by Vincent Shen

1996, posted 14 March 2009


Journal of Chinese Philosophy 23 (1996) 59-78

Copyright  1996 by Dialogue Publishing Company, Honolulu. Hawaii, USA.



[ I am indebted to Rob Weedon for drawing my attention to this paper, which I post here for discussion only; I think it is of interest in connection with constructivism, even though it does not deal with constructivism per se.   I did not find notes that correspond to the roman number superscripts in the paper, as it was sent to me from the publisher.  For discussion purposes, I have added paragraph numbers.   -   HFJM ]




1. Introduction


In pondering upon the theme of the 9th International Congress in Chinese Philosophy, ‘‘Chinese philosophies as World Philosophies  probably it will be of interest to respond to some promising philosophical theses of a recently emerging western philosophy, Constructive Realism,  through the eyes of Confucianism and Taoism. This is to let the two oldest Chinese philosophies to respond to an emerging western philosophy, thus bringing out the potentiality of two Chinese philosophies as world philosophy. By “response” I mean a way of conducting what I have called “language appropriation”’, or, in other words, a way of practicing the strategy of ‘strangification” which, as proposed by Constructive Realism, consists in translating the language of one discipline into the language of another discipline, that is, from one microworld to another microworld. But what I am doing here is not only a strangification between interdisciplinary microworlds, but rather a strangification between different cultural worlds.


the one hand, Constructive Realism is a new philosophy of science, based of course upon the European tradition of philosophy of science since Kant, recently appears in the context of Western culture.   After the decline of Logical Positivism, Constructive Realism’ emerges recently as a new Vienna School, which in some sense is quite meaningful not only in the domain of philosophy of science, but also, at least for my part, in the domain of philosophy of culture, especially with its concept of “strangification” applicable to both interdisciplinary research and intercultural understanding. On the other hand, Confucianism and Taoism are two schools of philosophy developed in the context of Chinese culture.    What I am going to do here is to take Confucianism and Taoism from their original context in Chinese culture, in order to conduct philosophical reflection on Constructive Realism.    By doing thus I am trying to enlarge the strategy of strangification from its original domain of application,  that is, the scientific microworlds, to the larger domain of cultural worlds.   But in doing thus I will retain the same spirit of conducting reflection by changmg the cognitive context.    The philosophical principle implicit in both kinds of strangification (that is, microworld strangification and culturalworld strangification) is that we cannot fully understand ourselves  except in strangifying ourselves to the context of other world and in understanding others first.


will not enter here into the details of both Confucianism and Taoism, except when they are relevant for my philosophical reflection on  Constructive Realism.    And I have to point out also that when I speak of Confucianism and Taoism, I do not envisage them as they were in the history of Chinese philosophy.   They are presented here as already creatively interpreted by myself through my appropriation of both  Western and Chinese philosophical languages3.


There exists a long tradition of interpretation both in Confucianism and Taoism in which creative interpretations were considered as a way of philosophical development.    Therefore I will consider my interpretation of Confucianism and Taoism within the context of my philosophy of contrast, and my putting them into a confrontation with contemporary Western philosophies, such as structuralism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, critical theory and Constructive Realism as my way of developing them.


Generally speaking, we can characterize both Confucianism and Taoism as systems of philosophy with practical orientations.     Confucianism emphasizes more the philosophy of man and moral philosophy, and is less interested in metaphysical speculations.   Taoism emphasizes philosophy of nature, and is intensely interested in metaphysical meditations, especially concerning ontology and cosmology, all in criticizing anthropocentrism, human values and ethical norms contained in Confucianism.    On the other hand, Constructive Realism is proposed, up to now, as a new approach in philosophy of science, with epistemological as well as social interests.     Its development into a system of philosophy is still to be desired.


