The work before you is an interpretive journey through the historical reception of Chinese and Buddhist philosophy in modern German thought, focusing in particular—albeit not exclusively—on the early twentieth century. Its intent is to describe and analyze the intertextual nexus of intersecting sources for the sake of elucidating implications and critical models for intercultural hermeneutics and intercultural philosophy. The possibility of such a philosophy is confronted by the persistent myth and prejudice that philosophy is and can only be a unique and exclusive Western spiritual achievement.
The chapters of this book consist of a series of philosophically oriented historical case studies, focusing primarily on the intersection between Chinese and German philosophy. They explore instances of the encounter, dialogue, and exchange—and lack and failure thereof—between “Eastern” Chinese and “Western” German thinkers and discourses. “Eastern” and “Western,” as Gihwa noted, are only relative situational concepts. The history of this already existing and ongoing communicative interaction and cultural exchange compels us to consider, more seriously than hitherto, whether a more nuanced and historically appropriate conception of philosophy can emerge through critically engaging and reflecting on the modern encounter between Western and non-Western philosophy, and articulating its intercultural and intertextual dynamics; if it proves impossible to transgress these borders, the old reductive myths of the exclusivity, exceptionality, and isolation of Western philosophy and civilization will continue to hold sway.
The question of who can philosophize, and who counts as a philosopher, is a quintessential philosophical question. It was posed by Socrates himself in the formulation of the idea of philosophy: the philosopher is the one who loves (philo) wisdom (sophia). This question has been repeatedly reposed throughout the history of philosophy. This work is an endeavor to repose it once again anew, arguing—in response to the modern Western idea of philosophy—for a more encompassing and historically adequate conception of philosophy than provincializing identifications of philosophy with the history of Western metaphysics or modern Western rationality. Such limiting ethnocentric identifications, and the ideological spell of a continuous Western identity from the Greeks to the moderns, undermine the ostensive infinity and universality—to adopt the language of Hegel and Husserl that continues to be deployed today—of its aspirations.3
The question of what does and does not count as philosophy is itself more than a purely philosophical question. Philosophy has long been identified with the idea and potential of humanity itself, in classical Greek, Roman, and Renaissance traditions, and with conceptual, critical, reflective thinking in Western modernity. There is a close affiliation between the Western denial of non-Western thinking and the perception of non-Western peoples as mere strategic objects of “just” wars and drone strikes, of pragmatic use, neglect, and termination. The denial of the humanity and destruction of the other are constitutively part of the ideological claim that the West is the sole universal, infinite, and cosmopolitan civilization. The denial of the possibility of philosophy to non-Western others is interconnected with the renunciation of their humanity and rationality, as human beings are reduced to mere objects of technical and strategic manipulation by denying them recognition as independent persons who are capable and worthy of genuine encounter and dialogical interaction. The much needed emancipation of philosophy from ethnocentrism, often cloaked in the language of a false universality, requires what could be called “a critique of European reason" or a deconstruction of the Eurocentric conception of rationality, which is simultaneously an internal immanent critique of the dialectic of Western philosophy and an exposure to the exteriority of its—in this case East Asian—others.
The history of Western philosophy is historically already interculturally and intertextually bound up with non-Western philosophy. The word “intercultural” in this context should be distinguished from “multicultural” and “comparative.” It is not a juxtaposition of differences or a search for an underlying identity. Intercultural signifies the multidimensional space of encounter between philosophies of different social-historical provenience, each of which is a complex dynamic formation that cannot be fixated and reduced to the identity of a cultural or linguistic essence, or racial type, underlying a supposedly unitary community or tradition. “Intertextual” is a concept developed by Julia Kristeva in her essay, “Word, Dialogue, and Novel” (1966).4 It refers to how texts consist of allusions, citations, reappropriations, rifts on, and misinterpretations of other texts. As Kristeva clarifies, it signifies that “any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another.”5 Intertextuality also refers, as it does in this work, to the intersection of argumentative and interpretative strategies, images, metaphors, and ideas occurring between different discourses. Illustrations of the intercultural and intertextual character of philosophy include: the traces of the materialist argumentation of Ibn Rushd (Latinized as Averroes) in medieval and modern Western philosophy; Heidegger’s discussions of emptiness and the empty vessel and Buber’s descriptions of encounters with living organisms that refer to Daoist ideas and images; or, negatively, the deployment of the idea of “Oriental despotism” from Montesquieu to Hegel to articulate “Occidental freedom”; or the apparently trivial use of the word “mandarins” in the writings of Simone de Beauvoir or Jurgen Habermas, a use that presupposes a previous exposure to and reception of Chinese social-political culture.
