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为什么数百哈佛学生在学习中国古代哲学?Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy?

kongziWhy Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy?

The professor who teaches Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory claims, “This course will change your life.”
Eduardo Pelosi/Flickr

 

    描绘当今的人类: 一个充满竞争、自恋、以自我为中心的情绪都正在增长的世界,与人们想和谐共存的最佳方式严重分歧。

    这听来象是在述说21世纪的美国。但在一位戴眼镜的48岁高个儿哈佛大学中国历史教授迈克普特的讲堂里,正有超过700位的本科生,在入迷地关注着2500年前的中国。

    普特的课程《传统中国伦理和政论》已在大学中跃居为第三大最主要的公共课程,仅有《经济学》与《计算机科学》两门课程位居其上。在普特第二次开设这门课时,那是在2007年,超多的学生涌向指定的教室挤满了座位之后大家还坐满了楼梯和走廊,为此哈佛大学把这门课程移到了校园里最大的教室桑德斯讲堂。

    为什么如此众多的大学生在花整个学期的时间来钻研数千年前学者留下的深奥的中国哲学?原因之一是,这门课程能直接指向完成哈佛最具挑战力的核心需求:伦理依据推理。当然,学生们也很显然被普特醒目的承诺所吸引:这个课程将改变你的生活

    他的学生告诉我说这的确如此:普特以中国哲学的方式给学生们以具体的反直觉的甚至革命性的观点,这些都教会了他们如何以更好的方式生活。伊莉莎白马金,一位去年上过这门课的学生,说到:这门课绝对改变了我的观察能力,我对同辈、我对世界的观点。普特掀起了一股清新的旋风,把中国学者在数世纪前抓住的问题放到眼前。他要求他的学生直接阅读经典原文(翻译)如孔子的《论语》,《孟子》,《道德经》并且要主动地将所学的内容应用到他们的日常的生活之中。他的讲课将当时的中国思想用于当下的美国生活,以帮助十八、九岁的那些正在纠结于寻找在这个世界上的位置的年轻人们思考他们如何成为一个好人,如何构建一个好的社会,拥有一份光明积极的生活。

    普特上这门课时不仅是介绍给他的学生一套完全不同的文化和世界观,他同时也提出一套完全不同的工具。他告诉我说,比起二十年前他开始教书时,他看到更多的学生都在感觉被推向一条非常特定的通向非常具体的事业目标的道路。一个近期的报告表明,在过去的十余年中哈佛的学生中选择人文学专业的在大幅下降,这个降幅超过了全国的文科院校。金融专业成为哈佛毕业生中最通常的事业。普特看到学生们早已标好所有他们课程甚至课外活动的方向都指向实际的事先定好的事业目标和计划。普特告诉他的学生们:那种算计的理性地精确对计划的决定,对于某种重要的生活决定来说恰恰是一个错误。

    他们正在阅读到的中国哲学家们对此会认为:这样的策略会对不符合这个计划的其它可能性更难持有开放的态度。这样做的学生们没有对他们自身其实是充满生机的充满灵感的日常事务付出足够的关注,他们未来可以得到这样一个真正完整的、激动人心的生活,他解释说。如果使得一个学生兴奋的内容不同于他曾经认为是对他最好的决定,这个学生会困在一条错误的道路上,安排自己开始一项并不令自己满意的事业。普特目标是把他的学生们的目光引向一条不同的道路去更接近通向事业决定的各种关系。他教导他的学生们:

    最小的行为都具有深远影响的结果。孔子、孟子,和其他中国的哲学家们教导最寻常的行为都能产生涟漪效应,普特要求他的学生们要变得有自我意识,关注最平凡的行为——为别人打开屋门,对一个店员微笑——通过我们所感受到的感动来改变每天的进程。

    那种来自每天的行动之后的良好感受带来的心动,和一位好友的充满启迪的对话,或是当有人突然横在我们路前时我们所产生的愤怒——当生活中的大事来临时他们能会怎样面对?实际上,每件事情,都会如此。从中国哲学的观点来看,这些细小的每天的经历提供给我们了解自己的无止境的机会。当我们关注并了解什么在激怒我们,感受到喜乐或是愤怒,我们形成了一种当接近新的状况时那种帮助了我们了解自我的更好的感觉。孟子,公元前400年的一位晚于孔子的思想家,教导说,你如果能调教你的个性能从小事上就处处向善,你就会成为一位非凡的拥有难以置信的影响力的,能改变你自己以及你周围人的生活的人,而最终你能将整个世界都放在你的手掌中。(译者注:此段疑为君子以仁存心,以礼存心。仁者爱仁,有礼者敬仁。爱仁者仁恒爱之,敬仁者仁恒敬之的浅释)

 

