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What is to become of critical culture in this dumbed-down millennium? Can critique be reduced to an algorithm? Can critique mystify as well as reveal? Is it possible to escape being overwhelmed by the propaganda environment? How does one climb out from under layers piled upon ideological layers? How to think one’s way out of this morass? How to escape the confines of popular, middlebrow, and academic culture? How to avoid entrapment and stasis, and creatively surmount the limitations of the age?
". . . the Americans are worlds behind in all theoretical things, and while they did not bring over any medieval institutions from Europe they did bring over masses of medieval traditions, English common (feudal) law, superstition, spiritualism, in short every kind of imbecility which was not directly harmful to business and which is now very serviceable for making the masses stupid."
— Friedrich Engels, Letter from Engels to Friedrich Albert Sorge, 29 November 1886, in: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Correspondence 1846-1895: A Selection with Commentary and Notes (London: Martin Laurence Ltd., 1934), p. 451.
The current revival of pragmatism, as a cover for contemporary irrationalism and a vehicle for the ethnic diversification of American professional philosophy, ought to be held in the highest suspicion. If we trace this back to its social origins in the late ‘70s, we see Richard Rorty as its prophet, the consummate liberal narcissist coming into his own just as social liberalism is collapsing into irreversible ruin. Before that, you have the scientific wing of pragmatism embodied in analytical philosophy. This too postdates the heyday of classic American pragmatism, which is seen by Brian Lloyd as comprised of irrationalist (James) and scientific (Dewey) wings. In celebrating the revival of pragmatism, especially with ties to popular culture and other ideological fashions, we ought to be critical of just what it is we are supposed to be celebrating.
But there’s more. Every cultural strategy, every ideology, is both enabling and disabling. It facilitates functioning in a given social environment while disenabling alternative perspectives and strategies. Hence, a national tradition in philosophy is not to be unequivocally celebrated as an organic indigenous phenomenon, a wholly legitimate expression of the national character. A nationally dominant philosophical trend could equally be held under suspicion just because of its social function. Perhaps as an alternative to celebration or self-indulgence, an internationalist or at least comparative perspective would better serve the nation’s needs. This is especially so in a nation so fundamentally infused with hucksterism that its most organic intellectual might well be the man who coined the phrase, there’s a sucker born every minute.”
By contrast we could mention Engels’ early essay on the condition of England. Engels has an international perspective, albeit one confined to the three major players on the world stage of his time: Britain, France, Germany. In each case he analyzes the motive forces and the strengths and weaknesses of the national philosophical configuration. One can be utilized to criticize another or show it in a different light. This is a notably different approach from the current pragmatic revival.
Anderson Douglas R. Philosophy Americana: Making Philosophy at Home in American Culture. New York: Fordham University Press, 2006. Table of contents.
Schroeder, Steven. Review, Essays in Philosophy, Vol. 8, No. 1, January 2007.
Anderson is concerned about the gap between professional philosophy and the popular mind. He seeks to address this gap by evoking familiar American cultural themes—wandering, gambling, popular music—and the history of American thought including its most characteristic products, transcendentalism and pragmatism. Anderson cannot be unmindful of the impossible task of making philosophical reflection at home in an anti-intellectual culture, so he indulges in this incoherent and useless exercise in sympathetic magic by playing off ideas mimetically to the cultural environment of which they are alleged to be an organic expression. Unfortunately, such prestidigitation reveals the bankruptcy of a prospective for American society and thought. Kinda like the Democratic Party.
Eddie S. Glaude Jr. teaches religion and African American Studies at Princeton University. He is the author of Exodus!: Religion, Race, and Nation in Early Nineteenth-Century Black America, editor of the anthology Is It Nation Time?: Contemporary Essays on Black Power and Black Nationalism and co-editor with Cornel West of African American Religious Thought: An Anthology.
The publisher’s description of the book as well as the author’s religious concerns and association with Cornel West is a prescription for intellectual insipidity and opportunism. Glaude . . .
. . . makes an impassioned plea for black America to address its social problems by recourse to experience and with an eye set on the promise and potential of the future, rather than the fixed ideas and categories of the past. Central to Glaude’s mission is a rehabilitation of philosopher John Dewey, whose ideas, he argues, can be fruitfully applied to a renewal of African American politics.
