- An Ineffective Inoculation
Robert Wardy's Aristotle in China has two chapters. The first, "The China Syndrome," examines and attempts to refute a variety of claims made in the spirit of Benjamin Lee Whorf to the effect that the natural language used by a culture "guides and constrains" the thought patterns available to it and, especially, to those who attempt to philosophize in that language. The second, "Aristotelian Whispers," examines a translation of Aristotle's Categories into Chinese made in the seventeenth century. As it is commonly held that doctrines in this basic Aristotelian text are heavily influenced by the Greek in which Aristotle wrote, the project of translating it into a non-Indo-European language offers the possibility of seeing the alleged "guidance and constraint" at work. The interest of the material covered in the second chapter, however, transcends the philosophic preoccupations to which it is harnessed, and it may be useful to begin by surveying what Wardy offers to sinologists and intellectual historians who may find disputes over Whorfian claims irksome rather than intriguing.
The text featured in Wardy's second chapter, the Ming li t'an, appeared in Hangchou in 1631. It is a translation of one volume of In Universam Dialecticam Aristotelis, one of a series of Aristotelian texts and commentaries that had been published earlier in the century by the Jesuits of the Portuguese University of Coimbra. This member of the series contains a Latin version of selections from the Organon, including the Categories, along with "voluminous philosophical and philological comments" (p. 76). It begins not with Aristotle's Categories but with Porphyry's Isagoge, a commentary from the second century C.E. introducing the Categories. The translation into Chinese was the collaborative effort of a Chinese literatus, Li Chih-tsao , and a Jesuit, Francisco Furtado, who was educated at Coimbra. There is evidence that Li and Furtado "produced a more or less complete Chinese Organon" (p. 83), but the Ming li t'an consists only of the Isagoge, the Categories, and generous selections from related commentaries. There are three known surviving copies of this edition, located in Beijing, Paris, and the Vatican, as well as a 1965 Taipei reprint (p. 70). [End Page 545]
Wardy provides a biographical sketch of Li (pp. 78-79), and readings of two prefaces original to the Chinese that indicate how the value of the work was presented to the Chinese (pp. 80-81). He engages in some speculation as to why the Jesuits might have thought this effort important, to whom the Ming li t'an might have been addressed, and how it was to be used (pp. 77, 86). There are also accounts of how the Ming li t'an presents the idea of philosophy and introduces Aristotle to the Chinese reader. The latter was "transformed from an ambivalent intellectual outsider to a paragon of the thriving scholar-official" (p. 95). The Chinese practice of explaining both a word and its meaning is said to have generated confusing signals about philosophy, as the name implies a lack of knowledge but its meaning implies an exceptionally high grade of knowledge. Wardy argues that this was "fruitful," not evidence that the notion is untranslatable (p. 91).
The theory of the elements of discourse translated in the Ming li t'an is not, however, accompanied by the logical theory that constitutes its native Western habitat. Chinese readers of the Ming li t'an had, moreover, no surviving tradition of the self-conscious study of inference, and there is evidence that Western practices of disputation struck the Chinese as bizarre (p. 99 n. 108). Allusions in the translation to the familiar Chinese project of cheng ming (rectification of names) do not appear to be sufficient to make the idea of logic, or the passages that introduce it, at all clear (pp. 103-106). The translation nevertheless is able to draw on the way in which the correct use of names is tied to clear discrimination in Chinese tradition to offer a coherent reason...