Warp, Weft, and Way

A Group Blog of Chinese and Comparative Philosophy

The Non-Sequitur of Epistemological Nativism

I have recently finished a draft review for The China Journal of John Makeham, ed., Learning to Emulate the Wise: The Genesis of Chinese Philosophy as an Academic Discipline in Twentieth-Century China. I thought that one paragraph from my review might be of general interest and worth discussing here. Let me know what you think!

…Criticism of “Chinese philosophy” continues today. A main theme of Makeham’s Epilogue is the increasing strength in both Anglophone and Sinophone China studies of what he calls the “inner logic paradigm,” which stresses “the continued agency and relevance of the past in the present” (p. 361). Makeham then connects this to recent arguments that contemporary discussion of Chinese thinking should draw exclusively upon native sources and categories, which he calls “epistemological nativism” (p. 364). It is important to emphasize, perhaps to a greater degree than Makeham himself does, that the move from “inner logic” to epistemological nativism is a non-sequitur. Even if we imagine that Chinese thought had always developed in complete isolation from other traditions of thought, that still does not give us a reason to think that this should remain the case going forward. Only if one argues that Chinese thought does not have general or universal scope—that it is only a kind of local practice that is parochially limited to the Chinese—can one justify epistemological nativism. On top of this, there is the further point that Makeham and others in the volume vividly illustrate, namely that Chinese thought in the twentieth century manifestly does not develop in isolation, so the nativists must further believe that Chinese traditions can somehow be extricated from a century of cross-pollination….

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September 2, 2012 - Posted by | Book Review, Comparative philosophy, Modern Chinese Philosophy, Philosophy in China

30 Comments »

  1. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t say much, but in defense of the methodological choice that is evidently being stigmatized here, I’ll say that when I read about democracy in Mencius, or agape in Mozi, or the latest article on Heidegger and Daoism, I think a little bit of epistemological nativism might not be such a bad thing.

    Also, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that natives are not necessarily nativists. Mou Zongsan had more to say about Kant than I will in a hundred lifetimes, just as there were, at one time, more committed Leninists in China than the rest of the world combined.

    Comment by Paul R. Goldin | September 2, 2012 | Reply

    • (Apologies to Paul — this comment was posted earlier but was held up by the Spam robot for some reason. -Manyul)

      Comment by Manyul Im | September 3, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Paul, point taken about Mencius and democracy &c. The absurdity of a radical extreme is no excuse for erring in the opposite direction!

      Comment by Bill Haines | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  2. I’d say that we require a methodology in which we *primarily* compare traditions whole-to-whole, but which does not segregate them entirely, that permits not only dialogue between total worldviews, but also judicious appropriation of concepts belonging to a different set, or reinterpretation of concepts internal to the set “in light of” the possibilities exhibited among the elements of another set. One has to recognize the primary relationship of the concept to the other members of its set, but also that meaning is not *solely* diacritical. There is no scenario in which traditions are not exposed to an exterior; nor would any subsumption of diverse traditions be possible by anything that looked remotely like a tradition itself (i.e., that would not be radically emptily-formal).

    Comment by henadology | September 2, 2012 | Reply

  3. From this

    Premise: The past acts on and is relevant to the present.

    it is a non sequitur to infer this

    Conclusion: “Contemporary discussion of Chinese thinking should draw exclusively upon native sources and categories.”

    The Premise as articulated here is almost vanishingly weak, so that virtually any inference from it would be a non sequitur. There is no prima facie appearance that the Premise supports the Conclusion. But I suppose you didn’t really mean the reader to think you had articulated the Premise, Steve; you just meant to point to the premise by allusion (to material I haven’t read), and I have mis-articulated it above. Can you articulate it for us here?

    The Conclusion as articulated here – – on the merits it looks so loony that even I am inclined to think no criticism of it can be worthwhile. (In these very halls I think we have recently seen someone grant such a criticism enthusiastically and then ignore it completely a day or two later.) But if in fact the Conclusion is accepted by a significant number of serious or influential people, then indeed one should wade right in and argue. (In what forum?)

    Comment by Bill Haines | September 2, 2012 | Reply

  4. Even if we imagine that Chinese thought had always developed in complete isolation from other traditions of thought, that still does not give us a reason to think that this should remain the case going forward.

    Is that relevant? The “Conclusion” as presented above seems to be about, not how Chinese thought is to be conducted, but rather about how it is to be discussed (by anyone). If China were a distant planet that you and I could observe and discuss but not communicate with, or if we were engaged in interpreting pre-Qin thought, which of course we cannot influence — the Conclusion would tell us to use only Chinese ideas. That’s consistent with the claim that Chinese thought should engage with all the alien ideas it can.

    Only if one argues that Chinese thought does not have general or universal scope—that it is only a kind of local practice that is parochially limited to the Chinese—can one justify epistemological nativism

    This is OK because “only if” doesn’t imply “if.” But I don’t see why when you and I discuss local Chinese matters we should use only Chinese ideas. What would be the reason?

