Ivanhoe and Lederman on Wang Yangming

In the most recent issue of the Journal of Confucian Philosophy and Culture, P. J. Ivanhoe published an essay engaging with Harvey Lederman’s account of Wang Yangming titled “The Introspective, Perceptual, and Spontaneous Response Models of Wang Yangming’s Philosophy.” Lederman has published a reply, currently uploaded to PhilPapers here. Enjoy!

PS–the Journal of Confucian Philosophy and Culture website was down for a week or more, apparently because Sungkyunkwan University (the host of JCPC) decided to block overseas access to protect itself from a spate of attacks from Chinese hackers … but the site is back up now and hopefully will remain so!

3 replies on “Ivanhoe and Lederman on Wang Yangming”

  1. An important part of Ivanhoe’s argument is that Lederman interprets Wang as being “primarily about epistemology.” The emphasis on “primarily” is crucial here. The claim is not that Lederman’s paper focuses on examining what Wang has to say about knowledge. The claim is that Lederman is committed “to read Wang as chiefly concerned with epistemology” (62) and that he “misconstrue[s] his central focus and concern as being epistemological in nature.” (42) But that is a straw man, and Lederman is right to point that out in his response.

    One hint as to what might have gone wrong is on p.55, when Ivanhoe puts a footnote on a sentence that claims Lederman is misinterpreting Wang as “interested primarily” in knowledge. The footnote points out that Lederman’s article “is devoted to describing Wang’s theory of knowledge” and that “Lederman focuses on epistemology in all of his other writings and presentations on Wang”. (55) True enough, but why does this matter for Ivanhoe’s claim that Lederman misreads Wang? Ivanhoe does not draw a “therefore…” from the footnote, but one has to wonder… did he really just confuse ‘describing what Wang has to say on knowledge’ with ‘interpreting Wang as primarily interested in epistemology’?

    On the other hand, I think Lederman’s response to this on p.6 is partly unfair towards Ivanhoe (I say ‘partly’ because his response has multiple parts, and only the following part is unfair) – namely, when Lederman generalizes from Ivanhoes claim: “Ivanhoe’s specific allegation about my focus on epistemology is part of a broader charge, that I’m so in the grip of the ideology of Western philosophy that I can’t read the texts for what they say (p. 55).” But this is not what Ivanhoe is saying on p. 55, nor do I see any allusions to this in Ivanhoe’s paper. To say that Lederman’s approach is too Western to understand Wang is FAR more ridiculous than saying that Lederman misconstrues Wang as being primarily about epistemology. What might have tipped Lederman off could have been Ivanhoe’s potentially misleading footnote 41 on p.62, when Ivanhoe accuses him of “beginning with and remaining within the grip of this hermeneutical commitment”. But the commitment here is clearly “to interpret Wang’s philosophy as primarily concerned with epistemology” (ibid.) rather than the more radical claim about Lederman being ideologically fallen.

  2. Hi Waldemar,

    Nice to meet you and thanks for your comments! They’re very interesting to me. You may be right that I overreacted to Ivanhoe’s comments about epistemology and generalized them in a way that was unfair. But I don’t think there was no evidence for this view in his paper. On page 55 he writes:

    “This imposes a characteristically Western philosophical concern and approach to Wang’s philosophy and takes as its object of analysis a phenomenon that can in principle be divorced from action, motivation, and emotion.”

    It’s true that in this passage, Ivanhoe is describing what he claims is my commitment to read Wang’s philosophy as “primarily concerned with epistemology”. But it seems to me that he is saying that this (putative) commitment leads me to impose Western concepts where they don’t belong. In both the abstract and the conclusion, Ivanhoe also says that the models I describe “go awry by construing Wang’s thought as primarily concerned with epistemology and largely ignoring its metaphysical and moral dimensions and broader historical context.” Again it may be the putative focus on epistemology that’s doing the work (as you suggest), but I took the claims about ignoring the historical context to be part of a broader narrative about my background that was alleging a particular source for the mistakes he thought I’d made.

    Anyway, I really appreciate your comment! It may well be, as you say, that I overreacted to the footnotes you quote. I still feel the charge is in the paper, but I have to reread it more carefully with your doubts in mind.

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