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On Ethics and HistoryEssays and Letters of Zhang Xuecheng$
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Philip J. Ivanhoe

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780804761284

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804761284.001.0001

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Breadth and Economy1

Breadth and Economy1

(p.68) Essay 7 Breadth and Economy1
On Ethics and History
Stanford University Press

This chapter presents the English translation another of Zhang's essays. This one is organized around the distinctive and perennial theme of Confucian scholars: how does one balance breadth of learning with a grasp of what is most essential? Taking its cue from Analects 6.27, the essay argues that there is no formulaic answer to this question but that such a concern must be part of how one approaches learning. Zhang's particular account of this problem appeals to and takes shape around the structure of his speculative historical scheme. According to Zhang, it was relatively easy for those who lived during the Golden Age of the Zhou dynasty to master every aspect of the dao, because they learned about the Way in the course of their daily lives. In some sense, everything they did was an expression of the dao. However, such is not the case for those who live in the ages following the breakup of the Golden Age. For people of later times, learning about the dao is much more difficult; they do not spend their lives immersed in the ideal culture of the Zhou. Because of this disadvantage, they must dedicate concerted effort even to grasp a single, limited aspect of the dao.

Keywords:   Zhang Xuecheng, essay, Confucianism, learning, dao, Golden Age, Zhou dynasty

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