2015年1月18日 星期日

《王陽明,中國之唯心學者》 Wang Yang Ming, a Chinese Idealist by Frederick G. Henke


 Frederick G. Henke (可能1875?-1951? ),翻譯王陽明之《傳習錄》、《大學問》等(Open Court出版社 ),他不知所根據的是選本。


1914.4.10 胡適認為此篇《王陽明,中國之唯心學者》,"殊有心得,他日當與通問信也。"

Wang Yang Ming, a Chinese Idealist. - PhilPapers

philpapers.org/rec/HENWYM


The Monist

Volume 24, Issue 1, January 1914

Frederick G. Henke
Pages 17-34
DOI: 10.5840/monist191424117
Wang Yang Ming, a Chinese Idealist




WANG YANG MING, A CHINESE IDEALIST. 1 

TO the philosophic basis of her civilization, more than 
to any other single factor, is due the survival of 
China's social institutions and the preservation of her na- 
tional integrity. The influence of Confucius and Mencius 
upon Chinese life and thought has been more penetrating 
and profound than the impress of Greek philosophy upon 
European life and culture. As in the development of philo- 
sophic thought in India interpretation always harks back 
to the Rig Veda for its authority, so for the philosophic 
expositions of Chinese philosophers the criterion of ortho- 
doxy is in accord with the Four Books and the Five Clas- 
sics. This, however, does not exclude the possibility of 
spirited discussion with reference to the precise connotation 
of certain classic expressions and the subsequent forma- 
tion of systems varying as widely as realism and idealism. 
The object of this essay is to familiarize the reader with one 
of these systems, the most important one that has appeared 
in China within the modern period, — that of the philos- 
opher Wang Yang Ming. 

The date of Wang Yang Ming's life is approximately 
1472-1528. As compared with contemporary European 
history, he lived in the period of the great maritime discov- 
eries and at the beginning of the Reformation. He was 
fearlessly propounding his view in China shortly before 

1 Extracts from a paper read before the Royal Asiatic Society, Shanghai, 
published in this form with permission of the Council. It constitutes a part 
of the result of two years' research in the Chinese text of the philosophy and 
letters of Wang Yang Ming. 



1 8 THE MONIST. 

Giordano Bruno, after a life of restless wandering in search 
of truth, suffered martyrdom for his philosophic exposition 
of the universe, and about a century previous to Hobbes, 
Descartes and Spinoza. The spirit which actuated him 
was closely akin to that of the Reformation. Thoroughly 
dissatisfied with what seemed to him useless striving for 
form and style in literary composition and with the vain 
discussions of scholars, who ignored the great moral, re- 
ligious and political issues of his day and gave an incorrect 
interpretation of the fundamental principles of human life 
and the universe, he strove to bring the leaders of his 
people back to the original path of duty outlined in the Four 
Books and the Five Classics. 

At the age of thirty-seven, while serving as a disgraced 
official, because of the enmity of the eunuch Liu Tsing, in 
the government despatch service in the province of Kwei- 
chow, he received his great enlightenment. His biog- 
rapher describes Lungch'ang where he was stationed as a 
resort of venomous snakes and poisonous worms, inhabited 
by babbling barbarians with whom he could not converse. 
The situation was extremely critical. He feared that at 
any moment a decree from the capital might order his 
death. Moreover, his followers all fell ill. Nothing 
daunted, he chopped wood himself, carried water, and 
made soft-boiled rice for them, cheering them with songs 
and stories of home. Also, in view of his own precarious 
position, he had a sarcophagus made. In the midst of all 
these difficulties, the chief subject of his meditation was, 
"What additional methods would a sage adopt under simi- 
lar circumstances?" At midnight while on his couch, he 
suddenly realized what the sage meant by "investigating 
things for the sake of extending knowledge to the utmost." 
Overjoyed, he unconsciously called out and, getting up, 
paced the room. "I was wrong," he said, "in looking for 
fundamental principles in things and affairs. My nature is 



WANG YANG MING, A CHINESE IDEALIST. 19 

sufficient." From that time he was a faithful defender of 
idealism against the realism of the philosopher Chu, whose 
commentaries on the classics were considered as an author- 
ity at that time. 