Therefore, the first moment we try to conduct  strangification  between Confucianism, Taoism and Constructive Realism shows immediately their difference and their mutual need.    On the one hand, Confucianism and Taoism do not have their philosophy of science, though their philosophy of knowledge in general is quite well developed.    In this perspective, Constructive Realism, with its origin in European philosophy of science, is quite helpful in developing Chinese theories of knowledge into a philosophy of science.    On the other hand, Constructive Realism, which is limited to philosophy of science, also needs to be measured in the context of general philosophy;  it can also strangify itself into the context of other cultures;  otherwise some of its potentialities would be neglected and not realized. Here, some philosophical principles of both Confucianism and Taoism would be very helpful.


In the following, I will first present briefly the philosophical positions of Constructive Realism.    And then I will conduct some reflections upon them one by one in referring to the philosophical resources of both

Confucianism and Taoism.




2. Philosophical positions of Constructive Realism


As I see it, Constructive Realism, as it is conceived by Fritz Wallner and his Viennese colleagues, is a recent philosophical alternative to Logical Positivism, the latter denied any meaning in metaphysical discourse and refused to talk about reality.     Instead, Constructive Realism thinks it is inevitable to talk about reality.     The first concern of Constructive Realism is therefore to envisage this fatal lack in Logical Positivism and to take into account the truth contained in Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language.     It has inherited some elements of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language in Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, for example, that we can speak about reality only in language4, therefore there is no need of meta-language.     Besides, Constructive Realism also takes Wittgenstein’s position in Philosophical Investigations that to each language game corresponds a form of life (Lebensformen)5.    The first concern of Constructive Realism with these problematics gives birth to its theory of two types of reality.


The second concern of Constructive Realism is to envisage the need for an epistemological strategy in contemporary interdisciplinary research works.   Because of social as well as epistemological reasons, interdisciplinary research works become inevitable now in science.   But up to now there is no good strategy epistemologically well founded for the organization and the self-understanding of interdisciplinary research.   Because of this concern, Constructive Realism proposes the strategy of  strangification”.


The third concern of Constructive Realism is to do a philosophy of science which will be based on an inside knowledge of what scientists  are really doing and which can react properly to the need of action in the Environment.     Very often philosophy of science neglects the practice of scientists and the result of their research has no impact upon scientists.     But Constructive Realism maintains the position that a philosophy of science should base its own discourse on the real practice of scientists and it should be able to guide science in the domain of practical actions. This practical concern gives birth to a pragmatic vision of science,


To sum up, there are three essential positions in Constructive  Realism :


First, the theory of two types of reality, which distinguish between Wirklichkeit and Realität, the one represents the Reality itself, the other represents Constructed Reality,


Second,  the strategy of strangification for interdisciplinary research works.    There are three kinds of strangification: the linguistic, the sociological and the ontological.


Third, a pragmatist vision of science and its role in the society.


In the following, I will explain each position point by point and at the same time conduct my reflection upon each position in referring myself to the philosophies of Confucianism and Taoism.




3. Theory of reality


Constructive Realism distinguishes Wirklichkeit  from Realität.    Wirklichkeit represents the Reality Itself, whereas Realität  represents Constructed Reality.    This distinction reminds us of the Kantian distinction between noumena and phenomena6, but without presupposing Kant’s transcendental philosophy which posits the correspondence of noumena to a transcendental ego.     As it is in the case of Kant’s noumena, the Wirklichkeit according to Constructive Realism is unknowable.     What are knowable are those microworlds constructed by our scientific as well as non-scientific experiences and languages.    But Wirklichkeit, although unknowable, is posited by Constructive Realism as the Environment (Umwelt) in which we live and practice science.    Environment is therefore identified with the Life-world, no conceptual distinction is made in Constructive Realism of these two concepts.   On the other hand, the Realität is seen as the sum total of microworlds.   The idea of a microworld comes to Constructive Realism as the philosophical consequence of Wittgenstein’s thesis that we can only speak about reality with our language and that to each language game corresponds a form of life.    The term “microworld” is therefore invented by Constructive Realism to designate the reality constructed by different kinds of language.    But Constructive Realism supposes that there is a sum total of all microworlds which could be named the “Realität .