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为什么教授必须象是传教士

    决定是从心而来的。国人倾向于相信人类是用我们的大脑逻辑地做出决定的理智的生物。但是在中国人来说,头脑是同样的。普特教导说心和脑是形影不离地联系着的,互相依存的。当我们做决定时,从琐碎的小事到很大的事件(无论是做什么饭,下学期选修什么课程,什么样的职业规划,和什么人结婚),我们都会做得更好我们并直觉就将心和脑合二为一地让我们的理智和情感协调一致。庄子,一位道家的哲学家,教导我们与其把我们自己封闭起来去做理智的决定倒不如应该训练我们通过日常生活使自己更顺其自然。就如同每天从容地练习钢琴而最终能运用自如地演出一样,通过我们每天的活动我们训练我们自己对于经验和现象都更为开放地接纳,最终正确的反应和决定就会在心脑中自然展现而无须任何焦虑。

    最近关于神经科学的研究证实了中国哲学家们是正确的:脑部扫描表明,我们不自觉的对周围的感情和现象的意识是事实上真正驱动我们自认为正在做着逻辑的理智的决策。根据耶鲁大学的心理教授玛丽安拉弗朗斯的研究,如果我们只用几分之一秒(确切地说是4毫秒)来看一张笑脸,这种长度足以诱出一段小型的情感。在一项研究的观察者中,被闪现过一个微笑,——即使它闪现得如此之快他们甚至都没意识到见到过这个微笑,——他们对周围的感受便更加正面了。

    身即动,心相随. 行为友善(虽然你没感觉到友善),或向人微笑(虽然你没在那一刻感觉到特别的友好)可以对你最终的感觉和行为导致真实的差异。甚至最终能改变结果。

    然而这也许听来象是一番自救的胡言,普特所教的很多内容是以前曾被接受的但在当代却被丢失了的文化智慧。

    亚里士多德说过:我们重复的行为造就了我们,这一观点也为其它思想家如孔子所共享,孔子在极力主张在教导人的品性时更要强调传统礼仪的重要(译者注:此处疑为克已复礼的转译)。

    在心理科学杂志发表的研究报告中,艾美库德和她的同事发现当我们摆出某一有力的姿态(把腿分开站立,伸开双臂,占位置),这种姿式不仅是引起他们认为其更为自信和有力,事实上引起的一种激素想使得其变得更为自信。

    在每一堂课的最后,普特要求他的学生们:把他们学到的中国哲学真实地实践于每天的日常生活中。我们读到的中国哲学家们教导了我们真正能使一份世俗的生活通过改变人们的经验和对世界的反应之后而变成为更好的生活,所以我要做的就是在这个水平上敲击他们。我不是在尝试给我的学生们以极大的忠告让他们在生活中该做些什么。我只是要给他们一种他们每天能做的每件事实际在改变着他们的生活的感觉。(积善之家必有余庆,积恶之家必有余殃译者注)。他们的作业只是件很小的作业:首先观察当他们向一位陌生人微笑时、当为某人打开门时、建立一个喜好时,他们自己会有些什么感觉。他让他们对接下来发生的事做笔记:每个行动如何,举止怎样,或是言语产生的戏剧性地影响到其它人对他们的反应。然后,普特要求他们继续寻求更多的那些他们注意到能引起正面的激昂的反应的活动。在他们的论文和研讨中学生们讨论着根据这些圣贤哲学家们的教言当如何生活。

    一旦他们对自己了解得更多并能发现他们自己真正的兴趣所在,他们就可以通过足够的实践和自我调教使他们自己成为那些活动的行家里手。自我调教是和另一个经典中国传统概念相关的:和天资或天赋相比,努力是最有价值的。我们不是被局限在我们天生的才能,如果我们愿意自我调教我们都有巨大的潜在的待开发的能力。你不必拘泥在你偶然在某方面的擅长,那只是因为喜好或是因为那样能够获利于是你在那里倾注了更多的专注而已。中国的哲学家的教导我们从细处着眼,逐字逐句地照做,便可以改变每一件事而最终使我们可以被称之为人,普特说道。

