K. Eihmanis EASY HUMANISM AND LAZY RELATIVISM: IS THERE A PLACE FOR CHINESE PHILOSOPHY? The study and research of the Chinese philosophy has been an integral part of academic Sinology, since its inception in the XIXth century. The birth of the term «Chinese philosophy» at the end of the XIXth century was accompanied with an
ascendancy of the Western term «philosophy» and introduction of curriculum of its history in the Chinese academic establishments. From the very beginning the question of the legitimacy of traditional modes of Chinese thinking and their compliance with the standards of philosophical reasoning in the West was raised, and the process of appropriation began. Being carried out by Chinese scholars, the writing of the history of Chinese philosophy, was aimed at discarding statements, that Chinese philosophy is naïve, lacks system and is hardly of any interest to serious philosophical research, previously put forward by Kant, Hegel and Husserl1. At the beginning of the XXIst century globalisation, multiculturalism and greater awareness of other modes of reasoning, and critique of traditional Western philosophy by various antitraditionalist and anti-foundationalist philosophers in the West itself, has rendered such claims as intellectually arrogant, chauvinistic and euro-centric. Although Chinese philosophy has been given its rightful place within the overall world history of world philosophy, the current situation within the philosophy curricula at the Western, and even Chinese, establishments of higher education and research, shows that it is still the field of sinological research, and serious exchanges between Western and Chinese philosophy have not even began, or have remained on very rudimentary level. The situation might be characterized by its silent denial on the side of Western academia. Therefore the question whether Chinese philosophy should be labelled as philosophy, still remains. In most cases the refusal to label Chinese traditional modes of thought has been intimately linked with definitions of philosophy itself, which have changed a great deal during its long history. Philosophy has long ceased to be viewed as a first-order intellectual discourse, its various doctrines are no longer perceived as all-encompassing worldview systems capable of explaining everything there is. Even the systematic mapping of the reality as such, previously attributed to metaphysics, has been discredited by the rise of modern science and consequently by alternative criteria for certainty. Principle of system itself has gradually lost its credence among certain philosophers. Gradual dethronement of metaphysics, for example, has led German logical positivist Rudolph Carnap to denounce metaphysical doctrines as pseudo-problems and relegate them to the realm of poetry, although Heidegger attempted to refute this position by stating that philosophy and poetry were indeed closely related; they were not identical but sprang from the same source – which is thinking2. The polyphony of perspectives, approaches, strategies of meaning and methods of investigation has produced not only a set of familiar dichotomies of isms, but also a cacophony of concepts, which crisscross the discursive field of human studies, in which philosophy as a subject has been allotted its rightful and legitimate place. The devaluation of philosophical discourse has led some philosophers to believe in an inevitable death of it. Western intellectual tradition takes particular delight in employing an analogy of «death» in describing the end of certain movements of thought, worldviews and
concepts. First there was «death of God», second came death of philosophy, and with it death of subject, author, and by implication, death of «man» as a meaningful concept. It would be all too easy to discard such pronouncements as obscurantist twaddle reminiscent of positivist critique on metaphysical pronouncements as being mere poetry; it would be more intellectually honest to side with Hannah Arendt in stating that «not the old questions which are coeval with the appearance of man on earth have become “meaningless,” but that the way they were framed and answered has lost plausibility»1. The framing of questions has proliferated, causing the fragmentation of philosophical research, a conceptual breach and ever-growing demand for self-definition of the discipline – a definition that is always in making and never reaching an overwhelming consensus. Although practitioners and historians of philosophy are bogged down by the philosophy’s immanent necessity of self-definition, which is born out of its necessity to defend itself against continuous onslaught of natural science and its quest for objectivity and certainty, it is obviously true «that most definitions of philosophy are fairly controversial, particularly if they aim to be at all interesting or profound. This is partly because what has been called philosophy has changed radically in scope in the course of history, with many inquiries that were originally part of it having detached themselves from it». And if we attempt to apply «Occam’s razor» then would it prompt us, along with Anthony Quinton, to adopt consensual and standardized dictionary definition, and state «that philosophy is thinking about thinking, and that brings out the generally second-order character of the subject, as reflective thought about particular kinds of thinking – formation of beliefs, claims to knowledge – about the world or large parts of it?»2 But does this definition stand its trial if applied to non-European traditions, particularly Chinese classical thought? It seems very unlikely, that the former part of the aforementioned definition of philosophy can be put to serious doubt, unless we want to employ the method of Cartesian doubt. It seems rather plausible to assume that as human beings we are endowed with the ability to think, and apply its diverse forms of reasoning, reflecting, calculating, deliberating or cogitation in general. If proved otherwise, it would take great courage and plain generalisation to imagine, that certain groups of people, or even civilizations – past and present – were not blessed with this capacity of cogitation. Leaving much of technical jargon aside, we could also conclude that it is and has been natural for human beings, out of various needs, to «translate» thinking into speech, i. e. describe themselves and the world around them, although it could be argued that such statements are overtly simplistic in applying commonsense judgements, by avoiding more serious issues of philosophy of language. All this is to say that human beings, past and present, have used the language and its symbols – which were naturally not only governed by intrinsic laws of language usage, but also specifically limited by certain rules of grammar and semantics – to describe the world, to codify it, and grasp the everchanging reality. By doing that, certain cultures, governed by intrinsic rules of their languages, have produced various descriptions of the world, and these taxonomies in
