Stephen C. Pepper and Chinese

Philosophy of Art*




Respectfully dedicated


Lewis E. Hahn,

The greatest Contextualist as Com-fusionist

of America

Since John Dewey and Stephen C. Pepper,

An archetype of devoted educator,

teacher, and scholar

A great bridge-builder for

cultural interflow between East and West

And truly a consummate artist

of living wisely!







The basic principles are the same the world

over.  In fact, for me it was a special joy to

recognize as if in a Chinese character some

principles I had often taught in English.1


---- Stephen C. Pepper


     As this Congress is held as part of the activities for celebrating the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in America, I propose to discuss “Stephen C. Pepper and Chinese Philosophy of Art” — a topic which I hope would be found both appropriate and relevant to our central themes “America and Its Philosophical Expression.” Columbus’ discovery of America, as indicated in the Program, is regarded “an event leading to a unique historical meeting of cultures.”  On such a special occasion I venture to invite you to share with me the same sentiment:  Let us not forget China!  For it is China, Marco Polo, Columbus, and America that have been forged into such a Great Chain of Becoming in various aspects not to be ignored by any historians of human civilization as a whole.  The impact of Marco Polo is too familiar a story even for our schoolboys on this hemisphere.

     Paradoxically, intent on finding a “short-cut” to the Orient, Columbus discovered America — a New World that was destined to play the historical role as the meeting place of cultures East and West, North and South.  No less paradoxically, intending to develop what is a typically American theory of art and beauty, Pepper has hit upon a real “short-cut” to the Orient — an Old World that is full of aesthetic experiences, beauty  and insights. We refer particularly to his monumental work Aesthetic Quality: A Contextualistic Theory of Art and Beauty (1937).  In this sense Stephen C. Pepper is the Columbus of comparative aesthetics.  The concept of “quality” is the open sesame to the “mysteries” of Chinese q’i-yun and the Indian rima!

     As the common saying goes, he who confesses is blessed.  Allow me to begin with a confession.

     While first studying Aesthetic Quality back in the late sixties, my initial impression was that Pepper sounded very much like a Chinese philosopher of art, even speaking with a Chinese accent, if one read between the lines.  So exhilarated, I told my mentor Professor Lewis E. Hahn — too prematurely perhaps — of my youthful joy of “discovery.”  As usual, Hahn asked me for sufficient concrete, hard evidence. I had none at the time until months afterwards when, as luck would have it, I happened to find the final confirmation in Pepper’s own words:

     When Nietzsche called Kant “the great Chinese in Königsberg” it is, I believe, because he had never heard of Pepper, who urged:  “We could do with a lot of qi in America”!

     Two scores have nearly passed since I first tasted the sheer joy of discovery. In this short comparative study, however, my focal interest has shifted from the 5th century Chinese art critic Xie He (fl. 490) to Shi Tao (1630-1717), one of the greatest creative artists and the most penetrating and profound, the most original and systematic philosopher on the Chinese art of painting that China has ever produced.  In the words of Qi Baishi (1869-1957), who himself was a first-rate artist, Shi Tao was the greatest Chinese painter in the last two thousand years!  He was even said to have anticipated the styles of Van Gogh, Ceszanne, Gauguin, and Rousseau, etc., in the West.2

     Lastly, availing myself of this opportunity, I wish to dedicate to Lewis E. Hahn this short piece of comparative studies in philosophy of art to arouse congenial interests and responses from the younger generation of creative minds the world over, whether East or West.



April, 2009




One of the best writers on aesthetics

this country has produced.


Nothing he wrote has so much truth

and penetrating originality as his

Aesthetic Quality, a masterpiece

of analysis of aesthetic categories.3


---- Charles Hartshorne on Pepper



1.         The Challenge from Kant: What Imparts Life to Works of Art?

     It is to Immanuel Kant, father of our modern aesthetics, that I owe the most challenging formulation of the problem to be dealt with by any philosophers of art:

“A poem may be very pretty and elegant, but is soul-less.  A narrative has precision and method, but is soul-less.  A speech may be good in substance and ornate withal, but is soul-less. Even of women we may say she is pretty, affable, and refined, but is soul-less.  Now what is meant by ‘soul’ (Geist)?”4

     Indeed, this question, posed by Kant, gets to the very soul and core of all aesthetic reflections East and West. Yet nevertheless the German term Geist (for ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’) is hopelessly vague, though highly suggestive. “What is characteristical of the word,” comments Henry W. Cassirer (son of Ernest Cassirer), “is its indefiniteness. Geist is a quality that is felt rather than thought.  It is strictly indescribable.”5  Kant speaks of it as “the animating principle in the mind” and treats it in connection with the concept of ‘genius’ as “the creative faculty of presenting aesthetic ideas,” adding “I shall have an opportunity hereafter of dealing more fully with ideas of this kind.”6  Unfortunately never did he have such an opportunity.

     So far we seem to be left in a Kantian labyrinth in the company of “aesthetic ideas” as counterpart to “rational ideas” (the former being inexponsible and the latter, indemonstrable).  A Sino-American conjoint solution to this German puzzle is called for.  At any rate, however, the Kantian question provides us with an excellent point of departure—even an Archimedian point, so to speak—for comparative studies in aesthetics.  Moreover, the Kantian heritage, as we see, proves to be a rich patrimony for Pepper who knows how to stand upon the shoulders of his predecessors, ancient or modern.

