Time and occasion (The “occasion”: a temporary matrix analogous of the traditional Chinese thought and the western philosophy pre-Christian.)



Time and occasion (The “occasion”: a temporary matrix analogous of the traditional Chinese thought and the western philosophy pre-Christian.) 

Dr. Vicente Huici (UNED-Bergara/Seminario Confucio Mintegia) 

Maite Yuan nere alabari.

With my thanks to Professors Iñaki Preciado,  Emmánuel Lizcano and Arantxa Arbulu 


Process of globalization entails, among other effects, the possibility of visiting cultures
far removed geographically and historically. This knowledge may allow a better mutual
understanding of institutions, customs, art and economic life.  But also gives facilities to
compare between matrices that have articulated reflective life of their societies. 

Among all these fundamental matrices excel conceptions of space and time ordering
uniquely a lot of varied nature phenomena. From this point of view, the comparison
between some aspects of conceptions of time from ancient Chinese thought and
classical Greek thought is an initial contribution to this mutual understanding and
recognition of the globalization era. For this small essay, we have  chosen as reference
the Chinese intellectual  productions of the so-called Chun Qiu and Zhan Guo period (in
entirely whole from the eighth century to III b C.) and Greek respectives (V-IV b. C.),
following the trail of working of sinologist and French philosopher François Jullien .


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1.-Time in ancient Chinese culture. 

As noted by Professor Emmanuel Lizcano (1993), traditional Chinese thought has not
produced anything like the concept of time of western philosophy. Also "for Chinese
rationality, space and time form an interdependent unit, the space is full of
heterogeneous meanings according to the places and the time appears linked to places
and events”. The reason why this option has been configured may refer to three aspects
that are proper to Chinese thought, which are not expressed in the western culture. 
The first aspect is the no linking of temporary phenomena to movement, and therefore
to the space phenomena.  "In general, if China had not seized the nature in terms of
movement it was because it had been designed from reference of correlation factors,
which were established as poles and not as individual bodies condemned to the
movement: they are yin and yang energies, from which an endless interaction flows
(Hence the devoted attention to the magnetic phenomena, much rather than in Western
world) (Jullien, 2001/2005b: 19). Thus, as opposed to the vinculation of the temporary
phenomena to the movement, in China they have reflected more on the phenomena of
process of influence and transformation. So we can read in Confucius III, 21: “What is
made is made; it all belongs to the past” (1997/2005: 53).

The second aspect is the absence of an equivalent of the notion of eternity in China.
“China has thought the absolute, either the Heaven of the Confucian or the Road of the
Taoist, without in fact to thinking of the eternal.”(Jullien, 2001/2005b: 23). Faced with
the notion of eternity, China developed the notion of constancy. The difference is
important because constant means that does not change within the variation and the
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eternal means that does not become .Both show a permanence but set in a different way,
"while the permanence of the eternal is joined to the being and offered to contemplation
(theory), the constant refers to the state of things or, as the Chinese say, to their
operation (concept of yong 用). The eternal brings us to an essential identity, the
constant, on the other hand, is in the order of capacity (notion of dé  德 ) So, "while   the
eternal is beyond time,  the constant  is  never interrupted. "(Jullien, 2001/2005b: 23-4).
About the constant we can read in Zhuang Zi (XXI, 4)” Beginning and End are being
developed without interruption” (1983:369). Or, in XXIII, 12, about Dao: “[Dao] has
extension or duration and has not beginning or end, it is the time itself” (1983:
396).Permanence can also mean “to forget differences between times” as says Zhuang
Zi in II, 12 (1983: 202)

