6. Franklin Perkins on Excavated Texts

In this interview, we learn how newly discovered texts are changing our understanding of Warring States period philosophy.

Audio Episode:

Note: this transcription was produced by automatic voice recognition software. It has been corrected by hand, but may still contain errors. We are very grateful to Tim Wittenborg for his production of the automated transcripts and for the efforts of a team of volunteer listeners who corrected the texts.

Peter Adamson: You've been working on some of these newly discovered texts, these newly excavated texts, which is very exciting work. And I'm going to start by asking you an obvious question, which is to get you to tell us what sorts of texts have been discovered and where and when the discoveries were made?

Franklin Perkins: Yes, so they found really an immense number of excavated texts recently and there's new finds coming up all the time. So there's a lot of them from all different times. For philosophy, there's three main collections. So two of them are from the Warring States period, which would be kind of the period of classical Chinese philosophy. So they think around 300 BC. So one of those is known as the Guodian find. And that was found in 1993 and it's about 16 short texts, depending on how you break them up. So that's probably the most important of the philosophical texts. The other one is known as the Shanghai Museum collection. And unfortunately, as the name of them suggests, these were looted texts. So we don't know where they came from. They were purchased in Hong Kong by the Shanghai Museum. They were purchased a year after the Guodian texts. And there's some overlap. There's a couple of texts in common between them and the style's quite similar. And so pretty much everybody thinks they came from roughly the same time and place. So also around 300 BC. The Guodian texts were buried in what was then the state of Chu, which would have been at that time like the southern fringe of China, but is now more like in the middle of China. So they were found in Hubei province. So those are the two main collections of texts. The other most important one is known as Mawangdui, and that's from the Han dynasty. So that was buried in, I think, around 168 BC. It was discovered in 1973. That has philosophical texts, including a couple of copies of the Laozi, the Dao de Jing. It has some Confucian texts. It has an interesting collection of Han dynasty Taoist texts, usually referred to as Huang Lao texts. And it also has some interesting medical texts. So for philosophy, those are the three collections most people work on. And for me, because I work more on the classical period, I've done more with the Guodian texts and the Shanghai Museum texts. But there's lots of other ones. So there's collections of divination statements, also from 300 BC, that at least give us some background knowledge. There's a big collection that was purchased by Tsinghua University that has more historical narratives in it. There's some Qin dynasty legal cases. There's all kinds of stuff that they've been finding.

Peter Adamson: Is there some reason that they all come from such a narrow stratum of the historical record? Why are they all from right around 300 BCE?

Franklin Perkins: Those are the earliest ones that we have. And I'm not quite sure. I think it was maybe partly the conditions, like the physical conditions where they were buried that made them more likely to be preserved. But it might just be part of the chance of where they've come across these tombs. There are later ones. So the earliest ones are around 300 BC. But then you pretty much have continually ones that they found from then.

Peter Adamson: Oh, I see. So you're just telling us about the earliest texts. Of course, those are important because they often give us texts that didn't exist or weren't extant otherwise, or maybe versions of texts that weren't otherwise extant.

Franklin Perkins: Yeah. And they're important for philosophy because they're coming really, say, between Confucius and Mencius, who would be two of the main Confucian philosophers. So it's kind of filling in that gap between them.

Peter Adamson: You just said something about the physical circumstances under which these texts were deposited. In the last episode, we also talked about the physical nature of the texts themselves. So we've got bamboo strips tied together with string, something like that. Can you maybe say something more, though, about what they were like? What do the texts actually physically look like? What do they consist of?

