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  • Intercultural Philosophy and Intercultural Hermeneutics: A Response to Defoort, Wenning, and Marchal
  • Eric S. Nelson (bio)

I. Introduction

Carine Defoort, Mario Wenning, and Kai Marchal offer three ways of engaging with Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought and the philosophical, hermeneutical, and historical issues it attempted to articulate and address.1 This work is historical with a contemporary philosophical intent: to reexamine a tumultuous contested epoch of philosophy’s past in order to reconsider its existing limitations and alternative possibilities. One dimension of this book is the investigation of constellations and entanglements of historical forces and concepts for the sake of articulating critical models and alternatives for the present.2 In the book, I contested the modern self-image of philosophy as exclusively and intrinsically Occidental by genealogically tracing how philosophy is already intercultural through a series of case studies focusing primarily on early twentieth-century German philosophy in its broader historical context.

This critical genealogy of the intercultural conditions of the formation of modern philosophy is evidenced not only by considering “positive” influences and appropriations, as in Martin Buber, Martin Heidegger, or Georg Misch’s interpretation of Daoist sources such as the Zhuangzi 莊子 (chapters 4 and 5), but also in the constructions of the autonomy and purity of modern Western philosophy through its reactions against, and exclusion and subordi-nation of, its “non-Western” others (chapters 1, 5, and 6). The book does not represent a purely Western history or narrative insofar as I draw on a variety of argumentational and hermeneutical strategies from Chinese and other discourses to reverse and transform Western prejudices and perspectives. Two important examples of contesting and transforming Western perspectives in the text can be mentioned here. First, I examine the Confucian analysis of resentment in chapter 3 in response to the identification of the Chinese people and Chinese thought with resentment. The Confucian discourse in many ways offers a more nuanced and systematic analysis of the moral psychology of resentment than Western philosophical analyses.

Second, in chapter 5, I draw inspiration from the Zhuangzi, and Misch’s interpretation, in pursuing a strategy of undermining and undoing fixations by exposing the limitations of false claims to truth and universality through a [End Page 247] series of historical examples focused on early twentieth-century interactions between Chinese and German thought.3 “The Autumn Floods” (Qiushui 秋水) chapter of the Zhuangzi, which fascinated Misch as an image of “breakthrough” (Durchbruch) and breaking-out from an unreflective natural attitude, depicts how the great river is shocked by its own smallness when entering the sea. The second passage of Qiushui speaks of the frog in the well that cannot glimpse or comprehend anything beyond its limited perspective.4 Leaping out of one’s well is challenging if not impossible. While the ethnocentric skeptic can deny that a genuine leap outside the well and change of perspective has ever occurred, we can ask how he/she knows it has not occurred.

Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought was composed as a philosophical history in which we ourselves are participating. It is a deeply hermeneutical project insofar as it calls on its author and readers to practice what it analyzes (undoing fixations) and reflect on itself as part of its object of inquiry (the current polycultural hermeneutical situation).

II. Decolonizing Philosophy, Modernity, and the Lifeworld

The hegemonic idea of philosophy as disinterested theory, pure reason, and rigorous science, progressing from its presumed ancient Greek origins to Western modernity, is a derivative development of this history. The teleological narrative of the philosophy of history was constructed not only by prominent canonical thinkers such as Hegel and Husserl, who are frequent targets of multicultural criticism, but in the submerged sedimented discourses from which they emerged. Well-intentioned multicultural philosophers miss an important point in the debate when they argue that it is only an issue of the particularities of Western vis-à-vis “non-Western” cultures, since the most hegemonic discourses of the primacy of the West do not directly appeal to race or premodern Western cultures. It is the idea of Western modernity and Occidental rationalization that deadlocks debates about Eurocentrism and multiculturalism inside and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1898
Print ISSN
0031-8221
Pages
pp. 247-259
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-21
Open Access
No
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