According to Glaude, Dewey’s pragmatism, when attentive to the darker dimensions of life—or what we often speak of as the blues—can address many of the conceptual problems that plague contemporary African American discourse. How blacks think about themselves, how they imagine their own history, and how they conceive of their own actions can be rendered in ways that escape bad ways of thinking that assume a tendentious political unity among African Americans simply because they are black, or that short-circuit imaginative responses to problems confronting actual black people. Drawing deeply on black religious thought and literature, In a Shade of Blue seeks to dislodge such crude and simplistic thinking, and replace it with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for black life in all its variety and intricacy. . . .
In other words, provincial, hollow, worthless rhetoric, following in the footsteps of Cornel West’s vacuous “prophetic pragmatism”.
Peddling such shoddy goods, America’s intelligentsia has obviously reached a dead end.
Pragmatism and Its Discontents: Selected Bibliography
American Philosophy Study Guide
The American Hegelians and Related Topics: Selected Bibliography
Black Studies, Music, America vs Europe
Black Music & the American Surrealists: A Bibliography
The Ins and Outs of Lloyd’s Left Out
Cornel West's Evasion of Philosophy, Or, Richard Wright's Revenge
Engels on the British Ideology: Empiricism, Agnosticism, & “Shamefaced Materialism”
The Condition of England. I: The Eighteenth Century by Frederick Engels
Thus, speaking of one Quevedo’s most famous sonnets, the one written in his Torre de Juan Abad, Borges asserts in Other Inquisitions: “I shall not say that it is a transcription of reality, for reality is not verbal, but I can say that the words are less important than the scene they evoke or the virile accent that seems to inform them” (40); or as he writes in his essay on Leopoldo Lugones, “reality is not verbal and it can be incommunicable and atrocious” (62). There seems to be, then, a dimension of reality, or perhaps it would be better to say a dimension of the real--whether cruel or not--that forever remains beyond the scope of language.One might phrase the problem differently, but apropos of Borges' work: what is real beyond the scope of logical paradoxes? What are the consequences of Borges' thought experiments for an understanding of reality beyond unworkable metaphysical conceits?
In fact, in this last sentence we can begin to see how the antiphilosophical search for a radical act--in this case an aesthetic one--allows us to redefine truth itself, rather than to jettison it altogether. It is, then, a question of intensity. What matters is the experiential content or effect caused in the subject, particularly as speaking subject.I'm trying to absorb this, which is different from these other leaps of antiphilosophers.
Because the real eludes literature as it does philosophy?
Happiness, as distinct from mere satisfaction, according to these lines would always seem to require, and not interrupt, the active study and agreeable consciousness of the philosopher. But perhaps this is precisely the part of Boswell’s phrase that was improved to the point of perfection by Hudson. For, in the eyes of Borges, between philosophy and happiness there can be no reconciliationat least not at first sight. Borges, like most antiphilosophers, thus typically discredits philosophy’s claims by appealing to the intensity of a subjective experience, the thrill of which alone is capable of producing actual happiness.
And yet, as early as in his youthful essay “Happiness in Writing” (“La felicidad escrita”) from El idioma de los argentinos, Borges reveals his doubts as to the capacity of literature to come any closer than philosophy or metaphysics would to express happiness in the present, as opposed to the mere promise of happiness to come or the elegiacal remembrance of happy times past. “It seems disheartening to affirm that happiness is no less fleeting in books than in real life, but my experience confirms this,” Borges begins by observing (41), only to conclude with the following words in the end:
We usually suppose that literature already has stated the essential words of our lives and that innovation comes only in grammaticalities and metaphors. I dare to assert the opposite: there is an overabundance of minute belaborings but a lack of valid presentations of the eternal: of happiness, of death, of friendship. (47)
Literature, in this sense, is found equally lacking as philosophy when faced with the task of presenting actual happiness.
In a subtle rephrasing of the myth of Ariadne, the poem “The Fable’s Thread” (“El hilo de la fábula”) from his last book, Los conjurados, actually suggests the possibility of a reconciliation in the final instance:I do not understand this conclusion. But I am also not convinced by Borges.