Franklin Perkins: The texts are written from top to bottom. Right. And so each line of text be written on one bamboo strip. And then, like you said, they'd be tied together so you could roll them up and unroll them. They couldn't be too long. So none of the texts are very long because it would get too unwieldy as a big thing of bamboo. So when they started writing later on silk, you could have longer, more material on one roll of silk. But these bamboo texts, they're somewhat limited in size. The strips are different lengths. You know, some people theorize that some of the shorter ones are maybe more prestigious texts or not. But it's not so clear what that is in terms of the conditions of them. One of the big problems is that the strings that tied them together all decayed. So when they're finding them, it's just a big pile of single lines of text. And so one of the big questions is then what order should you put them in? And you can kind of group them into by their size, by where the strings you can see where the strings were on the strips. But that still leaves questions of what order should they be in with some with the ones that are eluded, especially there's questions of whether strips might be missing, things like that.

Peter Adamson: So it's sort of like a jigsaw puzzle trying to put it all back together.

Franklin Perkins: Yeah. And so some of usually it's obvious which one flows into the next. You know, but there's lots of ones where there's key debates and what the proper order of the strip should be.

Peter Adamson: And is the actual writing on the strip still usually fairly legible or is there lots of, in at least in classical philosophy and classical text, we talk about lacunae, right? So gaps in the text. I suppose the same thing happens here, right?

Franklin Perkins: Yeah. So mostly they're fairly clear what is said on the strip. But one thing that tended to happen was where the string was, was a little weaker. And so on a lot of the strips the last three or four characters will be broken off and sometimes a series of lines, the last three or four characters, will be broken off. So there's lots of gaps like that that you have to kind of guess to fill in.

Peter Adamson: This sounds formidably challenging. And one question that might leap to mind is why would anyone bother trying to read these texts when we have perfectly readable texts that are preserved right down through the ages? And one hint at an answer is something you already mentioned, which is that they sometimes fill in the gaps in our historical record. So we might have texts that were lost completely and we might have versions of texts that we did have, but now we're getting a different recension or a different version of the text. Can you say something general about what the excavated texts have done to fill out our understanding of Warring States philosophical work?

Franklin Perkins: It is mostly in giving us a clearer sense of the context in which the main texts that we focus on were written, like who they're responding to. So on a very general level, probably the most significant thing is that we've tended to tell the history of Chinese philosophy as primarily debates between different schools. So the Mohists are criticizing Confucius and then Mengzi, Mencius is criticizing the Mohists and the Daoists are criticizing the Confucians or the Mohists. That fits the rhetoric of the texts themselves. But what we see in these excavated texts is that the specifics that these philosophers are developing, their positions around are primarily driven by debates within the schools. So we see much more diversity, say, within Confucian views. And if we look like what exactly is Mencius arguing, it's really being determined by what these other Confucians were saying. So overall, at least still trying to oppose the Mohists, but like the actual contours of what he's saying is really being determined by these other schools. Right. And so this debate within the schools gets highlighted much more. Also with the Laozi, that seemed to come from nowhere historically. You know, it seems so different from the Confucian texts, but we found now three other cosmogony texts. And it's clear that what the Laozi is saying is being directed largely in response to those texts and not just broadly to Confucianism or something like that. So it gives us a pretty different picture about how the debates were working at that time.

Peter Adamson: Would it be fair, then, to say that what happened is that the schools kind of individually hardened around a certain set of doctrines that became normative for each so-called school. So you have like a sort of Taoist position and a Confucian position and a Mohist position, but that those were themselves the result of a longer period of internal debate. And it was only once the school orthodoxy hardened that it started to become more interesting to argue across the boundaries between schools. Or is that too simplistic?

Franklin Perkins: I think the general sense that people have now, partly from these texts, is that the schools were always quite diverse. So at various points in history, you have an attempt to consolidate like this is the orthodox Confucianism, but that still changes over time. And so that really these were always being driven largely by internal debates. But part of it is what's normative for the Confucian, let's say, is certain virtues, certain practices, and that they're pretty consistent on, like what you should do. They pretty much all will say the same thing to a question of what you should do. It's the theories behind it that's where they're really disagreeing amongst each other. So you can still say there's a kind of orthodox Confucianism, but the theories that are being used to justify it vary quite, quite widely.

