Study Things to Acquire Knowledge
The term means to understand how we should conduct ourselves through our contact with things. “Studying things to acquire knowledge” comes from The Book of Rites. Together with “making one’s purpose sincere,” “correcting one’s thoughts,” “self-cultivation,” “running one’s family well,” “governing the state properly,” and “bringing peace to all under heaven,” they are collectively known as the “eight essential principles.” Knowledge is acquired through the study of things. Since the two are closely related, they are sometimes together called “study and acquire.” Throughout history scholars have had varied understandings of the meaning of the term. Some emphasize a thorough inquiry of principles in contact with things. Others stress personal practice in order to master all kinds of moral conduct and skills. Still others consider their intentions as things, thus reforming their innermost thoughts as studying things.
All things have their own principles. An exhaustive inquiry into the principles means the study of things. (More Writings of the Cheng Brothers)
Gewu (格物) means setting things right, just like what is said in Mencius: A great man may rectify a ruler’s mind. (Records of Great Learning)