The philosophy of Wang Yang Ming, the teacher of 
Yang Ming grotto, is to-day held in high esteem by the 
Japanese as an ideal statement of the fundamental prin- 
ciples of life and the universe, and has been a profound 
factor in their moral development during the last hundred 
years. In China a tide of rising popularity is rapidly 
bringing it out of obscurity into the forefront. Not as a 
closet-philosopher but as a military hero, patriot, and re- 
former-statesman, his ideal was to bring the scholars of 
his day back to the true learning of the sages. Educated 
men of his day spent their time in perfecting library style, 
their one ambition being success in examinations and a 
high literary degree, that thereby they might gain emolu- 
ment and fame ; but he considered such procedure ethically 
unsound. For him the greatest thing was not study to 
become a Chinshih, but study to become a sage. 2 His was 
an attitude of mind that dwelt upon great moral values, 
and found fullness of life and moral integrity of greater 
worth than fame and gain. One day while feasting with 
several of his disciples, he took occasion to lay bare the 
futility of his day. "We eat and drink," he said, "only in 
order to nourish the body. The food which has been eaten 
must be digested. If it collects in the stomach it causes 
dyspepsia, and how can it then become muscle? Later 
scholars study extensively and know much, but what they 
read and know remains undigested. They all have dys- 
pepsia." 3 

'Chinshih (錦坤兄說是進士)under the old system of literary examinations was a degree 
corresponding approximately to the European "Doctor of Philosophy." Once 
attained, honor, influence and position were assured. 

* The Philosophy of Wang Yang Ming, Book 2, Yu Lu, p. 6. All refer- 
ences to the Philosophy of Wang Yang Ming in this paper are to the Chinese 



20 THE MONIST. 

Confusion and display seemed to him to be prominently 
characteristic of contemporary learning. Failing to func- 
tion properly in the life process, it wrought havoc wher- 
ever it prevailed. He compared the students of his day 
to a theatre where a hundred different acts are presented. 
"The players cheer, jest, hop and skip. They emulate one 
another in cleverness and ingenuity. They laugh in the 
play and strive for the palm of beauty. On all sides they 
emulate one another. The people look toward the front 
and gaze toward the rear, but cannot see it all. Their ears 
and their eyes are confused; their mental and physical 
energy is disturbed. Day and night they spend in amuse- 
ment. They are steeped in it and rest in it as though they 
were insane. They do not even know what has become of 
their family property. Under the influence of such schol- 
ars, princes and kings are confused and confounded and all 
their lives devote themselves to vain, useless literary style. 
They do not know what they say. The learning of the 
sages is daily left more in the distance and becomes more 
obscured, while practices are directed toward acquiring 
honor and gain. The farther they go the more they fall 
into error. Though some of them have been deceived by 
Buddhism and Taoism, yet even the sayings of Gautama 
and Lao Tze are unable to influence permanently the mind 
that is devoted to honor and gain." 4 

In order to appreciate Wang Yang Ming's point of 
view, it is necessary to keep this steadily in mind, for his 
interest was that of a reformer and thus largely ethical. 
He attempted to place learning and conduct upon a firm 
basis. The glamour of a superficial philosophic foundation 
had no fascination for a man of his practical bent of mind. 
He sought bed-rock; he wished to find the very source of 
life and the universe. After having sought vainly in Bud- 
edition of his work, — the only one available. While they are not of general 
interest, they will serve to locate the references for such as read Chinese. 
* The Philosophy of Wang Yang Ming, Book 3, p. 71. 



