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 documented.