The guiding thread is lost; the labyrinth is lost as well. Now we do not even know if what surrounds us is a labyrinth, a secret cosmos, or a haphazard chaos. Our beautiful duty is to imagine that there is a labyrinth and a guiding thread. We will never come upon the guiding thread; perhaps we find it and we loose it in an act of faith, in a rhythm, in dreams, in the words that are called philosophy or in pure and simple happiness. (61)
May this final encounter serve by way of a tentative reply to the tiresome and inevitable objection coming from the front row. At the end of this short journey through the purple land of antiphilosophers, there is in fact a form of happiness to be found even in the study of Borges and philosophy. I, for one, like to think that this constitutes one of his more provocative lessons for the twenty-first century.
Borges, I will argue in the following pages, can be situated profitably in the context of this debate: his work will then turn out to have been in large part the work of an antiphilosopher, one who is indeed ironically opposed to the universality claims of truth but one who is also forever in search of a radical gesture that would be able, if not fully to replace, then at least continuously to compete with the prestige of truth in philosophy.I see this, but Borges seems to be working ironically, on a meta-level beyond Wittgenstein and the rest, because in the end they really are out to prove something, whereas Borges maintains an ironic relationship to his own thought experiments. Your pest in the front row doesn't realize that this may make Borges much more interesting than all the others.
Incidentally, this vacillation also helps explain the deeply narrative potential involved in the "essential scepticism" that we have come to identify, perhaps somewhat lazily following the author's own statements, with the case of Borges. By this I mean to refer not only to the fluctuations between nominalism and realism, or between scepticism and mysticism, that can be found from one text to another, but also to the narrativity involved in the comings and goings of certain positions within one and the same story or essay. Following this line of reasoning, we might even be able to come up with a better definition of what really constitutes the logic of a "fiction" or an "inquisition" in Borges's sense.Now, do any of these others do what Borges does?
Danto, Arthur C. Mysticism and Morality: Oriental Thought and Moral Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987. Orig. 1972.
1. Factual Beliefs and Moral Rules
2. Karma and Caste
3. Brahma, Boredom, and Release
4. Therapy and Theology in Buddhist Thought
5. The Discipline of Action in the Bhagavad Gita
6. Conforming to the Way
(+ Prefaces, Suggested Readings, Index)
Danto concisely picks out the problems with the world views of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, as illustrations of a general problem. If I had known about this book in 1972, maybe I could have saved myself a lot of grief in the 1970s.
Danto begins his 1987 preface with a quote from Hume on the uselessness of asceticism. Danto notes that a hypothetical dispute between Hume and a monk would not be over moral issues, but over rival claims concerning factual truth. Ironically, Hume argued that there is no logical connection between is and ought. There is more than a strictly logical issue at stake, however. Moral disagreements when matters of fact are not in dispute will still occur, but certain moral arguments and practices tend to collapse if based entirely on truth claims that can be shown to be false. Danto states this as a general principle, though its application in this book’s original 1972 edition was to the dependence of the moral outlook of imported mysticism on its view of reality. (viii-ix) It’s one thing to import dietary and yogic practices from the East, which fit in quite nicely with Western consumer practices, but the belief systems that undergird them are not viable.
In his 1972 preface, Danto writes as an analytical philosopher arguing that Westerners cannot adopt the moral beliefs of the Orient without adopting the factual beliefs on which they are based. Danto’s point of departure is the is-ought problem as conceived by David Hume and G.E. Moore, both of which Danto rejects. Danto accepts bits and pieces of other moral theories to construct his own, predicated on the notion that “moral propositions presuppose factual ones.” (xvi)
In the first chapter Danto reviews the fact-value dichotomy. Moral propositions might be considered to be disjunct from the logic of factual propositions because the former consist of rules, which are prima facie neither true nor false. (9) However, rules must have application conditions, i.e. presupposed facts of the world and circumstances under which they are to be applied, which also provide the basis for admitting of extenuations and exceptions. (11) Various religious commandments and supernatural beliefs are given as examples. Some moral disputes can be largely reduced to factual disagreements. Thus tolerance of differing moral beliefs may necessitate tolerance of the factual beliefs on which they are based. (13) While moral beliefs cannot be justified in the manner of factual beliefs, they can be falsified by the removal of false factual beliefs and thus the application rules on which they are dependent--analogous to the falsifiability of scientific theories. (15)
The Indians, like Socrates, predicated morality on knowledge of the Good. The difference is that in the East, free will is not a primary concern. (16-7) Indian thinkers see no gap between knowledge and its application. (18)
While much of Western morality has survived its theological basis, Danto surmises “that if the factual beliefs of India to which I refer are false, there is very little point in Indian philosophy, and very little room for serious application of Indian moral beliefs. . .” (21)
Chapter 2, on karma and caste, gets right to the point. Reason in Indian thought never separated itself from its peculiar religious notions of salvation. (22)
Danto argues, as did Max Weber, that the caste system of Hinduism resists universality, as members of different castes are regarded as members of different species. This leads to a peculiar kind of toleration, just as we tolerate animals because they can’t be like us. Hindus will tolerate the actions of others so long as their behavior is defined as licit for their caste. Therefore, the morality operant in this scenario stands or falls on the presupposed factual beliefs about caste. (34-5)
The doctrine of oneness does not imply respect, consideration, or care for one’s fellow man.
