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  • Doing Philosophy Comparatively by Tim Connolly
  • Shirong Luo (bio)
Doing Philosophy Comparatively. By Tim Connolly. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. Pp. x + 232. isbn 978-1-7809-3839-4.

In Doing Philosophy Comparatively Tim Connolly has accomplished an admirable feat: the first comprehensive and systematic introduction to comparative philosophy, written in a lucid and accessible style. Although it is designed to be used as a text-book [End Page 316] for an introduction to a comparative philosophy course, this excellent volume will prove extremely helpful to anyone who is interested in this area of philosophic pursuit. As a practitioner of comparative philosophy, I benefited from reading this book because it gives a panoramic view of the field, provides answers to some of my questions, and piques my interest. I have been informed and enlightened.

The volume is divided into three parts. The first part focuses on the nature of comparative philosophy and its central concepts—comparison, tradition, and culture (p. 7). In the second part, Connolly discusses three major problems of comparative philosophy—incommensurability, one-sidedness, and generalization—as well as their solutions or remedies. The last part introduces four main approaches to comparative philosophy: universalism, pluralism, consensus, and global philosophy.

The central question of the opening chapter of part 1 is whether there is such a thing as comparative philosophy. Connolly begins his discussion of the nature of comparative philosophy by critically examining several definitions of philosophy without settling on any of them, and he then proceeds to give a definition of the discipline. Is there such a thing as non-Western philosophy? This question is no less significant than the title question because if the answer to the former were negative, could there be comparative philosophy? So the fate of comparative philosophy seems to hinge on the answers to these two questions. A discussion of the question as to whether there is such a thing as comparative philosophy may strike the reader as a bit unusual, even for a philosophy textbook, because an introduction to philosophy rarely, if at all, discusses the question whether there is such a thing as philosophy, although it may address the question whether "philosophy is dead." We are told that there are two main objections calling the very existence of comparative philosophy into question, both of which seem to involve the charge of redundancy. One objection claims that the word "Western" in "Western philosophy" is redundant because philosophy is inherently Western; non-Western cultures therefore do not have philosophy (p. 12). To this challenge, the author gives a lengthy and thorough rebuttal, fulfilling his promise to confront the objections head-on (p. 11). Then he turns to the second objection, that the adjective "comparative" in "comparative philosophy" is redundant because one cannot philosophize without comparison. The author responds to this objection by pointing out that what distinguishes comparative philosophy from philosophy proper is not whether or not the former makes comparisons, but what it compares. The uniqueness of comparative philosophy, the author argues, manifests itself in making comparisons "across culturally distinct philosophical traditions" (p. 24).

The focus of chapter 2 is the concept of comparison. According to Connolly, there are two dimensions to the idea of comparison: the interpretive dimension and the constructive dimension. The reader will learn that the aim of comparative philosophy is twofold: (1) to understand particular philosophers and texts or the traditions of which they are part (the interpretive dimension), and (2) to make constructive progress on specific philosophical problems or issues (the constructive dimension) (p. 28). If comparative philosophy is that part of philosophy engaging in comparing "culturally distinct philosophical traditions," a clarification of the concepts of culture, [End Page 317] tradition, and how they are related to comparative philosophy seems to be in order, which is what the author does in chapter 3. In this chapter, the reader learns that there are two principles that can help comparative philosophers decide which cultural traditions to engage. The first principle, "developmental isolation," tells us to engage traditions that have formed as independently of our own as possible (p. 60). This principle provides an answer to my question as to why Chinese philosophy in the pre-Qin period has...


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