Category Archives: Book Review

Zhao on Balbo and Ahn, Confucius and Cicero

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (see here)

Andrea Balbo and Jaewon Ahn, Confucius and Cicero: old ideas for a new world, new ideas for an old world. Roma Sinica, 1. Berlin; Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2019. Pp. 222. ISBN 9783110616606. £65.50.

Reviewed by Dan Zhao, University of Cambridge.

Born from a conference in 2017, this edited volume seeks to pioneer a new series in comparative studies: Roma Sinica: Mutual Interactions between Ancient Roman and Eastern Thought. The series is nothing short of ambitious: ‘Roma Sinica sets out to open new perspectives in comparative studies, taking a multidisciplinary approach within the humanities and offering scholars (…) an opportunity to exchange ideas’. This particular volume, focusing on a comparison of Confucius and Cicero, brings together sinologists, Classicists, and comparative historians. It establishes itself firmly in the budding field of Sino-Roman comparative studies as one of the first works to examine two individuals, rather than comparing broader social, political, or economic frameworks.[1] The volume is split into five sections. Sections A and E form the introduction and conclusion of the work, respectively. Section B concentrates on philosophy. Section C investigates the translation of Confucian works in Latin. Section D takes a broader view, examining philosophy, literature, and culture in general.

Continue reading →

L. K. Gustin Law reviews Seok at NDPR

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

2021.10.02 View this Review Online View Other NDPR Reviews

Bongrae Seok (ed.), Naturalism, Human Flourishing, and Asian Philosophy: Owen Flanagan and Beyond, Routledge, 2020, 256pp., $160.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780367350246.

Reviewed by L. K. Gustin Law, University of Chicago

This volume includes contributions engaging the works of Owen Flanagan, as well as his responses to them. As Flanagan’s works cut across conventional academic boundaries, so does the contributors’ expertise fall under different disciplines, including philosophy, psychology, religion, and Asian studies. Each essay either compares Flanagan’s view with a Ruist (Confucian) or Buddhist counterpart or addresses his engagement with it. It is a scholarly and illuminating book for those interested in the enduring significance of Mengzi’s ethical psychology or Buddhism, the rich and diverse accounts of mind that fall under the label of “Buddhism,” Flanagan’s naturalism, the way he adapts and naturalizes Buddhism for a model of human flourishing, or how intellectual enterprises of independent origins might enter into fruitful dialogue. Navigating all these is made easier by the editor, Bongrae Seok, who masterfully summarizes the contributions, highlighting the significance of each and their connections to one another.

Continue reading →

Connolly Reviews Kim, Theorizing Confucian Virtue Politics

NDPR Sungmoon Kim Theorizing Confucian Virtue Politics: The Political Philosophy of Mencius and Xunzi (Reviewed by Tim Connolly, East Stroudsburg University)

“Confucian political theory offers a normative vision for contemporary societies that draws on concepts from thinkers in the Chinese philosophical tradition initiated by Confucius (551-479 BCE). Much of the recent work in this area is motivated by dialogue with mainstream Western political theory, focusing on questions of Confucianism’s compatibility with liberal democracy. Yet as Sungmoon Kim writes in the opening pages of the book, these attempts to establish dialogue have tended to look at general characteristics of the classical Confucian tradition, giving less attention to internal debates and disagreements within this tradition. Kim’s book is devoted to a reconstruction of…”

Continue reading on

Bin Song Reviews Brown and McLeod at NDPR

Notre Dame Philosophical Review

2021.03.01 View this Review Online   View Other NDPR Reviews

Joshua R. Brown and Alexus McLeod, Transcendence and Non-Naturalism in Early Chinese Thought, Bloomsbury, 2021, 245pp., $115.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781350082533.

