The May Fourth Movement is best characterized by its radical rejection of the Chinese tradition (values) and by its absolute belief in scientism. The so-called Cultural Revolution (1968) tried to abolish Confucianism and replace it with a total new ideology, called Maoism. For its proponents modernization is the antinomy of tradition; it is possible only by means of a radical destruction of tradition.

            This work will show such an understanding of modernity to be ahistorical and therefore undialectical. In contrast, modernization is impossible without a thorough grasp of traditional values, for there is a dialectical relationship between tradition and modernity. Thus, traditionless modernity is as blind as an anti-modern tradition is reactionary.

            To approach these issues it is important to note that the Enlightenment generated scientism -- a new belief, or better, a new dogma that only through and by (natural) science can progress and therefore happiness be achieved. Such a belief became sacred and holy after the success of the industrial revolution, and especially the triumph of colonialism and imperialism. Humbled by Western tech-nology (which ruled the battlefield and therefore the destiny of China), Chinese intellectuals called for an abandonment of the Chinese Con-fucian tradition which they held to be responsible for the back-wardness of China, and for total and unconditional acceptance of Western scientism. The undeniable evidence of the Japanese his-torical victory over the Russian armada in 1905 due to the Meiji’s Westernized revolution confirmed the supreme and ultimate role of scientism as the new ideology. China became less interested in tradition, which it saw as useless, or even in pure science, than in the effectiveness of technology in solving pressing issues. In a word, science was taken to mean plain technology and the ideology was none other than what can rightly be termed scientism.

            This ideology has remained unchallenged until today when mother nature comes to be destroyed by ruthless exploitation, when our life is endangered and when the specter of an apocalypse appears more visible than ever -- all by means of technology. This is not a tragedy of China alone; it is human destiny. It reflects less the impotence of science than the blindness of scientism which arrogantly dictates the human fate and enslaves all under its total domination. Such a tragedy was foreseen and warned against by Martin Hei-degger,1 M. Horkheimer and Th. Adorno,2 Herbert Marcuse,3 and more interestingly by a great number of scientists. Recently, the blind domination of technology begins to be questioned, but in an equally ideological and biased manner in terms of a plea for return to a natura-listic Taoistic world. The politically motivated Green and the so-called anti-nuclear movements ignore the problematics of technology. The lone voice of some young thinkers who call for a balanced view of science and technology4 is often ignored or pushed aside for the sake of technological advance. The ruling elites hold firm in their view identifying modernization with technological advance -- which is not necessarily progress.

            The point raised by Vincent Shen and others is that modern-ization is being left unchecked so that technology gets out of our control and becomes the modern Sphinx swallowing the world into a black hole. Thus a thorough reflection upon the process or moderni-zation is urgent.5 A critique of technology does not mean being against it (indeed, it is absurd to be anti-technology). The function of a critique is to attain a better understanding and thereby a better solution of the problems emerging in the process of modernization.6 I would further insist not only on the indispensable role of critique, but, in Gadamer’s terms, claim that modernization is not possible by means of tech-nological advance alone, but requires a long process of reflecting upon and correcting the traditional ways of solving human problems.7 Be-yond Gadamer, we hold the view that modernization has to deal with new problems which are still emerging in the complex web of new hu-man knowledge, interests and even visions. In other word, the process of modernization cannot be reduced to the process of techno-logization, but must be understood from two different, though dialec-tically interwoven, processes: that of emergence from tradition and that of fulfilling the project born of new vision.

            Modernity is often understood as specific to a new age emerging from a revolt against the middle ages as a conservative and even backward tradition. The "querelle des anciens and moderns" indicates a new psychological and ideological kind of revolt (as the term "moderns" expresses): a new attitude toward the new world and, not least, a new belief in modernity as the new Messiah. Here, modernity places itself in an antinomian position against tradition. An under-standing of the issue is to be found not in a simple explanation of the reason for the conflict in terms of the genetic process of modernity itself, but more importantly in the confrontational attitude of both mo-dernists and traditionalists. To prove this point, our argument centers: (1) on a description of the cause of the conflict between "ancients and moderns", from which, (2) we shall extract its main reasons, which we shall try to apply to our age in order to see whether it amounts to the same conflict, and (3) we will come to our main point, namely, that the conflict emerges not accidentally, but permanently in the process of the human search for new solution to human problems.