The theory of two types of reality constitutes an ontology in Constructive Realism.  The distinction it makes between Wirklichkeit  and Realität has the following consequences:


1. Philosophical discussions about Reality Itself and about question such as whether Reality Itself is knowable or not does not bring us any new knowledge.   It suffices to posit a Reality Itself.


2.   In this situation, we had better address one another and interact one with another through the strategy of strangification, which would bring us new knowledge about other microworlds and help to construct together the Realität.


3.  Thus the theory of two types of reality offers an ontological foundation for the strategy of strangification, and it encourages strangification.    We will analyze the strategy of strangification in the next section.


Now, we will conduct some philosophical reflections upon this  theory through the eyes of Taoism and Confucianism.



I ) Taoism


Taoism seems to accept the distinction between Reality Itself and Constructed Reality.   Lao Tzu said that ‘Tao could be said, but that which is already said about Tao is not the Eternal Tao.” 7    The distinction between Tao and the said seems to confirm the distinction between Reality Itself and Constructed Reality. But, in Taoism, this distinction is not posited for negation of the epistemological status of microworld.    It is rather posited, on the one hand, to point out the necessity of tracing back those microworlds’ origin to Tao, the creative source of all knowledge and action.    On the other hand, this distinction points out the insufficiency of all languages.    In this perspective, Taoism is quite different from Constructive Realism.


Compared with the ontology of two types of reality in Constructive Realism, Taoist ontology is much richer in philosophical meaning.     According to Taoism, Tao is a spontaneous creative Being Itself which gives birth to all beings through the process of self-manifestation and self-differentiation.    But there is an ontological difference between Tao, the self-manifesting Being Itself, and beings.    If we say Tao equals to what is said, then in that moment Tao becomes a “being said”, or a conceptual being, not Being Itself.    Although Tao is understandable, its understandability does not equal to sayability, thereby Taoism sets a limit to our language.    If Wittgenstein’s’ thesis “that which cannot be said should be kept in silence” is interpreted by Constructive Realism as positing the Constructed Reality in language and the denying of all meta-language,  Taoism would add the thesis that what should be kept in silence is still understandable, which is not to be “said” but rather to be “shown.” 


For Taoism, Tao manifests itself in Nature, which is a spontaneous process not to be determined by human being’s technical intervention Human beings are considered by Taoism as only part of nature, their ontological status is just like plants, animals and others beings in nature, all taken to be sons of the same Mother Tao.    This vision of human being and nature is quite different from modern science and technology.


In modem times, science defines nature as the totality of phenomena to be explained and predicted by natural laws, whereas technology treats nature as the totality of material resources to be manipulated and transformed by technical process.     The consequence of this concept of nature is that ecological disequilibrium, pollution and other environmental problems become more and more serious now, even to the menace of human existence.


But Taoism teaches us how to respect the spontaneous process of nature. Human being’s knowledge should be constructed in such a way that it enfolds the spontaneous dynamism of nature.’   We should avoid humancentered or even egocentric construction of knowledge.    This position is more ecological and it tends to construct knowledge and Umwelt  in a natural way.    To sum up, we can reformulate Taoist propositions in the following manner:


1. Tao, the Reality Itself, and nature, the manifestation of Tao,  and human beings in nature, all are co-related and co-natural.


2. Tao, as co-natural to human beings, is understandable to human beings through a cognitive procedure worthy of Tao.


3. What we understand should not be equalized to what is said.


4. A human being should be aware of the limit of his language and  keep his mind open to the spontaneous dynamism of nature.


5.  Human being should construct his knowledge and Life-world, not according to the structural constraint of his language, but according to the rhythmic manifestation of nature.


6.  Microworld, as constructed by different languages, should not be equalized with Life-world, which is partly constructed by human beings, partly constructing itself spontaneously with the rhythm of nature.    But both microworlds and Life-world could not be equalized with Tao, which is Reality Itself.




