Below is a brief excerpt.
It will likely be of interest not just to those doing Chinese philosophy, or other forms of “non-Western” philosophy, but also historians of philosophy in general, and philosophers working on the edges of, or outside of, what is considered mainstream in the United States and other parts of the world in which analytic philosophy is dominant.
In the US, in analytic philosophy departments, scholars of Chinese philosophy want philosophers to respect them, and pay attention to them. Some think the best way to get their attention to find a way that the texts add something to a contemporary debate. Some think it is to get the texts to speak to a pattern of ideas they know philosophers respect, like consequentialism or virtue ethics. And some seek for ways in which the texts might offer self-help in the world today…
Each of the three ideas seems to me wrong in different ways. For the first, scholarly reading of a historical text (Chinese or Western) is in my view almost never the most efficient way of making progress on contemporary philosophical questions. (This sentence will make me a lot of enemies, but there it is.) For the second, there are already many excellent textbooks on utilitarianism or virtue ethics. Collapsing the variety of ideas in Classical Chinese philosophy into a curriculum of well-known ideas threatens to lose much of interest in our subject, while failing to add anything to the existing philosophical landscape. And for the third, if what one wants is the respect of analytic philosophers, who value abstract theoretical inquiry above all, developing self-help guides is not the way to go.
Practically speaking—and this is my main, firmly held view—if scholars of Chinese philosophy want to win the respect of analytic philosophers, we will do it most effectively by doing our jobs, as I described them above: by reading the texts with rigor, care, and precision. We will do so most effectively by formulating genuine problems in our understanding of these texts, and then resolving them. Many of my colleagues who study Chinese philosophy are frustrated by what they see as a lack of recognition for their work. But many of my colleagues in “core analytic” philosophy are frustrated by what they see as a lack of rigor, care, and precision in scholarship on Chinese philosophy. We will win these philosophers’ respect most effectively by doing our jobs as I described them above. We lose their respect when we try to change our job, falling over ourselves to try to win their attention.
Less pragmatically but in a way more importantly, I also believe that if we give up on our job, we lose something of intrinsic value that it was our job (and no one else’s) to preserve. In the US, at least, we are the guardians of this tradition; we are its impersonators in our generation.
It’s true: our texts are not easy to understand, and they resist paraphrase. But their difficulty and resistance to paraphrase is a virtue, both for us and our students. It is in part owing to their difficulty that the discipline of reading them closely is a good way to teach and learn the virtues of respect, reverence, and charity. It is in part owing to their resistance to paraphrase that they help us to teach and learn precision and care in understanding others, even (in fact, especially) when we disagree passionately with them. The texts can be alluring, inspiring, and compelling. But they can also be sexist, inegalitarian, and ugly. Part of what makes it worth reading and teaching them is that, when you think you know what they will or should say next, they say something different. Reading them carefully and closely teaches us to come to terms with this possibility. It teaches us to keep listening, because even when we think we know what someone else will say, they may surprise us.
You can read the whole set of remarks here.