Understanding is Responseto Perception: on Traditional Confucian Hermeneutics
Shen Shunfu;Center for Zhouyi and Ancient Chinese Philosophy, Shandong University;
In traditional Chinese civilization, understanding was learning(知道). Hermeneutics was a study of "learning". It is widely accepted that traditional Confucianism divided human knowledge(人类认识) into two types. Knowledge by audio-visual means(耳目之知) belonged to the first type, which was analogous to perceptual knowledge(感性认识) or empirical knowledge(经验认识), with its limitations to some extent. The other type of knowledge was knowledge of human nature(性知) which was initiated by Mencius and was later developed by Neo-Confucians into knowledge of virtue(德性之知) and knowledge of truth(真知). Knowledge by human nature, knowledge by virtue and knowledge by truth were all an act of Qi(气). So far as textual understanding is concerned, the object of understanding was the physical carrier containing the temperament(气质) of the author who wrote the text. By understanding the object, the reader not only acquired the absolute truth(绝对天理) contained in the carrier of the object, but also changed his temperament. This change of his temperament was his response to perception(感应), of which the demonstration was his being touched or excited. His acquisition of absolute truth was inevitably accompanied with the change of his temperament, which led him into becoming benevolent. This was also the ultimate goal of Confucian notion of understanding, i.e., understanding enabled a person not only to acquire absolute truth and genuine truth(真理), but also to change his temperament and enhance his morality. Understanding was learning. To learn was to acquire knowledge of truth, which was a person's response to perception.
【CateGory Index】： B222