Intercultural, in contrast to a merely comparative, philosophy is (1) already a historical reality, albeit underappreciated and underdeveloped, and (2) remains a necessary task for contemporary philosophizing. This task is typically interpreted as broadening and opening up the discourses of philosophy in ways that continue to presuppose the primacy of Western philosophy that sets the standard and measure of what should and should not count as philosophy. It is the primary normative paradigm to which other philosophies are assessed and must conform to be included and taken seriously in the discipline. There is to this extent Islamic, Indian, or Chinese philosophy insofar as they fit into this predetermined framework, without any thought or inquiry into whether the opposite could be the case. One significant task of intercultural philosophy is to reveal the multi-perspectivality and multi-directionality of thinking, a prospect that may well be more appropriately disclosed in the works identified with Nagarjuna and Zhuangzi than in the reduction of the complex textures of these discourses to Western philosophical categories.
The word and concept “philosophy” has a Greek origin and a “Western”—and often underemphasized Middle Eastern—history. “Philosophy” was introduced to Japan and subsequently East Asia through the modern encounter with Western learning, which the Japanese initially called “Dutch learning” (Japanese: rangaku Щ^). The Japanese scholar Nishi Amane Щ.Щ (1829-1897) is credited with coining the expression (Japanese: tetsugaku; Chinese: zhexue ЩФ) that combines the kanji characters for “wisdom” (^) and “learning” (^).6
Modern philosophy, since the modern construction of the idea of the West, has depicted philosophy as a unique history from the ancient Greeks to modern Europeans. This, however, is not the Greek or the premodern understanding of philosophy, which intercultural philosophy must renew in order to resist its modern limited conception and for it to be—in fact what it claims to be in theory—an unhindered love and pursuit of wisdom even if, as al-Kindi contended, it originates in ancient and foreign lands. It is not accidental that Merleau-Ponty’s anti-ethnocentric declaration that philosophy’s “center is everywhere and its circumference nowhere,” which occurs in a still all too Hegelian framework, renews an insight from medieval philosophy.7
Philosophy is not merely a cultural or political program; it is thinking about the matter to be thought. The matter to be encountered and thought that philosophy would name is broader in scope than Western intellectual history or the history of Western metaphysics and ontotheology from ancient Greece to modernity. Philosophy was recognized as a human possibility that occurred across nations and beyond them in the cosmopolitan ideal of the Greek and Roman Cynics and Stoics. Classical Greek and Roman philosophy, in which philosophy is selfinquiry about how to live and achieve the true and the good, is in many ways closer to classical Arabic, Indian, and Chinese practices of philosophizing than to its modern reified Western conception as theory without life and analytic technique without wisdom. The histories of Buddhist, Confucian, and Daoist thinking in East Asia, for instance, indicate multiple examples of self-inquiry, reflection, and criticism. These complex discourses encompass philosophical argumentation, conceptualization, and interpretation within and across cultural, regional, and historical differences in ways that are not merely customary, finite, local, and particular. They too suggest the prospects and risks of intercultural philosophy in, for example, the long series of arguments, criticism, and countercriticism occurring between East Asian Buddhisms and Neo-Confucianisms.8
A tenacious prejudice of modern Western philosophy that echoes in its contemporary incarnations is the preconception that argumentation and conceptualization do not occur in non-Western intellectual traditions. Asian philosophies have been classified as folk, intuitive, mythical, mystical, and poetic wisdom traditions lacking argument, self-reflection, and universal concepts. Hegel described a defining characteristic ofWestern thinking as the “labor of the concept” (“Arbeit des Begriffes”) and “labor of the negative”; as a labor that progressively breaks with the previous particular in achieving a new universal.9 Hegel, particularly in his posthumously published lecture-courses on history, philosophy, and religion, and the subsequent tradition employed the distinction between nonconceptual and conceptual cognition to demarcate Western and non-Western thinking.
