Those of us interested in modern Chinese “philosophy” should pay attention to Frederick Beiser’s new book, reviewed recently on NDPR (see below), since it enables us to recognize some fascinating, albeit partial, parallels between the challenges faced by those seeking to reconstitute Confucianism (and other traditions) as “philosophy,” on the one hand, and the challenges faced in Europe by those seeking to retain or recreate a role for “philosophy” in the face of developments in modern science. Many have been critical of the narrowing and professionalization that characterize modern Confucian “philosophy,” often by criticizing it as problematically “Westernized.” Beiser helps us see more clearly that the current state of “Western” philosophy is also contingent, a result of efforts to respond to major existential challenges.
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
Frederick C. Beiser, The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism, 1796-1880, Oxford University Press, 2014, 610pp., $99.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780198722205.
Reviewed by Lydia Patton, Virginia Tech
This book is about a group of philosophers faced with existential challenges to philosophy. In their lifetimes, the successes of scientific explanation had resulted in conflicts between religion and science and between science and philosophy. Materialist and naturalist scientific explanations, including Darwinism, materialism about consciousness, and the physiology of perception imperiled religious views about the origin and special status of humankind and aesthetic views about the qualitative character of consciousness. The practical and academic success of science threatened philosophy itself. Philosophy, once the “mother” of the sciences, now was excluded from the sciences altogether and was thrust into an identity crisis. Academic philosophers had to defend the right of their departments to exist as psychologists were hired for positions in philosophy departments. Philosophy was threatened with obsolescence.