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« Chinese Intellectuals Need Freedom: Zhuangzi Anticipated This... | Main | The Mencian Critique of the Terracotta Warriors »

June 06, 2012


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It is a common misconception that the Greeks invented democracy. Even the Greeks did not claim they invented democracy (ancient Greek historians noted that other societies had experimented with it long before they had).

Moreover, democracy was probably common even in prehistory. Most hunter gatherer societies probably were largely democratic.

It is also a false dichotomy to think that a government is either democratic or non democratic. Democracy falls on a spectrum (or rather many different spectra) and there are many different criterion to judge how democratic a society is. The ancient Greeks may not have been very democratic by today's standards on many issues (only 12% of the population could vote and the society was not as conducive to democratic values as people think).

The US is not democratic at all by any standard other than very narrow liberal ones (and within the last 10 years, it often fails even here).

Dichotomous thinking does not further democratic ideals either in our own or in other societies. It fosters complacency and parochialism of mind that is contrary to many democratic ideals.

Smith's point about the ethnocentrism of Western Philosophy is well taken, but he goes on to draw a couple of puzzling conclusions. Unlike science which progresses, he argues, philosophy is necessarily "wrapped up in cultural legacies," citing the theocratic culture of Iran. Then he darts in the opposite direction with a neo-Marxist view that economic victors write the philosophy books.

I agree that philosophy does not build on itself and progress the way science does. But rather than being more ephemeral and culturally specific, I think the opposite is true: philosophy is a timeless set of theories about the universe and knowledge. Daoism and Stoicism are just as valid and interesting today, in any land, as they were when first developed.

"eastern" is the wisest philosophy in the world, because it's based on the relationship of mind and consciousness ..

"The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences." is so far beyond anything the west can muster .. as is advaita vedanta

western philosophy is useless, just intellect talking to itself.

Of course, the irony is that 'Western' and 'Eastern' philosophy (leaving aside all the problematic questions of definition - is Indian philosophy 'Eastern'? Islamic philosophy? Philosophy with its roots in Byzantine and Orthodox thought?) is that the ancient greats both East and West were often in much closer agreement than we tend to assume. Both recognised the primacy of community and stressed the common ends of human endeavour. With the radical neo-classical turn that a number of philosophers have begun to take (MacIntyre, Sandel and Taylor, for starters), Eastern and Western philosophy now have more and broader points of substantive contact than they had when liberalism was the single dominant political-philosophical paradigm.

"A government that rewards the rich at the expense of the poor, or concerns itself more with the maintenance of a particular ruling group while ignoring growing social inequalities, will lose the confidence of the people. Leaders in both China and the US could learn from that now."

Well said indeed. Which is why perhaps now we must be willing to listen to voices (East and West) which are critical of the reigning neoliberal governance paradigms (both East and West).

I honestly do not see any value in learning a philosophy that produced foot-binding and the crazed "me-first" culture of modern China.

At least Mao could have finished the job during the Cultural Revolution.

You honestly do not see any value at all!

Reading Guns, Germs, and Steel convinced me that Confucianism and Chinese culture in general doomed China to be failure it is today. While the West was busy doing something productive, the Chinese were wasting resources on taking care of the elderly and reading regurgitating the quotes of a man who might not even have existed.

To blame Confucianism on footbinding and the "failure" of China to technologically and scientifically advance as Europe did about as asinine as blaming European slavery, the holocaust and imperialism on Socrates. It's beyond stupid.

Guns Germs and Steel? That's stupid. Jared Diamond is a biologist, not a historian nor an expert on Chinese thought and culture.

I blame this stupidity and ignorance on the education system.

I agree with melektaus. In fact, his phrasing is quite appropriate.

Blaming Confucius for a fashion (foot-binding being just that) that took hold only in the Song Dynasty, and for a moral outlook that really took hold only after Deng Xiaoping is 'beyond stupid'. Indeed, that sort of naively reductionist cultural essentialism is precisely what Mr Crane has been going to some incredibly great lengths to debunk.

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