The tribalist prejudices of modern Western philosophy appear to function as a deeply embedded and seemingly unquestionable ‘ethnocentric a priori’ in Western philosophical discourses, operating against the existing intercultural intertextuality of philosophy. These prejudices can begin to be confronted when sources beyond the confines of Western discourses are encountered and counter-examples from a multiplicity of discourses engaged.10 Actual sources— which encompass, to name only a few, al-Kindi and Ibn Rushd, Nagarjuna and Sankara, Mengzi and Zhuangzi, Gihwa and Dogen—allow a response to the question: “Who is the Plato of the Pacific? The Kant of Africa?” to paraphrase Saul Bellow’s polemical question: “Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papuans? I’d be glad to read him.”11 Pointing to non-Western philosophical sources can, of course, only be the beginning of a response to the Eurocentric interpreter who would still be in need of reading, engaging, and comprehending what has already been predetermined in their mind as unworthy of consideration and the labor of conceptualization and interpretation.
The possibility of a more genuine encounter and dialogue is constrained and undermined by the colonial and racial history of modern Western philosophy that still shapes its institutions and practices.12 The asymmetrical relationships between Europe and Asia are recurrently interpreted—even among those critics of colonialism who construe non-Western discourses as Western constructs—as consisting of a one-way colonial relation transferring and imposing Occidental paradigms onto the “Orient" Contrary to the narrative of the Western invention of the “East,” and Eastern philosophies, contemporary scholarship is increasingly revealing how Asian writers and philosophers have engaged in the formation of their own discourses and creatively redeployed European sources in relation to their own questions and contexts in their confrontation and interpretation of the multiplicity of Western, Eastern, and hybrid intercultural and intertextual modernities. Concurrently, and often this thesis is met with skepticism by those who interpret the history of Western philosophy as a self-contained internal development of the history of ontology, reason, or spirit. Asian and other non-Western argumentative strategies, metaphors, and conceptions have had a long-term influence on modern Western philosophical and intellectual discourses that are already to an underappreciated extent intercultural and intertextual.
In the following chapters, select case studies in the interaction of European and East Asian thought from the late nineteenth-century through the midtwentieth-century in a range of philosophers will be reconsidered. By investigating the reception and uses of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism in twentieth-century German philosophy, this work tracks the growing intertextual mediations between discursive traditions, which cannot be appropriately interpreted through monocultural hermeneutical strategies that presuppose exclusive identities, closed horizons, or unitary traditions. The intercultural context and historical realities of philosophy is not a contemporary invention of political correctness; it belongs to the very historical movement of reflective and conceptual thinking and philosophy since the origins of philosophy itself in Greece, India, and China, to name a few. Throughout this work, East Asian sources and discourses will be returned to in order to historically contextualize and critically assess the interpretive strategies employed by the European philosophers under discussion.
Providing an account of the context, motivations, and hermeneutical strategies of early twentieth-century German interpretations of China and Chinese philosophy in its initial chapters, this work offers a more contextual approach to the question of the relation between Heidegger and Asian philosophy in its later chapters. Reflecting the growing interest in the possibility of intercultural and global philosophy, Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought articulates prospects for a more comprehensive and inclusive intercultural conception of philosophy that is unafraid of its own amalgamation.