Preface: Three Significant Aspects of Relating Kierkegaard to Chinese Philosophy
Article first published online: 3 SEP 2013
© 2013 Journal of Chinese Philosophy
Journal of Chinese Philosophy
Volume 40, Issue 1, pages 1–4, March 2013
How to Cite
Cheng, C.-Y. (2013), Preface: Three Significant Aspects of Relating Kierkegaard to Chinese Philosophy. Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 40: 1–4. doi: 10.1111/1540-6253.12027
- Issue published online: 3 SEP 2013
- Article first published online: 3 SEP 2013
We may ask the philosophical question as to whether we can relate any significant philosophical question to any other philosophical question. Our answer is positive for the reason that, given enough contextual information, a philosophical question could be shown to be related to another one. Perhaps we could imagine our life world as composed of an open space of infinite significant possibilities in which any significant philosophical question could be positioned in relation to any other in terms of being, non-being, process, knowing, minding, feeling, desires, intentions, actions, and other philosophical categories. In Zhuangzi's Qiwulun it is said that “Heaven and earth is the pointing of a finger and ten thousand things are one horse.” Zhuangzi further says: “[p]eople belabor their spirits to seek oneness and yet do not know that they reach the same thing.” Philosophical questions tend to hide their differences as well as their potential identity.
In light of such basic views, we may indeed ask whether Kierkegaard can be related to Chinese philosophy and in which way. Could we understand Kierkegaard in a Chinese philosophical context? Is Kierkegaard's position on religiousness and being an individual meaningful or possible in the eyes of a Daoist or a Confucian philosopher? Here we wish to see how onto-hermeneutically and onto-generatively one tradition could interpret the other or may be interpreted by the other so that one sees a new meaning emerging from one's original position or wording. With this understanding we can at least relate Kierkegaard to Chinese philosophy on three scores: the distinction of types of religiousness, the suspense of the ethical and religiousness, and the authorship and individual identity.
In the case of Kierkegaard's distinction between two types of religiousness, one sees in such a distinction the presence of a subtle meaning in the spirit of Daoism and Confucianism. In the case of Daoism, one forgets and submerges into the pervasive Dao so that one will not worry about one's selfhood and desires and ends in a state of roaming freedom. One can be devoted to such submerging with the living cosmos so that one would identify oneself with the dao. This is a form of religiousness of doing nothing and yet engaging or enjoying a natural transformation of the human existence. If this is the religious, it deserves to be seen as a special kind of religiousness not as normally understood. In philosophical Daoism, not in Daoist religion 道教 this is a state of freeing oneself from whatever bondages, including the conceptual bondage of religiousness. This then shows how Kierkegaard's religiousness A is not religiousness for Zhuangzi but is simply called religiousness by Kierkegaard. The religiousness B is no doubt the main and essential category for our religiousness aiming at worship of the personal divine as shown in major religions of the world.
Here the difference on the side of Kierkegaard is that he sees it as a passionate pursuit of the love of God or God himself so that one must engage in a process of overcoming the inauthentic and anti-truth desires of the person and therefore devoting and giving up one's vulgar and social self completely. This is a state of transcendence of transcendence, the pure and complete separation from the world so that one can become one's self as that love and vision of God, become exclusive and supreme ends of one's life and even a consummating Meister Eckhart-like experience of God. One might say that there is no such a position in the Chinese tradition, not even to be found in Neo-Confucianism of Wang Yangming which no doubt takes the identification of heaven and man as an immediate experience. Whether modern Confucian Christians could follow Kierkegaard is of course another question.
