On-line Review of Haiming WEN, Chinese Philosophy

A review by by Jung Lee (Northeastern University) of Haiming WEN (Renmin University)’s new book, Chinese Philosophy (Cambridge, 2012), has just been published at NDPR. Lee is rather critical of the role played in Wen’s book of Western philosophical categories; these categories are particularly prominent in Wen’s book because he organizes his chronological chapters around what he takes to be the major philosophical emphasis in the period (e.g., political philosophy for Pre-Qin thought; epistemology for Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism).

2 thoughts on “On-line Review of Haiming WEN, Chinese Philosophy

  1. A book title on “Chinese Philosophy” is outrageous, the word philosophy is nowhere to be found in the Chinese classics. All those convenient Western biblical and philosophical “translations” of Chinese key concepts serve only one goal namely the keeping of the West’s prerogative of final explanation over Chinese thought. – Thorsten Pattberg

  2. Regarding “individualism,” Erica Fox Brindley recently wrote:
    Individualism in modern times has greatly influenced social and political institutions, views of the self, and liberal, democratic values associated with the universal rights of man and human rights.7 In such contexts it is invariably construed as a particular development of ideals and movements specific to Enlightenment Europe that traces its origins to earlier Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions. Given its close associations with European cultural and historical identity, some scholars of China have been apprehensive about using such a concept to analyze the history of China and East Asian cultures. They contend that definitions of individualism in contemporary European and American contexts do not exactly correspond to the various views on the individual that obtain in Asian history …

    But, I contend, terms with specific histories, such as “science,” “religion,” “philosophy,” “self,” “cosmos,” etc., can and should be effectively used outside of their original historical and linguistic contexts for comparative and interpretive purposes. To cut off the use of a perfectly good term and analytic device simply out of allegiance to a presumed original context or a single tradition is to deny concepts their potential to change, adapt to new contexts, and facilitate the translation of other cultures and the past. The taboo against redefining concepts such as “individualism” for hermeneutical purposes encourages thinking about concepts as fixed, unchanging entities, rather than as fluid, living representations of fleeting human agendas and thought.10 It is untenable because even within its so-called “original” context in the West, the concept of individualism assumed many forms and was constantly being contested and redefined.11 To isolate individualism in terms of a single definition and context actually misunderstands the dynamic, contextual, and fundamentally unstable nature of such concepts in any historical tradition.

    Individualism in early China : human agency and the self in thought and politics, University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010, p. x.

    I think that is worth thinking about.

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