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  • Thinking Through Confucian Modernity: A Study of Mou Zongsan’s Moral Metaphysics by Sebastien Billioud
  • Wing-cheuk Chan
Thinking Through Confucian Modernity: A Study of Mou Zongsan’s Moral Metaphysics. By Sebastien Billioud. Leiden: Brill, 2012. Pp. xii + 255 isbn 978-90-04-21553-5.

As a Chinese Kantian, Mou Zongsan (1909–1995) produced probably the most creative work in Chinese philosophy of the twentieth century, Phenomenon and Thing-in-itself. In this magnum opus Mou introduced his moral metaphysics. Historically, if this text is the offspring of the marriage between Kantian philosophy and the School of Mind (xin) represented by Lu Xiangshan and Wang Yangming in Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism, then Heidegger was its midwife. As Mou acknowledged, his proper reception of Kant was finally induced by his reading of Heidegger’s Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. Nonetheless, Mou was highly critical of Heidegger’s Being and Time. In Mou’s eyes, Heidegger ignored the Kantian idea of a noumenal ontology, despite his insightful interpretation of the difficult chapter on schematism in Critique of Pure Reason. Accordingly, Mou blamed Heidegger for forgetting the important problem of bridging the transcendental distinction between the phenomenon and thing-in-itself. As Aristotle saw his life work in overcoming Plato’s separation (chorismos) between ideas (eidos) and appearance, Mou aimed to fill the Kantian gap. So, although Mou admired Heidegger’s lucid account of the Kantian concept of thing-in-itself in terms of the idea of e-ject, he categorically rejected Heidegger’s project of fundamental ontology.

Instead, Mou claimed that only his moral metaphysics could fulfill Heidegger’s original goal of a fundamental ontology. In Mou’s eyes, a fundamental ontology must be a noumenal ontology. Therefore, although Mou appreciated Heidegger’s significant quotations from Kant’s Opus postumum in pointing out that the distinction between phenomenon and thing-in-itself is only a “subjective” one, he could not follow Heidegger’s strictly phenomenological approach. Mou argued rather that only by returning to Confucianism can one discover the possibility of intellectual intuition. Only this latter could serve as the foundation for a viable fundamental ontology. For Mou, it is only by developing a Confucian solution to the problem of overcoming the Kantian distinction between phenomenon and thing-in-itself that a Heideggerian fundamental ontology can be realized. Had Mou succeeded in this program, he would have been able to demonstrate the supremacy of Chinese philosophy on the world stage—over not only Kant’s transcendental philosophy but also Heidegger’s fundamental ontology. [End Page 683]

Sebastien Billioud’s Thinking Through Confucian Modernity: A Study of Mou Zongsan’s Moral Metaphysics revisits this perhaps most intriguing chapter of twentieth-century Chinese philosophy. It also provides a correction to Serina Chan’s claim that “Mou did not see the possibility of a fruitful dialogue when his prime interest—an onto-cosmology with a religious undertow—clashed loudly with the philosophical premises of the non-religious Heidegger.”1

The Introduction starts with a survey of Mou’s link to Kant. The task of chapter 1 is to clarify Mou’s concept of moral subject by comparing it to the Kantian autonomous will. Chapters 2 and 3 follow with an articulation of Mou’s transformation of Kant’s doctrines of intellectual intuition and thing-in-itself. One finds here not only an analysis of Heidegger’s influence on Mou’s understanding of Kant, but also a highlighting of Mou’s program to revive Kantian “transcendent metaphysics.” Chapter 4 works out the challenges Mou raised to the Heideggerian fundamental ontology. From a critical perspective, Billioud also explores in the subsequent chapter the implicit potential in Mou’s thinking on inter-affection. At this juncture, Billioud tries to connect Mou’s moral philosophy to Levinas’ ethics. Whereas the former chapters focus on the theoretical aspects of Mou’s philosophy, the final chapter is devoted to a subtle discussion of Mou’s doctrine of self-cultivation.

As Billioud admits, this volume largely remains uncritical. Certainly, there are strengths and limitations in each academic work. I would like to point out that in addition to the decisive influence on Mou of Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant...