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  • Jin Yuelin:Formidable, Formative Philosopher of Twentieth-Century China
  • Kirill Ole Thompson (bio)
Yvonne Schulz Zinda. Jin Yuelin’s Ontology: Perspectives on the Problem of Induction. Modern Chinese Philosophy, vol. 6. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2012. vi, 238 pp. Hardcover $135.00, isbn 978-9-004-17666-9.

Asked to identify the main new philosophies that were important in Republican and early Communist China (ca. 1920–1965), a Western sinologist would tend to mention Deweyan pragmatism, Marxism, Chinese Marxism, and the like. Asked to consider the work undertaken by Chinese philosophers of that time on logic, epistemology, and metaphysics or ontology, he or she would likely venture that it consisted mainly of translations and reiterations of more original work done in the West.

Jin Yuelin (1895–1984), however, was a prominent philosopher in Republican and early Communist China who did innovative work in these fields of philosophy [End Page 40] but who has remained, at least until the publication of the book under review, a largely unknown figure to Western sinologists and philosophers (Hu 2002). Jin’s principal works included a logic textbook (Luoji), a book on epistemology (Zhishilun), and a book on ontology (Lundao). In Jin Yuelin’s Ontology: Perspectives on the Problem of Induction, Yvonne Schulz Zinda systematically unveils, analyzes, and discusses Jin Yuelin’s original and influential work in logic, epistemology, and ontology. This book is important not just because it rescues Jin’s legacy from the neglect of the Western sinologists but because Jin’s philosophic lexicon and foundational work in logic, epistemology, and ontology paved the way for twentieth-century philosophers in China both to think philosophically and to utilize a number of philosophical terms, native as well as Western, in grappling with the fundamental philosophical issues of the day.

What allowed Jin to make such important contributions was that he regarded philosophy as a general human discipline and endeavor, like physics and mathematics. To him, it was not meaningful to partition off Chinese philosophy to be studied on its own without relation to the problems that philosophers have been tackling around the world (p. 16). Consequently, rather than undermine the uniqueness of native Chinese thought, Jin’s bringing of Chinese concepts to the discussion of general philosophical issues highlighted the wider intellectual promise of Chinese thought as well as encouraged Chinese philosophers to confront perennial philosophical issues.

After attending a missionary high school in Changsha and taking preparatory classes at Tsinghua University, Jin studied political science at Columbia University in New York, where he wrote a doctoral dissertation, “The Political Theory of Thomas Hill Green” (1920, p. 9). While at Columbia University, he became acquainted with such rising stars as Hu Shi (1891–1962) and Feng Youlan (1895–1990); the latter was to become a lifelong friend. Jin was intellectually nurtured on synthetic Hegelian thinking at Columbia but soon encountered David Hume’s (1711–1776) A Treatise of Human Nature (2000) and Bertrand Russell’s (1872–1970) The Principles of Mathematics (1938) (p. 9). In A Treatise, Hume forcefully challenged the modern Western notions of causality and induction widely deemed crucial not only to the conduct of hard science but to most practical human thinking, as well. Furthermore, in The Principles, Russell showed that knowledge was expressed in propositions and that formal logic provided the proper and best means for relating and drawing inferences from propositions, thus deflating grandiose Hegelian absolutist pretensions. Jin was particularly shaken by Hume’s skeptical challenge and drew upon Russell’s idea of propositional knowledge in devising a way to answer Hume and reconstruct philosophy. With this background in mind, we may trace the argument of Jin Yuelin’s Ontology. Schulz Zinda discusses Jin’s philosophical lexicon and his philosophical style, highlighting his insistence that philosophers explore and engage in the “play of concepts” according to the rules of the game, an approach he thought would open the way to [End Page 41] breakthroughs and fresh insights (p. 24). Schulz Zinda’s account of Jin’s philosophical lexicon is most stimulating and opens the way to further inquiry. Jin insisted that once the philosophical lexicon and rules of use are established, philosophers ought to play “the language game” of...


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