    Comment by Bill Haines | September 2, 2012 | Reply

  5. I admit to being surprised that at this point in time anyone could seriously put forward something like “epistemological nativism.” Even the attempt to conceptualize matters this way draws upon concepts and categories from outside Chinese worldviews proper.

    Comment by Patrick S. O'Donnell | September 2, 2012 | Reply

  6. (In other words, there’s nothing I’m aware of within Chinese worldviews that makes ‘nativist’ epistemic claims.)

    Comment by Patrick S. O'Donnell | September 2, 2012 | Reply

  7. Apologies for not responding yesterday; I managed to “fix” a minor issue with my kitchen faucet in such a fashion that it was uncontrollably leaking, which led to all manner of consternation. Oh well.

    Bill, I think the connection between “inner logic” and “epistemological nativism” isn’t as obscure as you’re making it out to be: it’s more like this:

    IL: The factors actually responsible for the development of Chinese thought have been “inner,” rather than being to a significant degree reactive to outer stimuli (as the old fashion “Western impact” model held).

    EN: The continued development of Chinese thought will, or should, be responsive only to inner factors.

    Something like that. There are a variety of reasons why this is attractive to some folks in China; in addition to the alleged connection with “inner logic,” Makeham also lists: “the indigenization trend in a number of social sciences, the rise of National Studies since the mid 1990s, and a growing cultural nationalism evident in many parts of the Chinese academy” (364).

    Comment by Steve Angle | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  8. Thanks Steve. If I understand you, you’re saying that in the draft’s account of Premise and Conclusion,

    P

    “the continued agency and relevance of the past in the present”
    should be understood to mean:
    “the insignificant agency and relevance of the foreign (in Chinese thought even today).”

    That is, it’s not a point about the past v. the present.
    And it’s not a general point; it’s about China in particular.

    and

    C

    “Contemporary discussion of Chinese thinking should draw exclusively upon native sources and categories”
    should be understood to mean:
    “Contemporary Chinese thinking should draw exclusively upon native sources and categories.”

    That is, it has nothing to do with how Americans should discuss the Analects (among themselves).

    *

    Is that it?

    Or is the Premise you have in mind even more specific (as the phrase “inner logic” might suggest): is it the idea that the development of Chinese thought is implicit in what is very past, so that even a hundred generations hence can be predicted on that basis?

    Your “non-sequitur” challenge as you lately express it looks like its central idea might be “is doesn’t imply ought here.” But is the “inner logic” view just a matter of “is”? The term “inner logic” may suggest not merely inner mechanism, but also norms for thinking.

    Comment by Bill Haines | September 3, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks: I think this clarifies things nicely, at least as far as the core argument that Makeham is imputing goes. As for how things should go for Americans (etc.), I suppose that proponents of this type of argument might agree that what Americans say “among themselves” is of no concern, but insofar as we are talking to one another, things get more complicated.

      As for your last point, I’m pretty sure what Makeham would say (and I would agree) would be that there are two distinct problems. One is that it’s empirically false that Chinese thought has developed purely based on native categories. That’s a major theme of the book. Two, even to the extent that there are norms for thinking in the inner logic (which, indeed, there are), they don’t assert that norms for thinking can’t evolve in any way.

      Finally, sort of apropos this conversation, take a look at the new article (from Asian Philosophy) “There is No Need for Zhongguo Zhexue to be Philosophy,” by Ouyang Min. Here’s the abstract:

      In this paper, I shall argue that philosophy proper is a Western cultural practice and cannot refer to traditional Chinese thinking unless in an analogical or metaphorical sense. Likewise, the Chinese idiom ‘Zhongguo zhexue’ has evolved its independent cultural meaning and has no need to be considered as philosophy in the Western academic sense. For the purpose of elucidating the culturally autonomous status of Zhongguo zhexue, as well as the possible counterparts of Western philosophy in other cultures, I contend that Davidsonian anomalous monism may provide a proper explanatory framework for the intercultural relationships between different ‘sophias’ from various traditions. As for the equivocal English term ‘Chinese philosophy’, I suggest replacing it with a more precise new word: ‘sinosophy’.

      Comment by Steve Angle | September 4, 2012 | Reply

      • Re: the new article by Ouyang Min

        When it comes to classical Chinese thought, I can’t see we cannot conceive of it as philosophy in a transcultural sense, particularly if we conceptualize that philosophy along the lines of “a complete way of life,” much like the “pursuits of wisdom” (‘different sophias’) and “therapies of desire” (Pierre Hadot, Martha Nussbaum, John Cooper) in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy: from Plato and Aristotle through the Epicureans, Stoicism, neo-Platonists, and Roman Stoics. Moreover, it does justice as well to Indic worldviews: the “orthodox” Indic philosophies, Jainism and Buddhism. This, to be sure, is not “philosophy in the Western academic sense.” Of course I’ve not read the article, but there’s no little irony in proposing to invoke a provocative but no less arguable philosophy of mind-body theory from contemporary academic philosophy in the West as a “proper explanatory framework for the intercultural relationships between different ‘sophias’ from various traditions.” We might, with Daniel Hutto (edited and paraphrased here), ask the Davidsonian: If on the one hand, the world is nothing but the world described by an ideal physics, how can consciousness be a genuine phenomena? On the other hand, if we reject the claim that the world in exension can be properly described by any one (scientific) discourse, then what is “physicalist” about the token identity thesis?