Finally, the third reason is the absence in Chinese language, until relatively recently, of
any expression related to being as understood in Western. “One of the most striking
aspects in old Chinese language is the absence of the verb to be as a predicate; in fact,
the identity is indicated by simple juxtaposition "(Cheng, 1997/2002:32-33).
Consequently, there was no reflection on the becoming of being or any notion similar to
the essence of something.  
In conclusion, we could say that the traditional Chinese culture did not think the time
and  we can  find confirmation in the fact that they must   translate the word time from
Japanese when they encountered at the European thought in  the late nineteenth century,
as reflected in the dictionary Yinghua Bilingual dacidian Yan Huiqingen (1908). “Time  
was translated into Chinese as between moments (Japanese jikan, Chinese Shijie 时间 ).
Space, likewise, was translated as   between hollow (Japanese Kukan, Chinese konjian
空间 ) (Jullien, 2001/2005b: 48-49). In this respect it is significant that Zhang Dainian, in
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his book Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy does not make any reference to similar
concepts on time or space. 
 As opposed to time, the Chinese thought the moment, understood primarily as a
seasonal time. Starting  from this notion was developed a phenomenology of temporary
being that enabled  to reflect better on the Opportunity of the time and on the
Availability (as  opposition to the precedence), which have remained in Western in  the
state of the sub-theory"(Jullien,2005: 10) . And all this linked to one of the matrix  
ideas in Chinese culture like the idea of Change: "In the design Judeo-Christianity
which links the existence of a God Almighty, the Chinese understood it as an evolution
or change, Book of Changes being the origin of Chinese culture "as serves to find the
law of evolution of things and affairs "(Shoulin, 2005: 23-4). 
We cannot explain here the ideological changes which supposed the introduction of
Buddhism in China, particularly about the conception of time, but in the traditional
Chinese thought, this ancient temporal dimension has been indicated by several
researchers from early sinologist studies.
For example, Marcel Granet, in his famous La pensée chinoise emphatized the
importance of " the idea of circumstance, the idea of chance (favourable or not to an
action) "(Granet, 1934/1988: 79).  But also, historians of Chinese philosophy have
remarked its validity not long ago: " The requirement to adapt to the mutation leads to
the notion of opportunity (shí 时), which sees time not as a regular and uniform way, but
as a process   more or less favourable "(Cheng, 2002/2006: 248 -249).
 None of this, however, can be separated from the "mentality which is more practical
than speculative” (Gernet: 1993: 100) very typical of Chinese world.  Something like
this was perceived by Hegel many years ago: "The objectivity here is not the circle of
thought, is not the universality that is the way of thought, but an immediate, sensitive
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form”, and so “the body of knowledge is therefore of empirical nature, not theoretical
"(Hegel, 1830/1982: 247).  
Something that was also perceived by Max Weber, who in the excellent essay on
Confucianism and Taoism, said: "The impersonal heavenly power did not speak to the
men. It was revealed in the way the land was governed, in the firmness of the order of
nature and the tradition, which was seen as one part of the cosmic order "(Weber
1920/1983: 248). 

 2. - Time in classical Greek culture 

 In relation to the perception of time, classical Greeks made distinction between
Chronos, Kairós and Aión.  According to Antonio Campillo "the term Chronos
designates the unlimited succession of time or times in its more abstract universality, in
short, the Time “(Campillo, 1991: 39). To set this temporary dimension that has been
predominant in the Western culture, it was necessary to scan time with relevant points
of reference, that is, with events.  Indeed, the notion of event is intrinsically related to
the idea of time and we cannot conceive time without events that might happen. "The
nature of time, if it has nature, is regarding this possibility "(Jullien, 2001/2005b: 78). 

The second form of Greek temporality, the Aión - / AEI on (which is always) - passed to
designate the major eras or ages of the life of the world, large  eons or cycles  of the
cosmos and even the Time as everlasting  living life without principle or end, this is the
Eternity, conceived as fully simultaneous of all times "(Campillo, 1991: 40). As a
whole, since Plato the Chronos has been understood as the moving image of Aión.  

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However, among the Greeks there was a third way of   considering the time:  it was the
Kairós.  Kairós "means a moment, a relatively short time interval, but it is not the
present moment: it is neither the objective or physical instant, nor the subjective or
psychological present. It is the appropriate time, the favourable occasion, the
opportunity "(Campillo, 1991:  60). 
The Kairós is a form of fleeting and transient temporality and difficult to perceive if
there is not some availability. In fact, it was represented by a bald youth covered with a
wig that ran in front of an adult who only managed to catch the wig. Furthermore,
Kairós is both a state of things, something like an offer to the human beings and,
simultaneously, an attitude of mind that knows how to understand this offer.  Finally,
Kairós is connected with the opportunity of taking a decision. Therefore, it is what
Aristotle called "the good in the category of time ". This art of acting "consists on the
adjustment of the logic of processes or external events to the logic of subjective
measures, and the guessing of convergence of two lines or curves (Kerkhoff, 1997: 9). 
This type of temporality disappeared along with the acculturation generated by the
spread of Jewish Christian culture in Western world, however, this culture kept, like in
other Semitic religions, modes of chronological and eternal time. Only the application
of the durée   by Henri Bergson (Essai sur les données immédiate of conscience,
(1888/1991), made it possible to discern a type of temporality in the western culture
quite distant from the model of Chronos as well from the Eternity.