    互相联系、专注于平凡、每天的实践、并且懂得千里之行始于足下,这些对于在一个社会生存的年轻人来说给他们压力使他们能从大处着眼并增进个人美德,这些都是最为根本的理念。这也许就是为什么根据高等教育的超能年轻人报道,在全国范围内,不仅仅是在哈佛,对中国哲学的兴趣正在全面起飞的原因之一。这是一个信号:特别是一种共鸣:人们盼望有另一种可选择的生活方式而不同于他们现在那种一生中全部都行进在快速轨道上的生活。
    普特以前的一位学生,亚当米切尔,他曾是一位数学和理科的能手,当时来哈佛是想学经济学,在一般的社会上特别是在哈佛,他告诉我说,我们被期望以极理智的方式来思考我们的未来:权衡利弊之后再做出决定。这使得你沿着一条你善于做的事的道路,一条风险很小但收获也不大的道路。但在大学二年级他学过关于中国哲学的介绍之后,他意识到对于未来如何考虑,这不是唯一的道路,取而代之的是,他尝试他不一定天生就擅长的但是他却期望学习的课程,因为他已经领悟到:对你认为有价值的事情上多加努力,你也会在这件喜爱的事情上也成为一把好手。他变得对那些在他周围发生并对他产生影响的事情有更多的意识,进而也同时看到他自己的行为方式会对周围产生怎样的影响。米切尔把他自己投入到外语的学习中,感受他和四周的关系在变得深厚,而今天他正在向区域研究硕士的方向做着努力,他告诉我,我可以开心地说,普特教授超越了他的诺言,事实上还真是这门课改变了我的生活。

 

(宋晓砚 译  宋方元  校)

 

Picture a world where human relationships are challenging, narcissism and self-centeredness are on the rise, and there is disagreement on the best way for people to live harmoniously together.

It sounds like 21st-century America. But the society that Michael Puett, a tall, 48-year-old bespectacled professor of Chinese history at Harvard University, is describing to more than 700 rapt undergraduates is China, 2,500 years ago.

Puett’s course Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory has become the third most popular course at the university. The only classes with higher enrollment are Intro to Economics and Intro to Computer Science. The second time Puett offered it, in 2007, so many students crowded into the assigned room that they were sitting on the stairs and stage and spilling out into the hallway. Harvard moved the class to Sanders Theater, the biggest venue on campus.

Why are so many undergraduates spending a semester poring over abstruse Chinese philosophy by scholars who lived thousands of years ago? For one thing, the class fulfills one of Harvard’s more challenging core requirements, Ethical Reasoning. It’s clear, though, that students are also lured in by Puett’s bold promise: “This course will change your life.”

His students tell me it is true: that Puett uses Chinese philosophy as a way to give undergraduates concrete, counter-intuitive, and even revolutionary ideas, which teach them how to live a better life.  Elizabeth Malkin, a student in the course last year, says, “The class absolutely changed my perspective of myself, my peers, and of the way I view the world.” Puett puts a fresh spin on the questions that Chinese scholars grappled with centuries ago. He requires his students to closely read original texts (in translation) such as Confucius’sAnalects, the Mencius, and the Daodejing and then actively put the teachings into practice in their daily lives. His lectures use Chinese thought in the context of contemporary American life to help 18- and 19-year-olds who are struggling to find their place in the world figure out how to be good human beings; how to create a good society; how to have a flourishing life.

Puett began offering his course to introduce his students not just to a completely different cultural worldview but also to a different set of tools. He told me he is seeing more students who are “feeling pushed onto a very specific path towards very concrete career goals” than he did when he began teaching nearly 20 years ago.  A recent report shows a steep decline over the last decade in the number of Harvard students who are choosing to major in the humanities, a trend roughly seen across the nation’s liberal arts schools. Finance remains the most popular career for Harvard graduates. Puett sees students who orient all their courses and even their extracurricular activities towards practical, predetermined career goals and plans.

Puett tells his students that being calculating and rationally deciding on plans is precisely the wrong way to make any sort of important life decision. The Chinese philosophers they are reading would say that this strategy makes it harder to remain open to other possibilities that don’t fit into that plan. Students who do this “are not paying enough attention to the daily things that actually invigorate and inspire them, out of which could come a really fulfilling, exciting life,” he explains. If what excites a student is not the same as what he has decided is best for him, he becomes trapped on a misguided path, slated to begin an unfulfilling career. Puett aims to open his students’ eyes to a different way to approach everything from relationships to career decisions. He teaches them that:

The smallest actions have the most profound ramifications. Confucius, Mencius, and other Chinese philosophers taught that the most mundane actions can have a ripple effect, and Puett urges his students to become more self-aware, to notice how even the most quotidian acts—holding open the door for someone, smiling at the grocery clerk—change the course of the day by affecting how we feel.

That rush of good feeling that comes after a daily run, the inspiring conversation with a good friend, or the momentary flash of anger that arises when someone cuts in front of us in line—what could they have to do with big life matters? Everything, actually. From a Chinese philosophical point of view, these small daily experiences provide us endless opportunities to understand ourselves. When we notice and understand what makes us tick, react, feel joyful or angry, we develop a better sense of who we are that helps us when approaching new situations. Mencius, a late Confucian thinker (4th century B.C.E.), taught that if you cultivate your better nature in these small ways, you can become an extraordinary person with an incredible influence, altering your own life as well as that of those around you, until finally “you can turn the whole world in the palm of your hand.”