        Comment by Patrick S. O'Donnell | September 4, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks Steve! On your two replies to my “inner logic” point:

      First, I don’t think the falsehood or even wild implausibility of the Premise is relevant to the question whether the Premise implies the Conclusion (except perhaps to show that the question is unimportant – but the draft paragraph insists that the question is important…).

      Second, I expressed my point about “inner logic” poorly. I’ll try again:

      In the phrase “inner logic” I guess “logic” refers metaphorically to the form of development as reflecting some sort of principles or felt needs. And I want to distinguish between two versions of that vision: one sees the “logic” as mere causal/predictive laws, the mechanisms of change. The other sees the “logic” as felt needs, as something like a compelling train of thought by the culture over time. One form of culture solves some problems and then generates new ones, to solve which one must move in certain directions. Thus my phrase “norms for thinking” was ill-chosen, because it suggested sets of general norms for thinking recognized at any given moment – synchronically, so to speak. I had in mind the thinking that is or animates the development.

      Comment by Bill Haines | September 4, 2012 | Reply

  9. I had a daydream once in which I wrote a Chinese political treatise under a Chinese pseudonym and totally foreign proposals with an exterior appearance of Chinese connection, later catching on in all Sinophone nations’ intellectual circles. I think that, insofar as this kind of process is feasible, that one could reasonably trick people into thinking that a relevant discourse came from within their own ranks, the epistemological nativism above will never hold water.

    My second anecdote concerns my mother’s own Ph.D. thesis, in which she and another black Ph.D. candidate wrote a thesis which dealt with comparing elements of blacks and whites in certain business atmospheres. During the Q&A session, a black member of the panel congratulated the black Ph.D. candidate for her insights into said aspects of black culture, to which the black Ph.D. candidate said something to the effect: “You racist! What makes you think that I wrote that half of the Ph.D.?” My mother, white, had written that part.

    These imply for me that, whatever the motivations in or outside China for these nativistic stances, such nativisms are severely misguided.

    Comment by Joshua Harwood | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  10. This is a very interesting discussion that points directly towards a basic problem, namely the question how people who write about the Chinese tradition of texts define themselves. I tend to believe that texts like the “Laozi”, the “Analects”, or the “Mencius” challenge a philosophical methodology that is based on the idea of the giving of reasons (logon didonai) typical for the Socratic dialectic and for much of Western philosophy in general. In other words, the authors of these texts and their later commentaries were never interested in achieving the kind of “universality” (truth as universally accepted opinion or, even more demanding, as based on ideas) that Socrates, Plato, etc. were aiming at (François Jullien has written a couple of illuminating lines on this issue). “Only if one argues that Chinese thought”, Steve writes, “does not have general or universal scope—that it is only a kind of local practice that is parochially limited to the Chinese—can one justify epistemological nativism.” But at least in my understanding, quite a few contemporary Chinese thinkers (including Mou Zongsan) actually make this case. Admittedly, Mou sometimes suggests a more universal meaning, wanting to reaching out to the West, etc. But read more carefully, his whole argument is historicist and contextual in nature, I would claim, i.e. he constantly argues against the spectatorial/theoretical perspective and favors the perspective of the self embedded in particular contexts. In other words, he deconstructs the universal scope of reason by the means of particular, concrete existence. Of course, many twentieth century philosophers in the West have made similar claims (remember Wittgenstein’s famous statement about the “forms of life” or Heidegger’s essentially historicistic argument against reason). Thus I am not so sure that we can counter this challenge by the appeal to simple logical rules (the “non-sequitur” thesis)??!

    Comment by Kai Marchal | September 3, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks, Kai! Here’s a brief and perhaps unsatisfactory reply. I believe that Mou holds there to be a difference between universally statable theoretical truths, and the kind of moral (or aesthetic) truth that one experiences in particular situations. He discusses this in the first couple chapters of the Nineteen Lectures, among other places. Notwithstanding this difference, he believes that the latter are truths, and that it is possible to grasp them across cultures, given the right circumstances. Furthermore, I believe that his analysis of the human moral, ontological, and spiritual situation is meant to apply to everyone, not just to Chinese, and not just to Confucian believers. What do you think?