Reviewed by Bin Song, Washington College

To paraphrase Kant’s words on enlightenment, I propound that on the topic of transcendence and non-naturalism in Chinese and comparative philosophy, although we do not have a reckoned book yet, we finally have a book of reckoning. Joshua R. Brown and Alexus McLeod discern two major reasons why scholars assume there is no robust idea of transcendence, and hence, take naturalism as an inevitable lens for interpreting early Chinese thought: Firstly, some of these scholars would like to find in early Chinese thought something that is different from the West, mainly from Christianity. Secondly, some of them would like to find in early Chinese thought something that looks the same as the West, viz., the same as the scientific and analytic mindset prevalent in Western academia since early modern Europe.
Continue reading →

Angle Reviews Bell and Wang, Just Hierarchy

My review of Daniel Bell and Wang Pei’s book Just Hierarchy: Why Social Hierarchies Matter in China and the Rest of the World (Princeton, 2020) has been published in Ethics; see here. The review ends as follows:

…Perhaps a different approach is in order, one more rooted in China’s dynamic traditions than in the modernism that colors some of Bell and Wang’s thinking. Recalling Zhang Zai’s Western Inscription, we could think about the relationality inherent in the entire, ever-changing cosmos and conceptualize these relations through various degrees of kinship. Care, attention, reciprocity, mutuality, learn- ing, and growth would be the watchwords of such a perspective. There is an important place for just—or maybe more accurately, humane or harmonious—hierarchy in such a vision, and Bell and Wang can be important conversation partners in working out what is and what is not valuable among both traditional and more recent forms of social differentiation. Much of this differentiation (such as sexism and racism) needs strong critique, but at the same time, there is reason to agree with Aaron Stalnaker’s concern that modernity in many societies has been characterized by a “systematic pathologization of dependence” (Mastery, Dependence, and the Ethics of Authority [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020], 24). Drawing on Wang and Bell’s book and also on more thoroughgoing efforts to engage with traditional philosophical resources from around the world, it should be possible to identify and defend unequal but healthy forms of social cooperation.




Wu Reviews Makeham, ed., Buddhist Roots of Zhu Xi

Jiang WU has reviewed John Makeham, ed., The Buddhist Roots of Zhu Xi’s Philosophical Thought (Oxford, 2018) in the latest Journal of Chinese Religions; see here. One excerpt:

The current volume under review is thus a welcome step towards reevaluating the Buddhist influence on the formation of Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucian philosophy. Not only will it rekindle interest in philosophical issues among China specialists, it also helps to correct the previous tendency, or even bias, to overemphasize the social, intellectual, and historical aspects. This dominant approach tends to reduce philosophical arguments to a set of ideological dogmas conditioned by their social and cultural contexts, such as the competition for literati patronage. (p. 304)

Song Reviews Li, “A History of Classical Chinese Thought” (Lambert, trans.)

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

2020.06.17 View this Review Online   View Other NDPR Reviews

Li Zehou, A History of Classical Chinese Thought, Andrew Lambert (tr., intr.), Routledge, 2020, 353pp., $160.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780367230128.

Reviewed by Bin Song, Washington College

It is a daunting task for me to review Li Zehou’s work, not least because while born in and always philosophizing about the same land, Li had entered his intellectual heyday in the 1980s when I was not yet a teenager. While reading Li’s work using Andrew Lambert’s stellar translation, I repeatedly asked myself: what is the difference between him and me regarding the approach to doing comparative Chinese philosophy? Why is there such a difference? What can I learn from him? And what inspirations can Li’s work generate globally.  Since there are English resources[1]that introduce Li’s thought, I won’t dwell on those questions. Instead, I will critique Li’s philosophy as presented in this book.

Continue reading →

Bliss reviews Ma and van Brakel, Beyond the Troubled Water of Shifei

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

2020.05.15 View this Review Online   View Other NDPR Reviews

Lin Ma and Jaap van Brakel, Beyond the Troubled Water of Shifei: From Disputation to Walking-Two-Roads in the Zhuangzi, SUNY Press, 2019, 283pp., $32.95 (pbk), ISBN 9781438474823.

Reviewed by Ricki Bliss, Lehigh University

Interpretation is always underdetermined and indeterminate. It is underdetermined by the data and it is indeterminate because meaning doesn’t allow it to be any other way. Interpretation is by no means a hopeless enterprise, however. Necessary conditions on the activity of interpretation are: (i) the assumption, on the part of the interpreter, of the family resemblance of forms of life; (ii) the assumption that all general concepts and conceptual schemes in all languages are family resemblance concepts; and (iii) a principle of mutual attunement.

Continue reading →