We come to the question of suspense of the ethical in one's moment of devotion to God or the supreme divine other. Here one must be careful about the concept of the suspense which is not abandonment. Besides, there is the question on whether in the suspense one could achieve a religiousness whether of the B type or of the A type which could subsequently take back and integrate the ethical as a portion. Is this to be understood to be possible by either the Daoist or the Confucian philosopher in their respective frameworks? Perhaps one might see Daoism as a model of not focusing on the ethical so that ethical questions may not even arise (“The heaven and earth are not benevolent and thus treats all ten thousand things as strawdogs”), even though in an action of no action ethical good might be achieved. On the other hand, it is difficult to see Kierkegaard as advocating the principle of non-action and spontaneity in the Daoist sense, for he is to seek the Divine in his action which could willfully deny and negate the ethical which is required at a moment of time of obeying the command of God as exemplified by Abraham's obeying God's command to make a sacrifice of his son Isaac. In doing so, is there a good to be achieved apart from showing one's complete submission and dedication to God? There could be a serious schism between the Confucian and the radical Christian like Kierkegaard, a schism which does not defy mutual understanding, but which defies ethical and ontological values of a man as he should have.
Finally, we come to the question of the authorship and being an individual. The author is a writer of a text or a maker who creates an object or initiates an event. According to Paul Ricoeur, we may say that the author creates his own identity in his narrative activities of writing or speaking. Since the identity of any person can be considered to be achieved by a conceivable story of himself based on his experiences of life and the world, a person or an individual is to be what he creates himself to be in writing, speaking or in making or acting. What makes a difference to the identity of a person is the difference he makes based on his potentiality as a person. From this point of view, many types of personality and personal identity could be counted as each person has his own potentiality to be. The question comes to be how we can evaluate the human potentiality from a Confucian or Daoist point of view. The answer to us is obvious, namely the ultimate end of life as developed by a culture or tradition determines the range of possibilities for achievement of personal identity. In the Confucian tradition one's nature is to fulfill one's identity in reference to relationships in family and society and develop such identity into virtuous action and moral obligations. There is Heaven which is also to be thought of as approving and making possible the ethical and the social. Hence human identity has to be defined and stated within this onto-ethical and moral metaphysical terms. As to Daoism, the framework is Dao which is directed to ultimate harmony in a form of life in simplicity and possibility as we may find in Nature.
The Christian religion is different from either Daoism or Confucianism in making an absolute God as an object of worship and contemplation. One's ultimate relationship is not with other people or with Nature but with this transcendent God. How to know this God requires a meditative concentration of one's mind to which God may reveal His message. In this sense a man as an author has to try many approaches by using different names as representing different states of minds or different existential positions so that he could eventually find its own ultimate identity. This may be a justification for Kierkegaard's use of many pseudonyms for his writings. Since there is no explicit identification of which name is truer than others, one might assume that the genuine identity of an individual is not to be identified with any of them, but instead with all of them. In the extreme case, perhaps the genuine identity is of no name, but a momentary experience of the vision of God.
To contrast, the Chinese name of a person is to be given and eventually identified in one's family genealogy which reflects a relation to nature and heaven of the man. Man or woman could have a few other names than given names to suit different purposes and they are seen to form an order which is to attach and add to the original given name as growth in time. No doubt in Confucianism there is the solitary person or person in solitude who faces the Heaven as an individual who has moral integrity in reference to humanity, but not transcending it as in the case of Kierkegaard.
We have explored many relevant aspects of relations between Chinese philosophy and Kierkegaard as representing a radical and innovative development of a theological and moral philosophy founded on Christianity but also adduced or provoked from reaction against Hegel or Schelling in the Romantic Period of German Philosophy. The great insights of Kierkegaard would enhance a reflective self-understanding of Chinese philosophy just as the latter could provide an alternative way of understanding and evaluating the former. We are at the beginning of such exploration and understanding which hopefully will lead to more philosophical creativity in understanding heaven and man. Each of the eight articles in this issue is an accomplishment of its own but they together lend a base for future exploration. We wish to thank deeply Lauren Pfister of Hong Kong Baptist University for his organizing and coordinating this special issue. Again we thank all of our authors, our reviewers, and our editors for this issue, especially Dr. Linyu Gu, for suggestions and remarks which help to make each and every article well polished for publication. Apart from the Kierkegaard issue, we have two important papers added to the issue, namely one on Kant and another on Whitehead.