      Comment by Steve Angle | September 4, 2012 | Reply

      • Thanks, Steve, for your repy! Maybe may earlier statement was too one-sided – I have read the Nineteen Lectures a long time ago, but don’t remember much. My statement was mostly based on the Xinti yu xingti, that is on Mou’s interpretation of Neo-Confucianism. Concerning your last claim (that sounds very strong to me), I will need some time to think (maybe we read him from two very different angles)…

        Comment by Kai Marchal | September 4, 2012 | Reply

      • One important objection that comes to my mind immediately: what to do about the crucial role that Heidegger has played in the development of Mou’s Kantianism? For Heidegger’s thought certainly does not allow stronger versions of universalism.

        Comment by Kai Marchal | September 4, 2012 | Reply

        • (I saw this after posting my “A little more…” comment below) Fair enough, and maybe my phrase above “meant to apply to everyone” is indeed too strong. I don’t mean to be saying that Mou’s view is that there is a one-size-fits-all philosophy that applies equally and completely to everyone. (I.e., That we should all become Confucians.) My claim is that he does believe (1) that one can speak across cultural divides, and (2) that the claims he is making should resonate with and influence those enmeshed in non-Chinese traditions. Is that adequately consistent with your Heidegger point?

          Comment by Steve Angle | September 4, 2012 | Reply

          • More and more I believe that it is not easy to discuss Mou Zongsan’s thought in a too removed way. So it might be better to discuss about specific passages. The two points you make are probably right – although I wonder whether you have any specific passages in mind that could prove your claims? One problem I have with strong claims about Mou Zongsan – in the sense that Mou’s thought, resp. Chinese thought indeed HAS a universal scope – is that I don’t see where to ground this idea of universality.

            To be more specific, Mou constantly argues against rules and public procedures (in his exegesis of Kant), also the core of his system, the idea of “intellectual intuition”, cannot be proved by public and therefore more accessible procedures (f.ex. logical proofs, scientific evidence, dialogical reasoning, etc.), but merely relies on the necessarily private insights that we can obtain as a practical, existentially involved agent (and not as spectator). I do think that this comes out very clearly in Sebastien Billioud’s monograph. See for example this paradigmatic passage in his book about the notion ti 體, resp. xinti 心體)(this is just Billioud’s resumee, but I’m sure we could find countless passages in Chinese making this point): “… mentioning a constitutive heart/mind (xinti) actually emphasizes its reality/existence and simultaneously alludes to the fact that it is to be actualized in a very concrete way, for example, through emotions or intentions (emotions and intentions that would, in this case, constitute the yong)” (Billioud, Thinking Through Confucian Modernity, Brill, 2011, p. 30). Formulas like “reality/existence”, “to be actualized in a very concrete way” gesture towards an agent that I can only describe as “existential” – the kind of agent we find in Kierkegaard’s or Heidegger’s writings (the contingent, factual, individual self, what Heidegger dubs the “mine-ness”/Jemeinigkeit).

            Than, what about Mou’s countless (Buddhist/Daoist) paradoxes, for example this one (again, in Billioud’s language): “The heart/mind, which is being manifested through gongfu, is then both concrete and universal, and the subjective acquires at the same time an objective dimension” (ibid, p. 43). This is a very particular, probably even religious way of describing selfhood. So what to do about this, if we consider the secular space of modern reason a necessary condition of universality? (but this might still be a very rough way of talking about these things…)

            Comment by Kai Marchal | September 7, 2012 | Reply

          • Hi Kai — yes, I agree that it is easy to get too vague and abstract; and indeed, sometimes quite hard to be specific and textually-grounded with Mou! But I believe I have a good passage for you to consider. I would say that all you say here about a resistance to “public procedures” as regards morality is true (of course, politics is a very different matter, thanks to self-restriction, but that is a different issue). I also agree with what you say here vis-a-vis Mou and Heidegger. However, Mou still believed that the kinds of moral “truths” on which Confucianism focuses were indeed “truths” and were (potentially) universal and common. Much of Lecture Two of the Nineteen Lectures speaks to this general issue. but the crux can be found in the paragraph beginning near the end of p. 39 of the Xuesheng Shuju edition. He says that for both “extensional” truth (more central, he says, in the West, of which scientific truth is the paradigm) AND for “intensional truth (内容真理),” which is more commonly focused upon in Chinese thought, although the “aperture” through which it is expressed is particular (to a given language, culture, etc.), “once you express truth through an aperture, this truth will have commonality (共同性) and universality (普遍性).” He explicitly says that even if Westerners have not encountered it before, “once your life touches upon the problem, you will have to manifest it in this way, for no other way is possible” (as felicitously rendered in Julie Wei’s unpublished translation). In fact he also acknowledges some Western discussion of intensional truth, and indeed draws on Hegel’s notion of concrete universal.

            Comment by Steve Angle | September 7, 2012 | Reply

            • Thanks, Steve, this is very helpful – I will try to read the Lectures this weekend…

              Comment by Kai Marchal | September 7, 2012 | Reply

      • A little more on the idea that Mou intended his ideas to “apply to everyone”: I certainly grant that crucial motivations for him included preserving the importance of Chinese cultural heritage for Chinese (as stressed, e.g., in Chan’s book on Mou), and also the committed Confucian’s effort to keep Confucianism alive (as stressed, e.g., in Clower’s book on Mou). But how are we to make sense of Mou’s claims about the insight of Chinese philosophy, vis-a-vis Kant and intellectual intuition? Aren’t these claims meant to have traction on non-Chinese in various ways?

