Category Archives: Book Review

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.
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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.

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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.

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Lambert Reviews Olberding at NDPR

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

2020.02.11 View this Review Online   View Other NDPR Reviews

Amy Olberding, The Wrong of Rudeness: Learning Modern Civility from Ancient Chinese Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2019, 183pp., $29.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780190880965.

Reviewed by Andrew Lambert, City University of New York, College of Staten Island

Amy Olberding notes that this book is a response to increased polarization and conflict in civil life in the United States (ix). Besides political discourse, the problem of incivility or rudeness is found also in everyday social life — such as what to do when “Uncle Frank” makes offensive remarks about race, sexuality and immigration at the family Thanksgiving dinner (144). Olberding’s response is to turn to the Confucian tradition. The early Confucians’ commitment to civility can help us to re-think social relations, and arrive at an outlook that recognizes the difficulty of bridging gaps between us but also sustains a sense of solidarity.

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Three reviews in JAS

The most recent issue of the Journal of Asian Studies has reviews of three books of interest to readers of this blog:

  • Curie Virag reviews Michael Nylan, The Chinese Pleasure Book (Zone Books, 2018)
  • Yunte Huang reviews Haun Saussy, Translation as Citation: Zhuangzi Inside Out (Oxford, 2017)
  • Patrick Buck reviews Bryan Van Norden, Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto (Columbia, 2017)

Winston Reviews Kim, Democracy After Virtue

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

2019.07.20 View this Review Online   View Other NDPR Reviews

Sungmoon Kim, Democracy After Virtue: Toward Pragmatic Confucian Democracy, Oxford University Press, 2018, 255pp., $74.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780190671235.

Reviewed by Kenneth Winston, Harvard University

As Asian countries reclaim their former prominence on the world stage, many Asian scholars are engaged in an ardent effort to respond to the new reality by reexamining basic political principles. The effort is not only academic or philosophical; it is deeply moral — an effort to preserve what is of value in one’s own culture or tradition while adapting to new geopolitical circumstances and engaging in new relationships. Sungmoon Kim is a member in good standing of an international group of scholars who join this intellectual conversation with the general aim of reconciling Confucianism and democracy — with an agenda and vocabulary taken primarily from contemporary English-language analytic philosophy. While written at a fairly abstract level, this book can be read as a search for identity or self-understanding in an evolving world.

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