The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in China
In this strikingly original contribution to our understanding of Chinese philosophy,Françle;ois Julien, a French sinologist whose work has not yet appeared in English usesthe Chinese concept of shi - meaning disposition or circumstance, power or potential - as atouchstone to explore Chinese culture and to uncover the intricate and coherent structure underlyingChinese modes of thinking.A Hegelian prejudice still haunts studies of ancient Chinese civilization:Chinese thought, never able to evolve beyond a cosmological point of view, with an indifference toany notion of telos, sought to interpret reality solely on the basis of itself. In thisgroundbreaking study, prejudices toward the simplicity and "naiveté" of Chinese thought, Hegelianand otherwise, are dismantled one by one to reveal the intricate and coherent structure underlyingChinese modes of thinking and representing reality.Jullien begins with a single Chinese term, shi,whose very ambivalence and disconcerting polysemy, on the one hand, and simple efficacy, on theother, defy the order of a concept. Yet shi insinuates itself into the ordering and conditioning ofreality in all its manifold and complex representations. Because shi neither gave rise to anycoherent, general analysis nor figured as one of the major concepts among Chinese thinkers, Jullienfollows its appearance from one field to another: from military strategy to politics; from theaesthetics of calligraphy and painting to the theory of literature; and from reflection on historyto "first philosophy."At the point where these various domains intersect, a fundamental intuitionassumed self-evident for centuries emerges, namely, that reality - every kind of reality - may beperceived as a particular deployment or arrangement of things to be relied upon and worked to one'sadvantage. Art or wisdom, as conceived by the Chinese, lies in strategically exploiting thepropensity that emanates from this particular configuration of reality.
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