     To begin with, I suggest:  Replace the phrase ‘soul-less’ with ‘quality-less” and then you see a world of difference! It sounds better, more agreeable, and makes more sense. It gets to the whole point of our concern today.  I am convinced that ‘quality’ is the core-concept not only for art theories alone, but to all practitioners of the art of living wisely (to quote E. A. Burtt).7


2.         Pepper in Contemporary American Philosophy and Aesthetics

     In The New American Philosophers (1968) Professor Andrew Reck of Tulane University speaks highly of Pepper as “prominent in contemporary American philosophy” and “unmatched” as aesthetician and philosopher of art. — a laudatory but well deserved estimate:

“Pepper occupies a prominent position in contemporary American philosophy.  While C. I. Lewis has taught that the immediate quality of all experience is aesthetic, it was Pepper who, more than any thinker of his generation, made aesthetics and philosophy of art the technical fields of study they are now. Other thinkers…. were later to make significant contributions to the area, particularly I. K. Feibleman and Paul Weiss, but none matches Pepper as aesthetician and philosopher of art.”8

      Undoubtedly it is no exaggeration to say that Pepper remains the greatest of America’s philosophers of art, since John Dewey. His Aesthetic Quality, a gem in American art theories, stands as an exquisite masterpiece on all counts.  His superior achievement in this field, I think, is due to his ingenuity as a critical synthesizer and creative thinker in his own right.  As regards some peculiar features of Aesthetic Quality, we may point out: (l) it makes almost no reference to any other aesthetic writers; (2) it makes no explicit criticism of other schools of aesthetic thought; (3) it makes no mention of “ugliness” (if an object is not beautiful, it is not aesthetic at all); (4) it definitely makes no claim whatsoever to exhaustiveness and absoluteness, for it holds “there is no theory or hypothesis that does not have its own Achilles Heel.” (contextualism is just one of the equally justifiable points of view or world hypotheses, such as formism, mechanism and organicism, etc.); (5) it leaves all fundamental or categories of concepts, such as quality and texture, unexplained lest they should be explained away; (6) it emphasizes the roles of conflict and organization as indispensable to the enhancement of Aesthetic Quality in intensity and extensity, thus replacing the Crocean isolationist position by an integrationist one; and (7) it lifts to a cosmic dignity the concept of ‘fusion,’ which receives for the first time its due recognition in contextualism as treated by Pepper himself.


3.         A Marshalling Hand at Work

     “When we come to contextualism, we pass from an analytic into a synthetic type of theory,”9 Pepper declares in World Hypotheses. Though it makes few references to other aesthetic writers, any perceptive mind who reads between the lines cannot but feel a marshalling hand that is constantly at work: it moves, moulds, and melds.  Many of the important discoveries in the field, ancient or modern, are fused, as it were, in a seamless manner into a coherent whole, a newer and higher synthesis.  Synthesis—that is the key-note, the tenor of all contextualists.

     Like a work of art itself, Aesthetic Quality exemplifies the principle of fusion par excellence. Worthy insights of alien (exotic?) theories, as well as conflicting views and issues of a perennial nature, are skillfully and successfully incorporated into his own system, wherein each of them has been assigned its due place and proper order.  Pepper has an unusual flaire for things of beauty and value, capable of appreciating a variety of insights of all major figures from Plato down to John Dewey and Merleau-Ponty, while differing from them all in one way or another.  He has a discriminating taste in the superlative.  For example, he has refined Dewey, criticized Whitehead, rejected Croce, expanded Bergson and made wise use of Kant and Hegel.  Unlike Dewey, he has the lingering influences of Hegel and even the neo-Hegelians expurgated from the contextualistic positions. Unlike Whitehead, he is free from “the logician’s and the mathematician’s bias”; unlike Croce, he has no fear of Conflict, Analysis, and Regularity! Unlike Bergson, he has transcended the “intuition vs. intellect” dualism! Unlike Kant, he is no formalist; unlike Hegel, he has cut off the Absolute! With all these, he is able to advance contextualism as twin-sister of Dewey’s pragmatism, but younger and prettier. As a philosophic writer, he is profound without being “muddle-headed,” and clear without being “simple-minded.”


4.         Dewey and  Kant:  Two Rich Sources of Inspiration

     The character shared by Pepper and Dewey is such that what one finds in the younger sister one finds also in the elder, but not vice versa:

“There is very little stated in Aesthetic Quality that is not also better stated in Art as Experience, but the point is merely that many things are not stated in Aesthetic Quality which are said in Art as Experience, and which I believe should not  be said by a pragmatist.”10

     This, as any one can perceive, is quite a charge against Dewey’s position in pragmatism as impure, or hybrid.  Pepper’s humorous and witty remarks of criticism aroused Dewey’s rather strong reaction.  His is an anti-monopolistic defense, in the form of a mild but firm and strong protest.  In his own words:

“Mr. Pepper … makes words like whole, coherence, integration, etc., the ground of his charge, rather than situation. His charge of an organicism has something in common with Russell’s charge of ‘holism.’ … He assumes that I have combined an anti-pragmatistic position with a genuinely pragmatistic one…

Thus, Dewey goes on to cite as witnesses ancient Greek thinkers, modern organicistic philosophers, organismic biologists who are all allowed to use with great freedom the same words without being subject to the same kind of charges as he is.  In fact, these words, from the ancient Greeks down to the modern (Hegelian) school of objective idealism, are originally “borrowed from esthetic experience” and “then illegitimately extended until they become categories of the universe at large, endowed with cosmic imports.”

“I close by saying that I don’t believe that any school of philosophy has a monopolistic hold upon the interpretation of such words as whole, complete, coherence, integration, etc. … I am not prepared to deny to writers of this school genuine esthetic insights; and in so far as these insights are genuine, it is the task of empirical pragmatistic esthetics to do justice to them without taking over the metaphysical accretions.”11

     Dewey might have said, “Mr. Pepper, our positions are far closer than you imagine or put. You lend me great support when you reverse your previous dictum by saying instead”:

‘For organicism the coherence of feelings is central, while for pragmatism it is secondary and instrumental, … While for pragmatism quality is central and for organicism [it is] only a sort of corollary.’[12

(When I say the same) Pepper accuses me of deserting pragmatism for organicism!” 