WANG YANG MING, A CHINESE IDEALIST. 21 

dhism and Taoism for relief ; after having tried the philos- 
opher Chu's instructions to search for principles in external 
things, but without success; at last in the middle of the 
night while among the barbarians in far Kwei Chow he 
came to a state of realization. It was as though the fog 
had suddenly cleared away. "My nature is sufficient," he 
said. Upon this foundation the whole structure of his on- 
tology, cosmology, and ethics rests. 

What does Wang Yang Ming mean when he speaks of 
nature? He discusses it in a somewhat fragmentary man- 
ner a number of times both in his discourses and in his 
letters, so that by bringing together the principal ideas 
involved we are able to get an approximate idea of what his 
conception includes. Luh Ch'en, one of his disciples, asked 
him the question, "Are the feelings of commiseration, 
shame, dislike, modesty, complaisance, approval, and dis- 
approval to be considered nature manifesting virtue?" To 
this Wang Yang Ming replied : "There is only one nature 
and no other. Referring to its form and substance, it is 
Heaven; considered as ruler or lord, it is Shang-ti (God) ; 
viewed as functioning, it is fate ; as given to men, it is dis- 
position; and as controlling the person, it is mind; mani- 
fested by mind, it is called filial piety when it meets parents, 
and loyalty when it meets the prince. Proceeding from this 
on, it is inexhaustible, but it is all one nature. Man should 
use his energy on his nature. If he is able to understand 
the connotation of the word 'nature,' he will be able to 
distinguish ten thousand principles." 5 A careful perusal 
of this makes it evident that this subtle something which 
Wang designates "nature" is so profound, so rich, so all- 
inclusive, that viewed as a whole the absolutist would prop- 
ably greet it as his old friend the absolute, even though 
it be in Chinese garb. At another time Wang Yang Ming 
said: "Heaven and earth are one structure with me; spirits 

' Ibid., Book i, p. 26. 



22 THE MONIST. 

and gods are in one all-pervading unity with me." 6 It is, 
under such circumstances, reasonable to suppose that the 
discussions of nature by men of the past would be various. 
"There were those," he said, "that discussed it from the 
point of its underlying substance; there were those that 
based their discussions on its manifestations; there were 
those that proceeded from its source; there were those 
that proceeded from the point of its defects and corrup- 
tions. Taking it all together, they all referred to this one 
nature, but there were degrees of depth in what they saw." 7 

Thus far, however, the discussion emphasizes the pro- 
fundity, abstruseness, comprehensiveness, and wealth of 
manifestation of nature in a very general way, but fails to 
point out accurately its fundamental character. Intelli- 
gence appears to be of prime importance. But is it really 
so, or is it perhaps only a by-product, while mechanism 
is basal? Wang does not fail to elucidate this point. 
"There is one nature," he asserts, "and that is all. Charity, 
righteousness, propriety, and wisdom are ab initio char- 
acteristic of it; quick apprehension, clear discrimination, 
far-reaching intelligence, and all-embracing knowledge are 
native to it. Pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy are the feel- 
ings of this nature." 8 Of its qualities of character, benevo- 
lence, which the sages have designated as the highest vir- 
tue, is the principle of continuous creating and growth. 
This principle is boundless in extent and everywhere pres- 
ent, but in its process and manifestation it advances grad- 
ually. 9 

However, it was in men's mind that he primarily was 
interested. "My own nature is sufficient," 10 he said when 
he came to a state of realization. If nature at large be des- 
ignated as the macrocosm, then human nature is the micro- 

'Ibid., Book 2, p. 26. ' Ibid., Book 2, p. 31. 

'Ibid., Book 3, p. 20. 'Ibid., Book 1, p. 37. 

"Ibid., Biography, p. 8. 



