Wang Yangming (1472 - 1529) was a Chinese calligrapher, military general, philosopher, politician, and writer during the Ming dynasty. He is commonly regarded as the most important Neo-Confucian thinker, with interpretations of Confucianism that denied the rationalist dualism of the orthodox philosophy of Zhu Xi. Wang was the leading figure in the Neo-Confucian School of heart. This school championed an interpretation of Mencius, a Classical Confucian who became the focus of later interpretation, that unified knowledge with action. Their rival school, the School of Principle (Li) treated gaining knowledge as a kind of preparation or cultivation that, when completed, could guide action. (wikipedia)
Wang Yangming: Integration of Knowledge and Action (text source)
Wang Yangming was the leading figure in the Neo-Confucian School of Mind in Ming Dynasty. In his work about “Great Learning” or Daxue, Wang said, “A great learner makes himself united with Heavens, earth and all living beings. He views the whole world as one family, and all people as one individual.” With that, we understand that “great learning” is not just the learning for adults or learners with great mind, it relates to total harmony between human and nature. All things are ONE, not two, not three, not four. With this understanding, he can be named “gentleman of virtues” or “man of enlightenment”.
Out of Cheng-Zhu’s Neo-Confucianism that was mainstream at the time, Wang Yangming developed the idea of innate knowing, arguing that every person knows from birth the difference between good and evil. Wang claimed that such knowledge is intuitive and not rational.Wang said, “The man of supreme goodness is one of enlightenment and kindness to other people. He who loves his own father also loves the fathers of others; He who loves his own son also loves the sons of others. And he extends this goodness to animals and plants on earth”. Wang held that everything finally finds its root in the mind. It’s the goodness of the mind that directs people to do good to others.
He spoke highly of the integration of knowledge and action.Wang’s rejection of the pure investigation of knowledge comes from the traditional view of Chinese belief that once one gained knowledge, one had a duty to put that knowledge into action. In develop his philosophy of action, Wang believed that only through simultaneous action could one gain knowledge and denied all other ways of gaining it. To him, there was no way to use knowledge after gaining it because he believed that knowledge and action were unified as one. Any knowledge that had been gained then put into action was considered delusion or false.
Confucius believes that one shall behave themselves as daily training before they can serve the nation and the people with good management. This training is all about the mind. Wang held that objects do not exist entirely apart from the mind because the mind shapes them. He believed that it is not the world that shapes the mind, but the mind that gives reason to the world. Therefore, the mind alone is the source of all reason.
He understood this to be an inner light, an innate moral goodness and understanding of what is good. Wang agreed with ancient philosophers that to be enlightened, one has to cut his selfish wants and desires. In order to eliminate selfish desires that cloud the mind’s understanding of goodness, one can practice his type of meditation often called tranquil repose or sitting still. This is similar to the practice of Zen meditation in Buddhism.
Wang Shouren - Poems in cursive script - Sold by Sothebys for 965,000 USD
Knowledge is the beginning of action and action is the completion of knowledge.
Wang Yangming (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Wang Yangming (1472–1529) was a Chinese statesman, general, and Neo–Confucian philosopher. He was one of the leading critics of the orthodox Neo–Confucianism of Zhu Xi (1130–1200). Wang is perhaps best known for his doctrine of the “unity of knowing and acting,” which can be interpreted as a denial of the possibility of weakness of will.
A portrait of Wang Yangming, the philosopher who expanded the concept of the “thing” beyond materiality to embrace moral precepts and ideas. Neo-Confucianism combined principles from the three major ancient philosophies of China—Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism—and the Wang Yangming school was one of its dominant and most influential movements.
Abstract: Drawing an analogy between Wang Yangming’s endeavor to know ethical truth and Descartes’ quest for epistemic certainty, this paper proposes a reading of Wang's doctrine of the unity of knowing and acting to the effect that the doctrine does not express an ethical teaching about how the knowledge that is already acquired is to be related to acting, but an epistemological claim as to how we know ethical truths. A detailed analysis of Wang’s relevant texts is offered to support the claim.
The Introspective Model of the Unity of Knowledge & Action - by Harvey Lederman, Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Princeton (2019) (PDF)
Abstract: This paper presents a new interpretation of the great Ming dynasty philosopher Wang Yangming’s (1472-1529) doctrine of the “unity of knowledge and action” (知行合一). My interpretation focuses on a new understanding of Wang’s notion of“genuine knowledge”, according to which Wang held that genuine knowledge requires freedom from a particular form of doxastic conflict. I argue that Wang believed that freedom from this form of doxastic conflict requires freedom from motivational conflict, and that if a person is free from motivational conflict, they are acting virtuously. Thus, on my interpretation, Wang held that knowledge and action are unified at least in the sense that, if a person has genuine knowledge, they are acting virtuously.
Perception and Genuine Knowledge in Wang Yangming - by Harvey Lederman (2020) (PDF)
Conclusion: The first aim of this paper was to develop the perceptual model in more detail than has been done before. I argued that Total Knowledge was the best hope for making sense of the claim that perception is a part of some episodes of genuine knowledge, and I showed how, given Total Knowledge, we could make sense of Unity, which I take to be the core of the unity of knowledge and action.This result is already surprising. Proponents of the perceptual model have spoken in quite different ways about the supposed role of perception in genuine knowledge.They have not taken perception to be merely a side-light of the total mental event which36is genuine knowledge. Rather they have focused on a value-laden form of perception,and seen their interpretation as making Wang’s doctrine centrally about how we should perceive the world around us. But I argued that no such interpretation could be squared with Wang’s examples of the qualities we genuinely know, and that Total Knowledge was the best hope for the perceptual model.I then presented the introspective model, and argued that it was a more natural interpretation of what Wang wrote than the perceptual model. Wang doesn’t speak very much at all about the role of perception in virtuous action; by contrast he constantly emphasizes the role of liang zhi in recognizing one’s good inclinations and fostering them.Aside from two passages, the evidence points firmly toward the introspective model.Even those two passages, on inspection, do not clearly favor the perceptual model –one of them ([T4]) tells against it. So we should prefer the introspective model.The unity of knowledge and action is not a doctrine about a rich form of perception.Rather, it concerns the conditions under which the conscience-like faculty of liang zhi could fully recognize the ethical qualities of one’s own mental events. Wang believed that people could achieve this full recognition – genuine knowledge – when and only when they were acting virtuously. In this sense, he believed, knowledge and action are one.
Wang Yangming on the Unity of Knowing and Acting (The Splintered Mind , 2016)
There have never been people who know but do not act. Those who "know" but do not act simply do not yet know.... Seeing a beautiful color is a case of knowing, while loving a beautiful color is a case of acting. As soon as one sees that beautiful color, one naturally loves it. It is not as if you first see it and only then, intentionally, you decide to love it.... The same is true when one says that someone knows filial piety or brotherly respect. That person must already have acted with filial piety or brotherly respect before one can say she knows them. One cannot say she knows filial piety or brotherly respect simply because she knows how to say something filial or brotherly (Ivanhoe 2009 trans., p. 140-141).