Torbjörn Lodén, Professor emeritus of Chinese Language and Culture, Stockholm University
“On the Social Dynamics of Philosophical Ideas: Dai Zhen’s Critique of Neo-Confucianism in a Comparative Perspective”
What are the political implications of basic philosophical orientations such as monism and dualism, materialism and idealism? Can one say that a monistic worldview tends to promote social and political change, while a dualistic view of the world is rather linked to political conservatism? Or is it the other way around? And what about materialism and idealism? Was the Soviet Gulag a logical outcome of the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx? Should we, as Max Weber argued, see the rise of capitalism in Europe as largely a result of the influence of the Protestant ethic, especially as espoused by John Calvin? In his lecture, Torbjörn Lodén will approach the question of the social dynamics of philosophical ideas in a comparative perspective and use the 18th century Chinese scholar Dai Zhen’s critique of Neo-Confucianism to argue that such basic philosophical orientations are politically indeterminate, and that we should base our philosophical views on intellectual criteria rather than on how basic philosophical ideas are used in practice to underpin various political views and actions.
Karl-Heinz Pohl, Professor Emeritus, Chinese Studies, Trier University
“Immanent Transcendence in the Chinese Tradition – Thoughts about a Chinese (and Sinological) Controversy”
The concepts of God in Eastern teachings are hardly comparable with those of the Abrahamic religions, that is, speaking about God is not an issue in the Chinese tradition. In Confucianism, however, a metaphysical connection to a transcendent "Heaven" (tian), responsible for the ethical functioning of the universe, does play a role. But Confucius explicitly refrained from discoursing on this topic, hence we find little in Confucian literature that discusses the nature of Heaven. In recent neo-Confucian discourse, the topic "immanent transcendence" (neizai chaoyue) has become an issue, but this is to be understood quite differently from its treatment in modern Western philosophy, such as Husserl or Bloch. Rather, the idea behind it is: Although there is a supreme good in Confucianism (attributed to a transcendent Heaven as the metaphysical origin of a fundamentally ethically good human nature), this highest good is not considered to be outside the ways of man but immanent. That is, it manifests itself in the fulfilment of interpersonal obligations and in the practice of the virtue of humanity (ren). The paper explores the controversy that arose about the idea of “immanent transcendence” in Chinese (i.e in the writings of Yu Yingshi) and Western Sinological circles.
Jyrki Kallio, Senior Research Fellow, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs
“What can Confucianism contribute to Western political philosophy?”
When drawing parallels between Confucianism and Western philosophy, an oft-mentioned counterpart to Confucianism is communitarianism. This comparison – the “communitarian thesis” – can be criticized for presenting a distorted view of Confucianism, one that places Confucianism firmly in the side of those schools of thought which stand in critique of liberalism and liberal democracy. This paper argues instead that it is possible to find an alternative to the “communitarian thesis” which would not deem Confucianism incompatible with rule of law or democracy. This alternative is to look into the similarities between Confucianism and communalism. As a theory of government, contemporary communalism refers to a federation of autonomous communes. This in turn finds a parallel in the ideal called ‘divided enoffment’, fengjian 封建, promoted by some Confucian thinkers in the late imperial era, who stood up against the excesses of centralized power, and began promoting decentralized rule. For them, fengjian meant an idealized system of the remote past which was to have the emperor appear as a unifying figure-head whereas the day to day administration was in the hands of regional rulers. This paper posits the assumption that the current societal climate in China, and elsewhere, would be favorable for the emergence of a form of Confucian Communalism (Rujia gongshe zhuyi 儒家公社主義).
Bent Nielsen, Associate Professor, Copenhagen University
“Making Sense of the World: Pedagogical Models for Teaching Intellectual History of China”
In my presentation I will introduce different pedagogical models for highlighting different ways of ordering the world. These models are inspired by interactions with colleagues at various conferences and are continually tested on my students whose feedback has helped improve upon the original design. My primary aim is to show that the intellectual histories of Europe and China rest on fundamentally different ways of making sense of the world, and that an acute awareness of these differences is mandatory in facilitating a cross-cultural understanding.
Yi Chen, Sessional Lecturer, Chinese Studies, University of Iceland
“The Joy of Fish – or: How do we learn from Chinese Philosophy?”
When φιλο-σοφία was transposed into Chinese, it became zhéxué 哲學, “learning of wisdom”. This subtle change is not only semantic; it also shifts the role of wisdom from a taken-for-granted subject-matter to a process of questioning and challenging. Thus Chinese Philosophy is to inquire the Way of learning, i.e. how to learn, an endeavor that is constantly renewed and expanded by our inquiry through learning, and in particular, learning through an encounter of the Other, i.e. comparison.
Here, I present an empirical approach to the Chinese ontological-aesthetic notion of wèi 味 “taste”, a paradoxical combination of richest meaning and simplest expression, through a comparative reading of lines (xiàntiáo 線條) in Bà Dà Shān Rén 八大山人’s painting of an unhappy fish, and Emily Carr’s painting “Scorned As Timber, Beloved of the Sky”. I will show how Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s approach to lines from his notion of chiasm and intertwining suggests a mode of thinking that goes beyond words, manifested through the bending lines in Carr’s painting, and how such a phenomenological idea of bending can be illustrated through the philosophy of Bà Dà Shān Rén’s brush strokes. This convergence may lead us to re-think the dialogue that Zhuāng Zǐ has on his observation of happy fish on the bank of the river Háo: “how to know fish’s happiness” (安知魚之樂)? Shouldn’t we ask “how to learn fish’s happiness”? Instead of pursuing abstract knowledge, learning implies an intrinsically embodied experience, an empirical approach, to be individualized in each moment of practice.
Geir Sigurðsson, Associate Professor, Chinese Studies, University of Iceland
“Confucian Critique in Context: The ‘Transformative Self-Critical Attitude’”
The aims of this paper are the following: first, to unfold briefly the different meanings of critical thinking in current (Western) discourse. I shall then identify the extent to and the sense in which it can be identified in the ancient Confucian philosophy. I will propose a particular kind of critical disposition in Confucianism that I choose to call ‘transformative self-critical attitude’. Lastly, if time allows, I will address a comparison between the early Confucian views of education with current Western theories and practices in higher education in order to demonstrate that early Confucianism has much to offer for the current state of (especially higher) education in the world.