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University Should be the Cradle of "Third Culture"
GS. Đào Trọng Thi phát biểu chào mừng trong buổi tiệc do ĐHQGHN chiêu đãi các đại biểu dự Hanoi Forum 2006

Universities are among the most important institutions that bear the mission to inherit, transmit and create culture. Since the mid-19th century, along with the development of specialization in human knowledge, there appeared a divide between humanistic thinking and scientific reasoning, which in turn led to the split and dispute between humanities and natural sciences. Such a split affects the cultivation of all-round talents and prevents individuals as well as society from developing in a harmonious way.

I. The Divide between the "Two Cultures" and the Wish for a "Third Culture"

On May 7th, 1959C. P. Snow, the British writer and scientist, delivered his famous annual Rede lecture at Cambridge University. The speech was entitled "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution" in which Snow pointed out that the estrangement and lack of understanding between literary intellectuals and scientists demonstrated a dilemma in modern culture. His speech led to a heated and influential debate across the world. To the second edition of "The Two Cultures" published in 1963, Snow added a new essay "The Two Cultures: A Second Look", in which he called on the communication and collaboration between humanities and natural sciences in order for a "Third Culture" to emerge.

The debate about the "Two Cultures" initiated by Snow’s speech and his idea of a "Third Culture" has been going on till today. The Sokal hoax and the Scientific War in 1990s were signs that the conflicts between the two cultures had become increasingly intense. These events suggested that the two cultures had not yet been syncretized as hoped by Snow. As pointed out by Sokal, contrary to Snow’s optimistic arguments, the two cultures may be more isolated from each other today than any other time in the past 50 years. Although humanities had been dominant for a long period of time in ancient China, science took over the dominance in modern times because of the impact of westernization and modernization. It is since 1990s that people in Chinese universities and colleges have begun to attach more importance to humanities and making more serious efforts to syncretize the two cultures once again since there had been a greater imbalance between the rapid development of economy and the downfall of moral standards. However, there’s still much to do towards Snow’s ideal of a "Third Culture" coming out from the unification of the two cultures.

II. Philosophical Ruminations on the Two Cultures

The two cultures are reflections of the one-sidedness of both literary intellectuals and scientists way of looking at the world, which derives from the limitations of their respective professional practices. Because of the social division of work is becoming finer and finer, it is naturally difficult to overcome these limitations. Therefore, we need to analyze and explore the way to bridge the gap between the two cultures from a philosophical point of view.

In the history of the development of human knowledge, the best alliance between science and humanities happened in the time of Renaissance in Europe when advancements of humanities and new sciences enabled people to shake off the chains of theology and adopt rationalism that eventually illuminated a new era of further developments in both humanities and natural sciences.

In the era of industrialization, scientism began to prevail along with the rapid development of science and technology and further classification of human knowledge. The German philosopher Ernst Cassirer once said that in our modern world, theres no second power which could compete with the power of scientific thoughts. It was viewed as the top of all human activities, the last chapter and the most important topic of human philosophy. Habermas,the well-known contemporary philosopher, views science and technology as ideology. Science and technology, which are created by human reasoning have become forces that control and dominate human rationality because of alienation. On other hand, misunderstandings and bias against science and technology on the part of scholars of humanities under unfavorable conditions have become increasingly serious. The faster science and technology develop, the more dread scholars of humanities have and the more estranged they feel from science and technology.

Since todays classification of human knowledge has become finer than ever, it is difficult for scientists and humanity scholars to understand deeply the researches of each other. However, just like what Snow had hoped, it is possible for scientists and humanity scholars to develop mutual understanding, increase mutual respect and achieve collaborations to a certain degree.

Snow was a sensitive scholar who did research in science and practiced fiction writing. He criticized the binary opposition between science and humanities. Examined from a philosophical point of view, the historical development over the last hundreds of years has suggested that the modern world is built upon a binary opposition between human beings and nature. Such binary opposition exists not only between science and humanities, but also in other areas in different forms. Therefore, it is necessary for us to expand Snow’s point of view a little further, and introduce the concept of a "Third Culture" into areas such as the harmonic coexistence between human beings and nature, individuals and society, and the symphonization of different cultures.

