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Early life and adventures

The philosophy of Wang Yang-ming.

He regarded Zhu Xi's account as not just theoretically mistaken but dangerously misleading for those seeking to improve themselves ethically. However, Wang recognized that students who had memorized Zhu Xi's interpretation to prepare for the civil service examinations would have difficulty understanding the text any other way.

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Consequently, when he accepted a new disciple, Wang often began by explaining his alternative interpretation of the Great Learning, and invited students to ask questions. For Zhu Xi, ge wu is primarily about gaining knowledge, while for Wang it is about motivation and action. According to Zhu Xi, the opening of the Great Learning lists a series of steps that are, at least to some extent, temporally distinct.

Wang demurs:. Wang's argument here is similar to the one he made about the verbal distinction between knowing and acting Section 3, above. He claimed that the ancient sages recognized that knowing and acting were ultimately one thing, but sometimes discussed them separately for pedagogic purposes, to help those who underemphasized one aspect of this unity. Similarly, Wang suggests, the Great Learning uses multiple terms to describe various aspects of the unified exercise of moral agency, but does not mean to suggest that these are actually distinct temporal stages:.

Wang even interprets the key metaphor of the Great Learning in a very different way from Zhu Xi. For Wang Yangming, these phrases describe what our attitudes toward good and evil can and should be at the very inception of ethical cultivation:. In summary, Zhu Xi and Wang agree that the Great Learning is an authoritative statement on ethical cultivation, expressing the wisdom of the ancient sages.

However, for Zhu Xi, it is analogous to a recipe, with distinct steps that must be performed in order. For Wang, the Great Learning is analogous to a description of a painting, in which shading, coloring, composition, perspective and other factors are aspects of a unified effect. Wang was not primarily interested in theoretical issues. However, some of his comments suggest a subtle metaphysical view that supports his conception of ethics. Part of the attraction of this vocabulary is that it gives philosophers drawn to a sort of monism the ability to distinguish between two aspects of what they regard as ultimately a unity.

Wang then anticipates a series of objections, and offers further thought experiments to motivate the conclusion that only some underlying metaphysical identity between humans and other things can account for the broad range of our reactions to them:. Wang's first three thought experiments seem fairly compelling at first glance. In addition, humans often do show pity for the suffering of non—human animals. Finally, the fact that humans maintain public parks and personal gardens shows some kind of concern for plants. It is not a decisive objection to Wang's view that humans often fail to manifest benevolence to other humans, non—human animals, or plants.

Wang is arguing that all humans manifest these responses sometimes and that this is best explained by his favored metaphysics. Like all Neo—Confucians, Wang readily acknowledges that selfish desires frequently block the manifestation of our shared nature.

However, there are three lines of objection to Wang's view that are harder to dismiss. We can perhaps motivate Wang's intuition by considering how we might react if we saw that someone had spray painted graffiti on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. The defacement of this scenic beauty would probably provoke sadness in those of us with an eye for natural beauty.

As Darwin himself suggested, our compassion for other humans can be explained in evolutionary terms.

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There is not an obvious evolutionary explanation for why humans seem engaged by non—living natural beauty, like mountain peaks, but as we have seen it seems questionable how common this trait is. He has frequently been an inspiration for critics of the orthodox Cheng—Zhu School, not just in China but also in Japan. Wang's thought was also an inspiration for some of the leaders of the Meiji Restoration , which began Japan's rapid modernization. In China, Confucianism underwent a significant shift during the Qing dynasty — with the development of the Evidential Research movement.

Evidential Research emphasized carefully documented and tightly argued work on concrete issues of philology, history, and even mathematics and civil engineering. However, he too was critical of both the Cheng—Zhu and the Lu—Wang schools. The three major prongs of Dai's critique of Neo—Confucians like Wang were that they 1 encouraged people to treat their subjective opinions as the deliverances of some infallible moral sense, 2 projected Buddhist—inspired concepts back onto the ancient Confucian classics, and 3 ignored the ethical value of ordinary physical desires.

New Confucianism is distinct from what we in the West call Neo—Confucianism, but it adopts many Neo—Confucian concepts, in particular the view that humans share a trans—personal nature which is constituted by the universal Pattern. Wang's philosophy is of considerable intrinsic interest, because of the ingenuity of his arguments, the systematicity of his views, and the precision of his textual exegesis. Beyond that, Wang's work has the potential to inform contemporary ethics. Although his particular metaphysics may not be appealing, many of his ideas can be naturalized.

Wang Yangming (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

It may be hard to believe that everything is unified by a shared, underlying Pattern, but it does seem plausible that we are deeply dependent upon one another and upon our natural environment for our survival and our identities. I am a husband, a father, a teacher, and a researcher, but only because I have a wife, children, students, and colleagues. In addition, Wang's fundamental criticism of Zhu Xi's approach, that it produces pedants who only study and talk about ethics, rather than people who strive to actually be ethical, has considerable contemporary relevance, particularly given the empirical evidence that our current practices of ethical education have little positive effect on ethical behavior Schwitzgebel and Rust ; and cf.

