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Methodologies of Comparative Philosophy: The Pragmatist and Process Traditions (review)
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Robert Smid is senior lecturer in philosophy and religion at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts. This book, a slightly revised version of his recent PhD dissertation from Boston University, is dedicated to Robert Cummings Neville, under whose guidance it was originally written. As the title suggests, this volume explores various methods of comparative philosophers in the pragmatist and process traditions of American philosophy. Smid thus focuses his analytic lens on William Ernest Hocking (1873–1966), F. S. C. Northrop (1893–1992), the collaborative work of David Hall (1937–2001) and Roger Ames (1947-), and Neville himself (1939-). The four chapters at the heart of the book—between the introduction and final comparative chapter—are focused on an exposition and critical analysis of these comparative philosophers.

Hocking, longtime professor of philosophy at Harvard University, is presented as a comparative philosopher for the “emerging world culture.” His crucial role in the drafting of Re-Thinking Missions—one of the most important documents in Protestant mission theory published by the Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry Commission of Appraisal in 1932—and his seminal essays for the fledgling subfield of comparative philosophy, “Chu Hsi’s Theory of Knowledge” (1936) and “Value of the Comparative Study of Philosophy” (1944), the latter a product of the first East-West Philosophers’ Conference in 1939, are carefully delineated. Smid is convincing about Hocking’s important contributions in putting comparative philosophy on the philosophical agenda at midcentury, as well as about the centrality of his vision of synthesizing insights from Eastern and Western philosophical traditions. However, the scope of Hocking’s methodological reflections on this topic are basically limited to the above-mentioned two essays, and in that respect, it remains difficult to think about Hocking’s primary legacy as that of a comparative philosopher, even after this perceptive chapter by Smid.

Northrop was a student of Hocking and went on to have an illustrious career teaching philosophy at Yale University. His The Meeting of East and West (1946) can be understood as foundational for the field of comparative philosophy, particularly given its reception at the second and third East-West Philosophers’ Conferences in 1949 and 1959. What Northrop brought to the comparative task was broad-ranging and interdisciplinary expertise (his training included a doctoral dissertation in the philosophy of science), cross-cultural sensitivity and competency, and a comprehensive and systematic framework. Yet the strength of at least this last feature of his thought was also a weakness, particularly when his contributions are judged by subsequent developments, in that one of Northrop’s major insights—the categorization of world philosophical, epistemological, and ideological traditions as being dominated by either intuitive/aesthetic or postulative/theoretic modalities of thinking—turned out to be an unsustainable generalization. On the one hand, for the burgeoning discussion of comparative philosophy at midcentury, Northrop’s proposals generated wide-ranging conversation about how the diversity of Eastern and Western philosophical and cultural traditions could be understood as complementary in the search for a viable world philosophy; on the other hand, there was soon recognition that his major comparative categories were both too simplistic and too dualistic: not only did both Eastern and Western traditions include both aesthetic and theoretic strands, but these major trajectories did not exhaust the variety of philosophical approaches in any case.

Yet Northrop’s role in the formation of the field of comparative philosophy has been a lasting one, if measured by his influences on the contemporary generation of comparativists, including Hall, Ames, and Neville. The former pair have been an especially formidable voice emphasizing one side of Northrop’s legacy, that regarding the task of comparative philosophy as the identification of differences across philosophical traditions. Their expertise and training in Western philosophy, especially its’ minority (i.e., Sophist) and postmodern traditions (Hall), and in Sinology and philology (Ames), has sustained a lengthy collaboration focused on retrieving ancient Chinese texts and traditions, highlighting their cross-cultural and present-day significance, and revisioning the Western philosophical tradition in the process. The latter is accomplished through the comparative task that utilizes the contrasts between Chinese and Western philosophies to register the pluralism of voices that have been submerged under the dominant Western paradigm. The...

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