Have the Chinese People No Paideia as Real Culture?
-- the Werner Jaeger Thesis Revisited
James W. Kidd
[Editor’s Note:] This paper was originally presented to the 15th Annual Meeting of the CAPASUS (The Chinese-American Academic and Professional Association in Southeasten United States), Holiday Inn, Atlanta, GA, July, 1992, under the title "The Chinese Paideia and Its Significance--Some Critical Reflections on the Werner Jaeger Thesis."
Problematics: Have the Chinese People no Paideia?
In this paper we wish to take some issues with the late Professor Werner Jaeger, by focusing on his thesis that of all early nations in the world only the Greeks can be said to have paideia, i.e., real culture; for no other culture– Chinese, Indian, Babylonian, Jewish, or Egyptian– has even a word that corresponds to the Greek notion paideia as ideals of culture. Instead, we maintain that the ancient Chinese people did have their paideia which, in certain senses, is superior to its Greek counterpart as conceived by Plato and Aristotle. For decades in the West Professor Werner Jaeger, formerly Dean of Philosophy Faculty, University of Berlin, Germany, and Director of the Harvard Institute for Classical Studies in the United States, had been highly esteemed as the most distinguished authority on Greek philosophy (especially Aristotle) and history of ancient culture. Among his many great disciples is the late Professor Ludwig Chung-Hwan Chen, a world-famous Aristotelian scholar (who has recently passed in Oxnord, California). Also he finds a great admirer for his classical scholarship in Chen’s teacher, the late Professor Thomé H. Fang.
Culture vs. Ideal of Culture
In his monumental work Paideia: the Ideals of Greek Culture Professor Jaeger has exhibited both great insight and great limitation, too-- if not great folly. His merits consist in adopting a paideia-oriented, hence axiologico-centric view of education in classical Greece; whereas his weakness lies in espousing a Helleno-centric, hence a Western/European chauvinist view of world cultures in general. Take his merits first. He is right in maintaining: (1) that "the basis of education is a general consciousness of the values which govern human life"; (2) that for the Greeks "the ever present aim of their life was the creation of a higher type of man"; and "they believed that education embodied the purpose of all human effort"; (3) that "what we call culture today is an isolate thing, the final metamorphosis of the original Greek ideal. In Greek terms, it is not so much paideia, as a vast of disorganized external apparatus for living, kataskeu¥ tou biou"; (4) "However highly we may value the artistic, religious, and political achievements of earlier nations, the history of what we can truly call civilization– the deliberate pursuit of ideal– does not begin until Greece"; and (5) that only a nation with paideia can be said to have real culture. But he has gone so far as to conclude that, thus, of all ancient nations only the Greeks can be properly accorded such a distinction:
We are accustomed to use the word culture, not to describe the ideal which only the Helleno-centric world possesses, but in a much more trivial and general sense, to denote something inherent in every nation of the world, even the most primitive. We use it for the entire complex of all the ways and expressions of life which characterize any one nation. Thus the word has sunk to mean a simple anthropological concept, not a concept of value, a consciously pursued ideal. In the vague analogical sense it is permissible to talk of Chinese, Indian, Babylonian, Jewish or Egyptian culture, although none of these nations has a word or an ideal which corresponds to real culture. Of course every highly organized nation has an educational system; but the law and the prophets of the Israelites, the Confucian system of the Chinese, the Dharma of the Indians are in their whole intellectual structure fundamentally and essentially different from the Greek ideal of culture. And ultimately the habit of speaking of a number of pre-Hellenic ‘cultures’ was created by the positivist passion for reducing everything to the same terms: an outlook which applies hereditary European descriptions even to non-European things, and neglects the fact that historical method is falsified by any attempt to apply our conceptions to a world formula to them. Our kinship with Greece is not merely racial, however important the racial factor may be in understanding the nature of a people.
Professor Jaeger distinguishes "culture" in the sense of a merely anthropological concept, which means the entire way of life or character of a particular nation, from "culture" in the humanistic sense as the conscious ideal of human perfection. His argument for the thesis that "this ideal of culture is a specific creation of the Greek mind" rests simply on such a distinction. Hence, his Western/European chauvinism! Similarly, we are no less surprisingly disappointed by Professor Hajime Nakamura, formerly Dean of College of Liberal Arts, Imperial University of Tokyo, Japan when he stated in Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples that "in Chinese there is no single word capable of expressing precisely the meaning of ‘to become’ as there is in modern European languages." What, then, has The Book of Changes been all about? By the same token, the Jaeger thesis is seen to be quite questionable because its argument is based, firstly, on the fallacy of linguistic determinism and, secondly, on the fallacy of monomania or, argumentum ad ignorantiae, if not suppresed evidence! For how can one claim that the ancient Chinese people had no drink and no food because they had no word corresponding to "coffee" and "hamburger" as real drink and real food! and how can one claim that all other ancient nations have no ideal of culture because theirs differ essentially or accidentally from the Greek one?