Peter Adamson: If we think about the case where we've got different versions of a text that we already had, how widely do these other versions diverge from what we had?

Franklin Perkins: The strongest case we have is with the Laozi. So the Laozi, we found two copies of it in Mawangdui. So that's the early Han dynasty one. There's also a slightly later Han dynasty one that was bought by Peking University. So another looted text. So we have another Han dynasty version of that. And then it was found in Guodian, but in Guodian, it's really very different because it only has about one third of the passages from the whole Laozi. And it was written on three bundles of bamboo strips. So it's not clear that it was one text or was it three collections of passages? And one of those collections has material that's not in the Laozi. So it's not clear if those should be thought of as part of the collection or not. On top of that, the passages that are there, many of them are missing parts from the received versions. So it seems like the received versions were formed by combining different things together in the passages. So with the Laozi, there's lots of bigger questions about the status of the Laozi. But if we just look generally at the transmission of texts from the Laozi, from a few others that we have received versions of, and then there's a few that we found multiple excavated versions of. So they were unknown, but we found more than one version of them. If you look at those, they're pretty good in keeping the main meaning transmitted, but they were pretty open to changing the wording. Usually, I think in ways that they didn't see as significant, but they can be significant. It can change the meaning of the passage. And so we don't have any good sense of what the original wording of any of these texts was, I think, because the wording is being changed over time as it's being rewritten. They were pretty liberal with adding stuff in as well, as often happens with transmitted texts. It's something that clearly is trying to clarify the original passage or make it as an explanation, add a conclusion. But sometimes they just will put in other material that they saw as somehow related, but it's not clear how it relates. There are very few deliberate changes. There's a few. So the most famous is Chapter 19 of the Laozi, the received version. It's a criticism of virtues and the received version has among those virtues, sagacity, benevolence, and rightness. And those would have been key terms for the Confucian and for the Mohists. The Guadian version instead has more generic things like debate, striving, or being too active, and then deliberation. So somebody changed it to make it more polemical and more of an attack on kind of established schools. You know, so there are some deliberate changes like that, but for the most part, it seems like it's not really deliberate changes, except when they added new material that then, you know, when you're trying to read it as a whole, changes the meaning of it.

Peter Adamson: It's interesting to me that you're talking about adding material because that seems to suggest that we have some grip, or not we, but you - I certainly don't - but experts have some grip on what is more likely to be as it were the original version. But is that really a meaningful thought? So is there any plausible chance here of getting back to the real Laozi, to which then other things have accreted and you can say, oh, well, that word has changed here, but we know that the original word was such and such, or is it more like you just have a kind of variety of different options and you can't get past that to some kind of, or a text that stands behind them all?

Franklin Perkins: It probably doesn't even make sense to try to think of what the original text was because I think they were always being modified. And so the ones where we have multiple excavated copies of them, they vary from each other, right? So already they're being changed from something that was earlier than them. And in a lot of cases, like with the Laozi it's probably pulling a kind of famous saying from one place and then somebody's adding some commentary around it. I don't think it really yet makes sense to try to say what was the original text or what's the authentic text, because the texts were always shifting. I do think we can still try to track a progression or development. And there are general principles for that. Like additions are generally taken as later, because it's more likely to add an explanation than to cut an explanation. But those are all just kind of probabilistic arguments. So there are a few cases where my own judgment would be that the Guodian version, which is the earliest version is actually wrong, you know, and that the later version is probably right. And that the Guodian, whoever copied that made some kind of error in their copying. There's debates about that.

Peter Adamson: Does the openness of the text itself tell us something about the intellectual life at the time and the way that these texts were being used? Because it strikes me that if you thought that these texts were, as it were, sacred or maybe sacred is too strong word, but authoritative, then you might be a lot more careful about not changing a single character. Whereas this sounds more like a fluid situation where they feel very free to change things, at least to some extent.

