Category Archives: Hermeneutics

Confucius and Aristotle – book review

With much thanks to Patrick for the heads up, here is the link to Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews‘ review of Jiyuan Yu’s The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of Virtue, a book that is on our Shamelessly Brief Book Review list.

While I’m thinking of it, here’s something that occurred to me while I was at the APA meetings last week, listening to Stephen Angle and Michael Slote talking about Bryan van Norden’s book, Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy (also reviewed on Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews here). I wondered how things would look if instead of trying to read Confucius, Mencius, Mozi, Xunzi, or other Chinese philosophers as virtue ethicists, Aristotelians, Humeans, Kantians, or consequentialists someone did a close comparative exegesis from the other direction: try to read Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Mill, Hursthouse, Slote, or some other Western philosopher as a Confucian, a ritualist, a Mohist, or Daoist. That’s probably a bit of the crank in me being tired of the philosophical taxonomy game that seems only concerned with assimilating Chinese philosophy into Western ethical theory.

On the other hand, I’m on record (comment #23) saying that “philosophy” is really a Western concept. So, maybe it’s really that I’m tired of the taxonomy game in either direction when it’s not clear what that gets us. So what if Mencius is more like Aristotle than Hume, or vice versa? Why not just try to understand Mencius as Mencian and just leave it at that? Am I just being cranky or missing something of value in the taxonomy enterprise?

By the way, this shouldn’t be construed as being about Jiyuan Yu’s book; I haven’t read it (nor have I formed any opinions about it yet!). Comments about Yu’s book or the review of it are, of course, welcome as well.

Accuracy in Historical Interpretation

Just to introduce as a post, continuation of the great discussion in the Footnotes to Confucius… string of comments:

It sounds like there’s a consensus so far on something like this:

Accuracy, as an ideal of interpreting the ancient Chinese texts, either has independent value (Boram’s view) or has value precisely in helping to achieve various aims that we might have in looking to them (enhancing or filling in gaps in ethical understanding; providing training in suspicion; softening the incredulity of our stares toward David Lewis; etc.).

What I want to know is, to the extent that an interpretation of ancient Chinese texts helps to achieve exactly those kinds of aims, does it really matter whether the interpretation is accurate, beyond a certain minimal threshold? So, take a Whiteheadian, process philosophy interpretation of the later Mohists–not that I know of any, but it’s probably on the horizon; *so what* if someone can point out ways that the accuracy of the reading might be suspect? So long as taking that reading gets someone what he or she wants out of engagement with the ancient Chinese texts, why the hand-wringing about accuracy? Or, is there some primary duty of philosophers to aim for textual accuracy–a geekier cousin of the lover of truth ideal? Alternatively, is there a prima facie assumption by people offering interpretations that they themselves actually *are* engaged in the accuracy game (not having taken Nietzsche and Zhuangzi, among others, to heart)?

Do the accuracy police have any general legitimacy, independent of *particular* hermeneutic aims that might (or might not) be served by accuracy?

From a slightly different angle: if assessment of accuracy is likely to be an elusive thing in any case with a particular text–for example, the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching)–who cares whether the interpretation is accurate or not? (Leave my German Enlightenment interpretation of it alone, man!)