Monthly Archives: February 2012

What is 天 Tian?

In Wang Chong’s essay Tan tian (談天) “Discussing Tian” (I leave it untranslated here so as not to beg questions), he (as usual) criticizes a number of common views concerning what tian is and what it does.  This discussion leaves open the question, however, of just what Wang himself thinks that tian is and does.  We get some indication of Wang’s view on this in other essays of the Lunheng, and a bit in the Tan tian itself, but for the most part we are left to piece together his position on tian, as he focuses much more on undermining incorrect positions than advancing his own concerning tianContinue reading

Wang Chong as Philosopher: A Preview

I have recently (since I began working on these Wang Chong posts) been working on a longer work on Wang Chong’s philosophical thought, tentatively titled “Wang Chong as Philosopher”–I’ll likely come up with something better as I go along.  Anyway–I thought that this would be a good place to give a short account of the project, before I get into some of the issues I’m working through in future posts.

I engage with Wang Chong as philosopher, rather than as social critic, political thinker, or historical figure.  Certainly, aspects of these features of Wang Chong’s work must be considered in any study of Wang’s thought, but I focus mainly in this project on the philosophical thought of Wang, as it reveals itself through the method he advocates, his arguments and conclusions, and the sometimes startling ways these arguments can help to inform certain positions and debates in contemporary philosophy.

Thus, my purpose is in some sense historical, but in a larger sense it is an attempt to reflect along side of Wang Chong, thinking about solutions to pressing philosophical problems in ways that often import Wang’s thinking to solve contemporary problems and vice-versa.   I necessarily consider Wang outside of his historical and cultural context, assuming that philosophical method and arguments need not be tied to particular historical and cultural contexts (as we regularly do with philosophers such as Kant or Plato, and to a somewhat lesser extent with religious philosophers like Aquinas, Augustine, or Avicenna, whose central theological motives are often seen as archaic and therefore historically and culturally bound).

One way of seeing the intent of this work, then, is that of thinking through contemporary philosophical problems through the lenses of and with the aid of Wang Chong, a unique and penetrating ancient Chinese thinker, whose method and arguments can be of immense use in contemporary philosophy.  Wang approaches subjects from ethics and politics to metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and philosophical method, in an often very different way than his contemporaries and near-contemporaries in the earliest and most widely studied (by philosophers in the west) period of Chinese thought. Wang Chong’s thought is well suited to inform contemporary debates in ethics, metaphysics, and philosophy of language, and contemporary philosophical concepts can also help illuminate Wang’s own project.

Keep an eye out for much more on Wang here on Unpolished Jade in the coming days and weeks!