This is a rich review of Joseph Chan’s important new book; the review is significant, in part, because it represents an engagement by someone from outside the Chinese philosophy world with contemporary Chinese thought. Wall is himself an advocate of perfectionism, which helps to explain why the cross-tradition engagement here is so fruitful.
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
Joseph Chan, Confucian Perfectionism: A Political Philosophy for Modern Times, Princeton University Press, 2014, 256pp., $35.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780691158617.
Reviewed by Steven Wall, University of Arizona
This is an unusual book. It is partly an effort to reconstruct and revive an ancient tradition of political thought, partly an exercise in comparing that tradition to western liberalism and partly a contribution to contemporary political theory. It does not fit into any well-defined disciplinary niche. Its unusual aims, in turn, present a challenge to the reviewer. Should the success of the project be assessed in terms of its fidelity to a tradition of thought that has shaped Chinese culture for over two millennia, or should it be assessed in terms of its contribution to contemporary political thought? No doubt the right answer to this question is that it should be assessed along both dimensions, but this answer does not tell us how much weight to give to each measure of assessment. My own assessment will not grapple with this problem, since I am in no position to gauge its success in remaining faithful to traditional Confucian ideas. Accordingly, this review does not offer a verdict on how well Confucian Perfectionism succeeds in its aim of staying true to Confucian political thought (leaving that judgment to others who are better placed to make it). It focuses instead on how well the view of politics that it presents hangs together and how well it contributes to an understanding of the political topics that it addresses.