Final and sent the importance of comparative philosophy

   TodayI am elated, and it’s not just a typical sort of excitement.Once I explain, I am sure you will understand. The idea for this conference began with a conversation that Professor Wang Dianqing and I had in January.Through a few months of planning and preparation, and through gaining the support from many well-established scholars in the Confucian community, scholars from home and abroad, the government leaders from Shandong Sishui, and all the experts and students sitting here, we are able to host a conference of this quality and with such dynamism –I am elated. I would like to express my heartfeld thanks to the Confucian scholars; to the government leaders of Sishui, Shandong; to the Shengyuan Academy; and to the scholars and students sitting here today. I would like to speak on the importance of East-West comparative philosophy. I will start with two very realistic examples. As all of you know, this conference is the first open forum of A Discussion of Confucianism byScholarsof the Nishan Shengyuan Academy. Nishan is the birthplace of Confucius, and the school of thought that Confucius has given to the world is thoroughly a Chinese heritage. And so the question arises, why do we invite a foreigner as the main speaker, and not a native Chinese? Could it be that there are no qualified Chinese people, and we must invite a foreigner to speak to us? If you have considered this problem, I think it is a very logical question to ask. One view is that of Professor Xu Jialu. Recently, Iaccompanied thescholarsofShengyuan Academyto see Xu Jialu to tell him of the state of preparation for this conference. Professor Xu excitedly said, “I want to give Roger Amesthe stage!”If Professor Xu wants to give a foreign Confucian scholar the honors, is it because he feels that there are no Chinese scholars that are qualified enough, and hence needs to invite a foreigner to speak on Confucianism to Chinese people? What is the logic?

   The last time we saw Professor Xu he expressed his view very clearly. He endorses Professor Ames’ line of thought, and that is because he supports Professor Ames’ perspective on East-West comparative philosophy. China does not need a foreigner to speak on Confucianism, rather, she needs a foreigner to speak on comparative philosophy. Today, China needs Ames’ distinctive methodology on comparative philosophy. We need his comparative philosophy because he can help us establish East-West cultural hermeneutics. Using Professor Xu’s words, he interprets Ames’ theory of philosophy as “yi zi zhi mao, jie zi zhi ben” (using your own solution to solve your own problem). Acting this way can correct the“do what I say” mindsetunder Western colonialism. If we are to adopt the perspective of East-West comparative philosophy, then we can poignantly and clearly see the current state of Chinese philosophy and the social sciences. At least, without this perspective we would not realize that Western philosophy has become a cliché here in China, that Chinese philosophy has become the target of Western philosophy’s prattle and exaggeration. Just like Professor Xu’s moving analogy, Chinese philosophy today is like the little girls in Jiafu[1] or dancing the yangge to Strauss’ waltzes. Professor Xu has pointed out thatwe cannot digest what we have taken from the West, and that our traditional culture has been chained. Today is the ripe moment when we can get rid of these shackles.

   It is because of his sophisticated level of comparative hermeneutics that Professor Xu endorses Professor Ames. He supports not using Western philosophical terms to speak nonsensically of Confucianism, but rather, he supports using profound Western philosophy and Confucian comparative hermeneutics to point out why Chinese philosophy must be explained on its own terms. Professor Ames is not a foreigner that makes Chinese philosophy sing to a Western tune, instead he advances that China must dance to its own music. Professor Ames frequently says, “Understand Chinese traditions through China’s own conditions.” Professor Ames is this kind of foreigner; he wants Confucianism to advance in the West, because he believes that Confucius belongs to the world. Also in support of this today are Reginald Little, James Flowers, Kurtis Hagen, Jung-Yeup Kim, and myself. In our midst are foreigners and non-foreigners, and we all see Confucianism from the perspective of comparative philosophy - we want Confucius to make headway in the West and become a part of the global community. Professor Xu agrees with this, and deeply understands the kind of foreigner that Professor Ames is. He became academic friends with Professor Ames, and hence wants to give him a platform. Professor Wang Dianqing, Vice-President of Nishan Shengyuan Academy and Deputy Director of the Dissemination Committee of the International Union on Confucianism,has a point to highlight the meaning of Professor Ames speaking on Confucianism. He says, “It is very significant when this kind of foreigner opens this forum, he signifies an important direction for the study of Confucianism. This shows that Confucius is of the world, and that Confucianism is of the world.”

