Thursday, September 30, 2010

The China syndrome 3

that linguistic structure is to some significant extent isomorphic with major thoughtpatterns and that it is necessarily language which imposes those patterns on thought, not the other way around. Third, this isomorphism is supposed to be apparent in the articulation of reason called philosophy, and philosophical development is judged to be
positively guided and negatively constrained by the language in which it is done. The hypothesis that basic linguistic structure at once encourages and constrains the development of philosophical tendencies and doctrines, whether fruitful or disastrous, has enjoyed a curiously persistent vogue amongst students of Chinese philosophy. For ease of reference I designate it ‘the guidance and constraint hypothesis’, and shall investigate its continuing popularity by considering the genesis of the trend both inside and outside the boundaries of Sinology proper. Quite apart from the obvious attraction it holds of affording insight into why a significant group of scholars should be wedded to a given procedure,4 my approach has the added advantage of helping to explain an otherwise surprising feature of comparativist methodology: its ostensible conflict with dominant philosophical anthropology. Once its pedigree has been established, the various fortunes of proponents of the hypothesis will be assessed in a series of case-studies covering topics of the greatest potential interest and importance. Dubbing the Sinological vogue for the hypothesis a ‘syndrome’ is obviously pejorative. Yet my evaluations, even if largely negative, will not only help diagnose what I shall argue is a remarkable affliction besetting comparativist philosophy of language. They will also suggest alternative ways of understanding the all-imporant but protean concepts of linguistic and logical form.


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