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  • Cultivating a Good Life in Early Chinese and Ancient Greek Philosophy: Perspectives and Reverberations ed. by Karyn Lai, Rick Benitez and Hyun Jin Kim
  • Paul Carelli (bio)
Cultivating a Good Life in Early Chinese and Ancient Greek Philosophy: Perspectives and Reverberations. Edited by Karyn Lai, Rick Benitez and Hyun Jin Kim. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019. Pp. vi + 262. Hardcover $114.00, isbn 978-1-350-04957-4.

This volume presents fifteen articles that were the eventual result of a conference on ancient Chinese and Greek views of cultivation held in January of 2016 at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The articles are evenly distributed into three sections: the first dedicated to understanding the way cultivation is conceptualized, the second to investigating epistemological problems concerning cultivation, and the third to considering practical applications. There is a brief but informative introduction to the volume as a whole and separate short introductions before each of the three sections. Notes and bibliographical material are found at the end of each article and there is a contributor list and a general index at the end of the book.

Despite what one may infer from the title, this volume does not set out to offer explicit comparisons between ancient Chinese and Greek views on cultivation, but instead looks to each tradition as a source of well-considered perspectives distant enough from contemporary views to offer valuably novel contributions concerning self-cultivation. Part one is an exploration of the concepts of harmony, balance, and beauty and how these concepts relate to cultivation. Rick Benitez's "Cultivation and Harmony: Plato and Confucius" finds common cause between these two thinkers, each recognizing a well-ordered society as being the foundation of harmony, with music its most important expression. Lee Coulson, in "Cultivating Noble Simplicity (Euētheia): Plato," explores Plato's call for rejecting the sophistication that became the obsession of his contemporaries in favor of a life of simplicity, to which Coulson finds parallels in Chinese Daoism. In "The Beauty Ladder and the Mind-Heart Excursion: Plato and Zhuangzi" Wang Keping offers an analysis that brings to the surface important similarities of these two ways of cultivation, suggesting the possibility of synchronizing Plato's method of knowing with Zhuangzi's (莊⼦) method of forgetting. Lisa Raphals' "Awareness and Spontaneity: Three Perspectives in the [End Page 1] "Understanding 'Dao's Patterns': Han Fei," demonstrates how Han Fei's (韓⾮) commentary on the Laozi 《⽼⼦》procures clear guidelines for human conduct from the notoriously enigmatic text.

Part two considers the doubts and conflicts that arise from the pursuit of wisdom. Yasuhira Yahei makes a detailed investigation to show how doubt is at the core of Socratic cultivation, yet is something to be avoided by Confucians in her "Skepsis and Doubt: Ancient Greece and the East." Per Lind's "Wisdom and Cognitive Conflict: Benign Perplexity in the Outlines of Scepticism," through an extensive analysis of specific and general perplexity, argues that the cognitive conflict that Sextus Empiricus recommends is a legitimate technique for cultivating wisdom. In "Understanding Fortune and Misfortune in a Good Life: 'Solon' and 'Confucius'," Hyun Jin Kim and Karen Kai-Nung Hsu explore the role of fortune and misfortune in assessing the good life in Herodotus' Histories and the Lunyu 《論語》. Jesse Ciccotti's "Emotion and Self-Cultivation: Marcus Aurelius and Mengzi" shows that though the Stoic and Confucian differ on the values certain emotions hold, both maintain that the emotions and thinking originate in the same faculty and both are optimistic about human cultivation. Lastly, Lauren F. Pfister finds surprising parallels in counter-cultural whole-person cultivation between Christianity and Daoism in his "Dislodging Mundane Wisdom: The Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi and the New Testament Gospels."

The chapters of part three turn to practical applications of self-cultivation. This section starts off with Sophie Grace Chappell's "Knowing How to Act: Aristotle," which highlights the importance of practice and the development of proper feeling in Aristotle's ethical view and denies the usual reading of the Nicomachean Ethics as a work concerned with ethical theory. Similarly, Karyn Lai puts practice at the center of Confucian cultivation, arguing that it is not just the possession of...


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