Thus, Dewey sums up his defense with a skillful counterattack.  As a matter of fact, these two positions are essentially distinct but related; there is no such thing as a neat bifurcation between them.

            Though one has every legitimate right and reason to endorse Andrew J. Reck’s assessment that Pepper’s Aesthetic Quality surpasses Dewey’s Art as Experience in precision and purity, yet let us not be blinded to the fact that Pepper’s strength primarily lies in the clarity of exposition, whereas Dewey’s lies in the boldness and massiveness of invention and conception.  Methodologically speaking, Pepper is found to be not completely flawless, in that he should have made better choices of root metaphors for organicism and pragmatism.  For how can he justify his claim for maintaining the autonomy of each world hypothesis -- formism, mechanism, organicism, and contexutalism-- while still keeping one and the same root metaphor, “historic event,” for the latter two?  (Though at times he attempts to distinguish the two as integrative vs. dispersive, treating them as two species of the same theory.)  Specifically he even calls contextualism a “dispersive” organicisim.

            Admittedly we accept the common ground for these two; their key difference nevertheless is a matter of focal emphasis.  One starts with historic event as its root metaphor; the other, situation.  One takes quality as central, the other, coherence.  Thus, in order to prevent unnecessary confusions I suggest keeping situation as the root metaphor for contextualism and historic event (or organism) for organicism, respectively.  What Samuel Johnson has said about the early poets and their followers in later times applies perfectly well to our present case: “The first excel in strength and invention, and the latter in elegance and refinement.”13  One characteristic feature of Pepper as a philosophical writer is his remarkable clarity in exposition and cogency in logical construction.  On the other hand, we may offer our tribute to the reverse virtues of Dewey using a Chan-like Chinese proverb: “No big fish in too clear waters!”

     The remarkable thing, however, is that despite his sharp criticism of and explicit deviation from Dewey in certain technical aspects methodologically considered, Pepper has high admiration for him.  As he told me in person at SIUC (1970), “If only five classic works in the field of aesthetics could be mentioned, Dewey’s Art as Experience should be among the list.”  This is quite a tribute from a philosopher of art in the strictest sense of the term.  While Dewey speaks of Art as Experience in general, Pepper would rather have the aesthetic field located in terms of ‘quality’, thus distinguishing the quantitative from the qualitative (standard) definition of beauty.  On the basis of Dewey’s integrationist insight into Art as Experience, Pepper further differentiates ‘quality’ into three dimensions: (1) intensity (vividness); (2) extensity (spread); and (3)  depth (social significance), distinctively paralleling Irwin Edman’s four-dimensional view of art as (l) the intensification, (2) the clarification, (3) the interpretation, and (4) the unification of experience, as advanced in Arts and the Man. The whole text of Aesthetic Quality is devoted to a systematical elaboration of such a three-dimensional criterion of beauty as enhanced quality. A work of art ought to pass this strict criterion before it can be called truly great; highest beauty has to meet all these three standards.  So advocates Pepper.  (For details, see Aesthetic Quality.)

     Evidently, Dewey remains for Pepper one rich source of inspiration, the other being Kant.

     For Pepper, no less suggestive than Dewey is Kant.  He has made full use of the Kantian heritage.  To mention a few points: (l) the Kantian notions of perception, apperception and idea of constituting the three steps of relevant (imaginative) construction; (2) the Kantian theme of the “happy relation” (harmony) of Imagination and Understanding as productive of aesthetic ideas; (3) the Kantian contention that in aesthetic activities Understanding is at the service of Imagination while in intellectual activities the relation is reversed; and (4) the Kantian contrast of the Conceptual to the Non-Conceptual Columns, taken emphatically, but not exclusively.

     Such important insights in the Kantian tradition, unfortunately, are deplorably ignored by Croce and Bergson alike, yet they lead Pepper to exclaim “Eureka” in terms of fusion!  A contextualist is a fusionist, nay, even a com-fusionist.  Of particular importance for Pepper are (3) and (4).  (3) is a matter of primary considerations; (4) is far more enlightening as schematized in the following:


  Feeling, or Non-Conceptual


Concept or Conceptual

     (a) inexponsible unexpoundable

     (b) indemonstrable

     (a) symbolic

     (a) exponsible

     (b) demonstrable

     (3c schematic (or signal)





     By ‘inexponsible’ is meant ‘incapable of being reduced to concepts’ and by ‘indemonstrable’ is meant ‘incapable of being proved by concept.”  The Non-Conceptual Column corresponds to three types of knowledge (each being a form of a synthetic a priori Judgments): (l) aesethetic (aesthetic ideas); (2) moral (rational ideas); and (3) religious (symbolic knowledge).  The scope of knowledge taken in its inclusive sense is co-extensive with the entire realm of human experience.  On the other hand, the Conceptual Column represents only one type of knowledge, namely, the theoretical arrived conceptually (or relationally, intellectually, etc.).

