The Influence of Ontology on Philosophy of Politics in Ancient China

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The Influence of Ontology on Philosophy of Politics in Ancient China

The Origin of the State

Mainly, the three philosophical teachings we are going to talk about, consider the genesis of the state as a result of the human nature and the virtues contained in it. According to Confucianism, the state is needed for establishing harmony in the inter-human relations, and with it, the complete development of the ethical norms to be achieved. Taoism, again, considers that a state like the Confucian one is not needed, but the state should represent a field where the individual, unobstructed of severe norms, will develop its abilities. Moism sees the state as opportunity for complete development of the universal love, according to which, everybody should be loved equally. Therefore, it is not wrong to say that the political teaching of these schools emerges from their ethical-anthropological teaching. But, if we stick to this statement and don’t look backwards at their ontological teaching, we can come into incomplete comprehension of the political philosophy of these schools, and the schools after, as well. Which means, if we want to realize the genesis of the state, we must go back to the genesis of the world.

a) Confucianism

In Book of Songs1F we read: “Heaven created people and gave all creatures suitable law, so following this law people can reach their moral perfection”.2F Confucianism accepts this understanding. According to Confucius (551-479 B.C.), everything has its own purpose. So the state, also, became as a need of man to fulfill his purpose, that is, to fully develop the inter-human relations and the rituals. Confucius sees the state as a dynamic element, which emerges from the interaction of the opposed forces. These opposed forces find its source in the cosmic forces yin and yang. Yin represents the passive and yang the active element in the process of creation. It’s normal for Chinese philosophers when they theorize about the creation of the world, not to forget to include these two forces. Regardless of whether Heaven, Tao, or some other creator creates the world, yin and yang are always present to enable the creation. They always set as opposed to each other, and the things in the world undertake their characteristics. So, we have heaven, sun, male, light, warm, which are characteristics of yang, and earth, moon, female, dark, cold, which are characteristics of yin. Their mutual relations and overcoming of the former, and next moment of the latter, enable the existence of the world.
Hereof, Confucius thinks that yin and yang precisely contribute for the creation of the state, as well. Heaven created humans, and some of them endowed with yang and they became men, and some of them with yin and they became women. As the world became from yin and yang, so did the society because of the difference that there is between man and woman. Confucianism speaks about five kinds of relations between people, out of which the above mentioned between man and woman is basic, and out of it, the others can be deduced: parent – child, older child – younger child, ruler – subject, and the relation between friends. These five relations make the genesis of the state possible. By it, Confucius sets the relations between men on metaphysical basis, and the society only follows and imitates the genesis and the development of the world.
Mencius (371-289 B.C.) completes Confucius with his thinking that when Heaven created man endowed him with good nature, which is consisted of four virtues: human-heartedness, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom. But, Heaven does not let man act by himself with these virtues, for, he could not develop them fully, or he could deviate. Mencius says that men “can not fully apply their natural powers”.3F That is why Heaven places man in community with other people, by which human virtues could be preserved and developed. With the very creation, man is doomed to live in community, he is zoon politikon.
His Confucian associate and bitter opponent Hsun Tzu (320-238 B.C.), does not deny the involvement of Heaven in creation of the state. But, his starting point is different. He asserts that Heaven created man with bad nature. Yet, both of them tend that man should possess good nature, with a difference that in Mencius man is good with its creation itself, and in Hsun Tzu man becomes good only with the help of the state. Thus, the process of creation of man, i.e. world in general, in Hsun Tzu ends with the creation of the state. Heaven establishes the state in order to finish its purpose, that is, to make the man a being with good nature.
From the above mentioned it can be concluded that man should follow Heaven. Heaven, which created the things, also created norms of behaviour, from which the king-sages make rules and laws. Confucius says: “Only Heaven is great and only Yao4F can imitate its greatness”.5F Heaven possesses all virtues and man must imitate it. Heaven loves people without exception and man should love other people. Man by following Heaven establishes harmony with it and thus “the universal ego melts with the individual one”.6F

