Vortragsreihe (Frühjahrssemester 2010): Researching Philosophy in Asian Contexts

Die Vortragsreihe "Researching Philosophy in Asian Contexts" wird organisiert vom UFSP Forschungsfeld "Begriffe und Taxonomien".

The research field “Concepts and Taxonomies” of the University Research Priority Program Asia and Europe of Zurich University investigates the concept of philosophy in diverse intellectual traditions across Asia. By identifying the taxonomies of different terms for philosophy and exploring different answers to the question “What is philosophy?”, we bring into view the self-conceptions of these traditions, whose terminologies (both from an internal and an external point of view) and historical development will be studied in various cultural, social and institutional contexts. As part of these research efforts and following up a symposium held in December 2009, we have invited four leading scholars, who will deliver public lectures to present their argued views and exemplify how philosophy can be done or researched today in the respective contexts of Europe and the Arabic-Islamic world, India, China and Japan.
Our research focus is timely. Academic philosophers have for long taken their subject-matter as unquestionably a Greek invention followed by a largely European tradition. Today, however, Asian texts and contexts increasingly find their way into philosophical endeavors and reflections. The claim that there is or never was philosophy outside Europe has ceased to be persuasive. Avicenna, Nagarjuna, Mengzi and Watsuji Tetsuro are each being researched in their own right as well as in cross-reference to Aristotelian, Kantian or Derridean philosophy to address concerns prominent, for instance, in the philosophy of language, epistemology, aesthetics, environmental ethics or social justice.
Appraisals of this new situation differ. For some, the situation calls for no less than turning all philosophy into comparative philosophy; for others, the burgeoning discipline of comparative philosophy denotes but a stage on the way toward true world philosophy; finally, there are many immersed in philosophical study within a specific philology or an area study without interest in meta-reflections of comparative philosophy; for them, the question simply is how best to research philosophy based on a given Sanskrit text, a set of Chinese bamboo slips, or some specific period or context. Meanwhile, interpretative and other approaches abound, ranging from hermeneutical to critical and from cultural romanticist to analytical. Controversies over translation or the role and status of context continue and remain far from being settled. Universalisms, pluralisms, and relativisms of all shades are advocated and each embraced for many a purpose.
How do these different approaches and views weigh against each other? Do analytical approaches that search texts from distant places and times for answers to current problems operate out of context, or do they merely re-contextualize the “contents” of the texts? What makes a text philosophical, or can any text be read philosophically? Do different cultural spaces make for different philosophies? Why should the alleged difference, say, between Greek, Indian and Japanese philosophy be more crucial or more interesting than the differences between aristocrats and commoners, poor and rich, between man and woman, young and old, colonizers and colonized? Or are these distinctions already irredeemably culturally prefigured? How does philosophy relate to politics, ideology and efforts at instrumentalization? How does philosophical criticism go together with the authority invested in texts by “tradition”?