   The significance of Professor Ames being the main speaker of “A Symposium Celebrating Roger T. Ames’ Scholarship on Confucianism”lies in hisdistinctive methodology in comparative hermeneutics. Being Professor Ames’ student, I have personal experience in this respect. When I began my research in the United States, I quickly came to two conclusions: The first is that the West studied in China is not the real West, and the other is that the China explained in the West is not the real China. Why is the West studied in China not actually the West? Let me give two examples. Before I arrived in the United States, I read a bit of Kant, and frequently happened upon the concept of transcendence. There was criticism of transcendentalism during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Hence, the understanding of this concept is “subjectivism,” explaining that “human knowledge comes before objective existence, comes before social practice, and comes before sensory experience, it is innate.”1Since it is idealist, it also implies that humans can imagine and make subjective judgments about things before they engage in any actual experience. Not until I read the Western version of Kant did I realize that “transcendence” could be understood as “a priori,” and the Chinese interpretation of it was radically different. “A priori” does not speak of humans themselves, its meaning is derived from “transcendentalism;” and it is determined by the nature of the universe, independent of what humans feel and experience. This is connected with the fundamental structure of Western thought. That is to say, much of Western thought is derived from that unique and extraordinary thing (i.e. God). It is exactly this fundamental part of Western thought that is eschewed when translated into Chinese.

   Thus, concepts in Western thought are often transformed significantly from their original meaning when studied in China. Another example is “dialectics.” The Chinese “bianzhengfa” comes from the Western word “dialectics,” and it contains the traditional Chinese concept of “contradictory and complementary.” “Maodun” refers to “contradiction,” but what it really means is “yi mao you yi dun” (the analogy of a spear and a shield).[2] If “dialectics” and “contradiction” were not originally found that their fundamental meaning was derived in their Western discursive context, in the Chinese context it would have been impossible to realize the concepts of “transcendentalism” and “dualism” contained within these terms. The fundamental difference between these two concepts lies in this divergence between the original Western term and the Chinese translation: The meanings of “bianzhengfa” and “maodun” lie in the innate relationship between two aspects or things, whereas “dialectics” and “contradictions” are derived from the non-relationship and conflict between two aspects or things. These are two different ways of looking at the universe.

   This difference can be found everywhere. The Chinese understanding of “pubianxing” is not “universality,” “universality” is derived from “transcendentalism;” also, the term “unity” loses its transcendental qualities when it is translated into “tongyi.” The term “lilun” continues to have the meaningken of plausibly in self-justification, 42 in the translated section. Wang Bi'ty, people and the whole of creation. Chinese phfrom neo-Confucianismand does not necessarily equate to “theory,” for its basic meaning is “unproven assumption.” It can be said that when Western concepts are put into a Chinese context, and then when the translated concepts are put back into a Western concept, the original and the translated become like two strangers. It is because of this that the West studied in China is not the real West.

   It is also not difficult to see that the China studied in the West is not the real China. It is obvious that when Chinese people read Western scholarship about China, we all find that either most of it just sounds strange, or it is just full of ridiculous statements. This includes the statements that are popular today, such as “China is not free,” “China is not democratic,” “China has no human rights, “China does not have Mr. Democracy or Mr. Science, “China is feudal and backwards,” etc.