b) Taoism

Apart from Confucianism which sets philosophy of politics together with ethics as main courses in its teaching, Taoism is more directed to metaphysics and mysticism. In Book of Change it is said that the political affairs are represented by yang, and yin represents withdrawal from politics and engaging with nature. If we take ourselves according to the meaning of this statement, then Confucianism is yang, and Taoism yin. But, however little is written about politics in the Taoist sources, still we mustn’t neglect it.
According to Taoism the world becomes from Tao. Tao can be translated as way, principle, logos etc. No one can know Tao and no one can say anything about Tao. That is why people call it Tao, which means it gives the way, the principle, the logos of all existing. If we want to know Tao there is only one way, and that is falling into mysticism.
Tao does not underlie to ethical qualifications, for Tao it’s not possible to say either that is good or bad. But, its own existence is good by itself, because Tao creates laws that sets in the world, according to which all processes should come to pass, and if there would be no laws, the world would have been in chaos. Those are the natural laws and from them further on the Taoist ethics and the Taoist philosophy of politics are deduced. Nature, as it is, is the most important segment of human life and it cannot be changed, Taoists maintain; that is why the state should be treated as part of the nature in which the work of Tao is to be more noticeable then the work of man.
Tao acts spontaneously and in creating the world doesn’t involve much effort. Lao Tzu (604-? B.C.) says: “Tao does nothing, and yet there is nothing that is not done”.7F Here we speak about the famous Taoist principle wu wei, which can be translated as non-doing. Wu wei does not mean total passivity, but letting oneself to his natural urges without obstructing them. Thus, Tao let itself to its urge and spontaneously creates the world, the man and the society. Because of it, the state mustn’t be established by force, but spontaneously following the natural laws set by Tao. The purpose of the state is to help every individual to live in accordance with natural laws, which means to have a simple life and lead compliant to wu wei.
Here we come to the mystical element of the philosophy of politics. Tao is one, and the world that it creates is one. But, Tao doesn’t stay out of the world; Tao is constantly in it, so, Tao and the world make one. Because the state becomes in natural way and is part of the world, it pertains to that unity. Therefore, a real state is the one that functions naturally, not with strict laws.

c) Moism

Considering the genesis of the state, Moism maintain the view, which in Western terminology can be called social contract. People first lived in a natural condition where everybody had his own opinion and thought that he is right. When two people would meet, both of them would try to obtrude their opinion onto the other. Because nobody withdrew his opinion, an argument started. That was a time of general chaos where “man to man is a wolf”. People not standing anymore to live in such a condition agreed to create a state and proclaimed a ruler. Thus, Mo Tzu (468-376 B.C.) and his followers describe the real procedure in the genesis of the state. But, what we are interested in is its metaphysical background.
Like Confucianists, Moists also take Heaven as ontological principle, with the difference that they have a more religious approach to it. What creates the world is the Will of Heaven. The Will of Heaven is actually the will to life. Heaven wishes to live and through love keep up alive all that exists. Love of Heaven is all-embracing and equal to any thing. Man should subdue to the Will of Heaven, and should love all people equally without exception. Heaven loves people, therefore establishes the state because by that the love could be freely exercised. Mo Tzu says: “When God and spirits established the state and cities and appointed a ruler, it was not for higher rang or any material profit. … It was to provide good living of the people and eliminate their difficulties, to enrich the poor and to increase the small, from danger to bring safety and from chaos to bring order”.8F Hence, the state is field where man subdues and leads himself according to the Will of Heaven, accepts love from it and following its example loves all people equally. Heaven will be happy only then when people will exercise the all-embracing love, and if not all, at least most of the people will be happy.

1. In pre-Confucian China there are six major works, so called Six Classics, which represent basis of Confucianism and Chinese philosophy in general. The Six Classics are: Book of Songs, Book of History, Book of Change, Book of Rituals, Book of Music, and Spring and Autumn Annals. Of these, only Book of Music is not preserved.
2. Compare: Waley, Arthur, The Book of Songs, George Aleen and Unwin Ltd., London, 1954, p.258
3. Compare: The Book of Mencius, Bk 6A, ch. 6, in A Source Book of Philosophy, tr. and comp. by Wing-Tsit Chan, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1973, p. 54
4. Legendary king-sage which existence is not surely confirmed, but is assumed that he lived in the middle of the second millenium B.C.
5. Compare: The Analects, tr. by Ku Hung-ming, The Shin Sheng Daily News, Taipei, 1984, VIII, 19, p. 40
6. Chin, Francis Y. P., Confucius and Aristotle: A Comparative Study on the Confucian and Aristotelian Political Ideas, The Committee for Compilation and Examination of the Series of Chinese Classics, Taipei, 1981, p. 62
7. Compare: Lao Tzu, ch. 37, in A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, p. 158
8. Compare: The Works of Motse, translated by Y. P. Mei, Arthur Probstain, London, 1929, p. 58-59

AuthorAleksandar Stamatov
2018-08-21T17:23:34+00:00 November 1st, 2002|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 29|0 Comments