Papers on Philosophy V

Modern and Contemporary
4:00 pm – 5:45 pm
Room 5

  • Lucien Monson, “Tan Sitong and Philosophical Modernity in China”
  • Katerina Gajdosova, “Names (ming 名) from the Perspective of Onto-Hermeneutics: Reconciling Cheng Chung-ying and Heidegger on the Problem of Language”
  • Antje Ehrhardt, “Mou Zongsan’s (1909–1995) Philosophical Language: Analysing his Concept of ‘Reality’ (shiti 实体)”
  • Bo Sørensen, “East Asian Enactments of Porous Personhood”
  • Christian Soffel, “Cultural Nationalism and Chinese Exceptionalism: Contemporary Chinese Confucians Discussing ‘Universal Values’”

Lucien Monson, “Tan Sitong and Philosophical Modernity in China”

Tan Sitong’s 谭嗣同 (1865–1898) Renxue 仁学 (An Exposition of Ren) is often regarded as one of the earliest works of modern Chinese philosophy. But how do we understand its modernity? When reading a work of modern philosophy, those trained in the history of Western thought might expect to be gratified with developed arguments that establish knowledge on the foundations of universal reason in lieu of appeals to tradition. We might also expect some formulation of rational subjectivity familiar to modern thought in the West. Disappointed scholars have responded to Tan’s work with accusations of immaturity and superficiality. Yet we should remember that these familiar hallmarks of modernity arose against the background of the specific crisis that European intellectuals faced during the 16th and 17th centuries. Approaching Tan’s text with these expectations results in misunderstanding. I argue that while Tan is ambivalent towards much of traditional thought, the philosophical crisis faced by Tan and his contemporaries was primarily a politico-ethical one, not an epistemic one. Therefore, values such as autonomy, freedom of thought, and democracy emerge not as the prerogatives of rational subjectivity but out of the interconnection of all things through ren 仁. Moreover, by observing the way ren is employed as a strategy to navigate the competing world-views of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Western thought we can see a profound vision of modernity that is not reducible to the influences of either traditional Chinese thought or Western modernity.

Katerina Gajdosova, “Names (ming 名) from the Perspective of Onto-Hermeneutics: Reconciling Cheng Chung-ying and Heidegger on the Problem of Language”

The paper seeks to contribute to the debate about the relevance of comparative philosophy approach to the study of ancient Chinese philosophy. It has been frequently pointed out that Western metaphysics, formulated since Plato and Aristotle in deeply dualist terms, does not do justice to ancient Chinese ontology. For a more profound understanding of the Daoist cosmology and the Yijing that constitute the background of pre-Han philosophical texts, a different ontological model is required: the one based on processuality instead of the absolute and unchanging, on unity instead of duality, and on dynamic interaction of opposites instead of unidirectional (subject-object) relationship.
Yet, we do have efficient interpretive models overcoming subject-object split and embracing the view of the continuous interaction of opposites, such as Gadamer’s hermeneutics of being or Heidegger’s phenomenology. The paper demonstrates how these models can be applied to the interpretation of ancient Chinese texts, in particular how the topic of names (ming 名) in the pre-Han philosophy can be reinterpreted from the perspective of Heidegger’s Dasein as self-articulating Being-in-the-world. It thus develops on Cheng Chung-ying’s onto-hermeneutics of the Yijing by bringing in the dimension of language and speech as self-articulation of the cosmos

Antje Ehrhardt, “Mou Zongsan’s (1909–1995) Philosophical Language: Analysing his Concept of ‘Reality’ (shiti 实体)”

In his main work The Moral consciousness and the Moral Nature of Men (Xinti yu Xingti 心体与性体), Mou creates his own philosophical language: he uses numerous compositions, nouns and verbal, of ti 体. With these compositions, he makes clear what, according to him, is the fundamental unit of all that exists. In this way, Mou finds confirmation of his thesis on the possibility of providing a systematic explanation of the Confucian moral doctrine handed down. The central concept of this monistic perspective lies, in Mou Zongsan’s thought, in the concept shiti 实体, which he also expresses in English as “reality.” The paper aims to demonstrate how the concept of Mou shiti (实体) or chuangzao shiti 创造实体, “creative reality,” is to be understood as an intersection point in which the arguments of his three thematic orders converge: his critic of Zhu Xi (1130–1200), his interpretation of Kant’s moral philosophy and his understanding of Confucian moral philosophy. As one of the most significant New Confucians (xin ru jia 新儒家) of the twentieth century, Mou Zongsan argues that Confucian doctrine has a cross-cultural value because of its “religious and ethical ideals.” According to Mou, Confucian doctrine, as religious and moral faith, includes equally the needs of a philosophical metaphysics and those of a religion.

Bo Sørensen, “East Asian Enactments of Porous Personhood”

This paper proceeds from the seminal distinction made by Markus and Kitayama between independent and interdependent selves as a way of explaining differences in the self-construct of individuals of, respectively, European-American and East-Asian cultural descent. As influential and productive as this cross-cultural distinction has been, this paper points out that the reproduction of the distinction across generations remains poorly understood. As various disciplines continue to reveal the degree to which our minds are embodied and engaged in constant interactions with our environment, it becomes increasingly obvious that the reproduction of both the independent and interdependent selves must be understood in their cultural context, rather than simply being conceived of as long-lasting effects of ancient agricultural systems or disease vectors. Pursuing this line of inquiry in the contemporary Chinese context, this paper shows that in the very important domains of religion, medicine, and architecture, a certain ontological porosity of personhood is both enacted through daily-life actions and—through the medium of popular literature—represented with great momentousness in contemporary Chinese culture. It is suggested that this perception of ontological porosity characteristic of Chinese culture underlies the inclination towards interdependent self-construal that has been vested with such strong explanatory power in cross-cultural psychology. As such, this paper does not disprove the distinction between independent and interdependent self-construals, but it provides more fruitful ways of investigating and thinking about personhood that allows for the fact that human thought processes work themselves out within experiencing bodies who are enmeshed with their cultural environment.

Christian Soffel, “Cultural Nationalism and Chinese Exceptionalism: Contemporary Chinese Confucians Discussing ‘Universal Values’”

In spite of the remarkable changes within the People’s Republic of China during the past decades, leading to economic growth, an increased standard of living and—at least on the surface—a significantly higher level of political and cultural self-confidence, the focus on national peculiarities is a persisting theme in the intellectual discussion of the PRC still today. In particular, this can be observed by taking a look at the discussion of universal values that took place among influential Confucian scholars around the years 2012–2014. The contents of a series of conferences, published under the title He wei pushi? Shei zhi jiazhi? 何謂普世?誰之價值?(What is universal? Whose values?), permit us to take a glance at the layer behind the ideologically controlled surface and get acquainted with some modes of thinking widespread among Confucian intellectuals from the PRC. From an analysis of these discussions about “universal values”, we will be able to reflect on arguments that are used to “exceptionalize” Chinese culture and devalue Western culture. Instead of trying to enrich the global discussion on the notion of “universal values” with elements from Chinese cultural tradition, the focus is laid on strengthening the own tradition while eliminating the “Western values”. In addition, this form of Chinese cultural nationalism is combined with materialistic thought, which can be traced back to Marxist ideology.

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Room 5
Modern and Contemporary