Learning from Japan’s Defeat

I want to extract a lesson from history today. I’m going to use an example taken from the strategy of the Japanese military in World War II to make my point, but I assume all my readers are savvy enough to know that this is not criticism of contemporary Japan.


My father was not a career military man, but his ashes (along with those of my mother) are interred at the columbarium of Arlington National Cemetery because of his service in the Pacific theater during World War II. It is perhaps because of him that I was a bit of a WWII buff as a kid. But one question always really puzzled me. Why did Japan attack the US?

The question may not seem to need a complicated answer. At that time, Japan was a militaristic and imperialistic state, which had already invaded China. But their resources were already spread fairly thin. Why widen the war to include the US? To be sure, there were a few people at the time who sincerely believed that it was Japan’s destiny to rule both sides of the Pacific, and that they would be able to invade North America or at least get the US to become a vassal state. (Several islands in Alaska were in fact occupied by Japan during the war.) However, this was a vision largely confined to a handful of crazies. Sensible strategists realized that it was a fantasy to think the Japan could successfully launch an amphibious landing force across the Pacific. (All the resources of the US and Great Britain could barely do it across the English Channel.)

Other strategists had a much more moderate goal. Franklin Roosevelt was using his executive powers as President to try to curb Japanese militarism in Asia. After the Japanese invaded French Indo-China (Vietnam), Roosevelt had blocked the sale of oil to Japan. Some Japanese leaders thought that if they launched a preemptive strike against Pearl Harbor (ideally wiping out the US carrier fleet), the US would be so demoralized that it would agree to reverse Roosevelt’s restrictive policies against Japan, and give diplomatic recognition to Japan’s occupation of China. Obviously, this was a serious miscalculation on their part.

My father’s attitude was representative of that of many Americans at the time. Most people prior to Pearl Harbor, while disapproving of Japanese and German aggression, were not at all enthusiastic about the prospect of the US becoming involved in either war. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized US public opinion against Japan, and made a generation of people positively eager to fight. The US prior to Pearl Harbor was an inconvenience to the Japanese military. After Pearl Harbor, it was a juggernaut that would inevitably destroy it.

I promised a moral to learn from this history lesson. What is it? Don’t mess with the US? Well, that too. We are a great country, and for all our faults and divisions, we come together when we are attacked, and the results are genuinely awe-inspiring. But I want to suggest a more subtle, and more controversial, lesson.The strategy of the Japanese militarists was getting the US to back down by bombing us, and we roll our eyes at their naiveté. Why would you think that attacking us would make us less likely to fight? But the same is true of other countries, and other peoples, around the world. The lesson to learn is this: the use of force against people makes them hate you, if they did not, or hate you more, if they already hated you a little. It unites people who would otherwise have fought each other to fight against you. It destroys whatever pockets of political moderation there might have been among those people.

Of course, the US did win the war against Japan, Germany, and Italy through force. But through the Marshall Plan in Europe and MacArthur’s leadership in Japan, we made sure that these countries maintained their original territorial integrity, and had a chance to rebuild with a better life and democratic institutions. Had we left them smoldering in their ashes, or seized one of the Japanese home islands, who knows what monster would have grown there. (Don’t forget that Hitler came to power in large part because the Treaty of Versailles humiliated and crippled Germany, and Japanese militarism grew after Commodore Perry showed up in Tokyo Bay, demanding a trade agreement, and blew up a few warehouses just to show he meant business.)

When you are shoved, it is natural to shove back. Sometimes, though, even when you are much stronger, it is better to respond differently: not because you are weak, not because you are a coward, and not because you are naive. Sometimes the most hard-headed strategy is peace and reconciliation.

Posted in East Asian Studies, Politics | Leave a comment

You Need the Humility to Learn

As a graduate student at Stanford, I was a teaching assistant for a year-long course required of freshmen: Cultures, Ideas, and Values. I have no idea whether this particular course still exists, but I still have vivid memories of it.

The freshmen in the course read classic texts from multiple cultures, including things like Homer’s Odyssey and the Bhagavad Gita, the sayings of Confucius and the New Testament, Plato’s Republic and the Tao Te Ching of Lao-tzu, Karl Marx and Adam Smith. There were lectures that contextualized the readings, explained some of the trickier points, and suggested issues to think about. Each student was also assigned to a small seminar group, in which graduate students (like me) led discussions on the readings. Students wrote brief weekly reaction papers to help them keep up wth the readings, as well as longer essays to allow them to go into greater depth. They got detailed feedback on the longer essays, and also had the option of meeting with the instructors one-on-one in office hours.

Sounds like a great course, doesn’t it? It was! It was a spectacular opportunity to learn. And the freshmen at Stanford utterly despised the course.

There was plenty of discussion about why the course didn’t seem to be working. The discussion was almost always among faculty who were not directly involved with the course, and the problems they diagnosed almost always had to do with failures in the structure or teaching of the course. In my opinion, they all missed the mark. Any course can be taught and structured better. If you think your course is already perfect, you are obviously a horrible teacher. But as the description above suggests, the basic structure of this course was almost idiot-proof. How bad could a course like the one I described be?

So if the fundamental problem was not the course structure and it was not the teaching, what was it?

The students who get into schools like Stanford have generally been the best at everything their whole lives. They are valedictorians and salutatorians. They are concert violinists at age 16 or olympic class athletes. They are articulate, at least in a glib way. And they have learned to seem “cool” while doing it. (I am told that the official motto of Balliol College at Oxford is “effortless superiority,” which sums up the attitude nicely.) We take these students and we throw them all together their freshman year. They are excited to be in this great university, but also very intimidated. Imagine one of these students in his first discussion session:

  • Instructor: “So are you persuaded by Plato’s argument that the wisest and most educated should rule society?”
  • Freshman: “No, because truth is relative, so who is to say who is wise?”
  • Instructor: “Ah, but if you say that truth is relative, is the truth of that statement itself relative?”
  • Freshman: “Uhhh…”
  • Instructor: “And you students here are being trained to be the future lawyers, doctors, senators, scientists, and experts who will run society. How are you different from Plato’s philosopher kings and queens?”

The student is experiencing what the people of Athens experienced at the hands of Socrates. And, of course, they put Socrates to death for it.

It only gets worse when the student gets his or her first graded essay back. Not all students can get an A on any one assignment, or an A would cease to mean anything. (And I teach in a philosophy department, one of the few disciplines that is holding the line against grade inflation.) Many freshmen end up getting an A- or even (God forbid!) a B+ for the first time in their lives. In the words of one student, “But…I always get an A!” Believe me, having a grading curve is not some cruel perfectionism on the part of professors. Studies show that students learn the best when held to high standards. In addition, the standards were not ridiculously high. I still remember the very first essay I graded as a teaching assistant: it included the phrase, “One of the basic tenements of Confucianism is….” Another student asked me hopefully, “When you circle a word and write ‘word choice’ beside it, do you mean good word choice?” And I will never forget the sign in the student-run coffee house on campus that read, “In lieu of our best efforts, the espresso machine is broken.” (Yes, I am sure that was not clever irony.)

There were basically two ways students reacted to discovering their own falibility. On the one hand, some rose to the challenge: “Ouch. Well, time for the humility required for genuine learning.” On the other hand, some lied to themselves to protect their own self-image: “Hmph. I am a great student; my teachers are the problem.” Unfortunately, many students went for the second option. Based upon their particular preferences, they would pick a rationalization. “This course has a liberal bias” or “this course has a conservative bias.” “Too much non-Western philosophy” or “why not more non-Western philosophy?” “The teachers don’t give us a chance to think for ourselves” or “the teachers don’t give us any guidance for writing our essays.” “Too much literature” or “too much philosophy” or “too much history” or too little of any of those things.

I’m not picking on Stanford or Stanford students. I got a great education there, working with scholars from the departments of Philosophy, Religious Studies, and East Asian Languages, which are among the best in the world. And I did have the honor of teaching many wonderful students at Stanford, students genuinely excited about learning. Furthermore, the details above are based on my experience of more than twenty years ago, so things may be quite different at Stanford now. But there is a timeless lesson here that is not limited to that course, not limited to Stanford or any other elite institution, and not even limited to learning in school. (Sorry for burying my lead in the final paragraph.) The moral is that whoever you are and wherever you are in your career, there will come times when you realize that your understanding is not as deep as you realized, or that you need to develop a new skill set. Confucius said, “To learn and to continually work at it — is this not a joy?” He was right about the potential for learning to be an endless source of joy, but that joy is only possible when you also have the honesty and humility needed to learn. If you find yourself saying, “I am a great salesperson; my clients are the problem,” or “I am a great employee; my boss is the problem,” or “I am a great attorney, the judge is the problem” — you may be in need of the humility to learn.

Posted in Academia, Teaching | Leave a comment

The Changes

(This post was originally published November 29, 2014.)

It is now less than one week before my stay as a visiting scholar at Wuhan University ends. As I sit in an absolutely charming cafe decorated in European style, the walls lined with antiques, I find myself reflecting on the amazing changes that China has undergone over the course of the last century. One hundred years ago, the Qing dynasty had just fallen, ending more than two millennia of imperial rule. It was replaced by a nominally democratic government, but one that had no effective control of China, which descended into decades of chaos and civil war. Eighty years ago, the Nationalists united the country, and all but eliminated the Communists, who were forced to retreat on the infamous Long March, which left them decimated. Two years later, the Japanese invaded China, in what was effectively the beginning of World War II.