   What is the problem? What is hindering China from knowing the real West and the West from knowing the real China? In 2006, the Beijing Foreign Studies University held a conference entitled “Symposium on Humanities Education and English Education,” I brought up the opinion that to learn English one must also learn the cultural background of the West. If you only know the language and are unaware of the cultural background, then your foreign language is not really foreign and foreigners will not be able to understand you. When good oral translators go out of the country, they might not even be able to strike up a conversation, and cannot engage in dialogue with Westerners. I have participated in many international academic conferences, and I know that the probability of Chinese and Western scholars having a dialogue on one specific issue is very low. Most of the time the Chinese and foreign scholar each make their own points and do not know what the other is saying. Original articles of many established scholars in China cannot always be directly translated and then published in the West. Confucius, Laozi, Chinese classics – China’s traditional national spirit cannot be easily translated. Their translated editions are many and the act of translation has become an academic discipline. Westerners do not always understand the work after it is translated either, and this is a very typical situation and shows that translations cannot be relied on to explain China to the West. Why is this? I believe it is because behind the language is a cultural veil. This veil is something we must question, something we must be aware of. Not only must we be aware of it, we must draw it aside and be able to see through it for China and the West to reach a transparent state. Penetrating this veil has become an urgent task, for it is essential for mutual understanding. Only when it is transparent can the number of misunderstandings be minimized, can harmony and methods of practical cooperation be discovered. This opportunity to open up to each other is unprecedented in history.

What is this veil behind language? Let me first use this conference as an example. Translating “An Lezhe shisheng lundao”into English is not easy. The English title I decided on has a different meaning. The Chinese meaning of “A Symposium Celebrating Roger T. Ames’ Scholarship on Confucianism” is“An Lezhe ruxue yanjiu chengjiu yantaohui.”Of course, the Chinese meaning is more profound and the English meaning is rather straightforward. The English meaning only captures a portion of the Chinese meaning; and the English itself also sounds a bit strange. Of course there are other ways of translation, but in the end they are all straightforward, cannot become too profound, and lose much of the Chinese meaning. China has an abundance of rich and accomplished poetry, but after it is translated into English it becomes as different as black and white. The English title I gave this conference is obviously direct, it only captures the relatively more important meanings of“shisheng lundao.” The vital meaning is that Ames’ scholarship is exceptionally good and his Confucian analysis is superb. Otherwise, not this many people wouldrecognize him and invite him and his students to this conference. The Chinese meaning of “shisheng lundao” is profound, and is a commendation of his methodology, but its meaning goes beyond this. Its richness actually inundates this meaning. English is strange; the translation does, and it also does not capture the meaning of “shishenglundao.”

   Another example of the cultural veil - the English “ten” is not equal to the Chinese “shi.” This is an example I have used many times. Ames often uses the example that the English “everyone” and the Chinese “dajia” do not imply the same thing. I have shown to people of Chinese and Western backgrounds what they are subconsciously thinking when they think of a number. Chinese people generally do not have a subconscious thought when they are thinking of the number “ten.” If you ask anyone, “shi” is just “shi,” it is just a number. But this is still the subconscious. This subconscious means: there is a relationship and indivisibility between things. This sort of subconscious is unique to Chinese people; they see the number 10 as a unitary and holistic number. In English, the number “ten” means something different to people with a Western background. Every time I ask my American students, they immediately hold up ten fingers, or say something along the lines of “ten apples.” That is to say, “10” in their minds is ten separate and distinct things. In President Lincoln’s famous quote, “Government of the people, for the people, by the people,” “people” refers to many individual people, but subconsciously it means individual person. There is a structural difference in meaning with its Chinese translation as “renmin.” “Renmin” to Chinese people means a whole. It is a whole because people are relational and indivisible. A person exists in relationship to others. It is for this reason that a Chinese teacher says “Dajia hao” to her students, but in English, the teacher must say “Hello, everyone,” which emphasizes that she is greeting every individual person. It is because of this subconscious difference that there are two languages to express different things. So, “10” is not “shi,””dajia” is not “everyone.” (For scholars who would like to discuss this question further, you can see my article “Xiankai yingyu beihou de wenhua shamu” online. )

   The cultural subconscious appears often; it is the structural difference between cultures and it is the subconscious that creates the veil. If you want to discuss the cultural background behind the economic recession, you must be aware of this cultural veil. If you are not aware of it, you cannot truly understand the core and structural reasons for the economic recession.

