- Response to John Allen Tucker's Review of Spiritual Titanism:Indian, Chinese, and Western Perspectives
I am grateful to the editor of China Review International for allowing me to respond to John Tucker's review of my book Spiritual Titanism: Indian, Chinese, and Western Perspectives (State University of New York Press, 2000), which was published in this journal's Fall 2001 issue. I submit that Tucker did not give my book a very fair appraisal.
Let me first address the categories of premodernism, modernism, and postmodernism. My application of these terms cannot be anachronistic, as Tucker claims, because I define them in a conceptual rather than a chronological sense. I believe that comparative philosophy can be a successful enterprise because of a very simple assumption: we are all Homo sapiens sapiens, and we all share the same brains and physiologies. This means that behind some very dense cultural constructions we can expect to find a basic core of human functions and concepts. In a seminal article on Aristotle, Martha Nussbaum argues for "features of our common humanity" that include mortality, body, pleasure and pain, cognitive capability, and practical reason.1 On this basis I maintain that if a text or oral tradition contains elements of premodern, modern, or postmodern thinking, as I define them in chapter 2 of my book, we can conclude that we have thinkers from different cultures conceptualizing things, such as a self-contained, atomistic self, in instructively similar ways.
The principal difference between constructive and deconstructive postmodernists is that the latter reject a common humanity and eventually land in an extreme relativism. They also differ on claims of normative reason and the canons of evidence, with the former reaffirming these essential tools. They do agree, however, on the fact that each of us, as cultures and individuals, do take a point of view and that the complete objectivity and neutrality that modernism seeks is impossible. This means that comparative philosophy can aspire to be both normative and critical, judging some views to be incoherent, not doing justice to experience, discriminatory, or not adaptable to current historical conditions. Tucker himself demonstrates a point of view in his inclination to defend modernism and a bias, which I share, for environmental sensitivity. We have to learn that there is nothing unscholarly about defending a point of view.
Tucker is wrong to imply that I reject premodernism and modernism in favor of postmodernism. He very carefully quotes David R. Griffin, who explains [End Page 53] that the constructive postmodernist attempts to "salvage a positive meaning not only for the notions of selfhood, historical meaning, reason, and truth as correspondence, which were equated with modernity, but also for notions of divinity, cosmic meaning, and an enchanted nature, which were central to premodern modes of thought" (Spiritual Titanism, p. xxiv). Contrary to Tucker's charges, here it is clear that the constructive postmodernist takes the best of premodern and modernist thinking and synthesizes it into a coherent vision that can help to heal a broken world. Tucker surely exaggerates when he repeatedly uses the terms "apocalyptic" and "messianic" to describe such a sober and thoughtful program.
The contemporary academic can no longer afford the luxury of the presumed neutrality of the Ivory Tower, an aspect of modernist objectivity that has allowed society to ignore us, just as traditional academics have eschewed the challenge of a normative vision for humankind. Tucker finds it "disturbing" that I try to identify the origins of racism, militarism, and environmental degradation, but if academics do not do this we condemn ourselves to irrelevance and ridicule.
Let me now respond to the charge that defining deity in terms of the attributes omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence reveals a Christian bias. Tucker ignores the fact that Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism define deity in the same way. (I strongly disagree with Tucker that any major Chinese philosopher deified Confucius, no matter how deity is defined.) Interestingly enough, the Hindu gods do not have these attributes (they cannot exist without ingesting amṛta), but the point of my thesis is that some humans, according to Jainism and Sāṃkhya-Yoga, can and do take on these attributes. In his...