Philosophy Seminar Series: 25 January 2011, 2-3:45pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Ralph Weber, Senior Researcher and Lecturer, Zurich University; Moderator: Dr. Tang Weng Hong
Abstract: Comparison is fundamental to the practice and subject-matter of philosophy; but surprisingly it has received scant attention by philosophers. This is no different in ‘comparative philosophy’, which literally distinguishes itself from other philosophy by being ‘comparative’. In the talk, I shall argue for the need of a philosophy of comparison with a view to comparative philosophy. My focus will be on highlighting and problematizing one important element in any comparison: the tertium comparationis (the third of comparison). In the view that I shall defend there is no such thing as incomparability: anything can indeed be compared to anything. This finding, however, in no way decreases the importance of giving reasons why, say, Aristotle should be compared to Mencius or why conceptions of life in Greek and Chinese antiquity should particularly recommend themselves for comparison. If anything, I shall argue, it follows that reasons are even more important. To illustrate this latter claim, I shall relate my arguments to what is today commonly labelled ‘comparative philosophy’, and point out some of its largely unquestioned presumptions, particularly in light of their political implications. This political dimension of comparative philosophy is all too seldom reflected upon, which leaves the work of comparative philosophers unprotected from serving diverse political purposes – which may or may not be coextensive with the purposes they originally had in mind.