Warp, Weft, and Way

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

Message from Tu Weiming

An interesting one, sent via Jeeloo Liu (ACPA president). I’m not sure Tu reads this blog, but comments and discussion are welcome in any case.

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To:  Fellow Students of Chinese Philosophy

From:   Tu Weiming

Re:  The State of the Field

It gives me great pleasure to share my tentative thoughts on our field both as an intellectual pursuit and as an academic discipline.  Let me first give you some background.  Otherwise this might easily be construed as presumptuous and even self-serving.  As some of you know, I attended the last Congress in Seoul (June 2008) as the speaker (Maimonides Lecturer for one of the three endowed chair.  I was allotted a 90-minute plenary session to present my reflections on the Analects.  However, more pertinently, I was elected as a member of the Steering Committee of FISP (Federation of International Philosophical Societies) which, among other things, has the authority to oversee the organization of the Congress.  Since its inception in 1900, the Congress had never met in Asia.  The 2003 Congress was held in Istanbul, but ironically, even though Turkey is located in Asia broadly defined, its national aspiration is to join the European Union.  I was told that during all the plenary sessions there had only been an African voice, and no Asian voice. This reminds me that my Chinese colleagues told me that during the 1998 Congress in Boston, my presentation on the Confucian idea of the educated person was the sole Asian voice.

However, the Seoul Congress must be fully recognized as the single most significant event for Asian and comparative philosophy and with far-reaching implications for Chinese philosophy.  It recognized Buddhist philosophy, Daoist philosophy, and Confucian philosophy as integral parts of world philosophy, to be seriously considered as important as metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Furthermore, Chinese was recognized as an official language; unfortunately, however, only as an exception.  The issue was taken up during the Committee’s meeting at the Congress but the motion failed.  However, at the Moscow meeting in conjunction with Philosophy Day on November 18, 2009, I made a special argument in favor of Chinese being recognized as an official language of the Congress.  The motion was carried with only one dissenting vote.  Thus, at the next Congress in Athens, Chinese will be an official language.  Our colleagues in Greece have made a special plea that they be provided with funds for competent translators.  Furthermore, they have requested that a Chinese translation be included on the logo as well as all official publications.  The theme for the next Congress is “Philosophy: Inquiries and the Way of Life.” I propose the Chinese translation be: 哲學: 審問明辨與生活之道. Please let me know at your early convenience if this is acceptable.

I was surprised, if not disappointed, to learn that in recent years there has been a major debate in China on “Is there Chinese philosophy or simply philosophy in China?”  After Jacques Derrida remarked that there is no philosophy in China when he visited Beijing and Shanghai several years ago, many academic philosophers in China echoed his view and concluded that Confucianism is not a philosophy.  I do not think the issue (comparable to the question as to whether or not Confucianism is a religion) is worth debating.  I cherish the hope that China will host the next Congress in 2018.  I believe that by that time Chinese philosophy will be taught in some of the leading universities in the West.

I appreciate your kind attention to this matter, and  I look forward to learning from you so that I can serve our field effectively as a member of FISP. For your information, our Indian colleagues will hold the first Asian Philosophy Congress in New Delhi and there is a serious attempt by Chandel of India and Kuchuradi of Turkey (the President of the Congress that was held in Istanbul) to revitalize the International  Society for Asian and African Philosophies.  I am critically aware that the best and perhaps only way to make Chinese philosophy a source of inspiration and an “edifying conversation” of the global community of philosophy is that those of us who are dedicated to the field both as a vocation as well as a profession do philosophy well.

February 20th, 2010 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Conference | 9 comments

9 Responses to Message from Tu Weiming

  1. Manyul Im says:

    I was surprised, if not disappointed, to learn that in recent years there has been a major debate in China on “Is there Chinese philosophy or simply philosophy in China?” After Jacques Derrida remarked that there is no philosophy in China when he visited Beijing and Shanghai several years ago, many academic philosophers in China echoed his view and concluded that Confucianism is not a philosophy. I do not think the issue (comparable to the question as to whether or not Confucianism is a religion) is worth debating.

