Writing Philosophy from the Periphery: Lixing as Foundational Empty Signifier in Tang Junyi’s Cultural Consciousness and Moral Reason

Sophia 60 (2):255-276 (2021)
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Abstract

This article adopts Ernesto Laclau’s notion of empty signifier to discuss Tang Junyi’s uses of the concept oflixing(‘reason’ or ‘rationality’) in his seminal workCultural Consciousness and Moral Reason(文化意識與道德理性; 1958). My dual goal, in doing so, is to bring to light the relations of power constitutive of the text’s discourse onlixingand relate them to the problematic of writing philosophy from the periphery. I argue that in this work,lixing’s dual referents—as a translation of ‘reason’ and as denoting a Neo-Confucian faculty to intuit moral truths—allow Tang to inscribe himself in a philosophical field designed to exclude non-Western philosophies, while at the same time enabling him to symbolically relegate Euro-American philosophy to a peripheral position by filling in the notion oflixingwith a content that legitimizes his own agenda. Tang could thus authorize his Confucian metaphysics by presenting it as the true content oflixing, understood not only as a universal faculty enabling humanity’s access to all that is universal, but also as a condition sine qua non of for one’s inclusion in the philosophical game. By attempting to co-opt the empty signifier (lixing/reason) for his own purposes, I argue Tang employs one of two possible strategies that can be adopted by those situated at the periphery in order to oppose the hegemon; one that leaves the structure of power relations intact but working in favor of the periphery.

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