Anticipating Correlative Thinking: A Comparative Analysis of the Laozi and Phaedrus

  • Author / Creator
    Zhang, Yuan
  • Decades of efforts by Sinologists like Marcel Granet, A.C. Graham, and Roger Ames, have been put into explicating the notion of “correlative thinking” in the Laozi and other early Chinese texts. There is, however, no consensus among scholars of the field about exactly what they mean by the term “correlative thinking.” Some scholars consider this early stream of Chinese thought to be “pre-logical,” “irrational,” or “intuitive-associative,” which if not self-refuting, is at least misleading. This essay, acknowledging binary oppositions as the key to the gateway of correlative thinking, begins with analyzing the operation of those opposite terms in the Laozi, in which they always appear in concept-clusters valorizing the one commonly recognized as the lower-status. In this regard, the Laozi is interpreted providing a technique for tracing the fluidity of correlative language, especially the correlative thinking of binary oppositions. Moreover, aiming at recovering the cultural value of correlative thinking, this essay attempts to illustrate how this distinguished language model could be used to revise more familiar methods of post-Derridean hermeneutics.
    To do so, it turns to Plato’s Phaedrus, expecting that the model of correlative language could provide an alternative foothold for deconstructive interpretation, which distinguishes itself from a Derridean exegesis. The main approach is to demonstrate the tension between logic and non-rational elements in Plato’s Phaedrus. Though the methodology of dialectic is highly valued, philosophical argumentation also relies heavily on the correlativity of terms in the text. Further argumentation proceeds with characterizing the rhetoric habits in the Laozi, as a contrast to those dialectical principles described in the Phaedrus. The purpose is to explore the possibility, necessity and benefit to build up a correlative perspective.
    Instead of being a “prelogical” stage of thinking, the correlative thinking operates in its own effective way of argumentation, which is wholly capable of defending itself. There are reasons to believe that such a revaluation would, on the one hand, provide the gateway for entering into a dramatically different cultural context developed in China, while, on the other, echo with the poststructuralist critiques of the ultimacy of fact and the foundation of rationality in language.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
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