Confucianism is a kind of open humanism, which takes human being as center of cosmos.    Nevertheless Confucianism is also open to the dynamism of nature.   This openness is based on the fact that human beings are interconnected to others, to nature and to Heaven.  This interconnectedness, which Confucianism expresses by the term ‘Jen’  i, serves as the ontological foundation of the understandability of Reality Itself and the possibility of communication.    Based upon this interconnectedness, human beings could have sympathetical understanding of other human persons, of nature and even of Heaven.


Confucian philosophy of language is quite different from that of Taoism, which looks at language from the negative perspective and underlines the limit of language.   On the contrary, Confucianism would take language in its positive aspect. According to it, language, as human linguistic construction of reality, should also be seen as a mode of manifestation of Wirklichkeit.   This could be achieved through semantic correctness and sincerity of purpose.   The same with science and technology.   Contrary to Taoist critique of them, Confucianism would look at science and technology as capable of being integrated into the process of constructing a humanized world.   The process of human intervention into the process of nature is seen by Confucianism as humankind’s “participation in and assistance in the creative transformation of Heaven and Earth  ii .


Confucianism emphasizes therefore the process of human construction of the Life-world, which should be to the better and not to the worse.   But what are the criteria for judging the better construction from the worse ?    Confucianism would say that the criteria lie in the principle that human construction of Lebenswelt  should participate in the creative rhythm of Heaven and earth and not dominate it.   Therefore Confucianism distinguishes participative construction from dominative construction.    Human construction of the Life-world should be the participative one, not the dominative one.


To sum up, we could say that a Confucian reflection upon the theory of two types of reality could be expressed in the following propositions :


1. There are universal relatedness and co-naturality between human beings, nature and Heaven which serve as ontological foundation for the understandability of Wirklichkeit. for human construction of knowledge about reality, and also for strangification and communication.


2. Reality Itself is understandable through sympathetic understanding based upon the interconnectedness of human being with other beings, by which there is a tacit understandable content liable to be expressed through language.


3. Since there might be better as well as worse constructions of the Life-world, depending on whether the construction is participative or dominative, Life-world should not be identified with Umwelt  (identified

with Wirklichkeit according to Constructive Realism)


4. Life-world is to be considered partially as human construction, partially as emerging spontaneously from the dynamism of Reality Itself.


5. It could be suggested that the theory of two types of reality be modified into a theory of three levels of reality: Reality Itself,  Constructed Reality,  and Life-world.




4. A strategy for interdisciplinary practice


To envisage the need for an epistemological strategy for interdisciplinary research works in science, Constructive Realism has proposed the strategy of strangifcation, the act of going out of ones own cognitive context into the context of others.   For example, we could draw those propositions of our most cherished findings from one discipline and put them into the context of another discipline, by translating them into the language of that discipline. By doing so, we can make our own propositions understandable to another discipline.   And this translatability of our propositions means its universalizability which bestows more value to the knowledge contained therein. If the translation does not succeed, it means the lack of universalizability of these propositions.   For this reason, we have to check over the methodology and principles by which I conduct research work in my own discipline, which means a reflection on one's own discipline.


Strangification, being a strategy for interdisciplinary research, has the following functions :   first, it serves to help microworlds understand one another;  second, by strangifcation, we can conduct reflection on the methodology and principles of our own discipline;   third, through strangification we can correlate different microworlds into a coherent Realität.    In other words, strangification is a strategy of interdisciplinary work by which different disciplines can coordinate for a common construction of Realität.


Strangification is not limited only to microworlds,  it could be conducted also between different cultural worlds.    When we conduct strangification, we make our own world understandable to others by translating our language into that of others.    At the same time, we learn also from other's language.  Strangification is therefore a kind of what I call, in a more general setting, ''language appropriation".     By strangification, we appropriate other's language not only to translate and thereby make understandable our own language, but also to enrich it by the same token. 


