- The Bloomsbury Handbook of Chinese Philosophy Methodologies ed. by Sorhoon Tan
The Bloomsbury Handbook of Chinese Philosophy Methodologies is the third entry of the Bloomsbury Research Handbook in Asian Philosophy series. Editor Sor-hoon Tan begins the Handbook with a historical journey starting from Hegel's insistence that "Chinese philosophy" is not really philosophy; through Hu Shih's and Fung Yulan's groundbreaking attempts in the early twentieth century to revise traditional Chinese thought using Western methods; and up to more current discussions on the question of whether there is such a thing as "Chinese philosophy." Methodology, Tan insists, lies at the center of this debate, and being committed to the employment of sound methods can be of existential importance for the field of Anglophone Chinese [End Page 656] philosophy. This may involve reflecting, from a meta-perspective, the methodology one uses to engage with Chinese philosophy. The present collection of eighteen essays is a cooperative effort by leading researchers working in the field to do just that.
In light of recent events, it seems that a project like this is sorely needed. I refer to a series of online articles that emerged in 2016, just about when this Handbook was published, debating the status of non-Western philosophy. It began with an opinion piece where Jay Garfield and Bryan Van Norden argue, tongue-in-cheek, that if philosophy departments in the United States are unwilling to consider non-European philosophy in their curriculum, they should be renamed as departments of Anglo-European philosophical studies.1 Predictably, it incited multiple responses defending the exclusion of non-European philosophy. Brian Leiter of "The Philosophical Gourmet Report" fame, for instance, gave a short response on his blog claiming that "What unites the curricula at these programs is not a commitment to 'European and American philosophy' but a commitment to a style of doing philosophy."2 In other words, there is something different about the methodology of "non-European philosophy" that makes it qualitatively different from mainstream philosophy. As mentioned, Tan sees methodology as an existential issue for Chinese philosophy, especially if it wants to be taken seriously as philosophy. The discussions in this Handbook, though not explicitly aimed at providing an apologia for Anglophone Chinese philosophy,3 gives readers the conceptual resources to push back against claims such as those made by Leiter.
The Handbook is divided into four parts. Part 1 deals with the unique difficulties of philosophizing in a textual tradition. Roger Ames and Kwong-loi Shun both contribute essays about the methodology they personally employ to approach Chinese texts and thoughts. Ronnie Littlejohn, Michael Nylan, and Ming-Huei Lee start off the discussion with three consecutive essays that go back-and-forth on the importance of historical accuracy in representing the content of the texts vis-à-vis philosophical liberties taken with interpreting them. Littlejohn and Lee argue for more balanced approaches between the two while Nylan, speaking as a historian, issues a stern warning against ignoring certain historical contexts.
Part 2 features essays by Peimin Ni, Sarah Mattice, and Sor-hoon Tan, stressing the centrality of practice in Chinese philosophy and drawing methodological insights from that angle. Ni's and Tan's essays consider two approaches to the practice-oriented study of Chinese philosophy: the Gongfu method and the Pragmatist method, respectively. Mattice, on the other hand, extracts methodological insights from the practice of teaching Chinese philosophy, prescribing an aesthetics-centered approach to the subject (p. 146).
Part 3 features essays that look at how Chinese philosophy can borrow methodologies from Western philosophy. Franklin Perkins argues that conceptually loaded terms like "metaphysics" can be borrowed for discussions in Chinese philosophy but only if discussants are willing to use the term in a more inclusive manner that encourages cross-cultural dialogue (p. 186). Bo Mou presents a comprehensive approach to studying Chinese philosophy that aims to have distinct approaches from different [End Page 657] philosophical traditions cross-pollinate ideas and contribute to contemporary philosophical issues (pp. 199–200). Yiuming Fung...