     What is of crucial importance in the above schematic representation is the relationship between these two Columns as emphatic?, not exclusive.  Croceans and Bergsonians have missed this whole point, hence, one opposes intuition to concept; the other insists on brushing the concept aside!  To say that the aesthetic judgment is non-conceptual does not imply that it is completely free from concepts; it simply signifies that the distinctive character of such a judgment is not conceptual; for in aesthetic experience no primacy is allowed to concept (Understanding); but to feeling (Imagination).  We remain thus immune from any sort of bifurcations.  Such an interpretation is warranted by hints derived from the Kantian contention stated above in (3); its consequents are so enlightening that many of the Kantian oppositions such as knowledge vs. faith; phenomena vs. noumena; the sensible vs. the supersensible; in short, concept vs. feeling, must be seen in a new light as contrast which, for Whitehead, is a mode of synthesis and, for Pepper, a mode of fusion. The original Kantian epoch-making statement “Deny knowledge in order to make room for faith” must make room for the revised version: “Deny knowledge in order to make room for feeling”!  For faith is but a specific form of feeling, religious, moral, or cognitive.

     In line with the above elucidation we are readily led not only to the realization of the epistemological imports of aesthetics, that what can be known can also be felt, but that what can be felt cannot be merely known, i.e., conceptually.  But, more importantly, we are led to the realization of the primacy of the experiential — a grand theme shared in common almost by all major philosophers of the contemporary age: Whitehead, Dewey, Heidegger, Michael Polanyi, Pepper, ... etc.  The main contention of Popper’s Concept and Quality is based on the same insight.  It sheds much light on the moot issues in value-theories in general. What is value?—but a quality felt, a quality that arouses our admiration and appreciation.  For Pepper, quality emerges from the dialectical interplay of the intuitive and the intellectual through fusion. It is treated in connection with its co-relational concept of texture. To Pepper, as to posterity, Kant means far more than he himself could ever dream!


5.         Presuppositions of the Contextualistic Theory of Art

     For a fuller justification of Popper’s aesthetic theory we are referred to his metaphysics as outlined in World Hypotheses.  Fundamentally considered, the affinity between Pepper and Chinese aesthetic views is deeply seated in the congeniality of their metaphysics and, moreover, in the kinship of their temper of mind.  Obviously, it is out of place in this short study to get into any in-depth discussion of the metaphysics of either. It suffices to mention, en passant, chiefly for comparative purposes: (I) The root metaphor for contextualism is ‘event’ or ‘historical event’ — an event alive with its present or, as with Dewey, ‘situation’; (2) The four fundamental categories in contextualism are change and novelty, quality and texture (two pairs of co-relatives); (3) one of the basic presuppositions of contextualism is the belief that no event, if put into its proper context, is lacking in quality; (4)  ‘quality’ as a categoreal concept cannot be defined, nor treated apart from its co-relative concept ‘texture.’ However, (5) it can be interpreted and shown thus: “The quality of a given event is its intuited wholeness or total character; the texture is the details and relations which make up that character or quality.”14  For example, the quality of any piece of music is something that emerges as a result of the fusion of all strains and notes as a whole.


6.       The Chinese and Contextualistic Temper of Mind

     If aesthetics presupposes metaphysics, we must add, metaphysics presupposes a certain temper of mind.  In fact, these three form a sort of trinity. Professor Bahm’s grand theme that aesthetics implies and is implied by metaphysics is best exemplified in the case of contextualism and the entire Chinese philosophical tradition, though the same can be said of many other systems such as those of Plato, Plotinus, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Whitehead, Dewey, Heidegger, Bergson, etc. In all such cases a given metaphysical system is inspired by aesthetic visions and insights. Nay, it is, in the final analysis, but an aesthetics in disguise!  It is interesting to note that in spite of all his “passionate skepticism” Bertrand Russell “frankly confesses” that his “motives for several faiths are of an aesthetic, not of logic, sort.”15

     Nowhere else is Pepper found more congenial with the Chinese way than in his contextualistic temper of mind. And nowhere else has he more tellingly betrayed (revealed) such a temper of mind than in Principles of Art Appreciation, where it is stated:

“. . . to be dogmatic in our perceptions is to shut ourselves off from an enormous amount of enjoyment in the perceptions of other men and other cultures, and from an enormous amount of true understanding of the world in which we live. ...

And in painting we gain in the understanding of nature by relaxing our dogmatism and our provincial certainties, and considering the insights of all these sensitive perceivers of nature, so also in philosophy.16

     In Aesthetic Quality he warns bad critics:  “To judge a work bad, a critic must be big enough to see all around it and all through it.” The attitude herein recommended for art critics and philosophers in general is an aesthetic attitude, the habit we are encouraged to cultivate is an art habit which, for Whitehead, is the habit of enjoying vivid values.  The purpose of all education, artistic or philosophic, is the enlargement of the scope of value-appreciations. The principles of art appreciation turn out to be the principles of wise ways of living or, as with E. A. Burtt, “the art of living wisely.”  The above words from Pepper should be held up as motto for any student of comparative studies in any areas of choice.  Such a wholesome attitude and temper of mind, basically aesthetical in character, appreciative, undogmatic, sensitive, receptive, open-minded, large-hearted, comprehensive, is wholeheartedly endorsed by Abraham Maslow, the distinguished American humanistic psychologist, who terms the “receptive” “Daoistic” in the sense of “Holistic” or “Wholistic.”  But it is echoed by all great minds in the Chinese cultural traditions. For example, Kongzi (Confucius) is admired above all for being free from four human weaknesses: “arbitrariness, cocksure certainty, dogmatism, and ego-centricity”; Laozi enlightens the world with his insightful remarks: “Receptivity, hence impartiality; impartiality, hence eminence; eminence, hence the way of Heaven; the Way of Heaven, hence Dao; Dao, hence everlastingness.” The Confucian classics as a whole are replete with similar insights on “the art of living wisely” by first developing a mature, enlightened personality with a wholistic perspective and attitude:  one who is able to “Be conciliatory yet without identifying with others”17 so as to “Respect difference while enjoying agreement.” The latter has become the guideline for the conduct of human life moving towards a far more viable world order characterized by harmony and creativeness.  For all these, we must say, a certain contextualistic awareness of the importance of the pluralistic approach to matters of value is intrinsically indispensable, no matter where or when.

