Rorty, Pragmatism, and Confucianism (review)

Rorty, Pragmatism, and Confucianism (review) Notes 1­ItispossiblethatonemightfindamorepersuasiveconnectionbetweentheminNeville's longermonographs,suchasthoseinhisAxiologyofThinkingseries(Albany:StateUniversityofNewYorkPress):Reconstruction of Thinking (1981),Recovery of the Measure: Interpretation and Nature(1989),andNormative Cultures (1995). 2­RogerT.AmesandHenryRosemont,Jr.,trans.,The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation(NewYork:BallantineBooks,1998). Rorty, Pragmatism, and Confucianism. EditedbyYongHuang.NewYork:StateUniversityofNewYorkPress,2009.Pp.xviii+324.Hardcover$85.00. ReviewedbyAndrew Lambert UniversityofHawai`i Rorty, Pragmatism, and Confucianism, acollectionoftwelveessaysontheworkof Richard Rorty and its relation to Confucian thought, arose out of a conference in Shanghai in 2004, where participants were granted access to several of Rorty's u publishedmanuscripts. n Inhisintroduction,theeditorYongHuangstateshisdesiretooutlineareasof sharedinterestinRortianandConfucianthought.Henotes,forexample,thesimilaritiesbetweenRorty'sviewthatsentimentis"centraltothemoralconsciousness" (p.2)andtheearlyConfuciantradition'sstressontheenhancementandappropriate directingoffeeling;inRorty'swords,amoremoralworldisbestcreatedbytellinga "long,sad,sentimentalstory"aboutotherpeople(p.4).Apparenttensionsbetween thetwoarealsotobeaddressed.Forexample,whileRortyviews"thedemandsof self-creationandhumansolidarityasequallyvalid,yetforeverincommensurable" (quotedbyHuang,p.9),Confuciancommentatorsofteninsistonthecomplementarityoftheindividualandcommunity. Thepapersaregroupedintofoursections,outlinedbelow,followedbyatwentypagesectioninwhichRortyrepliesindividuallytoeachcontributor,andanextensive glossaryofChineseterms.Iwillproceedbysketchingsomeofthemainarguments fromeachsectionandRorty'srepliestothem,andwillreservemyowncriticalcommentsfortheend. The first section, "Relativity, Contingency, and Moral Progress," considers the waysinwhichbothRorty'sworkandConfucianismmightbeconsideredrelativist.As Huang notes (p. 73), Rorty has been labeled a relativist primarily because of his claims about contingency, yet Rorty denies that "every view is as good as every oher"(quotedinHuang,p.74).TheessaysbyKuang-mingWu,Chung-yingCheng, t andYongHuang consider whetherrelativismis problematic and, ifso,how Rorty mightrefutetherelativistcharge. WubelievesthatbothRortyandConfuciusare,infact,relativistsbutproceeds tostatetheattractionsofrelativism.Properlyunderstood,itisa"relentlesspursuitof insights"that"relentlesslyopenstoeverylinkage"(p.21).Further,RortyandConfuciuscanusetheothertoenhancetheirownrelativisticapproaches:Rorty'srelativism PhilosophyEast&WestVolume62,Number1January2012134­139 ©2012byUniversityofHawai`iPress istooabstract,whileConfucius'epigrammaticstorytellingistoochaoticandwould benefitfromthekindoforderinherentinRorty'saccount(p.37). Cheng discusses Rorty's use of contingency.At the risk of simplifying a widerangingdiscussion,twoargumentsdeservespecialnote.First,Chengexploreswhat he believes are tacit essentialist assumptions underpinning Rorty's presentation of contingency.ThoughRortybelievesthecurrentemphasisonbeingsensitivetocruelty is simply the product of contingent historical events, Cheng claims that such sensitivitypointstoanessentialisttruth:"FromtheConfucianperspective,thisisa revelationofsomecapacityinahumanpersonwemaycallhumannature:ren(benevolence,co-humanity,interhumanity)"(p.47).Second,ChengarguesthatRorty's claimsaboutthecontingencyoflanguage,self,andcommunityareinfactfounded onincompleteanalysesofthesephenomena.Forexample,Rortystressestheexpressivistfunctionoflanguageinprivateself-creationonthemodelofNietzscheorthe romanticpoets.Butthis,Chengargues,isonlyonefunctionoflanguage;properly understood,languageisinherentlysocial.It"reflectsthecommonlysharedcreative andcognitiveabilitiesofoneselfandothers,whicheventuallywouldpresentavision ofthemoralcommunityasacriticalguidingprincipleforindividualorgroupaction" (p.67).AndinattributingtoConfucianismjustthisviewoflanguage,self,andsociety,ChengclaimsthatConfucianthoughtcanfunctionasacritiqueof,orcorrective to,Rorty'srelativism. HuangfocusesonRorty'srecentworkonprogressandhope.These,Rortyclaims, areincompatiblewiththerelativistdictumthat"everyviewisasgoodasanyevery other"(p.74).HuangseesacommonapproachherewithConfucianism,sinceboth holdthat"moralprogressistheexpansionofthecircleofthosewhocanbecounted as`us'"andthat"suchprogresscanbemadewithoutadoptingsomemoraluniversalism"(p.73).However,HuangidentifiesaproblemwithRortianmoralprogressthat hethinksConfucianismcanaddress.ForRorty,expandedsympathyisbasedonfindingfewerandfewerdifferencesbetweenpeopletobepracticallymeaningful.But reducingoursensitivitytoandinterestindifferencethreatensRorty'sgoalofaglobal andcosmopolitansociety,sinceitleadstoactionsinsufficientlysensitivetoimportantdifferences(p.87).ThisiswheretheConfucianrecognitionofdifferencesandits doctrineofdifferentiatedlovecanhelp.ForHuang,love(ai),humanity(ren), andaffection(qin)are"threedifferenttypesoflove"(p.86)determinedbythe differentparticularsofeachobjectloved.Thissensitivitytoparticularsandcultivated discernmentofdifferencecould,Huangbelieves,enhanceRorty'saccountofmoral progressandsympathy. In his responses to the essays on relativism and contingency, http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Philosophy East and West University of Hawai'I Press

