Inquiries into the Sociology of Modern Confucianism

4:00 pm – 5:45 pm
Room F

  • Organised by Ady Van den Stock
  • Ady Van den Stock, Chair
  • Ady Van den Stock, “Once More unto the Breach: The Transcendental Distinction between the Phenomenal and the Noumenal in the Philosophy of Mou Zongsan and the ‘Continental Divide’ in Contemporary New Confucian Philosophy”
  • Ralph Weber, “A Sociological Reading of Tu Weiming’s Philosophical Discussion of ‘Multiple Modernities’”
  • Philippe Major, “A Doxa in the Making: A Bourdieusian Reading of the New Confucian Manifesto”
  • Joseph Ciaudo, “Framing a Space for Confucian ‘Philosophy’ in 1923?”

The majority of studies produced with the context of the relatively recent growth of interest in modern Confucianism (also known as “New Confucianism”) have adopted either historical or philosophical perspectives. While such studies have greatly improved our understanding of modern Confucianism, they have tended to downplay or neglect aspects of modern Confucianism that are not straightforwardly philosophical or historical. Few scholars have highlighted the social context as an important factor bearing its mark on modern Confucian philosophical production, for example, and rather few have been attempts at drawing from the methodology of the sociology of philosophy in doing so. This gap in the field is particularly hard to justify, as one of the central concerns shared by intellectuals retrospectively classified under the banner of “New Confucianism” has been that of finding an institutional space for Confucianism within radically new social conditions, and particularly within a university system shaped around a European model of knowledge classification.
The present panel draws from the literature on the sociology of philosophy and the sociology of knowledge in order to rethink modern Confucianism as a loose association of intellectuals inscribed in shifting social conditions and highly concerned with the necessity to create or protect a space for themselves and their version of Confucianism within modern institutions such as the university, as well as against competing groups (such as representatives of scientism, historicism, Marxism, etc.) and alternative conceptions of what authentic Confucianism is.

Ady Van den Stock, “Once More unto the Breach: The Transcendental Distinction between the Phenomenal and the Noumenal in the Philosophy of Mou Zongsan and the ‘Continental Divide’ in Contemporary New Confucian Philosophy”

Mou Zongsan’s (1909–1995) (in)famous engagement with Kantian transcendentalism as a means for reasserting the normative and philosophical validity of the Confucian tradition seems to have largely fallen into disrepute, most notably among the majority of Confucian revivalists in mainland China. The latter generally seem to be comfortable condemning Mou’s audacious combination of Kant and Confucius to the dustbins of history. The relentless iconoclasm displayed by the most vocal representatives of the Confucian movement in contemporary mainland China arguably prevents them from contextualising Mou’s thought within the broader historical trajectory of modern Chinese thought. As such, in rejecting the possibility of any form of affinity between transcendental philosophy and Confucianism, some of the basic questions which are still worthy of our consideration remain unanswered: what was Mou actually trying to accomplish in reconfiguring Kant’s distinction between phenomena and “things in themselves” and in reaffirming the possibility of intellectual intuition within Chinese traditions of philosophy? Why did he insist on portraying this distinction as overlapping with that between “fact” and “value”? And why do contemporary mainland Chinese critics who claim to depart from a supposedly more authentic Confucian position find this basic epistemological and ontological divide within reality so hard to stomach?

Ralph Weber, “A Sociological Reading of Tu Weiming’s Philosophical Discussion of ‘Multiple Modernities’”

For many Confucians, modernity has stood as the central challenge for more than 100 years. Tu Weiming has shown great ability to present Confucianism to a global audience by drawing on the sociological vocabulary of his day (Talcott Parsons, Benjamin Nelson, Shmuel Eisenstadt, etc.), but never quite confining his study of Confucianism to sociology. Instead, as this paper will argue, his discussion of ‘multiple modernities’ has a clearly normative bias. It is a philosophical discussion.
Somewhat counterintuitively, I will make this point by offering a sociological reading of how Tu Weiming came to align with Eisenstadt’s macro-sociological version of ‘multiple modernities’, on the one hand, while deviating from it in important ways. Methodologically, I will follow Thomas Brisson’s recent sociological writings on Tu Weiming but object with regard to one major claim that he advances. Brisson sees Tu Weiming as a “postcolonial thinker”. My sociological reading of Tu Weiming’s philosophical discussion of ‘multiple modernities’ will show that Tu is anything but a postcolonial thinker. His reliance on macro-sociology makes him more an advocate of cultural diversity than of the kind of cultural difference propagated by postcolonial. To this end, I will analyse two debates between Tu and Homi Bhabha held in Beijing and in Harvard respectively in 2010.

Philippe Major, “A Doxa in the Making: A Bourdieusian Reading of the New Confucian Manifesto”

Most studies of the New Confucian Manifesto (Wei Zhongguo wenhua jinggao shijie renshi xuanyan 為中國文化敬告世界人士宣言; 1958) have thus far approached it as a philosophical treatise and/or as a historical document marking the beginning of the formation of a group conscious of itself as an association of modern Confucian intellectuals. While the present contribution situates itself in the latter, historical approach, it aims at presenting the Manifesto as a concerted effort, on the part of its cosignatories, of producing a school around a number of fundamental ideas they shared.
Drawing from Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology of philosophical knowledge, I argue that the Manifesto can be read as an attempt to set the rules of inclusion—what is known as the doxa in Bourdieu’s terminology—into the school that was retrospectively named “New Confucianism.” While in an established field, the doxa refers to a number of implicit rules or “presuppositions whose acceptance is implied in membership itself,” the fact that the cosignatories of the Manifesto felt that the rules of their field should be clearly spelt out in writing implies, I suggest, that their school was in the making, and was not yet recognised, in the philosophical field, as an established school with a set doxa. A significant element of the Manifesto, I maintain, is its attempt at introducing the readers in what Bourdieu calls the illusion of the field, by asking of them that they perform of leap of faith.

Joseph Ciaudo, “Framing a Space for Confucian ‘Philosophy’ in 1923?”

The 1923 “controversy over science and metaphysics” or “controversy over sciences and views-of-life” has often been perceived as an inaugural moment in the history of philosophy in China, and more particularly in the emergence of the New Confucian movement. Much has been written on the philosophical propositions put forward by the participants in the debate, and we now have a clear understanding of their intellectual positions. The present paper wishes, however, to reframe the significance of this debate, by considering whether this controversy could be really regarded as a boundary work that contributed to the constitution of a pristine academic field “Confucian philosophy.”
In contrast to previous studies, I will set aside the philosophical content discussed during the controversy to examine the form, the institutional context, and the interpersonal relations that structured the debate. By highlighting how several journals, institutions, and political networks shaped the debate and the direction it took, I cast doubt on the importance of this “moment” in the emergence of “Chinese or Confucian Philosophy.” Although putting forward a specific Confucian philosophy may have been part of the agenda of some partakers, I argue that the issue was not that “academic centred.” Considerations on how the concept of “life view” (Renshengguan 人生觀) came to be mobilised and contested show, furthermore, that the meanings and interpretations of this notion central to the controversy entailed far-afield intellectual pursuits. In the end, I suggest that “philosophy” was hardly an operative concept for most of the debaters who presented themselves as social and political activists trying to transform the entire social order.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room F