Schwitzgebel Other Internet Resources. Wang Yangming First published Fri Jul 11, Life 2. Intellectual Context 3. Unity of Knowing and Acting 4. Interpretation of the Great Learning 5. Metaphysics 6. Wang continued the serious study of Zhu Xi's interpretation of Confucianism, but was disillusioned by an experience in which he and a friend made a determined effort to apply what they took to be Zhu Xi's method for achieving sagehood: …my friend Qian and I discussed the idea that to become a sage or a worthy one must investigate all the things in the world.

But how can a person have such tremendous energy? I therefore pointed to the bamboos in front of the pavilion and told him to investigate them and see. Day and night Qian went ahead trying to investigate to the utmost the Pattern of the bamboos. He exhausted his mind and thoughts, and on the third day he was tired out and took sick. At first I said that it was because his energy and strength were insufficient. Therefore I myself went to try to investigate to the utmost. From morning till night, I was unable to find the Pattern of the bamboos.

Wang Yang-Ming

On the seventh day I also became sick because I thought too hard. In consequence we sighed to each other and said that it was impossible to be a sage a worthy, for we do not have the tremendous energy to investigate things that they have. Wang had to face considerable physical and psychological hardship in this post, but through these challenges he achieved a deep philosophical awakening , which he later expressed in a poem he wrote for his students: Everyone has within an unerring compass; The root and source of the myriad transformations lies in the mind.

I laugh when I think that, earlier, I saw things the other way around; Following branches and leaves, I searched outside! Ivanhoe , In other words, looking outside oneself for moral truth, as he and his friend Qian had tried to do when studying the bamboos, was ignoring the root of moral insight, which is one's own innate understanding. Benevolent people regard Heaven, Earth, and the myriad things as one Substance. Nothing is not oneself.

【Wang Yangming】王陽明「人書」W・リード先生のサムライ臨書/第10回

If you recognize something as yourself, there are no limits to how far [your compassion] will go. But if you do not identify something as part of yourself, you will have nothing to do with it. Lu argued that, because the Pattern is fully present in the mind of each human, it is not necessary to engage in an intellectually demanding process of study in order to recover one's moral knowledge: Righteousness and Pattern are in the minds of human beings. As a matter of fact, these are what Heaven has endowed us with, and they can never be effaced or eliminated [from our minds].

If one becomes obsessed with [desires for] things and reaches the point where one violates Pattern and transgresses righteousness, usually this is simply because one fails to reflect upon these things [i. If one truly is able to turn back and reflect upon these things, then what is right and wrong and what one should cleave to and what one should subtly reject will begin to stir, separate, become clear, and leave one resolute and without doubts.

Lu explains: Pure knowing lies within human beings; although some people become mired in dissolution, pure knowing still remains undiminished and enduring [within them]. Tiwald and Van Norden , Although there were always Confucians like Lu who disagreed with Zhu Xi, the latter's interpretation became dominant after the government sponsored it as the official interpretation for the civil service examinations. Unity of Knowing and Acting Some aspects of Wang's philosophy can be understood as refining or drawing out the full implications of Lu Xiangshan's critique of Zhu Xi.

Interpretation of the Great Learning In the standard Confucian curriculum of Wang's era, the Great Learning was the first of the Four Books that students were assigned, and Zhu Xi's commentary on it often made a lasting impression on them. In the opening of the Great Learning , Confucius describes the steps in self—cultivation: The ancients who desired to enlighten the enlightened Virtue of the world would first put their states in order. Those who desired to put their states in order would first regulate their families.

Those who desired to regulate their families would first cultivate their selves. Those who desired to cultivate their selves would first correct their minds.

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Those who desired to correct their minds would first make their thoughts have Sincerity. Those who desired to make their thoughts have Sincerity would first extend their knowledge. Translation slightly modified from Tiwald and Van Norden , — Ge wu is left unexplained in the Great Learning. In general, the human mind is sentient and never fails to have knowledge, while the things of the world never fail to have the Pattern. It is only because the Pattern is not yet exhaustively investigated that knowledge is not fully fathomed. Consequently, at the beginning of education in the Great Learning, the learner must be made to encounter the things of the world, and never fail to follow the Pattern that one already knows and further exhaust it, seeking to arrive at the farthest points.

When one has exerted effort for a long time, one day, like something suddenly cracking open, one will know in a manner that binds it all together. Wang demurs: While one can say that there is an ordering of first and last in this sequence of spiritual training, the training itself is a unified whole that cannot be divided into any ordering of first and last. While this sequence of spiritual training cannot be divided into any ordering of first and last, only when every aspect of its practice is highly refined can one be sure that it will not be deficient in the slightest degree.

Tiwald and Van Norden , Wang's argument here is similar to the one he made about the verbal distinction between knowing and acting Section 3, above. While each has its own place, in reality they are but a single thing.