He doesn't know what he doesn't know, said my friend, the Brilliant Master Wang Yangming. He knows nothing about human nature and anyway, The Great Learning shows us what are genuine knowledge and genuine action. It asks us ‘to love the good as we love the beautiful color and to hate the evil as we hate the bad odor.’ Here seeing the beautiful color belongs to knowledge, while loving it belongs to action. However, at the very moment one sees the beautiful color one has already loved it; it is not the case that one decides to love it only after seeing it. Similarly, smelling the bad odor belongs to knowledge, while hating it belongs to action. However, at the very moment one smells the bad odor, one has already hated it; it is not the case that one decides to hate it only after smelling it.” All anyone can really know is the view out the window right in front of them. They may think they know more than that but they don't, do they?
My friend was indeed famous for his unusual epistemology. The unity of knowledge and action (知行合一says in a nutshell, “If you want to know bitterness, you have to eat a bitter melon yourself.” No other knowledge is possible. All we know is what we do. And what we do is all we can know.
To approach the issue you would, I think, have to work well outside a Cartesian mind-body duality so that knowledge is always something *embodied* and therefore in this radical de-emphasis of the thinking-action divide, all knowledge is-- as embodied-- also an action. So, in this way, as the philosophers over at Warp, Weft and Way suggested, this pushes beyond Ryle's know-that versus the know-how dichotemy, to say that all Confucian knowing is a knowing-to.
Hence, knowing affects or informs, influences. At the same time, though, this is saying that all we can know is what we do- or what we see. "Vision pours in through the eyes," says Dante, "straight into imagination." Even through our very breath, (or 気) we take inside (内）what is outside (外) and can thereby be affected by osmosis. In such an epistemology, what is then emphasized is a sensitivity or a receptive sensibility to the shared world around us.
This is a partial rejection of knowledge ex nihilo with a strong emphasis on inter-relational and inter-subjective knowing. Knowing as doing. Doing as being.
Yes, the view out our window as we are in the act of looking.
It reminds me of the Renaissance idea of painting as a window on the world. As Leon Battista Alberti in the 15th century famously declared, painting should be like “a transparent window through which we look out into a section of the visible world.” Yes, the Venetians. In their exquisite subjective "eye-witness style chronicle of daily life," perhaps no one achieved this ideal like Bellini, Giorgione, Titian and Carpaccio. Really, no wonder Ottoman Miniaturist Master Effendi was stunned-- so different were these paintings from what he was accustomed to back home.
The Getty Center in LA has a gorgeous and endlessly fascinating work by Carpaccio, Hunting on the Lagoon.
Painted by Carpaccio at the very same moment that my friend, Master Yangming, was writing down his unusual theory of epstemology on the other side of the world, Hunting on the Lagoon had puzzled art historians for decades. The painting shimmers in atmosphereic effects. Painted in azurite, lead white, ultramarine, with touches of vermilion used for the red on the Moor's jacket, it is one of the great views out a window.
Hunting on the Lagoon. But, hunting water birds with a bow and arrow?
It was the Ming dynasty and the art of cormorant fishing had already arrived in Venice by that time. In Japan, you can still see this traditional way of fishing, called ukai. We saw it years ago by lamplight at night on boats that ply the Inuyama River, in Gifu Prefecture. The birds are trained to catch fish and deliver them back to their owners, the fisherman on the boats. Looking at the painting, while I spotted the cormorants without any problem, the practice was altered beyond recognition. The most fabulous lagoon in the world, during the Renaissance it must have been jam-packed with fish and mussels and clams and birds and, well, it must have been a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. And, these guys with their bows are clearly no fishermen.
I mean, I almost hate to draw attention to the big white lilies portruding from the water in the foreground of the painting. It surely must have driven art historians nuts for generations.
And, it wasn't until 1962 that a tentative answer to the mystery of the lilies was offered either.
An even more famous painting by Carpaccio, it hangs in the Correr Museum in Venice. Two Venetian Ladies was described by 19th century art collector John Ruskin as, "the best picture in the world." And, until 1962, with that bored look in their eyes and the high wooden clogs tossed in the corner, it was long assumed and insisted upon that these two ladies were courtesans.
But as Brilliant Master Yangming insisted, it is almost impossible to understand the view out the window unless you are the one doing the looking. All your knowledge will be based on rather shaky presuppositions otherwise.
Do you see the pretty majolica vase sitting on the railing of the balcony? Well, finally someone put two and two together. Someone looking at the empty vase surmissed --and then tests later confirmed-- that the lilies of Hunters fit right in that vase. Yes, the two paintings (paintings painted on wooden panels) fit together one on top of the other!
You can see here how it worked.
Talking about a window on the world, these paintings are believed to have been painted on a shutter or panels for a cabinet (the other painting facing this side being missing). Like pieces of a puzzle, looking at the paintings as a set, art historians now believe that these "ladies"-- rather then bored courtesan-- are probably the wives of the "fishermen," who are themselves no longer believed to be fishermen but rather aristocratic Venetians out hunting water fowl for sport on the lagoon.
The ladies, sitting on their elegant altane, are waiting-- waiting for the return of their men.
So this window on a world affords a view of two patrician ladies awaiting--finely clothed and surrounded in luxery, they look extraordinarily bored, don't they? They do not seem interested --though we certainly are-- in the view out their window of the most beautiful lagoon in the world. La Serenissima.
See Part 1: View from a Minaret
Highly recommended paper by Rebecca Norris: Hunting on the Lagoon and Two Venetian Ladies: A Vignette; and even better, Yvonne Szafran, 'Carpaccio's “Hunting on the lagoon”, a new perspective', Burlington Magazine, 1995
And "Is there something more than knowing-how and knowing-that?" by Yong Huang.
Finally, this youtube video Carpaccio Vitorre
♪♪♪♪♪♪ and if Venice is sinking, I'm going under ♪♪♪♪♪♪