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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


Wang Yang-ming’s Theory of Liang-zhi——A New Interpretation of Wang Yang-ming’s Philosophy

Vol. 42 No. 2   06/2012    


Wang Yang-ming’s Theory of Liang-zhi——A New Interpretation of Wang Yang-ming’s Philosophy


Fung, Yiu-ming  









Key words

liang-zhi 良知ling-qiao 靈竅tian-cheng 天成xing-ji-qi 性即氣xinwai- wu-wu/shi 心外無物/事zhi-xing-he-yi 知行合一.  


        The most important term in Wang Yang-ming’s 王陽明 (1472-1528) philosophy, “liang-zhi 良知,” has been interpreted in various different ways. However, these different interpretations have failed to provide a satisfactory understanding of Wang Yang-ming’s philosophy. To give a reasonable interpretation of Wang Yang-ming’s idea of liang-zhi that coheres with his philosophy, we have to move beyond the approach of mentalism, no matter whether it be of a transcendental or nontranscendental type. In this paper, I elaborate the deep structure of liang-zhi and demonstrate that liang-zhi cannot simply be described as non-empirical, more importantly, I show that it cannot be identified as any kind of knowledge or knowing capacity, enlightenment or enlightening capacity, intellectual intuition or mystical feeling. Liang-zhi is not an epistemic concept in any sense. To treat liangzhi as some kind of knowing faculty or mental capacity is to stray from Wang Yangming’s main philosophical train of thought.

        The major purpose of this paper is to give a new and coherent interpretation of liang-zhi which is consistent with the doctrines of “xing-ji-qi 性即氣,” “xin-wai-wuwushi 心外無物/事” (no things/events outside the mind), “xin-wai-wu-li 心外無理” (no orders/principles outside the mind) and “zhi-xing-he-yi 知行合一”1 (the unity of enlightenment and action/act). In this paper, I use the concepts of “realization” and “supervenience” to explain the relationship between xing and qi, on the one hand, and the relationship between zhi and xing, on the other. Based on this preliminary study, I conclude that Wang Yang-ming viewed all the things/events in the organic universe as being endowed with a (emergent) power or (functional) property of cosmic vitality or universal spirituality, i.e., the (functional) property of sheng-sheng 生生 (the cycling order of natural production). This universal power or property by itself is invisible, without trace, and does not have an independent ontological status. However, the actual function of the power or property can be found in phenomena because certain responsive mental events made by human beings can be recognized as the realization of this power or property. In turn, certain related physical events initiated by human beings can be understood as the bases on which the mental events are supervenient. Based on these two distinct relationships: realization and supervenience, we can elaborate a framework of three layers consisting of the layer of cosmic spirituality, the layer of the mental, and the layer of the physical. This framework of three layers is moreover situated in two domains: the internal domain of the human body and the external domain of human action. Based on this framework of three layers and two domains, I elaborate a theory concerning “heaven’s production” (tian-cheng 天成), or “accomplishment and assistance in the universal process of production and reproduction,” concluding that it can be understood as an important component of Wang Yang-ming’s philosophy.



Author: Fung, Yiu-ming
Genre: Article
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