By the end of WWII (or the “War of Anti-Japanese Resistance” as it is often called here), the Nationalists were themselves decimated, while the Communists had rebuilt their strength behind the lines in China’s hinterlands. Consequently, a little over sixty years ago, the Communists swept to victory and established the People’s Republic of China. Mao Zedong launched the Great Leap Forward, a radical (and largely unscientific) effort to boost economic growth and farm production. The results were disastrous. We may never know how many people starved to death in the resulting famine, but 10 million deaths would be a conservative estimate. Among those who had the courage to challenge Mao’s policies was Deng Xiaoping. In response, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. Students were encouraged to drop out of school and join the RedGuards, to root out any vestiges of “feudalism” or “bourgeois thinking” in society. The Red Guards acted with all the judiciousness of the Salem Witch Trials, and all the kindness of the Inquisition. Universities were closed down, professors were publicly humiliated, and intellectuals were sent to the countryside for “reform through labor,” or simply tortured. (My first week here, I met a charming old professor, who showed me the scars where Red Guards had driven nails into his hands to try to ellicit a false confession that he was a spy for the West.)

Forty years ago, Mao died and Deng Xiaoping (who had been one of those “rusticated” to the countryside for his opposition to Mao) assumed power. Deng ended the Cultural Revolution, opened up China to the West, and allowed moderate capitalist reforms. I was part of the generation of students who became fascinated by China during this period. (In all honesty, the Kung-fu craze in the US also helped “inspire” me.) China’s economy boomed, and soon intellectuals (especially young college students) felt emboldened to express their views and call for greater democracy. This led, twenty-five years ago, to the Tiananmen “Incident.” However, most Chinese don’t think about this much anymore, and if they do, their views would surprise most Americans. As a cabbie told me on an earlier visit, “Well, of course we supported the students, but they really didn’t give the government any choice, did they?” (As they say on Twitter, “reposting does not indicate endorsement.”)

China today is a place where you can say anything you want about any topic — as long as you don’t say it on the internet, in the press, on the airwaves, or in a public protest. China has a booming capitalist economy that is generating home-grown billionaires — and students are required to study Marxism-Leninism-Maozedong Thought under college professors who say, without blinking, that China is on the road to communism. And they invited this white guy to Wuhan, to teach about Western philosophy — and the importance of free public debate.

Posted in Sinology | Leave a comment

China Rising…?

At the beginning of December, I ended a semester as a Visiting Scholar in the School of Philosophy at Wuhan University in China. (Wuhan University is officially ranked as one of the top 10 universities in China overall, and its School of Philosophy is generally ranked among the top 5.) It has been a fascinating experience, as I expected. I deeply miss my family at home, and will be very happy to be with them again, but I know that I will also miss China when I return to the US.

Living in China only reinforces one’s conviction that it is a vibant, exciting, beautiful country. It is no secret that the Chinese economy is on track to overtake the US as the largest in the world within a few years. The glories of earlier dynasties like the Tang may pale in comparison with what China has in store in the future. However, China also has some systemic problems that it must overcome to continue its positive trajectory.

One of the most significant problems is corruption. Every country faces this issue, of course, but it is no accident that President Xi Jinping has made an anti-corruption drive one of the cornerstones of his administration. This is not just an ethical problem, since corruption is fundamenetally inefficient. Too often, people get jobs or positions of authority through guanxi, personal connections, or bribery, rather than through merit. President Xi’s endorsement of Confucianism is part of an effort to instill a greater sense of integrity and compassion among Chinese who were raised on no values other than consumerist capitalism (under a Communist facade). However, both “liberal” and Marxist critics in China worry that the Confucian tradition, with its emphasis on loyalty to family and friends, is a source of nepotism and injustice, rather than a solution.

Equally important is the problem of pollution. Critics of environmental policies in the US complain about the negative effects of regulations on business, but China is a case study in how bad pollution can become. I have never seen the air quality in Wuhan get better than “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” and the air quality in Beijing frequently reaches “hazardous,” which means that phyical exertion has become dangerous for everyone. Of course, this is not something that China advertises. I visited Beijing to give a presentation recenty, and commented on how beautiful the sky looked. One of my hosts remarked sardonically, “Ah, yes. There is an international conference in Beijing at the moment, so they have shut down the local factories to improve the air quality, and turned off the internet censorship. They want to make sure the Winter Olympics will come to China in the future.”

A third problem is unrest in Tibet, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang. Each problem is more complex and multifaceted than most people in the US recognize. For example, a significant source of tension between people in Hong Kong and on the mainland is not political, but cultural, including language (English and Cantonese vs. Mandarin) and mores. There was a huge ruckus not too long ago when a tourist from the mainland let her toddler pee in the middle of a busy sidewalk, and got rebuked for her bad taste by the locals. Regarding the issue of pro- and anti-Tibetan independence, a student from China once ingenuously asked me, “Who is right?” I said, “It doesn’t make any difference. What matters is that you have a problem on your hands comparable to England in Northern Ireland. Tibet and China have become so integrated that it is hard to imagine leaving now, but the problems will only get worse while Tibet is part of China.”

The fourth problem is the Chinese military. This is the least significant problem, at least for now, but it could become the problem of the future. China has a huge and well-funded military, including a blue-water navy, cutting-edge fighter planes, and intercontinental ballistic missles with thermonuclear warheads. China has not fought a war since the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979 (which ended pretty much the way the US Vietnam War ended), but the result is that many in the military would love to prove themselves in battle. (And it doesn’t help that every night on TV here there is some miniseries or a movie about the glories of the Chinese military fighting the Japanese or the Nationalists. The Korean War is downplayed, reflecting a generally positive attitude toward Americans at the moment.) President Xi is one of the strongest leaders China has had in a long time, and he has deep ties with the military establishment, so no high ranking general is likely to go rogue under his watch. Nonetheless, one over-aggressive ship captain or figher pilot playing cat and mouse over islands in the East or South China Sea could lead to a confrontation that neither side could back down from. Since the US has defense treaties with Japan and Taiwan, our involvement would be all but assured.

So will China resolve these problems? One of my best teachers when I was an undergraduate said, “I have noticed that professional ‘China watchers’ have never been right in their predictions. Who could have guessed that the Communists would come back to win the Chinese Civil War after the devastation of the Long March? Who could have forseen the orgy of violence in the Cultural Revolution? Who predicted that a few decades after the death of Mao China would be more capitalistic than many European economies? So I have given up trying to guess.”

Sounds like good advice.

Posted in Sinology | Leave a comment

Comments on Hansen, A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought, Chapter 2

Summary and Comments on Hansen, “The Context of Chinese Philosophy,” Chapter 2 of A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought


11 June 2014

 I was invited to attend and present at a conference on Daoism and paradox at CUNY in May.  Each presenter was asked to supply in advance some readings to focus the discussion.  Chad Hansen was another presenter, and he asked us to read in advance Chapter 2 of his A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought.  Consequently, I dutifully re-read the chapter (I first read it when I reviewed the book) and wrote up extensive notes for discussion.  However, Chad chose to present on a topic different from the one he asked us to read about, so my notes weren’t very useful.  Nonetheless, I spent a lot of time carefully re-reading and re-thinking Chad’s chapter, so I am posting these comments so they won’t completely go to waste.


On the one hand, Chad presents himself as rejecting “the standard interpretive theory,” and “widely held assumptions.”  However, many of the things that he suggests are in fact commonplaces of comparative philosophy:

  • Chinese thinkers of the pre-Qin period did not hold views of meaning or philosophies of mind that are similar in any substantive way to those of Plato, Descartes, Hume, or Frege.
  • Chinese thinkers of this period had a primarily practical orientation, with a strong interest in ethics and political philosophy, and less interest in purely theoretical issues.
  • Most Chinese thinkers of this period were not focused on giving definitions of terms (although there are important exceptions).
  • Most Chinese thinkers of this period thought of humans as social animals, and found implausible radical individualism (although one could argue that Yang Zhu was an exception).

The preceding claims I take to be uncontroversial, and to have been uncontroversial long before Chad started graduate school. Chad does provide some new arguments for these conclusions, but they seem to me to be convoluted and unconvincing:

  • Chad wishes to claim that, because of the presence of ideograms and pictograms among Chinese characters, speakers of Chinese during the pre-Qin period had an “implicit” view of meaning that would have made “the familiar Indo-European view of language and mind” seem implausible.  This claim is hard to evaluate because it (1) depends upon dubious factual claims about the structure of Chinese characters, (2) asserts counter-factual claim about what would have happened under certain historical conditions (i.e., if someone had advanced a particular theory of meaning), and (3) takes as one of its premises an appeal to “the implicit Chinese view” (p. 38) of characters that was allegedly widely held during the pre-Qin period.  How can we determine what the “implicit” (but never explicitly stated) Chinese view of characters was during this period?  The earliest explicit view we get (that of Xu Shen during the Han) does not support Chad’s hypothesis.
  • Chad wants to claim that nouns in this period were mass-nouns, in the sense that they referred to “stuffs” or “wholes,” whose parts did not come pre-individuated. Chad insists that this is a semantic claim, not a syntactic claim, but it is worth noting that in his own characterization of the view in this chapter he stresses syntactic features.  The syntactic features of mass nouns that Chad himself cites do not support the hypothesis that nouns in pre-Qin China were mass nouns.  Insofar as we focus on the semantic features of mass nouns, it is not at all clear what evidence there is supposed to be for Chad’s view.

Detailed Comments

p. 3:  “…I am challenging widely held assumptions within sinology about classical Chinese and its relation to Chinese philosophy.  The ruling theory, as I outlined in the preface, assumes that Chinese thinkers all implicitly adopted the familiar Indo-European view of language and mind.”