    I thought this was interesting. On the one hand, I was curious what Derrida’s remark was based on — does anyone here know? (Derrida’s remark, by the way, would deny that there was either philosophy in China OR that there was Chinese philosophy — but maybe that’s beside the point since I don’t really know what his denial means and in what context he made it.) On the other hand, the question whether Confucianism is “a philosophy” may not be worth debating — I agree; it seems to me like it would devolve into a mere terminological dispute of the worst kind — but the question is worth addressing. After all, if Tu is right, philosophers in China aren’t entirely convinced that Confucianism is philosophy.

    Again, I’d like to know what the claim really is… Is it just that “Confucianism” (rujia 儒家, I assume?) refers primarily to an uncritical religious/social/political tradition in China, studied mainly by Chinese Classicists or devotees of the tradition? Or is it that the practitioners of Confucianism, as opposed to non-practicing scholars who study it, have not produced the sort of discourse that is philosophical by standards of (Western-trained) philosophers? I assume the philosophers in China who deny Confucianism philosophical status are trained in, and are thinking of, Western philosophical discourse as the model… Or is it some other claim?

    Anyway, if anyone has answers or good guesses to these questions, I’d be grateful to hear (read) them.

    Reply
  2. Steve Angle says:

    Prof. Tu is alluding to the debate over the “legitimacy of Chinese philosophy 中国哲学合法性问题” that was sparked by Derrida’s remark. Thanks to the work of Carine Defoort, many of the key essays published during this debate are available in English; see the Fall 2005, Winter 2005-6, and Spring 2006 issues of Contemporary Chinese Thought. As for the background of Derrida’s comment, here you go (quoting Derrida as cited in Jiang Haifeng’s article, as translated in the first of the three journal issues just mentioned):

    There is no problem with talking about Chines thought, Chinese history, Chinese science, and so forth, but obviously, I have a problem with talking about the Chinese ‘philosophy’ of this Chinese thought and culture before the introduction of the European model…. Philosophy in essence is not just thought. It is linked with a sort of specific history, with one type of language, and with an ancient Greek invention. It is an ancient Greek invention which then underwent ‘transformation’ by Latin translation and German translation and so on. It is something European. There may be various kinds of thought and knowledge of equal integrity beyond Western European culture, but it is not reasonable to call them ‘philosophy.'”

    (One note: Jing here gives as his citation, for the part of this quotation after my ellipsis, the Chinese translation of Derrida’s Writing and Difference, which was first published in French in 1967. I’m not sure therefore whether Derrida actually said this latter part during his remarks in China in 2001 or not. But it appears that he has long held this view.)

    Reply
  3. Manyul Im says:

    Thanks, Steve. You know, I almost agree with Derrida. Something like that is my own view (which I’ve espoused on this blog in its previous incarnation), though I don’t think of there being an “essence” of philosophy — surprise! the godfather of postmodernism thinks something has an essence (!?). I think you can think of philosophy in a proprietary way, as e.g. linked with a particular history of discourse that began in Greece etc., so long as you’re willing to specify that that’s what you mean. There can be a point to this, I think. One point is to explain why it is sometimes problematic to look for the trajectories of thought or argument in Chinese texts that you might more naturally expect from Western philosophical ones. Sometimes the moves in Chinese texts don’t seem quite “philosophical,” but that’s just in this proprietary sense of “philosophical.” I take away from this the warning that making those moves “on their behalf” may not be warranted.

    People can think of philosophy in a broader way as comprising certain kinds of inquiry demarcated by topic, rather than method — meaning of life, ideas about the nature of language and its significance, etc — without the particularly Greek history of inquiry being required. And there’s a point to this as well…

    Reply
    • Steve Angle says:

      Yeah, I was surprised by “essence” too. I wonder if it is a misquote or a mistranslation (presumably that went from French (to English?) to Chinese to English…)? It would be interesting to track that down.

      Reply
      • Huaiyu Wang says:

        Nice inputs, Manyul and Steve!

