Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Kung Fu for Philosophers
Thanks to my Martini-drinking buddy Bob over at "Striking Thoughts" for finding this one:
From all places, this piece on "Kung Fu for Philosophers" comes from The New York Times opinion page, and it's pretty good. You can read the entire piece at the link highlighted above, but here are a few excerpts-
"But as the Shaolin monk pointed out, kung fu embodies much more than fighting. In fact any ability resulting from practice and cultivation could accurately be said to embody kung fu. There is a kung fu of dancing, painting, cooking, writing, acting, making good judgments, dealing with people, even governing. During the Song and Ming dynasties in China, the term kung fu was widely used by the neo-Confucians, the Daoists and Buddhists alike for the art of living one’s life in general, and they all unequivocally spoke of their teachings as different schools of kung fu.
This broad understanding of kung fu is a key (though by no means the only key) through which we can begin to understand traditional Chinese philosophy and the places in which it meets and departs from philosophical traditions of the West. As many scholars have pointed out, the predominant orientation of traditional Chinese philosophy is the concern about how to live one’s life, rather than finding out the truth about reality."
"One might well consider the Chinese kung fu perspective a form of pragmatism. The proximity between the two is probably why the latter was well received in China early last century when John Dewey toured the country. What the kung fu perspective adds to the pragmatic approach, however, is its clear emphasis on the cultivation and transformation of the person, a dimension that is already in Dewey and William James but that often gets neglected. A kung fu master does not simply make good choices and use effective instruments to satisfy whatever preferences a person happens to have. In fact the subject is never simply accepted as a given. While an efficacious action may be the result of a sound rational decision, a good action that demonstrates kung fu has to be rooted in the entire person, including one’s bodily dispositions and sentiments, and its goodness is displayed not only through its consequences but also in the artistic style one does it. It also brings forward what Charles Taylor calls the “background” — elements such as tradition and community — in our understanding of the formation of a person’s beliefs and attitudes. Through the kung fu approach, classic Chinese philosophy displays a holistic vision that brings together these marginalized dimensions and thereby forces one to pay close attention to the ways they affect each other."
"The kung fu approach does not entail that might is right. This is one reason why it is more appropriate to consider kung fu as a form of art. Art is not ultimately measured by its dominance of the market. In addition, the function of art is not accurate reflection of the real world; its expression is not constrained to the form of universal principles and logical reasoning, and it requires cultivation of the artist, embodiment of virtues/virtuosities, and imagination and creativity. If philosophy is “a way of life,” as Pierre Hadot puts it, the kung fu approach suggests that we take philosophy as the pursuit of the art of living well, and not just as a narrowly defined rational way of life."
As I like to say;
Combat brings necessary pain, "Art" necessarily brings pleasure...