            The phrase, "La querelle des anciens et moderns" expresses a total conflict between two worlds: an autocratic world based on divine providence and a subjective world which strives for total emancipation from the former. From another point of view, the modern person attempts to escape from a moral, classical, normative . . . tradition. Humans are seen as surrounded and thus held captive by norms and morals so that the modern person revolts not against tradition per se, but against its norms (morals). Frederick Nietzsche was but following the rebellious path set up by his predecessors in the age of the Reformation and Enlightenment, of course, in more violent terms. The modern person objects to divine power precisely in order to acquire his own power. He calls for the abolition of traditional norms because he feels that they are an obstacle to progress. He sentences God to death not because he does not believe in Him, but because he holds Him responsible for evil or the human fate.8 In a word, modern man is mo-dern precisely in wanting to be autonomous, independent from ex-ternal power. Like a bird, he is growing, and tries to leave his nest, to be free from the cage built by his ancestors, the sacred tradition. The revolt against tradition, the protest against morals and God, the cry for freedom and equality, all testify that man is entering upon his adole-scence.

            The issue here is how the modern person knows that he or she must be fully independent and free, and how he exercises his freedom without hurting himself; like a bird, one has to learn to fly before attempting to escape the nest. How does the modern person know that he or she can fly without any assistance from a mother. Such a question could be answered only if one is conscious of what one is calling for, namely, one must have a knowledge of freedom and equality . . . before hand. But what happens if such knowledge is dis-torted, fabricated, onesided or baseless.

            The modern person knows that he or she possesses such a knowledge, and that it is certain and valid in the sense of resolving un-solved enigmas and furnishing a better means of living and knowing. This knowledge is identified as science, the new Messiah proclaimed by the Enlightenment. Thus, the birth of modern science provides self-confidence and the ambition to replace God. The success of Galileo in challenging the divine power, of the defiance by Rousseau of the social structure based on theocracy and aristocracy, as well as of Kant in demonstrating the autonomy of moral laws, all are constructs of modern science, of which mathematics and physics are the main models. This science has as its main characteristics feelings of con-fidence, autonomy and freedom.

            The more advanced science becomes, the more self-conscious is man. The self-consciousness of modern man, praised by Locke and Hume, cultivated by Berkeley and Kant, and divinised by Goethe and Hegel, is another characteristic of modernity. Self-awareness now replaces the traditional paradigms of the providence of, and fidelity to God. It claims the power of creation (Nietzsche and partly Schopen-hauer), and it claims the whole process of genesis (Hegel). The science sought by Hegel is, in fact, that of self-consciousness as developed in his Phenomenology of Spirit,9 which is then applied to the world in Philosophy of History, Philosophy of Religion and Philosophy of Right.10

            That same consciousness is elevated by his disciples as the most important tool in dispelling the shadow of tradition: Bauer, Sirner, Strauss and Feuerbach, for example, sharpen self-consciousness to reject Christian belief and hence the Western heritage, while Marx goes even further in seeking to overthrow the total structure of tra-ditional society which he condemns as alienated. With the rise of self-consciousness comes the decline or, in the hands of the young Hegelians, the death of tradition. Nietzsche’s radical call for the death of God marks the era of revolt against tradition.

            Modern man describes himself as a rational man, a man against any form of superstition, unscientific belief and blind decision. Modern man seeks to abolish all systems which are "irrational"; he wants to dictate his own fate by means of calculation and not of belief. He objects to metaphysical determinism by constructing a kind of technological and economic device or effective instrument which can satisfy his life. In a word, he leaves his fate in the cold hands of rationality.


            The new belief of modern man is justified as long as the world goes well along the path devised by science, and so long as science and its deacons perform up to the standard claimed and expected by human beings. Our question here is whether we would warrant an omnipotent role for science if it is rather one of our products? What happens if science is miscalculated and misapplied? What happens to humankind if it is distorted or manipulated?

