The Chinese philosopher Zhu Xi says: “…there is only one moon in the sky but when its light is scattered upon rivers and lakes, it can be seen everywhere. It cannot be said that the moon has been split.” Is Chinese philosophy fundamentally different from, even incommensurable with Western philosophy or not? There are stereotypes (opinions) about Chinese philosophy, and this course will be a struggle towards the truth, the truth of Chinese philosophy in particular and the truth of philosophy in general.
The materials this course will cover are classical (pre-Qin) Confucianism and Legalism. It is a good beginning to understand Chinese philosophy because pre-Qin Chinese philosophy is the root of Chinese philosophy, in which Chinese philosophers address the human problems directly, instead of addressing them indirectly through jargons of previous philosophers’. Thus, to understand the pre-Qin Chinese philosophy offers us immediacy and also a foundation to understand later developments. We will try to understand what problems the pre-Qin Confucian and Legalist philosophers try to answer, what their answers are, whether the answers are coherent within one text and how these answers are related to each other, etc. Hopefully, we will discover that these philosophical texts, as philosophical texts, do address philosophical problems, that is, problems that transcend a particular people, a particular time, and a particular locale. Then, by comparing these philosophers’ answers to those by other philosophers (Chinese or non-Chinese), we can see the merits and problems of these answers, and this understanding will in turn help us to understand better the related philosophical problems, the problems that are still relevant to us today.