Aristotle in China: Language, Categories, and Translation

Aristotle in China: Language, Categories, and Translation

Aristotle in China: Language, Categories, and Translation

Aristotle in China: Language, Categories, and Translation

Synopsis

In this book, Robert Wardy, a philosopher and classicist, turns his attention to the relation between language and thought. He explores this huge topic in an analysis of linguistic relativism, with specific reference to a reading of the ming li t'an ('The Investigation of the Theory of Names'), a seventeenth-century Chinese translation of Aristotle's Categories. Throughout his investigation, Wardy addresses important questions. Do the basis structures of language shape the major thought-patterns of its native speakers? Could philosophy be guided and constrained by the language in which it is done? What factors, from grammar and logic to cultural and religious expectations, influence translation? And does Aristotle survive rendition into Chinese intact? His answers will fascinate philosphers, Sinologists, classicists, linguists and anthropologists, and will make a major contribution to the existing literature.

Excerpt

Aristotle in China is about the relation between language and thought. That is, of course, a topic of absurdly ambitious scope: it is only slightly less absurd to say that it concerns the particular question of the relation between language and philosophical thought, or even the relation between the Chinese language and Chinese logic. Perhaps readers will concede at the outset that my decision to explore these huge issues through reading Aristotle's Categories in Chinese is mere wilful circuitousness, rather than outright absurdity; and I trust that, if they persevere, they will discover that indirection has its compensations.

Chapter 1 introduces, defines and dissects varieties of linguistic relativism, with specific reference to the China question. Chapter 2 is entirely devoted to a reading of the (ming li t'an), 'The Investigation of the Theory of Names', a seventeenthcentury translation of Aristotle's Categories into Chinese; indeed, one of my goals is to reanimate an ancient tradition, both Chinese and Western, by producing a sort of metacommentary. in principle, philosophers could read chapter 1 and dispense with chapter 2; and Sinologists could study chapter 2 and avoid philosophy: but of course my intention is to address philosophers, classicists, Sinologists, linguists, anthropologists and devotees of missionary studies throughout. the inevitable consequence of this interdisciplinary brief is that I am bound to be guilty of howlers philosophical, linguistic, historical and anthropological; I can only humbly confess my limitations and beg the indulgence of those willing to look further than their immediate academic horizons. I have taken measures to make it possible, I trust in more than principle, for scholars from diverse backgrounds to take advantage of my research. All Greek, Latin and Chinese is translated (although readers will have to cope with citations from the secondary literature in modern European languages; and both Japanese and modern Chinese are beyond me). in chapter 2 I err on the side of generous citation because copies of both the Latin original and its Chinese translation are extremely rare, even in major libraries. Since I quote extensively from the Chinese, I do not always transliterate; but I Romanise (using the Wade—Giles system) whenever a graph or set of graphs is discussed.

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