John Dewey’s statement that “education is life.”
http://www.infed.org/archives/e-texts/e-dew-pc.htm

This is an example of how ideas get bounced back and forth between China and the West and how ones view of the world is often influenced by people that you aren’t consciously aware of. In the case of John Dewey, he made a famous trip to China in the 1920’s, and a lot of the ideas that China absorbed from the West in the 1920’s subsequently took a path that was very different from what happened in the West. The educational ideas of John Dewey and a popular belief in the importance of science are something that are more influential in China than in the West. In the case of science, China didn’t experience the counter-culture anti-science/technology backlash of the 1960’s, and in the case of John Dewey, he didn’t become the target of an anti-liberal educational backlash in the 1980’s.

Also (and no one else has made this connection), I’m sure that Dewey’s philosophy of experimental learning really fit in with the pedagological model of the Evidential school which I’ve talked about here.

This points out something cool, which is a neat experiment. Take a belief, any belief, that you have, and try to trace back to the first person who came up with that idea. This points out something else cool, and that is that when an idea comes from China to the West or the West to China, it doesn’t enter into a vacuum, but rather interacts with all of the other ideas that were already there.

July 30, 2006

How I view the world…..

Filed under: academia, china, confucianism — twofish @ 10:21 am

Everyone has a personal philosophy which is based on all sorts of influences.  It turns out that a great deal of how I view the world is derived from Dai Zhen and the Evidential School but there are some huge differences.   Just to name a few

1) Gender relations.  I happen to believe that women can and should join the “academic priesthood” and that genealogy should be equal across both male and female lines.  Both beliefs have some pretty huge implications.

2) A concern about power and social relations.  There is an edge and an anger in my philosophy that isn’t in Dai Zhen.  A great deal of this (and this is where thinking about my alter ego Professor W has come in useful) is that most of the evidential school thinkers near the top of the social class structure, whereas I’ve always felt nearer to the bottom.  As a result, a lot of my ideas are influenced by Marxist critical theory.

3) The rituals I use are Buddhist.  The Evidential school members were vehementally anti-Buddhist, and would be shocked that most of the rituals that I use are Buddhist (because my wife is Buddhist).

4) The interaction between nationalism and universalism.  I live in a world of nation-states, whereas Dai Zhen did not.  Part of my concern with the Boston Confucians is that they seem to want to create a universalist version of Confucianism, and that concerns me, since it seems to pretend that nation-states and state bureaucracies don’t exist/don’t matter when in fact they do.  A great deal of my interest in Confucianism is to use it in order to “renew the Chinese nation” and that involves playing up the “Chinese” aspects of Confucianism.

The analogy that I’d like to make is that suppose I wanted to invoke a historical hero to change Mexico politics.  I’d could invoke the memory of Benito Juarez.  Now suppose I want to make similar changes to American politics, it wouldn’t make any sense for me to talk about Benito Juarez, since Juarez isn’t perceived as part of the American collective history.  I’d talk about George Washington or Alexander Hamiliton.

Similarly, Confucius has a special role in Chinese political discourse.  In talking about Chinese politics, I could invoke Juarez, but I’d get strange looks.  So I’m a bit concerned, when Confucius is “de-sinicized” and disconnected from the Chinese nationalist program.

Opus dei and the Boston Confucians

Filed under: academia, china, confucianism, quantitative finance, quantlib — twofish @ 4:36 am

I’ve found that I get more readers when I put in odd keywords.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my own philosophy and how I’ve been influenced very heavily by the Evidential School of Dai Zhen. This explains a great deal, like why I seem to find Opus Dei appealing and why I’ve always have issues with the approach of the “Boston Confucians” even though I suppose technically, I am a “Boston Confucian.”

One of the interesting books out there is “Manufacturing Confucianism” by Lionel Jensen who argues that a lot of what we think of as “Chinese Confucianism” was heavily influenced by Jesuit missionaries. If you at example of this, just look at the name. Confucius was Chinese, why does he then have a Latin name? Answer, the Latin name came from the Jesuits.

There is a lot of Jesuit influence in the Evidental School which got passed down to me, and Opus Dei was founded by Jesuits. This means that Opus Dei and I are ideological cousins, which is why I find a lot of the ideology of Opus Dei reflecting my one views of the world. For example, I believe that “work” shouldn’t be considered a separate category of existence. When I program quantlib or do anything involving C++, it’s part of a spiritual quest. One of the things that both Opus Dei and the Evidential school believes is that you don’t find spirituality by focusing on the abstract, you find “God” by focusing on the specific and concrete. You find God, not by thinking abstract thoughts, but by driving a car, ordering a hamburger, listening to music, and programming C++ quantitative finance models and installing database patches. One of the critiques for “what is wrong with the world” that I share with traditionalist Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants is that the idea of “spirituality” has been separated from people’s daily lives.

This also explains why I’ve never found the ideas of the Boston Confucians appealing. Boston Confucianism by and large descends from Cheng-Chu school which emphasized abstract, rational thought. The problem I have with Boston Confucianism is the general problem that the Evidential School had with the Cheng-Chu school, that if you focus on the abstract, you lose touch with the concrete.

I should point out here that I think the term “Confucian” and “Confucianism” are wildly overused. It’s the “Cheng-Chu school” and the “Evidental school” and the “literati.” Adding the term Confucianism to these items really adds nothing, and actually distracts for understanding. For example, adding the term Confucian hides the fact that the “Confucian, traditional literati” of the 1890’s were by and large the exact same people (or at least the same families) as the “anti-Confucian, modernist scientists” of the 1920’s, and that there are huge continuities in thought. It also obscures the fact that the “Cheng-Chu school” and the “Evidental school” although both labelled as “Confucian” really have nothing in common with each other.

In the case of the Boston Confucians, I don’t think their project of making Confucianism into a universalist philosophy makes sense any more than it makes sense to turn Judaism into a universalist philosophy. There are specific rituals and practices I associate with “being Confucian” just as there are specific rituals and practices associated with being an orthodox Jew, (and I’d like one day for someone who is an orthodox Jew to explain why there are also so many Jewish astrophysicists. I suspect there are some very interesting commonalities.)

These rituals are not universal, but they are the scaffolding on which all of the abstract and general are connected to, and if you remove those then the whole ideological structure collapses. It’s impossible to get to the abstract and general without have concrete and specific rituals. They can be different rituals from group to group, but there has to be some ritual, and it’s a mistake to think that you can get to the general without some odd weird ritual.

Here is an interesting fact. My high school Latin teacher, who I always thought of as “very Chinese” enough he came from North Carolina and was caucasian. I think he understood the role of ritual, and had views that are similar to mine (although it is hard to say because I may have gotten my views from him). I mentioned that we were ideologically similar, which isn’t surprising since we both got some views form the Jesuits. One interesting fact, he became a Latin teacher because he was a Catholic traditionalist, who thought English masses were a bad thing.

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