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Sagehood: The Contemporary Significance of Neo-Confucian Philosophy (review)

Sagehood: The Contemporary Significance of Neo-Confucian Philosophy (review) COMMENT AND DISCUSSION Sagehood: The Contemporary Significance of Neo-Confucian Philosophy.ByStephenC.Angle.Oxford:OxfordUniversityPress, 2009.Pp.xvi+293.$74.00. Thorian R. Harris DepartmentofPhilosophy,UniversityofHawai`i AstrikingfeatureofclassicalConfucianethicsisthenormativerolegiventoexemplars.The Analects, for instance, supports many of its claims with appeals to the normativebiographiesoflegendarysagesandvillains,anecdotesofConfuciusand hisstudents,andtheidealsofthesage(shengren)andthejunzi.Takeawaytheexemplar,anditisnotallthatclearwhatwouldremain.Yetdespitetherelevanceofthe exemplartoConfucianethics,thereareonlyafewscholarspresentlyworkingoutthe details.OneofthemostprominentfiguresinthissubfieldisStephenC.Angle,who ispresentlyinterestedinunderstandinghowtheidealofsagehood,particularlyinits Neo-Confucianincarnation,mightregulatethelivesofthosewhoaspiretosuchan ideal,andhowthatidealmightinformmoraleducationandpolitics. Angle'srecentwork Sagehood: The Contemporary Significance of Neo-Confucian PhilosophyisawelcomecontributiontotherapidlygrowingbodyofNeo-Confucian scholarship.YetwhatissorefreshingaboutthisbookisthatAnglerefusestoremain devotedtohistoricalformulationsortraditionaldivisions.HeacknowledgesthedifferencesbetweenZhuXiandWangYangming,aswellasseveralofthedifficultiesin interpretingtheworkofeach.Yetratherthandevotehimselftothecontroversiesand intricacies,Anglewishestohighlightthesimilaritiesbetweenthesetwophilosophers whilealsoattemptingtohonorbothwheretherearesignificantdifferences.Allthe while,heisengagedinwhathecalls"groundedglobalphilosophy" eisinterested --h in seeing what the Neo-Confucians might contribute to contemporary British and American philosophy as much as he is concerned to see how the Neo-Confucian position might be developed and extended in light of contemporary philosophy. A glethusavoidsdogmaticallysupportinganyonephilosophicalpositionwhilesin multaneouslyillustratingthecontemporaryrelevanceofNeo-Confucianphilosophy. Thisbookisalsoremarkableforitsambition,andhasratherwideimplications or --f instance,Angle'sthirdandfinalsectionconstructswhatmightbecalledaConfucian utopia,andarticulatesavisionofwhatConfucianpoliticscouldbelikeinmodern China.Thisreach,combinedwithhisinclusionofseveralofthe"NewConfucians" inhisdiscussion,securesamuchmoreinclusiveprojectthanonemightexpect.With many philosophical works, when the author writes "we," those who are likely to identifywiththatpronounarefewindeed;Angle's"we,"ontheotherhand,attempts toreachacrossthePacific. PhilosophyEast&WestVolume62,Number3July2012392­397 ©2012byUniversityofHawai`iPress Angle tells us that for those influenced by the Confucian tradition, "sagehood wastheappropriateobjectofapersonalquest.Seekingtocomeever-closertosagehoodwasaconcretegoalformany"(p.17).Thisutilizationofsagehoodasaregulativeidealinformsmuchofhisdiscussion,leadinghimtowriteaboutsagehoodfrom theperspectiveofnon-sages,ratherthanfocusonsagehoodintermsofhistoricalor legendarysages.Infact,accordingtoAngle,theutilityoftheidealofsagehooddoes notdependonwhetherthatidealcanbefullyrealized.Asheputsit,"Takingsagehoodasanideal,liketakingjunziasanideal,meansstrivingtoimproveoneself.It meanscommittingoneselftobeingontheroadtosagehood....[O]newillnotattain eitherstate,inalllikelihood"(p.21).Afewpageslaterhewrites: Thereisnoneedtoinsistthatverymanypeopleareorcanbecomesages.Theonlypeople clearlyidentifiedassucharethosefarinthepast,casesinwhichlittleisactuallyknown aboutthemandwecanalmostimaginethattheirstatusas`sage'ispartlyhonorific.Ithink nothingwouldbelostifaConfucianweretoacknowledgethepossibilitythattherenever hasbeenafull-on,one-hundred-percentsage.(p.26) Angle, however, maintains that the unattainability of this ideal does not vitiate its normativesignificance.Thisisbecausethedifferencebetweenthefullsageandpartialsage(orsomeoneontheroadtosagehood)issaidtobeadifferenceofdegree, notofkind.Sotheidealcanregulateevenifitisneveractualized. InAngle'saccount,theNeo-Confucianidealofsagehoodissaidtosharemuch incommonwithitsclassicalcousins,suchastheeasewithwhichthesageissupposedtoact,andthesage'sabilitytorealizeharmony(he).ThedistinctivelyNeoConfucian contribution to this ideal comes from the way in which harmony is cashed-outintermsof"coherence"(li).Angleintroducesthistermwithanappeal toourpervasiveexperiencesoforder.We"experienceorder,patterns,andintelligibilityinourworld,"Anglewrites;"weperceive(see,feel)similaritiesanddifferences, connectionsanddisconnections,"andamidstthisintelligibilitywealsofindvalue (p.32).Itwas,hesays,"inordertotalkaboutthewayinwhichourworldsmake sensetous"thatNeo-Confuciansspokeofli(ibid.).Inshort,linames"thevaluable, intelligiblewaythatthingsfittogether"(ibid.) coherencethatisatoncenormative --a anddescriptive. WhileAngle insists that, for the Neo-Confucian, "[t]here is no separating ourselvesandourreactions...nosettingourselvesasideandaskingwhatistheworld `really'like,apartfromourparticipationinit"(ibid.),hespeaksofcoherenceashavingboth"subjective"and"objective"aspects.Fortheobjective,Angleseemstohave inmindcertain"naturalpatterns"thatareeithercommonhumantraitsorpatternsin ourenvironment.Yetforalltheobjectivityofcoherence,thereremainsanecessarily subjective or participatory dimension. Coherence is never final or transcendent http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Philosophy East and West University of Hawai'I Press

