Chinese philosophy - PDF book by Paul Carus

Chinese philosophy

Chinese philosophy


An exposition of the main characteristic features of Chinese thought


Chinese philosophy is as peculiar as the Chinese language and Chinese customs, and it is difficult for Western people to understand its nature or to appreciate its paramount influence upon the national character of the Celestial Empire. It is a rare mixture of deep thought and vain speculations, of valuable ideas and useless subtleties. It shows us a noble beginning and lame progress; a grand start and a dreary stagnation; a promising seed-time and a poor harvest. 

The heroes of thought who laid its foundations were so much admired that none dared to excel them, and thus before the grandeur of the original genius which looms up in the pre- historic age, the philosophy of all later generations is dwarfed into timid insignificance. 

The Chinese are naturally conservative because their written language is rigid and inflexible, rendering the task of forming new words extremely difficult. And the people who are hampered in forming new words are also hampered in their conception of new ideas and the discovery of new truths. But let us remember that this drawback of the Chinese script is only an incidental consequence of its extraordinary advantages. 

Consider that whatever changes there may have been in Chinese speech, i. e., in oral language, the Chinese scholars of today can read without great difficulty the books that were written two and one-half millenniums ago. Moreover, their ideographic script is more impressive and direct than our phonetic 2 The Chinese characters that appear in this article were made by Mr H. H. Clarke of the Stationers' Engraving Company, Chicago, method of writing in which the letters must be translated into sound before they can be understood by the reader. Dr Morrison says in the introductory remarks to his dictionary (p. u) : "As sight is quicker than hearing, so ideas reaching the mind by the eye are quicker, more striking, and vivid, than those which reach the mind by the slower progress of sound. The character forms a picture which really is, or, by early associations is considered, beautiful and impressive. T

he Chinese fine writing darts upon the mind with a vivid flash; a force and a beauty, of which alphabetic language is incapable." But it is not the rigidity of their language alone that is at the basis of the Chinese conservatism, it is also the simplicity of the fundamental ideas of their world-view and the striking symbolism in which they are expressed and which makes it impossible for the Chinese to think in any other modes of thought than their own. 

The inviolable power of their tradition is further strengthened by imperturbable patience and unbounded reverence for the sages of yore. The former renders the people submissive to many unheard-of cases of abuse on the part of the authorities, while the latter keeps them in faithful adhesion to established conditions. From time immemorial the highest ideal of Chinese thinkers has been to bow in modesty and submission to the insuperable grandeur of their ancient traditions. 

Criticism is very meek, originality of thought is strangled ere it can develop, and any attempted progress beyond the old masters appears to them as insanity. It is as if a Christian would dare to be better or wiser than Christ.

 In a word, the whole Chinese civilisation is saturated with the belief in divinity, perfection, and the unqualified excellence of its principles, doctrines, and institutions. In the following pages, we shall attempt to delineate in large outlines the philosophy that underlies the Chinese civilisation, and we hope that it will not only enable the reader to comprehend how the Chinese are hampered by their mode of notation in both their thought symbols and their language but that he will also learn to appreciate the causes which produce Chinese conservatism. For, indeed, there is in the Chinese world-conception so much that appeals to us as self-evident and on a priori consideration as a matter . of course, that we can understand how difficult it is for the Chinese to free themselves from the rigid forms of their traditions and adapt themselves to the more plastic modes of Western thought.

the book details :
  • Author: Paul Carus
  • Publication date: 1902
  • Company: Chicago: Open Court ; London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner

  • Download Chinese philosophy - 4 MB

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