On the difficulty interpreting He Yan’s ‘emotionless sage’

Asian Philosophy 29 (1):34-49 (2019)
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Abstract

This paper examines the debate surrounding He Shao’s account that ‘He Yan thinks the sage is without pleasure, anger, sorrow and grief.’ The point of controversy surrounds squaring a perspective on the sage as emotionless with a thinker who otherwise largely expounds values and political views found in the Lunyu and the Laozi. Since proper management of emotions is important in both texts, it is difficult to imagine how He Yan could hold such a radical view. Dealing with this difficulty scholars have either simply found He Yan ‘unreasonable’ and ‘contradictory’ or otherwise sought to explain away his emotionless sage through complex ontological or political arguments. When He Yan’s work is contextualized in terms of philosophical religious views at the time, we find additional problems with how He Yan’s work has been interpreted. This paper considers a new way to view He Yan, one that respects his multifarious views.

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