Am I Missing Your Favorite Book?

This semester I am teaching a seminar on Comparative Philosophy. As part of the class, each of the 15 students will choose a monograph the engages in comparative philosophy (related at least in part to Chinese philosophy), and write an extended review essay on their book. They will then present their findings, revise the essays, and I will then edit the final versions into an on-line book, tentatively titled “Comparative Philosophy: Reviewing the State of the Art.” I have never done this before, but the students and I are excited.

I have compiled a list from which the students will choose their books, but I am afraid I may have left of some excellent choices. It is important that the books be explicitly engaged in comparative philosophy, rather than works of scholarship solidly focused on a single thinker or tradition. Exactly what “explicitly engaged in comparative philosophy” means is, admittedly, not always so clear, and there are a few books on my list that may be marginal cases. That’s not the end of the world. More importantly, what are the good choices that I have left off? Apologies in advance to authors whom I have inadvertently neglected! Please let me know, either in the Comments below, or via email. Thanks! The list follows.

Bell, Beyond Liberal Democracy

Chan, Confucian Perfectionism

Cline, Confucius, Rawls, and the Sense of Justice

Cline, Families of Virtue

Fan, Reconstructionist Confucianism

Frisina, The Unity of Knowledge and Action

Froese, Ethics Unbound

Hall and Ames, Anticipating China

Hall and Ames, The Democracy of the Dead

Hall and Ames, Thinking From the Han

Hall and Ames, Thinking Through Confucius

Huang, Why Be Moral?

Jenco, Changing Referents

Jullien, Detour and Access

Jullien, In Praise of Blandness

Jullien, Vital Nourishment

Kim, Confucian Democracy in East Asia

Klancer, Embracing Our Complexity

Kupperman, Learning from Asian Philosophy

Li, The Tao Encounters the West

Lloyd and Sivin, The Way and the Word

Neville, Boston Confucianism

Raphals, Knowing Words

Shang, Liberation as Affirmation

Sim, Remastering Morals with Aristotle and Confucius

Stalnaker, Overcoming Our Evil

Tan, Confucian Democracy

Walden, The Metaphysics of Kindness

Yearley, Mencius and Aquinas

28 replies on “Am I Missing Your Favorite Book?”

  1. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter Between Asian and Western Thought.

    Lloyd, Adversaries and Authorities: Investigations into Ancient Greek and Chinese Science.

    Smid. Methodologies of Comparative Philosophy: The Pragmatist and Process Traditions.

    McEvilley. The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies.

    Deutsch. Persons and Valuable Worlds: A Global Philosophy.

    Connolly. Doing Philosophy Comparatively.

    Jullien. On the Universal: The Uniform, the Common and Dialogue between Cultures

    • Thanks, Alejandro! Several of these are more on the methodology of CP, which we are definitely covering (in fact, we’re reading all of _Doing Philosophy Comparatively_), but I want to aim the review essays at more substantive “doing” of CP. But I had not thought of some of these, and the Deutsch book, in particular, looks quite apt. I’ll take a closer look. Much appreciated.

  2. How about Ziporyn’s “Being and Ambiguity” (which you know well, of course). From the back cover: “‘B and A’ is an original work of philosophical speculation drawing on the contributions of such diverse thinkers as Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, Lacan, Wittgenstein, Zizek, Sartre, Polanyi, and Merleau-Ponty.” “A must read for anyone interested in metaphysical sodomy.” (Alan Cole). Surely, your students would be interested in that!?

  3. I can think of two off the top of my head, both of which are fantastic and also rare because they are East-East comparisons rather than East-West:

    Doug Berger’s “Encounters of Mind: Luminosity and Personhood in Indian and Chinese Thought”

    and Toshihiko Isutzu’s classic “Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts”

    and there will soon be another when I finish my comparative Maya-early Chinese book!–although I guess this is a different kind of “East-West” comparative project 🙂

  4. Of the books on the list with which I am familiar, none represent the historical-critical approach to the texts; they take “Confucius” as anything in the Analects, and “Mencius” as anything in the text of that name. This may not be a tenable position. “Comparative” is fine, but would it not be appropriate if the things to be compared were correctly understood in the first place? Isn’t it of interest for philosophy that philosophical traditions grow, and that worldviews mature?

    • Thanks, Taeko. For many of these books, the fact that philosophical traditions grow is indeed critical, in two senses: some of them base themselves on later and distinct phases of the Chinese tradition, and some of them take the tradition to be live and open to continued growth. You’re right that almost none of them look seriously at growth within classical-era texts or within the classical era itself. Since quite a number of the students in this class have read The Original Analects (in another class), the evidence for and significance of growth within that era is an issue that they will be able to take up as they work on their review essays.

  5. Sounds like a great project!

    My favorite comparative book is

    Yu, The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of Virtue

    though as Jiyuan’s student I am biased!

    I also think of

    Perkins, Heaven and Earth Are Not Humane: The Problem of Evil in Classical Chinese Philosophy

    Van Norden, Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy

    Wong, Natural Moralities: A Defense of Pluralistic Relativism

    • Tim, I have no idea how I neglected to include Mirrors of Virtue; it’s on the shelf of books in my office for students to peruse, and I guess I just missed it when typing up the list. Interesting for me to reflect on why I didn’t, at least initially, include Frank’s and Bryan’s books. There is a comparative dimension to them, to be sure, but I guess it seems relatively in the background, and also confined to what you call “interpretive” rather than “constructive” purposes. That doesn’t make the interpretive dimension unimportant, since in a way it is driving the questions being posed. Hmm; I’ll have to think about how they would work in my class’s context. As for David’s book, isn’t it fair to say that it is more about methodology than either interpretive or constructive CP?