        Comment by Steve Angle | September 4, 2012 | Reply

        • This discussion is getting complicated with the various directions going on and I hope I won’t make it more confusing by replying here. To support Steve’s comment about intellectual intuition, here’s a little extract from Phenomena and Things-in-Themselves (my translation):

          “When it [the original mind] is perfectly and completely presenced, the ‘flowing of the heavenly pattern,’ this is sagehood, or what Kant called the ‘holy will.’ However, this ‘holy will’ is also the fully real manifestation of the insightful ontological feelings that were originally present, and certainly does not mean the will only a sage has. Yao and Shun had it, and so do ordinary people. That Yao and Shun could be Yao and Shun was simply because they could manifest it. Ordinary people are ordinary people simply because they have not manifested it yet. ‘The mind, buddha, and sentient beings—there is no difference between these three.’ One could also say, ‘The mind, sage, and sentient beings—there is no difference between these three.’ ”

          Unless you want to take “ordinary people” as referring only to Chinese people, I think it has to be recognized that Mou thought everyone has the same original mind and everyone can have intellectual intuition that makes it manifest.

          It occurs to me that Mou could have or lack universality in two ways. 1) He might or might not think that everyone can have intellectual intuition and has the same fundamental moral feelings. 2) He might or might not present his views about 1) in such a way that can be recognized as justified by people who don’t follow Neo- or New Confucian standards about what acceptable justification is. It seems to me, Kai, that you’re really talking about 2), but that might have no bearing on 1). In other words, Mou could well be making universal claims about morality for all human beings (I rather think he was), but his way of justifying these claims will not constitute acceptable justification for Western (particularly analytic) philosophers. I’m not even so sure about that any more myself.

          Comment by David Elstein | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  11. Hi Kai. That’s a terrific comment – making me think deep. Here are some random tiny bubbles from shallow waters:

    This is a very interesting discussion that points directly towards a basic problem, namely the question how people who write about the Chinese tradition of texts define themselves.

    I’m not sure what you have in mind.

    I tend to believe that texts like the “Laozi”, the “Analects”, or the “Mencius” challenge a philosophical methodology that is based on the idea of the giving of reasons (logon didonai) typical for the Socratic dialectic and for much of Western philosophy in general.

    I’m inclined to think that’s right, even though Mencius did plenty of reason-giving (except that I think it may exaggerate the importance of giving reasons for Socrates and Plato at least).

    I’m not sure what it has to do with the next sentence.

    In other words, the authors of these texts and their later commentaries were never interested in achieving the kind of “universality” (truth as universally accepted opinion or, even more demanding, as based on ideas) that Socrates, Plato, etc. were aiming at (François Jullien has written a couple of illuminating lines on this issue).

    I’d love to hear the lines!

    (As I read him, Youzi in the first third of LY 1.13 is arguing against the approach at 11.22. Trustworthiness is like Rightness: one’s words can be repeated.)

    I’m very surprised at the idea that Socrates or Plato aimed at “truth as universally accepted opinion.”

    “Only if one argues that Chinese thought”, Steve writes, “does not have general or universal scope—that it is only a kind of local practice that is parochially limited to the Chinese—can one justify epistemological nativism.”

    I misread Steve’s statement earlier, thinking that it was talking only about a limited topic for the thought. I still can’t say I quite follow his line of thought.

    Mou … constantly argues against the spectatorial/theoretical perspective and favors the perspective of the self embedded in particular contexts.

    That looks to me like two roughly orthogonal distinctions: theoretical v. practical, and universal v. embedded.

    Is there a difference between (a) “someone embedded” and (b) “the self embedded”?

    More interestingly maybe: Is there a difference between (c) “the perspective of the self embedded in particular contexts” and (d) “the perspectives of selves [or: people] embedded in particular contexts”? Offhand formula (c) seems at war with itself. Do you and I share the perspective of the embedded self? Is Mou generalizing about all (d)?

    Well, I’m just expressing puzzlement. I can’t ask to explain to me the work of a complicated philosopher I haven’t bothered to read.

    …Thus I am not so sure that we can counter this challenge by the appeal to simple logical rules (the “non-sequitur” thesis)??!

    It seems to me offhand that the idea of one thing implying another (or not) is prior to simple logical rules. Logical rules are about formal inferences, and I think Steve wasn’t that the one view fails to imply the other formally.

    Comment by Bill Haines | September 3, 2012 | Reply

    • I meant – I think Steve’s point wasn’t that the one view fails to imply the other formally.