Rorty, Pragmatism, and Confucianism (review)

Philosophy East and West, Volume 62 (1) – Jan 1, 2012

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Abstract

Notes 1­ItispossiblethatonemightfindamorepersuasiveconnectionbetweentheminNeville's longermonographs,suchasthoseinhisAxiologyofThinkingseries(Albany:StateUniversityofNewYorkPress):Reconstruction of Thinking (1981),Recovery of the Measure: Interpretation and Nature(1989),andNormative Cultures (1995). 2­RogerT.AmesandHenryRosemont,Jr.,trans.,The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation(NewYork:BallantineBooks,1998). Rorty, Pragmatism, and Confucianism. EditedbyYongHuang.NewYork:StateUniversityofNewYorkPress,2009.Pp.xviii+324.Hardcover$85.00. ReviewedbyAndrew Lambert UniversityofHawai`i Rorty, Pragmatism, and Confucianism, acollectionoftwelveessaysontheworkof Richard Rorty and its relation to Confucian thought, arose out of a conference in Shanghai in 2004, where participants were granted access to several of Rorty's u publishedmanuscripts. n Inhisintroduction,theeditorYongHuangstateshisdesiretooutlineareasof sharedinterestinRortianandConfucianthought.Henotes,forexample,thesimilaritiesbetweenRorty'sviewthatsentimentis"centraltothemoralconsciousness" (p.2)andtheearlyConfuciantradition'sstressontheenhancementandappropriate directingoffeeling;inRorty'swords,amoremoralworldisbestcreatedbytellinga "long,sad,sentimentalstory"aboutotherpeople(p.4).Apparenttensionsbetween thetwoarealsotobeaddressed.Forexample,whileRortyviews"thedemandsof self-creationandhumansolidarityasequallyvalid,yetforeverincommensurable" (quotedbyHuang,p.9),Confuciancommentatorsofteninsistonthecomplementarityoftheindividualandcommunity. Thepapersaregroupedintofoursections,outlinedbelow,followedbyatwentypagesectioninwhichRortyrepliesindividuallytoeachcontributor,andanextensive glossaryofChineseterms.Iwillproceedbysketchingsomeofthemainarguments fromeachsectionandRorty'srepliestothem,andwillreservemyowncriticalcommentsfortheend. The first section, "Relativity, Contingency, and Moral Progress," considers the waysinwhichbothRorty'sworkandConfucianismmightbeconsideredrelativist.As Huang notes (p. 73), Rorty has been labeled a relativist primarily because of his claims about contingency, yet Rorty denies that "every view is as good as every oher"(quotedinHuang,p.74).TheessaysbyKuang-mingWu,Chung-yingCheng, t andYongHuang consider whetherrelativismis problematic and, ifso,how Rorty mightrefutetherelativistcharge. WubelievesthatbothRortyandConfuciusare,infact,relativistsbutproceeds tostatetheattractionsofrelativism.Properlyunderstood,itisa"relentlesspursuitof insights"that"relentlesslyopenstoeverylinkage"(p.21).Further,RortyandConfuciuscanusetheothertoenhancetheirownrelativisticapproaches:Rorty'srelativism