    • Thanks, Steve! I agree with what you say about the Perkins and Van Norden books. I’ll have to think some more about where Wong’s book would fit in to existing classifications.

  6. Steve, you might also think about adding Lisa Rosenlee’s Confucianism and Women: A Philosophical Interpretation, Robin Wang’s YinYang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture, Rosemont’s recent Against Individualism, and Li Chenyang’s The Sage and the Second Sex: Confucianism, Ethics, and Gender, and maybe Peter Hershock’s Chan Buddhism. I’d also be really curious what your students might say about my book (Metaphor and Metaphilosophy), but I suspect it might be too explicitly methodological for your project.

    • Thanks for these, Sarah! I have most of these books and should look at them again; I am particularly tempted by Lisa’s book in this regard. (Not Chenyang’s simply because I’m not including edited collections.)

      And let me add my special thanks for your mentioning your book. I had never read any of it before, but just read the Introduction and Epilogue, as a start (the wonders of eBooks). I think you’re right that it is too methodological for the particular project I’ve been writing about here, but I will bring it to the class’s attention nonetheless, for two reasons. First, as we are talking about the methodology of comparative philosophy in the first part of the semester, the question of what philosophy is must be faced, and this is not just a question of content or topics, but of practice and style, as you emphasize. These issues are critical as we talk about what it means to “do” (comparative) philosophy. Second, a central feature of your book is that you draw on Chinese philosophy (among other things) to theorize about what philosophy is, not just taking Chinese thought as an object of study, the metatheory for which derives solely from Western “theory.” This taking of Chinese (or any non-Western) thought as itself theory, and not just an object to be studied using pre-existing theories, is very rare, I think. Bravo!

  7. Richard King edited two recent volumes comparing China and Greece, but they might be a bit pricy for undergraduates:

    KING, R.A.H., ed. The Good Life and Conceptions of Life in Early China and Græco-Roman Antiquity. Chinese-Western Discourse 3. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015.

    KING, R.A.H., and Dennis Schilling, eds. How Should One Live? Comparing Ethics in Ancient China and Greco-Roman Antiquity. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011.

  8. How about Tom Kasulis’ book “Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference”?
    A little different from other texts on the list, but easy to read and students seem to like it.

  9. Grange, John Dewey, Confucius, and Global Philosophy

    Huang (ed.), Rorty, Pragmatism and Confucianism

    Odin, The Social Self in Zen and American Pragmatism

    Takanashi, Emerson and Neo-Confucianism: Crossing Paths Over the Pacific

    Wen, Confucian Pragmatism as the Art of Contextualizing Personal Experience and World

  10. Steve remarked to Taeko that many students in the course in question will have seen The Original Analects. But will they be encouraged to remember it, or is all that critical stuff now behind them? The message of The Original Analects is that the Confucius of 4:1-7, who has a value system centered on rvn, is not the same as the “Confucius” of 9:1, who rarely mentions rvn, and that neither is the same as the “Confucius” of 18:5-7. who has obviously read the Jwangdz. Is it valid to lump all these together as “Confucius?” Do we lump Kant and Schopenhauer together, and call it Kant?” Or are there different rules for different continents?

  11. Paul, Bill, Andrew, Mat, and Bruce:

    Many thanks! I think the King anthologies would be very apt, like (in a different way) the Huang anthology, but I have decided to focus only on monographs for this project. I have now read around in Collins, which is intriguing, but not itself a work of comparative philosophy. (Also, though it is a bit unfair to complain about lack of coverage in a work that is already so huge, still, it is a bit disappointing that Collins in effect sees Chinese philosophy as ending after the Neo-Confucians, while philosophy in the West carries right along into the 20th century.) I have looked at Kasulis, which is appealing but seems more methodological? And Mat, you have convinced me to add Grange, at least, and I’ll think about the others. Bruce, I guess the answer will depend on the individuals. I hope and expect that many will remember it, and think about its relevance to the works that they are reviewing!

  12. Allen, Barry. ‘Vanishing Into Things: Knowledge in the Chinese Tradition.’ Harvard University Press, 2015.*

    Allen, Barry. ‘Striking Beauty: A Philosophical Look at the Asian Martial Arts.’Columbia University Press, 2015.*

    Lloyd, G.E.R. ‘Analogical Investigations: Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Human Reasoning.’ Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    (*Note, the first two are primarily works of comparative philosophy despite their titles)

  13. Here are a couple to add to the list for consideration:

    Carr and Ivanhoe, _The Sense of Anti-Rationalism: The Religious Thought of Zhuangzi and Kierkegaard_

    Peterman, _Whose Tradition? Which Dao?: Confucius and Wittgenstein on Moral Learning and Reflection_

    Zhao, _Father and Son in Confucianism and Christianity: A Comparative Study of Xunzi and Paul_

  14. John and Eric — super, thanks. I remember being intrigued by Vanishing Into Things when it was published, but forgot about it; and I didn’t know about Striking Beauty. I have added both of them to my list. (Lloyd’s book is, I think, too much methodological for our purposes.) And Eric, these are three good ideas, thanks! The first two I am familiar with but had escaped me when I made the initial list; the one that I don’t know is the Zhao. Do you have a sense of it that you’d be able to share with me, here or offline?

    • I have not yet read the Zhao book myself, so I’m not offering an endorsement of it, but I figured it would be worth drawing to your attention at least. Perhaps some other readers on this blog have read the book and would be willing to offer their opinions? The few reviews I have seen of the book so far were mixed, but then again that is also true of a number of other books on your list.

  15. Steve, I’m not sure if you’ve come across this one:
    Burik, The End of Comparative Philosophy and the Task of Comparative Thinking: Heidegger, Derrida and Daoism

    The title makes it sound like it has a primarily methodological focus, but it also uses Heidegger and Derrida to ‘re-read’ Daoism.

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