      Comment by Bill Haines | September 4, 2012 | Reply

  12. Hi Bill, thanks a lot for your analysis and your very thorough questions. Let me see where I can reply:
    (1) What I wanted to say is what is the self-definition of people who write about Chinese philosophy. A lot of people would say that we can’t be Daoists anymore today, since our world is very different from the world of Laozi. But maybe we can somehow modify the original Daoist position? But how? And by the means of what conceptual apparatus? etc. All these questions are related to the basic question of how we define ourselves. And I often think that sinologists should spend more time on this question.
    (2)Jullien in his seminal book “Detour et Acces”, esp. in chapters IX and X develops a lot of illuminating insights into this issue. Here one passage (in French, since I only owe a French copy): “Tandis que la parole de définition (in Greece, K.M.) tend a l’universalité comme à son aboutissement, la parole indicielle (in China, K.M.) en procède. Dans un cas, l’universalité constitue le but (son telos), dans l’autre, elle est la source. Globalité confucéenne ou généralité socratique; modulation, d’une part, et definition, de l’autre…” (French edition, Grasset 1995, p. 232).
    I wrote “truth as universally accepted opinion” in a rush. Maybe this is too bold. Better would have been: “critically accepted opinion”. The Socratic dialogue aims at universality by searching for universal definitions.
    (3) I wouldn’t say that there is a difference between “someone embedded” and “a self embedded”. All depends, of course, on how we understand the “self”…
    You write “Offhand formula (c) seems at war with itself”. I am not sure about the intention of your point.
    Finally, on your last point, I am not sure again about what you want to say. Steve himself merely spoke of a “non-sequitur”. You re-formulated his thesis into a set of premises and conclusion. I expressed my scepticism. Steve originally wrote the following: “Even if we imagine that Chinese thought had always developed in complete isolation from other traditions of thought, that still does not give us a reason to think that this should remain the case going forward.” This, I think, is true; what I wanted to emphasize is that there might be strong convictions in Mou’s (and other Chinese philosophers’) account that undermine the quest for universality. Your critique somehow reminded me of how Leo Strauss criticizes German historicism in “Natural Right and History”: “Historicism asserts that all human thoughts or beliefs are historical, and hence deservedly destined to perish; but historicism itself is a human thought; hence historicism can be of only temporary validity, or it canot be simply true.” (NRH, p. 25). But this might lead the discussion into another direction. More to the point: we easily think that it is possible to transcend particular contexts, whereas Chinese thinkers like Mou are perhaps forced to re-affirm these very contexts in their struggle to defend their own culture against Western intrusions.

    Comment by Kai Marchal | September 4, 2012 | Reply

    • Thank you, Kai.

      (1)

      Thanks for this. I’m not ready with a response.

      (2)

      As I don’t really read French, I’ll report my understanding of the Jullien passage in case I need correcting: “While the [Greek] discourse of definition tended to work toward universality, the [Chinese] indexical discourse tended to work toward process. In the one case, universality was the telos; in the other it was the source. Confucian globality, or Socratic generality: on the one hand modulation (adjustments of processes especially in respect of degrees), on the other definition.”

      I’m especially unsure whether I’ve understood “modulation.”

      The kind of universality that Plato’s character Socrates was famous for aiming at in asking “What is X?” was that the account of X should be an account that applies to all Xes, all instances of X – see e.g. the opening pages of the Meno. http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/meno.html

      It’s been many years, but I don’t recall any connection being mentioned in the dialogues between that universality of all Xes and a universality referring to acceptance by all people. Also the ideal city in the Republic depends pretty saliently on different views for different classes. (Plato’s ideal is a city, not a kind of individual. Granted, a city isn’t a world order.)

      I’m not sure where you locate an idea of universality in “aiming at … critically accepted opinion.” Do you mean, “aiming to produce a world where everyone does critically hold all the same opinions”? Or “aiming to produce an account such that any individual, if she herself were adequately critical, would accept it” (even if some people are incapable of that, or even if the only way to make it the case that some people are critical is to keep other people as uncritical workers)”?

      Either way, the idea that Socrates or Plato would identify “critically accepted opinion” with truth is surprising to me.

      If Plato’s Socrates were concerned about definitions of words, then he’d be concerned with general usage, and that’s sort of like a concern with general opinion (at least within one linguistic community). A search for “universal definitions” might involve surveying people, or (since people have difficulty describing their own usage) a kind of interrogative survey that might look like Socratic questioning. But I think Plato’s Socrates was concerned with “What is X?” and not with “What does ‘X’ mean?” – so that it’s potentially misleading to say that he was aiming at “definitions.” At least when I was an undergraduate, the anglophone fashion was to say that he was aiming at “accounts” (logoi).

      My Jullien says that for the Greek discourse of definition, universality was the aim; for the Confucian discourse, universality was the source. I don’t know what he has in mind for the latter point either. Mencius’ four origins, that sort of thing? My sense of the Confucian intellectual culture is that one looks to one’s ancestors, one’s father, one’s lord, one’s master.

