Organizer: Xiaogan Liu, National University of Singapore
Chair: Donald Munro, University of Michigan
Discussant: Chad Hansen, University of Hong Kong
The classical texts have been studied extensively. Through the two millennia since the Han Dynasty, the philosophically inclined commentators approach the texts from the perspective of philosophy, and the linguists and philologists approach the texts from the perspective of the language. In modern times, under the influence of philosophy of language, the emphasis has been decidedly philosophical, rather than linguistic-philosophers of language comment on the language as philosophy, not as language.
This panel is a progress report of an on-going interdisciplinary research project. The aim of the project is to study the pre-Qin texts from both the linguistic and philosophical perspectives. We hope to map out the textuality of key philosophical terms, injecting linguistic analytical rigor into their philosophical interpretations. Textual information not only disambiguates certain semantic ambiguities, it also helps outline the stylistic tendencies of the texts. It is our hope that the incorporation of linguistic methodology will sharpen the philosophical exegesis of key concepts in classical texts.
A New Interpretation About Laozi's Dao: Its Philosophical Function and
Xiaogan Liu, National University of Singapore
We can classify various interpretations of Laozi's dao into five types, namely, reality or principle, combination of varied concepts or principles, realm of thought in self-cultivation, linguistic interpretation, and functional interpretation. This paper develops a new functional interpretation.
Most scholars take dao as a kind of reality or principle in Western philosophy. However, Western philosophical terminology is inappropriate for Laozi's dao. Instead of using specific Western philosophical terms, this paper develops a new functional and descriptive interpretation of Laozi's dao. It is claimed that dao is an explanation of the coherence and similarity of the universe inspired by intuitive and reasonable thinking about the universe, the world, societies, and individual lives. It answers questions about ultimate rootness and foundation of all beings within and beyond human experience.
Dao is a concept in between the Christian God and modern scientific theories: dao is a kind of ultimate concern and simultaneously explanation about the source and basis of universe coincidentally in the line of modern theoretical physics. A new trend in Christian theologies inclines to define God impersonally, and latest scientific theories recognize the importance of intuition and the theories of harmony between oppositions which are rooted in Chinese tradition. It seems that theology and science are developing in the direction of Laozi's dao.
A Textual Approach to the Concept of Yi in the Four Books
Hongyin Tao, National University of Singapore
The analysis of key concepts in classical Chinese philosophy is an important research task. However, scholars vary considerably in their interpretation, sometimes due to lack of common analytical tools. This paper advocates the so-called textual approach to Chinese philosophy. Through exploring textual information, we can illuminate philosophical significance of key terms. We call this approach the textual approach. Text analysis takes the construction of the text as systematic and maintains that the understanding of low level linguistic constructs (words and sentences) requires information from the text in which they appear. Within this approach, categories are analyzed based on (1) their total distributional tendencies in the text, (2) their systematic linkage with other elements in the text, and (3) the role of individual entities in the construction of the text. The most important advantage of this approach is its objectivity: categories are studied as they are in the text. We believe that this is of critical significance for the study of classical Chinese philosophy.
As an illustration, we will apply this method to analyze the concept of yi in the Four Books. We examine the following: (1) its distribution in the Four Books; (2) its use from a text constructional point of view; (3) its philosophical connotations in the Four Books as revealed in the textual information; and (4) its developmental tendencies within the Four Books.
Isomorphism or Causality? A Critique of Confucius' Concept of Language
Zhiming Bao, National University of Singapore
This paper attempts to bring together two strands of thinking with regard to Confucius' philosophy: Fingarette's "magic" interpretation of key Confucian concepts such as ren and zheng min, and Hansen's notion of regulative language. I will argue that attribution of "magic" to Confucius' thinking derives from the assumption that there is a causal relationship between language and the world it describes. If we remove causality from Confucius' theory of language, we will arrive at a new interpretation which has no place for magic. It will be shown that language and the world are two distinct entities which, in their ideal states, are isomorphic. The regulative function of language is the maintenance of this isomorphism.
The Diachronic Grammar of Early Confucian Concepts: An Interdisciplinary Approach
Min Zhang, National University of Singapore
The traditional approach to the study of early Chinese philosophy relies heavily upon textual annotations, context-dependent interpretation, or the commentator's intuition. This approach has its merit and is in certain ways justifiable. Nonetheless, it often lacks hard linguistic evidence, leaving room for speculation to creep in, which often leads to controversy. The aim of this paper is to show that inquiry into the overall sense of philosophical key terms is often hindered by our neglect of Classical Chinese syntax and its historical development, and that such a pitfall can hopefully be avoided if a more rigid and objective linguistic approach is adopted. Our working hypothesis is that the use and distribution of a key philosophical concept in a certain text may form an internally consistent system, which can be revealed by a corpus-based quantitative study of its frequency of occurrence in various grammatical and collocational contexts, and its patterns of grammatical valence. Under this hypothesis, the paper makes a computer-aided case study of jen, a pivotal concept of Confucianism, from a diachronic perspective. The study reveals several interesting linguistic patterns, which serve as important indicators of the development of the philosophical thought concerning the concept.