3. - The time (kairos and shí ji) 
As we have seen, there are some similarities between the ancient Chinese conception of
time, focusing on the moment and the occasion (shí / shí ji) and this mode of Greek
temporality   called Kairós.  As in ancient Greece the concept of Kairós coexisted with
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Chronos and Aión, nonexistent in the Chinese thought, some researchers have suggested
some shortcomings in the Chinese reflexive world. 
Thus, these no conceptual notions of time   were considered by Durkheim as typical of
no developed cultures (Huici, 2007), continuing in the wake of Hegel and Schopenhauer
that qualified them as pre-rational modulation.
However, as noted again Jullien, "is not that Chinese do not know to think the time, it is
rather a more comprehensive elucidation of the concept that was not necessary for the
dominant trend of his thought, according to the strategic optical they preferred; the
moment- time that we must know to wait for so that we may be led by it in the event has
much more interest for them "(Jullien, 2001/2005b: 43). 
But now, without ideological and ethnocentric blinkers, it is noted in this example that,
for various reasons, far cultures as the ancient Chinese and classical Greek offer similar
thoughts, in this case, for some dimension of temporality. The analogy, bordering
almost on similarity,  because it has been proved “occasion responds to situation : 
“The good, when we set in motion it is occasion-time “(Lao zi: 8). This is not the Time
but the time of opportunity (the Latin said: tempus capera, take this opportunity).  “The
time you need to know how to  expect   and not to lose . This is a part of a strategic
logic and no longer theoretical and, therefore, we find it, in their verbal use, with the
sense (to watch) of (appropriate) moment "(Jullien, 2001/2005b: 40). 

 4. - Society and temporality. 
From the viewpoint of temporal concepts, between the classical Greek culture and
Chinese traditional culture there are similarities and differences. Among the differences
we could mention the dissimilar notions of   time like Chronos or Aión (or Eternity)
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probably vinculating to the late appearance of the verb to be. But among the similarities
we could affirm the one that links  Kairós and shí ji. 
François Jullien asserts that the basis of relational knowledge, "the question of whether
a foundation is either sociological (or agricultural) is not my problem "(Jullien, 2005:
54) although this aspect has been noted by several sinologist (Iñaki Preciado in 1996:
22). Jullien prefers to operate with concepts, stripping them of their original meanings
and making them move in the Western culture as mental agitation, which  could  be a
commendable philosophical work.
But neither can we abandon the attempt to know the primitive conditions of its
formulation and its subsequent reformulations.  In fact, applying the criteria of the
sociology of knowledge it would be very interesting to investigate if it is possible to
establish correlations between the mentioned cultural features and the social structures
in a large sense - not, of course, as a reflection or condition. But apart from this
perspective, we should analyze how certain conceptions of time, as in classical Chinese
culture, may, in its dissemination support the development of certain forms of social
relations and social structures and underpin or delegitimize specific social structures.
Vicente Verdú states to the effect that such conceptions suggest a background in which
"the world is funded on a natural order “and so “for the Chinese mentality it is more
difficult to subvert a natural organization, linked to immanence "(Verdú, 1998:147).  
Furthermore, from the viewpoint of discourse, "the importance that the Chinese attach
to the specific values would depend on inertia in China "(Perelman 1958 / 2006: 139).
And, also, in prolongation of the afore mentioned investigations, it would be interesting
to detect the influence of European colonization. In a word, it would be very crucial to
note what changes have occurred in these classical concepts since the Maoist revolution
and after the deployment of capitalism of the era of Deng Tsiao Ping. 
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Finally it might be more questionable  if  in a society that has been articulated in the
design of Judeo-Christian ( or Buddism ?) time, with the Khronos and Aión
preponderance , it is possible to live  other modalities  of time  and if  the  dissemination
of these other temporary modalities may be effective without  social disruption.
 In any case, the most noteworthy of all we have said is the possibility of a time without
the perspective of death - which is what the chronological time signs – that is time seen
as momentary or seasonal. Because with the disappearance of the perspective of death,
the transcendence and their religious or metaphysical significance disappear as well.
So all these thoughts can help us answer the  Jullien ´s question asked on the  first pages
of his book :About Time:  Elements for a philosophy of life: "How  to provide
theoretical consistency to the opportunity like the time that comes to us, as to the
availability, as  which we get out to it? “
One question that echoes between East and West, between China and Europe 

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NOTE ON THE BIBLIOGRAPHY: The numbers in brackets [] indicate the date of
original publishing.  The quotes incorporated into the text in brackets are regulated as
follows: (Name, year of original publication /year of the used edition: cited pages) All
original quotations have been translated into English, and in some cases, quotations of
previously translated texts have been modified if not properly adjusted to the original
versions, according to whom subscribes.

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