   So what exactly is this veil? Simply stated, it is the crux of Chinese and Western philosophy – a philosophical and structural difference in cosmologies, ways of thinking, languages and value systems. It is this question that caused us to inviteProfessorAmes here today to speak on Confucianism. This is the meaning of comparative philosophy. The basic methodology of Ames’ Confucian analysis is based on this structural difference, allowing Confucianism to become understandable to the West, allowing Confucianism to walk out of China and toward the world. It is on this point that Ames’ achievements in Confucian philosophy are especially pertinent to be introduced in China. Ames’ Confucian analysis tells us of the importance of the structural differences between Chinese and Western philosophy; it tells us of the veil that exists between the two cultures; it tells us that this veil is always there, exists in our subconscious minds, cannot be seen or felt, and compels us to misunderstand each other and look upon each other in a state of confusion every day. It is because of this that the West taught in China is not the real West, and the China that is taught in the West is not the real China.

   The value of Ames and Hall’s methodology of comparative philosophy is pointing out that the root of these structural differences is that Western culture has a God (like the transcendence that Professor Ames’ speaks of) and China does not. This is the most basic structural difference and has caused a discrepancy in four areas of culture. These four areas of cultural thought are: cosmology, pattern of thinking, structure of language and value system. To use two simple phrases to summarize this veil created by cultural differences would be the Western “duality of the one and many“ (yi duo er yuan) and the Chinese “indivisible one and many” (yi duo bu fen).

   The one in the “duality of the one and many” is the preeminent “One” from the concept of God; “many” points to all the things in the universe, which exist as individuals and in isolation. “Duality” refers to the line that exists between “One” and “many,” isolating and cutting off the relationship between them. Between God and humanity God is the master, humanity must forever accept the commands of God.The countless “entities” are loose, separate from each other, colliding, and opposite.Only eachindependentperson’s relationship with God,andabsolutely determinedby this “One”; the world is ordered and determined by this “One” who is God.

   China has an entirely different “one” and “many.” “One” (to be called “dao” or “li”) is not to be opposed to and cut off from “many” (“wanwu,” myriads of things, or “geti,” individual persons). Rather this “one” is the continual, unbreakable, correlative and connected relationship between nature, society, people and the whole of myriads of things.Wang Bi says,

There are myrids of things, which are varied in myriads of ways, but all of them return to the one. Why do they all return to the one? It is because the one is simply nothingness. If it is to be the one because it is of nothingness, ought the one to be called nothingness? If it is already called the one, why is it not to be spoken of in words? If it is already spoken of as‘the one’, what does it matter if there were not‘two’? There is the one, which gives birth to two, and then to three. Therefore, from nothing to something, the myrids of things become countless.”

   The basis of the vastly variedmyriads ofthings is one – it is all continual and interconnected. “Dao” and “one” are not external to “many,” instead they are intrinsic to it. Hence, China’s perspective is the “indivisible one and many.”

   Tang Junyi suggested China’s natural cosmological perspective of the “indivisible one and many.”Ames often uses this phrase. I believe that this phrase coupled with “duality of the one and many” gives a concise, accurate and condensed explanation for the basic structural difference between Chinese and Western philosophy. Virtually all of the differences that can be perceived can be explained with these two phrases. Many of the current thorny problems that have been popular in Chinese philosophy can all be traced back to this basic difference and receive a profound and accurate explanation.

