The Philosophy of Xunzi
Xunzi, "the Aristotle of the East," has recently enjoyed an extraordinary revival. Arguably the most brilliant thinker of ancient China, Xunzi’s ideas were central to Confucian thinking for over a thousand years, and he left indelible marks on the Confucian tradition.
Kurtis Hagen’s book is the first to focus directly on conflicting interpretations of Xunzi’s central concepts. The Philosophy of Xunzi frames a debate over Xunzi’s conception of the way, the relation between patterns and categories that underlies his worldview, the moral attunement of language, and the status of ritual propriety.
According to an influential but questionable interpretation, Xunzi maintained that the sages of old produced a language that truly and uniquely describes the world and our place in it; that the precise ritual patterns established by those sages are universally appropriate; and that since moral categories expressed in language are real, unorthodox doctrines are to be silenced.
Hagen shows that there is a different and more reasonable interpretation of Xunzi. The sages had gradually developed a workable set of social institutions, moral categories, and divisions of roles and responsibilities. These were not final or timeless, but were historically contingent products of constructive activity, designed to facilitate peace and social harmony, and assumed to evolve with the times.
"A formidable challenge to conventional interpretations of the philosopher Xunzi (my own included). Hagen’s main thesis is that the most prominent Western scholars have read Xunzi as a realist who conceives of a universe with a fixed or determinate structure. Hagen endeavors to show that such heavy metaphysical commitments are not necessary—and indeed obscure Xunzi’s vision. Although many of his claims may prove controversial, Hagen always has genuine textual grounds for his interpretations."
—Paul R. Goldin, author of Rituals of the Way
"This is a superb book and a decisive work for Xunzi studies. Arguing with contemporary Chinese and Japanese as well as English-language commentators, Hagen makes a very powerful case for interpreting Xunzi as a ‘constructionist’, not a ‘realist’, with regard to classification, language, and normative rituals. With careful, detailed discussions and translations, Hagen rescues Xunzi from appreciative but misleading interpretations."
—Robert C. Neville, author of The Tao and the Daimon
"In Kurtis Hagen’s bold ‘reconstructivist’ reading of Xunzi, he takes on the burgeoning field of Xunzi scholarship. . . . His careful and consistent arguments offer us his sustained effort to understand this seminal Chinese philosopher by locating his ideas within their own interpretive context. A careful perusal of this rigorously argued work will serve as a primer for reading Chinese philosophy broadly by sensitizing the reader to many of the ambient, persistent assumptions that have made the Chinese philosophical narrative so different from our own."
—Roger T. Ames, co-translator of The Analects of Confucius
Kurtis Hagen is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Plattsburgh. A graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, he was awarded a Monbusho Scholarship at the University of Tokyo and was then a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Research Fellow at Nihon University. This is his first book.