Franklin Perkins: Yeah, I think that's right. It suggests that these were not seen as something like a sacred text. And you could say it's just something about their view of the status of the authors, that they felt pretty free to change the words that they used. With the Laozi, it doesn't cite anyone. You know, it doesn't say somebody said this. There's no appeals to authority at all. And it suggests the way it's used suggests that they weren't actually concerned with who said it. They combine stuff around, add stuff in, and later uses of the Laozi suggest something, some of the quotations will be taken out of context to make some other point. Like they seem like something that's a kind of living text that's being formed by the needs of the people using the text. With the Confucian text, it's a little trickier because they will say Confucius said this, you know, or whatever disciple it is, they will quote people. But even there, it seems like who they attributed to will be different in different places. And like the wording still was changing. Partly, I think they themselves are aware that it's a kind of rhetorical move to attribute it to Confucius. I mean, they do have a kind of respect for Confucius, but they're not that concerned with exactly how he said things, it seems.

Peter Adamson: Right. They're more concerned maybe with the idea or the message, or maybe even what it says about his character. So if you're thinking, but this is a model sage, and you might not worry so much about the exact phrasing, you might worry more about what we're learning about Kongzi or Confucius by reading the text.

Franklin Perkins: Now that you put it that way, it connects even the things that are fairly explicit in the text. The Lunyu has a famous example. So the Lunyu is like the main collection of Confucius's sayings, it's translated as the Analects. So there's a very famous passage where one disciple comes up to Confucius and says, you know, when you hear something, should you put it into practice? And you immediately put it into practice. And Confucius says, 'no, you should defer to your parents.' And then another disciple comes up to him and ask word for word the same question. And he says, 'yes.' And then a third disciple, who heard both of these says, 'well, what's the answer here?' And he says, 'well, the first guy is too reckless. And so I said, no, defer to your parents. The second guy is kind of lazy. And so I said, yes, to push him forward.' So there's already a sense that these texts are meant to further practical effects rather than sort of what they're literally expressing.

Peter Adamson: Yeah, that actually that passage that I mean, that's a quite a famous passage from the Analects. It almost seems to push against the limits of communicating philosophy in written form. Right. Because if it's written down, you can't control who's going to read it. Whereas if you're talking to someone, then you can adjust your message to the person you're talking to. So by kind of having this meta reflection on what you might say to different people, they've managed to get that idea into a written text that would be hard to get into that format.

Franklin Perkins: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. That one of the things they're struggling with is how to think about writing and deal with writing in that context, because I think that's around when texts start writing and circulating. It's interesting. I mean, it's the exact problem that Plato is talking about in the Phaedrus. You know, and I think you could say Plato is dealing with it by writing, you're writing dialogues where there's always a context, whereas the Confucians are dealing with it by just throwing out a bunch of different things that somebody can use, some people might not use, and then saying explicitly, yeah, don't take any of these as absolute. These are all meant for a specific context.

Peter Adamson: Yeah. And if the reader had enough self-knowledge to know which piece of advice they should take, that would be good.

Franklin Perkins: Right. That's the difficult thing.

Peter Adamson: Speaking of readers, we've been talking mostly about the people who set these texts down and what they were doing, what they were trying to achieve. But maybe the excavated texts also tell us something about the readers, because the existing texts, I guess, obviously would have been transmitted through a fairly elite chain of scholars, right, because they would have wound up at libraries and so on. Right. So there we're talking about officials, bureaucrats who are connected with the courts of rulers or other potentates. Is that also true of the excavated texts or might we be dealing here with copies of texts that were being used by people who were a little bit further down on the food chain, so to speak?