        My presumption is that Derrida is probably concurring with Heidegger who says explicitly in his “What is Philosophy” that “philosophy is Greek in its essence” (Martin Heidegger, What Is Philosophy (New Haven: College & University Press, 1956), 30-31, I have also a long comment on this statement in my recent article in Journal of Chinese Philosophy 35.1, march 2008)

        This is an extremely complicated and important issue and I understand why people in China are still involved in it – it is almost inevitable. In my view, Heidegger and Derrida may well be right if we take philosophy in its narrow sense as an intellectual discipline founded on logos and the question concerning the being of beings. However, it is also proper to understand philosophy in its root meaning as the “Love of Wisdom.” In this way, there may be as many different ways of doing philosophy as there are ways of wisdom of life and thinking. I believe it is in this broad sense that it can also be appropriate to speak of Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, etc.

        Remarkably, Heidegger and Derrrida did not mean at all to endorse a narrow “definition” of philosophy – their projects are oriented precisely to open out new ways of thinking that will overcome the violence and rigidity of traditional western philosophy – that is to instigate the end – or better, the ending of philosophy. And that may be why they were so interested in the Chinese tradition for an alternative way of thinking.

        PS. Insofar as the word essence is concerned, they may well be borrowing a traditional sense of essence while at the same time intend to overcome and rise above it – just my two cents 🙂

        Reply
      • Manyul Im says:

        Thanks, Huaiyu! Here’s something interesting I found — it’s from a piece by Sean Meighoo, “Derrida’s Chinese Prejudice,” in Cultural Critique 68 (pp 163 – 209):

        “My argument, however, does not issue from the objection that the East does actually possess a history or knowledge that is untainted by logocentric metaphysics. I do not deny Derrida’s claim on the complicity between history and knowledge in the determination of being as presence. My argument instead is that logocentric metaphysics is not at all peculiar to the West. The philosophical languages of the East are replete with logocentric terminology, establishing a conceptual link between sound, the breath, the soul, life, and being itself, supplementing as it were the link established in Western metaphysics between the voice, the word, meaning, truth, and being. I refer my reader to the interrelated concepts of nāda (Skt., “sound,” the primal manifestation of being), prān.a (Skt., “breath,” synonymous with energy or life) and [End Page 166] ātman (Skt., “self” or “soul,” related to the breath) in Sanskritic philosophy. And even in those philosophical languages purportedly without phonetic systems of writing, there is no dearth of logocentric terminology. I refer my reader to the concept of ch’i (Chin., “breath,” again synonymous with energy or life) in Chinese philosophy. What I am arguing is that Derrida’s program of deconstruction is not limited to Western metaphysics. This is to say both that the critique of logocentric metaphysics may be effectively directed at any and all cultural traditions, and that this critique may find valuable theoretical resources in these same traditions.”

        It’s interesting that Tu seems to take slight at what Derrida says about (the absence of) philosophy in China when Derrida’s point seems to be more about the West and its “logocentrism” than really about China or Chinese thought. Do we want the Chinese to have been more logocentric? (I guess that’s not exactly a rhetorical question, so if someone wants to answer it, have at.)

        Reply
  4. Bill Haines says:

    many academic philosophers in China … concluded that Confucianism is not a philosophy. I do not think the issue (comparable to the question as to whether or not Confucianism is a religion) is worth debating.

    I think there is plenty of philosophy in the Confucian tradition, but I think it is at least debatable whether Confucianism is “a philosophy.” “Confucianism” is a contested symbol, like the Duke of Lu. One plausible charge against Confucianism is that it has a tendency to exalt and grab contested symbols at the expense of debate and respect for truth about e.g. what one’s elders meant by their texts.

    Another contested symbol is the term “religion.” I think Kupperman’s question whether we ought to regard Confucianism as a “religion” ought to strike one at first glance as being both important and difficult, especially in the US. For one thing, there would seem to be implications for e.g. US constitutional law, which grants religious exemptions to various legal requirements. What we classify as “religion” makes a difference to what “freedom of religion” is and how serious a right it can be. For another thing, getting American students to take Confucianism seriously often involves trying to get past the idea that Confucianism is incompatible with Christianity. Filing Confucianism as “a religion” makes a difference.

