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  • Himmel—Erde—Mensch: Das Verhältnis des Menschen zur Wirklichkeit in der antiken chinesischen Philosophie by Philippe Brunozzi
  • Rafael Suter
Himmel—Erde—Mensch: Das Verhältnis des Menschen zur Wirklichkeit in der antiken chinesischen Philosophie (Heaven—Earth—Man: The relation of the human being to reality in ancient Chinese philosophy). By Philippe Brunozzi. Welten der Philosophie 8. Freiburg/München: Verlag Karl Alber, 2011. Pp. 236. €29, isbn 978-3-495-48489-0.

It is somewhat daring that Philippe Brunozzi’s Himmel—Erde—Mensch: Das Verhältnis des Menschen zur Wirklichkeit in der antiken chinesischen Philosophie mentions in its title the triad of heaven, earth, and man, the harmonious unity of which has become a popular characterization in nuce of Chinese philosophy, however meaningless it may be. And it is apparently in an immediate attempt to outweigh this appeal to cliché that, already in the subtitle, the author specifies that it is the human being on whom his book concentrates. Indeed, Brunozzi probes if not a cliché then a view on classical Chinese philosophy that has become rather commonplace: What [End Page 610] is the textual basis of the widespread conviction that ancient Chinese thought is mainly interested in practical matters of everyday life? It is this preconception that Brunozzi intends to evaluate in a close reading of three classical Chinese works: the Analects, the Mozi, and the Laozi.

Brunozzi’s book is a revised version of his Ph.D. thesis, consisting of three parts. The first is dedicated to challenging the above-mentioned preconception of Chinese philosophy and to the question of what I tentatively translate as the “actualization of man’s relation to reality” (Ein problematisches Grundverständnis und die Frage nach dem Vollzug des menschlichen Wirklichkeitsverhältnisses) (pp. 17–48). Part 2, by far the largest, promises to test, in a close reading of the selected texts, the questionable premises presented in part 1 (“Die Überprüfung,” pp. 49–209). The third part offers a summarizing assessment (“Die Auswertung,” pp. 215–222).

The view of Chinese philosophy that Brunozzi puts to the test is the one advanced by interpretations such as those by Roger T. Ames or François Jullien. Brunozzi deserves credit for attempting, against fashionable trends, a philosophical reading of the mentioned works as texts. To this end, he employs Ricoeur’s hermeneutical approach and his concept of the “world of the text,” thus elegantly circumventing delicate issues of authorship and textual genesis. Another valuable contribution of Brunozzi’s work is his innovative and sometimes highly appealing translations of the primary sources. Clearly tailored to the author’s conceptual investigations, they nonetheless remain sufficiently faithful to the Chinese original. If there is a motif pervading the score of Brunozzi’s work, it is his emphasis on the central role of the lived body (Leib) for reconstructing the relation of man to his environment in the works he analyzes.

Despite all the originality of Brunozzi’s approach, there are problems with the study, some of which are perhaps due precisely to the approach. For one thing, the overall argumentative structure of Brunozzi’s study could be more convincing. Given that it is explicitly designed to test the widespread view that ancient Chinese philosophy is focused on issues of practical life, it is astonishing that in his analyses the author at times readily endorses the validity of this claim himself. If Brunozzi is convinced that this view is correct in case a detailed investigation of the sources yields a more multifaceted picture of the human way of interacting with the environment (p. 217), he is probably too optimistic. If one sets out to test this view, why not try to read certain passages explicitly against it? To be fair, Brunozzi readily admits the limited scope of his own approach: “If Chinese philosophy was truly interested in concerns of the human relation to reality, one has to ask why the recommended approaches were not more explicitly and more systematically presented” (p. 221). He remains vague, however, when he proposes that complementing our “one-sided” philological approach to the texts by “overall practically oriented forms and ways of text interpretation” could lead to additional precision (p. 224...