Franklin Perkins: It's hard to say, because some of the texts are looted, it's still been where they came from. But even the ones where we know where they came from, we're not really sure who the person was who was buried there and we're not sure why the texts were buried with them. So, you know, hopefully we'll find something that will make this a little more clear. But if we just look at the content, the majority of the texts talk about issues that only would concern someone in charge, like when you should go to war or not, what you should do about punishing people or not, what kind of education you should promote. So they have that aspect. But on the other hand, there's things like how to deal with failing to get a job, and like how to cultivate yourself. So it seems clear that at least the majority, and I would probably project that to all of them, were meant for a kind of educated elite who wanted to influence government, but were not themselves in charge of things. And I would guess that at this time, the texts that are largely circulating are owned by those people. You know, so they're not sort of imperial collections or like collections that the king has, although they probably have royal libraries as well, but that these different kind of thinkers would have their own collections of the texts that they liked. The most striking thing with it is that all of the collections that they found are extremely diverse in the philosophies that they have. So what we know that we didn't know for sure before is that the readers were not just reading like their school of philosophy, right? They were reading quite widely across different schools and perspectives. And really, it's striking that within the Guadian texts, there's hardly two texts that seem like they could have been written by the same person. Almost every text is at least a slightly different view. And then some are Confucian and some are more Taoist. That does show us something significant. And there's been an argument that texts circulated kind of from master to disciple and were passed down in a lineage. And that seems to be false, or at least it's false by 300 BC. These are clearly like circulating across lots of different lines. And it was very much a kind of sharing of ideas going on.

Peter Adamson: Is there any pattern to the kinds of texts these philosophical texts are found with or are these collections really just philosophical collections?

Franklin Perkins: The Guadian texts, I would count all of them as philosophical texts. The speculation is that the person who they were buried with was a tutor to the royal famisly, so it was probably a teacher, but it's not certain. There's clues that suggest that the Shanghai Museum collection also, I mean, almost all I would say are philosophical texts, but there's some more variety of texts there, but they're still all, we might say, intellectual discourse. So there's a commentary on the Book of Odes in it, but by Confucius. But then like say Mawangdui has medical texts. So those are like really a distinct genre of texts, although there's still probably was overlap between philosophy and medicine, medical literature.

Peter Adamson: That's interesting, isn't it? Because that really seems to imply that they saw a commonality and a kind of genre, a unity of genre in what we're calling philosophical texts. It's kind of comforting, right? So it's not that we're projecting this back on the material or even that the Han scholars are projecting this back on the material and saying, oh yeah, the legalists and the Mohists and the Confucians, they were all sort of doing the same thing because if these collections already around 300 BCE already were kind of marking out a field of discourse in that way, then it sounds like we're entitled to think of that as a body of literature, which we can call philosophical literature.

Franklin Perkins: Some people might question how appropriate it is to call it all philosophical, but I think it is a kind of coherent body of literature that that is what we call what I would call Chinese philosophy. Some might call it master's literature as a kind of later category. I think it is all of that kind of genre, you know.

Peter Adamson: Maybe we can get a little bit more specific now and talk about just one specific work that you've worked on. Maybe we take the example of the Mengzi and talk about how finding versions of the Mengzi in the excavated collections has changed your understanding of the text.

Franklin Perkins: So Mengzi is the Chinese pronunciation that's been known in English as Mencius. And sometimes we'll use Mencius sometimes we'll use Mengzi. It's better to use Mengzi, but I will sometimes switch back and forth.

Peter Adamson: Yeah, we try and use the Chinese terms, but then we keep forgetting.

