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  • Appreciating the Chinese Difference: Engaging Roger T. Ames on Methods, Issues, and Roles ed. by Jim Behuniak
  • John Ramsey (bio)
Jim Behuniak, editor. Appreciating the Chinese Difference: Engaging Roger T. Ames on Methods, Issues, and Roles. Albany: SUNY Press, 2018. vi, 304 pp. Hardcover $85.00, isbn 978-1-4383-7099-3.

This festschrift celebrates the monumental scholarship of Roger T. Ames who, along with his longtime collaborators David Hall and Henry Rosemont Jr., has affected a sea change in Chinese and Comparative philosophy. The anthology contains twelve chapters written by Ames' established peers—a festschrift from his students is forthcoming—and Ames' replies to each chapter. Overall, the anthology offers an excellent overview of Ames' oeuvre and his wide-reaching influence and, at times, the reader is treated to a close engagement with specific issues such as translation of key concepts, methodology, and how best to situate the ethical perspective of early Confucianism. Many of the authors also share personal reminiscences of their time and interactions with Ames. These reflections underscore that Ames not only is a scholar of the highest rank, but also lives and teaches what he knows so well.

The anthology is structured into four parts—Methods, Issues, Roles, and Replies. The chapters comprising part 1, "Methods," reflect on the methodology of Ames and his collaborators, situating them within the history of comparative philosophy. Thomas P. Kasulis' chapter, "Roger T. Ames and the Meaning of Confucianism," sets the groundwork for much of the anthology by reminiscing about Ames' arrival at the University of Hawai'i and exploring how Ames' work engages different dimensions of meaning. The chapter turns critical of Ames' theory of Confucian role ethics by examining the theory against the dimensions of meaning Kasulis finds in Ames' work: thinking through each dimension demonstrates that the theory raises more questions than it solves.

In his chapter, "On Comparative and Post-Comparative Philosophy," Hans-Georg Moeller articulates a taxonomy of the historical forms of comparative methodology and situates Ames and his collaborators as "comparative-contrast" philosophers who developed "a philosophical vocabulary that does not evolve from within the currently dominating [i.e. Anglo-European] philosophical discourses but. . . substantially challenges these discourses by confronting them with an 'alien' semantics" (p. 42). Robert Cummins Neville reflects on the Ames–Hall collaboration (in "On the Importance of the Ames–Hall Collaboration"), particularly how it produced a philosophy of culture that situated China's intellectual traditions as their [End Page 101] own philosophical traditions that need not be absorbed into Anglo-European philosophy. Neville highlights why, thanks to Ames and Hall, comparative philosophers can appreciate that philosophy is an element of a particular culture, why any culture's philosophers are in critical conversation with their own cultures, and how philosophers are creative and innovative forces within their cultures.

All three chapters in the first part suggest that, especially in advocating for and defending Confucian role ethics, Ames has left off doing "Chinese" philosophy and is really engaged in productive philosophy, grounding his philosophical views thoroughly in Chinese traditions.

Part 2, "Issues," examines various applications and extensions of Ames' influence. Graham Parkes (in "The Art of Rulership in the Context of Heaven and Earth") questions the ideological bases of Western political philosophies in light of Ames' The Art of Rulership. By examining the conceptual background in the correlation of Heaven and Earth and then working through various political views of early China, Parkes' chapter is an excellent introduction and overview for applying early Chinese political philosophy to environmental concerns. Richard Shusterman (in "Sex and Somaesthetics: Appreciating the Chinese Difference") extends Ames' insistence that Confucian ethics and aesthetics are interconnected to the erotic theories found in the fang shu (bedroom technique) genre. Shusterman revises Foucault's misreadings of the tradition by focusing on the aesthetic motivation inherent in Foucault's misinterpretation. In "Vast Continuity versus the One," Brook Ziporyn explores the uses of yi in chapter 42 of the Daodejing. This chapter is a helpful companion to Kasulis' contribution as Ziporyn offers a nuanced discussion of how Ames' insightful translations situate the translated work in the larger conceptual scheme of how Classical Chinese means. Chengyang Li's contribution "Supplementing Ames...