This paper examines the way thinkers in the pre-Buddhist world in China viewed the animal-human divide. It argues that the boundaries between humans and animals were porous. The only unique capacities that human beings are credited with were first (widely) the ability to develop their unique potentials (chengren
成人), and, second (in a very few texts), the capacity to respond with greater sensitivity to the resonant world around them. In both contexts, the extant terms make use of two terms, ling
靈 and jingshen
精神. Part II of the essay then turns to examine the most influential Euro-American theories cited in today’s secondary literature regarding the animal-human divide. None of these seem remotely like the theories articulated in early China. In Part III, the essay examines vitalism, which is an unusual instance in early modern Europe where an important theory seems to approach the views of early China, with the express aim of reminding readers that we need not automatically posit an impassable gulf between East and West, but can, instead, profit from wider reading that yields more comparative insights.
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