Taoism Philosophy of Mind in China Conceptual and Theoretical Matters Historical Developments: The Classical Period Historical Developments: Han Cosmology Historical Developments: The Buddhist Period Historical Developments: The Neo-Confucian Period Bibliography Introduction: Conceptual and Theoretical Matters Classical Chinese theory of mind is similar to Western folk psychology in that both mirror their respective background view of language. They differ in ways that fit those folk theories of language. The core Chinese concept is xin (the heart-mind). As the translation suggests, Chinese folk psychology lacked a contrast between cognitive and affective states ([representative ideas, cognition, reason, beliefs] versus [desires, motives, emotions, feelings]). The xin guides action, but not via beliefs and desires.
It takes input from the world and guides action in light of it. Most thinkers share those core beliefs. Herbert Fingarette argued that Chinese (Confucius at least) had no psychological theory. Along with the absence of belief-desire explanation of action, they do not offer psychological (inner mental representation) explanations of language (meaning). We find neither the focus on an inner world populated with mental objects nor any preoccupation with questions of the correspondence of the subjective and objective worlds. Fingarette explained this as reflecting an appreciation of the deep conventional nature of both linguistic and moral meaning.
He saw this reflected in the Confucian focus on li (ritual) and its emphasis on sociology and history rather than psychology. The meaning, the very existence, of a handshake depends on a historical convention. It rests on no mental acts such as sincerity or intent. The latter may accompany the conventional act and give it a kind of aesthetic grace, but they do not explain it. Fingarette overstates the point, of course. It may not be psychologistic in its linguistic or moral theory, but Confucianism still presupposes a psychology, albeit not the familiar individualist, mental or cognitive psychology.
Its account of human function in conventional, historical society presupposes some behavioral and dispositional traits. Most Chinese thinkers indeed appear to presuppose that humans are social, not egoistic or individualistic. The xin coordinates our behavior with others. Thinkers differed in their attitude toward this natural social faculty. Some thought we should reform this tendency and try harder to become egoists, but most approved of the basic goodness of people.
Most also assumed that social discourse influenced how the heart-mind guides our cooperation. If discourse programs the heart-mind, it must have a dispositional capacity to internalize the programming. Humans accumulate and transmit conventional dao-s (guiding discoursesways). We teach them to our children and address them to each other. The heart-mind then executes the guidance in any dao it learns when triggered (e.g., by the sense organs).
Again thinkers differed in their attitude toward this shared outlook. Some thought we should minimize or eliminate the controlling effect of such conventions on human behavior. Others focused on how we should reform the social discourse that we use collectively in programming each others xin. Typically, thinkers in the former group had some theory of the innate or hard-wired programming of the xin. Some in the latter camp had either a blank page or a negative view of the heart-minds innate patterns of response. For some thinkers, the sense organs delivered a processed input to the heart-mind as a distinction: salty and sour, sweet and bitter, red or black or white or green and so forth.
Most had thin theories, at best, of how the senses contributed to guidance. While it is tempting to suppose that they assumed the input was an amorphous flow of qualia that the heart-mind sorted into categories (relevant either to its innate or social programming). However, given the lack of analysis of the content of the sensory input, we should probably conservatively assume they took the nave realist view that the senses simply make distinctions in the world. We can be sure only that the xin did trigger reactions to discourse-relevant stimuli. Reflecting the theory of xin, the implicit theory of language made no distinction between describing and prescribing. Chinese thinkers assumed the core function of language is guiding behavior. Representational features served that prescriptive goal.
In executing guidance, we have to identify relevant things in context. If the discourse describes some behavior toward ones elder, one needs a way correctly to identify the elder and what counts as the prescribed behavior. Correct action according to a conventional dao must also take into account other descriptions of the situation such as urgent, normal, etc. These issues lay behind Confucian theories of rectifying names. The psychological theory (like the linguistic) did not take on a sentential form. Classical Chinese language had no belief-grammar, i.e., forms such as X believes that P (where P is a proposition).
The closest grammatical counterpart focuses on the term, not the sentence and point to the different function of xin. Where Westerners would say He believes (that) it is good classical Chinese would either use He goods it or He, yi (with regard to) it, wei (deems:regards) good. Similarly zhi (to know) takes noun phrases, not sentences, as object. The closest counterpart to propositional knowledge would be He knows its being (deemed as) good. The xin guides action in the world in virtue of the categories it assigns to things, but it does not house mental or linguistic pictures of facts.
Technically, the attitude was what philosophers a de re attitude. The subject was in the world not in the mind. The context of use picked out the intended item. The attitude consisted of projecting the mental category or concept on the actual thing. We distinguish this functional role best by talking about a disposition rather than a belief. It is a disposition to assign some reality to a category. The requisite faculty of the heart-mind (or the senses) is the ability to discriminate or distinguish T from not-T, e.g., good from bad, human being from thief.