  • I wish Chad had named some Sinologists or comparative philosophers currently active in the field who hold the “widely held assumptions” or “ruling theory.”  For example, I do not think I or anyone I personally take seriously as a scholar assumes that Chinese philosophers have a semantic theory like, say, Hume or Frege.  A.C. Graham himself certainly thought no such thing.
  • I wonder whether there is anything that we might describe as “the familiar Indo-European view of language and mind” (emphasis mine).  The view that Chad describes in these terms seems to be very characteristic of early modern empiricists like Hume, but is not characteristic of many other Western philosophers.  Neither Frege nor Plato, for example, would argue that meanings are images or pictures (either in the mind or anywhere else).

p. 37:  “The proper attack, again, on this bias is the premise that phonemic writing is more highly developed writing.  Leaving that in place will demean Chinese writing even if we manage to ‘correct’ the quaint view of Chinese as totally pictographic to a more accurate view that it is 25 percent phonetic.”

  • I am puzzled what the “twenty-five percent phonetic” figure refers to.  I have read estimates that, among deciphered oracle bone inscriptions, 25% of the characters are what would traditionally be called semantic-phonetic compounds.  However, this is a misleading statement for two reasons.
  • First, the remaining characters include a high percentage of simple phonetic loans.
  • Second, it is dangerous to jump to conclusions about the later Chinese language and its influence on Chinese philosophy based on statistics from a small language sample used in a very specific ritual context from much earlier in the history of the language.  For example, the percentage of “non-phonetic” characters steadily decreases over time, including the philosophically crucial 5th-3rd centuries BCE.

p. 37:  “The deeper problem is that sinologists, shying away from acknowledging any significance of Chinese writing, miss the ways it could be philosophically interesting.”

  • Of course, no serious Sinologist is guilty of “shying away from acknowledging any significance of Chinese writing.”

p. 38:  “Chinese writing, thus, plays the inter-language role of Plato’s realm of meanings and its philosophical descendent, private Mentalese ideas. … Chinese graphs give a model that explains how to relate the sounds of different spoken languages.”

  • I take it that this is one of the primary theses of this chapter.  Later on the same page, Chad refers to this view (I think) as “the implicit Chinese view” and on the next page as “the popular Chinese ideology.”  The following is what I think Chad is claiming:  Western philosophers were motivated to develop their theories of meaning by the search for what is in common between words in different spoken languages.  However, Chinese philosophers did not develop similar theories because they assumed that the same function was performed by characters, which were pronounced differently in different dialects.  (Chad seemed to confirm this interpretation in discussion at the conference on paradox in Daoism at CUNY in May 2014.)  If this is the argument, it raises several problems.
  • It is debatable how much dialect variation there was among those who were literate in the Eastern Zhou dynasty.
  • Chad presents no evidence that his specific “ideology” was consciously held by any Chinese philosophers.  (This is perhaps why he uses the word “implicit.”)  But then Chad’s argument seems to be a counterfactual historical claim.  It amounts to the claim that if Chinese philosophers had become interested in the issue of how words in different languages are related, they would have said that it was through the use of common characters.  This claim seems hard to evaluate.
  • I am not sure that Chad’s account of how Western philosophy of language developed is accurate.  Certainly, some philosophers of language have specifically discussed translation as a paradigm case for discussing meaning.  (Both Quine and Frege refer to translation in connection with meaning, although with very different conclusions.)  But I do not think it is historically accurate that what motivated Plato or Hume was an interest in translation.

p. 40:  “Chinese thinkers don’t get caught up in the familiar problems of meaning.  They do not start with a conception of philosophy as a search for definitions.”

  • We need to be careful here.  It is certainly (and uncontroversially) true that most pre-Qin Chinese philosophers (with the notable exceptions of the later Mohists and, in some passages, Xunzi) do not seem particularly concerned with definitions.
  • However, Chad’s explanation for why Chinese philosophers were not obsessed with definitions seems to me to be a non sequitur.  One could conceive of a definition as a way of characterizing a mental or metaphysical idea.  However, one could think that definitions were important without having any particular semantics.  Indeed, my guess is that the development in Platonism went in the other direction.  Socrates was obsessed with defining terms, but without any particular metaphysics or semantics underlying it.  Plato developed a metaphysics to justify and explain what Socrates was doing.

p. 41:  “Westerners, thus, learn a folk theory of language that links the phenomenon of tone to another aspect of our philosophy of mind.  It reinforces the folk theory’s split between intellect and emotion, idea and feeling, belief and desire, reason and passion.”

  • The second sentence seems to me to be too quick of a generalization.  The dichotomies “between intellect and emotion, idea and feeling, belief and desire, reason and passion” have not been constant throughout Western philosophy.  For Plato, to know the Good is to love it.  For Aristotle, a virtuous person has both correct judgment but also appropriate feeling. Thus, neither for Plato for Aristotle is there a “split” between intellect and emotion.
  • In the first sentence from the quotation above, Chad seems to me to be trading on different senses of the word “tone.”  Modern Chinese is a tonal language, where the tone of the syllable is part of its pronunciation.  We can call this syllabic tone.  English is not tonal in this sense.  However, in both Chinese and English, “tone” in a broader sense is certainly one aspect of the language. Let’s call this rhetorical tone. Chinese speakers can certainly express anger, sarcasm, etc. in their tone of voice, without interfering with the syllabic tones.
  • Even if tone in the rhetorical sense were not a feature of spoken Chinese, tone can also be a feature of writing.  For example, Zhuangzi’s tone is often playful; Mengzi’s tone is serious and somber.  Likewise, even without hearing his voice, Chad’s bitter and sarcastic tone is perfectly evident when he criticizes Graham, saying, “Aside from the questionable criteria of truth (that is, whatever Harbsmeier is eventually willing to commit himself to in print)…” (p. 48, footnote), or “…he could not get over that the appendix itself did not contain the argument in the footnote.  He has never forgiven me and has passed the robe of transmission to Harbsmeier and Cikoski” (p. 379n8).

p. 45:  “The ancient Chinese concept of ciphrase ranges across any linguistic strings that we intentionally structure.”

  • This seems to me largely accurate.  However, as Chad observes in both the footnotes and the endnotes, Graham argues that the later Mohists recognized that there was a difference between sentences, per se, and sub-sentential units.  Chad asserts, both in this chapter and in the appendix to “Chinese Language, Chinese Philosophy, and ‘Truth,’” that he does not find Graham’s interpretation plausible.
  • Chad dismisses Graham’s arguments with nothing more than sarcasm, but let’s assume Chad is right and no one in ancient China identified sentences, per se, as distinct grammatical entities from words and sub-sentential phrases.  What follows from this?  We would not expect Chinese philosophers to make any claims that depended upon a conscious recognition of sentences as distinct from other grammatical units.  However, Chinese philosophers could still use (what we regard as) sentences to make claims and advance arguments.  They could still disagree about whether (what we regard as sentences) are true or false.  In addition, we could legitimately use sentences ourselves to accurately attribute views to Chinese thinkers.  So I think that what the quoted passage rules out is fairly narrow, and it does not adversely affect most of the work that has been done on Chinese and comparative philosophy.

p. 48, footnote:  “My mass-noun hypothesis has been widely misinterpreted….  It was not a syntactic claim that Chinese nouns have mass noun grammar. … I hypothesized that the semantics of Chinese nouns may be like those of mass nouns….  [It is] the hypothesis that [Classical Chinese speakers’] implicit ontology was a mereology.”

  • I think Chad opens himself up to misunderstanding because, even in this chapter, he focuses on syntactic criteria for identifying something as a mass noun.  He says of count nouns (p. 47):
  1. “They typically have a plural form….”
  2. “…can be modified directly by numbers …”
  3. “…[can be modified by] phrases like many and few
  4. “…[have] a principle of individuality built in.  To understand the noun is to know how to count the objects it refers to.”
  5. “The principle of identity for a count noun allows that it can gain or lose matter and still remain the very same individual.” (all italics as in original)
  • In contrast, for mass nouns,
  1. Grammatically they normally resist pluralization…” (emphasis mine here, all other italics by Chad)
  2. … and [they normally resist] direct numbering…..”
  3. “We modify them using much and little instead of many and few….”
  4. “…do not have an inherent principle of individuation.  We know what counts as the same X but not what counts as an individual X.
  5. “Its principle of identity…is much more strict.  If some parts of it have changed, it is no longer the very same water.”  (all the above from p. 47)
  • So Chad has given us four syntactic criteria for distinguishing mass nouns from count nouns, and two semantic criteria.  How do nouns in Classical Chinese fair according to these criteria?
    1. No nouns in Classical Chinese have plural forms.  However, there are also count nouns in English that lack a plural form:  one deer, two deer; one sheep, two sheep; one fish, two fish.  So this feature does not show us very much.
    2. Chad writes, “…numbers could modify some nouns directly” (p. 49, emphasis in original).  This use of the word “some” is misleading.  Most nouns in Classical Chinese can be directly numbered:  二子, two sons,  百步, one hundred steps, 二老者, two old men, 一牛 one ox, do not require a measure word or counter.  Only a handful of Chinese nouns require a counter after the number:  馬三匹 three head of horses (lit., horses, three head), 車五百  five hundred chariots (lit., chariots, three hundred).  So by this criterion most nouns in Classical Chinese are count nouns.
    3. Chad writes, “Chinese lacks the many/much few/little distinction.” (p. 48)  This too is misleading.  On the one hand, 多 and 少 are sometimes used in places where we would expect “much” and “little” in English, and are sometimes used in places where we would expect “many” and “few.”  However, as Chad concedes in the footnote on pp. 48-49, we do find 幾 consistently used only with countable nouns to mean several/how many?  幾千several thousand, 幾日 how many days?  But even if we focus on the apparent ambiguity, for us English speakers, of 多 and 少, I don’t think this carries any weight in deciding whether Chinese nouns are count or mass nouns, because we need to already know whether we are dealing with a count or a mass noun to know how to translate those terms.
  • On the issue of whether Classical Chinese nouns are best understood as count or mass nouns, the preceding points seem to me inconclusive, at best.  However, since Chad emphasizes that his claim is actually “semantic,” rather than syntactic, we should probably focus on his fourth and fifth criteria:

4. To review, Chad says of mass nouns that they “…do not have an inherent principle of individuation.  We know what counts as the same X but not what counts as an individual X.” Now, do users of Classical Chinese seem at a loss when it comes to identifying an individual “son,” “step,” “old person” or “ox”?  I do not see any evidence that they do.  In texts that discuss sons, steps, old people, or oxen, speakers seem perfectly clear about how to individuate them.