WANG YANG MING, A CHINESE IDEALIST. 23 

cosm, and for him human nature was the human mind. 
He was taking recreation at Nan Ch'en when one of his 
friends pointed to the flowers and trees on a cliff and said, 
"You say that there is nothing under heaven outside the 
mind. What relation to my mind have these flowers and 
trees on the high mountain, which blossom and drop of 
themselves ?" Wang replied : "When you cease regarding 
these flowers, they become quiet with your mind. When 
you see them, their colors at once become clear. From 
this you can know that these flowers are not external to 
your mind."" This is undisguised idealism in which the 
microcosm creates as truly as the macrocosm. In the great 
all-pervading unity the most differentiated, highly special- 
ized portion is the human mind. It manifests the only 
creative activity that men can really know. It is self- 
sufficient and embraces the universe. He said again and 
again that the mind of man is ab initio law, that it is the 
embodiment of the principles of Heaven. Thus its very 
essence is natural law, though not in any partial, super- 
ficial sense. There are no other principles operative any 
where, for the mind is so all-embracing that it has no within 
and without." 

Chiu Ch'uan had great difficulty in comprehending 
Wang's explanation of things, for from his common-sense 
point of view things were external. He questioned his 
teacher's position that a thing is identical with the pres- 
ence of an idea. "Since things are external," he said, "how 
can they be one with the person, the mind, purpose and 
knowledge?" To which the teacher replied: "The ears, 
eyes, mouth, nose and four members constitute the person, 
or body; yet without the mind how can the person see, 
hear, speak, or move? On the other hand, if the mind 
wishes to see, hear, speak, or move, it is unable to do so 
without the use of ears, eyes, mouth, nose, and the four 

u Ibid., Book, 2, p. 17. "Ibid., Book 2, p. 4. 



24 THE MONIST. 

members. From this it follows that if there is no mind, 
there is no person, or body, and that if there is no person, 
or body, there is no mind. If one refers only to the place 
it occupies, it is called person, or body; if one refers to the 
matter of control, it is called mind; if one refers to the 
activities of the mind, it is called purpose ; if one refers to 
the intelligence of the purpose, it is called understanding; 
if one refers to the relations (implications) of the purpose, 
it is called things." 13 From this it is evident that from 
Wang Yang Ming's point of view the volitional activity 
of the mind is true creative activity. In case the purpose 
is used with reference to the flowers growing on the side 
of the mountain precipice, then these flowers are a thing. 
Take away the purpose and ipso facto the flowers are no 
more. "When the purpose is used with reference to serv- 
ing one's parents, then serving one's parents must be con- 
sidered a thing. If it is used with reference to governing 
the people, then governing the people must be considered 
a thing. When the purpose is used in study, then study 
must be considered a thing ; and when it is used in hearing 
litigation then this is a thing. Wherever the purpose is 
applied, there some definite thing is present. If there is a 
particular purpose, there is a particular thing present cor- 
responding to it; and without this particular purpose the 
particular thing is lacking. Is not then," Wang asked, "a 
thing identical with the functioning of the purpose?" 14 

These, in brief, are the fundamental principles of his 
metaphysics. That he considered volitional activity as 
basal is evident, but will be more so as epistemological and 

ethical phases of his system are discussed. 

* * * 

For Wang Yang Ming the epistemological problem 
centered primarily about the question of investigating 
things for the avowed purpose of extending knowledge to 

"Ibid., Book 2, p. 2. " Ibid., Book 3, p. 58. 



WANG YANG MING, A CHINESE IDEALIST. 25 

the utmost. Readers of the Chinese classics will recognize 
that this idea is mentioned in the Great Learning in the 
introductory text of Confucius. The difficulty lies not so 
much in the words themselves, for these seem clear enough, 
but in their correct interpretation. Like the oracles of 
Apollo at Delphi, a closer examination shows them to have 
an obscure, ingeniously ambiguous connotation. The ques- 
tion is : What does "investigation of things for the purpose 
of extending knowledge to the utmost" imply? 

