Zhang Dongsun’s Encounters with “Logicism”

From Russell to the Objectivist Bases of “Science and the View on Life”


  • Jan VRHOVSKI The University of Edinburgh




science, view on life, Logicism, Zhang Dongsun, Zhang Junmai, Bertrand Russell


The article surveys the early work of Zhang Dongsun on topics like logicism of Bertrand Russell and scientific philosophy, which aimed to criticise its foundations and replace them with a Neo-Kantian alternative. It tries to show how a series of Zhang’s articles from early 1920s, in which he sought to create a new “neutral” variety of logicism, can be used to better understand the intellectual foundations of the neovitalist “philosophy of life” of Zhang Junmai. By delving deeper into the underlying ideas and possible motivations behind Zhang’s philosophical endeavours from the early 1920s, the article argues for a different kind of understanding of the historical basis of humanism in modern Chinese philosophy. Moreover, it strives to show how the “science and the view on life” controverse as initiated by Zhang Junmai in 1923 might be rooted or at least related directly to a syncretistic ideal, to conjoin science and the view of life in a new kind of harmonistic outlook. Most importantly, the article will try to show how Zhang Dongsun’s critical engagement with Russell’s philosophy, modern logic and physical science could be understood as the theoretical nucleus of the so-called “view on life” philosophy, not only in the context of the 1923 controverse but possibly the entire Republican Period. Due to the limited space, the article does not offer a concise introduction Zhang’s life and philosophy, but instead provides a focused discussion of particular fragments of his work from the early 1920s.   


Download data is not yet available.


Bodenhorn, Terry. 2002. “Chen Lifu’s Vitalism: A Guomindang Vision of Modernity Circa 1934.” In Defining Modernity: Guomindang Rhetorics of a New China, 1920‒1970, edited by Terry Bodenhorn, 91‒122. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.19836

Brown, J. A. C. 1965. Techniques of Persuasion: From Propaganda to Brainwashing. Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books.

Cassirer, Ernst. 1922. Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der Neueren Zeit. Volumes 1 & 2. Berlin: Verlag Bruno Cassirer.

Ciaudo, Joseph. 2019. “Some Remarks on the 1923 ‘Controversy Over Science and Metaphysics’.” ERRCS – Research Notes 3: 1‒20.

———. 2021. “Is ‘New Culture’ a Proper Translation of Xin wenhua? Some Critical Remarks on a Long-Overlooked Dilemma.” Asian Studies 9 (2): 13‒47. DOI: 10.4312/as.2021.9.2.13-47. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4312/as.2021.9.2.13-47

Ding, Wenjiang 丁文江, comp. and ed. 1923. Kexue yu renshengguan 科學與人生觀 (Science and the View on Life). Shanghai: Shandong tushughuan.

Eucken, Rudolf (Wokeng 倭鏗). 1921. Xiandai sixiang yu lunli wenti 現代思想與倫理問題 (Modern Thought and the Question of Ethics). Translated by Zheng Cichuan 鄭次川. Shanghai: Gongmin shuju.

Eucken, Rudolf, and Chang Carsun. 1922. Das Lebensproblem in China und Europa (The Problem of Life in China and Europe). Leipzig: Verlag Quelle & Meyer.

Fröhlich, Thomas. 1999. “Das ‘Große Ich’: Religion, Evolution und Entpolitisierung bei Liang Qichao (1873‒1929) [The ‘Great I’: Religion, Evolution and Depoliticization in Liang Qichao (1873-1929)].” OE 41 (1/2): 193‒210.

———. 2000. Staatsdenken im China der Republikzeit (1912-1949) [State Thinking in Republican China (1912‒1949)]. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag.

Fung, Edmund S. K., and Kenneth Kai-chung Yung. 2021. “Zhang Junmai: The Political and Cultural Thought of a New Confucian.” In Dao Companion to Contemporary Confucian Philosophy, edited by David Elstein, 105‒24. Cham: Springer Nature Switzerland AG. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56475-9. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56475-9_6

Furth, Charlotte. 1970. Ting Wen-chiang – Science and China’s New Culture. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4159/harvard.9780674332980

Isay, Gad C. 2013. The Philosophy of the View of Life in Modern Chinese Thought. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz Verlag.

Kwok, D. W. Y. 1965. Scientism in Chinese Thought, 1900‒1950. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Lin, Xiaqing Diana. 2005. Peking University: Chinese Scholarship and Intellectuals, 1898‒1937. New York: State University of New York. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/book4890

———. 2012. “Developing the Academic Discipline of Chinese Philosophy: The Departments of Philosophy at Peking, Tsinghua, and Yenching Universities (1910s–1930s).” In Powerful Arguments: Standards of Validity in Late Imperial China, edited by Martin Hofmann, Joachim Kurtz, and Ari Daniel Levine, 565‒606. Leiden, Boston: Brill.

Lin, Zaiping 林宰平. 1922. “Woyikeng tanhua ji 倭伊鏗談話記 (Records of Conversations with Eucken).” Gaizao 改造 (Reconstruction) 4 (5): 1‒6.

Metzger, Gilbert. 2005. Liang Qichaos Weltanschauung interkulturel gelesen (An Intercultural Reading of Liang Qichao’s Worldview). Nordhausen: Traugott Bautz.

Nelson, Eric. 2020. “Zhang Junmai’s Early Political Philosophy and the Paradoxes of Chinese Modernity.” Asian Studies 8 (1): 183‒208. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4312/as.2020.8.1.183-208

Rickert, Heinrich. 1920. Die Philosophie des Lebens – Darstellung und Kritik der Philosophischen Moderströmungen Unserer Zeit. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).

