周濂:Book Review on Zhao Tingyang's The World without World-view

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Zhao Tingyang has been widely acknowledged as one of the leading Chinese philosophers in the new generation since the publication of his second book entitled On Possible Life in 1993. The latest of his six books is The World without World-view. This book consists of ten papers delivered after 2000, with a remarkably broad perspective, on international politics, comparative cultural studies, ethics, post-modernity, game theory, etc.

Many will wonder why Zhao deals with so different topics within one book, the answer could be found in the preface “Of the Methodologies”.

Two main methodologies in this book have been developed by Zhao since about ten years ago: one is the so-called ‘syn-text’ and the other ‘non-stand’ analysis. In the preface, Zhao points out that ‘it should not be a surprise that the central focus of philosophical work is now on political/ethical philosophy’ (1). He argues that ‘because there are economical issues behind contemporary political/ethical issues, so the political issues are structurally linked with economical ones. Since cultural issues are closely related to the historical stance of political problems, and perhaps to a deep structure of politics and economics, hence the historical structure of philosophy comes into being: it is mutual structure of politics/economics/culture.’ (1) Based on such observations, Zhao concludes that contemporary philosophers would have to pursue the answers in such reciprocal knowledge structures. As a matter of fact, the concept of ‘reciprocal knowledge’ has recently been developed into one of European epistemological movement, while Zhao, without knowing the term in the first place, has created his own term similar to ‘reciprocal knowledge’ almost at the same time. He names it ‘syntext’, which means that ‘given cyclopedic knowledge about any one thing, there must be mutual rewriting of different knowledge systems by some kind of method, so that we can, first, change those knowledge systems structurally, and second, create new knowledge and questions co-operatively’. (2)

The other methodology is ‘non-stand’ analysis, it requires that‘the thinker suspend his own preference or inclination when he is making justification, thus he would see others, hear others and understand others. ’(3) The approach of old philosophy is ‘from myself to the others’. On the contrary, Zhao’s methodology of ‘non-stand’ analysis is ‘from the others to myself’. He stresses that the principle of philosophical analysis should be ‘from the others’ or ‘from the things’. Just as what Lao-zi (老子) had summarized the methodology more than two thousand years ago: “a man could only be understood in his interests, a village could only be understood in its situation, a state could only be understood from the point of view of a state, and all-under-heaven could only be understood in the horizon of all-under-heaven”(4). Although one may doubt the possibility of such a pure ‘non-stand’ analysis, this “see X from X” principle would be very helpful for us to understand the world from itself and for its own sake.

Combining the ‘syntext’ with ‘non-stand’ analysis, let us rethink the title No World-view for the World, it should be interpreted as ‘ “non-stand” analysis on the “syntext” of political/economical/cultural world’.

In my opinion, the two most important papers of the book are “All-under-heaven as empire and world institution” and “Chinese representation of philosophy”.

Let us start with the latter. The phrase of “Chinese representation of philosophy” should be understood at two levels: one is ‘the representation of philosophy’ in general, the other is particularly ‘Chinese representation of philosophy’. Zhao does not handle the former ad hoc in this book, but we can recognize his basic attitude to this question between the lines, i.e., trying his best not to use those big theoretical terms but ordinary language. I interpret it as ‘let philosophy speak in ordinary language’, in which many will recognize the influence of later Wittgenstein. For Zhao, ‘Chinese representation of philosophy’ could be interpreted as ‘let philosophy speak in Chinese’. This is in fact the main point that Zhao wants to argue in that paper.

Zhao argues that the Chinese-Western comparative cultural studies have turned into unilateral interpretation solely based on Western standard for a long time. In other words, Chinese culture has been only the interpreted not the interpreter (159-161). So according to Zhao, every Chinese philosopher should ask the question whether Chinese philosophy could be one part of world philosophy or not. To put it concretely, could Chinese philosophy be not only the object of study for westerners but also the live words that can contribute to the world philosophy? (164)

