Warp, Weft, and Way

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

Workshop on Early Chinese Philosophy in Context


The Department of East Asian Studies at Princeton University hosts:
“Philosophy of the Past: Early Chinese Philosophy in Context”

A One-day Workshop With:
PAUL GOLDIN (University of Pennsylvania)
JANE GEANEY (University of Richmond)

On: February 22 (Sat) 2014

Please see the announcement below. The workshop is open to all, but we ask for pre-registration. Please note that we cannot be responsible for meals and accommodation. If you wish to attend, please RSVP to Mercedes Valmisa at mvalmisa@princeton.edu.

Philosophy of the Past:
Early Chinese Philosophy in Context

Proposal for a One-day Workshop in Early Chinese Philosophy

Date: Feb 22 (Sat) 2014
Venue: Department of East Asian Studies
Organizers: Martin Kern, Mercedes Valmisa, Sara Vantournhout

1. Background

The organization of academic institutions in different disciplines has a determining influence on the organization of knowledge, and often leads to arbitrary fragmentations of thinking. The fact that the discipline of Philosophy has been separated as a distinct discipline from other areas of knowledge and learning has led to the self-assumed independence of philosophy from its socio- historical contexts. This tension is also visible within the field of Chinese Philosophy, where scholars generally adopt a methodology that conforms to the standards of Western philosophical practice. In order to make Chinese philosophy relevant within the comparative philosophical discourse, they tend to decontextualize early Chinese thought and, furthermore, appropriate it on Western terms.

As a result, scholars of Early Chinese Philosophy generally limit their study to the so- called “master texts,” which are identified as consistent expositions of the masters’ philosophical system, while little attention is given to the “non-philosophical” aspects such as literary and rhetorical features. Furthermore, due to its emphatic focus, the field of Early Chinese Philosophy rarely concerns itself with the socio-historical context in which early Chinese thought emerged. As a result, “philosophy of the past” is not studied as such, but rather as an aspect of contemporary philosophy that contributes to current ethical and political debates. In doing so, however, we fail to do justice to the ways in which early Chinese thinkers themselves conceptualized their own philosophical discourse.

In order to reintegrate early Chinese philosophy into its original contexts, and reinterpret it on its own terms, it is necessary that we no longer consider it an isolated and sharply distinct field, but rather place it within the larger field of Early China Studies. Within the framework of “area studies,” this field is by definition interdisciplinary and combines the study of history, literature, art, archaeology, paleography, philology, religion, and so on. By being (re)introduced into this multidisciplinary environment, Early Chinese Philosophy can benefit from the intellectual exchange and mutual inspiration among different academic disciplines, and can in turn contribute to a much richer and deeper rethinking of the complex world of early Chinese thought, culture, and politics.

2. Purpose of the Workshop

The aim of our proposed Workshop is to bring together scholars from different disciplines and backgrounds for a dialogue on Early Chinese Philosophy between different areas of knowledge. Our guiding interest will be in the relationship between philosophy and the historical and socio- political environment that gave rise to its ideas. We need to understand better whether or not we should interpret these philosophical ideas in relation to their contexts, and how a truly interdisciplinary approach might be conducive to our understanding of early Chinese thought.

Through collaborative and interdisciplinary discussion, we hope to create a space among different disciplines in which to rethink the field of Early Chinese Philosophy in its essence of “philosophy of the past”—not only qua philosophy, but also, and perhaps more importantly, qua past. We want to challenge the current academic discipline of Early Chinese Philosophy through a more contextual and intertextual approach that is inspired by the interdisciplinary nature of Early China Studies. This approach does not exclude comparative philosophy and cross-cultural analysis but aims to explore Early Chinese Philosophy on its own historical and cultural terms, and in its own categories, vocabulary, and discourse. We hold that this philosophy must first be reconceptualized as embedded before it can be compared more aptly and effectively.


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