- The Cultivation of Mastery:Xiushen and the Hermeneutics of the Self in Early Chinese Thought
Because he struggles with no one, no one can struggle with the Sage.—Dao De Jing1
I. Pathologies of Passion
In his seminal study, Philosophy as a Way of Life, Pierre Hadot puts forth the bold argument that ancient Western philosophy has its origins in classical discourse about how to live without anxiety, worries, and fears. He writes that, "[i]n the view of all philosophical schools, mankind's principal cause of suffering, disorder, and unconsciousness were the passions: that is, unregulated desires and exaggerated fears. People are prevented from truly living, it was taught, because they are dominated by worries. Philosophy thus appears, in the first place, as a therapeutic of the passions" (Hadot 83). Treatment of the disruptive tendency toward passions was considered a matter of individual self-transformation, and most early attempts to philosophize dealt with methods of bringing about such a change.
Hadot's emphasis on this therapeutic aspect of early philosophy had a deep impact on the late Michel Foucault, who turned to the classical tradition in his last years to understand the genealogy of the Western subject, especially in his lectures at the Collège de France (1981). At the outset of these lectures, for example, Foucault notes that the conceptual framework of both early Greek philosophy and medicine is based on the notion of a
pathos, which is understood [. . .] as passion and as illness, with the whole series of analogies that follow from this, and about which the Stoics were more prolix and, as usual, more systematic than others. They describe the development of a passion as the development of an illness. The first stage is what in Greek they called the euemptosia (the proclivitas), that is to say the constitution that predisposes to illness.(Hermeneutics 97)
To alter this naturally warped constitution, one practiced various forms of what Foucault identifies as the tekhne tou biou, or "arts of living," which help the subject deal with life's pathos and achieve spiritual health. However, these arts of living, which Foucault groups under the rubric of epimeleia ("care of the self"), did "not require that one institute [End Page 1] a struggle of the soul against the body, nor even that one establish means by which the soul might defend itself from the body. Rather it is a matter of the soul's correcting itself in order to be able to guide the body according to a law which is that of the body itself" (Care 134). Epimeleia, this wide body of discourse on self-care, was essentially a philosophy of personal ethics, and Foucault frequently contrasts it with the external morality and dogmas that would come later and would conduct a struggle of the soul against the body.2
Hadot and Foucault's observations about Western philosophy's origins in the control of the passions and the ethos of self-care offer a unique perspective from which to study early Chinese philosophy; for the treatises of Warring States (476-221 BCE) China often dealt explicitly with a similar set of problems. In pre-Qin China, methods of self-cultivation (xiushen; literally, "correction of the self") were frequently a key feature of philosophical treatises, and the problem of combating one's predisposition towards poor spiritual health was prominent in discussions about the proper care of the self. This paper looks at that discourse in several early Confucian and non-Confucian classical texts—The Great Learning, Guanzi, Xunzi, the Dao De Jing, and Mozi—and focuses on how the Chinese practice of "body-correction" helped constitute an original Chinese subject. What interests me, and what I try to describe here, is that these writings were often used as guidebooks for a set of ethical practices aimed at helping readers control pathos (albeit differently defined, in terms of qi-regulation) and cultivate the proper set of responses to harsh or dangerous external stimuli. As we will see below, due to the existence of phantasmal ethers (qi), mysterious winds (feng), elemental alignments (wuxing) and disharmonious perceptions, correct sense perception was regarded as an even more urgent priority in...