The philosopher Chu in his commentary on the fifth 
chapter of the Great Learning had said: "If we wish to 
carry our knowledge to the utmost we must investigate 
the principles of all things with which we come into con- 
tact." 15 Since one of the necessary qualifications of a sage 
is just this, that he have extended his knowledge to the ut- 
most, it was but natural that Wang, whose one ambition 
was to become a sage, should attempt to carry this out 
into practice. He chose as his point of departure the more 
manifest interpretation of the philosopher Chu, and tried 
to follow out the instructions therein given. He and his 
friend Ch'ien discussed the possibility of investigating 
everything under heaven. Pointing to a bamboo in front 
of the pavilion, he told Ch'ien to investigate it. Both day 
and night Ch'ien worked at the task and after three days 
he was physically and mentally so exhausted that he took 
sick. Wang feared that this was solely due to lack of 
strength and energy, and himself undertook to carry on the 
investigation. Though he worked day and night he, too, 
was unable to understand the principles of the bamboo, and 
after seven days became ill from over-exertion. Discour- 
aged, both Ch'ien and he gave up. "We can become neither 
sages nor virtuous men," they said, "for we lack the great 
strength required to carry on the investigation of things. 16 

" The Great Learning, Chap. 5. 

" The Philosophy of Wang Yang Ming, Book 2, p. 22. 



26 THE MONIST. 

Not until his enlightenment while at Lungch'ang did he 
realize the futility of attempting thus to investigate the 
things under heaven. There had been sages in the past, 
this he knew. From his own experience he saw that a 
thorough investigation of so commonplace a thing as a 
bamboo was not possible. How much less the investigation 
of all things ! From now on his task was that of expound- 
ing a better way. 

Relief was found in adopting the view that knowledge 
can be extended to the utmost only by a thorough devotion 
to nature. If the principles of things and affairs are to 
be exhaustively investigated, and thereby knowledge com- 
pleted, it must be as a result of understanding and develop- 
ing the mind. Not things without, but mind itself, offers 
the solution. The point of departure is the intuitive faculty 
or, in other words, nature itself. "This seeking for funda- 
mental principles in things and affairs," said he, "is exem- 
plified in seeking the principle of filial piety in one's parents. 
In case a person seeks the principle of filial piety in the 
parents, is it then in his own mind or is it in the person of 
the parents ? In case it is in the person of the parents, is 
it then true that after the parents are dead, the mind lacks 
the principle of filial piety? If one sees a child fall into 
a well, there must be commiseration. Is this principle of 
commiseration in the child, or is it found in the intuitive 
faculty of the mind? Whether the individual is unable 
to follow the child and rescue it from the well or seizes it 
with his hand and saves it, this principle is involved. Is 
it then in the person of the child or is it rather in the intui- 
tive faculty of the mind?" 17 At another time he discussed 
this matter with Liang Jih Fu. "Tell me," he said, "what 
is meant by a thorough investigation of the principles of 
events and things?" Liang replied: "It would imply that 
in caring for one's parents one must thoroughly investigate 

"Ibid., Book, 3, p. 54. 



WANG YANG MING, A CHINESE IDEALIST. 27 

the principles of filial piety, or in serving one's prince one 
must thoroughly investigate the principles of loyalty." 
Thereupon Wang said : "Are the principles of loyalty and 
filial piety to be investigated on the bodies of the prince 
and parents, or in one's own mind? If they are to be in- 
vestigated in the mind, that would imply a thorough in- 
vestigation of the principles of the mind." 18 