5.   Chad claims that in the case of mass nouns, there are “strict” criteria for identity.  For example, he states, in the case of water, “[i]f some parts of it have changed, it is no longer the very same water.”

  • Do speakers of Classical Chinese think that sons, old people or oxen are different if they gain or lose weight?  Presumably Chad does not want to claim that.  After all, he states later in the chapter, “No philosophical problem arises from the mere fact that change takes place in a part-whole ontology.  Stuff changes.  But that observation, by itself, raises no philosophical difficulty” (p. 50).  Fine, but then in what sense are the identity conditions for mass-entities “strict”?
  • I’m not sure that Chad’s claim is true even of the referents of mass nouns in English.  Consider my friend eyeing my plate and saying, “Where did you get that pork?” I reply, “There’s pork up at the buffet.  Why don’t you go have a piece of it too?”  Should I have responded, “I got the pork from the buffet, but it is gone now,” because I ate a piece, so it is no longer “the same pork”?  If this is a mistaken or uncharitable reading of Chad’s fifth criterion, what is the accurate reading?

p. 50:  “We can discuss individuals of human-stuff, families of human-stuff, and cities or states of human-stuff.  Objecthood is derivative in this conceptual scheme.”

  • It has long been a commonplace of comparative philosophy that Chinese philosophers tend to find unappealing an atomistic conception of the self (like we find in, say, Hobbes).  There is nothing new or uncontroversial about that.
  • The question is whether Chad’s mass-noun hypothesis explains anything or adds anything new.  I’m not sure that it does, but part of the problem is that I remain sincerely unsure what Chad is asking us to imagine. For example, am I to imagine that speakers of Classical Chinese implicitly thought of humans the way I think of water, as a mass that lacks any natural divisions for individuation?  This seems obviously false, so out of charity I do not want to attribute it to Chad.  But if Chad is not saying anything as quixotic as that, is he doing anything other than just restating the commonplace view in different terms?
  • Incidentally, it is worth nothing that an atomistic view of the self is hardly universal in the West.  For example, Aristotle famously says that humans are social animals, and that to live alone one must be either an animal or a god.  So I think we need to be careful in drawing broad-brush distinction between China and the West without sufficient nuance.

p. 50:  “The standard interpretive theory frequently attributes a Heraclitus-like problem of change to Chinese philosophers (especially Daoists).  I object.  No philosophical problem arises from the mere fact that change takes place in a part-whole ontology. …The perennial Western problem lies in explaining how the object can remain the very same object while its constituent stuff flows in and out.”

  • Here again I would like greater clarity on who holds “the standard interpretive theory,” and whom Chad is objecting to. I personally do not hold that Daoists (or anyone else in ancient China) were fascinated with the problem of how substantial identity persists in the face of change, and I do not think anyone whom I take seriously as a scholar does this, but it is hard to know for sure since Chad is not specific.
  • Of course, Chinese philosophers certainly were very interested in change in some senses.  (This is the tradition that gave us the Classic of Changes, or I Ching, after all.)  The fact that we discuss what Daoists, Confucians, or other philosophers have to say about how things change does not entail that we are foisting upon them the views of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.

p. 53:  “Their dominant concerns, from the beginning, were the issues of proper social organization and motivation.”

  • Another well-established commonplace of comparative philosophy is that Chinese philosophers focus on ethical and political issues, rather than issues of purely theoretical interest.  (Chad’s teacher, Donald Munro, made this point forcefully in his The Concept of Man in Early China.)  So, again, the question is what is Chad adding to this truism?  I don’t see anything new in the conclusion, just a convoluted argument to get there.

p. 54: “Despite these differences in context [between Western and Chinese philosophy], their disputes still focused on language, its relation to the heart-mind, and realism versus relativism in ethical guidance.  They gradually developed carefully elaborated philosophical theories of language and its social role.”

  • As A.C. Graham and others showed us long ago, many ancient Chinese philosophers were interested in issues in the philosophy of language.  This leaves open many questions, though, and I think two are especially worth asking of Chad’s work:  (1) How pervasive was the interest in language?  (2) To what extent was there a common vocabulary and a shared underlying theory for conducting debates on this topic?
  • (1) My own view would be that the answer to the first question is that the philosophy of language, in a broad sense of that term, pops up in many different places in ancient Chinese philosophy, but usually on the periphery of what were the more central issues in ethics.
  • (2) Regarding the second question, I think the discussions lacked a common technical vocabulary, and we must be very careful about jumping to the conclusion that two philosophers were discussing the same issue.  For example, if Confucius in fact discussed “Correcting Names,” as Analects 13:3 suggests, there is no reason to assume he was discussing anything that was relevant to Gongsun Long’s “On the White Horse,” simply because the word “name” appears in both texts.

In short, Chad presents himself as breaking significant new ground.  However, many of the claims he forcefully asserts are well-established truisms of comparative philosophy.  What is genuinely original in this chapter are the arguments for these conclusions, which often appeal to dubious premises, and in some cases are simple non-sequiturs.

Posted in Philosophy, Sinology | Leave a comment

Chinese Philosophy Rankings of the Philosophical Gourmet Report

Because I am on the Advisory Board for the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PRG), I received an inquiry about the potential impact of its Chinese philosophy rankings on the field of Chinese philosophy.  I thought I would share my reply in case it is in of interest to anyone else.

I view the Chinese philosophy rankings of the PRG as one factor, among many others, that prospective graduate students should take into account.  (This is the manner in which Brian Leiter, the Editor of the PRG, presents all of the rankings.)  It would be a mistake, in my view, to attribute any grand, field-altering importance to them.

Here are further reasons why the effect of the rankings on the field overall is minimal.  There are comparatively few philosophy departments where one can study Chinese philosophy at the doctoral level in the English-speaking world  (This is not to deny the value of studying Chinese philosophy outside the English speaking world, or in other kinds departments, but that is not what the PRG is about.)  Now, there are only nine schools on the PRG list for Chinese philosophy, and they include ones with radically different approaches to the field, such as the University of Hawaii, the University of Hong Kong, and Duke.  I don’t know of any departments of philosophy in the English-speaking world that offer doctorates in Chinese philosophy that could plausibly be added to the list of nine, although I would be open to hearing what they might be.

Within the nine schools listed, there is no rank ordering.  Two schools are singled out as being in “Group 1,” while the other seven are classed as “Group 2.”  My understanding is that this is because the overall perceived reputations of the philosophy departments in Group 1 (Duke and Utah) is significantly higher than any of those in Group 2.  “Overall perceived reputation” is not an objective concept.  However, having been on both sides of the interview process on many occasions, I can guarantee that the perceived overall qualify of the institution (which I think the PRG does a reasonable job of reporting) is very important in getting a job.  There is no question that the perceived quality of the Duke philosophy department is higher than any of those departments in Group 2.  (Duke came out firmly in the top 50, and even if we say that the margin of error on the list is plus or minus 10 rank levels, it sill is perceived to be a stronger philosophy department overall than any of those in Group 2.)  I think Utah also has a significantly higher overall perceived quality than any of the departments in Group 2.  But if one disagrees about Utah, then we are quibbling about whether one school should or should not be in Group 1, and it seems very hard to believe that this has any significant impact on the field of Chinese philosophy as a whole.

Finally, there are very few graduate students obtaining doctorates from philosophy departments in Chinese philosophy, and almost no jobs for the ones who do.  Consequently, any marginal effect the Chinese philosophy rankings of the PRG have on the “pipeline” of talented students going into Chinese philosophy will be swamped by other institutional and field-wide issues.

Posted in Academia, Philosophy, Sinology | Leave a comment

Reflections on Chungking Express

Following are some reflections on Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express (1994), which I recently screened to my students.  This is not really a review, but rather something that one might enjoy reading after watching the film.  (Warning: There are SPOILERS in these reflections.)

The original Chinese title is Chungking Mansions, which refers to huge housing/commercial complex in Hong Kong, famous for its cultural diversity, liveliness, but also crime.  The film may be seen as an action/comedy/romance featuring two storylines that seem only tangentially connected at first, but are actually thematically parallel.  The mood of the first story switches back and forth between the tension of an action film and a light romantic comedy, and does so surprisingly effectively.  The second story is more consistently a romantic comedy.  The themes that bring the two storylines together were only apparent to me on a third viewing (and with the help of a handout from Vassar Emeritus Prof. of Philosophy and Film Jesse Kalin):  the difficulty of obtaining the object of one’s love, and the instability of love even when it is obtained.  In the first story, we meet the Woman in the Blonde Wig (WIBW), who is arranging a drug smuggling operation, which goes horribly wrong  I assume that WIBW was originally in love with the white guy (her pimp?), who has now sent her on a drug run.  We see him converting his next “victim” into a clone of her.  So WIBW has already loved and lost that love.  Eventually, she will kill him.  Why?  Perhaps it is to prevent him from sending someone after her.  But White Pimp operates out of a seedy bar.  He hardly seems the type to have international hitmen working for him.  Perhaps she is motivated by jealousy?  As Oscar Wilde wrote, “And all men kill the thing they love / By all let this be heard / … / The coward does it with a kiss / The brave man with a sword” – or a revolver in this case.

