Leigh Jenco: Are Chinese thinkers irrational – Part 2

(English) Prof Jenco

This is a discreet (Note 1) follow up: Prof Leigh Jenco let me know that she held to  a  three part distinction: rational, non-rational and irrational. Western philosophy is rational, while Chinese philosophy is non-rational. Frankly this concept of ‘non-rational’ seems merely a polite version of ‘irrational’. In all my life I have never heard of non-rational thinking. My response to her was:

“I think you will find it untenable to maintain  a distinction between rational and non rational thinking. Personally, I have no idea what you mean by it. When Descartes argues from the perfection of God  to his existence (Meditations) I follow his argument but I am not sure the purchase of the term ‘rational’. Philosophical argument has always been unencumbered and unlimited. If by ‘non rational’ you were to mean ‘intuition’ then ALL Western philosophy is non rational as ALL of it rests on basic human intuitions.»

 «Incidentally, there is simply no good definition of ‘reason’. It quickly becomes a polemical term. Socrates said there was a bird that told him when to speak and when to remain silent. Where is the ‘reason’ in that?”

When challenged Jenco argued that a large part of Liebniz’s work was deeply influenced by Chinese thought. She did not follow up by concluding that a large part of Liebniz’s work was non-rational. The point at issue was that a large part of Liebniz metaphysics was identical to Chinese ideas but expressed slightly differently and I challenged her to call Liebniz non-rational.

I am astonished and saddened that in this 21st century we can still be discussing different racial ways of thinking as in ‘Chinese thought’.

Note 1:

There is an issue of etiquette here: talks at Aristotelian Society are formally drafts  so one should not directly quote them without permission. Here I am indirectly  quoting part of the ensuing discussion/Q&A . Also it is impolite to quote someone ‘s private email. If the matter was of  political or historical importance perhaps it could be justified. I have restricted my text to quoting myself, parts of my email responses.