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  • Philosophers of the Warring States: A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy trans. by Kurtis Hagen and Steve Coutinho
  • Robin R. Wang (bio)
Kurtis Hagen and Steve Coutinho, translated with commentary. Philosophers of the Warring States: A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2018. 442 pp. Paperback $34.95, isbn 978-1-55481-067-3.

Is there a better approach to teaching Chinese Philosophy? Is there a more effective pathway to learning about Chinese Philosophy? Is there a further aptitude to develop in researching Chinese Philosophy? The Philosophers of the Warring States: A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy (The Sourcebook) offers a fresh and discerning clue to these questions. The aim of this anthology is precisely to provide a "philosophical primer" with editors' introductions and extensive explanatory philosophical commentaries. It is a reader-friendly and student-focused textbook for beginners to Chinese Philosophy and beyond.

This Sourcebook is divided into 12 chapters with an Introduction, Key Philosophical Terms, new translations of selected works of seven philosophers—Confucius, Meng Zi (Mencius), Xun Zi, Mo Zi, Lao Zi, Zhuang Zi (two chapters), Han Fei Zi, and two short texts: Da Xue (Expansive Learning) and Zhong Yong "Excellence in the Ordinary."

The editors claim, "We do not think that ancient texts are monoliths with fixed meanings that can simply and straightforwardly be 'translated into modern English'" (p. 9). To support this position, the editors construct a structured guide to actively interpreting ancient Chinese philosophical texts. They take reading Chinese Philosophy from a Western perspective as a comparative "hermeneutic" project, "a living interaction between cultural traditions that involves interpreting one culture from the perspective of another: merging disparate cultural and linguistic threads, strands, currents, and streams, place them side by side, interweaving them, kneading them together where they blend and teasing them gently apart where they resist" (p. 10). Here is how the editors achieve this interweaving in this anthology: all selected and translated texts are arranged in thematic subsections, followed by editors' comments (which focus on particular philosophical insights and their implications), and concluding with a specific index of key concepts and an index of passages. Here are two examples from the Sourcebook:

Chapter 4: The Analects of Confucius. All translations of selections from the Analects are organized and structured into three themes with subdivisions. (1) "Confucius on Personal Conduct and Character" furthers divides into seven sections: Learning, Tradition, and Progress; Ritual Propriety, Music and Harmony; Ritual Propriety and Realizing Ren; Doing One's Utmost with Empathetic Consideration: Ren, Zhong, and Shu; From Aspirants to Exemplary Persons; Virtuous Character; and Ethical Sensibility. (2) "Confucius' Political Philosophy" divides into three subsections: Virtuous Rulership; Roles, [End Page 207] Responsibilities, and Names; and When Dao Does Not Prevail. (3) "Confucius' Worldview and Attitude towards Spiritual Matters" concludes with two beneficial indexes: an index of key philosophical terms and concepts (a total of sixteen) in the Analects and an index of passages. These indexes will be very beneficial for Chinese term-focused research.

Chapter 9: Lao Zi. The translation of the Daodejing is organized into four sections: (1) Ontology and Cosmology; (2) Phenomenology, Meditation, and Spiritual Cultivation; (3) Tian Dao: The Way of the Cosmos; and (4) Ren Dao: The Way of Humans. The editor explains this unique thematic order. It begins with the passages that discuss the ontology and cosmology, the account of the origination of things and the nature of cosmos. Then come passages that describe the meditative practices that bring our understanding and lives into harmony with these natural productive forces. The Way of Cosmos and the Way of Human are compared in order to derive two contrasting Daoist political theories: anarchism and imperialism in spirit (p. 279). This organization reveals a coherent inner linkage among the passages in the Daodejing. This directive reading makes the Daodejing much more accessible to students, encouraging them to establish their textual understanding on solid academic ground.

This innovative arrangement of classical texts is advantageous for those teaching an introductory Chinese Philosophy course. Anyone who has taught Chinese Philosophy as a philosophy course, not as a Sinologic textual reading, knows well that the Analects and the Daodejing have always been a challenge to teach in a chapter...


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