     The whole secret of the Chinese way of doing philosophy is best revealed by Professor Thomé H. Fang, when he declalres: “The Chinese are artists before they become philosophers.”18  It is a bold statement that epitomizes Zhuangzi’s vision: “A sage is one who, on the basis of the cosmic beauty, is enabled to perceive and comprehend the Reason inherent in all things” (and the meanings thereof).  Both confirm the insightful observation of George Rowley “The Chinese way of looking at life was not primarily through religion, or philosophy, or science, but through art.”19  In other words, it adopts an aesthetically-oriented approach and attitude towards life and all life-activities.  Such an attitude proves to be most congenial to the contextualistic temper of mind on the ground of trans- or meta-philosophical considerations. Their kinship in mentality, in temper of mind, nourished in what Professor Northrop calls “the immediately apprehended aesthetic continuum,” is best reflected in their metaphysics — their world views or, as with Pepper, their world hypotheses.  The contextualistic formulation of change and novelty, quality and texture as fundamentals sounds like a pocket edition of the fundamental principles of Chinese philosophy of creativity (Yi-Jing or The Book of Creativity). It is a de luxe pocket edition of the Yi-Jing.  In both cases we can meaningfully talk about the metaphysical foundation of aesthetics as well as the aesthetical foundation of metaphysics.  In fact, we have good reason to claim that at bottom for the Chinese, as for the contextualists, aesthetics is meta-metaphysics!


7.         Fundamentals of Chinese Metaphysics

     As said before, both the contextualist and the Chinese world hypotheses stand as colossal exemplars of the grand theme of the mutual implication of aesthetics and metaphysics. Turning now to the metaphysical consideration, we may highlight certain essential features of the Chinese view such that one can easily spot the affinity as well as difference between the two systems.  In the light of Pepper’s root-metaphor method, the Chinese world hypothesis can be shown to be a root-metaphor philosophy, par excellence.  It is called “creative humanism” grounded in and generated by the root-metaphor of “creative act” or “co-creative act.”  It is a humanism grounded on Creativity as the ultimate ultimacy, which accounts for the unity of heaven, man, and earth (nature) in the process of the cosmic transformation and change.

     The spirit of the Chinese tradition of creative humanism or, what amounts to the same, creativism, can be summed up in a ninefold characterization : (l) process view in cosmology; (2) value-centric view in ontology, implying a functional view of substance; (3) trans-dualism in methodology; (4) experientialism in epistemology: (5) pragmatism in philosophy of action, emphasizing on unity of theory and practice; (6) existentialism in philosophy as elucidation of Existenz or human reality; (7) pan-pene-theism in religion; (8) vivid qualityism in aesthetics; and (9) empathy and-sympathy theory in ethics.

            Contextualism and the Chinese position have at least (1), (3), (4), (5) and (8) in common.

     As to the formulation of metaphysical principles or categoreal concepts, the Chinese thinkers inspired by Zhuangzi tend more towards Pepper than Whitehead, without the latter’s logician and mathematician bias. The above quoted statement by Zhuangzi can be hermeneutically interpreted in our modern terminology: “A philosopher is one who, on the basis of the pervasive Aesthetic Quality in nature, is enabled to construct a world hypothesis in terms of which every item of our life experience can be interpreted.”  Basically, metaphysics, as Pepper sees it, is an art of interpretation.  We have no use for the Whiteheadian criteria of the ‘logical’ and ‘neccessary.’  Thus by revising the Whiteheadian view of speculative philosophy, we may justly affirm that metaphysics consists in the endeavor to form an incomplete (open), interdependent, and coherent scheme of general ideas, i.e., notions of the utmost generalities, in terms of which every item of our life experience can be interpreted.

     Professor Fang’s formulation of the Chinese metaphysical principles in two versions fits in with the requirement of adequacy very well.  His earlier, fuller account lists six principles: (l) Life, (2) Love, (3) Creative Advance, (4) Primordial Unity, (5) Equilibrium and harmony, and (6) Extensive Connection. These six principles are later condensed into four: (1) Life, (2) Extensive connection, (3) Creative Creativity, and (4) Creative Life as Process of Value-Actualization.  Each of these categories is further differentiated into certain sub-categories, such as Emergence of Novelty under the Principle of Life, Communion through Contrast under the Principle of Love, etc. (not to be elaborated here.)

      Comparing the above formulation with Pepper’s four principles of change and novelty, quality and texture, we will notice some important parallel insights, such as change and novelty for Life, Creative Advance, Emergence of Novelty; and texture for Process of Value-Actualization, Extensive Connection, etc. The concept of fusion and its Chinese counterparts, equilibrium and harmony, are basic and central in both systems. It is the core-principle, an aesthetic principle applied to metaphysics, that works wonders in human as well as cosmic creative activities.