The problem of knowledge must be solved by depending 
upon the intuitive faculty and developing it. The devel- 
opment of knowledge refers to the development of intuitive 
knowledge, for the field of knowledge and the field of 
intuitive knowledge are conterminous. In so far as the 
intuitive faculty remains undeveloped, knowledge is unde- 
veloped ; and in so far as it is developed, the individual has 
knowledge of things and affairs. Intuitive knowledge 
does not come from seeing and hearing, though sense-per- 
ception is itself a function of the intuitive faculty. Apart 
from it there is no knowledge." It knows without cogita- 
tion, and is able to act without learning. 20 Wang praises 
it as being absolutely perfect. When Chiu Ch'uan asked 
him about the method of extending knowledge, he said: 
"The intuitive faculty is your standard. If your thoughts 
are right it is aware of it, and if they are wrong it also 
knows it. You must not blind it nor impose upon it, but 
must truly follow its lead. Whatever is good should be 
cherished; whatever is evil should be discarded. What 
confidence and joy there is in this ! This is the true secret 
of the investigation of things and the real method of ex- 
tending knowledge to the utmost. If you do not depend 
upon these true secrets, how will you engage in an investi- 
gation of things? I, too, have appreciated only in the 
past few years that it is to be thus explained. At first I 
doubted that a simple obedience to the intuitive faculty 

"Ibid., Book 1, p. 49. "Ibid., Book 3, p. 42. 

"Ibid., Book 3, p. 46. 



28 THE MONIST. 

would be sufficient. When I had very carefully examined 
it, I found that it has no deficiency whatsoever." 21 

The ethics of Wang Yang Ming's system is also firmly 
lodged in his exposition of the intuitive faculty, which he 
considers is the point of clearness that natural law attains 
in its moral aspects. For this reason intuitive knowledge 
of good is to be identified with moral principles. The in- 
tuitive faculty is tranquil; it is the equilibrium in which 
there is no stirring of the feelings. He who would under- 
stand the path of duty must exercise this faculty, for it 
alone marks clearly the path of duty. He who would 
choose the right and expel the evil must make use of it, for 
there is nothing in the categories of right and wrong that 
it does not naturally know. The highest good is simply 
the development of the intuitive faculty to the utmost. The 
finished product is a sage. "All-embracing and vast, he 
is like heaven ; deep and active like a fountain, he is like the 
abyss." 22 Serving his fellow-men and regulating his pas- 
sion-nature, he is actuated by the desire to be a man who 
in his eager and unceasing pursuit of knowledge forgets 
his food. Forgetting his sorrow in the joy of the attain- 
ment of knowledge, he is never distressed. With reference 
to the principles of Heaven he is both omniscient and om- 
nipotent. 23 Completely dominated by moral principles and 
wholly unhampered by passion, his integrity and moral 
worth are of the quality of the finest gold. The capacity 
may vary from man to man, but the quality is always of the 
highest and purest type. 24 

A deaf and dumb man, Yang Mao by name, visited 
Wang Yang Ming, who conferred with him by means of 
writing. The ensuing conversation, which may well serve 

*Ibid., Book 2, pp. 4 and 5. 

" Doctrine of the Mean, Chap. 31, § 3. 

" Philosophy of Wang Yang Ming, Book 2, p. 8. 

"Ibid., Book i, pp. 40! 



WANG YANG MING, A CHINESE IDEALIST. 20, 

to exemplify his method of dealing with the ethical prob- 
lem, was as follows: 2 " 

Wang Yang Ming said: "You are unable to speak or 
discuss either that which is right or that which is wrong. 
You cannot hear that which is right nor that which is 
wrong. Is your mind still able to distinguish right from 
wrong?" 

Mao replied : "I know right and wrong." 

"In that case," said Wang, "though your mouth is different from that of other men, and your ears are not like 
other men's ears, yet your mind is like that of other men." 

Mao replied in the affirmative by nodding his head and 
thanking with his hands. 

"In man," wrote Wang, "the mind alone is important. 
If it cherishes the principles of Heaven, it is the mind of 
sages and virtuous men. In that case, though the mouth 
cannot speak and the ears cannot hear, it is only sageness 
and virtue that cannot speak or hear. If on the other hand 
the mind does not cherish the principles of Heaven, it is the 
mind of birds and animals. Though under such circumstances there were the power of speech and audition, yet it 
would be merely an instance of a speaking and hearing 
bird or animal." 

Mao struck his breast and pointed toward heaven. 