Decisions are made from the heart. Americans tend to believe that humans are rational creatures who make decisions logically, using our brains. But in Chinese, the word for “mind” and “heart” are the same. Puett teaches that the heart and the mind are inextricably linked, and that one does not exist without the other. Whenever we make decisions, from the prosaic to the profound (what to make for dinner; which courses to take next semester; what career path to follow; whom to marry), we will make better ones when we intuit how to integrate heart and mind and let our rational and emotional sides blend into one.  Zhuangzi, a Daoist philosopher, taught that we should train ourselves to become “spontaneous” through daily living, rather than closing ourselves off through what we think of as rational decision-making. In the same way that one deliberately practices the piano in order to eventually play it effortlessly, through our everyday activities we train ourselves to become more open to experiences and phenomena so that eventually the right responses and decisions come spontaneously, without angst, from the heart-mind.

Recent research into neuroscience is confirming that the Chinese philosophers are correct: Brain scans reveal that our unconscious awareness of emotions and phenomena around us are actually what drive the decisions we believe we are making with such logical rationality. According to Marianne LaFrance, a psychology professor at Yale, if we see a happy face for just a fraction of a second (4 milliseconds to be exact), that’s long enough to elicit a mini emotional high. In one study viewers who were flashed a smile—even though it was shown too quickly for them to even realize they had seen it—perceived the things around them more positively.

If the body leads, the mind will follow. Behaving kindly (even when you are not feeling kindly), or smiling at someone (even if you aren’t feeling particularly friendly at the moment) can cause actual differences in how you end up feeling and behaving, even ultimately changing the outcome of a situation.

While all this might sound like hooey-wooey self-help, much of what Puett teaches is previously accepted cultural wisdom that has been lost in the modern age. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do,” a view shared by thinkers such as Confucius, who taught that the importance of rituals lies in how they inculcate a certain sensibility in a person.  In research published in Psychological Science, social psychologist Amy Cuddy and her colleagues found that when we take a power stance (stand with our legs apart, arms thrust out, taking up space), the pose does not only cause other people to view us as more confident and powerful; it actually causes a hormonal surge that makes us become more confident.

At the end of each class, Puett challenges his students to put the Chinese philosophy they have been learning into tangible practice in their everyday lives. “The Chinese philosophers we read taught that the way to really change lives for the better is from a very mundane level, changing the way people experience and respond to the world, so what I try to do is to hit them at that level. I’m not trying to give my students really big advice about what to do with their lives. I just want to give them a sense of what they can do daily to transform how they live.” Their assignments are small ones: to first observe how they feel when they smile at a stranger, hold open a door for someone, engage in a hobby. He asks them to take note of what happens next: how every action, gesture, or word dramatically affects how others respond to them. Then Puett asks them to pursue more of the activities that they notice arouse positive, excited feelings. In their papers and discussion sections students discuss what it means to live life according to the teachings of these philosophers.

Once they’ve understood themselves better and discovered what they love to do they can then work to become adept at those activities through ample practice and self-cultivation. Self-cultivation is related to another classical Chinese concept: that effort is what counts the most, more than talent or aptitude. We aren’t limited to our innate talents; we all have enormous potential to expand our abilities if we cultivate them. You don’t have to be stuck doing what you happen to be good at; merely pay attention to what you love and proceed from there. Chinese philosophers taught that paying attention to small clues “can literally change everything that we can become as human beings,” says Puett.

To be interconnected, focus on mundane, everyday practices, and understand that great things begin with the very smallest of acts are radical ideas for young people living in a society that pressures them to think big and achieve individual excellence. This might be one reason why, according to the Chronicle for Higher Education, interest in Chinese philosophy is taking off around the nation—not just at Harvard. And it’s a message that’s especially resonating with those yearning for an alternative to the fast track they have been on all their lives.

One of Puett’s former students, Adam Mitchell, was a math and science whiz who went to Harvard intending to major in economics. At Harvard specifically and in society in general, he told me, “we’re expected to think of our future in this rational way: to add up the pros and cons and then make a decision. That leads you down the road of ‘Stick with what you’re good at’”—a road with little risk but little reward. But after his introduction to Chinese philosophy during his sophomore year, he realized this wasn’t the only way to think about the future. Instead, he tried courses he was drawn to but wasn’t naturally adroit at because he had learned how much value lies in working hard to become better at what you love. He became more aware of the way he was affected by those around him, and how they were affected by his own actions in turn. Mitchell threw himself into foreign language learning, feels his relationships have deepened, and is today working towards a master’s degree in regional studies. He told me, “I can happily say that Professor Puett lived up to his promise, that the course did in fact change my life.”

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