Han Feizi’s Genealogical Arguments

In Eirik Lang Harris & Henrique Schneider (eds.), Adventures in Chinese Realism: Classic Philosophy Applied to Contemporary Issues. Albany, NY, USA: SUNY Press. pp. 171–193 (2022)

Abstract

Han Feizi’s criticisms of Confucian and Mohist political recommendations are often thought to involve materialist or historicist arguments, independently of their epistemological features. Drawing largely on Amia Srinivasan’s recent taxonomy of genealogical arguments, this paper proposes a genealogical reading of passages in “The Five Vermin [五蠹 wudu]” and “Eminence in Learning [顯學 xianxue].” This reveals Han Feizi’s arguments to be more comprehensively appreciated as problematizing Confucian and Mohist political judgments as arising from undermining contingencies, rendering them irrelevant, if not detrimental, to any lasting excellence of a state. In doing this, it is also suggested that there is a ‘master argument’ underlying Han Feizi’s criticisms, according to which the epistemology of the Confucians and Mohists are fundamentally unreliable.

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