And so, the Hindu is likely to feel at one with the entire universe without necessarily feeling at one with any special portion of the universe, viz., that portion consisting of other humans. Respect for life as a whole is consistent with a not especially edifying attitude towards one's fellowmen, who, for all that they may be one essentially, nevertheless remain lodged at different stations on the surfaces of the world. That they should be where they are is, as karma teaches, very much a matter of just desert: they are there because they deserve to be there. (38)
Ethics is external, belonging to the body that is separate from one’s essential soul. (40) The essential impersonality of Brahma, atman, and karma is also reflected in Indian art and literature. The existence of karma is not argued or proved; it is simply accepted as a fact. (41) The one philosophical school that rejected karma was Carvaka materialism. (42ff)
Danto begins chapter 3 with the issue of cosmic boredom and a comparison of the Hindu undesirability of rebirth and Nietzsche’s eternal return. (47) Danto draws an interesting contrast between the scientific mediation (reduction) of appearance/phenomenon and reality/underlying material entities (e.g. heat is explained not by heat but by molecular behavior) and the Indian dismissal of phenomena as illusion. (54-5) He then attempts to analyze the state promised by meditation. The bliss promised by the Gita is undifferentiated, contentless, and passive. (60) The downside of yogic asceticism is explored: exceptional individual seen as endowed with exceptional powers transcends conventional moral bounds, while the schema of social control is preserved. (61ff)
In chapter 4 Danto analyzes the Buddha’s Middle Path and the Noble Truths, but there is a brief diversion on the appeal of Zen to artists, non-intellectuals, and the lower classes. (66) Danto finds the notion of desire as the cause of suffering dubious. At this point, Buddha gets caught up in the general Indian cosmology of karma, the most critical desire, even while rejecting the theory of atman. (69) Danto analyzes the Buddhist conception of consciousness as the cause of the bodily self. (71) He finds the Buddha’s claim to reject metaphysical questions disingenuous, as some serious metaphysics (hardly comprehensible to the average peasant) is a prerequisite to the acceptance of his central claims. (72) Much of the Buddha’s doctrine is couched in parabolic form, but the metaphysical underpinning gradually takes over, relegating this world to illusion. (73) Buddhism runs the gamut of levels of intellectuality from the simplest to the most esoteric and abstract. (74)
The Mahayana tradition is oriented toward collective not merely individual salvation. Danto detects a paradox: the bodhisattva cannot pass over into Nirvana for selfish or unselfish reasons. (76) The disproportion between the exalted and the ordinary inevitably transforms the Mahayana into yet another religion, and the Buddha takes on godlike status. (78) If Samsara becomes Nirvana, then all of life becomes religious, and thus the world becomes aestheticized without alteration. Hence don’t change anything about the world, change your attitude. This will not do for Danto as a moral philosophy. (80-81) We must have an ethics, not of salvation, but of how to treat one another. (82)
In the next chapter Danto turns to the Bhagavad Gita. The infamous story of Arjuna is the key, the sophistical argument that Arjuna fight and kill with detachment. (88) One must perform one’s actions according to one’s calling, to be true to it without extraneous motivation. (91) This attitude is enabled by the detachment of self from body, so that one does not identify with the necessary actions of one’s body. Danto finds this to be bone-chilling, Nietzschean, and inhuman. The factual beliefs postulated are radically at odds with morality. (94-5) Danto ponders possible points of comparison of this notion of detachment with Kant, but insists that morality has no meaning without systems of rules. (96) Intention is decisive; it ties the agent to the action. The Gita robs actions of their moral qualities by detaching them from their agents. (98) This has some resemblance to Nietzsche’s position. (99)