   For example, why have Chinese people started to ask, “What exactly is Chinese culture?” What is the central meaning of Confucianism or Confucius’ thought? Can Confucianism, Daoism and other schools of thought be considered philosophy? Etcetera. Why do people bring up questions like these today? How should these questions be answered? These all have an intimate relationship with the differences between Chinese and Western philosophy, and they all result from this difference in the subconscious between the two cultures. The reason that these questions are on people’s mind today is because of Western culture, the West’s “duality of the one and many” structure and China’s “indivisible one and many” structure are in tension with each other, and these subconscious differences are causing people to be confused. When Western culture had not penetrated, when there was no tension between the structures – there was no confusion and no one brought up these questions. The social and historical conditions for this confusion are globalization and postmodernism. These conditions must be confronted; all the questions must be answered, for they are unavoidable. We must resolve these problems; there is no road ahead of non-resolution. Not resolving them is a misunderstanding; non-resolution is the danger of conflict and war so that harmony is impossible. Both China and the West must rectify this problem. China and the West must recognize why there is an economic recession now and what the cultural problems are behind the economic recession, and the methodology of comparative philosophy can help us– to find answers, starting with fundamental philosophical structural differences.

   In short, the West that China studies after today must become more accurate; the China that the West speaks of must become more and more like the actual China. To achieve this goal, we must rely on Hall and Ames’ methodology of comparative philosophy. Besides their distinctive methodology, they also compare holistically, explained in English, they compare in “contextualized” way. In addition to being distinctive and also departing from earlier comparative philosophy, they are able to find the meaning of an examined concept within the natural cultural environment, and then use that meaning to compare with a corresponding concept from another culture. This form of comparison is more rigorous, increases comparability, and also has a broad interpretative ability. That is to say, the unique contribution of Hall and Ames is a methodology for comparing traditional Chinese and Western thought from a holistic perspective. They point out the structural differences in cosmology, methodology, way of thinking, values, and linguistic structures between the two cultures. This type of methodology makes Eastern and Western social life, human behavior, culture, art, science and technology, economics, politics, military, diplomacy and other fields comparable.

   In speaking of the distinctive nature of Hall and Ames’ methodology, it is also important to point out why previous methodologies employed in Chinese and Eastern philosophy, humanities, and social science is flawed. Previous comparisons did not ask what the traditional forms of thought in China and the West were on a macro level, but rather used a minimalist approach to reduce cultural differences from two completely different cultures and then compare them abstractly. This type of comparison uses a Western standard to measure how good or bad traditional Chinese culture is. This type of comparison is like what Professor Xu describes as using a Western tune to do a Chinese dance, or like Ames describes imposing a Western structure on Chinese tradition. Does China have democracy? Freedom? Human rights? These questions are the epitome of minimalism, they use a simple standard of “yes or no” to simplify the complexity and profundity of culture, society, and history in order to determine the mandates of heaven and earth. This type of comparison is misleading; it is as if a person, when faced with a Chinese meal asks, “Why not use knives and forks?” and then subsequently not being satisfied with any answer they are given. It is also similar to the invidious comparisons between little girls; one wearing bright-colored clothes asking the other girl “Do you have bright-colored clothes?” This type of simplistic comparison constitutes a trap in itself. It is to use an already established standard, such as Western dualism. Then forcing you to respond with “have or have not” or “yes or no” to it, and no matter what you respond they will claim it is incorrect. If you reply “yes,” it is obviously wrong; if you reply “no,” you are still inferior. It is a trap because it is a simplification. What this simplification does not take into consideration is that the questions of “forks or chopsticks” and “bright-colored or plain-colored” are not able to determine the good and bad or right and wrong of the things in themselves. Rather, they are related to the complexity of the traditions in culture they are placed in or that they create. The uniqueness of using a broad holistic comparison is inherently taking into consideration this complexity and finding the meaning and rationale of forks or chopsticks and bright-colored or plain-colored clothes within a cultural context.

