A Stick Which may be Grabbed on Either Side: Sino-Hellenic Studies in the Mirror of Comparative Philosophy

Abstract

Recently, Jeremy Tanner has published a highly informative review article in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, in which he introduces and advertises “Sino-Hellenic Studies” as a new and upcoming subfield in academic inquiry. Tanner particularly focuses on what he terms “Sino-Hellenic comparative philosophy,” while developing his perspective clearly from within contemporary Classicists’ academic parameters. In this paper, I approach the matter precisely from the other end, i.e. from within contemporary comparative philosophy, distinguishing four different approaches in comparative philosophy, pointing out some pitfalls in comparison and offering a perhaps provocative conclusion by provincializing and politicizing “Sino-Hellenic Studies”. The paper not only seeks to supplement Tanner’s review, but also and more importantly to introduce some fundamental methodological problems to be dealt with in any comparative inquiry.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    “[…], Roman history has often been used as term of comparison with other conflicts and events in world history. Although quite interesting at times, such comparisons may leave room for strange inconsistencies as well. In this way, the British Empire is at times compared to Rome and at other times, with Carthage. Generally speaking, such comparisons are like a stick which may be grabbed by either end.” (trans. Simona Draghici)

  2. 2.

    “Comparing, that means first of all putting into perspective, and it must be insisted upon, that I be forgiven, by putting into perspective oneself.” (my translation)

  3. 3.

    Jeremy Tanner, “Ancient Greece, Early China: Sino-Hellenic Studies and Comparative Approaches to the Classical World: A Review Article” in Journal of Hellenic Studies 129 (2009): 105.

  4. 4.

    Jeremy Tanner, “Review of Fritz-Heiner Mutschler and Achim Mittag (eds.), Conceiving the Empire: China and Rome Compared, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, XX + 481 pp.” in International Journal of the Classical Tradition 18, no. 2 (2011): 303.

  5. 5.

    Alexander Jamieson Beecroft, “Review of Hyun Jin Kim, Ethnicity and Foreigners in Ancient Greece and China, London: Gerald Duckworth, 2009, VI + 217 pp.” in International Journal of the Classical Tradition 18, no. 4 (2011): 606.

  6. 6.

    David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Thinking from the Han: Self, Truth, and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998, xvii. The quote by Dewey is connected to the current subject and worthwhile to be given here at some length: “In any case, I think it shows a deplorable deadness of imagination to suppose that philosophy will indefinitely revolve within the scope of the problems and systems that two thousand years of European history have bequeathed to us. Seen in the long perspective of the future, the whole of western European history is a provincial episode. I do not expect to see in my day a genuine, as distinct from a forced and artificial, integration of thought. But a mind that is not too egotistically impatient can have faith that this unification will issue in its season. Meanwhile a chief task of those who call themselves philosophers is to help get rid of the useless lumber that blocks our highways of thought, and strive to make straight and open the paths that lead to the future.” (“From Absolutism to Experimentalism” [1930])

  7. 7.

    For a discussion of recent literature on comparison in contemporary comparative philosophy, see: Ralph Weber, “‘How to compare?’ – On the Methodological State of Comparative Philosophy’’ in Philosophy Compass (2013), forthcoming.

  8. 8.

    For a more detailed discussion of comparison and particularly the role of the tertium comparationis, see: Ralph Weber, “Comparative Philosophy and the tertium: Comparing what with what, and in what Respect?” in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy (2014), forthcoming.

  9. 9.

    Geoffrey E. R. Lloyd, Ancient Worlds, Modern Reflections: Philosophical Perspectives on Greek and Chinese Science and Culture, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004, 2. See also pp. 8–9.

  10. 10.

    Lloyd 2004, p. x. See also p. 87.

  11. 11.

    Lloyd 2004, 188.

  12. 12.

    David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Thinking Through Confucius, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987, 5, 8, 14 and passim.

  13. 13.

    Hall and Ames, 1987, 5 and 7.

  14. 14.

