- Heaven and Earth Are Not Humane: The Problem of Evil in Classical Chinese Philosophy by Franklin Perkins
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why isn’t good moral intention always rewarded? Franklin Perkins discusses these challenging questions about good and evil in his recent book Heaven and Earth Are not Humane: The Problem of Evil in Classical Chinese Philosophy. As the title suggests, Perkins focuses on the unique Chinese notion of heaven (tian 天) and its related philosophical issues of undeserved misfortune and limited moral efficacy. The subtitle of the book is equally intriguing. Perkins discusses these philosophical issues from the perspective of the problem of evil. The problem of evil is the problem of the positive (non-derivative and intrinsic) existence of evil and its seemingly random and arbitrary characteristics, which challenge the goodness of God and his creation (or the normative standard of goodness and rightness). In many schools of Western philosophy, the positive existence of evil and its arbitrary nature challenge our moral effort and virtuous disposition. Simply stated, they can make us incapable, our lives meaningless, and the world randomly immoral. Then why should we be moral and virtuous? More importantly, what is the meaning of life and the goodness of God, if nothing can withstand the arbitrary power of random and unpredictable contingencies? Other than these deep and serious philosophical issues, the problem of evil is also related to many other philosophical problems, such as moral responsibility and moral luck. The problem of evil, therefore, is a stimulating and challenging philosophical issue from which one can develop an inspiring comparative analysis that can benefit both Western and Chinese philosophy. This is exactly what Perkins does in this book.
In its original form, however, the problem of evil does not seem to exist in Chinese philosophy because it is closely linked to the existence and ultimate goodness of God, which classical Chinese philosophers do not assume or explicitly endorse. Yet, the observation and reflection that virtuous people, despite their effort and hard work, often suffer from random misfortune and that their goodness is not rewarded are clearly recorded and discussed in classical Chinese texts. In fact, this type of moral irony is reported in many cultures and intellectual traditions of both East and West. The trial of Job, the death of Socrates, and the hard and perilous life of Boyi 伯夷, Shuqi 叔齊, and Wu Zixu 伍子胥 are examples of the painful suffering of otherwise good and virtuous people. That is, while the problem of evil, as it is originally defined, is a problem of Western philosophy and theology, its broad philosophical significance can be shared by any philosophical tradition. Particularly, early Chinese philosophy, according to Perkins, is a great intellectual environment where [End Page 1377] the tension between moral efficacy (human effort) and the uncontrollable contingencies (luck) of life are intensely discussed and debated in relation to the power and presence of heaven in human life. To tackle these issues of evil and luck, Perkins takes a comparative approach, comparing Western (Aristotle, the Stoics, Leibniz, Kant, and Nietzsche) and Chinese (Mozi, Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, and Zhuangzi) perspectives, as well as an interdisciplinary approach, integrating historical, philosophical, and religious views, but the focal point of the book is the problem of evil in the context of the early Chinese philosophy of heaven (tian 天) and fate (ming 命).
The book is organized quite intuitively by following the order of the major schools of early Chinese philosophy. The first chapter is the foundation, providing a general description and methodological exploration of the problem of evil. The second chapter discusses Confucius’ and Mozi’s views of heaven. Laozi’s Daoist notion of heaven in the Daodejing is discussed in the third chapter, and Mencius’ view in the fourth chapter. The fifth chapter is dedicated to Zhuangzi’s notion of heaven, and the sixth concerns Xunzi’s philosophy of heaven. The introduction and conclusion give a general explanation of the orientation (where the analysis is heading) and the goal of...