- The Philosophy of Qi: The Record of Great Doubts
When compared to the dominance of Zhu Xi's orthodoxy centered on the notion of li, the philosophy of qi has been a less prominent current of thought within neo-Confucianism. However, the relative inconspicuousness of philosophers who reconstruct the classical Confucian worldview around qi does not make them less important or in any way "unorthodox." Indeed, it might be argued that on philosophical grounds they are more continuous with the past and that their creative extension of classical Confucianism ought not to be dismissed as inferior to Zhu Xi's. Mary Evelyn Tucker's The Philosophy of Qi: The Record of Great Doubts, a translation of and introduction to the Japanese neo-Confucian philosopher Kaibara Ekken's (1630-1714) Record of Great Doubts (Taigiroku) will greatly benefit those who are interested in a much needed revival of these philosophers of qi. By introducing Ekken's philosophy of qi within the broader context of East Asian Confucianism, her work brings richer meaning to both the texts and the geographical and chronological contexts. Thus, while her work will certainly "provoke further discussion regarding the formulation of cosmology and ethics in the Tokugawa period" (p. 9), as she intends, her contribution is not limited to this outcome alone, and will be of benefit to scholars studying the Confucian philosophy of qi in other East Asian traditions as well.
In the substantial introduction (pp. 1-75) to her translation (pp. 76-166), Tucker argues against misinterpretations of Ekken's philosophy of qi as a modern rationalism, secularism, materialism, or empiricism that would exclude ethics and spirituality (pp. 55-58). These misinterpretations are founded on dualisms that assume, for example, that nature and human norms are mutually exclusive. However, such dualisms were what Ekken disapproved of the most. Indeed, a major theme of his work is to express doubts concerning dualistic tendencies in Zhu Xi's position. Ekken's critique is not motivated so much by theoretical issues as by the concern that dualistic ways of viewing the world may encourage escapist, quietistic, and self-centered ways of cultivation that occasion a withdrawal from the affairs of human society and nature, a tendency Ekken believed to be influenced by Buddhism and Daoism that he also associated with Wang Yangming (pp. 29-48).
Tucker argues that, for Ekken, "qi was a basis of both ethical cultivation and empirical exploration of the natural world" (p. 50), and that his position is best understood in the context of the classical Confucian worldview based on qi, exemplified by such neo-Confucians as Zhang Zai and Luo Qinshun, as a naturalistic "organic holism" and "dynamic vitalism" (pp. 58-60). In this worldview, "everything interacts with and affects everything else" (p. 58), and "transformation as the clearest expression of the creative processes of life" (p. 60) is celebrated. Based on this position, Ekken disagrees with Zhu Xi's positing of what he takes to be a transcendent reality, wuji, that potentially makes "quietude central as the fundamental mode of humans" (p. 42) and misleads one to view "the myriad things that arise as illusory" [End Page 289] (p. 44) and also disagrees with Zhu Xi's separation of li from qi, which entails "devaluing this world, abstracting human action, and fossilizing moral cultivation" (p. 48). That is, for Ekken, to posit a reality (wuji) or search for a way (dao) and order (li) outside this world is to dismiss sincere and creative engagement with other humans and with nature itself.
The significance of Ekken's work, Tucker argues, is that it demonstrates that Confucianism is not a static orthodoxy but a vital tradition that involves a complex and creative process of continuity and change, adoption and adaptation (pp. 25-40). A major concern for Ekken, as was the case for many Japanese neo-Confucians, was finding aspects of Confucianism adaptable to the circumstances of Tokugawa Japan. By emphasizing the method of doubt as the creative balancing of affirmation and dissent, tradition...