Confucian philosophy as intercultural philosophy

It is clearly inadequate to interpret the European reception of Confucianism as a welcoming hospitality toward the other or as purely a free exchange of ideas unaffected by the asymmetrical power relations between Europe and China. It is also inadequate to construe this history as a purely ethnocentric, racist, and colonial European construction of the other, as if others had no agency and subjectivity of their own, given the complex histories of this reception that encompass intersecting “internal” European contexts and “external” exchanges and that undermine the reductive and idealized image of a self-enclosed Europe. A more adequate historical model is called for that can critically engage their and our own hermeneutical situation. Intercultural hermeneutics is in need of an adequate and appropriate model of the relationship between the universal and the particular, and the normative and the historical, than is evident in the writings of the philosophers considered above, including the sympathetic readings of Buber, Jaspers, Misch, and Popper-Lynkeus.

The particularity of Confucianism, as emphasized by Buber, need not present an unbridgeable abyss, as it did for Buber and previous German thinkers, if its universal ethical scope can be integrated and particularized in other forms of life. Such a vision of the transportability of Confucian teachings has been advocated in “Boston Confucianism”79 If the portability of Confucian values and norms across diverse cultural contexts can indeed be the case, and perhaps this is only possible in the late modern conditions of the West, then Buber is overly pessimistic concerning the West’s capacity to learn from and adopt Confucian teachings at the same time as he claimed that it should learn from it in open communicative exchange. Intercultural exchange can lead to adopting other perspectives as well as seeing one’s own perspective in a transformed light from adopting the perspective of the other. This mutuality, reciprocity, and reversibility is discernible in the elementary Confucian principle of shu Ш that is an ethical and interpretive task—with a trans- and intercultural import—to practice as a guiding idea in relation to others.

As argued in Chapter 3, and which can only be briefly mentioned as an example here, early Confucian ethics—as articulated in the “Four Books” (Sishu Щ§)— the Analects, the Mengzi ШФ, Practicing the Mean (Zhongyong ФШ), and the Great Learning (Daxue ФФ)—can be reconstructed as a situated critical model for social and individual self-reflection that indicates a significant alternative to the impasse between the two dominant models of contemporary Western ethical thought: the abstract universality and justice of Kantian deontological ethics and Hegel’s communitarian vision of the dense interwoven bonds of ethical life that mediate the struggle for recognition. Confucian philosophy remains a living ethical reality in diverse cultural milieus and can itself be a source for an intercultural sense of appropriateness and diagnostic and therapeutic reflection on the relational dynamics between self and other.

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