We might, alternately, think of Chinese belief and knowledge as predicate attitudes rather than propositional attitudes. Predicate attitudes are the heart-minds function. A basic judgment is, thus, neither a picture nor representation of some metaphysically complex fact. Its essence is picking out what counts as X in the situation (where X is a term in the guiding discourse). The context fixes the object and the heart-mind assigns it to a relevant category. Hence, Chinese folk theory places a (learned or innate) ability to make distinctions correctly in following a dao in the central place Western folk psychology places ideas. They implicitly understood correctness as conformity to the social-historical norm. One of the projects of some Chinese philosophers was trying to provide a natural or objective ground of dao.
Western ideas are analogous to mental pictographs in a language of thought. The composite pictures formed out of these mental images (beliefs) were the mental counterparts of facts. Truth was correspondence between the picture and the fact. Pictures play a role in Chinese folk theory of language but not of mind. Chinese understood their written characters as having evolved from pictographs.
They had scant reason to think of grammatical strings of characters as pictures of anything. Chinese folk linguistics recognized that history and community usage determined the reference of the characters. They did not appeal to the pictographic quality or any associated mental image individuals might have. Language and conventions are valuable because they store inherited guidance. The social-historical tradition, not individual psychology, grounds meaning. Some thinkers became skeptical of claims about the sages and the constancy of their guidance, but they did not abandon the assumption that public language guides us.
Typically, they either advocated reforming the guiding discourse (dao) or reverting to natural, pre-linguistic behavior patterns. Language rested neither on cognition nor private, individual subjectivity. Chinese philosophy of mind played mainly an application (execution of instructions) role in Chinese theory of language. Chinese theory of language centered on counterparts of reference or denotation. To have mastered a term was for the xin and senses working together to be able to distinguish or divide realities correctly. Correctly was the rub because the standard of correctness was discourse.
It threatened a regresswe need a discourse to guide our practical interpretation of discourse. Philosophy of mind played a role in various attempted solutions. Chinese philosophers mostly agreed (except for innatists) that actual distinguishing would be relative to past training, experience, assumptions and situation. However, they did not regard experience as a mental concept in the classic Western sense of the being a subjective or private content. An important concept in philosophy of mind was, therefore, de (virtuosity). One classic formulation identified de as embodied, inner dao. De though inner, was more a set of dispositions than a mental content.
The link seemed to be that when we learn a daos content, it produces de. Good de comes from successful teaching of a dao. When you follow dao, you need not have the discourse playing internally. We best view it as the behavioral ability to conform to the intended pattern of actionthe path (performance dao). It would be second nature.
We may think of de, accordingly, as both learned and natural. We can distinguish Chinese thought from Indo-European thought, then, not only in its blending affective and cognitive functions, but also in its avoiding the nuts and bolts of Western mind-body analysis. Talk of inner and outer did distinguish the psychological from the social, but it did not mean inner was mental content. The xin has a physical and temporal location and consists of dispositions to make distinctions in guiding action. It is not a set of inherently representational ideas (mental pictograms). Similarly, we find no clear counterpart to the Indo-European conception of the faculty of reason.
Euclidean method in geometry and the formulation of the syllogism in logic informed this Indo-European concept. Absent this apparatus, Chinese thinkers characterized the heart-mind as either properly or improperly trained, virtuous, skilled, reliable, etc. Prima facie, however, these were social standards threatened circularity. The heart-mind required some kind of mastery of a body of practical knowledge. Chinese thinkers explored norm realism mainly through an innatist strategy.
Innatists sought to picture the heart-minds distinctions as matching norms or moral patterns implicit in the natural stasis or harmony of the world. Return to Outline Historical Developments: The Classical Period Confucius indirectly addressed philosophy of mind questions in his theory of education. He shaped the moral debate in a way that fundamentally influenced the classical conception of xin (heart-mind). Confucius discourse dao was the classical syllabus, including most notably history, poetry and ritual. On one hand, we can think of these as training the xin to proper performance.
On the other, the question of how to interpret the texts into action seemed to require a prior interpretive capacity of xin. Confucius appealed to a tantalizingly vague intuitive ability that he called ren (humanity). A person with ren can translate guiding discourse into performance correctlyi.e., can execute or follow a dao. Confucius left open whether ren was innate or acquired in studythough the latter seems more likely to have been his position. It was, in any case, the position of Chinas first philosophical critic, the anti-Confucian Mozi.
Again concern with philosophy of mind was subordinate to Mozis normative concerns. He saw moral character as plastic. Natural human communion (especially our tendency to emulate superiors) shaped it. Thus, we could cultivate utilitarian behavioral tendencies by having social models enunciate and act on a utilitarian social discourse. The influence of social models would also determine the interpretation of the discourse.
