Conceptions of Knowledge, Lecture eleven

Conceptions of Knowledge, Lecture eleven

Language as sagely communication, Ames’ view

Roger Ames claims that Ancient Chinese philosophy and language, though closely related, are not as deterministically connected as Hansen thought. Ames views the Chinese language not necessarily describing the world, but shaping it. He focuses primarily on the Confucian perspective when discussing this theory in his book “Thinking trough Confucius”.

Ames focuses his theory on Chinese philosophies of language and the personage of the sage. The sage in ancient China (especially the Confucian ones) where primarily communicators. They were tasked with communicating philosophy to the people trough ritual. In Confucianism, language creates an aesthetic order especially thought these aforementioned rituals.

Ames starts by acknowledging historic contributions and interpretations to Chinese philosophy made by his colleagues. Specifically, Ames point out the claims made by the likes of Hansen that Chinese philosophy was largely influenced by the unique character of the Chinese language.
Ames distinguishes his views from those of Hansen however by claiming that Chinese philosopher is were quite creative with language and not at all deterministically limited by it. He does acknowledge however that many view that came before him were influential in painting Chinese philosophy as distinctly non-platonic and -metaphysical.

The Confucian sage has knowledge of connection and communication. Knowledge in general is thus knowledge of language. To achieve this knowledge, the sage needs to “attune his ear” to discover where he stands in relation to everything else. Everyone ought to follow their own role which is determined by language. If this proper role is not performed, the people will suffer. Furthermore, if “the names are not correct”, the roles cannot be fulfilled. In other words, language is and ought to be accurate in creating order. When this order is created by the sage trough a ritual, the result will be a beautiful enjoyable aesthetic order.