    (A) “ I am critically aware that the best and perhaps only way to make Chinese philosophy a source of inspiration and an “edifying conversation” of the global community of philosophy is that those of us who are dedicated to the field both as a vocation as well as a profession do philosophy well.

    Nevertheless,

    (B) “the Seoul Congress [of FISP] must be fully recognized as the single most significant event for Asian and comparative philosophy and with far-reaching implications for Chinese philosophy.

    Why insist on that recognition? Wouldn’t a friend of the field be chagrined?

    FISP is an umbrella group of philosophical societies. Its web site begins with the statement, “FISP is the highest non-governmental world organization for philosophy.” The page “History of FISP” is a list of its Presidents. In addition to its President, FISP currently has three honorary Presidents.

    Statement (B) seems to pertain to three decisions made at the group’s 2008 meeting:

    (a) Tu was elected to the Steering Committee (as one of 34 members alongside the Steering Committee’s 7-member Bureau). Although the Steering Committee is distinct from the Committee on General Policy, obviously he is making effective use of his position to draw attention to Chinese philosophy and promote Chinese participation.

    (b) The 2008 Congress recognized Chinese as an official language “as an exception,” “but the motion failed.” With Tu’s help, these events were significant because they led to FISP’s 2009 full acceptance of Chinese as an official language for FISP’s 2013 meeting. Before the change, the rule for the 2013 meeting was: “Papers should be submitted in one of the following languages: Greek, English, French or German. Papers written in Greek should be accompanied by a proper translation into another language, preferably English.” It appears that the main change that has been decided upon to date is that papers may be submitted in Chinese for that meeting. That is certainly a positive development for Chinese participation in the academic portion of the 2013 meeting. I don’t see how it can be the beginning of a trend, unless philosophical societies become more beholden to support by governments.

    (c) FISP “recognized Buddhist philosophy, Daoist philosophy, and Confucian philosophy as integral parts of world philosophy, to be seriously considered as important as metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.

    FISP’s ample web site preserves no record of such a resolution. Does it involve anything more than a statement? What is the statement trying to say? Was that worked out before some such statement was voted on? I don’t know. It would seem offhand that what we have here is an especially slight and ephemeral example of the sort of li 禮 that Robert Neville has recently urged, except that the resolution seems on its face to violate the serious li 禮 that a general philosophical body should not engage in official evaluations of viewpoints.

    Reply
  5. Steve Angle says:

    Bill, I’m glad you commented on the FISP-related aspects of Tu’s remarks. I think that you may be exaggerating the degree to which there’s a tension between the statements you label (A) and (B), but I see your point. In any event, it’s worth discussing how important organizations like FISP, events like world congresses, and resolutions like those mentioned, really are. I guess my initial and very rough thought is: they are somewhat important. Not totally unimportant. As an international organization, FISP is in a position to take global trends and issues into account in a way that is less pressing, perhaps, for a national organization like the APA. Still, national organizations do take part in FISP and changes in FISP may influence directions of the APA and its ilk. I guess my sense is that changing things at the APA level — not just or even primarily in its leadership, but more at the level of program committee and perhaps funding prioritees — are likely to make more of a difference. But still.

    On the issue you label (c) — the recognition of Buddhist philosophy and so on — I found myself wondering whether I thought that Buddhist philosophy being considered “as important as metaphysics…” was the right way to think about things. Isn’t this a kind of category mistake? I don’t want to say that the only topical categories are those already stipulated in the history of Western thought, nor that the questions at the center of Western metaphysics are the only possible central questions. But still. If what we’re seeking is the inclusion of Chinese (etc.) approaches to many different topics and questions, I’m worried that thinking of “Buddhist Philosophy” as a category at the same level as “Metaphysics” risks erecting/imposing/continuing barriers between different traditions’ approaches to similar issues.

    Reply
  6. Bill Haines says:

    Steve, point taken about FISP. I also agree with your further worries about the statement about Buddhism etc.

    Reply

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