Cheng-jun as the Chinese Paideia
As a matter of the historical fact, for instances, the Indian culture is sª dhana-oriented, through and through, i.e., concentrating both on the goal of self-realization and on the means thereto. The ancient Chinese culture, particularly, was not lacking in a word or an ideal corresponding to the Greek concept paideia. That word is "cheng-jun" (literally, "achieving harmony" in the full sense as the ideal of human perfection). It parallels paideia (i) in the original etymological sense before the 5th Century B. C. as "child-rearing"; (ii) in the later extended general sense as "education," or "culture" as "the moulding of character"; and (iii) in the highly sophisticated humanistic sense as "the ideal of man’s perfection"; but obviously free from paideia (iv) in the degenerated sense of the Alexandrian period when it came to designate mere learning. The Chinese paidiea had taken shape in the course of its historical evolvement from time immemorial, going through the Three Dynasties of Tang, Yü and Xia and culminating in the Zhou Dynasty (12th to 4th Century B. C.). The Chinese people of antiquity, while "aiming at the creation of a higher type of man," are thus seen to have conceived paideia even in the strict sense of "a consciously pursued value," as Professor Jaeger stresses, yet expressible in the form of the unity of man and heaven and earth by cosmic identification and cosmic participation. In the full sense, "achieving harmony" signifies the con-cord of microcosm and macrocosm ranging from the achievement of a well-balanced, integrated personality of harmony to the achievement of the state of what Teilhard de Chardin calls the omega-point as the con-summation of comprehensive harmony on the cosmic scale, or what Alfred North Whitehead calls Peace as the Harmony of Harmonies. It is to be noted (1) that, for the Chinese people as for the Greek, the value to be consciously pursued is none other than the ideal of kalo kagaqoV, unity of Supreme Good and Perfect Beauty; (2) that, for the Chinese people, such an ideal of culture suggests, in the human terms, the idea of the grand commonwealth as the great world community and, in the cosmic terms, it suggests the idea of "complete fulfillment of all forms of Life in proper order" (in Chinese, zhih zhung-he, wei tian-di, and yü wan-wu 致中和, 位天地, 贊化育); (3) that the ideal personality– the higher type of man– that the Chinese people have aimed to create, according to Confucius, Laotzu and Zhuangtzu, represents the whole program of self-fulfillment ranging from (a) the common run of men, to (b) the learned and en-lightened person, (c) the superior man or juntzu, (d) the great man, and (e) the sage or the holy man.
Superiority of the Chinese Paideia
Generally speaking, the superiority of the Chinese paideia consists in a different philosophical anthropology: The Greeks adopt a bifurca-tional view of man as good vs. evil, soul vs. body, though a zoon logikon (zoon logikwn, a rational animal); whereas the Chinese regard man as the center where heaven and earth intercept, hence the core or heart thereof, aiming to concord in virtue with heaven and earth as a participant in the trans-forming and nourishing process of the cosmic creative advance, in order to fulfil his avocation as the cosmic citizen. Specifically, we may attempt at a sixfold view of the superiority of the Chinese paideia as follows:
Paideia, Aims of Education, and the Ideal Politics
To conclude: Our present discussion on paideia is inseparably bounded with "the aims of education" as the core concern. It is of special interest to notice that the educational theory and practice in modern China had been predominantly influenced by John Dewey for thirty years (1919-1949), to the effect that not until 1929 had the aims of education been officially promulgated by the Chinese Ministry of Education! For Dewey advocated that education is growth, other than which there should be no aims at all, for fear that the business of education might degenerate into merely a means of propaganda, manipulation, or control mechanism, serving only the self-interests of those in power, or even any one man rule, such as we have witnessed in Nazi Germany and all the other totalitarian/despotic states! Yet, at the same time we should not forget that it is the fixed, rigid, ignoble kind of the aims of education that Dewey opposed. According to the late Professor Liu Yi-Zheng in A History of Chinese Culture (in three volumes), the aims of education had been agelong ago anticipated by Confucius’s grand son Tzu-sze in The Doctrine of Equilibrium and Harmony, the gist of which is best epitomized in six Chinese characters: "jin wuhisng, tzan hua-yü, 盡物性, 贊化育" that is, we shall strive to the utmost after the ideal of "the complete fulfillment of Life of all forms by participating as co-worker with heaven and earth in the same transforming and nourishing process of the cosmic creative advance." As used in the Greek language, paideia, "aims of education," and "ideal politics" are so closely interrelatred that they simply form a trinity. The same with ancient China, especially during the Zhou Dynasty when the State was developed as a moral and a cultural community as well, according to the late Professor Wang Kuo-wei. The ideal politics raises one question, simple but crucially important: What is the raison d’êtate for the State?
