TA113 (Shen)


Commentary 4




by Herbert FJ Müller

25 April 2009, posted 2 May 2009



In TA113, Vincent Shen compares Taoism and Confucianism to F Wallner’s ‘Constructive Realism’.   I have previously discussed Wallner’s epistemological proposal in C3 to TA113, and will not repeat this here;   but some of my comments in C3 re-appear here in slightly different form.   In the following I compare some points from Shen’s characterization of the two Chinese views with 0-D structuring.   Like with Wallner’s arguments,  I think that Shen’s are easily compatible with similar 0-D propositions.   But I hope for discussion by others, since my knowledge of Chinese philosophy is very limited, and I may misinterpret some of Shen’s statements.  


TA113  [31]  2) Taoism:   From the Taoist point of view, in order to know an other world by conducting strangification, it is not enough to appropriate an other language and to translate our language into an other language.   It is also necessary to communicate with the Reality Itself and to enlarge our knowledge of it.    In Lao Tzu’s words, “Having grasped the Mother (Tao, Reality Itself), you can thereby know the sons (beings, microworld); Having known the sons, you should return again to the Mother.” ...     Here Taoism posits an ontological detour to the Wirklichkeit as condition sine qua non for the act of strangification into other worlds (microworld and cultural world).   Since the Reality Itself is understandable, the ontological detour is thereby made possible.


[32] In terms of Lao Tzu, we understand the Wirklichkeit  by the process of a “retracing regard” (Kuan) ... , an act of intuition of essence in returning to Tao.   The process of formation of our experience is therefore seen by Taoism as a process of back and forth between the act of interacting with beings (sons) and the act of returning to Tao (the Mother).    The act of returning to Reality Itself and communicating with it is therefore considered by Taoism as nourishing our strangification with other microworlds.    This act of ontological detour to Reality Itself bestows an ontological dimension to strangification.    When an act of strangification is conducted with an ontological detour, it becomes thereby an ontological strangification.    ... ’ 


[HFJM]  This last point is central to Shen’s argumentation.   It is also of particular interest for, and compatible with,   0-D,   where we talk about the unstructured background as start- and reference-point (what Shen calls ‘Tao’ or ‘mother’), which he says can be used to undo presently used structures (‘microworlds’) and to start afresh.   But because it is unstructured, one would in 0-D not call this ‘Wirklichkeit’, ‘reality’, or ‘ontology’, all of which imply mind-independently pre-structured reality.    ‘The method of strangification’ (Verfremdung)  becomes  ‘return to the unstructured in order to re-structure’.    And  ‘reality is understandable’   would become   ‘the unstructured can be structured’.     ‘Constructing Realität  translates to  ‘creating working structures’.


TA 113 ‘ [36]  Th(e) pragmatist vision of science is sound and helpful for the understanding of both the activities and the function of science.   “Pragmatism” means a way of thinking which attaches itself to the dimension of human action.   But, in our philosophical reflection, two questions might be asked of this pragmatic vision of science.

First,  what are the criteria of action in science ?

Second,  in addition to understanding science, how to give ideal incentive to the development of science ?


[37]  Concerning the first question, we can think of the following criteria:

1. The criteria of efficiency.   We can judge actions in science according to their efficiency in bringing out the desired end.    ...   the excessive and abusive use of instrumental rationality has led to man’s exploitative domination over nature and society.    This is against the intention of conserving and constructing a better Life-world. 

2.  The ethical criteria.  ...   According to Confucianism, there are three most important ethical norms for human action.   First,  action should be conducted in such a way that it leads to the fulfillment of human potentiality.   Second, action should be conducted in such a way that it leads to the unfolding of the object acted upon or under scientific investigation.    Third, action should be conducted  in such a way that it leads to  the harmonization of relationship between one human being and other human beings, between human beings and nature.

3 . Ontological criteria.    Both Constructive Realism and Confucianism, in the eyes of Taoism, are too much human-centered.     ln Nietzsche’s terms, they are ‘’human, much too human”.    Taoism on the other hand, is more nature-centered, but with an ontological foundation.    This means that for Taoism, human actions should be situated in the cosmic process.    For Taoism, action should be conducted in such a way that it is not human centered, but situated in the global context of nature and Being.    In other words, action should be conducted in respecting the dynamism of nature and in serving as a manifestation of Tao.     Reality Itself.    In this way, it is no particular action.   Compared with any ontic and dominative action, it is rather a kind of non-action, but by which nothing is left undone. ’


[HFJM]  The  ‘ontological’ aspect was discussed above.   ‘Reality itself’ corresponds to the unstructured background.   Structures are of self-world-and all, and this might help to counteract the notion of their being  ‘too human’, as well as the opposite :  exclusion of the subject.


TA113 ‘ [38]  Concerning the second question, Constructive Realism’s pragmatic vision of science is sound in helping us understand the activities of science, yet it offers no ideal incentives for the development of science. ...   A worldwide pragmatist spirit is ... having ... :  erosive effect in the domain of science.  ... 


[39]  ... Although the notion of theoria in Greek philosophy is now gone for good, since science is now always related in its essence to action, I will claim a new spirit of  theoria  for this world menaced by nihilism. ...   rather theoria as the reflexive self-understanding of action, that is, a theoria  which is in intimate interaction with action.


[40]  .... Otherwise, science is falling down more and more into the darkness of nihilism, in which human beings have no ideal values for their existence and thereby life becomes meaningless.   To help humankind go through this nihilist valley of darkness, Constructive Realism, with the rich spiritual resources of Western philosophy, and Eastern philosophy such as Taoism and Confucianism, should work out, besides the pragmatic aspect of science, the ideal dimension of the future development of science and society. ’


[HFJM]  The term ‘theoria’ has been used in two ways :  contemplation in the philosophical sense, and (particularly in the Eastern Orthodox theology),  as a moral faculty, the experience of God.   The dangers of ‘nihilism’ have often been discussed;  one of the causes is a prominent expectation that  value and meanings  are provided from outside, for instance through religion.    But if the unstructured origin is seen as central, it is clear that we cannot just wait for them to be given to us.   Values and meanings are our structures, and we have to supply them.




Herbert FJ Müller
     email <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>