            The modern person seems not yet to have had time for reflection on the ideology of scientism, even if he has witnessed its atrocities, destructive force of scientism and its legitime heir, technology. He or she defends it with counter proofs of progress achieved by technology, and blames man as responsible for the mess. In a word, scientism is still considered absolute and has the final word in deciding human fate. Ironically, modern man abdicates his sovereign role in favor of his own product, so that tragically a human product controls man himself. The inevitable result of such a logic is precisely an anti-emancipation pro-voked and elaborated by the Enlightenment with the help of science. One liberates oneself from religious and moral tradition in order to fall into the deterministic trap of scientism.

            Here, we would begin by questioning the independent and abso-lute role of science, and whether it is developed in full independence from man and human tradition. For if science is only a part of tradition, and is manmade with the specific purpose of solving human problems, then it could not be independent and absolute. Any sovereignty on its part would be fabricated blindly and arrogantly by those who have not yet grasped its nature.

            First, it has been argued that science is fully autonomous from the human factor. Relying on Newton’s description of the mechanistic function of the universe, the path of the universe is seen to function according to the laws of motion between force, inertia and mass (the formula f=ma), and the law of equilibrium between force and reaction (the third law of motion which states that when one body exerts a force on another, the second body exerts a force on the first body of the same magnitude but in the opposite direction).11 One generalizes the Newtonian laws to all branches of sciences, including the human sciences, by insisting on their independence. Man has nothing to do, or better said, no force to change the path of the mechanistic function of the universe to which he belongs as a part.

            Second, the exact character of mathematics and physics is taken as proof of its correctness and consequently its validity. One then argues that human error is the main cause of human problems, so that solving human problems consists in eliminating the error. Con-sequently, one comes to the conclusion that only science can escape error, and hence that it is the best (and only) solution to human pro-blems. Here, science is elevated to the rank of the God of tradition and replaces Him, not only in solving our problems but, moreover, in dic-tating human fate.

            Third, its universal competence and hence value makes science transcendental, in the sense of being unlimited and unbounded in history and in the politico-socio-economic order. As transcendental, science enjoys absolute power in determining the conditions nece-ssary for life, which means that human life would not be possible without it.

            There is no doubt about the power of science in terms of correct-ness and truth. However, to translate correctness and exactness into absolute truth and value is rather an adventure, itself unscientific and biased as seemed the pre-scientific age.

            We would argue as follows: First, the correctness of a scientific statement, such as, "The distance between the sun and the earth is eight million kilometers" is beyond doubt. But the value of such a state-ment comes not from its correctness, but rather from its usefulness; this, however, can be understood only in terms of human life. The statement is useful and hence valuable so long it has a positive role or function in human life (for an astronomer or astro-physicist). Second, "correct" is not identical with "truth". Correctness is measured ac-cording to a standard or model which specifies all the necessary con-ditions, while truth cannot be calculated solely quantitatively. It is correct to state that the earth is round, that the sun is hot, and that the earth circles the sun. But it could be true or not that God exists, for here the criteria of truth are different. The first statements are understood by the yardstick of pure science, while right is the criterion of practical science. Correctness is determined by calculus, while right by value judgement. So, one can say rightly that one feels the need of a God, this need coming from human feeling. It is uncalculable because there is no visible criterion or model to measure such a feeling, nonetheless it is true and one cannot refute it. There are no fixed necessary con-ditions or transcendental categories for determining the truth of a statement such as "I believe in truth in terms of value (best seen in Kant and positivism); its rejection is born from an complete, one-sided grasp of the nature of science. The attempt to reduce science to technology, wisdom to know-how and truth to correctness is the hall-mark of present scientism.

            It should be noted that, even if science is transcendental, it does not dictate human fate. Science is human knowledge about the object (nature, world), and as human it could not exist without man. One has to make clear that though nature exists independently from man, knowledge about nature does not. It is true that "the sun is eight million kilometers distant form the earth", and that this distance is not made or fabricated by man. However, our point centers on the knowledge of this distance. Such knowledge is impossible without the discovery of the solar system by man. Our argument leads to a tentative con-clusion, namely, that the existence of science is self-evident, that science differs from nature or natural laws as such, and that it is foolish to object to it. However, to accept the absolute role of science is equally foolish, because it is human knowledge about something, a specific kind of knowledge which escapes the errors of ordinary knowledge, and which the Greeks expressed by the term "theoria".

