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On the way to a critique of Eurocentric reason

As this book has endeavored to illustrate, non-Western discourses do have a sense of the universal and the infinite that Husserl and other Western philosophers have claimed is a unique European inheritance.11 To mention a counterexample once again, Zhao Dongming has shown, in a different context, how the Neo-Confucian philosophy of mind can well be interpreted as a discourse of the infinite.12

Due to reasons such as this that have been investigated in the previous chapters, the univocal and monolithic conception of Western reason, and the associated privileging of European ethical life (Hegel’s Sittlichkeit) or the modern Western lifeworld (Lebenswelt in Husserl and Habermas) as the sole culture of reason and the universal, is deeply questionable. This work has accordingly pursued the strategy of provincializing the Eurocentric tendencies of Western philosophy— through a philosophical investigation of examples from the social-historical milieu of the twentieth-century—with the intention of critically emancipating philosophy and reason along with their universal aspirations.

Thinking, reflecting, and reasoning occur in myriad ways in multiple cultural and historical contexts, as Chapters 1 and 5 showed though a reconsideration of Misch’s work on intercultural philosophy. Philosophizing with the matter to be thought itselfbreaks through overly narrow conceptions of philosophy. Philosophy itself resists being restricted and isolated to the history of Western metaphysics, the history of being, or overly narrow modern conceptions of rationality and logic that make them purely technical theoretical affairs. The idea of one privileged modern Western life-nexus (Lebenszusammenhang) or lifeworld (Lebenswelt), grounding and grounded in science and technology, has proven itself to be an illusion.

The notion ofthe lifeworld can be decolonized by recognizing the provinciality and non-universality of the Western lifeworld as one singular formation among multiple others. As the European philosophers Husserl and Habermas themselves admitted, there are myriad forms of life and multiple lifeworlds. What was harder for them to recognize, given a philosophy of history that hierarchically ranked societies from the “primitive” to Western modernity, was the rationality and potential for reflection inherent in the communication and reproduction of each form of practical life.

Each lifeworld has its own (1) processes of material and communicative reproduction; (2) possibilities for argumentation, conceptualization, communication, debate, interpretation, and reflection; (3) pathologies, dysfunctions, imbalances of power, and destructive tendencies. There are furthermore (4) the boundaries of individual and collective understanding, and the limits of discourse and language explored through questions of nothingness and emptiness in Chapter 8, as disclosed in limit-situations of crisis, decentering, and—in Mischs language examined in Chapters 1 and 5—“breakthrough” (Durchbruch).13

A satisfactory conception of intercultural hermeneutics must be more than relativistic and multicultural in (1) exercising a non-identitarian sympathy and a non-reductive charity in understanding and interpretation to discover the internal rationality in other ways of thinking and living; (2) taking into consideration the complex and plural fabric of divergent and conflicting claims, perspectives, and tendencies at work in each lifeworld; and (3) engaging in, and not abandoning, the critical and diagnostic aspects of philosophy in appropriately exercising a hermeneutics of suspicion and materially oriented ideology critique against the structurally reproduced pathologies, injustices, and distortions within a lifeworld. These elements entail rejecting the overly narrow conception of the lifeworld articulated in Husserl and Habermas insofar as the modern Western lifeworld cannot be taken as the definitive model of each lifeworld, or form of historical life, and the distinction between systems and lifeworld is itself questionable by bifurcating the two and preventing the recognition of how the lifeworld itself reproduces both communication and domination.

As argued in Chapter 2, to reintroduce an informative example, Zhang Junmai’s reconstruction of a progressive New Confucianism is a significant example of and model for critical and diagnostic intercultural interpretation. Based on the humanistic tendencies of Confucian philosophy, interpreted in relation to contemporary Western thought, Zhang confronted its ethical failures, the complexity of its present conditions, and its critical and Enlightening potential for the future. Zhang’s modern Confucian discourse indicates ways of reinterpreting the problematic of rationalization, modernity, and the lifeworld in a less Eurocentric manner.

This historical-philosophical study has been written in the endeavor to offer readers (1) a clear and concise account of the context, motivations, and hermeneutical strategies of early twentieth-century European thinkers’ interpretation of Chinese and Buddhist philosophy; (2) a historical and contextual approach to the understanding of philosophy as Western and the possibility of a more encompassing intercultural conception of philosophy; and (3) an examination of issues and problems of intercultural communication and understanding through concrete intertextual case studies.

We have traced in this work the early-twentieth-century German philosophical reception, as well as the larger context of relevant ideas and figures in Germany and China, of Chinese and Buddhist thought. This project was pursued through an “internal” immanent critique and an “external” exposure to alterity and exteriority, as a moment toward an intercultural understanding, in order to problematize prevalent modern Western discourses of philosophy and hermeneutics. A critique of the Eurocentric idea of reason is one step in articulating alternative—more interculturally sensitive and appropriate—conceptions of rationality, philosophy, and hermeneutics. The intercultural turn is not a rejection of the pursuit of reason or truth, it is a call for them to be truer to their own vocation and potential.

The intercultural turn is all the more needful in a time facing the revival and institutionalization of racialist and nationalist ideologies. It is, moreover, needful within the Western academic discipline of philosophy that is complicit with racism and nationalism insofar as it excludes, ignores, and trivializes the philosophizing and reasoning occurring—in the past and the present—across the globe in places such as Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, as well as East Asia.

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