    Hall and Ames, 1987, 7; David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Anticipating China: Thinking Through the Narratives of Chinese and Western Culture, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995, 155; Hall and Ames 1998, xi; Roger T. Ames, “Indigenizing globalization and the hydraulics of culture: taking Chinese philosophy on its own terms” in Globalizations 1, no. 2 (2004): 175.

  15. 15.

    François Jullien, Détour et l‘accès: Stratégies du sens en Chine, en Grèce, Paris: Grasset, 1995, 8.

  16. 16.

    My use of the notion of “pseudo-Foucauldian” requires justification. Although the term “heterotopy” is mentioned in only two of Foucault’s texts (Preface of Les Mots et les Choses and “Des Espaces Autres”) and notoriously ill-defined, Jullien’s reconfiguring of China as a heterotopy is departing from Foucault in important regards. First, Foucault is very clear that heterotopias are located within a society (his examples being rest homes, prisons, American motel rooms, fairgrounds, brothels, etc.), and not “elsewhere” in the sense in which Jullien invokes the term as also geographically elsewhere – if this is what he does. For it would still be possible that China in Jullien’s writings figures as a sort of discursive heterotopy in the manner perhaps suggested by Foucault’s discussion of Borges’ Chinese encyclopedia. But that would relegate China completely into the “imaginary realm” of a mirror image that has no connection to the China as a “real place”. So, Jullien’s options come down to either invoking China as a heterotopy as a real place that is not within the society to which it is the other or as a heterotopy that is a mirror (bordering on utopia) for the society to which it is the other but that is no longer a real place. Besides, many interpreters of Foucault understand the more extensive discussion of heterotopias in “Des Espaces Autres” as clarifying the question whether there might be also discursive heterotopias besides material heterotopias. In that essay, Foucault is explicit that heterotopias are “real places”. See: Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences, New York: Vintage Books, 1994, xviii; Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces” in diacritics: a review of contemporary criticism 16, no. 1 (1986): 22–27; Peter Johnson, “Unravelling Foucault’s ‘different spaces’” in History of the Human Sciences 19, no. 4 (2006): 75–90; Françoise Gaillard, “Du danger du penser” in Jean Allouch, Alain Badiou et al., Oser construire: Pour François Jullien, Paris: Le Seuil, 2007, 14.

  17. 17.

    Jullien, 10.

  18. 18.

    Tanner, 2009, 95.

  19. 19.

    Tanner, 2009, 99. See: Robert Wardy, Aristotle in China: Language, Categories and Translation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

  20. 20.

    Tanner, 2009, 97.

  21. 21.

    Cf. François Jullien, Fonder la morale: Dialogue de Mencius avec un philosophe des Lumières, Paris: Grasset, 1995.

  22. 22.

    Lloyd 2004, 79.

  23. 23.

    Hall and Ames 1998, xvii; Roger T. Ames, Confucian Role Ethics: A Vocabulary, Hongkong: The Chinese University Press and Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011, 20ff.

  24. 24.

    Reg Little, “When Civilizations Compete: A Review of Steven Shankman & Stephen W. Durrant (eds), Early China/Ancient Greece: Thinking Through Comparisons (N.Y., State University of New York Press, 2002)”, in The Culture Mandala 6, no. 1 (2003), online.

  25. 25.

    An insightful discussion of Classical Studies emphasizing political subtext is: Michael Lambert, The Classics and South African Identities, London: Duckworth Publishers, 2011.

  26. 26.

    Hall and Ames 1998, xi.

  27. 27.

    Ames 2011, 4.

  28. 28.

    Jullien 1995, 8.

  29. 29.

    Tanner, 2009, 105.

  30. 30.

    Thierry Meynard, “Review of François Jullien, A Treatise on Efficacy: Between Western and Chinese Thinking. Translated by Janet Lloyd. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004, x + 202 pages and Du Xiaozhen 杜小真, To Go Afar and Return: Dialogue between Greece and China遠去與歸來:希臘與中國的對話, Beijing: Zhongguo Renmin Daxue Chubanshe, 2004, 3 + 99 pages” in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 7, no. 2 (2008): 219.

  31. 31.