Danto thinks that Chinese philosophy will help illuminate the essential Indian position, and so he turns to Taoism in the final chapter. I find this transition startling. He finds Westerners attracted to the Tao Te Ching on account of their distrust of intellect and language. There is a tacit assumption, to be found in Wittgenstein as well, that “the structure of the world must be antecedently linguistic.” The notion of an ideal language that mirrors the structure of the world is chimerical. This notion not only pervades Western philosophy but can be found in the Confucian rectification of names. (101-2) The Tao Te Ching and the Chuang Tzu devalue prepositional knowledge and are practice-oriented. Danto objects to the conflation of the two. (103-4) “There is in any case no possible way of assimilating discursive to practical knowledge or conversely. . .” (104)
Knowledge as performance and representation is irreducibly duplex, and Lao Tzu is essentially correct when he implies that words, used at least descriptively, are logically external to the reality they record, and that there is a dimension of existence that could not possibly be put in words. The rest of his teaching is a deprecation of one sort of knowledge in favor of another. (105)Practical knowledge admits of gradations of mastery. “The Way is smooth to those who know it.” The Taoist landscape is misty, and doesn’t lead to a definite goal. (105) Lao Tzu is contrasted to Dante: the former has no particular destination, nor can he get lost, nor does Lao Tzu struggle against the grain. (106)
I find Danto's conclusions concerning Chinese philosophy disturbing. He places a reactionary philosophy like Confucianism ahead of the others because of its moralism and social orientation. What then of critique of the social order? Danto offers shrewd observations all the way through the book and he is correct about the weaknesses of Taoism, and perhaps he even draws some valid parallels to the Indian philosophies discussed. But the most influential texts of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching and the Chuang Tzu, abstracted from the traditions in which they became embedded, are the most doctrinally and metaphysically minimalist of anything passing for a sacred scripture ever written. Granted, they are inadequate as a positive guide to life and they offer no determinate negation of the feudal order. Their advocacy of naturalness implies a static world view, but then a return to nature is characteristically a reaction of protest against a corrupt civilization. The genius of these two Taoist texts lies in irony and critical orientation, a via negativa that abstractly addresses the problem of reification. Nowhere does one find the demented justification of violence one finds in the Bhagavad Gita. While I understand the abstract parallels, equating these two works to Buddhism and especially to Hinduism is almost tantamount to an obscenity. Of all the belief systems discussed, only these two Chinese Taoist texts stand out as gems shining amidst the filth of their civilizations.
Danto wrote this book in the thick of the counterculture of the '60s-70s, from a distant though needed vantage point. In another book perhaps he might have said more about the contemporary appeal of these ideas. The more carefully you read between the lines, the more clues you will find as to why some of the general ideas behind these systems, if to a much less extent the specifics, were able to diffuse in the contemporary West as they did. The impersonal, mechanistic, and amoral aspects of these world views, with a good percentage of their original mythic, superstitious, and social content conveniently downplayed or metaphoricized into oblivion, could readily be contoured to the discontents of a modern, mechanistic, depersonalized society disillusioned with conventional moralism, legalism, and deliberative rationality. So much so, that the majority of mystic-minded consumers, naive and ungrounded in historical consciousness, could be manipulated, cajoled, or sold on extremely pernicious, sociopathic notions without recognition of their implications.
Christopher Lasch's The Minimal Self: A Portrait of Psychological Terrorism
Taoism & the Tao of Bourgeois Philosophy (review of J. J. Clarke, The Tao of the West)
Occultism, Eastern Mysticism, Fascism, & Countercultures: Selected Bibliography
Holistic Thought, New Age Obscurantism, Occultism, the Sciences, & Fascism
“Secularism, science and the Right” (Review of Meera Nanda, The Wrongs of the Religious Right: Reflections on Science, Secularism and Hindutva)
. . . to have wisdom is to know the social rites and their ontological grounds, while appropriateness is more closely associated with the agent's choosing and determining. (342)He thinks this brings Confucius close to Aristotle, and attempts to tease out the obscurities in Mencius' conceptions.
