Citations and Speeches


130th Congregation (1987)

MOU Tsung San

The Public Orator, Professor Francis Charles Timothy Moore, MA, DPhil, wrote and delivered the following citation:

Mr. Chancellor, I am a voice without a person. I speak for the University in presenting to you those whom it honours. Yet before Professor Mou Tsung San, one of the most original philosophers of modern China, I cannot quite escape a personal tone, since philosophy is also my own discipline, philosophy, that contested subject which escapes but sometimes promotes ideologies, which serves but sometimes challenges knowledge, which sets models for our life yet may subvert them, which stands back from the public arena, but also on occasion plunges into it, which indulges itself and castigates itself...

Mou Tsung San was born in Qixia in Shandong province in 1909, a third son, and fourth child. His father was a farmer who inherited seven acres of land from his father. They grew millet and vegetables, and with the help of his family, including the young Tsung San, the elder Mou built up his holding to fifteen acres by the time of his death.

The young Tsung San was the first in his family to go on to secondary education. There was no school nearby offering education at this level, and he went to Peking, attending Senior Middle School and proceeding to two years of study for matriculation. He entered the University of Peking in 1928, and studied the philosophy of Hume under Chin Yueh Lin, a famous logician, the philosophy of Russell and mathematical logic under Chang Sin Fu, also a logician, and studied the philosophy of Whitehead by himself. He still returned to work on his father's farm in the vacations, and this was a practical life; philosophy, by contrast, seemed to him at this time to be a theoretical discipline, and he was especially interested in the status of the axioms of logic.

However, a dramatic change in his interests occurred when he encountered Hsiung Shih-li, a well-known successor of what has been called the idealist Neo-Confucian tradition of the Sung and Ming periods, the 'L'. As a result of this influence, Mou Tsung San changed his previous view of philosophy as a primarily theoretical discipline: life, rather than knowledge, became the central concern. Mou characterized this view of philosophy in the words 'life's wisdom'. But he remained open to the Western philosophical traditions of which he was earlier such a distinguished student, paying special attention to the study of the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Indeed, he strongly believes today that a proper philosophical education should involve study of different philosophical traditions.

In this spirit, Professor Mou took Kant's 'moral theology' as a model for one part of his philosophical development. Kant had rejected conventional Christian theology, along with much of the historical content of Christian belief. He held that we should start from an understanding of human reason and will, and from this starting point we could construct a 'moral theology'. We apprehend a moral, rather than a metaphysical proof of God's existence. In a consciously similar way, Mou Tsung San, starting from Hsiung Shih-li's contentions about our direct knowledge of consciousness and freedom, built what he called a 'moral metaphysics', providing what may be called a moral proof for a metaphysical system.

This bold and original line of thought had far reaching results. Traditional Confucian moral philosophy, for Professor Mou, was 'inward'. But Mou developed also his own 'outward' approach , producing a political philosophy frorn the Confucian starting point, and advocating democracy and respect for science. These developments led to a famous joint declaration, not a political joint declaration, Mr. Chancellor, such as the one which must have given you sleepless nights, but a philosophical joint declaration made in 1958 by Mou Tsung San and a group of leading New Confucians, Hsu Fu Kwan, Chang Chun Mai and Tang Chun I. They foresaw a renewal of the Confucian tradition, and an increase in its international cultural importance. This tradition, Professor Mou still holds, represents a practical philosophy, whose strengths are not really understood by those who hold power either in Peking or in Taipei. Professor Mou suggests that we can glimpse the possibilities of this tradition by considering the success of the so-called 'three dragons', Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

Mr. Chancellor, these views of Professor Mou on the political and social order form an important part of his position, since, as I have explained, he sees philosophy as a fundamentally practical discipline. However, he is known above all for his many authoritative scholarly writings, especially on the history of Chinese philosophy. He has written on Taoist metaphysics in the Wei and Chin periods, on Neo-Confucianism in the Sung and Ming, on Buddhist philosophy in the Southern and Northern Dynasties and the Sui and Tang periods; he has written on the philosophy of history and offered a Hegelian and antimaterialist interpretation of early Chinese history; he has made synthetic studies drawing, on Western as well as Chinese thought, concentrating on the notion of 'intellectual intuition', and he has worked on epistemology and moral philosophy. His interest in Kant has continued, and he has made definitive translations into Chinese of works of Kant.

He has held posts at the West China Union University, Central University, Nanking University, Tung Hai University, Taiwan Normal University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the University of Hong Kong. The breadth of his scholarship, the depth of his views, the range of his sympathy and understanding, the friendliness of his manner are reflected in the presence of many of his students, admirers and colleagues, and in the respect in which they hold him.

In a recent book, Mr. Chancellor,Professor Mou discusses the relations between happiness and virtue, a question familiar to students of Western philosophy from Plato on. He contends that we can accept neither the Epicurean view according to which being happy is being virtuous, nor a Stoic position which would make virtue its own reward. Nor does he accept Kant's solution by which God will guarantee cosmic justice by the distribution of punishment and reward. Those who seek Professor Mou's solution should read his book - but he sums it up in a poem in his last chapter, which includes the following words: Virtue and Happiness, rendered complete and perfect in each other, are absolutely independent of Providence. I now declare again the doctrine of Summum bonum, and bow to Confucius for the model he has left for our guidence.

Mr. Chancellor, the poet Horace long ago proclaimed that the achievements of human genius can be more long lasting than a brazen monument: exegi monumentum aere perennius.

In recognition of his achievement, therefore, I present to you Mou Tsung San, defender of theoretical and practical knowledge, distinguished for his original work in the Confucian tradition but proponent of the importance of the study of Western philosophy, one who trod a long march of the mind from the beautiful mountains near Qixia to the city of Hong Kong, farmer by origin and scholar by avocation, friend of learning and lover of life, believer in happiness and virtue, philosopher, for the award of the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

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