Wang said : "Toward your parents you should exhaust 
the filial piety of your mind ; toward your elder brother, its 
respectfulness; toward your village clan, your neighbors, 
your kindred and your relatives, its complaisance, harmony, respectfulness,
 and docility. When you see others 
prosperous, you should not covet their wealth and advan- 
tage. Within yourself you should practice that which is 
right and not that which is wrong. It is really not neces- 
sary that you should hear it when others say that you are 

■ Ibid., Book 4, pp. 83 and 84. 



30 THE MONIST. 

right, nor do you need to hear it when they speak of your 
mistakes." 

Mao nodded his head and bowed in thanks. 

"Since you are unable to discuss or hear right or wrong, 
you are saved the necessity of making distinctions between 
a great deal of idle, useless right and wrong. The dis- 
cussion of truth and error begets truth and error and 
brings forth trouble and vexation. By hearing good and 
evil one adds to one's right and wrong and to one's trou- 
bles. Since you cannot speak or hear, you are spared a 
good deal of useless good and evil, as well as much trouble 
and vexation. You are much more cheerful, happy, and 
self-possessed than others." 

Mao struck his breast, pointed toward heaven, and re- 
placed his feet on the ground. 

Thereupon Wang said : "My instruction to you to-day 
is that it is only necessary to act in accordance with your 
mind and not necessary to speak; that it is only necessary 
that you comply with your mind and not necessary to hear." 

Mao prostrated himself, saluted, and departed. 

In its practical aspects, Wang's ethical system places 
special emphasis upon action as the sine qua non of moral 
progress. Knowledge and action, theory and practice, are 
so interrelated that the former does not exist without the 
latter. Nature can be developed only as the individual 
directly applies what he knows. In case he fails to act, the 
knowledge that he supposes himself to have has not really 
been acquired. Here Wang is not far from pragmatism, 
which urges that the truth of an idea consists in its veri- 
fiability. As Paul S. Reinsch has stated in Intellectual and 
Political Currents in the Far East (page 138), this phase 
of his philosophy has doubtless had a profound influence 
upon students in Japan and China. 

The absolute moral perfection of the intuitive faculty 
presented a serious problem to some of Wang's disciples. 



WANG YANG MING, A CHINESE IDEALIST. 31 

That the main divisions of the doctrine and the general 
direction of the path of duty could be readily understood 
in this way seemed clear to them; but with regard to 
changeable sections and paragraphs and the details of con- 
duct under changing circumstances, they felt considerable 
apprehension. Is the intuitive faculty really able to me- 
diate reliable knowledge in such cases, or is it necessary 
for a person to seek earnestly for what is right and wrong 
in things themselves? Is knowledge of right and wrong 
innate, or is it acquired from experience? In a letter to 
his teacher, Ku Tang Ch'iao urges that when one reaches 
the facts that Shun married without informing his par- 
ents, 26 that Wu put troops into the field before he buried 
his father, that the son endures the small stick but evades 
the large one, that he cuts flesh from his thigh to feed his 
ill parent, that he erects a straw hut beside the grave of his 
parent, or any similar thing, then the knowledge mediated 
by the intuitive faculty is inadequate and a person must 
depend upon his experience. 27 Wang considered this posi- 
tion incorrect, for he felt that the intuitive faculty has the 
same relation to the details of right and wrong and to 
changing circumstances as compasses and squares have to 
squares and circles, and measures to length and breadth. 
"The changes in circumstances relative to details," he said, 
"cannot be determined beforehand, just as the size of the 
square or the circle, and length and breadth, cannot be 
perfectly estimated. But when compasses and squares 
have been set, there can be no deception about the size of 
the square or the circle, and when rule and measure have 
been fixed there can be no deception about length or short- 
ness. When the intuitive faculty has been completely de- 
veloped there can be no deception regarding its application 
to changing details. As for Shun's marrying without tell- 

" Shun and Wu were two famous emperors of ancient China. 
* Philosophy of Wang Yang Ming, Book 3, p. 61. 