            As a consequence of the understanding of science as know-ledge about something, with Aristotle it is necessary to insist on its manifold character. Depending on its mode of appearances, we con-struct scientific laws. Aristotle foresaw such kind of science when he designed the term "theoria" to express a certain form of pure know-ledge which distinguishes itself from "praxis", a kind of practical knowledge. The former is elevated to "Wissenschaft", i.e. a knowledge of universal character, while the latter often is dismissed as non-scientific because of its inconsistency and particularity. Actually, the difference lies in its level of exactness and truth. Where pure science is true and exact, i.e. is transcendental in character, practical science lacks such universal truth, for the correctness of human action varies depending upon circumstance, human conditions, etc.

            If we accept the distinction between pure and practical science and acknowledge its difference in terms of "truth", "exactness", "cor-rectness", etc., we must accept that truth and exactness (in pure science) do not automatically generate rightness, which must be me-diated by a human factor. That is to say, pure science, even if univer-sally valid, does not generate values, and thus rightness, unless mediated by a human factor, i.e. unless it be put into praxis which means, in turn, for better or even for worse, to engage in human life.

            If science has to be put in praxis, i.e. to be engaged in human life, then we can say for sure that the objective of science is not far from other forms of human knowledge: they all aim at discovering human problems and are looking for solutions, i.e., for ways to further human happiness. It is precisely here that we find the commonality between modernity and tradition. Human tradition reflects the whole process of the human search for valid paradigms, models which we take as the criteria of rightness in solving our problems. Whether they are still correct or valid is subject to a temporal and spatial test, which is the role of modernity as reflective, critical and revolutionary. But to critique tradition does not implicitly mean opposing it, much less abolishing it. The noble cause of modernity rests elsewhere, namely in shaping or making tradition more functional and valuable by means of critique. Science in the modern age should not be satisfied with the role of critiquing the obsolescence of tradition based on religious authority. It wants to offer modern man a true happiness which was promised but unrealized by religion. That means it continues the path of tradition in the sense that it is not detached from tradition as most modernists claim, but continues the traditional path.


            Our arguments demonstrate so far the connection of modernity and tradition in terms of their commonality in searching for happiness by means of problem-discovery and problem-solution. The problems may differ as may their solutions, but the processes adopted by traditionalist and modernist could be the same. In this part, we shall inquire into the process of problem-discovery and problem-solution in order to show that fundamentally the traditionalists have been modernists and that tradition is not taken for granted, but rather for its effectiveness in solving human problems. In a word, tradition is ac-cepted because of its value, or better said, because it still is generating or at least guarding human values. Tradition is thus neither a dead ideology nor a museum piece; it is a medium in which man lives, and without which any modernity is impossible. With Gadamer, we will argue that as long as tradition has been and still is the long human process of searching for happiness, it can serve as the source of modernity. This implies that modernity which excludes tradition as its starting point is simply unthinkable.12

            In the first part, we draw attention to the artificial separation be-tween natural and human science, the confusion of science and te-chnology, the radical critique of modernists, and the inferiority com-plex of humanists reflected in their adopting solely the methods of natural science. Locke humbly accepted, for example, the role of "assistant and its secondary position".13 We have also pointed out the difference between science as universal knowledge and practical science as pragmatic knowledge. Our point is that science generates value and demonstrates what is right only if it is concerned with human praxis, namely human activity in discovering and solving problems. Tradition primarily is concerned with basic human activities. Its value comes from its effectiveness in dealing with our problems. To prove this point, we shall examine some traditions to see whether they had to do with human problems, and whether their way (or method) is effective still in our days.

            Let us take traditional morals as an example: some are obsolete while others are still valuable. We must ask why this is so. There is less doubt about Confucian morals as representative of Chinese traditional morals. Here, we can pick some basic moral principles found in Con-fucianism and examine them from a pragmatic point of view, that is, in terms of their effectiveness. The basic tenets in Confucian morals are the principles of Jen, Yih, Chung, Hsiao which still are accepted by most Chinese today. The first question which arises is the purpose of these principles and how Confucius constructed them. Another question, no less important, is why we accept them. To answer these three questions demands a thorough reflection on Confucius’ motives and methods in constructing the above tenets.