. . . that, for the [Madhyamika] Buddhists, ignorance is a form of attachment, and the objects of attachments are signs. Wisdom, therefore, is an insight into the empty nature of signs. (376)Ignorance is ontologically universal, a property of all sentient beings, all caught up in the machinery of reincarnation. (378) The vulgar person’s cognition is driven by sense-impressions, based on the sense of touch, driven by the impulse of grasping. The sign is the product of picture-thinking. (379) The Hinayana semiotic model is outlined, as is the epistemic model for overcoming illusion. (380ff) The intellect, which goes beyond the senses, deals with conditioned, finite dharmas. However, there are three unconditioned dharmas, concerning which one has to attain a meditative state, passing through three Doors to Liberation en route to nirvana—Emptiness, Signlessness, Resignation.
Labels: Chinese philosophy
The Legitimacy of Chinese Philosophy, Part III
Contemporary Chinese Thought, vol. 37, no. 3, Spring 2006.
Editors' Introduction (Carine Defoort & Ge Zhaoguang)
Modern Construction and Explanatory Models of the History of Philosophy (Zhao Dunhua)
A False But Meaningful Issue: A Reading of the "Legitimacy Issue in Chinese Philosophy" (Yu Wujin)
On the New Round of Comparative Studies of Chinese and Western Philosophical Types (Yu Xuanmeng)
Reflections on the Legitimacy of the Discipline of Chinese Philosophy Under the Discursive Hegemony of the West (Li Jinglin)
The Legitimacy of the Discussions on the "Legitimacy" of "Chinese Philosophy" (Hu Jun)
Western Discourse and Shadows in the Legitimacy Crisis of Chinese Philosophy (Qiao Qingju)
The Legitimacy and Consciousness of Chinese Philosophy: An Analysis of the Issue of the Legitimacy of Chinese Philosophy (Chen Renren)
The "Legitimacy" of Chinese Philosophy (Wei Changbao)
A body of thought preoccupied by its identity crisis is in deep trouble. All non-Western civilizations that have undergone disruption through contact with the imperial West and have faced the problems of modernization have endured such a crisis. In some cases, the very discipline of "philosophy" is inaugurated and defined by this crisis, the most extreme case being African Philosophy. Chinese philosophy has a respected literary tradition dating back thousands of years, yet it too faced this crisis, and judging from recent writings in the field, has yet to resolve it.
Paradoxically, no indigenous development in a formally defined non-western philosophical tradition, no matter how nationalistic it may purport to be, proceeds without collusion with Western interests. This has been true ever since Western incursions into China and India yielded ideological alliances with the religious traditions most congenial to the interests of the West. The most recent wave of irrationalism can be loosely termed postmodernism, and it has given a whole new lease on life to all the obscurantist intellectual ambitions of the irrationalist wings of the nations, cultures, and political movements of the world.
There are numerous linkages of Western philosophical interests with Chinese philosophy. There is a long-standing preoccupation with Eastern mysticism which more recently comes under the rubric of New Age thought. A more recent academic wrinkle is the cross-breeding of hermeneutics and deconstruction with Taoism and Confucianism, and there persists a long-standing collusion of these Chinese philosophies with the less fashionable but apparently still alive-and-kicking process philosophy initiated by Alfred North Whitehead. Such collusions have become intensified with the rage of globalization, the ideological effects of which I have termed "globalization gone bad".
This symposium on The Legitimacy of Chinese Philosophy is not quite so egregious, yet it seems to reflect a conceptual impasse. Almost all (if not all) of the participants in this Part III of the discussion are stationed in the People's Republic of China and are apparently locked into a struggle with China's premodern doctrines, its previous commitment to Marxism, the challenges of globalization, and the dilemma of cultural identity.
"Chinese philosophy" has come to be dismissed or lauded as non-philosophy by Western commentators. Hegel's comments against Chinese philosophy as non-systematic and non-conceptual in content are cited by several authors. (Zhao, 5; Yu Wujin, 22; Yu Xuanmeng, 40; Chen, 77) But Chinese philosophy is praised for those very same reasons by no less than Jacques Derrida, when he visited China in 2002: "China has no philosophy, only thought." Derrida considered Western philosophy to be logocentric, which he opposed, and thus demoting it to the status of "writing", could not have been happier in his ignorance than to praise Chinese philosophy as non-philosophical. (Zhao, 5, 7; Chen, 78, 86)
As a discipline, the history of Chinese philosophy dates from the 1920s and the efforts of Chinese scholars such as Feng Youlan and Hu Shi. Later, the Stalinist model was imported from the USSR and imposed on Chinese history of philosophy. "Western discursive hegemony" can not be faulted, as all modern people must evaluate all philosophies with appropriate modern tools of analysis. Western philosophy is said to be predicated on the Metaphysics of Being, but one should not be hasty in judging Chinese philosophy if it does not appear to fit this model. Just because the Chinese language lacks the copula and doesn't name the category of "being", one should not assume a lack of systematicity. Nor should Chinese philosophy be deemed lacking in focus on philosophical questions, just because the hermeneutical models applied to it did not find what they sought.