Later in the same storyline, we meet Cop 223.  He is still in love, but no longer has the woman he loves, “May” (rhyming with the Mandarin Chinese 没 “to not have”).  He tries to find someone – anyone, really – to replace her.  He seems to be “in love with the idea of being in love” (as St. Augustine said of his own adolescent self).  After going all the way through his “little black book” to the number of his grade-school crush, he ends up in a bar, where he pursues WIBW.  In a sense, he “gets” her:  they spend the night together in a hotel.  However, she simply sleeps while he watches TV and eats several room-service meals.  In a sense they are living in parallel, unconnected, but he is watching over her, and even takes her shoes off before he leaves so her feet won’t swell up.  The last time he will ever hear from her (she is about to flee the country) is when she leaves him a message:  “Happy Birthday.”  It is simple, yet touching. He hopes that his memory of her has no “expiration date,” even though everything else in life seems to.

At the start of the second story, Cop 663 is in what appears to be a successful romantic relationship with a sexy airline stewardess.  Faye, a quirky girl who works in a noodle shop, spots him and develops a crush.  The object of her desire seems unobtainable.  But then 663’s girlfriend dumps him.  Instead of pursuing him directly, Faye begins to stalk him.  She gets the key to his apartment, which his ex-girlfriend has dropped off to return to him.  Faye wheedles out of him his address, then starts to show up at his apartment when he is out.  At first, she just “plays house.”  However, she gradually starts to redecorate, the way any girlfriend might do with a new guy who lived in “a total bachelor pad,” as one ex-girlfriend of mine described my Vassar apartment.  (This was after my first marriage had reached its “expiry date.”)  663 does not notice the changes, or rationalizes them.  Does he really not notice?  This requires an immense suspension of disbelief.  Then again, if you asked me, whether my bathroom walls were “lime” or “mint,” I could not tell you to save my life.  Prof. Kalin hints that the film may be warning us that its own narrative is not trustworthy.

Why doesn’t Faye just approach 663 directly?  He invited her to “drop by” his place, which, if not precisely a date, is a starting point any interested woman would take advantage of.  We realize what the problem is when 663 finally catches her red-handed in his apartment.  She escapes, but he finds her at the Midnight Express noodle bar where she works and asks her out.  She agrees…but then runs off into the back of the noodle bar and shouts, “I’m doomed!”  And when the night of the date arrives, her boss shows up at the bar to tell 663 that she has left the country.  Faye dreamed of flying away to California.  (In Mandarin, “Faye” is a homonym for both “to fly” 飞 and “is not” 非.)  If she gets into a relationship with 663, she has to give up her California dream.  He is (perhaps) her true love, but obtaining him is her “doom.”  (“The coward does it with a kiss….”)

At the end of the film, Faye returns as an airline stewardess.  This allows her to travel the world, as in her dream, but it also makes her transformation into 663’s ex-girlfriend complete.  Cop 663, meanwhile, has bought Midnight Express.  (Has he become her?  Not exactly, since she was an employee, whereas 663 is now the owner, but still some strange through-the-looking-glass transformation has occurred.)  663 asks Faye to a late dinner, but she refuses:  “I have an early flight tomorrow.”  663 shows her the pretend boarding pass she left for him a year ago, when she skipped their date.  He asks her to make him another one.  “Where to?” she asks.  “Wherever you want to take me,” he replies.  Does this mean that they are a couple?  My wife and I argued over this one.  She thinks he has proven his love (by keeping the boarding pass, and by buying the place where she used to work), and has expressed his willingness to go with her anywhere.  But how can he follow her if he just bought a business in Hong Kong?  Will she continue to be a stewardess but visit him when she is on layovers in Hong Kong?  We saw how well that worked with his last girlfriend.  The film ends with uncertainty, just like Faye’s favorite song, “California Dreamin’ “:  “If I didn’t tell her / I could leave today.” Will the narrator of the song leave “her”? Why is he walking in the cold instead of staying with her? Why hasn’t he left her already?

Prof. Kalin (who always grasps more of films than I do) notes the political subtext of the film, which was made a few years before the handover of Hong Kong from the UK (which had essentially stolen it from China in the Opium Wars) to the People’s Republic of China. Who is the only white person in the film?  It’s the guy (presumably British) whom I called White Pimp.  He betrays WIBW, and when he gets killed it’s hard to feel bad for him.  In the second storyline, when Faye shrieks, “I’m doomed!” she seems to be talking about a potential relationship with 663, but she expresses the fears of many Chinese about staying in Hong Kong through the transition.  It turned out to be less traumatic than anyone thought.  Hong Kong is a special economic zone, with a measure of independence from the Mainland government.  Hong Kong natives are most comfortable speaking English and/or Cantonese, and many of them are positively hostile to anyone who speaks Mandarin (the official dialect of the Mainland).  So Hong Kong has managed to maintain its identity as a semi-independent, multicultural, laissez faire capitalist metropolis – and home of some of China’s greatest filmmakers.

Posted in Sinology | Leave a comment

On the Historical Composition and Dating of Texts

I very much enjoyed and learned from the Northeast Conference on Chinese Thought, which was held at Wesleyan earlier this month.  This conference was much larger and more expertly organized than the first one at Vassar (where five of us got together, with only slightly more people in the audience, and ate fruit salad for lunch, with a dinner at a local Chinese restaurant that I think was Dutch treat).  The Wesleyan incarnation brought together scholars from a wide variety of disciplines with many different perspectives, including some from the West Coast and overseas, with the lovely Mansfield Freeman Center as its location, along with Continental breakfast, box lunches, and a delicious catered dinner hosted by Steve and his charming wife.  This sets the bar high for the next NECCT, which I hear may already be in the works.

One point that particularly interested me was the ongoing debate over the historical processes by which texts come into existence and are transmitted.  E. Bruce Brooks gave a talk on the historical composition of the Shijing, Michael Hunter of Yale presented his evidence that the Analects as we know it is almost exclusively a Han Dynasty creation, and A. Taeko Brooks applied a version of her (and Bruce’s) accretional theory of the Analects to the Mengzi.

Michael’s argument depends upon a statistical study of what percentage of quotations from the received Analects are found in early sources.  For example, many early sources attribute quotations to Kongzi that are not in the received Analects.  (I apologize in advance if I have not done justice to his argument.  I am reconstructing it from memory.)  Here is a question I had for Michael, though.  Just after getting back from the conference, I was teaching the Zhuangzi to my students. We looked at the extensive quotations of “Kongzi” in the Zhuangzi, and we discussed how that text seems to self-consciously use “Kongzi” as a literary character, putting into “Kongzi’s” mouth claims that are clearly intended to represent the perspective of the author of the passage, rather than what the author (or anyone else) thought was the historical Kongzi’s view.  See, for example, the long dialogue between “Kongzi” and “Yan Hui” that occurs in Chapter 4 of the Zhuangzi.  I don’t think any sensitive contemporary reader was supposed to think that this was historically accurate.  Rather, it is a rhetorical appropriation of a figure that both author and audience are aware of.  (This is similar to the way a contemporary show like South Park puts statements into the mouths of historical figures that self-evidently represent those of Matt Stone and Trey Parker.  Stone and Parker, having been raised in Utah, seem to take particular glee in ironically putting words in the mouth of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith.)  Michael may be way of ahead of me here, and may have already excluded from his survey passages in the Zhuangzi.  But even if he did, I wonder how many  passages in other texts may be appropriating (more or less self-consciously) Kongzi as a spokesperson, or simply using “Kongzi” as a figure to represent what “those people” think, rather than “quoting” (as we understand it) a text.

In addition, my sense is that, by the Han, it was taken for granted that one should have something to say about human nature (性), qi (氣), the Five Phases (五行), yin/yang (陰陽), and other topics central to cosmology and philosophical psychology.  If the received Analects is largely a Han dynasty work, why are the preceding concepts either absent from, or very peripheral to, the discussions in the text?  I raised this concern with Michael, and he said something that was helpfully responsive, but I don’t think it is fair of me to try and paraphrase what he said here.

I also have a general suggestion that is relevant to the methodology that Bruce and Taeko employ, but I think it is most illuminating to approach it in a roundabout way.  Let’s consider two philosophical thinkers whose authentic corpus of works is largely undisputed:  Aristotle and Kant.  Those trained in the history of philosophy take for granted several things about their writings.

First, their writings are systematic and complex.  For example, if you want to fully understand Aristotle’s views in the Nicomachean Ethics, you should read what he has to say in De Anima, and if you want to fully understand what Aristotle says in De Anima, you need to read what he says in the Metaphysics.  Similarly, Kant’s epistemology and ethics are tailor-made for each other.  Because of the limitations on human knowledge that are sketched in the Critique of Pure Reason, it is possible for the moral philosophy of the Groundwork to be accurate, while other views of morality (like that of Hume) are ruled out.