1 See: Wu Xiaoming. Philosophy, Рhilosophia, and zhe-xue // Philosophy East and West. 1998. Vol. 48. No. 3. P. 406–453. 2 Heidegger M. The Nature of Language // Heidegger M. On the Way to Language / Tr. by P. D. Hertz. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
Arendt H. The Life of the Mind. New York: Harcourt Publishers Inc., 1981. Р. 10. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy / Ed. by T. Honderich. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. P. 702.
many cases have been inspired by the quest for meaning, which is born out of the need to reason. For various reasons certain cultures, ancient Greeks for example, in certain periods of their history, have laid greater importance on the faculty of knowing (intellect, in Kantian distinction), which is represented by distinctive mental activity, that of knowing1. Knowing instead is an inspiration for the quest for truth – truth, which has been so dear to the Western tradition of philosophy – any culture lacking this spirit of quest for truth is deemed to be primitive, and any philosophy, as it is for Hegel, which is thought thinking itself and who’s aim «is in thought and in conception to grasp the Truth», therefore «there can be no philosophical knowledge in the East», and «the East is to be excluded from the history of philosophy»2. And Hegel doesn’t stand alone in denying the East «philosophy». Although the Western philosophy in the XXth century has been productive in throwing off various shackles of the stifling thoughts of the past, the actual practice of philosophy, of which philosophy departments of universities are the best examples, provides us with a very different picture. In many cases philosophy is still perceived as an essentially Western discipline with its intrinsic and legitimate questions and solutions3. Even if other cultural traditions are taken up as an object of research, they necessarily have to conform to conceptual requirements that certain leading schools of Western philosophy, notably the analytic tradition, stipulate for their practitioners. Those familiar with the development of Western philosophy since Descartes probably will agree with Richard Rorty that «our present notions of what it is to be a philosopher are so tied up with the Kantian attempt to render all knowledge-claims commensurable that it is difficult to imagine what philosophy without epistemology could be. More generally, it is difficult to imagine that any activity would be entitled to bear the name “philosophy” – if it were not in some sense a theory of knowledge, or at least a hint as to where some supremely important kind of knowledge might be found»4. Likewise, those familiar with the history of the Chinese thought, will know that ancient Chinese thinkers were not much in favour of theories of knowledge. One, though, might argue for later Moists, discussers/sophists Gongsun Long and Zhuang Zhou’s literary friend Hui Shi5, an overall tendency is «that ancient Chinese thought went in exactly the opposite direction: it deliberately turned away from the activity of 1
knowing, which is endless and thus hemorrhagic in terms of energy and vitality, in order to concentrate on man’s ability to use and preserve the vital potential vested in him»1. This pronouncement by François Jullien might shock hard-line academic practitioners of philosophy by allowing such terms as «vitality» and «energy» to enter «serious» philosophical reasoning. We might assume that such pronouncements are exemplary of philosophical style of the tradition of continental philosophy, thus not worthy of consideration if we happen to be in other «conceptual trenches». Alexander Nehemas chooses a perspective that sheds light on this analytic and continental dived, although he doesn’t explicitly say that, it might be inferred that «we are faced with at least two conceptions of philosophy. One avoids personal style and idiosyncrasy as much as possible. Its aim is to deface the particular personality that offers answers to philosophical questions, since all that matters is the quality of the answers and not the nature of the character who offers them. The other requires style and idiosyncrasy because its readers must never forget that the views that confront them are the views of a particular type of person and of no one else. That is why it is composed in a selfconscious literary manner; and that is one of the reasons the modern philosophers – Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Foucault – have by and large belonged to literature, history, or anthropology departments and not to the traditional canon of analytic philosophy as it has been practised so far»2. Alexander Nehemas includes other figures, which are not discussed in his book: Pascal, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Emerson, Thoreau, and on one reading at least, Wittgenstein as well, reminding that this list is partial. Does it not remind us of the Kantian distinction between reason and intellect, and formers’ need to go beyond the limits of what can be known and described by technical language? There are different strategies of sense involved, although both stem form the same source – thinking, as Heidegger reminded us earlier. Nehemas puts it even more blatantly, by saying that «systematic philosophers think of the philosophers of the art of living at best as “poets” or literary figures, at worst as charlatans writing for precocious teenagers or, what for many amounts to the same thing, for professors of literature. The philosophers of the art of living accuse systematic philosophy of being a misguided and self-deceived way of doing what they consider true philosophy to be. They think that its adherents are cowardly, dry pedants who desire scientific objectivity because they are unable to create work that is truly their own and use disinterestedness and detachment to mask their own sterility. Both are wrong, for the same reason. They both overlook the fact that each approach is legitimate historical development of philosophy as it began in classical Greece; neither of these approaches has an exclusive hold on the essence of philosophy (which does not, in any case, exist)»3.
