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  • The Philosophical Challenge from China ed. by Brian Bruya
  • Sydney Morrow (bio)
The Philosophical Challenge from China. Edited by Brian Bruya. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015. Pp. 432. Hardcover $45.00, isbn 978-0-262-02843-1. eBook $32.00, isbn 978-0-26-232361-1.

The Philosophical Challenge from China, edited by Brian Bruya, undoubtedly occupies an important place in the discourse about what practices and authorities are relevant to Philosophy as an academic discipline. Its confident reorientation of philosophical relevance in the context of Anglophone academics will hopefully speak meaningfully to any remaining skeptics of the usefulness of Chinese philosophy. The intended audience of this effort, however, is shrinking, or, more accurately, those willing to be convinced are increasingly few, and what remains is simply and haplessly the staunch traditionalists of the so-called Western paradigm. This evokes the thought that anthologies that strive to show relevance, while at the same time being philosophically nuanced enough to please a moderately specialized audience, are without appropriate readership. Most readers, I think, will appreciate the alternately playful, scoffing, earnest, and inventive essays that comprise this volume from the meta-philosophical perspective of comparative methodology, and in so doing overlook the challenge that is the supposed force of the collection. That said, whether a particular comparative methodology is advantageous and oriented toward the complex future that comparative philosophy gives way to is a conversation that this anthology is specially poised to host.

Following an introduction from the editor chronicling the crisis of Anglophone Chinese philosophy, namely the sore lack of institutional recognition, respect, and support, this volume is divided into three sections, each featuring a handful of pieces with little overlap in terms of authoritative material, though each makes dutiful reference to the formative texts of the Chinese philosophical tradition.

The first section, Moral Psychology, speaks to those familiar with moral and ethical theory as well as contemporary cognitive science and psychology about [End Page 948] the benefits of including perspectives from Chinese philosophy. The first essay, contributed by Hagop Sarkissian, “When You Think It’s Bad, It’s Worse Than You Think: Psychological Bias and the Ethics of Negative Character Assessments,” begins with Susan Wolf’s account of the demands on the potential moral saint. The call for a person to be categorically good seems to go a little far, by Wolf’s estimation, and this author searches for remediation amid the Analects. With its concern for context and self-scrutiny, the Analects yields license to consider the implications and causes of acts that may on the surface not be moral. What Chinese philosophy provides is a nuanced view of others that is not merely the sum of their acts, but an assessment of their character, which may or may not be charitable. The ability to assess others is part of what it is to be moral, and it requires consistent self-directed scrutiny. This depth of inward- and outward-directed morality is compared to contemporary experimental psychology and game theory in hopes of clarifying the problems of giving someone the benefit of the doubt in a social context.

In the second essay, “Growing Virtue: The Theory and Science of Developing Compassion from a Mencian Perspective,” David B. Wong squares its view on the Mencius and brings in select insights from contemporary psychology to bolster a theory of compassion. Interestingly, the Mencius is shown with relative ease to align with new findings in cognitive neuroscience more so than the philosophical perspectives on self proffered by Kant and Hume, which embrace the dichotomy between body and mind.

In the third selection, Bongrae Seok’s “Proto-Empathy and Nociceptive Mirror Emotion: Mencius’ Embodied Moral Psychology” also makes use of the Mencius’ embodied perspective on morality, but hopes to uncover insights for theories on empathy. Empathy is not something that is learned in a social context, but, as in the Mencius, is a spontaneous upwelling of concern. Seok presents cognitive theories of nociceptive mirror emotions, which provide insights into the uniquely painful feeling one has when exposed to the suffering of someone else, to develop a theory of embodied proto-empathy, a moral emotion that may preempt social concerns about caring...


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