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(2016) Phenomenology and intercultural understanding, Dordrecht, Springer.

To what extent can phenomenology do justice to chinese philosophy? a phenomenological reading of laozi

Kwok-Ying Lau

pp. 35-52

At a time of multiculturalism, a politically correct attitude toward the problem of philosophical pluralism will admit readily that there are as many possible types of philosophies as there are types of culture. In the West, the time of Hegel, who judges that Chinese philosophy remains at "the most elementary stage" of philosophical development, seems to be over. Yet to the question "does Chinese philosophy deserve the name of genuine philosophy?", the debate seems to remain open. Since Aristotle has presented the origin of philosophy as the development from myth (mythos) to reason (logos), the yardstick of deciding whether Chinese philosophy is genuine philosophy has always been built upon the judgment in relation to the following question: whether Chinese philosophy has succeeded or not to construct a form of discourse which gives a foundational role to Reason? In other words, the judgment on the existence or non-existence of Chinese philosophy depends on the judgment on whether traditional Chinese culture has developed a philosophical rationalism in a more or less express form. It is well-known that Husserl has judged that it is simply a "mistake and a falsification of sense … to speak of Chinese philosophy." (We shall return to this point later.) Such a position taking would be comprehensible for professional philosophers from the West or for those Chinese who, by cultural prejudice or by a sense of intellectual division of labour too narrowly defined, never seem interested in Chinese philosophy. Yet even someone like A. C. Graham, who has done so much to introduce Chinese philosophy to the Western intellectual audience and produced so many celebrated English translation of classical texts in the Chinese philosophical corpus, cannot escape himself from the overtly simplistic dichotomy of "rationalism and anti-rationalism" in his presentation of the picture of Ancient Chinese philosophy. Although Graham has taken the care to draw the distinction between anti-rationalism (taking Zhuangzi (also Romanized as Chuang-tzu) as the prime example for his insistence on spontaneity against reason) and irrationalism (taking Marquis de Sade, Nietzsche and Hitler as exemplars), his final judgement on the overall achievement of Chinese philosophy following such a yardstick will not reserve a great surprise for his readers. In fact according to Graham, "rationalism is no more than a brief episode in the Chinese tradition, and anti-rationalism is limited to philosophical Taoism and its descendant Ch'an Buddhism". In short: there is something special in the Chinese tradition of philosophy, but frankly speaking, not much! Such would be Graham's final verdict.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-44764-3_3

Full citation:

Lau, K.-Y. (2016). To what extent can phenomenology do justice to chinese philosophy? a phenomenological reading of laozi, in Phenomenology and intercultural understanding, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 35-52.

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