Franklin Perkins: Great, yes, I do the same thing. With most of the main philosophical texts, with the Laozi as the one exception, we haven't found anything that we could take as being like, okay, this is another expression of Mengzi's philosophy. Right. So the text helped more indirectly. And so on a well, just to get into specifics with Mengzi in particular, I think the most helpful text is known in Chinese as the Xing zi mingchu, which means something like 'the natural dispositions come from what is allotted.' And the main thing that it does with the Mengzi is help us clarify the context that he's reacting against. So one example of this would be that in this Xing zi mingchu text, Xing is this word for natural dispositions. It's kind of the key word for Mengzi and also for Xunzi later and Daoist will use it as well. So it's saying that our natural dispositions are both good and bad. I mean, it doesn't even actually label them that way. It's more our natural dispositions are the kind of psychological given that we start with. And to cultivate ourselves, some of those dispositions should be encouraged and grown. And some of them need to be restrained. And then this leads into in other texts that seem to have a similar viewpoint from the Guodian text, the idea that benevolence is internal, because it's an extension of natural feelings that we have. And then say, rightness, ritual propriety, these are external, because these are constraints on the natural feelings that we have. So one really interesting thing is that the main debate in early Confucianism was Mengzi who says our Xing, these dispositions are good, and Xunzi who says these dispositions are bad. So what we find out is the original position kind of combined both of them. And one of the significant things overall, I said it's all about Mengzi, but is that Xunzi is usually seen as like, kind of a heterodox Confucian in arguing that our dispositions are bad. But it's clear now that he's as authentic to this original as Mengzi is, they're really both taking up one side of this position that was originally unified together. So we now know that what Mengzi is arguing against, which is this idea that we have both of these tendencies, and we can see, I think here precisely what's new in his account. So one thing that's new in his account is an argument that even virtues that are focused on rule following, right, so rules that clearly are socially taught like ritual, even those are motivated by the natural feelings that we have. So he uses shame as the example, right? So shame is what drives us to follow the rules. So the rules have to be learned and that sense they're external, but the virtue of rightness of following the rules is motivated internally. So essentially, he's taking this position from the Xing zi mingchu and saying, no, all of the virtues arise from encouraging natural feelings, even the ones that seem really external. It just gives us a more precise sense of what exactly he's arguing, like what's new in his account.

Peter Adamson: It's interesting to me that he would be reacting to, actually both him and Xunzi, would be sort of taking one half of this original position, because the original position on the face of it looks a lot more plausible. Like if you just hang around with children, for example, it seems like they have some good instincts and some bad instincts, and you should be trying to cultivate or help them cultivate the good instincts and try to rein in the bad instincts, right? So when they hit another kid, you say, 'don't do that.' When they are generous and give something to another kid, you say, 'good, good girl, good boy,' whatever. So why would they have been motivated to take just one half of the story, if you see what I mean?

Franklin Perkins: So I think with Mengzi, he is still in a way distinguishing two kinds of motivation, but he wants to say that the negative motivations he associates with desires for sensory pleasure, which he rhetorically at least tries to separate from these natural dispositions. So in a way, he's still keeping the two sides. But I think the significant thing he's trying to say is that in trying to cultivate virtue and trying to get other people to cultivate virtue, we should be appealing always to their natural motivations. So in fact, the rules you follow are going to restrict your pursuit of sensory pleasures. He even will say that you might have to die to follow the rules, right? But the motivation is not just external. The motivation also is internal, which is this sense of shame. One of the, I think, most profound things he says is that he makes an argument that everyone has certain things they would refuse to do, even facing death. And this is not because they've been taught it, but it's because internally there are certain things we care about even more than our own life, you know, with obvious example being things like our children. But also he thinks even, you know, there are certain things we wouldn't do to a stranger. Maybe he's being a little optimistic there, right? But his overall motivation is really not so much to say we don't have any negative tendencies, but rather to say that all of virtue, all of the social order should be based on appeals to our natural feelings rather than on just, you can't do this, you can't do this, or else you're going to be, you know, hurt, you're going to be punished.

Peter Adamson: Okay, that does seem very powerful because I can imagine he's thinking, 'well, if the thing that we want people to do isn't rooted in their nature at all, then how could we ever expect them to do it?' Right? Because there's nothing in them to get a kind of hook on to push them in the right direction, or maybe pull their nature in the right direction, a direction it already wants to go.

