Invited Workshop Series
Zhu Xi on the Motivation for Moral Action
Time: 12pm – 14pm 31st Aug (Lunch Provided)
Location: West Duke 08C
Speaker: Dr. Kai-chiu Ng (Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Zhu Xi (1130–1200) said, “The mind/heart is a thing of action, and naturally has both good and evil [in its actions]. For example, compassion is good; seeing a child falling into a well without compassion is evil. To depart from good is [to perform] evil. While the original state of the mind/heart is not yet not good, we nevertheless cannot say evil is entirely unrelated to the mind/heart. If not the mind/heart, what undertakes it?”
It is commonly admitted that there are two opposing schools in the Song-Ming Neo-Confucian tradition, namely, the School of Mind/Heart (xinxue 心學) and the School of Principle (lixue 理學). In contrast to his competitors, who think the mind/heart is originally morally good, Zhu Xi, the chief representative of the School of Principle, holds that it is morally neutral. He therefore correspondingly promotes a method of self-cultivation by “probing principles” (qiongli 窮理), through which the mind/heart can come to recognize and follow moral principles and thereby act morally.
In this regard, a challenge arises for Zhu Xi: The practice of probing principles seems only to assure moral knowledge, and not necessarily moral action. Where, then, does the motivation for moral action lie?
For Zhu Xi, as long as one attains “genuine knowledge” (zhenzhi 真知), his or her moral action will be automatic. In addition to clarifying this concept of “genuine knowledge”, this presentation will deepen the challenge to Zhu Xi’s theory. While arguing that his answers are not ultimately satisfactory, I will also conclude that this imperfection may not be a serious theoretical defect.