Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Van Norden on Methodology


As a follow-up to some of the issues raised at NECCT 2, Bryan Van Norden has posted some thoughts on his little-used personal blog: “On the Historical Composition and Dating of Texts.” Here is his conclusion:

We cannot start slicing and dicing a text into sections belonging to different authors or different eras simply [because] we notice in it theoretical tensions, evidence of editing, the use of one word in multiple senses, or heterogeneity of subject matter.   I worry when I see what appears to me, at least, to be the quick jump to the conclusion that a text is historically composite before any substantial effort has been made to engage the plausibility of philosophical explanations of the text as a coherent whole.  In short, we intellectual historians are admittedly sometimes too quick to jump over textual issues in our excitement to get to systematic philosophical interpretation. However, you cannot address this problem by leaping to the conclusion that a text is historically composite every time you encounter a passage that you don’t immediately know how to reconcile with what you thought you understood before.

Bryan says that he’s unlikely to be able to answer any comments posted on his blog, but anyone who’d like to comment over here is more than welcome to do so.


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