Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China

Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China

Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China

Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China

Synopsis

"A history of Chinese philosophy in the so-called Axial Period (the period of classical Greek and Indian philosophy), during which time China evolved the characteristic ways of thought that sustained both its empire and its culture for over 2000 years. It is comprehensive, lucid, almost simple in its presentation, yet backed up with incomparable authority amid a well-honed discretion that unerringly picks out the core of any theme. Garlanded with tributes even before publication, it has redrawn the map of its subject and will be the one essential guide for any future exploration. For anyone interested in the affinities between ancient Chinese and modern Western philosophy, there is no better introduction."
- Contemporary Review

Excerpt

This is a general history of Chinese philosophy in the classical age (500-200 B.C.) which takes advantage of the progress of textual, grammatical and exegetical studies over the last few decades. Its theme is as much how the sages thought as what they thought, with the focus on debate between rival schools. We now know that there is much more rational discourse in the literature than used to be supposed, especially since scholars ceased to be deterred by textual problems from taking full account of the Later Mohist corpus. But just as much attention will be given to the analysis of modes of thinking at the opposite extreme from Western rationality, to the aphorisms of Lao-tzu, the correlations of Yin- Yang cosmology and the divinatory system of the Yi. Direct quotation will sometimes exceed exposition, to avoid that dangerous detachment of 'thoughts' from thinking and saying which leaves little behind but labels and slogans, 'universal love' (Mo-tzu), 'Human nature is good' (Mencius), 'Human nature is bad' (Hsün-tzu).

The major histories of Chinese philosophy available in English earlier in this century came from Chinese stimulated to re-examine their tradition by influences from the West, by Pragmatism (Hu Shih) and Neo-Realism (Fung Yu-lan). In recent years the most original proposals have come from the borders between Western sinology and professional philosophy, for example from the philosopher Herbert Fingarette in Confucius: The Secular as Sacred, and the sinologist Roger Ames and philosopher David Hall in Thinking Through Confucius. We, like the Chinese, fully engage with the thought only when we relate it to our own problems. I shall not scruple to ride a couple of hobby-horses of my own: the impossibility of fully disengaging analytic from correlative thinking, and a 'quasi-syllogism' useful for interpreting Chinese thought which has also altered my perspective on Western moral philosophy--not because I suppose that the understanding of Chinese philosophy depends on swallowing my own, but because it does depend on philosophising for oneself. Taking Chinese thought seriously is not simply a matter of acknowledging the rationality of some of it (and perhaps denying the name 'philosophy' to the rest), nor of discovering something valuable to oneself in the poetry of . . .

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