Tuesday, July 27, 2010

中庸:中西不同 Golden Mean: East and West See Different Means


It seems that all cultures recognize the worth of moderation.
Temperance, i.e., the ability to choose the golden mean in actions, statements, etc., was esteemed by ancient Greeks as one of the basic virtues on a par with friendship, bravery, wisdom, and justice. Aristotle’s definition of temperance as a virtue reflected the demand for moderation, which was ingrained in the consciousness of ancient Greeks.
The golden mean principle acquires a truly universal significance in the Chinese tradition. It plays here not only the role of a moral rule but also predetermines a specific ‘strategy of sense’, the singularity of the Chinese path to a goal: not by gaining direct access, as typical for Greece, but taking a detour.
Therefore, there is a difference on the idea of the mean as used by the West and in the Confucian classic Zhongyong.
In Aristotle and Western thinking generally, the mean is taken as an average derived as a median or similar measure of centrality in relation to a body of observations or data or philosophical positions. The original idea of golden mean of the ancient Greece was later developed into mathematical and scientific studies of golden ratio and golden section. In philosophy, it is a common knowledge that the great philosophers have never set their feet on the middle path. In other words, the western philosophy is built on the separation of nature and man, subject and object.
In China, in the Zhongyong and other Chinese classics, the mean implies no predictable position because it results from responding to each situation in its particularities. A wise person seeking to respect the mean will always act to increase harmony and order, to achieve equilibrium rather than their contraries between heaven, earth and man. Therefore the nature of the situation determines what action would be appropriate. In other words, the doctrine of mean is seen as the root of all wisdom.

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