Abstract

Hacking’s (1985) concept of ‘styles of reasoning’ has prompted research into a multitude of markedly different areas, including: learning and teaching of science (Hawkins and Pea 1987), the history and philosophy of the use of case studies (Forrester 1996), epistemic differences in German and American embryology (Maienschein 1991), the relationship between philosophy and history of science (Radder 1997), and more recently even the relationship between sexuality, translation, and East Asian studies (Chiang 2009). This article attempts to add to this discourse by considering the concept of ‘styles of reasoning’ from the perspective of history of science and geography in China. First, it discusses observation and correlative thinking in the traditional Chinese science of dili (principles of the earth) and fengshui (wind and water), focusing on the meaning and difficulty of the translation of the concept shi, ‘configurational force,’ which embodied an astute early qualitative understanding of gravity and its relationship to fertility. Seminal texts from various dynasties considered in this discussion include the Book of Burial, Classic of Burial, Yellow Emperor’s Classic of House Siting, Arousing the Dragon Classic, Twenty Four Difficult Problems, and Water Dragon Classic. The article then argues that this different ‘style of reasoning’ displayed in the discipline of dili became blurred in Western scientific styles of reasoning to become dilixue (geography). A journal article on the history of the development of the concept of ‘mountain veins’ in traditional Chinese science by a member of the Chinese Geological Survey, Weng Wenhao (1925), is indicative of this melding of Eastern and Western styles of reasoning. It is posited that even with the strength of China’s early scientific foundations, the acceptance in China of Western scientific reasoning was markedly accelerated due to the environmental history of China (Elvin 2004). The environmental history of China over three thousand years is then compared to that of Australia over the past two hundred years using the traditional dili construct to argue that northern hemisphere peoples coming to the south have had to modify their styles of reasoning to perceive the ritualizations of knowledge inherent in northern knowledge systems, based on the generally more fertile geographies of the power bases of the north. It is argued that accepted ‘universal’ theoretical stances such as the market approach advocated by Hayek (1980 and 1976) have more of a geographic basis than is realized and that continuing to follow the ‘logic of short term advantage’ (Elvin 2004) and the ‘ethics of chance’ (Paton 2009) that have become major catalysts to present day market-based systems could have a very negative effect on the survival of the human species over the long term.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1898
Print ISSN
0031-8221
Pages
pp. 178-195
Launched on MUSE
2015-02-02
Open Access
No
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