8.         The Chinese View of Art: A 3-Dimensional Characterization

     In as much as the Chinese aesthetical principles are expanded into a system of metaphysical thought centering on the unity of the personal life and the cosmos, we are led to the realization of the intimate relationship between art and man.  What is art?  As formulated by Professor Fang in Creativity in Man and Nature, “However varied and colorful has been the conception of art in art-history, the business of art which is fine in nature, as of all creative activities, is to broaden, to deepen, and to elevate the horizons of all human experience in infinite dimensions.”20  Such a definition of art, based on insights derived from rich sources in the Chinese tradition, such as Confucianism, Daoism, and even the Chinese Mahayana Buddhism (including the Chan Sect), is intended for the meeting of East and West on the ground of art.  The emphasis on ‘elevation’ is owed to the Chinese philosophical anthropology and psychology, the height-psychology, so to speak, in the Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist traditions.  Notice its affinity with Dewey and Pepper — Professor Fang, having been taught by Dewey only for one year as an undergraduate, proves to be the greatest spokesman for Chinese philosophy in the 20th century.  Not only is there a Deweyian tincture in his choice of words like ‘experience’; but also a Pepperian tendency in his preference of a three-dimensional criterion of beauty.  We find at least that Pepper’s 3-D characterization of great beauty in terms of the intensity, extensity, and depth of quality parallels so closely to Fang’s version in terms of the broadening, deepening, and elevating of the horizons of human experience (n infinite dimensions), that one cannot fail to perceive the amazing similarity between them.  At any rate, however, we may well take Fang’s definition as representing the Chinese creative humanistic view of art.  It cannot be put better.


9.         Pepper’s Appreciation of Chinese Art and Aesthetics

     Kongzi and Zhuangzi are said to be the two greatest philosophers of art in ancient China. Each represents a different type characterized by two distinct life styles, respectively: involvement and concern for the Confucians; and emancipation and transcendence for the Daoists, as reflected in their views on art. The Confucian emphasis on harmony and restraint, primarily music-oriented in education, is indispensable to art creations; but the Daoist stress on spontaneity and liberation proves definitely more favorable with the all the creative spirits. We learn from Kongzi that “music is the heart of heaven and earth voiced”: that one “should aim at the Dao, abide by virtue, rely upon humanity, and be immersed in the art;” that one’s character and personality growth is “initiated in poetry, established in propriety, and consummated in music.”21

     However we learn very little from Kongzi on painting; he lived at a time when the art of painting had not fully developed in China.  But he left a sublime line on “art” in general – a line that may just entitle him to be recognized as a forerunner of contextualism in aesthetics, to say the least.  His consummate statement can be hermeneutically paraphrased thus: “Just as in the case of embroidery, quality is a matter of proper context.” (e.g., the silk groundwork).  Similarly, Pepper’s contextualism as an adequate world hypothesis is suggestively based on and generated by the metaphor “texture” – one borrowed from the craftworks of weaving, like embroidery.  The Book of Odes admiringly sings of the Lady Zhuang Jiang of the State of Wei: 

            “Her fascinating smiles, how dimpling they are!

            Her beautiful eyes, how beaming they are!


            All shining forth from the original state of her person.”


Zixia (intimate name: Shang), one of Kongzi’s most studius and scholarly disciples, who afterwards became a distinguished teacher-scholar of the Master’s thought for his age, asked,

             “What does it signify?”

             “Just as in the case of embroidery, quality depends on the silk groundwork as context.”  

             “Does this apply in the case of Rites and Propriety as cultural refinement?” 

“Shang, you just get me stimulated (with your feedback)!  Only with persons like you am I able to discuss odes and poetry!”22

It is no exaggeration to say that for Kongzi, as for Pepper, their common root metaphor “texture” is derived from the same kind of aesthetic experience as an inexhaustible source of inspiration. 

    Yet, it is mainly the Daoist spirit that has inspired the entire tradition of Chinese art, especially in landscape painting.  Many of the Chinese aesthetic insights and thoughts are embodied in discourses on painting which, as a rule, are put in epigrammatic and even fragmentary forms, seldom systematized until Shi Tao, the most original creative artist and the most trenchant, profound thinker on art experiences. 

    Shi Tao – a royal offspring of the overthrown Ming Dynasty in 17th century China, was rescued and brought up as a Chan monk in a Buddhist temple. He was nourished for over 20 years in the scenic atmosphere of the Great Yellow Mountain area -- opening a new horizon in aesthetic explorations since the doctrine of six essentials of painting laid out by Xie He (Hsieh Ho) in the 5th, and Jing Hao in the 10th centuries.  Xie He formulates “vividness of tone and atmosphere” (paralleling Pepper’s “vividness of quality”) as the master principle for art creation and art appreciation that has dominated Chinese aesthetic thought for fourteen centuries.  But how to optimize the vividness of Aesthetic Quality remained a question unsettled until Shi Tao, who gives it a most thoroughgoing and penetrating treatment.  Shi Tao’s Sayings on Painting is grounded in his cosmic monism.  The great artist, in his phrase, is “spokesman for the great mountains and rivers,” that is, “for the creative force, the exuberant vitality, of the whole cosmic life.” He has reduced qi-jun to qi.  His celebrated “Doctrine of Yi-hua” – a terminology that almost defies literal renderings in any Western languages – can be roughly put as “Painting by the One,” for lack of a better term.  He is the rarest exemplar of the combined personages of the consummate artist and philosopher China has ever produced.  A comprehensive treatment of his position in the art of painting, and in the art of living wisely as well, is too profound, subtle, and complicated to be attempted here.  It suffices to point out, in passing, that he is the epitome of the consummate unification of the Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist insights and wisdom in the East.  On the other hand, he is found to have anticipated Pepper by about three hundred years in the discovery of what he calls the “Secrets of Painting,” consisting in nothing more than the principle of “fusion of the aesthetical with the conceptual” – an insight unmistakably indicative of Pepper’s works from Aesthetic Quality (1937) to Basis of Criticism in the Arts (1947) and Concept and Quality (1969).

