We criticize an approach to culture theory requiring us to start investigations from presuming different conceptions of crucial terms in historical sources such as self, rather than from relying on an uncontroversial sense understood in all civilizations.

We argue that we can understand the differences between concepts in different civilizations better by first clarifying the commonalities that are given in the uncontroversial sense. For our claim we use Zhuangzi as an example that shows the advantages of our approach, not least by demonstrating that many of the traditional oppositions between the Chinese and the Western civilization cannot be confirmed. Hence, our approach, though starting from commonalities between civilizations, is strong at uncovering prejudice.

The perhaps uncontroversial starting point of the investigation of self is that different cultural experiences have produced importantly different conceptions of self and that these different conceptions of self need to be factored into any responsible evaluation of contemporary issues and problems.

(Ames 1994, vii-ix, vii)