    Cf. Jürgen Habermas, “Israel or Athens: Where does Anamnestic Reason Belong?”, in Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God and Modernity, Boston: The MIT Press, 2002, 129–138; Jürgen Habermas, Nachmetaphysisches Denken: Philosophische Aufsätze, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1988, 23: “So glaube ich nicht, dass wir als Europäer Begriffe wie Moralität und Sittlichkeit, Person und Individualität, Freiheit und Emanzipation – die uns vielleicht noch näher am Herzen liegen als der um die kathartische Anschauung von Ideen kreisende Begriffsschatz des platonischen Ordnungsdenkens – ernstlich verstehen können, ohne uns die Substanz des heilsgeschichtlichen Denkens jüdisch-christlicher Herkunft anzueignen.” [engl.: Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays, Boston: The MIT Press, 1994, 15: “I do not believe that we, Europeans, can seriously understand concepts like morality and ethical life, person individuality, or freedom and emancipation, without appropriating the substance of the Judeo-Christian understanding of history in terms of salvation. And these concepts are, perhaps, nearer to our hearts than the conceptual resources of Platonic thought, centring on order and revolving around the cathartic intuition of ideas.”]

  32. 32.

    Meynard 2008, 219.

  33. 33.

    Zhou Lian, “The Most Fashionable and the Most Recent: A Review of Contemporary Chinese Political Philosophy” in Diogenes 56, no. 221 (2009): 129–131.

  34. 34.

    Zhou 2009, 130.

  35. 35.

    Zhou 2009, 129.

  36. 36.

    To be sure, the contention seems timely. Those identifying with the new and upcoming sub-field of Sino-Hellenic Studies are challenged to find appropriate answers as personal and institutional contacts between the two provinces of learning continue to intensify. That the process of engaging the problematique is well under way is demonstrated by an international conference on the topic of “The Western Classics in Modern China”, organized by the University of Chicago Center in Beijing and held there in April 2012. That the contention has been recognized is evident from a panel to be held at the 145th Annual Meeting of the American Philological Association in 2013. The panel, co-organized by Shadi Bartsch and Walter Scheidel, is entitled “Classics and Reaction: Modern China Confronts the Ancient West”. In the synopsis of the panel, Liu Xiaofeng is explicitly mentioned as a “controversial Chinese scholar” and a series of important questions are raised, among which feature the following two: “Why has Straussian interpretation developed such a high profile? What is the connection between the Western classics and the resurgence in Chinese?”

References

  1. Ames, Roger T., “Indigenizing globalization and the hydraulics of culture: taking Chinese philosophy on its own terms” in Globalizations 1, no. 2 (2004): 171–180.

  2. Ames, Roger T., Confucian Role Ethics: A Vocabulary, Hongkong: The Chinese University Press and Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011.

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  4. Foucault, Michel, “Of Other Spaces” in diacritics: a review of contemporary criticism 16, no. 1 (1986): 22–27.

  5. Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences, New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

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  17. Lloyd, Geoffrey E. R., Ancient Worlds, Modern Reflections: Philosophical Perspectives on Greek and Chinese Science and Culture, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004.

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  22. Weber, Ralph, “‘How to Compare?’–On the Methodological State of Comparative Philosophy’’ in Philosophy Compass, 2013.

  23. Weber, Ralph, “Comparative Philosophy and the Tertium: Comparing What with What, and in What Respect?” in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 2014.

  24. Zhou, Lian, “The Most Fashionable and the Most Recent: A Review of Contemporary Chinese Political Philosophy” in Diogenes 56, no. 221 (2009): 128–137.

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Acknowledgements

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Pacific Meeting of the American Philosophical Association in Seattle, 2012, and has profited from comments and criticism received from co-panelists and the audience. Particularly, I should like to thank Lisa Raphals, Loy Hui-chieh, and Wolfgang Behr. I am also much indebted to two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and mindful warnings where my argument proved less solid than my rhetoric suggested.

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Weber, R. A Stick Which may be Grabbed on Either Side: Sino-Hellenic Studies in the Mirror of Comparative Philosophy. Int class trad 20, 1–14 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12138-013-0318-7

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Keywords

  • Sino-Hellenic Studies
  • Comparative philosophy
  • Pitfalls of comparison
  • Jeremy Tanner