     In this connection, we are further delighted to find that Pepper has demonstrated superior understanding and appreciation of Chinese art and aesthetics, by grasping the secrets in the use of brush-work and the application of the principle of “fusion of the opposites” as the open sesame.  Indeed, the concept of qi-yun cannot be fully appreciated apart from acquaintance with the Chinese mastery of the brush work.  Inspired and encouraged by his father, a “noted portrait painter” in Boston, Pepper is among the very few Western aestheticians and philosophers who in their youth had the good fortune to have visited and studied in Japan so as to become well acquainted with Oriental brush work.  Naturally, he gets quite to the point when he says on this subject:

“The Orientals are particularly deft with ... narrative movement of lines.  The flexible brush they habitually use is the most sensitive of all drawing instruments to the movements and emotions of the hand.  It spreads in thickness with the pressure of excitement, it thins to a thread at the thought of tenderness... The Chinese and the Japanese have much to teach the West on the use of lines.23

     Later, at the 1969 East-West Philosophers’ Conference on “The Nature and Function of Symbolism of Art in East and West” (dedicated to Pepper exclusively), addressing the question of how far Oriental culture and art can be understood and appreciated by an outsider, he replied readily:  “Quite far. Only with a little sympathetic willingness to understand.”24  His grasp of Chinese art and aesthetics testifies to what he recommended as the sound approach. A perceptive mind such as his, grasped the spirit of Chinese art better than most of the Western scholars who understand the language. For example, the concept of qi-yun sheng-dong has given rise to more than eighteen translations, none of which is truly correct. Some are widely off the mark, such as the French translation by Ralphel Petrucci, “La consonance de le esprit engenre le mouvement de la vie.”  Even Lin Yutang’s rendering of it as “lifelike tone and atmosphere” still falls short of the original. It is none other that the counterpart notion to Pepper’s “vividness of quality” as applied to the art of painting.  In the original Chinese it signifies “vividness of quality” as a result -- through fusion -- of “force” (qi) and “harmony” (yun), that is, (creative) impulse and restraint; or, for Goethe, “life and form”; for Cassirer, “feedom and form.”


10.       Summary and Reflections

     Pepper grasped qi-yun in terms of “quality” and he fully realized that quality is a matter of fusion out of which emerges the total character. “The quality of a given event is its intuited whole or total character; the texture is the details and relations which make up that character or quality.” In the light of “union of the opposites” as the guiding principle in art, he interpreted qi (abbreviated from qi-yun) as “emotional and intellectual balance” and exclaimed, “If this is qi, we could do with a lot of qi in America!”25

     Of the Six Essentials formulated by Xie He, only the first principle of “vividness of qi-yun” is the criterion on the basis of the intuited whole or total character. The rest are details with the technical aspects that will bring about such a total effect.  They are: (1) creating vividness of tone and atmosphere; (2) building structure through brush work; (3) depicting the form of things as they are; (4) appropriate coloring; (5) composition; (6) transcribing and copying (model works). (2) suggests the idea of “the bone-like structural use of brush-work.”  Pepper’s grasp of qi or qi-yun in terms of “emotional and intellectual balance” (taking “balance” in the sense of the axiological mean) sums up the principles of conflict and organization as contributing to the enhancement of quality both in intensity and extensity.  The concept of “vividness” conveys more than mere “intensity” as we see.

     The Six Essentials formulated by Jing Hao of the tenth century include (1) qi and (2) yun (literally, force and harmony treated separately); (3) thought or idea; (4) the scence sense? or context; (5) brush-work, and (6) ink-work. All for the sake of qi-yun.  George Rowley’s Principles of Chinese Painting is primarily based on these six essentials in the tradition of Xie He and Jing Hao.  Pepper’s “Review” shows that he is quite impressed with the Chinese insight into the importance of union of opposites.  It is an application of the general principle of fusion, a principle that is so dear to his heart as a contextualist.  With such a fusion-oriented temper of mind, there is little wonder that Pepper can achieve an unusually sympathetic appreciation of Chinese art and art-theories, which are both inspired by what Joseph Needham calls the typically Chinese organismic vision of the whole explicable in terms of trans-dualism or interpenetration as the guiding principle of the mode of thought.  Pepper speaks proudly of the concept of fusion thus: ‘Contextualism is the only theory that takes the concept of fusion seriously.  In other theories it is interpreted away as confusion, failure to discriminate, muddle-headedness.  Here it has cosmic dignity.26

     Here Pepper is speaking no less proudly of contextualism as a whole.  With a contextualist eye he catches immediately the spirit of Chinese art.  The main thrusts of his insightful “Review” can be summed up succinctly as follows:

     (l) for lack of a one-to-one-correspondence between Chinese and Western terms, he recommends sympathetic insight, adjustment, and patience for the sake of proper appreciation;

     (2) since qi-yun is the principle which is the source of all other principles of art, it deserves particular attentions;

     (3) it combines “Confucian conformity, moderation, and lucidity with Daoist freedom, naturalness (spontaneity), and mystery.” There is clearly nothing quite like it in our (Western) culture. It is neither mysticism purely, nor naturalism, but their unions;

     (4) this artistic purity consists in a union of ecstasy and convention, the personal and the impersonal, idealism and naturalism, man and nature;

     (5) the statement on the union of individuality and rule is a maxim so simple and complete that it could hardly be better said;

     (6) this principle goes deep into Chinese life;

     (7) in China formal beauty is not isolated, but resides in the whole content, hence, instead of beauty or esthetic values, the Chinese speak of the spirit, or qi;

     (8) this is not mysticism, nor art-for-art’s-sake-ism, nor even organicism.  It is emotional and intellectual balance (qualityism).  If this is qi, we could do with a lot of qi in America;

     (9) the Chinese use of the void (wu, unpainted painting) is generally misunderstood by the West as “negative space”— a misnomer.  Nothing could be more positive;

     (10) finally, the virtue and value of comparative studies in art (as in other areas): Western painting is itself enriched through determining the difference from Chinese painting.  Either by learning something from it in which the Chinese have gone beyond the West, such as the love of unbalance, irregularity, working out rhythm in visual arts; incorporating time into painting, etc., or becoming aware of things in Western art which we may have missed or taken too much for granted and which stand out as a result of contrast, such as the “moving-focus” principle, so typical in the Chinese painting, that is not much developed by Western art.