Rošker, Jana. 2021. “Chinese Philosophy of Life, Relational Ethics and the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Asian Philosophy 31 (1): 64‒77. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09552367.2020.1863624

Smart, Harold R. 1943. “Cassirer versus Russell.” Philosophy of Science 10 (3): 167–75. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/286807

Suter, Rafael. 2011. “Ursprünge der Ordnung – Die logischen Grundlagen des Neukonfuzianismus im Frühwerk Mou Zongsans (The Origins of Order – The Logical Foundations of Neoconfucianism in the Early Work of Mou Zongsan).” PhD diss., University of Zürich.

Van den Stock, Ady. 2021. “Beyond the Warring States: The First World War and the Redemptive Critique of Modernity in Work of Du Yaquan (1873‒1933).” Asian Studies 9 (4): 49‒77. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4312/as.2021.9.2.49-77

Vrhovski, Jan. 2020. “Between Universal Consciousness and Cultural Patterns of Thought: Perspectives on Yu Yu’s Notion of Logic in the 1930s.” Journal of Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies 18: 151‒79.

———. 2021. “One Hundred Years of Chinese Studies on Philosophy of Bertrand Russell: Continuities, Retrospectives, and New Directions.” Contemporary Chinese Thought 52 (1-2): 1‒8. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10971467.2021.1917938

———. 2022a. “Bertrand Russell, Fu Tong, and the Emergence of Scientific Secularism in Early 1920s China.” Review of Religion and Chinese Society 9 (1): 1‒26. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/22143955-08010001

———. 2022b. “Traverses between Cognitive Consonance and Existential Crisis: Notes on Jiang Menglin’s Pragmatist Notion of Rensheng Guan and His Views on Suicide from 1919.” Acta Universitatis Carolinae – Philologica 3: 9‒27. DOI: https://doi.org/10.14712/24646830.2022.1

———. 2022c. “Balance and Innovation: Approaches to Logic and the Teaching of Logic in the Philosophy Department of Peking University, 1916‒1927.” Modern Chinese History 15 (1): 55‒77. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17535654.2021.1965777

Vrhovski, Jan, and Jana S. Rošker, eds. 2021. Bertrand Russell’s Visit to China: Selected Texts on the Centenary of Intercultural Dialogues in Logic and Epistemology. Ljubljana: Ljubljana University Press.

Zhang Dongsun 張東蓀. 1923a. “Xiangduilun de zhexue yu xin lunli zhuyi 相對論的哲學與新論理主義 (Relativistic Philosophy and New Logicism).” Dongfang zazhi 東方雜誌 20 (9): 58‒81.

———. 1923b. “Zhe shi jia 這是甲 (This Is a).” Dongfang zazhi 東方雜誌 20 (1): 45‒62.

———. 1923c. “Zhishi zhi benzhi – “‘Zhe shi jia’ de xupian – jian da Zhang Junmai Wang Jinxin liang xiansheng 知識之本質——“這是甲” 的續篇 —— 兼答張君勱王晉鑫兩先生 (The Essence of Knowledge – A Sequel to ‘This Is A’ – Also a Response to Zhang Junmai and Wang Jinxin).” Jiaoyu zazhi 教育雜誌 15 (4): 1‒12.

———. 1933. “Dongde luoji shi keneng de ma? 動的邏輯是可能的麼? (Is Dynamic Logic Possible?).” Xin Zhonghua 新中華 1 (18): 18‒28.

———. 1938. “Sixiang, yanyu yu wenhua 思想言語與文化 (Thought, Language, and Culture).” Shehui xuejie 社會學界 10: 17‒54.

———. 1939. “Butong de luoji yu wenhua bing lun Zhongguo lixue 不同邏輯與文化並論中國理學 (Different Types of Logic and Culture – Discussed Together with Chinese Neo-Confucianism). Yanjing xuebao 燕京學報 26: 2‒39 + 282‒83.

———. 2021 [1922]. “Logicism of New Realism.” Translated into English by Jan Vrhovski. In Bertrand Russell’s Visit in China: Selected Texts of the Centenary of Intercultural Dialogues in Logic and Epistemology, edited by Jan Vrhovski, and Jana S. Rošker, 165‒85. Ljubljana: Ljubljana University Press.

Zhang, Junmai 張君勱. 1923a. “Rensheng guan 人生觀 (View on Life).” Tsinghua Weekly (Qinghua zhoukan 清華週刊) 272: 3‒10.

———. 1923b. “Zai lun rensheng guan yu kexue bing da Ding Zaijun 再論人生觀與科學並答丁在君 (Once More on the View on Life and Science – Being Concurrently an Answer to Ding Zaijun).” The Endeavour Weekly (Nuli zhoubao 努力週報) 50: 1‒3.

———. 1923c. “Zai lun rensheng guan yu kexue bing da Ding Zaijun 再論人生觀與科學並答丁在君 (Once More on the View on Life and Science – Being Concurrently an Answer to Ding Zaijun).” The Morning Post Supplement (Chenbao fukan 晨報副刊), May 6, 1923: 2‒4.

Zhang, Junmai 張君勱, and Ding, Wenjiang 丁文江 et al. 1997. Kexue yu rensheng guan 科學與人生觀 (Science and the View on Life). Edited by Shi Jun 石峻. Jinan: Shandong Renmin chubanshe.



18. 01. 2024

How to Cite

VRHOVSKI, Jan. 2024. “Zhang Dongsun’s Encounters With “Logicism”: From Russell to the Objectivist Bases of ‘Science and the View on Life’”. Asian Studies 12 (1): 323-54. https://doi.org/10.4312/as.2024.12.1.323-354.

Similar Articles

1-10 of 119

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.

Most read articles by the same author(s)