方朝晖:Metaphysics or Xing (er) shang xue?

——A Study of “Metaphysics” as a Western Philosophical Term in Modern China[1]
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方朝晖 (进入专栏)  

  

  【Abstract】In the intellectual history of modern China, the Western philosophical term “metaphysics” has been widely translated with a Chinese phrase xing (er) shang xue 形而上学which was initiated by Yan Fu严复according to the basic meaning of a key sentence in Zhou Yi周易 at the beginning of 20th century. Under his influence, metaphysics was widely defined as a study or pursuit of the supersensible/formless reality for the special purpose of achieving the ultimate completeness in practical daily living in modern Chinese academic circle. Generally speaking, it is simply because a large portion of traditional Chinese learning focused upon studying some formless or supersensible things such as Dao道, ben-ti本体, and some other ti-s体 that modern Chinese scholars tend to take them as metaphysical theories. Moreover, in using the Western term “metaphysics” to re-interpret traditional Chinese learning, most of Chinese scholars seemed unaware that the basic meaning of metaphysics had been transformed to a high degree from a neo-Confucian perspective. This paper will examine how modern Chinese scholars accept and interpret the western term “metaphysics” with some typically Chinese characteristics, if or not their arguments about metaphysics was made upon a good understanding of this term in its Western context, how some “Chinese” types of understanding toward the meaning of metaphysics has been formulated in modern China.

  

  One of the most notable features of modern Chinese academic studies has been that of re-interpreting traditional Chinese learning in terms of Western academic and philosophical categories. To the contrary, this paper will argue that there also exists a corresponding reverse process, one to which not enough attention has been paid by scholars of modern Chinese studies. This reverse process consists in re-interpreting Western philosophical concepts in terms of traditional Chinese academic categories and concepts. In fact, these two processes have occurred simultaneously and can in effect be seen as two sides of the same coin.

  What has happened is that, on the one hand, modern Chinese scholars have been trying to re-interpret traditional Chinese thought with Western categories and concepts, and at the same time they are interpreting, and therefore mis-understanding the meaning of Western categories and concepts by confounding them with conceptions from the Chinese academic traditions. It is the interweaving of these two processes that forms the typical character of modern Chinese academic studies.

  By examining how modern Chinese scholars have interpreted the meaning of “metaphysics” as a Western philosophical term, this paper will try to show how the meaning of the Western term “metaphysics” has been to a large degree shaped by traditional Chinese thinking, especially by that of neo-Confucians.

  

  From Metaphysics to Xing Er Shang Xue形而上学

  

  Xing er shang 形而上versus xing er xia形而下

  

  The introduction of Western philosophical terms, including “metaphysics,” into China may be traced back to the 17th century when European missionaries first introduced selected philosophical ideas and scientific knowledge to China. The earliest Chinese translation and interpretation of the Western term “metaphysics” was made by an Italian Jesuit missionary Juliano Aleni (1582-1649) in his book An Outline of Western Learning (Xi-xue-fan《西学凡》), published in Chinese in 1623 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1663)(Cf. Chen, 60-62). Until the end of the 19th century and even into the early part of 20th century, many different translations of the Western term “metaphysics” have been introduced into China: li-xue理学, chun-lixue纯理学, shen-li-zhi-xue 神理之学, zhi-xue 智学, ai-zhi-xue 爱智学,zhe-xue 哲学, chun-li zhe-xue 纯理哲学,chao-wu-li-xue 超物理学, xuan-xue 玄学 and so on (CHEN, 60-68; YAN, 1986, 1055; YAN, 1981, 12, 417; FAN, 243-245). Even so, the term “metaphysics” was never widely accepted by Chinese academia until the famous Chinese scholar Yan Fu严复 (1853-1921) interpreted it in a possible relation to a famous sentence from the Chinese classic Zhou Yi (Book of Changes《周易》) at the beginning of 20th century.

  Between 1900 and 1902, in translating John Stuart Mill’s (1806-1873) System of Logic from English into Chinese, Yan Fu (1853-1921) confronted the philosophical term “metaphysics.” He argued, in his notes toward the original texts, according to his understanding of Western metaphysicians such as Plato, Aristotle and Descartes, that metaphysics in its Western sense is “a study of what is outside of sensible-material existence 出形气学, ” or “a study of what is beyond sensible-material existence 超夫形气之学, ” and “is distinct from various studies of the sensible-material things 与格物诸形气学相对”(YAN, 1986, 1055; YAN, 1981, 12,45). As will be seen later, this interpretation of the term “metaphysics,” in terms of a contrast between sensible and supersensible existences, is directly connected to a famous sentence in the “Appended Remarks 1” of Zhou Yi (Books of Changes),(点击此处阅读下一页)

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