     Pepper’s words equally apply to Chinese artists and philosophers of art.  For instance, the concept of the mean, or equilibrium and harmony, is a notion that has been taken too much for granted by the Chinese so that they seem to speak of it as commonplace.  By contrast to Pepper’s thoroughgoing treatment of “restraint” as the marshalling principle for controlling contrast, gradation, and thematic variation, they will re-consider its value. This principle of restraint, as Professor Hahn chooses to call it, is the principle of optimal effect free from any negative connotation involved in the term ‘restraint.’ Nothing could be more positive, to quote Pepper. For it indicates the axiological mean (Nicolai Hartmann), the omega-point in any given event or situation.  It is simply perfection perfected, consummation consummated.  Another important lesson the Chinese can learn from Western aestheticians is the importance of theorization and systematization of great visions and insights in which the Chinese creative mind abounds and excels.  Pepper can be held up as a model for synthesizer and systematizer in this and other related areas, too.  It took China several thousand years to produce one Shi Tao.  Most of the Chinese aesthetic insights are devoted to discourses on painting, and surely art is not confined to paintings alone. How to develop, to generalize, to elevate “Principles of Painting” into an adequate theory of aesthetics deserves serious consideration and persistent endeavors.  The phrase qi-yun sheng-dong (????), though a master principle of painting, may not serve as well for literary criticism (when applied to such great works as War and Peace, Brother Karamazov, The Magic Mountain, etc.).  But “vividness of quality” as “vividness of qi” will.




      * Originally presented to Section of Aesthetics, the 11th Inter-American Congress of Philosophy celebrating the 500th Anniversary of Columbus’ Arrival in America, held at University of Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Mexico, November 10-15, 1985, chaired by the late Professor Lewis E. Hahn; herein published for the first time in a revised and expanded form celebrating Hahn’s Centennial Anniversary (2008). 




            1 Stephen C. Pepper, “Review of Principles of Chinese Painting by George Rowley,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 9 (December, 1948), 329-331.


            2 Cf. Jian Yihan,  A Study of the Sayings on Painting by Shi Tao (Taipei:  The Chines Culture University Press, 1982, First Edition;  1987, Second Edition), p. 164.

           3 Charles Hartshorne, “Pepper’s Approach to Metaphysics,” (a criticism of World Hypotheses), a written communication received in August 1979; title supplied by editors for https://people.sunyit.edu/~harrell/Pepper/Index.htm.


          4 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, tr. James Meredith (Oxford: The Calrendon Press, 1928, reprinted 1964), p. 175.


          5 Henry W. Cassirer, A Commentary on Kant’s Critique of Judgment (London: Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1938), p. 278.


          6 Kant, op., cit., p. 212.


          7 Professor Burtt’s correspondence with Suncrates in 1989, a few days before his passing, in which he expressed his deep regret that throughout his career as scholar and professor in the academic field he had missed taking the course in “the art of living wisely” – a course he strongly recommended for his younger  professional colleagues.


           8 Andrew J. Reck, The New American Philosophers (New York: A Delta Book, 1971), p. 46.


          9  Stephen C. Pepper, World Hypotheses (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London:  University of California Press, 1971), p. 232.


          10  Stephen C. Pepper, “Some Questions on Dewey’s Esthetics,” Paul A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of John Dewey (New York The Tudor Publishing Co., 1951), p. 372.


          11 Pepper, Ibid.; Schillp, op. cit., pp.  553-554.


          12 Ibid., p. 553.


           13 Cf. Samuel Johnson, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, Chapter 10, selected in L. I. Bredvold, A. D. McKillop and L. Whitney (eds.), Eighteenth Century of Poetry and Prose (New York:  The Ronald Press, 1939), p. 706.



          14 Pepper, World Hypotheses, p. 238


          15 Bertrand Russell, “Philosophy in the twentieth  Century,” Skeptic Essays, selected in R. E. Egner and L. E. Denonn (eds.), Basic Writings of Bertand Russell (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961 , 261.


          16  Stephen C. Pepper, Principles of Art Appreciation (New York:  Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1949), pp. 249-240.


          17 Cf. The Analects, Book XIII, S. 23; Doctrine of Equilibrium and Harmony, S. 15, etc.


          18 Thomé H. Fang, The Chinese View of Life: The Philosophy of Comprehensive Harmony (Taipei: The Linking Publishing Co., 1980), p. 42.. Fang, The Chinese View of Life ss


          19 George Rowley, Principles of Chinese Painting (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1959), p. 3.


          20 Thomé H. Fang, “West and East Meet on the Ground of Art,” included in Creativity in Man and Nature (Taipei: Linking Publishing  Co., 1981), p. 154.


          21 The Analectss, Book  VII, §. 6.


          22 Cf. Ibid., Book III, §. 8; Ku Hung-ming’s translation modified to suit the original intention in the text .


          23 Pepper, Principles of Art Appreciation, p. 187.


          24Stephen C.  Pepper, “On the Use of Symbolism in Sculpture and Painting, Philosophy of East and West, Vol. 19 , No. 3 (September, 1949), 277.


          25 Pepper, “Review of Principles of Chinese Painting by George Rowley,” in op. cit., 329-331.


          26 Pepper, World Hypotheses, p. 232.