Sagehood: The Contemporary Significance of Neo-Confucian Philosophy (review)

Philosophy East and West , Volume 62 (3) – Aug 3, 2012

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COMMENT AND DISCUSSION Sagehood: The Contemporary Significance of Neo-Confucian Philosophy.ByStephenC.Angle.Oxford:OxfordUniversityPress, 2009.Pp.xvi+293.$74.00. Thorian R. Harris DepartmentofPhilosophy,UniversityofHawai`i AstrikingfeatureofclassicalConfucianethicsisthenormativerolegiventoexemplars.The Analects, for instance, supports many of its claims with appeals to the normativebiographiesoflegendarysagesandvillains,anecdotesofConfuciusand hisstudents,andtheidealsofthesage(shengren)andthejunzi.Takeawaytheexemplar,anditisnotallthatclearwhatwouldremain.Yetdespitetherelevanceofthe exemplartoConfucianethics,thereareonlyafewscholarspresentlyworkingoutthe details.OneofthemostprominentfiguresinthissubfieldisStephenC.Angle,who ispresentlyinterestedinunderstandinghowtheidealofsagehood,particularlyinits Neo-Confucianincarnation,mightregulatethelivesofthosewhoaspiretosuchan ideal,andhowthatidealmightinformmoraleducationandpolitics. Angle'srecentwork Sagehood: The Contemporary Significance of Neo-Confucian PhilosophyisawelcomecontributiontotherapidlygrowingbodyofNeo-Confucian scholarship.YetwhatissorefreshingaboutthisbookisthatAnglerefusestoremain devotedtohistoricalformulationsortraditionaldivisions.HeacknowledgesthedifferencesbetweenZhuXiandWangYangming,aswellasseveralofthedifficultiesin interpretingtheworkofeach.Yetratherthandevotehimselftothecontroversiesand intricacies,Anglewishestohighlightthesimilaritiesbetweenthesetwophilosophers whilealsoattemptingtohonorbothwheretherearesignificantdifferences.Allthe while,heisengagedinwhathecalls"groundedglobalphilosophy" eisinterested --h in seeing what the Neo-Confucians might contribute to contemporary British and American philosophy as much as he is concerned to see how the Neo-Confucian position might be developed and extended in light of contemporary philosophy. A glethusavoidsdogmaticallysupportinganyonephilosophicalpositionwhilesin multaneouslyillustratingthecontemporaryrelevanceofNeo-Confucianphilosophy. Thisbookisalsoremarkableforitsambition,andhasratherwideimplications or --f instance,Angle'sthirdandfinalsectionconstructswhatmightbecalledaConfucian utopia,andarticulatesavisionofwhatConfucianpoliticscouldbelikeinmodern China.Thisreach,combinedwithhisinclusionofseveralofthe"NewConfucians" inhisdiscussion,securesamuchmoreinclusiveprojectthanonemightexpect.With many philosophical works, when the author writes "we," those who are likely to identifywiththatpronounarefewindeed;Angle's"we,"ontheotherhand,attempts toreachacrossthePacific. PhilosophyEast&WestVolume62,Number3July2012392­397 ©2012byUniversityofHawai`iPress Angle tells us that for those influenced