Springe direkt zu Inhalt

Cross-Cultural Encounters and Exclusion

Eun-Jeung Lee – 2023

There are only a handful of comprehensive studies about the role that knowledge of non-European civilizations and ideas played in the formation of early modern and Enlightenment European thought. Any in-depth treatment of how European thinkers understood China and India between 1600 and 1744 is therefore a more than welcome addition to existing research in this area. During this period, new information about Chinese Confucian culture reached Europe through reports and writings of Jesuit missionaries. It was also during this time that Chinese and Indian ideas started to be excluded from the category of world philosophy. Early modern European thinkers who came into contact with reports about non-European cultures, such as China and India, embraced, rejected, or criticized the transmitted ideas in relation to their own system of thinking. In that sense, European thinkers were not much different from those East Asian scholars who in the seventeenth century first encountered translated Western books and books on the West written in classical Chinese, for [End Page 215] example the Korean literati of the Chosŏn dynasty. These scholars, in a fashion strikingly similar to how their contemporary European thinkers dealt with Chinese Confucian culture, accepted, rejected, or criticized Western knowledge based on their own canon of thought.1 This process can be said to be a ubiquitous response to such cross-cultural encounters. Today, it is generally accepted that it is through such reactions that we can understand the spiritual and social conditions of a society.2 The way European thinkers discussed Chinese or Indian thought throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries allows important insights into Western thought at the time, but not so much that of China or India. The eventual exclusion of Chinese and Indian thought from "world philosophy" in the eighteenth century, scholars agree, had its roots in the belief of the superiority of European civilization. "Histories of world philosophy" became mainstream in the latter half of the eighteenth century, forming the global standard for a very long time due to the effects of European imperialism and European intellectual hegemony. Current debates on the decolonization of philosophy recognize the importance of how to approach depictions of the history of philosophy from a practical and global perspective.3 A critical and systematic study of the process of exclusion of non-European cultures from histories of philosophy compiled in Europe are therefore crucial to such discussions. Selusi Ambrogio's study forms an important contribution to this area of inquiry. Chinese and Indian Ways of Thinking in Early Modern European Philosophy spans the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when the arrival of information about the history and culture of China in Jesuit treatises and reports came as a great shock to European philosophers. Especially Chinese history and its ancient tradition of written culture, much older than Christian historiography, became the focus of interest in European intellectual circles. It is no coincidence that Descartes, widely considered the founder of modern philosophy, in his Discours de la méthode mentions China as a prime reason for the existence of a new uncertainty in European philosophy.4 In his book, Ambrogio systematically shows how the philosophical dispute over the evaluation of Chinese philosophy was embedded within a paradigm shift from the older Philosophia perennis to the newer Philosophia sectaria and eclectica. This shift not only shaped the scientification of the history of philosophy in the eighteenth century, but also redefined European conceptions of time and history. In the debates about the correct paradigm for the history of philosophy, Confucian philosophy, as transmitted by the Jesuits, played a key role due to the long tradition of its canonical texts. Ambrogio summarizes how histories of philosophy written in Europe first included China but subsequently began a process of exclusion of Chinese thought. He does this by placing a special focus on the tension between theology and philosophy before the time of Hegel. In the first chapter, [End Page 216] Ambrogio shows how the Chinese were seen "as contemporaries" but, at the same time, "as ancient barbaric peoples inserted within the biblical history of philosophy" (p. 56). The second chapter deals with discussions that define...

Cross-Cultural Encounters and Exclusion
University of Hawai'i Press
Erschienen in
Philosophy East and West Volume 73, Number 1, 2023 pp. 215-220