How does Chinese philosophy influence you?

Think about a “Chinese Philosophy “ can be very misleading. In fact, there is no such thing as a “Philosophy “ in (Ancient) China.

During centuries, the absence of proper logos in Chinese classical writings has lead thinkers from the West to consider Chinese thoughts only as wisdow, that is pre-philosophical. The category of 哲学 used today for “philosophy “ in Chinese had only appeared at the end of the 19th century. Borrowed from the Japanese word tetsugaku, it aimed mostly at giving credit to study of classic Chinese writing in a universitary context dominated by Western influence.

So what we usually called “Chinese philosophy “ is a modern vision of an heteroclit corpus that has finally only one common characteristic : the language. Or more than the language, we should say the Chinese writing system.

In my opinion, the most influencial element of Chinese “philosophy “ is the intimate relation between the practice of thought and the gesture, that is the practice of life. Art, language, painting, writing, calligraphy, music are tied altogether in a way that has no equivalent in Western history.

For philosophers from the West, poetry, music and painting are great thematics for analysis and starting points for their theories. In China, they are exercises of the mind through constant practices. Here, a certain conception of truth has to be found inside action, in the perfectionment of the gesture (gongfu 功夫). For example, the practice of description in the Zhuang Zi goes with a practice of meditation. Both converge towards a clear endeavior : get closer to “nature “, that is animal, plants, minerals, etc.

This importance of the surrounding elements (all living things) versus the internal life of a rational being that has been the subject of Western metaphysics so far is another crucial element that Chinese history of thoughts bring in the debate. In many writings (as the Lao Zi), human seems to be located at the lowest degree in the hierarchy of importance. The purpose of spiritual life and practice for humanity (i.e. philosophy and religions) is to find a state of harmony with other beings. Humans could access a better condition only if they success in reaching the “nature “ (自然) by acting or non-acting (無爲) in the case of Taoism.

This big idea of a daily practice/work to reach an harmony with nature could be a great basis to rethink our relation to other beings in this age of environmental crisis.

This text was originally published in quora.

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