Confucian Neo-Platonism is perspective on Chinese Philosophy that views Confucianism
and Taoism as complementary ways of self-cultivation. It adds to this a context
derived from Platonism as it develops and is explicated by Plotinus. Its starting
point is a quote from The Mencius: I will quote at length from Tu Wei-ming’s Humanity
and Self-Cultivation since this is where I first became aware of this quote and began
to consider its implications:
“Mencius even attempts to characterize a few perfected stages in poetic terms:
He who commands our liking is called good.
He who is sincere with himself is called true.
He who is sufficient and real is called beautiful.
He whose sufficiency and reality shine forth is called great.
He whose greatness transforms itself is called sagely.
He whose sageliness is beyond our comprehension is called spiritual. (7B.25)
Undoubtedly, from the good to the spiritual there are numerous degrees of refinement.”
(Humanity and Self-Cultivation, p. 68)
This notion of a rising level of human development is one of the starting points
for combination of Confucianism and Taoism, at the start of the path Confucianism
provides both a spiritual orientation and powerful social techniques for a life of
spiritual integrity, culminating in a spiritual orientation that is more Taoist.
Confucianism contributes an important idea that is also one of the important connecting
points with the Western Platonic tradition, and that is self-cultivation in general
and cultivation of ‘Humanity’ or Jen, which is treated as a rough equivalence to
the Socratic/Platonic ‘tendance of the Soul’, which is after all a human soul. One
of the strong points that Confucianism brings into the mix however, is that it avoids
the ‘otherworldliness’ which characterizes the developments of platonic mysticism
and puts spiritual development in a context of self-realization on each of the various
levels of spiritual development, rather than upon what seems to be the self-denial
implied by the tendance of the soul. In the Mencian tradition of Confucianism the
important doctrine of the analogy between the individual and the cosmos as mirrors
of each other, usually referred to as the microcosm/macrocosm relationship. Thus
Mencius says, “The ten thousand things are all there in me.” (7A.4) (Hinton Translation)
Taoism contributes its literature of ‘internal’ or ‘physiological’ alchemy, in particular
the techniques of meditation/self-cultivation to be found in the recommended reading
for the Great Experiment, as well as its well developed microcosm/macrocosm theory
which as noted above seems to be part of The Mencius spiritual perspective.
Platonism contributes a powerful metaphysical perspective that creates a new context
for Confucian and Taoist doctrines. The weak point of both Confucianism and Taoism
is their undeveloped intellectual structure. Platonism allows one to create a ‘mystical
humanism’ and a ‘rational mysticism’, indeed Platonism’s power is to show that reason
followed through to its end leads not to materialism as the reductionist’s of the
past 200 years have argued, but rather to a transcendental perspective which is at
once rigorous and mystical in the best senses of both words. Platonism’s weakness
is its tendency to encourage an ‘otherworldliness’ which A. O. Lovejoy has amply