            Here, the first question, of course, is not "how" but "why", not epistemological but ontological, not purely theoretic but rather prag-matic: why does Confucius propose Jen, Yih, Chung . . . as moral models which can solve human social problems?

            The question demands first, a thorough understanding of which problem we have and then a search for the kind of solution that is effective. That is to say, the ontological question leads to the episte-mological question, and finally to the pragmatic demand.

            If we follow the order of this procedure, we may find that Con-fucius spent a great deal of time in study in order to discover the pro-blems of human beings and society. To him, the problems are first implicit in un-natural human relationships (in the sense that such a relationship is against the natural order), in a lack of self-con-sciousness or self-recognition. Let us make a brief survey of the problems which we identify.

            The symptom of an un-natural or anti-natural relationship is most manifest: (1) when one does not follow the natural order; or (2) when one revolts against such an order. In the first case, that one fails to follow the natural order could be due to human ignorance or to human alienation (in the form of suppression, ideological distortion, etc.) while in the second case, one revolts against such an order because of its impracticality, inhumanity, or human ignorance.

            Here, we cannot go into a detailed investigation of the natural order. It is sufficient to note that such a natural order serves as the premise when Confucian morals have to be revised or discarded. Here, we shall just follow Confucius by taking his understanding of the natural order as an hypothesis, a tentative premise in Karl Popper’s sense, and not as truth.

            For Confucius, human error consists in (1) disobeying the na-tural order due to ignorance, or (2) failing in self-correction due to alienation or lack of self-consciousness. Let us look first at what he describes as the natural order.

            First, Confucius seems to follow the general understanding of order observed or experienced from nature: the order proceeds from the particular to the general, from the small to the great (quantitative), from imperfect to perfect values in the same manner as from less to more valuable, from less to more educated, from less to more powerful. In a word, Confucius’ order is arranged in accordance with human experience from nature: the greater is the better, the more perfect is the more desirable and so on.

            It follows that it is easy to pinpoint human error: one commits mistakes exactly when one disobeys this order. A son is "bad" if he disobeys his father; a subordinate makes mistakes when he ignores the order of his superior; a wife lacks virtue when she does not fulfill the role assigned to her by her husband, etc.

            One may argue against Confucius’ understanding of natural order and accuse him of simplifying problems, but one cannot blame him for his honest search for a better means to solve problems. We would object to some views which dismiss Confucius’ way of treating problems as unscientific (the view of Hu-Shi) by arguing that there is not a single scientific discovery without a careful observation of phenomena, a laborious diagnosis of the symptoms of phenomenal disorder, and a tentative attempt to explain and solve its enigma.

            First, the natural order followed by Confucius was taken to be true at his time; even today in some ways our order is based on such an understanding of nature. St. Thomas, following Aristotle’s physics and St. Albert the Great’s natural sciences, discovered the same order: from less perfect to perfect, from moved to unmoved. We still hold the view that the universal is of higher value than the particular, or that the totality (collective) dictates the particular. Such an order is one-dimensional and is constructed vertically.

            Second, it is true that we regard disorder as a symptom of illness or problems,14 or as a crisis15 or catastrophe. Thus, applying such an understanding of disorder as crisis, illness or catastrophe in human life, one cannot object to Confucius’ view of social disorder as the root of human disease.

            However, to remain on the surface of the symptoms of a dis-order is a bit naive. It is true that disorder comes from man’s ignorance of such an order, but, as in the second case, man disobeys the order not because of ignorance but because of being unwilling to follow it. Confucius does not take the first cause (ignorance) as the sole ex-planation of social disharmony, but proceeds further to accept the fact that man disobeys order for his own sake or his own interests. This is the point on which Confucius lays the greatest emphasis, for which reason he needs to search out the reasons for human selfishness and its conflicts. In the Analects, he offers a very good observation on human striving (desire) for self-satisfaction: "The inferior man under-stands profits",16 or in the ordinary case of Tzu-Lu: "I wish to have a horse, a carriage, and a light fur coat and to share them with friends, and shall not regret if they are worn out",17 or "Wealth and honor are what every man desires."18

            Thus, one has to ask why one strives for self-satisfaction, and why one risks one’s life to disobey the natural order. Confucius was not the only one to warn us of such a tendency. The fact that man, in order to satisfy his unlimited desire, has systematically destroyed nature, shows that Confucius was not wrong in identifying the tendency to disregard the natural order as the root of social problems. Of course, one can be unsatisfied with Confucius’ too hasty and dogmatic simplification of the cause of human disobedience, but one cannot doubt his respect for procedure in discovering the cause. One may take Freud’s view by insisting that Confucius ignores the real cause of human desire, but one cannot object to his effective diagnosis of his times.