   Using the holistic methodology of Hall and Ames allows us to discover that “minzhu” is not “democracy,” “renquan” is not “human rights,” “ziyou” is not “liberty,” “geren zhuyi” is not “individualism,” “duibuqi” is not “sorry.” Using “renquan” as an example, it simply does not match with the English “human rights,” they do not correspond, are not synonymous and cannot be translated into each other. “Human rights” is the result of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the change in the relative role of God. Before, man was dominated and controlled, as God always declared that man was wrong, and that man always had to go to church to ask for repentance. After the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, God changed his role. He declared to humanity: The past judgments of man are false, man’s desires, material pursuits, personal happiness are all natural, rational and appropriate. “Human rights” is a change from “human wrongs.” “Human rights” translates into “renquan” in Chinese, even though it is a fundamentally incorrect translation. On two counts, “renquan” does not contain the meaning of “human rights.” First, the Chinese “renquan” has nothing to do with God, because the relations between people and society determine what people can or cannot do. Second, the “quan” in “renquan” does not point to “rights” or “wrongs,” instead it refers to the actions that the community agrees to as appropriate or inappropriate under certain conditions; rights and obligations are always relative. Yet, “rights” is determined by God and God-given, so it is an absolute concept. Over the years, the West has used “rights” to judge China, China has used “renquan”as an inadequate equivalent to “rights,” and both sides fell into a deep and muddy swamp. One seems plausible in self-justification, the other is completely dumbfounded, and both result as flawed interpretations. This misunderstanding has brought both sides embarrassment and paralysis.

   What does this state of affairs suggest? It suggests that China and the West have had flawed and incorrect impressions of each other for more than a century. The discourse used is fundamentally wrong. On May 2-4, 2009 the journal ofLiterature, History, and Philosophyorganized a conference on “Modernity and Tradition: A Paradigm Shift in the Discourse of Chinese Philosophy.” It entered into a very timely discussion of the discourse used in Chinese philosophy and social sciences. Both China and the West believe that their impression of the other is correct, yet, the impression of the other that each possesses is not authentic. What must be lamented is that this embarrassing process of misunderstanding has gone on for over a hundred years. This situation must end today. It is a great time to promote Ames’ comparative philosophy in China. The economic recession is an opportunity to end the humiliation by using comparative hermeneutics to explicate the cultural causes behind the crisis. This would be the beginning of ending a century of humiliation. As Professor Xu says, it is the beginning of throwing off the shackles.

   I agree with Professor Xu that Chinese philosophy must go through a revolution. Chinese philosophy must throw off the shackles and dance to its own tune. This is the reason why we are here today; it is the true meaning of attaining a profound, momentous, and historical human enlightenment. This is also why I have returned to China after living abroad for almost twenty years; it is my life pursuit. I am pleased to see many like-minded Confucian scholars with common goals in life – I am absolutely ecstatic.

(Speech finalized on June 28, 2009 at the White Building at Beijing Foreign Studies University)

Roger T· Ames (Roger T.Ames)

Roger T. Ames was born in 1947 in Toronto, Canada. As a professor at the University of Hawaii, an advisor to Nishan Shengyuan Academy, Chairman of the World Association of Confucian Culture Studies and Vice Chairman of the International Confucian Association, he is an internationally famous expert in Sinology. He is a leading figure in Chinese & Western philosophy and is famous in China and abroad for his translation of books such as theAnalects of Confucius,Sun Tzu’s Art of War,Huainan Tzu andTao Te Ching He was the Chief Editor toPhilosophy of the Occident and Orientas well as theInternational Chinese Book Reviewand the author ofConfucian Philosophical Thinking,Thinking from the Han: Self, Truth, and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture,Anticipating China: Thinking Through the Narratives of Chinese and Western Culture,the Art of Rulership: A Study into Chinese Political ThoughtandDemocracy if the Dead: Dewey, Confucius and the Hope for Democracy in China. Roger T. Ames once received the guidance of Liu Dianjue and became proficient in classical Chinese, then to one of the most outstanding modern scholars of Classical Studies. In 2013, he was awarded the "Confucius Culture Award" by the 6th World Confucian Congress. Then he won the second "Huilin Prize Award" in 2016.…
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