by the Confucian tradition, "sagehood wastheappropriateobjectofapersonalquest.Seekingtocomeever-closertosagehoodwasaconcretegoalformany"(p.17).Thisutilizationofsagehoodasaregulativeidealinformsmuchofhisdiscussion,leadinghimtowriteaboutsagehoodfrom theperspectiveofnon-sages,ratherthanfocusonsagehoodintermsofhistoricalor legendarysages.Infact,accordingtoAngle,theutilityoftheidealofsagehooddoes notdependonwhetherthatidealcanbefullyrealized.Asheputsit,"Takingsagehoodasanideal,liketakingjunziasanideal,meansstrivingtoimproveoneself.It meanscommittingoneselftobeingontheroadtosagehood....[O]newillnotattain eitherstate,inalllikelihood"(p.21).Afewpageslaterhewrites: Thereisnoneedtoinsistthatverymanypeopleareorcanbecomesages.Theonlypeople clearlyidentifiedassucharethosefarinthepast,casesinwhichlittleisactuallyknown aboutthemandwecanalmostimaginethattheirstatusas`sage'ispartlyhonorific.Ithink nothingwouldbelostifaConfucianweretoacknowledgethepossibilitythattherenever hasbeenafull-on,one-hundred-percentsage.(p.26) Angle, however, maintains that the unattainability of this ideal does not vitiate its normativesignificance.Thisisbecausethedifferencebetweenthefullsageandpartialsage(orsomeoneontheroadtosagehood)issaidtobeadifferenceofdegree, notofkind.Sotheidealcanregulateevenifitisneveractualized. InAngle'saccount,theNeo-Confucianidealofsagehoodissaidtosharemuch incommonwithitsclassicalcousins,suchastheeasewithwhichthesageissupposedtoact,andthesage'sabilitytorealizeharmony(he).ThedistinctivelyNeoConfucian contribution to this ideal comes from the way in which harmony is cashed-outintermsof"coherence"(li).Angleintroducesthistermwithanappeal toourpervasiveexperiencesoforder.We"experienceorder,patterns,andintelligibilityinourworld,"Anglewrites;"weperceive(see,feel)similaritiesanddifferences, connectionsanddisconnections,"andamidstthisintelligibilitywealsofindvalue (p.32).Itwas,hesays,"inordertotalkaboutthewayinwhichourworldsmake sensetous"thatNeo-Confuciansspokeofli(ibid.).Inshort,linames"thevaluable, intelligiblewaythatthingsfittogether"(ibid.) coherencethatisatoncenormative --a anddescriptive. WhileAngle insists that, for the Neo-Confucian, "[t]here is no separating ourselvesandourreactions...nosettingourselvesasideandaskingwhatistheworld `really'like,apartfromourparticipationinit"(ibid.),hespeaksofcoherenceashavingboth"subjective"and"objective"aspects.Fortheobjective,Angleseemstohave inmindcertain"naturalpatterns"thatareeithercommonhumantraitsorpatternsin ourenvironment.Yetforalltheobjectivityofcoherence,thereremainsanecessarily subjective or participatory dimension. Coherence is never final or transcendent

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Philosophy East and WestUniversity of Hawai'I Press

Published: Aug 3, 2012

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