The Exterior of Philosophy: On the Practice of New Confucianism


Project Leader: Prof. Dr. Ralph Weber

The research project studies 20th century New Confucian philosophy by deploying a sociological perspective for philosophical aims. New Confucianism is a prominent and contested subject in contemporary East Asian academic and political debates, with advocates, critics and scholars arguing about its relevance. Since the beginning of this century, New Confucianism has received much attention in European-language scholarship as well, and has been particularly understood as a philosophy. The existing scholarship, however, has often chosen an approach that is either historical, as in the genre of intellectual history, or philosophical, tuned towards showing the contemporary philosophical relevance of New Confucianism. The current project builds on recent studies that add to these established approaches by offering sociological perspectives on New Confucianism. The ambition of the project is to pursue this perspective, but examine its potential for markedly philosophical readings of New Confucianism. The project hence breaks new ground in terms of its disciplinary approach beyond the specific context of New Confucianism. Drawing on work done in Sociology, the research project explores the possibilities of a Sociology of Philosophy approached as a philosophical sub-discipline.

The research group (Prof. Ralph Weber, Dr. Philippe Major and two doctoral students) constitutes one of the largest specialized teams on the topic of New Confucianism outside of China. The project breaks down into three focused studies on the exterior of philosophy – that is, the sociological foundation upon which philosophy is conducted – and its relevance for the practice of New Confucianism. The sociological starting points vary among the three studies, as does the place of action (mainland China as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan). The emphasis in the first project is on the practice of writing New Confucian philosophy as a means to create parallel societies of authors and readers, whereby the historical society stands for both a condition that is constitutive and a limitation that is to be transcended. The second project proceeds from the circumstance of censorship in the People's Republic of China under Mao Zedong and applies a Straussian reading to the texts produced by those New Confucians who remained on the mainland. The third project takes as its starting point the anti-Confucian criticism of Liberals in 1950s Taiwan and looks at how the critics use social and political agendas that are not straightforwardly philosophical when trying to debunk New Confucianism and advance philosophical arguments.

The research project promises a threefold scientific impact in terms of establishing a philosophical Sociology of Philosophy, of adding further scholarship to the thriving field of non-European philosophy and by introducing a new integrative approach to the study of New Confucianism.