The philosophy of Wang Yangming (1916) by Frederick Goodrich Henke

The philosophy of Wang Yangming (1916) by Frederick Goodrich Henke

Wang Yangming

Wang Yangming (1472–1529) was a Chinese statesman, general, and Neo–Confucian philosopher. He was one of the leading critics of the orthodox Neo–Confucianism of Zhu Xi (1130–1200). Wang is perhaps best known for his doctrine of the “unity of knowing and acting,” which can be interpreted as a denial of the possibility of weakness of will.


Little has been done to provide detailed information for the European student of the history of philosophy, concerning the trend of Chinese philosophic thought since the time of Confucius and Mencius. Owing to this the impression prevails in some quarters that, apart from the Five Classics, the Four Books, and Lao-tzu's Tao-Teh-King, the Chinese have produced little that is. worthwhile. In the year 1911, I was asked to make a special study of the philosophy of Wang Yang-ming (A.D. 1472-1529) for the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, of Shanghai. As a result, I undertook a thorough investigation of his standpoint; and in the autumn of 1912 read a paper before the Society on "A Study in the Life and Philosophy of Wang Yang-ming. '  Having become greatly interested in his approach to the problems of philosophy and knowing that his thought js exercising a profound influence upon the Chinese and the Japanese, I decided to translate his "Biography," "Instructions for Practical Life," "Record of Discourses," and "Letters" into English. The present volume is the outcome, which I now offer to students everywhere, with the hope that it may inspire a desire for a fuller knowledge of the splendid achievements of the Chinese, and a deeper appreciation of their worth.

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