In order to answer the question positively, Zhao thinks that we must make great efforts in two fields: one is to make some traditional Chinese concepts into the world thought system, and the other to make some particular Chinese questions into the world questions system. (168) Only when some traditional Chinese key concepts become universal and general ones, will Chinese philosophy be the tool and ground of universal thought; and only when philosophy speaks in Chinese indeed, could philosophy be represented differently and the world be represented differently too. (168) Furthermore, Zhao points out that there are three key questions in the future philosophy: 1, theory of communication and cooperation, 2, philosophy of heart, 3, the relationship between right and obligation. Chinese philosophy should and must contribute to resolving these problems. (178-9)

If Zhao wants to theoretically answer the question how Chinese philosophy can contribute to the world philosophy through ‘the Chinese representation of philosophy’, then ‘All-under-heaven as empire and world institution’ is his practical and direct reply to this question.

‘All-under-heaven as empire and world institution’ was one of the topics he presented on an international conference named ‘Universal Knowledge and Reciprocal Knowledge’ (India, Goa, 2002/11) and the ‘Empire and Peace’ international conference (France, Paris, 2003/2). It was also published in Key Words Studies for Transcultura Encyclopedia of Le Robert in English in 2003.

Beginning with the amazing statement ‘Our supposed world is still a non-world”(7), Zhao wants to point out that ‘the world that we have now is one of its geographical oneness rather than its political oneness,… for there is nothing of a real coherent world society under a universally accepted world-institution’(7). In order to organize the global into a world, a world institution seems necessary. But as we all know, ‘in the western framework of politics, the greatest political entity is found to be the “state” which confines the western understanding of political theory from the point of the state. Consequently, the western imaginations of the integrality of the world are but internationalism, united nation or globalization, nothing going beyond the framework of nation-states. And such projects have essential difficulties to attain the oneness of the world due to their limitation of the perspectives of nation-states.’ (12) By the principle of non-stand analysis, it is evident that seeing the world from the world is not the same as seeing the world from part of it. Western philosophy has no world-view as the view from the world though it has the view of the world as an ideology of a state. (13-14) Furthermore, western philosophy doesn\'t have a full concept of the world though it has its scientific concept of the world.(10-11) On the contrary, according to Zhao, the Chinese traditional concept ‘All-under-Heaven’(Tian-Xia,天下) is just such a full concept of the world. In Zhao’s view, the term “All-under-heaven” (Tian-xia天下) has been the most important key word for any possible apprehension of Chinese perception of world, society, institution and polity. (9-10) Instead of the western concept of empire, the “All-under-heaven” is closely related to the supposedly universal eidos of empire. That is to say, all-under-heaven is a concept referring to an ideal of empire; in other words, it is related more to the eidos of empire than to a historical status of empire. Briefly, all-under-heaven means a world institution in form of empire. And an empire would be considered unqualified if it does not meet the standard of all-under-heaven (9).

By analyzing such traditional Chinese thought as the principle of “all included” or “nothing excluded”(无外) and the principle of‘Rite’(礼), Zhao argues that the framework of Chinese philosophy could contribute “all-under-heaven” as the first concept in political theory.

Besides the above two papers, the other eight papers are also very appealing. By “Identity and Cultural Identity”, “Understanding and Acceptance”, “History as Local Knowledge”, Zhao offers an exceptionally clear and unique account of the comparative philosophy and international politics. “Knowledge, Fortune and Happiness” is a short paper which tries to answer the question what kinds of knowledge could give a better fortune or life to human, and Zhao’s reply is that‘knowledge of happiness’ must replace ‘knowledge of essence’. “A Philosophical Remark on Theories of Game” and “The Strategic Condition for Violence” are philosophical exercises of “game theory” which embody the method of ‘syntext’ concretely. The last two papers, “A Critical Analysis of Post-modernity” and “Post-modernity Without Institution” are two most insightful and brilliant papers on post-modernity in Chinese as far as my readings tell.

Because the topics in this book are so radical and fresh to “old” philosophy, I don’t think Zhao have found the perfect conceptual schemes and methodologies to deal with them, but the theoretical charm and the problematic space he exhibits are no doubt fascinating. So I can recommend without hesitation this book as one of the finest philosophical works published in China in recent years, and I have little doubt that this book will prove to be a substantive and interesting contribution to the on-going tradition of Chinese philosophy as well as its dialogue with other traditions in world philosophy.

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