Interpretation takes the form of indexical pro and con reactionsshi (this:right:assent) and fei (not this:wrong:dissent). The attitudes when associated with terms pick out the reality (object, action, etc.) relevant to the discourse guidance. We thus train the heart-mind to make distinctions that guide its choices and thereby our behaviorspecifically in following a utilitarian symbolic guide. Utilitarian standards also should guide practical interpretation (execution or performance) of the discourse. At this point in Chinese thought, the heart-mind became the focus of more systematic theorizingmuch of it in reaction to Mozis issues.
The moral issue and the threat of a relativist regress in the picture led to a nativist reaction. On the one hand, thinkers wanted to imagine ways to free themselves from the implicit social determinism. On the other, moralists want a more absolute basis for ethical distinctions and actions. Several thinkers may have joined a trend of interest in cultivating the heart-mind. Mencius theory is the best known within the moralist trend.
He analyzed the heart-mind as consisting of four natural moral inclinations. These normally mature just as seeds grows into plants. Therefore, the resulting virtues (benevolence, morality, ritual, and knowledge) were natural. Mencius thus avoided having to treat the ren intuition as a learned product a social dao. It is a de that signals a natural dao.
This view allowed Mencius to defend Confucian ritual indirectly against Mozis accusation that it relied on an optional and, thus, changeable tradition. Mencius strategy, however, presupposed that a linguistic dao could either distort or reinforce the heart-mind’s innate program. In principle, we do not need to prop up moral virtue educationally. Linguistic shaping, other than countering linguistic distortion, therefore, ran an unnecessary risk. It endangered the natural growth of the moral dispositions.
The shi (this:right:assent) and fei (not this:wrong:dissent) dispositions necessary for sage-like moral behavior should develop naturally. His theory did not imply that we know moral theory at birth, but that they develop or mature as the physical body does and in response to ordinary moral situations. The heart-mind functions by issuing shi-fei (this-not this) directives that are right in the concrete situations in which we find ourselves. It does not need or generate ethical theory or hypothetical choices. The xins intuitions are situational and implicitly harmonious with nature.
A well-known advocate with the natural spontaneity or freedom motivation was the Taoist, Laozi. He analyzed the psychology of socialization at a different level. Learning names was training us to make distinctions and to have desires of what society considered the appropriate sort. Both the distinctions and the desires were right only according to the conventions of the language community. Learning language not only meant losing ones natural spontaneity, it was and subjecting oneself to control by a social-historical perspective. We allowed society to control our desires.
His famous slogan, wu-wei, enjoined us to avoid actions motivated by such socialized desires. We achieve that negative by forgetting socially instilled distinctionsby forgetting language! His implicit ideal had some affinities with that of Mencius except that his conception of the natural realm of psychological dispositions was considerably less ambitious in moral terms. Interpreters usually suppose that he assumed there would be a range of natural desires left even if socialized ones were subtracted. These would be enough to sustain small, non-aggressive, agrarian villages. In them, people would lack the curiosity even to visit neighboring villages. This primitivism still requires that there is a natural level of harmonious impulses to action, but not nearly enough to sustain Mencius unified moral empire.
The LATER MOHISTS became skeptical of the neutral status of these allegedly natural heart-mind states. They noted that even a thief may claim that his behavior was natural. They watered down the conventionalism of Mozi by appealing to objectively accessible similarities and differences in nature. Our language ought to reflect these clusters of similarity. They did little epistemology especially of the senses, but supposedly, like Mozi, would have appealed to the testimony ordinary people relying on their eyes and ears.
Others (See ZHUANGZI) insisted that any apparent patterns of similarity and difference were always perspectival and relative to some prior purpose, standards or value attitude. Linguistics did shape heart-mind attitudes but neither reliably or accurately carves the world into its real parts. The Later Mohists had given a cluster of definitions of zhi (to know). One of these seemed close to consciousnessor rather to point to the lack of any such concept. Zhi was the capacity to know. In dreaming the zhi did not zhi and we took (something) as so.
They analyzed the key function of the heart-mind as the capacity to discriminate linguistic intention. Zhuangzi takes a step beyond Laozi in his theory of emotions. Zhuangzi discusses the passions and emotions that were raw, pre-social inputs from reality. He suggested a pragmatic attitude toward themwe cannot know what purpose they have, but without them, there would be no reference for the I. Without the ‘I’, there would be neither choosing nor objects of choice. Like Hume, he argued that while we have these inputs and feel there must be some organizing true ruler, we get no input (qing) from any such ruler. We simply have the inputs themselves (happiness, anger, sorrow, joy, fear). We cannot suppose that the physical heart is such a ruler, because it is no more natural than the other organs and joints of the body.
Training and history condition a hearts judgments. Ul …