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Sinologist advocates sublation in Chinese philosophy studies

Author  :  CHEN YUTONG     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2022-08-12

With a long history and profound implications, Chinese philosophy has been studied by numerous scholars at home and abroad. However, overseas scholars, particularly those in the West, could easily be drawn into stereotypical thinking due to their cultural background. To deal with such problems, Jana S. Rosker, a professor of sinology at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, proposed sublation in Chinese philosophy studies in a recent interview with CSST.

According to Rosker, notions, ideas, categories, and concepts that have been shaped in a certain sociocultural or ideational context cannot be simply transferred into other contexts. The dynamic paradigm underlying dominant Chinese streams of thought poses a significant challenge to many Western scholars.

For instance, the Chinese concept zhong yong, literally “middle way,” is often translated in Western languages as the “doctrine of the mean,” which can be misunderstood as a very conservative method, always choosing the middle ground in order to reach a static compromise between two oppositional alternatives. However, it does not refer to a formal, statically unchanging “middle” but a state of equilibrium that is different from moment to moment. Numerous other Chinese philosophical terms are misunderstood because there are no exact equivalent terms in Western philosophies, Rosker said.

Rosker told CSST that such misunderstandings are not inevitable. Although Western researchers were born, educated, and socialized in the West, and also incorporated many paradigms of Western rationality, logic, and ethics, they can still overcome such one-sided perspectives. Knowledge about specific Chinese methodologies and frames of reference, the traditional axiology, Chinese language, and so on, offers Western researchers possibilities for a reflective interpretation of what they perceive in Chinese culture and philosophy.

During the interview, Rosker noted that because conventional Western methodology has obtained a universal value, philosophical discourses which were established in other ideational traditions and in frameworks from different methodological paradigms are disadvantaged.

Rosker attributed the continued dominance of the West in this basic paradigm to the fact that modernization, which provides the epistemological and scientific foundations for today’s global system, was “exported” from Europe to the rest of the world. This process also included a “modernization” (i.e., “Westernization”) of knowledge and created an asymmetrical relationship between the two sides, in which European indifference to Asia and Asian interest in Europe were not balanced. This led to a problematic gap in European’s non-Western knowledge. This gap needs to be closed, as it has an unfavorable impact on the work of European political, economic, legal, and educational institutions, Rosker said.

Rosker mentioned that this imbalance is problematic not only because it is unfair and postcolonial, distorting Asian traditions, and so forth. It is important to recognize such orientations are harmful to Europe itself and the West in general. She notices that as economic and technological power is shifting to Asia, if Europe continues to adopt such an uninformed and dismissive attitude towards “Sinic” societies, it runs the risk of finding itself living in a world system whose deep groundwork it does not understand.

To solve the above-mentioned issues, Rosker suggested applying the sublation method, which aims to surpass these problems as it considers referential frameworks in which the philosophies under observation are embedded.

According to Rosker, sublation has the three subtexts of arising, eliminating, and preserving in a philosophical sense. Also, the notion of sublation refers to a process rather than a stage. The sublation method accounts for different methodologies and does not remain limited to the application of Western methodological paradigms. In this way, Rosker believes it enables us to give Chinese philosophy back its own voice.

Rosker elaborated in the interview that the new methodology underlying sublation could foster transcultural exchange of knowledge and ideas, which is more crucial than ever in today’s globalized world and in a time of widespread crises. Globalization of epistemology is necessary because such crises and problems can only be solved by an informed and up-to-date scholarship, which considers issues of equality and justice for all cultures and peoples while responding to current demands. Importantly, this globalization of scientific and academic discourses is not based on standardization rooted in the economic-political dominance of regions that have established themselves as the current centers of power and dominance, but on equality, which is different from sameness since it is based on cultural, linguistic, and axiological diversity.

Editor: Yu Hui

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