Arendt H. Op. cit. P. 14. Hegel G. W. F. Introduction to the Lectures on the History of Philosophy / Tr. by T. M. Knox and A. V. Miller. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985. Hegel quoted from: Wu Xiaoming. Loc. cit. P. 411, 417. 3 A list of familiar metaphysical oppositions might include distinctions between truth and mere belief, true being and mere appearance, distinctions of sensory and suprasensory, rational and irrational, even Kant’s distinction between reason Vernunft and intellect Verstand, and many other concepts that have gripped Western thought for centuries. For a not too technical presentation, see: Arendt H. Op. cit. 4 Rorty R. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1979. Р. 357. 5 See: Needham J., Harbsmeier Ch. Science and Civilisation in China. Vol. VII, The Social Background; Pt 1, Language and Logic in Traditional China. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998; Hansen Ch. Language and Logic in Ancient China. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983; Hansen Ch. A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought: a Philosophical Interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Jullien F. Vital Nourishment. Departing from Happiness / Tr. by A. Goldhammer. New York: Zone Books, 2007. P. 15. 2 Nehemas A. The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault. Berkеley: University of California Press, 1998. Р. 3. 3 Ibid. P. 4. Nehemas speaks of philosophers of the art living, since that is the topic of his book. These philosophers, and Nehemas analyzes writings – and not their announcements on what a good life should be – of Socrates, via Plato, Montaigne, Nietzsche and Foucault, consider the self to be not a given but a constructed reality. The self, an individual which is to be created and fashioned, is presented in the writings of these philosophers, that can function as an example that others can either
One could also follow Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in proposing a definition that «philosophy is the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts. …That is, philosophy is not a simple art of forming, inventing, or fabricating concepts, because concepts are not necessarily forms, discoveries, or products. More rigorously, philosophy is the discipline that involves creating concepts»1. Concepts are mental tools, instruments to grasp ever-changing and ever-given reality; therefore «every creation is singular, and the concept as a specifically philosophical creation is always a singularity. The first principle of philosophy is that universals explain nothing but must be themselves explained»2. This position, implicitly and to the certain degree, would agree with what Richard Rorty called «edifying philosophy» and such «attempt to edify (ourselves or others) may consist in the hermeneutic activity of making connections between our own culture and some exotic culture or historical period, or between our own discipline and another discipline»3. The aforesaid is enough to lend us enough starting points to think, and not to make hasty generalizations, but for some the question, of how can Chinese thought be reconciled with criteria, standards and requirements for tradition of thought to be labelled, recognized and perceived as «philosophy» still remains. Those who have followed a discussion on the term «Chinese philosophy» between Carine Defoort and Rein Raud would have already realized the complicated nature of the subject, its conceptual fuzziness and mind-boggling amount of data put forward in support of one ore another position4. Defoort takes up the issue by bringing out the sensitivities surrounding it, because «the silence of the majority lies in the fact that most scholars in the field simply do not discuss the legitimacy of Chinese philosophy»5. Carine Defoort is correct in describing a status quo of Chinese philosophy, which is characterised by controversies surrounding its very name. Her observation imitate or avoid. By the same token, corpus of Chinese traditional thought might be perceived, and oftentimes viewed, as a prescription, as guidance for specific way of life and specific way of looking at things, it can be likened to what is defined by Lao Sze-kwang as primarily orientative in character. By the term «orientative» Lao Sze-kwang means, that this philosophy intends to effect some change in the self or in the world. For convenience he suggests two terms, namely, «selftransformation» and «transformation of the world». For Lao’s discussion of this subject, see: Lao Sze-kwang. On Understanding Chinese Philosophy: An Inquiry and a Proposal // Understanding the Chinese Mind: The Philosophical Roots. Еd. by R. E. Allinson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. P. 265–293. Insightful ideas on how this orientation brings about effectiveness in Chinese warfare, politics, diplomacy, vis-à-vis Chinese philosophical reasoning, are presented in: Jullien F. A Treatise on Efficacy: Between Western and Chinese Thinking / Tr. by J. Lloyd. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004. 1 Deleuze G. & Guattari F. What is Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. P. 2, 5. 2 Ibid. P. 7. 3 Rorty R. Op. cit. P. 360. 4 See: Defoort C. Is There Such a Thing as Chinese Philosophy? Arguments of an Implicit Debate // Philosophy East and West (2001). Vol. 51. No 3. P. 392–413; Raud R. Philosophies versus Philosophy: In Defence of a Flexible Definition // Philosophy East and West (2006). Vol. 56. No. 4. P. 618–625; Defoort C. Is «Chinese Philosophy» a Proper Name? A Response to Rein Raud // Philosophy East and West (2006). Vol. 56. No 4. P. 625–660; Raud R. Traditions and Tendencies: A Reply to Carine Defoort // Philosophy East and West (2006). Vol. 56. No 4. P. 661–664. 5 Defoort C. Is «Chinese Philosophy» a Proper Name? Р. 636. 390
justly points out that in in the expression «Chinese philosophy», however, the grip of the adjective upon the noun appears so strong that philosophy risks being suffocated and that «one important reason for this is that the term “philosophy” – just like many other Western terms – has been applied to the Chinese tradition in retrospect»1. This naturally leads one to acknowledge, as Defoort points out that «at the moment when Chinese philosophy was retrospectively created or recognized, it also largely ceased to exist as living tradition. “Chinese philosophy” seems to have died of its own birth: “Chinese philosophy” (of the traditional masters) and “philosophy in China” (at the modern universities) exclude each other in the sense that, since the introduction of the latter, the former could only continue to exist in a foreign institutional setting, as a separated corpus and object of study»2. For the sake of precision one might add that not the labelling of Chinese traditional corpus of thought as «philosophy» did cause the demise of traditional modes of thought. The historical background is all but too complicated an issue to make generalised statements. The creation of Chinese universities, modelled on Western standards, the abolition of Imperial Examination system in 1905 were just a few factors. The general term for the whole process, in which «Chinese philosophy» is just a part, is modernization (perceived as westernization then) of China. The adoption of Western style of education, introduction of Western natural sciences and technologies and their curriculum, created a fervent intellectual atmosphere that led to redefinition, revaluation, and in certain cases, to abandonment of traditional modes of thinking, which were marked as signs of Chinese backwardness. No doubt that «Chinese philosophy» was created, but already centuries before by Jesuits and later by Sinologists, as Hindu philosophy was created by Western academic Indology in the XIXth century, therefore the pioneers of appropriation are Western scholars, who have contributed to interpretation, and, to the certain degree, to misinterpretation of traditional Chinese modes of philosophical reasoning. It is also obvious that the first Chinese philosophers writing on the history of Chinese thought were very much constrained by the education in philosophy that they received. Most notable are Hu Shi (1891–1962) and Feng Youlan (1895–1990), both philosophy degree holders from American universities, whose combination of Dewey’s and James’s pragmatism left a mark on their writings on the history of Chinese philosophy. Their oeuvres could have looked differently if they had chosen to study with Henri Bergson at Collège de France (although thinkers who are regarded as Contemporary New Confucians, such as Liang Shuming, who also influenced Feng, were adopting Bergson’s ideas on élan vital and intuition in their works), or under Edmund Husserl in Freiburg. Such statement is, of course, of highly hypothetical nature, nevertheless it points to complicated influence of various trends of Western schools of philosophy of the beginning of the XXth century on Chinese understanding of philosophy and writing of history of Chinese philosophy. It points not only to the influence, but also to the constraints that these discourses had on these histories and assessment of national tradition of philosophical reasoning. 1 2
See: Defoort C. Is There Such a Thing as Chinese Philosophy? Р. 394. Ibid. Р. 395. 391