      In the Meno, which likely reflects Plato more than Socrates, Socrates argues that the kind of knowledge he’s concerned with is available to everyone; everyone has the source of it. He shows this by eliciting a geometrical theorem from a slave boy simply by asking questions. Socrates’ theory of what’s going on here is that we’ve all seen the forms before we were born, and the right questions help us remember. Anyway that’s what he says.

      Confucius in the Analects seems to assert the universal value of the virtues he champions. Even among the barbarians …

      (3)

      You write “Offhand formula (c) seems at war with itself”. I am not sure about the intention of your point.

      The tension between embeddedness and universality, I would have thought, comes down to this: that embedded standpoints differ from each other. In other words, there is no such thing as (c) “the perspective of the self embedded in particular contexts,” unless (c) is just misleading shorthand for (d) “the perspectives of selves [or, better, people] embedded in particular contexts.” That was my point; but I’m likely to be misunderstanding what’s going on.

      (4a)

      Steve himself merely spoke of a “non-sequitur”. You re-formulated his thesis into a set of premises and conclusion.

      Steve spoke of a non sequitur. That’s Latin for “it doesn’t follow,” i.e. “this doesn’t follow from that (or those),” or in other words, “the putative conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise(s).” I think one can’t sensibly discuss whether there’s a non sequitur without being clear about what the premise(s) and putative conclusion are, what they say.

      I think the draft paragraph is very clear on the following two points: the premise is the “inner logic” view, and the conclusion is the “epistemological nativism” view. I had trouble seeing what these views actually are. I started by accepting the formulations near the beginning of Steve’s paragraph. So until Steve explained, it never occurred to me that the propositions articulated in the quote (“Even if we imagine …”) were supposed to be the premise and conclusion. I thought the later sentence was just making a sort-of-related argument.

      The rules of logic are not rules that say what strictly implies what in general. They’re rules about what strictly implies what in virtue of the formal (mechanical) structure of the propositions in question as given in certain representations of them.

      I can see how my use of the terms “premise” and “conclusion” could have suggested that I was thinking about strict logical implication rather than about whether P is a realistically adequate reason to think C. I think the latter is what’s at issue, but (except at the end of #8) that distinction hasn’t seemed important to me here. P and C just seemed too far apart.

      (4b)

      I don’t see what in what I said is analogous to Strauss’s argument.

      (4c)

      we easily think that it is possible to transcend particular contexts, whereas Chinese thinkers like Mou are perhaps forced to re-affirm these very contexts in their struggle to defend their own culture against Western intrusions.

      It’s not clear to me how this is in tension with something I said.

      (4d)

      Chinese thinkers like Mou are perhaps forced to re-affirm these very contexts in their struggle to defend their own culture against Western intrusions.

      I’m sorry that I don’t know enough about Mou and his cultural concerns to comment.

      Comment by Bill Haines | September 5, 2012 | Reply

  13. Hi, Bill: thanks a lot for your very sophisticated repy and your attempts to make sense of what I wrote in my previous statement. I needed some time to reflect upon these points (in the process, I came to realize that blog-writing is a very special medium of communication, in some way very direct and close to oral speech, in other ways quite removed, since we don’t have the chance to “talk” face to face).
    What I wanted to say is the following:
    (2) When I wrote of Socratic truth being something like “universally” or “critically accepted opinion” I was thinking of the Socratic dialectic. You are right in pointing out the vagueness of my words. Let me provide you with another brief attempt to be clear: the Socratic dialogue aims at searching for answers to the question “What is F?” Socratic definitions are better viewed as real than as nominal definitions, that is they don’t aim to articulate ordinary usage, but rather aim to specify what F-ness really is (in your words, not “meaning” or “general usage”, but “accounts”/logoi). Nevertheless, the Socratic dialogue starts with opinions (Socrates needs the interaction with his interlocutors in an important sense and wouldn’t be able to arrive at his “account” of what justice or courage is on his own). He talks to other people in order to detect inconsistencies in their opinions. In the process of talking to people, a correct definition will gradually take shape, a definition that specifies a form (eidos): the form of justice or courage (the form being the one thing in virtue of which all just things are just). The whole process is open, dialogical, but in an important sense aimed at a final goal (the correct definition). So it is not a question of acceptance of all people, as you rightly point out, but nevertheless Socrates wouldn’tbe able to achieve what he achieves without the help of the other who listens to him, brings forward his or her opinion, changes his or her opinion, etc.

    Now to Jullien: as you say, he thinks that for the Greek discourse universality was the aim, while for the Chinese discourse universality (or, more precisely, “globality”) was the source. The idea of “globality” is not easy to understand, but, I believe, it points toward the universal possibility of regulation (as Confucius makes clear in the Analects). But I think you should better read Jullien’s chapters, since the idea is quite complex. But one thing is sure: The Ancient Chinese (at least the Confucians) lacked the idea of the Socratic dialogue, but often turn inwards, to some insight into the true nature of the world, instead of exchanging ideas with others…

    (3) I am not sure what to say. I am still thinking…

    (4) Once again my general point: it might be impossible to achieve clarity in these things through the application of logical rules, since Contemporary thinkers like Mou, inspired by Daoist and Buddhist paradoxes, might not fit into these frameworks. Even wose: their position may actively undermine the belief in logical rules… But I am not sure about this any more. Things are quite complicated here. Maybe we should argue in detail about some specific passages…

    (4b) The idea is that there is an inherent contradiction in the historicist claim that all human thinking is historical and, therefore, only true under certain historical conditions.