Second, despite their best efforts to achieve systematicity, there are tensions in their works.  Famously, Aristotle seems torn in the Nicomachean Ethics between a conception of human flourishing as the exercise of theoretical rationality, and a conception of human flourishing as the exercise of practical rationality that is aimed at the well being of the community.  Turning to Kant, he seems to suggest sometimes that the noumenal realm is the cause of our experiences in the phenomenal realm, but this is inconsistent with his own claim that causality is a category that the mind imposes on experience, not a property of things-in-themselves.

Third, when we find a tension within their works, the methodology employed by a historian of philosophy is to try to construct an interpretation that reconciles the passages that are in tension.  For example, some have argued that Aristotle’s comments on the practical life are meant to be understood the way Aquinas would later understand them:  if humans were the most important thing in the universe, it would follow that the exercise of practical reason in human communities is the highest good; however, humans are not the most important thing in the universe, so the exercise of reason on humans cannot be the most complete form of human flourishing.  Regarding Kant, it is common to suggest that he had trouble shaking free of the earlier empiricist view of thinkers like Locke that there is an external physical world that causes our subjective experiences of secondary qualities.  While Kant sometimes unconsciously lapses into the earlier Lockean manner of speaking, the most charitable interpretation is that Kant’s considered view is that the noumenal realm is the “ground” of the phenomenal realm, but not in a causal sense.  (What it means for something to be a “ground” without being a “cause” is  a further issue.)

Of course, the situation we stand in with regard to the texts of Kant is very different from our situation with regard to Mengzi or Xunzi.  In the case of Kant, we have surviving copies of first-edition printings, copious correspondence between Kant and his contemporaries, and even manuscripts in autograph. Our link with Aristotle is more tenuous, and parallels in some ways our textual link with Warring States Texts.  For one thing, Aristotle did not write and edit his comments for publication the way that Kant did.  As the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on “Aristotle” explains:

Aristotle’s extant works read like what they very probably are: lecture notes, drafts first written and then reworked, ongoing records of continuing investigations, and, generally speaking, in-house compilations intended not for a general audience but for an inner circle of auditors.

Nonetheless, as the SEP article goes on to note, there is no serious scholarly dispute over the fact that the “thirty-one surviving works (that is, those contained in the ‘Corpus Aristotelicum’ of our medieval manuscripts that are judged to be authentic) all contain recognizably Aristotelian doctrine.”  Part of the reason for this confidence is that we can tell a persuasive story about the transmission of the Aristotelian corpus.  We know Aristotle’s texts were widely read and circulated in the Hellenistic world.  After the Roman Empire fell and the library at Alexandria burned down, Arab culture flourished.  While my ancestors bashed each other with clubs and cowered at lunar eclipses, Arab scholars admired, preserved, and translated the works of Aristotle.  As a result, a fairly reliable Aristotelian corpus was available when Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas reintroduced Aristotle to the West.

So although their texts followed very different paths to get to us, there is little doubt among informed scholars that they represent the views of Aristotle and Kant. However, suppose the situation were different.  Suppose, due to whatever accidents of history, we had considerably less independent reason to trust the historical transmission of the texts of Aristotle and Kant.  How would most philosophical historians read Aristotle and Kant?  Probably not too differently from the way they read them now.  But one can easily imagine thoughtful, serious, intellectually rigorous scholars who challenged what they would describe as the “naive reading of a text [that] naturally assumes that the text is simple and consistent.” Perhaps they would say things like the following:

  • “How do you explain the fact that we find one view of human flourishing in Book X of the received Nicomachean Ethics and another view in Book I? Surely, the theoretical tension between these portions of the received Nicomachean Ethics indicates that they were composed by two different authors.”
  • “You make a heroic effort to render consistent Aristotle’s views on human flourishing in Nicomachean Ethics I and X.  But Aristotle never explicitly says what you attribute to him.  Your interpretation is based on inference, whereas our attribution of multiple authorship is empirical:  it is based simply on what we directly observe in the text.”
  • “The received text of the Critique of Pure Reason displays unmistakeable evidence of editing.  Indeed, there are manuscripts that contain substantially different version of the Transcendental Deduction, one of the central arguments in that text.  Obviously, a later Kantian (perhaps Schopenhauer or his school of Kantians), was dissatisfied with Kant’s original formulation, and rewrote that portion of the text.”
  • “Not only are the A and B versions of the Transcendental Deduction by different authors, neither one is likely to be by Kant.  We know for a fact that Kant taught Aristotelian logic.  However, the Transcendental Deduction is not a ‘deduction’ in the sense Kant would have used when he taught Aristotelian logic.  The use of one term in multiple senses is definitive evidence of multiple authorship.”
  • “The writings attributed to Aristotle include works on ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, political philosophy, natural science (including biology, physics, and astronomy), and formal logic.  This is a remarkable heterogeneity in subject matter, which goes unchallenged only because of the unquestioned assumption that these works are by one author.  The most plausible explanation of the diversity in the received Aristotelian corpus is that later leaders of the Peripatetic School wrote works and attributed them to “the Philosopher” to legitimize their own interests.  In particular, after the death of Alexander the Great, the political influence of the Peripatetic School declined precipitously, which probably led them to change their focus from sensitive issues in ethics and political philosophy to more politically safe issues in aesthetics and metaphysics.”

What the preceding is intended to suggest is the following.  A certain methodological approach might lead us to attribute multiple authorship and accretional composition to texts that largely represent the views of one author over one lifetime.  In particular, it is not prima facie evidence that texts have multiple authorship if we find in them theoretical tensions, evidence of editing, the use of one word in multiple senses, or heterogeneity of subject matter. We should expect all of these things in works by profound, multifaceted thinkers. Furthermore, there is nothing illegitimate about making inferences or extrapolations in interpreting a text.  Indeed, one of the theses of my own presentation at the NECCT was that every interpretation requires theoretical claims that go beyond the bare empirical evidence in front of us.   For example, the claim that tensions in a text are due to unobserved manipulation of it by later members of a school might be true, but it is no more of an empirical claim than the suggestion that an author made an implicit assumption that reconciles two statements that seem to be in tension.

One might attempt the following reductio ad absurdum of my argument above. “But what if a text actually is by multiple authors?   Aren’t you ruling out a priori the very possibility of our discovering this?  That conclusion cannot be correct, so your argument must be wrong somewhere.”

In fact, I agree that there absolutely can be persuasive evidence that texts have multiple authors, and that we can sometimes identify interpolations in a text with a high degree of confidence.  For example, I have argued in print that the following passages are interpolations:  Analects 4.15 (“Unweaving the ‘One Thread’ of Analects 4.15″ in Confucius and the Analects:  New Essays), Analects 13:3 (Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy, pp. 82-96), and both Mengzi 4A12 and 7A4.  Of course, my own arguments may not be convincing. In response to my 21-page article on the “one thread” passage, Paul Goldin provided a detailed refutation, which I here quote in full:

I do not see any reason to follow Van Norden’s argument that Analects 4.15 is an interpolation.(Goldin, Confucianism [Acumen Publishing, 2011], p. 125n18.)

Touché! 🙂

I would only insist upon the following.  We cannot start slicing and dicing a text into sections belonging to different authors or different eras simply we notice in it theoretical tensionsevidence of editing, the use of one word in multiple senses, or heterogeneity of subject matter.   I worry when I see what appears to me, at least, to be the quick jump to the conclusion that a text is historically composite before any substantial effort has been made to engage the plausibility of philosophical explanations of the text as a coherent whole.  In short, we intellectual historians are admittedly sometimes too quick to jump over textual issues in our excitement to get to systematic philosophical interpretation. However, you cannot address this problem by leaping to the conclusion that a text is historically composite every time you encounter a passage that you don’t immediately know how to reconcile with what you thought you understood before.

(I honestly meant this to be a one paragraph comment that I would dash off in 10 minutes.  I should know myself better by now.   If anyone cares to comment, I will likely not have the time to respond any time soon.  Perhaps this post can serve as a draft of my presentation at the next NECCT, and I can learn the error of  my ways then and there.)

Posted in Sinology | Leave a comment

Review of the Film Spring in a Small Town

Spring-in-a-small-town-DVDEDIT (July 10, 2015): A cut of this film that has been restored by the British Film Institute is now available!  

This is a review of Spring in a Small Town (1948), which has been hailed as the greatest Chinese film of all time. The first thing I noticed was the language. Even with my rudimentary command of Chinese, I could follow most of the dialogue even without the subtitles. This reflects the fact that the film focuses on quotidian details of everyday life: going for a walk, commenting on the weather, making a bed. But in these details is a moving story with deep significance for a Chinese audience. The film is slow-moving and subtle. One reviewer on amazon.com compared the style to that of Bergmann, but a friend of mine compared it to Yasujiro OZU (Tokyo Story (The Criterion Collection) [1953]), which I think is more appropriate.

There are only five characters in the story. Liyan is the “Young Master” of the household. He is sick with tuberculosis, and perpetually irritable. Yuwen is his wife, the narrator of the story. She is strong, beautiful, and passionate. However, she feels trapped in her existence. As she says at one point, “I do not have the courage to die, and Liyan does not have the courage to live.” The other members of the household are the one remaining servant, Lao Huang, and Liyan’s sister, who is usually referred to as Meimei. (This is really a title, “Younger Sister,” and not a name.) A fifth character soon arrives, throwing the house out of its entropy: Zhichen. He is the best friend of Liyan from childhood, but he does not realize until he arrives that Liyan’s wife is Yuwen, with whom he was in love before the war.

