Excuse the lack of modesty, but I’d like to announce the publication of my new book, Democracy in Contemporary Confucian Philosophy.
Meritocratic Ruists make two basic claims: first, that meritocracy is more historically faithful to Ruist tradition, and second, that it makes for a more effective government. In particular, it can avoid the problems of democracy, among which the ignorance and short-sightedness of voters are prominent. The claim goes that since voters generally understand the issues poorly and are unwilling to sacrifice their immediate interests for future gains, democracies make bad decisions. Without getting into whether these criticisms are accurate for the moment, I’m curious what people think of this line of argument against democracy. If it were true that democracy inevitably has such problems and there were good reason to think meritocracy would do better, would you support meritocracy?
At dinner at a recent conference I had a very interesting conversation with Liu Qing from East China Normal University. He told a few of us how the television show Growing Pains (starring Alan Thicke and Kirk Cameron) had made a big impression when it was shown in China. For many children at the time, it was their first acquaintance with parents who reasoned with their children instead of just giving orders. He said the younger generation (meaning now people in their late 20s or 30s) began to ask their parents why they couldn’t be more like the parents on the show and explain their position to their children instead of expecting to be obeyed all the time. They began to question the parameters of the parental relationship they had grown up with and ask for more equal treatment
Jiang Qing and Daniel Bell’s op-ed in the New York Times attracted a great deal of interest. Bell published another op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor a couple of days ago on the broader subject of meritocracy. This can illustrate how he differs from Jiang. I’m assuming he didn’t choose the headline (“What America’s flawed democracy could learn from China’s one-party rule”). The comments are also quite interesting.
I’d like to do a little informal poll on two questions relating to research and publication on Chinese philosophy. I welcome your responses.
First, what do you think of scholars who can’t read primary sources publishing on Chinese philosophy? Is being able to read original sources important? I should perhaps clarify that what I mean are not the “translations” one sometimes finds (e.g., of the Laozi) by people who don’t read classical Chinese, but scholarly articles or books.
The second question concerns use of secondary literature. My own observation is that Western scholars, even those who read Chinese, often don’t refer to Chinese secondary literature. By “secondary literature” I mean specifically 20th and 21st century academic work, not traditional commentaries. I’m curious why this is and what other people in the field think about it. Is it a problem? Or is it instead a sign of the development of the field, that we have our own English-language debates just as specialists in ethics might have debates about Kant that don’t refer to the German literature at all?
I was at the APA in Washington DC last week, and it was great to get a chance to hear about some very interesting work in Chinese philosophy. A couple of papers got me thinking about the reasoning behind the emphasis on filiality (xiao 孝) in classical Ruism. Whether Ruism gives too much weight to filiality at the expense of other values has been debated recently, and an issue in Dao a year or two ago presented some of this debate. At the conference, I started wondering about a slightly different problem: do Ruists put too much faith in the assumption that someone who is filial will have other moral virtues as well? Is there good reason to think this is generally true? Continue reading
I’ve been giving some thought to this topic quite a bit, most recently spurred on by a response to an article by Daniel Bell that I’m writing for a Chinese journal. I won’t go into Bell’s argument in any detail, but I find significantly greater restrictions on speech accepted and even advocated by classical Ruists than in liberalism. On certain topics (criticizing the ruler/government) certain people (Ruists, or maybe the elite more generally) should speak out, though even here historically Ruists have generally accepted that they might be punished for doing so. On other topics, particularly those that might threaten social harmony and stability, they seem quite willing to ban certain kinds of expression. Continue reading
Steve mentioned Kai Marchal’s and Huang Yong’s papers on moral perception and motivation is his report from the Soochow University conference. I’ve been thinking about some of the issues raised in them, and since both of them (and Steve, who raises some of these issues in his book) contribute to the blog, this seems like the perfect chance to try to get clearer. I’m no expert on either Zhu Xi or Wang Yangming, so I’ll let others weigh in on the interpretive issues. I’m more interested in the general moral psychology/epistemology. Continue reading
Here’s a couple of links to news stories (one English, one Chinese) on the establishment of the 大成至聖先師孔子協會, or “Association of the Most Sage and Venerated Late Teacher Confucius,” announced yesterday in Taiwan. There aren’t many specifics yet about what they plan to do and I haven’t found a website for the association itself yet, but I’ll post more information if I come across any.
For my first post here, I’d like to invite opinions on a contemporary issue. I’ve been coming across a common critique of contemporary Ruism and I’m curious what people think about it. As a preface, let me say that I’m close to giving up on various permutations of “Confucian” and “Confucianism,” so I hope you’ll all bear with my use of “Ruism” and “Ruist” instead.
The critique, which is generally directed against New Ruists, particularly Mou Zongsan, is something like this: the essence of Ruism is a social practice which aims not at developing theories, but realizing the Way in society. Making it into an object of academic study, so that it becomes an isolated practice of theorizing, is a mistake. The 20th century turn of making Ruism into a kind of philosophy and carrying out philosophical research in philosophy departments is emblematic of this mistake. Since Mou Zongsan is often considered the arch-theorist of New Ruism, he tends to get the brunt of this criticism. Continue reading