On the other hand, one should be wary of an emphasis on Chinese particularity and assertions of the universality of the particular. A proper model can be found in the example of the Jews. The strong cultural identity of Jews notwithstanding, it did not become "an obstacle to the creation of universal theories." Jewish thinkers "never made 'Jewish characteristics' the objective of their theories, but instead sought universal truths that were everywhere applicable." (Zhao, 17)
(1) empiricism factor (inability to consider fundamental epistemological problems beyond sensory experience, as did Kant and Husserl);
(2) psychologizing factor (Confucian ethics based on psychological premises);
(3) cavemanship factor (basing arguments only on evidence consistent with preconceived positions);
(4) pragmatism factor (lack of interest in abstract concepts and categories and the issue of truth, and excessive concern with usefulness).
Yu Wujin upbraids the Chinese for lagging behind in logic and linguistic analysis.
Yu Xuanmeng insists that Chinese philosophy must free itself of dependence on Western philosophy. Ancient Chinese philosophers were almost all known as sages. This is quite different from the Western preoccupation with ontology, which also pervades ethics and separates the latter from the personal wisdom of the philosopher. This has become the pretext for dismissing China's age-old preoccupation with the right way to live.
Li addresses the issue of disciplinary paradigms. The founders of the historiography of Chinese philosophy, Hu Shi and Feng Youlan, organized their research along the paradigms of Western philosophy. Feng found the Chinese emphasis to be self-cultivation, but he found an approximate equivalent to Western philosophy in yi li zhi xue (the learning of meaning and principle). (43) Zhang Dainian (1937) sought a universal philosophy of which he saw Chinese philosophy and others as subcategories. Li deems this 'universal philosophy' an empty category. Li finds Jin Yuelin's conception more complex. (44) Prior to 1949, Chinese philosophical research was characterized by (1) free choice in interpretive principles, (2) immersion of scholars in traditional thought. Between 1949 and 1979 a rigid Marxist model was mandatory. The cumulative effect of extrinsic assessments and the treatment of philosophies as an abstract battle of tendencies drained the life of the traditions being studied. (47-48) Since 1979, research has become more open and pluralist.
Li attempts to rethink the relation of particular to universal, finding the universal in the individual and particular. (51). The interpretive process (between Chinese and Western thought) needs to be bidirectional. The academic relationship between fen (division) and tong (commonality) needs to be balanced. The Confucian tradition knew the principle "seek knowledge at all levels" but tied this quest to human relationships and practice. It would be a mistake to sever this connection (56-57) Li even brings in Heidegger and Jaspers to justify his position! (58) Heidegger referred to the crisis brought on by technology and to Chinese thought, but rejected the possibility of importing Eastern world views to solve the spiritual crisis of the West. Heidegger asserted: "Thought can only be changed by means of thought that has the same origins and missions." And: "There is still only one God who can bring us salvation." (58)
Another nail in the coffin of the Nazi philosopher, if you ask me. This position reminds me of another fascist thinker, Carl Jung.
Li sees promise for a philosophical convergence between the two civilizations in the contemporary emphasis on hermeneutics. (60) I think I'm going to be sick.
Hu begins with a basic problem: there is an inherent presumption in impartially assessing the philosophical value of traditional Chinese thought, as the very language of philosophical arbitration prejudges the issue. The term "philosophy" was imported into China in the 1890s. It presupposed a disciplinary division of scholarship hitherto absent in China. Just as China did not have "philosophy", it also did not have "economics", "biology", etc. China had no such disciplines. But neither did Socrates. It should not be assumed that, lacking disciplines, China simply lacked an investment in the subject matters those disciplines study. There is also no point in seeking purism. The modern Chinese language itself reflects the penetration of modern modes of discourse into Chinese culture, and thus modern Chinese offers no privileged entryway into traditional Chinese thought.