Anyone can enjoy the plot and performances. However, much of what makes this a truly great film will not be obvious to Western audiences, unless they are familiar with the historical context for the story. At the start of the 20th century, China made the painful transition from its last imperial dynasty to a modern government. However, soon after the government defeated the last of the warlords and established effective central control, Japan invaded, killing millions and occupying much of China. Spring in a Small Town is set right after the end of World War II. The family of Liyan was once wealthy and successful under the Qing dynasty, but the mansion he has inherited is now run down and partially destroyed from the years of warfare. Liyan always dresses in a traditional scholar’s gown, and is often seen reading books dating from the Qing dynasty. Stagnant and ill, he symbolizes China’s once-glorious past. His younger sister is young enough that she has a fresh perspective on life, and an air of vitality and innocence not shared by the other members of her household. She represents China’s potential for the future. Zhichen, the old friend, has become a doctor. He always wears Western-style clothing, and represents those Chinese of the May 4th Movement who saw China’s best hope in learning from the West. Yuwen embodies the dilemma that China faced in the early 20th century: be loyal to tradition (which, for all of its weaknesses, had its own kindness and dignity) or leave the past behind and go with the modern trends brought from the West. Finally, Lao Huang represents, I think, the masses of Chinese peasants and workers, passively waiting for someone to guide them.

The film is undoubtedly deeply symbolic, and Western viewers need some kind of entry point for understanding what it means. However, my account above is oversimplified, and makes the film seem one-dimensional when in fact it is complex and multi-layered. The characters are not cardboard cutouts (especially not Liyan, Yuwen, and Zhichen). Their emotions and the tensions they must live through are complex and feel very vivid. In the end, the film gives us not so much a pat political message as a testament to the complexity and nobility of human motivations.

The film did not stand out when it was originally released. Not surprising, given that the civil war between the Communists and Nationalists reignited after the Japanese were defeated. Then, after the Communists took control of the Mainland, a film like this could only seem decadent and bourgeois. The director, Fei Mu, died tragically young in 1951, and he was largely forgotten. It was only after the end of the Cultural Revolution and the beginning of China’s new openness to the West that the Chinese film community rediscovered Spring in a Small Town and deemed it a masterpiece. There is also a remake of it, Springtime in a Small Town (2002), which I have not had the opportunity to watch.

A few more random tidbits:  (1) Notice that Fei Mu violates the “180-degree rule” in the scene where Zhichen and Yuwen talk in the study.  (2) There is a website about the film here, which includes the dialogue in English, and offers translations of the two songs on the film (which do not have subtitles in my DVD).  (3) Here is a link to Chinese subtitles that someone was working on.  There are a lot of minor mistakes in these subtitles (it looks like a rough draft), but my DVD does not have any Chinese subtitles (unusual in more recent Chinese films).  You can also find a version of the film on youtube.com that includes Chinese subtitles, Pinyin subtitles, and English subtitles.  This makes the screen very busy, but is useful for language practice.  (4) There are brief reviews of the film here and here.  (5) Finally, one warning about the film: the quality of the print is poor. The soundtrack is also bad, sometimes cutting out at key points. (To the best of my knowledge, there is only one print of the film.) This is a film that cries out for restoration, and it is surprising that no one has raised the funds to do so yet. Nonetheless, it is well worth watching, even in this version.

Posted in East Asian Studies | Leave a comment


I found an old memory stick and discovered something interesting.  Namely, I sound even more fatuous in Chinese than I do in English!

(c) 2007 萬百安

在美國主要有三個學派研究孔子的學說。 (A)第一個是用所謂新儒學的觀點來研究孔 子。(B)第二個是用後現代主義的觀點來研究 孔子。(C)第三個則是用所謂美德倫理的觀點 來研究孔子。關於每個學派,今天我要解 釋:(1)第一:␣這個學派的特點是什麼?(2)␣第 二:這個學派對儒家有什麼看法?(3)第三:␣ 這個學派的優點和缺點是什麼?

(A)我首先要講新儒學。(1)新儒學是什 麼?為了瞭解新儒學的特點,我們必需先知 道新儒學是反對什麼看法的。新儒學反對什 麼看法?在二十世紀的前半段,當時有很多 人說孔子的思想沒有價值。這些人覺得孔子 的思想不過是封建社會的思想。跟現在社會 的民主主義,資本主義,以及科學方法不合適。可是新儒學家不同意這種看法。他們認 為即使在現代的世界,孔子的思想還是有價 值。所以新儒學第一個特點就是:(i)他們認 為儒家的思想還有價值。可是新儒學家也承 認孔子的古代社會跟我們現代化的社會很不 一樣。社會上的改變很大。新儒學第二個特 點是:(ii)他們認為民主主義,資本主義,以 及科學方法跟儒家的思想在根本上是不相互 矛盾的。現在的人可以一邊支持孔子思想的 主要精神,另一邊也支持民主主義,資本主 義,和科學方法。這是新儒學的第二個特 點。第三個特點就是:(iii)他們認為西方文化 和中國文化都有它們自己的特點。每個文化 的特點是什麼?西方文化有很多不一樣的來 源。西方文化包括古代希臘,羅馬和猶太文 化這些不同的來源。可是,他們認為中國文 化不是這樣。中國文化只有一個道統。這個 傳統的道統,在根本上本質是不變的。中西文化有這個根本上的不同是新儒學的第三個 特點。最有名的新儒學家包括中究院的劉述 先和美國伯思頓大學的Robert␣Neville。

(A.2)現在我要講:新儒學對儒家的看法 是什麼?新儒學家認為西方的文化和中國文 化各有自己的優點,也各有自己的缺點。西 方文化的優點包括科學方法和民主主義。儒 家必需接受這兩個西方文化的成就。可是中國文化也有自己的優點。中國文 化可以給西方文化五個很重要的啟示。(i)第 一:西方文化一直想要往前進步。求進步是 一件很好的事情。但是如果一個文化一直想 要往前進步,這種文化會讓西方人一直對自 己的生活覺得不滿意。中國文化可以教西方 人怎麼樣覺得滿意。(ii)第二:西方文化在邏 輯上的思想發展很完備。可是中國文化可以 教西方文化怎樣才能有一個比較完全的智 慧。(iii)第三:中國文化可以教西方文化怎樣才能有一顆感恩寬容的心去對待別人。(iv)第 四:中國文化可以教西方文化如何才能保存文化的精髓su[i(精華)。(v)第五:中國文化 可以教西方文化怎樣才能有「天下為公」, 或者「天下一家」的觀點。

(A.3)現在我要講:新儒學有什麼優點以 及缺點?依我看來,新儒學最重要的優點是他們 說:儒家跟民主主義以及科學方法沒有矛 盾。我完全同意這句話。可是新儒學重要的缺點有兩個。(i)第 一:其實儒家的傳統沒有不變的道統(本 質)。新儒學對道統的看法是這樣的:孟子 為我們解釋了孔子原來的意思。王陽明則解 釋了孟子原來的意思。(有的人說不是王陽 明,而是朱熹對孟子學說的解釋。)可是依 我看來孔子,孟子和宋明時代的道學家有很多不同之點。宋明時代,最基本上的概念是 萬物皆為一體。「萬物皆為一體」是什麼意 思?我用比喻來解釋這個意思。我的頭跟我 的手臂為一體。所以,如果你想打我的頭, 我的手臂就要保護我的頭。宋明的道學家認 為不只是我的頭和我的手臂為一體。萬物皆 為一體。既然萬物為一體,所以我們應該愛 所有的東西。如果一個人不愛別的人,這就 是因為他不知道別的人與他為一體。如果一 個人不知道別的人跟他為一體,他就有所謂 的「私意」。私意創造私欲。據這個看法, 私欲是人生最重要的問題。依我看來,這樣的概念跟孔子的概念沒 有關係。孔子沒說過「萬物皆為一體」。孔 子不講「私意」和「私欲」。為什麼孔子的 概念和宋明道學的概念有這樣的分別?這是 因為道學的形而上學的觀點受到佛教的影響 很大。所以我自己常常喜歡說:新儒學戴佛
教的眼鏡。用英文說:”New␣Confucianism␣is␣Confucianism␣seen␣through␣Buddhist␣lenses.”(ii)新儒學的重要缺點之二:依我看來, 他們所講的那五個啟示太抽象。我想如果我 們仔細的檢察它們的內容,我們會發現這五 個啟示不只是中國文化對西方文化的啟示。 我們可以發現這五個啟示已經在西方文化之 中。
(B)我現在要講後現代主義的學派。後現 代主義,這個二十世紀西方思想上的運動, 對藝術,文學和哲學有很大的影響。(1)後現 代主義是什麼?Jean-Francois␣Lyotard,這個法 國的哲學家,說過了,後現代主義 是”incredulity␣toward␣meta-narratives.”大概你們不 知道”incredulity␣toward␣meta-narratives”是什麼意 思。大概你們也覺得你們不知道的原因是因 為英文不是你們的母語。其實連我們從小說 英文的人也覺得這個說法很難懂!最有效的辦法是舉一個例子來解釋什麼是”incredulity␣ toward␣meta-narratives”。␣
我們都認為地球公轉(zhu]an)於太陽。可 是中世紀的西方人都認為太陽公轉於地球。 我們可以說這兩個理論是兩個故事,還是用 英文也可以說是兩個”narratives.”如果我問你 們為什麼我們應該相信地球公轉於太陽,大 概你們會這樣說:我們可以用所謂科學的方 法來證明這個理論。科學的方法將我們看的東西,聽的東西….等等,作為理論的根據。 如果某一個理論跟看的東西、聽的東西相符,我們才知道是對的。如果理論跟看的東 西、聽的東西有矛盾,我們才知道理論是不 對的。我剛才說的,這個解釋科學方法的故 事,我們也可以用英文說是一個”meta- narrative.”一個”meta-narrative”是一個故事關於 另外的故事。一個”meta-narrative”解釋為什麼我們應該相信別的故事。 我剛才說過了後現代主義的意思是”incredulity␣toward␣meta-narratives.”現在我們知 道”meta-narrative”是什麼意思。可 是”incredulity”是什麼意思?”Incredulity”的意思 就是不肯相信的態度。所以,無論是什麼樣 的”meta-narrative”,後現代主義者不願意相 信。結果是無論是什麼樣的故事,還是什麼 樣的理論,他們覺得都沒有確鑿(z>ao)的證 據。可是後現代主義者不是說我們不應該相 信我們的故事。比方說,我可以相信地球環
繞(hu>anr]ao)向太陽。可是如果有別的人相信 太陽公轉向地球,我必需承認他的故事跟我的故事在邏輯上有一樣的價值。 因為他的理論有它自己的meta-narrative.我的理 論也有我自己的meta-narrative.根據我的meta-
narrative,我的理論有證據。可是根據他的 meta-narrative,他的理論也有證據。所以沒有客觀的方法可以決定哪個理論是對的。 後現代主義有什麼結果?這個問題的答 案非常不清楚。有的人說,既然每一個人的 故事在邏輯上平等,所以我們應該鼓勵別人 創造新的故事,同時也不應該強烈反對或控制別人的故事。