32 THE MONIST. 

ing his parents, was there any one previous to his time who 
served as an example of such a deed? In what historical 
and mythological document did he find a precedent, or of 
what individual did he make inquiry? Or did he rather 
make use of the intuitive faculty to consider what should 
be done, and there being no other way act thus ?" 28 What 
is true in this instance Wang taught as true in all others. 
From his point of view the intuitive faculty is quite com- 
petent to grapple with any moral problem whatsoever. 

Last, but not least, is the problem of evil. No system of 
philosophy is complete without having attempted a solution 
for this perennial problem, and more than one system has 
suffered shipwreck in the attempt. Wang also was unable 
to disregard it. Hsieh K'an, one of his favorite disciples, 
was pulling grass out from among the flowers. "How diffi- 
cult it is," he said, "to cultivate the good in Heaven and 
on earth, and how hard it is to get rid of the evil !" Wang 
said, "You should neither cultivate the good nor expel the 
evil." A little later he continued, "This way of viewing 
good and evil has its source in the body and thus is open 
to mistakes." As Hsieh K'an was not able to comprehend, 
he added : "The purpose of Heaven and earth in bringing 
forth is even as in the instance of flowers and grass. In 
what does it distinguish between good and evil? If you, 
my disciple, take pleasure in seeing the flowers, then you 
will consider flowers good and grass bad. If you wish to 
use the grass you will, in turn, consider the grass good" 
Hsieh K'an replied, "In that case there is neither good nor 
evil, is there?" Wang answered, "The tranquility of the 
principles of Heaven is a state in which there is neither 
good nor evil, while the stirring of the passion-nature is 
a state in which there is both good and evil." 29 

For him there was only one real evil, and that consisted 

"Ibid., Book 3, pp. 61 f. 
"Ibid., Book 1, pp. 42! 



WANG YANG MING, A CHINESE IDEALIST. 33 

in exceeding or failing to realize nature. All other distinc- 
tions between good and evil seemed to him to savor of arbi- 
trariness and superficiality. The mind is by nature clear 
and bright and the intuitive faculty, if given free play, will 
develop to the utmost. Selfish desire and ceremoniousness 
are things that obscure it and obstruct its smooth func- 
tioning. If the mind in its natural condition is like a clear 
bright mirror, then selfish desires and deeds are the dust 
and spots that darken it and hinder it from reflecting 
clearly. The mind of the sage allows no obscuration to 
take place, but the mind of the ordinary man is subject to 
all the evils that inhere in the selfish striving for gain and 
fame. 30 

As a remedy for evil he advocated that all obscuration 
be removed from the mind and every obstruction be taken 
away, so that it can function normally. To this end the 
determination must be fixed and the purpose made sincere. 
The mind must continually cherish the principles of 
Heaven, for so long as it does this it is proceeding along 
the line of nature. If the individual fails at the point of 
making and keeping his purpose sincere, no amount of 
striving to understand so-called external things will keep 
the evil from sprouting, for this striving is itself a token 
of selfishness. By removing all obscuration and every ob- 
struction of selfishness, passion, pride and ceremoniousness 
from the intuitive faculty, it is given perfect freedom to 
develop naturally and normally. The teacher spoke to his 
disciples saying, "Sirs, in your task of developing the mind, 
you must not in the least hinder or force the development. 
The student cannot leap over into the principles of the 
sage. Rising, falling, advancing, receding, are naturally 
the order of the task." 31 However, in all this the determi- 

"Ibid., Book 4, p. 5. 
* Ibid., Book 2, p. I*. 



34 THE MONIST. 

nation must be fixed and the purpose sincere. 32 There must 
be absolute devotion to the intuitive faculty and unfailing 
loyalty to nature. "Without sincerity there can be noth- 
ing." 33 

Frederick G. Henke. 
Willamette University, Salem, Oregon. 

"Ibid., Book i, p. 56I 

" Doctrine of the Mean, Chap. 25, § 2. 

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