We can find two cases of language appropriation in contemporary Chinese philosophy, the neoConfucians such as Mou Tzong.san iii  and  Tang Chün-yi iv  appropriate the philosophical language of German Idealism;  and the Chinese neoScholasticism appropriates neo-Thomistic philosophical language, both with the intention to articulate Chinese philosophy in a philosophical language understandable to Western philosophical traditions.     By the same act of language appropriation, they also make German Idealism and neo-Thomism understandable in Chinese philosophy. 


Strangification is therefore a very useful strategy, not only for different scientific disciplines, but also for different parts in communication, for example, different political parties, different ideological settings, different schools of philosophy and different cultural worlds ... etc.   It is even more feasible and fruitful than Habermas concept of “communicative action”.     In fact, Habermas’ communicative action is a process of argumentation in which the proposition-for and proposition-against, by way of Begründung,  search for a consensus in a higher proposition acceptable for both parts.    Although Habermas has proposed the claims for an ideal situation of communication such as understandability, truth, sincerity and legitimacy, unfortunately in the actual world of communication, there happens very often either total conflict or compromise, without any real consensus.   The Habermasian argumentation tends to fail if in the process of Begründung and in the act of searching for consensus, there is no effort for strangification.    If there is no effort of strangification, then there will be no real mutual understanding and no selfreflection during the process of argumentation.    Therefore, strangification as proposed by Constructive Realism could be seen as prerequisite for any successful communication and coordination. 


According to Constructive Realism, there are three types of strangification :  the first is linguistic strangification, by which we translate one language in the context of one particular discipline into the language of an other discipline, to see whether it works or it becomes absurd thereby.    If in the latter case, reflection must be done concerning the methodology and principles by which one has established the first language.


The second is pragmatic strangification, by which we draw science from one social and organizational context, to put it into another social and organizational context in order to make clear its pragmatic implications and to enlarge its social and organizational possibilities.


The third is ontological strangification, which, according to Fritz Wallner, is the movement by which we transfer from one microworld to another microworld.


For my part, I think both linguistic strangification and pragmatic strangification are well articulated and are all of them very useful and very pertinent in interdisciplinary research works as well as in communication process in general.    But I would say that Constructive Realism does not yet have any clear articulation of the meaning of ontological strangification.     Because the fact that we do move from one microworld to another does not by that mere fact become ontological.    In Heidegger’s terms, it is still ontic, not ontological.   In order to make the meaning of an authentic ontological strangification clear, we could refer to Confucianism and Taoism for the following reflections:




1) Confucianism


From the Confucian point of view, the fact that we can enter into an other world (microworld or cultural world) presupposes that there are some ontological relations existing between them.    In other words, Confucianism would interrogate on the ontological condition of possibility which render feasible and legitimate the act of strangification as well as the communication and self-reflection it makes possible.    The Confucian answer to this question is that it is the interconnectedness and co-naturality between them, a kind of ontological relation, which make strangification possible.     Confucianism even takes a further step to say that, upon the interconnectedness and co-naturality of human beings with each other, with nature and even with Heaven, there could be a sympathetic mutual understanding one with another.     In other words, for Confucianism, the act of strangification V   presupposes a sense of sympathetic interconnectedness VI.


Even if we need not go so far, in a philosophy of science, as to assume the existence of this sympathetic interconnectedness between human beings or between human beings and other beings, it is still legitimate and necessary to ask the question about the ontological condition of possibility of strangification.   Confucianism, in positing the existence of a  sympathetic interconnectedness”  as an ontological condition of possibility to strangification, has elevated strangification to the ontological level.     According to Confucianism, there is ontological strangification when we conduct strangification upon our sympathetic interconnectedness with others.




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.” 9     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.