(B.2)現在我要講,後現代主義對儒家有什麼看法?在美國,主要支持用後現代主義 來研究孔子的包括夏威夷大學的Roger␣Ames。 Ames認為孔子的思想跟西方的meta-narratives完 全沒有關係。他說西方的哲學家特別將調他 所謂”transcendence”。Transcendence是什麼意 思?我覺得,為了解釋transcendence的意思, 最好的方法是給一個例子。當然你們已經知 道笛卡兒是一位很有名的十七世紀西方哲學家。笛卡兒的meta-narrative是什麼?笛卡兒認 為我們可以拋棄所有傳統的意見,而且用我 們自己的思考能力來證明什麼理論是對的。 Ames說笛卡兒的方法是transcendent的方法,因 為笛卡兒說我們應該用邏輯的原則來判斷理 論的是非。可是我們不應該用理論來判斷邏 輯的原則。簡單的說,邏輯是理論的基礎, 可是理論不是邏輯的基礎。笛卡兒的meta- narrative和他的transcendence跟孔子的思想沒有 關係。 Ames也認為,既然孔子不會相信什 麼meta-narrative,所以孔子特別強調創造。 Ames認為孔子鼓勵我們藉由傳統創造新的思 維。
(B.3)現在我要講,後現代主義有什麼優 點和什麼缺點?後現代主義最重要的優點就 是他們說:孔子的思想跟笛卡兒的思想有基 本上的分別。孔子一定不是鼓勵我們拋棄所 有傳統的意見,而用我們自己的思考能力來證明什麼理論是對的。 可是後現代主義也有很嚴重的缺點。雖然孔子不會接受笛卡兒的meta-narrative,但這 不代表孔子否定所有的meta-narrative。其實, 孔子說:「述而不作。信而好古。」孔子也 說:「周監於二代,郁郁乎文哉!吾 從周。」(3.14)這兩個句子表示孔子的meta- narrative。孔子的meta-narrative是什麼?他認為 周朝的政府(我的意思是文王,武王和周公 的政府)是最好的政府,周朝的社會是最好 的社會,最和平,最光榮。他也認為如果我 們學習周朝的文化,用周朝的做法,我們可 以再一次達到周朝社會的成功。這不是笛卡 兒的meta-narrative。可是這一定是一種的meta- narrative.
(C)我現在要講美德倫理。美德倫理是什 麼?在西方的歷史上美德倫理原來是跟亞里
斯多德的哲學有密切的關係。在近代開始的 時候,很多哲學家批判亞里斯多德的哲學。 可是在二十世紀有美德倫理的復興。Alasdair␣ MacIntyre的After␣Virtue這本書,啟示美德倫理 的復興。(1)␣美德倫理的特點是什麼?我寫過 了一篇文章叫”Virtue␣Ethics␣and␣Confucianism”。 在這篇文章我說美德倫理強調四個問題:(i) 第一個問題是:什麼樣的生活是好的,什麼 樣的生活是壞的?比方有的人說,為了過好 生活需要有財富。可是別的人說為了過好生 活不必有很多財富,需要有朋友。強調這個 問題是美德倫理的特點,因為別的倫理理論 強調另外一個問題。比方說,你們已經知道 康德是一位十八世紀德國的哲學家。康德的 倫理不強調生活的方式。康德的倫理強調的 問題是:哪個行為是對的,哪個行為是不對 的?我們可以簡單的說:美德倫理強調人的 生活方式,別的倫理強調人的行為。(ii)第二個美德倫理強調的問題是:為了 過好的生活,人必需有哪種美德?比方說, 假設過好生活的人必需幫助別的人。為了過 這樣的生活,我們必需有慈善。如果沒有慈 善,那麼我們不願意幫助別的人。(iii)第三個強調的問題是:哪種修身的方 法會幫人修養美德?比方說 有的人讀書 有的人靜坐 有的人則以參與儀式的方式來達 成修身養性的目地。我們可以說這些都是修 身的方法。(iv)第四個問題是:人性是什麼?比方 說,在孟子的「告子上編」這本書裡頭,公都子說,「告子曰:“性無善無不善也。” 或 曰:“性可以為善,可以為不善。”…或曰:“有性善,有性不善。”」可是孟子 說,「性善」。這四個學說以外,還有別的學說。所以美德倫理的特點是強調這四個問 題:(i)什麼樣的生活是好的?␣(ii)有哪種美 德?(iii)修身養性的方法是什麼?(iv)人性是什 麼?。

(C.2)我現在要講美德倫理對孔子的看 法。提倡美德倫理的人認為孔子的思想是一 種美德倫理的思想。為什麼他們有這個看 法?因為孔子強調的問題也是美德倫理強調 的問題。比方說,孔子說子產「有君子之道 四焉:其行己也恭,其事上也敬,其養民也 惠,其使民也義。」(公冶長:5.16)這章 「道」這個字的意思就是生活方式。孔子是 說子產的生活有這四個地方。孔子也說: 「君子道者三,我無能焉:仁者不憂;知者 不惑;勇者不懼。」(憲問:14.28)在這章 裡,孔子講好生活的三個特點:不憂慮,不 疑惑,不畏懼。在這章裡孔子也講三個美 德:仁德,智慧,和勇敢。孔子對修身的看法是什麼?孔子說: 「君子博學於文,約之以禮,亦可以弗畔矣夫!」(雍也6.27;␣12.15)在這章 裡,「文」這個字是什麼意思?我覺得 「文」的意思包括學詩經,因為孔子也說我 們應該:「興於詩。立於禮。成於樂。」(泰伯8.8)孔子也鼓勵他的兒子學詩 經和典禮,說:「不學詩,無以言!… 不學禮,無以立!」(16.13)孔子對人性的看法是什麼?孔子 說,「性相近也,習相遠也。」(17.2)這章的 意思很不清楚。比方說,王陽明說人性善。 可是荀子說「性惡」。其實荀子的學說和王 陽明的學說都跟孔子說「性相近也,習相遠 也」,這句話,完全合適。所以如果我們要 知道孔子對人性的看法是什麼,我們必需觀 察孔子在別的章節裏說什麼。依我看來,孔子的學說跟荀子的學說很 近。為什麼呢?子貢說修身,「如切如磋, 如琢如磨」(學而1.15)。孔子贊成這句話。我 覺得這個說法跟荀子的學說很相似。當然我 說的或許是不對的。可是如果你同意王陽明 的學說,你也覺得孔子對人性有一種學說。 所以美德倫理學派說:(i)第一:孔子強調過 好的生活,(ii)第二:孔子強調有美德,(iii)第 三:孔子強調修身,(iv)第四:孔子對人性有 看法。如果你同意孔子強調這四個地方,那 麼你也屬於美德倫理的學派!
(C.3)我現在要講美德倫理的優點和缺 點。美德倫理的缺點是什麼?在西方,美德 倫理跟亞里斯多德的思想有關係。所以用美 德倫理來研究孔子有一個危險。這個危險是 容易把亞里斯多德的倫理跟孔子的倫理分辨 不清楚。所以提倡美德倫理的人要注意亞理 斯多德學說跟孔子學說的分別。美德倫理的優點是什麼?我覺得用美德 倫理的方法來研究孔子有兩個好處。(i)第 一:這樣的方法可以幫西方的哲學家瞭解孔 子的思想。在美國,哲學家常常不瞭解孔子 的思想。他們覺得論語這本書沒有道理。所 以他們也覺得孔子的思想對哲學沒有貢獻。 比方說,我上大學的時候,我哲學教授說過 中國文化沒有哲學。可是如果我們用美德倫 理的概念來解釋孔子的思想,西方哲學家也 可以欣賞孔子思想的價值。這是用美德倫理 的方法來研究孔子的第一個好處。(ii)第二個好處是什麼?如果中國和西方 哲學家瞭解孔子的思想是一種美德倫理的思 想,他們可以開始有相互有益的對話。什麼 樣的對話?對話的題目是關於生活方式,美 德,修身的方法,和人性。各方面可以給對 方提出新的問題,新的概念以及新的意見。

這個對話要什麼時候開始?我希望在這個地方和在這個時候開始。所以我謝謝你們 聽我的演講,也請你們給我你們的問題和意 見。

Posted in East Asian Studies, Philosophy | Leave a comment