Qiao sees the radical changes in Chinese culture in the 20th century as the logical outcome of the Opium War. Chinese thought was uprooted as a living tradition and turned into a detached object of study. This was a traumatic development for traditionally minded scholars. All research conducted in the history of Chinese philosophy is essentially comparative research in Chinese and Western philosophy. Without this, the weaknesses (logic and epistemology) and strengths of Chinese philosophy (social philosophy and moral practice) could never have been assessed. While using Western philosophy as a backdrop may diminish the stature of Chinese philosophy, it need not always be so. (Mou Zongsan judged Wang Yangming superior to Kant.) (72) No matter how much nationalistically minded philosophers might wish to shake the allegedly hegemonic discourse of the West, it can't be done, because without it, contemporary Chinese would not be able to understand Chinese philosophy. A return to traditional intellectual tools is no longer feasible. (73)
Chen contrasts the judgments of Hegel and Derrida. The history of academic study of Chinese philosophy is briefly recounted, from the establishment of a school and then department of Chinese philosophy in Beijing (1914, 1919), the works of Hu Shi (1919) and Feng Youlan (1930s), to the establishment of the Marxist paradigm based on Soviet textbooks. In 1955 Zhang Dainian initiated a promising line of research into "the categories and system of traditional Chinese philosophy", which did not get the opportunity to bear fruit until the 1980s. (79) This was an effort to correct forced interpretations of Chinese philosophy. Two key articles in 2001 and 2002 raised the question of the legitimacy of Chinese philosophy. Ge Zhaoguang completed a two-volume History of Chinese Thought, using the term "thought" as less restrictive and forced than "philosophy". (80) The backdrop to the whole issue was the sense of Western superiority with which China adopted Western learning. The term for "philosophy" (zhexue) was introduced in 1874 by the Japanese scholar Nishi Amane and was adopted in China in 1905. Hu Shi's work on Chinese philosophy created an impression as if it were written by a Westerner. After China opened up again in the 1980s new perspectives on both Western culture and Marxism (including Western Marxism) were in the making.
The social problems of contemporary China and those of Western society have stimulated a resurgence of respectful consideration of traditional Chinese academic values. Two factors are adduced:
(1) recognition of the flaws of Western society, Western engagement with postmodernism and Eastern wisdom, encouraging a Chinese return to tradition as a cultural resource (cf. contemporary neo-Confucianism);
(2) strengthening of local consciousness in the age of globalization. (83)
Western philosophy itself has no universal standard for what constitutes philosophical legitimacy, hence Chinese philosophy need not be doubted in this regard, and certainly it was guided by a love of wisdom. Hence, it is worthwhile pursuing a national tradition while remaining open to other influences.
Wei finds that after a century of the existence of Chinese philosophy as a formal academic field of study, notwithstanding its dependency and legitimacy issues, Chinese philosophy is making a comeback, with much to contribute. The way forward is for China to create its own philosophical paradigm, and maintain the subjectivity and indigenous perspective of Chinese philosophy while incorporating Western philosophy.
This hollow rhetoric, devoid of specifics as to what is ultimately philosophically valuable, suggests what is sterile about this entire debate. Occasionally there are brief suggestions of the specific areas in which Chinese philosophy (or "thought") is held to be weak or strong, but there is no convincing treatment of what in the past is worth preserving, or how we are supposed to assess it in any event given what we know now. Whether a pro or con position on "Chinese philosophy" is taken, all of this discussion revolves around the commensurability of the Western and Chinese traditions. In spite of the tendency for focus on disciplinarity to reduce to pedantic distinctions, that need not happen if the distinctions reveal something intrinsic to the systems of thought involved. Yet for all this deliberation, the essential intrinsic questions remain untouched.
The Dead End of African Philosophy: Which Way Out?
Chinese Philosophy in the West: Globalization Gone Bad (1)
The Tao of Brecht
Taoism & the Tao of Bourgeois Philosophy (review of J. J. Clarke, The Tao of the West)
Occultism, Eastern Mysticism, Fascism, & Countercultures: Selected Bibliography
Holistic Thought, New Age Obscurantism, Occultism, the Sciences, & Fascism
The Graphic Figure and the Philosophical Abstraction by Ion Banu
“Secularism, science and the Right” (Review of Meera Nanda, The Wrongs of the Religious Right: Reflections on Science, Secularism and Hindutva)
Labels: Chinese philosophy