In terms of Lao Tzu, we understand the Wirklichkeit  by the process of a “retracing regard” (Kuan)VII,, ,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.    We can represent the ontological detour in the following figure:     [ For the figure click here ]  [ To see the figure please refer to this paper on the KJF web site  -  HFJM ]


This concept of ontological detour is very suggestive for Constructive Reahsm.    Because in doing strangification, sometimes an other microworld and its language are not easily accessible.    It is here that an ontological detour to Reality itself is very helpful. In order to understand in an easier way a treatise on music, that of Adorno’s  Philosophie der neuen Musik   for example, it would be better to listen to the music of Schönberg and Stravinsky.    In order to a understand a treatise on sociology, it is helpful to look at the social phenomenon in question.    In order to understand a particular scientific treatise on nature, it is better to experience once more nature itself.    The ontological detour, not only will render easier the language and  the accessibility of another microworld, it can also serve as remedy to the limit of language, which is essential to Taoist philosophy of language.


Strangification does not by itself clarify the ontological situation of different microworlds in relation to one another.    By the mere act of strangification, we cannot figure out their ontological status in a possible synthesis of Realität.    But, according to the paradigm of contrast which has its historical background in the philosophical wisdom of Confucianism and Taoism, they are in a situation of contrast. In other words, in the act of strangification and in the act of constructing Realität, those disciplines and their microworlds are different, but in the meanwhile complementary.    This ontological situation renders necessary the act of strangification.  It also makes strangification possible.   The act of strangification based upon this ontological situation of contrast is thereby an ontological strangification.    The status of disciplines and microworlds in the resulting construction of Realität  could also be defined by the philosophy of contrast.




5. Pragmatic vision of science


In order to connect the enterprise of philosophy of science with the actual activities of scientists and to determine the role of science in the social and physical reahty, Constructive Realism maintains a pragmatic vision of science.   This means that, for Constructive Realism, the construction of a microworld by scientific activities offers us a new possibility of action and is judged by this criterion.      As Fritz Wallner puts it, “As soon as they are invented, they offer new possibilities of activity; in this sense they are real.    We could convert this argumentation.     If they did not open new possibilities of action, they would not be scientific inventions.” 10


This 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 ?


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.    Although this is important for measuring science, it falls under the category of instrumental rationality.    In the case of modem Western science and technology, 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.    This means criteria which refer to ethical norms of action and to the ethical responsibility of human beings.   This is the kind of criteria that Confucianism would emphasize.    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.


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.


Today, the world is full of all kinds of pragmatism.    More urgent problems such as ecological crisis, economic profit, management, ... etc., need more efficient actions.  A worldwide pragmatist spirit is now also having it :  erosive effect in the domain of science.    For example, some theoretical or pure research in natural and human-social sciences are now being neglected and sacrificed by such a secular pragmatism.


Of course, Constructive Realism is not a kind of secular pragmatism.    It  is pragmatism in the sense that it emphasizes the dimension of action in science.    Since Constructive Realism emphasizes also the role of reflection in the construction of knowledge, it should also include in itself a certain detachment :  from action, in order to do reflection.


I say this because reflection demands always some detachment from action.    Athough 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.    Not a theoria  which quests for knowledge for knowledge’s own sake.    But rather theoria as the reflexive self-understanding of action, that is, a theoria  which is in intimate interaction with action.


For my part, science is now losing its ideality.    It has no long term goal for development.    Science needs to renew some ideals, such as truth, to serve as idealizing incentives for its own development.     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.




6. Conclusion


As I have presented elsewhere 11,  the paradigm of contrast is based upon the philosophical wisdom of both Confucianism and Taoism.  This wisdom is best illustrated in the traditional representation of the Great Ultimate, Tai Chi VIII,  which is the common philosophical background of both Confucianism and Taoism.     I develop it into a paradigm of contrast, which is constituted of structural contrast and dynamic contrast, both are also in a global contrast interaction.    On the one hand, ‘structural contrast’  is constituted of interacting elements, different but related, opposing yet complementary.    On the other hand,  ‘dynamic contrast’  is constituted of moments characterized by continuity and discontinuity, sedimentation of the past and creation of future novelty.     Both are in a  global contrasting movement so as to constitute the structure and the dynamism of history.     With this paradigm of contrast in mind, we can propose the following propositions as conclusions to this essay on Confucianism, Taoism and Constructive Realism :


1) Concerning the theory of two types of reality


Proposition 1.   Reality Itself (Wirklichkeit) and Constructed Reality (Realität) are different but complementary, continuous yet discontinuous one with another, but they have to be mediated by the construction of Life-world.