    Comment by Kai Marchal | September 9, 2012 | Reply

  14. I did understand the Straussian argument, and clearly it’s an instance of a certain general kind of argument; but you seemed to be supposing that my #11 was making or at least alluding to some argument of that general kind. I don’t think I was doing anything like that; I don’t know where I would seem to be.

    I also don’t think my #11 was making any reference to logical rules. You seem still to suppose that I was making some special appeal to them; I don’t understand.

    *

    (Yes, to have a proper and decent discussion I should read the Jullien. Right now I can only apologize. In the meantime I can at least try to be a useful wall to bounce things off … You say Jullien proposes globality as the Confucian source or starting-point. But the passage you quoted seems to propose globality as the Confucian telos. I think I can understand that; it suggests a contrast between unity as similarity and unity as organization. Something like that. (So I replied that Plato was aiming at organization too, not just universals for individuals.) Conceivably Jullien’s idea is both: that Confucian thought was just the global modulating itself: internal problems in an organization/culture working themselves out, making adjustments. Sort of analogous to an individual interrogating herself for inconsistencies, or at least to what she does when she finds some …)

    *

    the Socratic dialogue starts with opinions (Socrates needs the interaction with his interlocutors in an important sense and wouldn’t be able to arrive at his “account” of what justice or courage is on his own). He talks to other people in order to detect inconsistencies in their opinions. In the process of talking to people, a correct definition will gradually take shape… Socrates wouldn’t be able to achieve [correct definition] without the help of the other who listens to him, brings forward his or her opinion, changes his or her opinion, etc. … But one thing is sure: The Ancient Chinese (at least the Confucians) lacked the idea of the Socratic dialogue, but often turn inwards, to some insight into the true nature of the world, instead of exchanging ideas with others…

    (I think this is you speaking and not just Jullien.) One might almost think the contrast here is between the Greeks as wholly social thinkers and the Chinese as (at least sometimes) individual thinkers.

    At first I was surprised by the idea that Socrates needs the others, consistent with the view that his aim is to find true accounts of certain things (or to arrive at knowledge of those things). One wonders on what grounds he could think that people working together in this way can arrive at the truth (or knowledge), while an individual can’t. A different view seems easier to swallow: that working together is merely more efficient, as suggested by the little display-dialogue with the slave boy in the Meno.

    An impressive piece of recent scholarship – one of the ten best philosophy papers of 2007, according to one careful panel – holds that Socrates’ elenchos was meant to challenge the idea that we can have moral knowledge (which would require accounts); instead we have true opinion divinely inspired, either directly from a god or indirectly through other people. (Paper freely available from Vol. 27 here: http://www.philosophersannual.org .) That’s by Michael Forster, better known as a scholar of Kant and other German philosophers.

    Of course, what Socrates actually thought is one thing (probably reflected in Plato’s earliest dialogues); what Plato’s Socrates thought in middle or middlish dialogues such as the Meno is another thing. What the Socratic method has meant as an ideal in the Western tradition is a third thing, and is probably the important thing here. I don’t think the questioner’s ignorance is an important part of this third thing.

    Among the points I tried to make plain to my undergraduate students when I was a teacher were: that (a) the questioning of each other that we do is a technique one can and should internalize, interrogating oneself; and that (b) as a positive epistemological method it absolutely depends on the idea that we have some other access to the truth, such as an intuitive sensibility about the matters in question that is hard to put into words as statements and reasons, so that our early attempts to articulate our views/knowledge will be faulty and improvable. That’s supposed to be encouraging to the students. And (c) although we can and should internalize the process, conversation has great efficiencies. (And if my intuition has some authority, then presumably yours does too….) I think that’s all pretty mainstream stuff in the West – yes?

    Part of the value of the progress toward articulation is to improve our knowledge directly; part is to facilitate conversation, cooperation in thinking (as I discuss in #3 here: https://warpweftandway.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/chinese-philosophy-in-the-new-york-times ).

    *

    Western philosophy pays attention to perspectives embedded in contexts. For example, anybody who asks what conclusions a bit of evidence might justify is concerned with the standpoints of people whose knowledge is limited.

    Maybe the kind of embeddedness you have in mind pertains especially to differences of language, not just differences of belief. The meanings available to people who share context X, the things their words and sentences might mean, may be hard to bring into connection with the meanings available to people who share context Y instead.

    That idea seems in tension with what Steve says above about Mou on “apertures.”

    Comment by Bill Haines | September 9, 2012 | Reply


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