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The Distinction between the 'Abstract West' and the 'Concrete East' from a Linguistic Perspective

Man-to Tang
2018 Kritike: An Online Journal of Philosophy  
Ferdinand de Saussure is one of the pioneers who argue for the linguistic distinction between the West and the East. He argues that the western words (yan 言) (especially Indo-European) are mainly phoneticbased, but that the eastern words (especially Chinese) are not. Nevertheless, Edward Slingerland, in "Metaphor and Meaning in Early China," argues for a better understanding of the role of metaphor in Early Chinese thought (yi 意). Metaphorical conceptual structure is not a unique nature of the
more » ... ique nature of the Chinese, but it is common among all human beings. On the one hand, Slingerland is correct to argue for the common role of metaphor in both western and eastern thought. On the other hand, this paper aims at arguing that his rejection of the distinction between the "Abstract West" and the "Concrete East" is doubtful, as the distinction can be retained linguistically. Saussure and recent neuro-linguistic researchers provide evidences to support the distinction in the sense that the "Abstract West" refers to a phonetic-image (xiang 象 ) linguistic-determination, and the "Concrete East" refers to a visual-image linguistic-determination. Keywords: Slingerland, metaphor, the "abstract West" and the "concrete East," linguistic determination 1 I would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for commenting on this paper. He makes two helpful comments. Firstly, he points out that the East is a plurality of traditions. The East might not serve the East well, as this paper focuses on the Chinese rather than the plural Eastern traditions. His observation, however, is correct. The distinction addressed by Edward Slingerland is between the mainstream Western thought and the Chinese thought. This paper aims at arguing against his rejection. Therefore, the "East" follows Slingerland in that it refers to the Chinese. Secondly, he believes that the issue stems from an absolutist interpretation of "Abstract West" and "Concrete East." To a large extent, I agree with it. On the one hand, this paper aims at arguing against Slingerland's reconciliation. The distinction between the "Abstract West" and the "Concrete East" can be retained in accordance with their linguistic characteristics. On the other hand, it aims at arguing for an absolute interpretation of "Abstract West" and "Concrete East." The cultural differences, especially the linguistic, cannot be concealed. Besides, I would like to thank Prof. Kwan Tsz-wan for delivering seminars on Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception and the formation of Chinese characters. His project inspires the main thesis of this paper. mainly dependent upon sound/phonetic images Thus, he fails to prove his rejection with soundness. Edward Slingerland's Criticism towards the "Abstract West" and the "Concrete East" Distinction Edward Singlerland addresses that there are two problems if we adopt the misleading distinction between the "Abstract West" and the "Concrete East," as we believe Chinese philosophy depends on metaphor, but Western philosophy does not. The first problem is that the Western official philosophical attitude depreciates Chinese philosophy of its metaphorical nature. He argues that, 2 Edward Slingerland, "Conceptual Blending, Somatic Marking, and Normativity," in Cognitive Linguistics, 16:3 (2005), 6. 3 Slingerland pays attention to Jean-Paul Reding's work Comparative Essays in Early Greek and Chinese Rational Thinking and makes such a claim. For further details, please refer to
doi:10.25138/12.1.a10 fatcat:om642qogyzbw5ongxk63nxq2k4