I have already mentioned the lecture ofChinese philosophy held by Christian Wolff and explained the rather drastic consequences of this lecture, namely, the accusations of atheism and the expulsion from hisposition. What is still left is to actually describe the lecture itself. While it was held in 1721, written versions of it appeared only few years afterwards. I am especially interested of a version that was published in 1726, called simply Oratio de sinarum philosophia practica, in solemni panegyri recitata, because in this version Wolff had annotated his original speech and thus explained his ideas further.
The lecture itself holds no surprises after reading Bilfinger's more detailed presentation of the topic. Wolff notes that while form of the Confucianism differs from modern moral philosophy – Confucius uses examples, where Europeans would have preferred deductions, and rituals form a large part of moral education – but essentially emphasizes the commonalities. For instance, Confucius divided human being into two parts – sensuousness and reason – and advised one to subjugate senses to guidance of reason, because this is what made human beings perfect and led to tranquility, just like states were happier if governed by wise men. Furthermore, Confucius suggested we should use external glory as an incentive for moral progression: one had more motive to be e.g. kind to other people, if kindness was something that the community thought worthwhile and commendable.
What especially the annotations show is Wolff's wish to downplay the possible atheist leanings in Chinese philosophy. As I have already mentioned in a previous post, it is rather difficult to say whether Confucianism endorsed the idea of a personal god or merely just the existence of an impersonal force. Wolff appears to speak for the more theist interpretation of Confucius or at least he attempts to argue for its plausibility.
A completely opposite view of Confucianism is suggested in Lange's Nova anatome, seu idea analytica systematis metaphysici Wolfiani. The work is actually a collection of Lange's texts, and a large part of it contains a more summarized version of Lange's earlier works attacking Wolffianism. Thus, we see Lange again criticizing Wolff for combining ridiculous idealism with at least equally ridiculous materialism through the Leibnizian notion of pre-established harmony. Lange has clearly just ignored Wolff's many explanations of these questions, so the result is a somewhat skewed view of them. Lange has still read at least Bilfinger's summary of Wolffian metaphysics: for instance, he dismisses Bilfinger's notion of hypothetical necessity, as far too deterministic to form any getaway road.
While these parts of the work feel hence fairly repetitive, Lange also takes some time to attack Wolff's lecture with its annotations. Some of the criticism is rather amusing, for instance, Lange attacks the legends meant to justify the longevity of Chinese wisdom by noting that some of the people involved apparently lived, when the world and China with it was covered by deluge according to the biblical story.
Lange's main complaint about Confucianism is rather predictable. He is convinced that Chinese have no divinity and at times appears to identify Confucianism even with the dreaded Spinozism. No wonder he is outraged when Wolff casually compares Confucius and Mohammed with Moses and even Jesus – a known atheist and a heretic put on the same level with a holy prophet, and even worse, with the son of God.
All in all, there's only one serious piece of criticism against the ethical theories of Confucius and Wolff, namely, that both use glory and ambition as an incentive for moral behaviour. Even here, Lange's argument misses the point. True, it is not truly ethical to do good deeds only because you desire the fame and reputation of a benevolent person – after all, this would leave the possibility that you acted mischievously in cases where no one could ever know. Still, glory and ambition might well be used as tools for educating moral behaviour, and indeed, this is what we do when we thank and praise children for their good behaviour.
So much for Confucius, next time we shall see how Wolff's metaphysics resembles the tale of Robinson Crusoe.