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  • Fundamentals of Comparative and Intercultural Philosophy by Lin Ma, Jaap van Brakel
  • Mary L. Keller
Fundamentals of Comparative and Intercultural Philosophy. Lin Ma and Jaap van Brakel. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016. 420 pp. $30.95 cloth.

I very highly recommend Fundamentals of Comparative and Intercultural Philosophy by Lin Ma and Jaap van Brakel, particularly with an eye toward the interdisciplinary foci of graduate programs that deal with critical thinking in globalized contexts. My enthusiasm for this book’s accomplishments are based on the intelligibility and clarity of the authors’ arguments, from which I refreshed my familiarity with theories of language and was able to learn recent developments and apply fundamental questions of translation, interpretation, and comparison that they explored vividly in exemplary case studies. The success with which the authors lay out the fundamental issues of comparative philosophy, including the histories of arguments that have been developed in the endeavors of comparative philosophy, leads me to recommend the text for any advanced undergraduate or graduate program that introduces comparative problems in the study of culture, including anthropology, education, religion, philosophy, political science and semiotics. Graduate departments for international relations and international business would also be well served to introduce incoming students to these formal issues. The reader will finish the book prepared to develop arguments adequate to the complexity of comparative and intercultural philosophy in a globalized world of asymmetrical relationships of power that are in part due to the history of linguistic conquest that was intimately coupled with colonial conquest.

The clarity of explanation is consistently stellar, making it a text that instructs and models summarization and synthesis. In their introduction, the authors describe “the necessary conditions for interpretation across (philosophical) traditions” (2) and walk through the fundamentals of Kantian transcendental deduction so succinctly that I expect to return to the text both to refresh myself and to instruct students. This high level of elucidation continues throughout the book, bringing the reader a swift, thorough, and effective explanation of the central problems for intercultural philosophy. Another example of the power of their alacrity in moving accurately across complex issues is found on pages 135–48, where they cover their first necessary precondition for intercultural philosophy, beginning with a minimalist assumption regarding “being human” or “being-with another soul” based on early accounts of contact situations and the use of signs that erupted amidst the disorientation of encountering others. From this precondition, they move swiftly through the dangers of assuming [End Page 74] that concrete universals underlie such communicative efforts, leading them not only to identify the constraints of their argument (i.e., that no language universals can be assumed), and even further, that there is no need to assume shared worlds either. An instructor could explore formal issues of metaphysics, or one could move into contemporary work by thinkers such as Bruno Latour and Augustine Berque regarding communication across worlds that coexist on one earth.

The order with which the authors tackle the concerns of comparison, translation, and interpretation speaks to their deep understanding of how to deliver such complex issues in steps that historicize, explain, and solve problems. After laying out “Preliminaries—Philosophy and Language” (in which they tackle the question “Do We Need a Universal Notion of Philosophy?”), they cover “The Troubled Water of the Ideal Language Paradigm,” “Universalism and Relativism,” “Family Resemblance and De-essentialization,” and “No Need to Speak the Same Language (NNSSL).” Having described the problems and proffered pragmatic strategies for proceeding with comparative and intercultural projects, they then apply their method: “Conceptual Schemes and Forms of Life”; “Varieties of Intercultural Philosophy” (which includes the following subheadings: “Terminology,” “Heidegger’s Asian Connection,” “Interkulturelle Philosophie,” “Ethnophilosophy,” “Comparative Philosophy: Science, Pragmatism, or Anti-philosophy?,” “Variations of World Philosophy,” and “The Geyi Method”); “Constraints in the Era of Globalization”; “Interpretation Models”; and “Necessary Preconditions for Interpretation.” This progression works.

The authors proceed with pragmatic adoptions of strategies, particularly the Family Resemblance (FR) principle and NNSSL. This allows them to pursue elegant problems that are rigorously explored with full awareness of the fraught terrain. For example, by detailing a comparison between nineteenth and twentieth-century arguments within and across African and Chinese...


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