chapter  5
28 Pages

The Anthropocosmic Vision in Islamic Thought

ByWilliam C. Chittick

I take the expression “anthropocosmic vision” from Tu Weiming, Director o f the Harvard-Yenching Institute, and Professor o f Chinese History and Philosophy and Confiician Studies at Harvard University. Professor Tu has used this expression for many years to encapsulate the East Asian worldview and to stress its salient differences with the theocentric and anthropocentric worldviews o f the West.1 By saying that the Chinese traditions in general and Confucianism in particular see things “anthropocosmically”, he means that Chinese thinkers and sages have understood human beings and the cosmos as a single, organismic whole. The goal o f human life is to harmonize oneself with heaven and earth and to return to the transcendent source o f both humans and the world. As long as Chinese civilization remained true to itself, it could never develop “ instrumental rationality”, the Western Enlightenment view that sees the world as a conglomeration o f objects and considers knowledge as a means to manipulate and control the objects. In the anthropocosmic vision, the world as object cannot be disjoined from the human as subject. The purpose o f knowledge is not to manipulate the world but to understand the world and ourselves so that we can live up to the fullness o f our humanity. The aim, to use one o f Tu Weiming’s favorite phrases, is “to learn how to be human” . As he writes, “ [t]he Way is nothing other than the actualization o f true human nature” .2