(a) The State is a field of enterprises in which the life a part of humanity comes to be perfectly realized. All the steps it takes are for the insurance of happiness and the protection of safety due to its people. (b) The State is not merely a formal organization of political, economical, and military activities, but, what is more important, a community in which the moral ideals may be realized by way of these activities. (c) The State should be a perfect and commodious school having for its function the refined cultivation and the full development of all the capacities latent in its people. (d) The State is, also, a realm of cultural values. Aside from the mechanism of government, it must create fair opportunities whereby every citizen, besides fulfilling the necessary civil duties, is enabled to develop fully his or her special talents with a view to hastening the advancement of cultural creations.
A Profile: Werner Jaeger, Ph.D., Litt D., university professor at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Institution for Classical Studies, was born at Lobberich, Germany, in 1888, and received his early education at the Gynasium Thomaeum at Kempen at the Rhine-land. In 1907 he attended the University of Marburg and thereafter the University of Berlin, whence he gained his doctorate in 1911. In 1913 he taught at the University of Berlin and in 1914 at the University of Basel, Switzerland, where he was professor of Greek language and literature. He became full professor of classics at the University of Kiel, Germany, in 1915 and in 1921 returned to the University of Berlin as full professor of classics, holding that chair until 1936. He was also Dean of the Philosophy Faculty during 1935-1936. He came to the United States in 1936 as professor of Greek at the University of Chicago and remained there until 1939, when he joined the Harvard Faculty as University Professor and Director of the Institute for Classic Studies which was established that year. Professor Jaeger visited the University of California in 1934 as Sather Professor of Classical Literature. He gave the 1936 Gifford Lectures at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He was a member of the central directorate of the Archaeological Institute of the German Reich until 1936 and, from 1926 to 1930, was President of the Association of Classical Scholars, Archaeologists and Ancient Historians. He was a member of the Academy of Berlin, Copenhagen, Munich, Stockolm and Bologna, of the British and American Academies, and of the Humanisties Societies at Lund and Budapest. He was, besides, an honorary fellow of the Society for Hellenic studies in London and an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa. Three universities had awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters: Manchester, 1917; Cambridge, 1931, and Harvard 1936. Professor Jaeger had contributed to most of the leading publications of classic scholarship, and was himself editor of Die Antik (1925-1937) and of Neue Philosophie Untersuchungen (1926-1936). Among the most important of his many works are: Entstehungsgeschichte der Metaphysik des Aristoteles (1912); Nemsius von Emesa (1931); Aristoteles (1923), English edition (1934); Plato in Aufbau der griechischen Bildung (1928); and Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, Vol. I (first edition in 1933, English edition 1939, translated into several languages; vols. II and III, Oxford University Press, N. Y., 1943); his Gifford Lectures of 1936: Theology and Early Greek Philosophies; and Humanism and Theology, the Aristotelian Society of Marquete University Press, 1943.
Cf. Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, translated into English by Gilbert Height (New York: Oxford University Press, Third Edition, 1954), pp. xv-xviii.
Ibid, pp. xviii-xiv.
 Hajime Nakamura, Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples (Honolulu, Hawaii: East-West Center Press, 1964), p. 204.
 Liu Yi-cheng, A History of Chinese Culture (Taipei: The Cheng Chung Books Co., the 8th Edition, 1968), Vol. I, p. 316-317.
 An eminent classical scholar in the late 19th century China, Wang was the first to introduce the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer into the literary criticism of the monumental masterpiece The Dreams of the Red Chamber or The Story of the Stone.
 Wang Kuo-wei, "An Essay Concerning the Institutions during the Yin and Zhou Dynasties," Complete Works (Taipei: Yi Wen Books Co., 1956), Vol. X, p. 2.