PhilosophyEast&WestVolume62,Number1January2012134­139 ©2012byUniversityofHawai`iPress istooabstract,whileConfucius'epigrammaticstorytellingistoochaoticandwould benefitfromthekindoforderinherentinRorty'saccount(p.37). Cheng discusses Rorty's use of contingency.At the risk of simplifying a widerangingdiscussion,twoargumentsdeservespecialnote.First,Chengexploreswhat he believes are tacit essentialist assumptions underpinning Rorty's presentation of contingency.ThoughRortybelievesthecurrentemphasisonbeingsensitivetocruelty is simply the product of contingent historical events, Cheng claims that such sensitivitypointstoanessentialisttruth:"FromtheConfucianperspective,thisisa revelationofsomecapacityinahumanpersonwemaycallhumannature:ren(benevolence,co-humanity,interhumanity)"(p.47).Second,ChengarguesthatRorty's claimsaboutthecontingencyoflanguage,self,andcommunityareinfactfounded onincompleteanalysesofthesephenomena.Forexample,Rortystressestheexpressivistfunctionoflanguageinprivateself-creationonthemodelofNietzscheorthe romanticpoets.Butthis,Chengargues,isonlyonefunctionoflanguage;properly understood,languageisinherentlysocial.It"reflectsthecommonlysharedcreative andcognitiveabilitiesofoneselfandothers,whicheventuallywouldpresentavision ofthemoralcommunityasacriticalguidingprincipleforindividualorgroupaction" (p.67).AndinattributingtoConfucianismjustthisviewoflanguage,self,andsociety,ChengclaimsthatConfucianthoughtcanfunctionasacritiqueof,orcorrective to,Rorty'srelativism. HuangfocusesonRorty'srecentworkonprogressandhope.These,Rortyclaims, areincompatiblewiththerelativistdictumthat"everyviewisasgoodasanyevery other"(p.74).HuangseesacommonapproachherewithConfucianism,sinceboth holdthat"moralprogressistheexpansionofthecircleofthosewhocanbecounted as`us'"andthat"suchprogresscanbemadewithoutadoptingsomemoraluniversalism"(p.73).However,HuangidentifiesaproblemwithRortianmoralprogressthat hethinksConfucianismcanaddress.ForRorty,expandedsympathyisbasedonfindingfewerandfewerdifferencesbetweenpeopletobepracticallymeaningful.But reducingoursensitivitytoandinterestindifferencethreatensRorty'sgoalofaglobal andcosmopolitansociety,sinceitleadstoactionsinsufficientlysensitivetoimportantdifferences(p.87).ThisiswheretheConfucianrecognitionofdifferencesandits doctrineofdifferentiatedlovecanhelp.ForHuang,love(ai),humanity(ren), andaffection(qin)are"threedifferenttypesoflove"(p.86)determinedbythe differentparticularsofeachobjectloved.Thissensitivitytoparticularsandcultivated discernmentofdifferencecould,Huangbelieves,enhanceRorty'saccountofmoral progressandsympathy. In his responses to the essays on relativism and contingency,

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Philosophy East and WestUniversity of Hawai'I Press

Published: Jan 1, 2012

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