Proposition 2.   The construction of Life-world (Lebenwelt) in the  process of time, which serves as the mediation between Reality Itself and Constructed Reality, should take into account the contrasting tension between the two types of reality, thus leads to a better construction, not a worse one.



2) Concerning the strategy of strangification


Proposition 3.   Strangification presupposes that different microworlds constructed by various disciplinary languages are different yet complementary one with another, and therefore rendering possible and necessary the act of strangification,


Proposition 4.   Besides linguistic and pragmatic strangifications, ontological strangification which bases itself either on the ontological relation between different worlds or effected through an ontological detour to Reality Itself, is also necessary and feasible.


Proposition 5.   In interdisciplinary research work, no individual discipline should dominate other disciplines in constructing Realität.  Nevertheless, it demands, in the construction of a specific aspect of reality, that there are guiding discipline and subsidiary disciplines.   Different disciplines are also in the relation of contrast to coordinate for a synthetic construction of Realität.



3) Concerning rhe pragmatic visions of science


Proposition 6.    Both scientific action and ethical action belong, although in a contrasting way, to human action in the Life-world.


Proposition 7.    Human action,  although to be integrated into the cosmic process, is nevertheless in a contrast relation with the latter, that is, they are different yet complementary, continuous but also discontinuous one with another.


Proposition 8.    Finally, theory and action are also in a contrasting situation.    In order not to let action in science be secularized and become the servant of optimization of economic profit, science should not be too much pragmatic.   The spirit of theoria, not the one in Greek philosophy searching for knowledge for knowledge’s own sake, but the spirit which sets up theoretical ideals for the development and the self-understanding of science, should be renewed today.


Proposition 9.     With the renewal of this spirit of  theoria, science would not fall down in the darkness of nihilism.    On the contrary, science in moving by the contrast of theory and action, will progress by self-understanding action, and together with other ideal values offered by different cultures, could eventually lead human beings beyond the dark valley of nihilism and let them see the light of truth.












1.  Vincent Shen, Creativity as Synthesis of Contrasting Wisdoms: An Interpretation of Chinese Philosophy in Taiwan since 1949, in Philosophy East & West, Vol. 43, Number 2,April. 1993.pp.279-281


 2.  For introductions to Constructive Realism, see Fritz Wallner, Acht Vorlesungen über den Konstruktiven Realismus,  (Vienna: Vienna Univeraty Press, 1992). pp. 96; Fritz Wallner/Joseph Schimmer/Markus Costazza (Eds), Grenzziehungen zum Konstruktiven Realismus, (Vienna, Vienna University Press, 1993), pp. 236


3.  For Example, What I have done as regard to Confucianism m the Rebirth of Tradition, (Taipei: Yeh-Chiang, 1992), pp. 207


4. This is how I interpret the last phrase of Wittgenstein s Tractatus,  That which cannot be said should be kept in silence.”


5.  L. Wittgenstein, Logical Investigations, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1968), p. 11 


6.  Kant, Kritik der reinen Vemunft, (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1968). A. 249


7.  Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, ch. 1


8.  Vincent Shen, Annäherung an das  taoistische Verständnis von Wissenschaft.  Die Epistemologie  des Lao Tses und Tschuang Tses,  in F. Wallner, J. Schimmer ed., Grenzziehungen zum Konstruktiven Redismus,Wien : WUV-Univ. Verl., 1993),  S188ff.


9.  Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching. ch. 52


10.  Fritz Wallner, Aspect of Constructive Realism  (Vienna: Braumüller, 1994) p. 14


11.   Vincent Shen,  Method, History and Being,  An Introduction to Philosophy of Contrast, in Essays in Contemporary Philosophy. (Taipei: Lih-ming Press, 1985), pp. 1-28




Vincent Shen

     e-mail < vincent.shen (at) utoronto.ca >