            Let us turn briefly to the problematic of alienation as a systemic distortion of reality, i.e. an ideological interpretation of the natural order. What happens if one’s understanding of the natural order has been fabricated. In such a case, following the order does not solve the problems, but could even aggravate them. It is precisely here that we see in critique an indispensable function of tradition. Confucius had not singled out critique as the sole means for self-correction, but saw in it a necessary condition, the first step in finding a solution. In other words, critique is implicit in his observation of social disorder. His indirect critique of the moral system (or the moral understanding) of his society demonstrates its alienated status. This can be seen in the following story:

The Duke of She told Confucius, "In my country there is an upright man named Kung. When his father stole a sheep, be bore witness against him." Confucius said, "The upright men in my community are different from this. The father conceals the misconduct of the son and the son conceals the misconduct of the father. Uprightness is to be found in this.19

            The last point is to demonstrate the modernity of Confucius. If modernity is understood in terms of reason, or in terms of the scientific procedure of discovery (of problems and solutions) as Karl Popper defends in Conjectures and Refutations, and if modernity is charac-terized by its criticism and its search for self-identity (self-con-sciousness) then we have no reason to dismiss Confucian modernity.

            However, if we accept this fact, then modernity is an essential character of human evolution, just as is science. Similarly, one finds modernity implicit in tradition, at least in the tradition of growth or of scientific discovery. It does not belong exclusively to the Enlighten-ment or to the May-Fourth Movement as most of the critics of tradition mistakenly claim. Actually, modernity is a part of tradition.20


            The main purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate that modern-ity truly is a part of tradition, that tradition and modernity are inter-related dialectically, and that modernity is impossible without tradition and vice-versa. We have not discussed so far the solutions offered by Confucius, to examine whether they are still valid or effective. We have left aside the question of whether he has correctly understood the natural order, and whether the concept of tradition could be under-stood solely in terms of scientific procedure, or in the sense of a set of dogmas, customs, etc., which are kept intact like treasures displayed in a museum. Actually, such problems demand a more thorough analysis and information beyond the scope of this work. Here we are content to show that any one-sided understanding of modernity as an antinomy of tradition is simply ahistorical and unscientific. In its most original meaning of "transmitting" and "communicating", tradition does the work both of preserving and of transcending, as is found in the processes of scientific growth.


            1. Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (1927); Europaeische Nihilismus (1956); and Nietzsche II (1936).

            2. M. Horkheimer and Th. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklaerung (1943).

            3. Herbert Marcuse, One-dimensional Man (1947).

            4. See Vincent Shen, Liberate Our World from Evil--Technology and Culture: Dilemma and Hope (Taipei: China Times Publishing Co., 1984), (in Chinese).

            5. Habermas, (1973); Vincent Shen, (1984), appendix, pp. 261ff.

            6. Habermas, (1985)

            7. H.G. Gadamer, Truth and Method (1961); Reason in the Age of Science (1981).

            8. Nietzsche, Also Spoke Zarathustra (1888).

            9. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (1807).

            10. Philosophy of History, Philosophy of Religion and Philosophy of Right (1892).

            11. Cf. Arthur Beiser, The Mainstream of Physics (1962), pp. 37, 72.

            12. Gadamer, Truth and Method.

            13. "Epistle to the Reader", in Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

            14. See Mary Lynch, The Medicine Culture (New York: Holt, 1988).

            15. Habermas, Legitimation Crisis (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973).

            16. Analects, 4:16.

            17. Analects, 5:25

            18. Analects, 4:5.

            19. Analects, 13:18; Chan Wing-tsit, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton, 1969), p. 44.

            20. H.G. Gadamer, Reason in the Age of Science; or J. Habermas, Twelve Philosophical Lectures on Modernity (1985).