It is fundamentally important for us to establish a philosophical outlook of "difference in harmony" in order to promote tolerance and understanding of different cultures. I agree with the notion of "creating a cultural synchronism "put forward by Zhang Dainian, a contemporary Chinese philosopher. His opinion is based on the concept of "harmonious co-existence". Prof. Zhang defined the concept as "the highest standard of value concepts, which means allowing the coexistence of different ideas, and seeking balance between them. It is simply called ‘harmony’ in ancient China. "Based on this concept, he put forward a new direction of philosophical research in his book A Possible Synthesis in Philosophy in 1936, which attempted to synthesize materialism, ideals and analysis. Materialism mainly focuses on dialectical materialism, which inherits both traditional Chinese materialism and dialectics. Ideals represent the moral and living principles in ancient China, which are characteristic of Chinese philosophy. Analysis refers to the analytical method of western philosophy, which is an advantage of western philosophy and not so well developed in ancient Chinese philosophy. Just like professor Zhang has pointed out, this point of view "is a new synthesis of Chinese and western thought, which has actually enriched the content of materialism". The concept of "harmonious co-existence" does not ignore contradictions and conflicts nor does it accept all cultures without principle or moral judgment. It absorbs into Chinese culture the best ideas from all kinds of cultures with open minds and tolerance. The idea of "harmonious co-existence" enables and helps us to learn from others and enhance our own creative ability.

When the School of Humanities and Social Sciences was established in Tsinghua University in 1993, we adopted the paradigm of "learning from both the East and the West, the present and the past, combining liberal arts and sciences, and synthesizing all to create anew", which was inspired by the arguments of Prof. Zhang. The philosophical idea of "harmonious co-existence" and the attitude to tolerate different cultures are important preconditions to accelerate the synthesis of the two cultures and build a third culture.

The Central Committee of Chinese Communist Party (CCPCC) has put forward the concept of scientific development which calls on a "people-oriented, comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development, promoting the well-being of individuals and the society in an all-around way." The idea of scientific development is a scientific summarization of historical experiences by China’s new generation of government leaders, which is an important breakthrough and development in the principle of state governance. In September 2005, CCPCC put forward the scientific proposition of "constructing a socialist harmonious society". These all provide a philosophical foundation and a favorable external environment for the construction of a "Third Culture" which aims at a harmonious development of different cultures.

III. Universities are Responsible for Advancing Cultural Synthesis

One of the fundamental functions of education is to maintain a nation’s cultural vitality and thus promote the evolution and development of human civilization at large. The synthesis of humanities and natural sciences is necessary for the cultivation of all-round talents, the harmonious development of both individuals and society, and a balanced development between material civilization, and spiritual civilization along with political civilization. It is of necessity for the development of a "Third Culture" in order to construct a harmonious society and a harmonious world.

The ideas of a university should be based on a clear and sound judgment of the cultural trends in the future. We believe that culture in the future should be a result of communication and exchange between humanities and sciences and among multiple cultures. The greatest scholars in the future should come from areas where sciences and humanities, cultures of various kinds cross and interact inter-disciplinarily. The first-class universities in the future are those who profoundly understand and master the concept of a "Third Culture" in their fostering versatile talents, guiding research, serving the society and leading it forward.

Tsinghua University is a university with well-established science and technology fundamentals. It also has vigorously regenerating disciplines and braches of learning in humanities and social sciences. At the turn of the century, we initiated a discussion on educational ideas in our university, which is based on a survey conducted towards our alumni and a number of top universities in the world. Through a university-wide discussion and review, we reached an agreement that we should innovate our education through both inheriting and creating anew educational ideas. Decades ago in the 40s of the last century, our late president Mei Yiqi advocated the educational idea of "general education first, specialist education last." He called on Tsinghua students to be well learned in various fields of human knowledge including humanities, social sciences and natural sciences as all three braches of learning are complementary and supportive among one another. Later on, he proposed along with Professor Pan Guangdan as follows: "Aside from specialized technological education, we should also focus on the social and liberal side of education". His emphasis on general education which aims at providing students with a strong foundation of comprehensive knowledge was in accordance with the educational ideals of today’s top universities worldwide. At the beginning of this century, one of the specific results achieved out of the discussion on educational ideas in Tsinghua University is a new educational concept proposing an education that provides a broader-diameter specialist education with a sound and solid base of general education, We encourage our students to attend courses that are not directly related to his major or specialty, so that students may have a stronger foundation and a wide scope of knowledge in general.

We have come to realize that Tsinghua University should make great efforts, in its pursuit of becoming a world-class university, in synthesizing learning and research in both science and humanities and invigoration communications between different cultures. Meanwhile, we should also encourage our faculties and students to carry out these ideas in scientific research and social service. It would be through these efforts that our university can become the cradle for a "Third Culture" in the future. ¨

Hu Xianzhang -Ảnh: Bùi Tuấn [100 Years-VietNam National University, HaNoi]
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