Fan Zhen

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This article is about the philosopher. For the politician, see Fan Zhen (politician).

Fan Zhen (范縝, hanyupinyin Fàn Zhěn) (c. 450 - 515) was a Chinese philosopher of the Southern Dynasty, remembered today for his treatise Shén Miè Lùn (simplified Chinese 神灭论, traditional Chinese 神滅論, "On the Annihilation of the Soul").

He was born into a poor family in today's Zhumadian, Henan province. Later he became a high-ranked official for his erudition. Reacting to Buddhism prevailing in his time, he wrote Shen Mie Lun at 507, denying the ideas of reincarnation and body-soul dualism. A courtier tried to persuade Fan to give up his opinion, in exchange of a higher official title, but was refused. Emperor Wu of Liang, unhappy with his subject's work, made an imperial decree (敕答臣下神滅論) to criticize the treatise, and ordered 64 of his courtiers to answer Fan back. 75 pamphlets were produced against Shen Mie Lun. Fan did not surrender, though, and wrote back to hold fast to his opinion. The debate failed to disprove the treatise, and Fan Zhen was exiled by the emperor for his "heresy".

In Shen Mie Lun, Fan writes that:

  • "The soul is the body; the body is the soul. There is the body, there is the soul; when the body annihilates, so does the soul."(神即形也,形即神也。是以形存則神存,形謝則神滅也。)
  • "The body is the substance of the soul; the soul is the effect of the body. That means the body refers to the substance, and the soul the effect. The body and the soul is one."(形者神之質,神者形之用,是則形稱其質,神言其用,形之與神,不得相異也。)
  • "The soul to the substance is like sharpness to a blade; the body to the effect is like a blade to its sharpness. The blade and its sharpness do not share the same name. However, there is no blade without its sharpness, and no sharpness without the blade. As there is no sharpness without a knife, it is impossible for a soul to exist without its body."(神之於質,猶利之於刃,形之於用,猶刃之於利,利之名非刃也,刃之名非利也。然而舍利無刃,舍刃無利,未聞刃沒而利存,豈容形亡而神在。)

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