Defoort-Raud discussion is succinctly summarized by Defoort herself in saying that her «divergence from Raud, for instance, is not on the status of “Chinese philosophy,” since they both agree that there are many good reasons for attributing this label to al large copus of ancient Chinese texts. They differ in their attitude toward the debate: while raud believs that the question can be settled once and for all as soon as Western philosophers get rid of their institutional and ethnocentric biases, she thinks that, aside from these biases, which Raud has convincingly analyzed, there is an aspect to the debate that will leave it forever unsettled the sensitivity toward the topic of “Chinese philosophy” in Сhina as well in the West is not merely an indication of rational weakness, power struggle, or chauvinistic sentiment, but also an invitation to reflect on the nature of our deepest attachments»1. It seems, nevertheless, that the problem lies not in whether Chinese thought might be labelled as philosophy, but whether traditional mode of expression and conceptualization are relevant for the methodological strategies and aims of certain Western philosophical schools, various branches and subfields of analytical philosophy in Anglo-Saxon countries, for example. And we could readily agree with Rein Raud’s «conviction, that in our globalizing world any definitions that would leave non-European philosophy outside the borders of ‘philosophy proper’ should be considered sectarian in nature»2. The necessity to include Chinese philosophy in the tradition of philosophy itself, thus universalizing the concept to the extent that it would include thoughts of different indigenous peoples, is born out of the same dominating force of quest for knowledge and certainty introduced by the Enlightenment, knowledge that authorizes certain worldviews and interpretations but delegitimazies others as non-philosophical and relegates them to the field of esoteric, thus not worthy of serious study. That is the same force that previously, and as uncritically as the latter one, tried to universalize world thought found in various traditions, European and non-European alike, and put them in neatly organized categories. It tried to include, twisting and distorting the other, now in the name of giving back its otherness it tries to exclude. At this point it is difficult not to agree with Rain Raud once again in believing that «if Indian logic, Chinese ethics, and Japanese theories of the mind were parts of the philosophy paradigm, the current symbolic power structures would, in all likelihood, collapse»3. We are attached to our categories and concepts; we unconsciously try to be the Greeks in our concepts, the Romans in our laws, believing that we have freed ourselves from the domination of Israelis in our religion. But attachments are difficult to conquer, the longer the addiction, the more effort it needs. Therefore if it is still conceptually difficult to include Chinese philosophy, or even to name the Chinese tradition of thought as philosophy, then it is time to give it a rest, leave it aside and focus on the Chinese concepts that illuminate certain aspects of the Western tradition: aesthetics, philosophy as a way of life etc., and look for what Fran-
Defoort C. Is «Chinese Philosophy» a Proper Name? Р. 627. 2 Raud R. Philosophies versus Philosophy. Р. 619. 3 Ibid. Р. 621. 392
çois Jullien calls «possible universalizers»1. Even if the classical Chinese thought were denied the full consensual acceptance by the majority decree in the very distant future, would it lose its appeal by not being «the philosophy»? It would still remain as a perspective not only directed upon itself, as in sinological research, thus always remaining passive object of research, but also towards our own tradition, simply by being the only in the world which has developed systematic logical definitions and reflections on its own on the basis of a non-Indo-European language2. One might agree with Defoort remain pessimistic about the prospects of the Chinese classical thought, and any non-European tradition of philosophical reasoning, becoming recognized by mainstream Western philosophers. One can side with Raud in hoping that the advent of the world philosophy is not only desirable, but also possible, and to the certain degree even inevitable. But one cannot deny that Chinese philosophy is already a philosophical tool, that reveals to us different coherences, that it also makes us go back to the preconceived ideas behind our Reason, that it is thus in the best position to intrigue today’s thinking and shake up the philosophy3.
1 China as Philosophical Tool. François Jullien in conversation with Thierry Zarcone // Diogenes (2003). Vol. 50 (4). P. 17. 2 See Needham J., Harbsmeier Ch. Science and Civilisation in China. Vol. VII. Р. XXI. 3 China as Philosophical Tool. Р. 15.
The study and research of the Chinese philosophy has been an integral part of academic Sinology, since its inception in the XIX th century....
Published on Jan 20, 2012
The study and research of the Chinese philosophy has been an integral part of academic Sinology, since its inception in the XIX th century....