Franklin Perkins: He's a little, again, maybe overly optimistic, but his ideal is to have a social order that doesn't use much physical coercion. Right? So people do the right thing because they would feel shame if they didn't do it, rather than because they're afraid of being punished for not doing it. So there's a strong political dimension to the whole thing.

Peter Adamson: By the way, just to go back to the situation of the actual text, so the material you're drawing on, are you saying that this more kind of diverse picture where there's both good and bad in nature, are you saying that that's in an alternative version of the Mengzi itself, or in some other connected text?

Franklin Perkins: No, we don't have alternate versions of the Mengzi at all. And so what we have are these ones that there are links to the Mengzi. So within the Mengzi, there's a debate with the guy named Gaozi. These are very famous passages. It's a debate about whether virtues are internal or external. And historically, there's always been a question, who is Gaozi? And some people have even said he's probably a Mohist or maybe a quasi-Daoist maybe. But now from the things he says, it's pretty clear that he's expressing some of these views that appear in the excavated texts. So we can say, okay, well, this is the position that the Mengzi is really arguing against there. And then can see also from the language he uses, there's significant overlap with the Xing zi mingchu text in terms of his conception of the dispositions, various things like that. I think pretty conclusively say like, this is the context against which he's arguing.

Peter Adamson: It's really nice how this sort of reflects the task of dealing with the texts themselves. We said that they're putting it together, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. And now at this higher level, it's like putting together the history of Confucianism itself it's like you found a missing piece, right? So it was actually responding to it, right?

Franklin Perkins: Yeah, it's really, really fun. You know, you said earlier, like, why spend all the trouble trying to read these texts? But it's partly just, you know, if we found a whole bunch of texts that were written, I don't know, between the time of Plato and Aristotle that no one had ever read before. It's exciting, you know, to see what these are and then to try to retell the story and rethink the story.

Peter Adamson: Yeah. So your enthusiasm for these texts maybe already sort of answers the question I'm about to ask you in conclusion, but I'm going to ask anyway, you're unusual in that you work seriously on both European and Chinese philosophy. So, for example, you've worked on Leibniz. And in fact, early on in your career, you sort of started out as an early modernist and moved more and more into the Chinese literature. Do you think of these as roughly comparable tasks? So trying to read the excavated Chinese texts and trying to read Leibniz? I mean, obviously Leibniz presents his own challenges, right? But do you feel like as a historian of philosophy, you're kind of doing the same thing? Or do you feel that it's a very different experience and challenge working in, say, early modern European philosophy and ancient Chinese philosophy? Sorry, that's kind of a big question. But since your work straddles that divide, I'm wondering whether you sort of feel like it's almost like you're two different kinds of historian of philosophy, depending on what day it is and which text you're working on.

Franklin Perkins: Yeah, it's a great question. I fundamentally think it's the same methodology. And so I would feel comfortable just saying I do the history of philosophy and I partly do early modern and partly do early Chinese philosophy. And really, I think doing the history of philosophy is always what people would call comparative philosophy, right? Because you're always bridging between this earlier viewpoint and contemporary viewpoints. So I think it is largely the same. And I would say you find in both the same kind of two poles among scholars, so people who are more interested in kind of trying to pull out philosophical positions they can use now and people who are more historical and kind of more interested in getting a foreign perspective. And so I'm always more on that second side. So even with Leibniz, I, you know, we're trying to read marginalia in his books in the Leibniz archive. So I kind of engage more on that historical side. So I think it's pretty similar, but maybe the biggest difference is in terms of what we might call the reception history. So reading the history of Western philosophy, you kind of already come to it knowing roughly what it means now, because there's been this continual progression of interpreting it. With Chinese philosophy, it's harder to know how to bridge it to modernity, but then especially to say, you know, Western anglophone discourses of philosophy, how do you build that bridge? There's work that's been done on that, of course, but it's still much more in question how you would do that. And I would say for that reason, there's much deeper disagreements about how you would do that, like more fundamental, different interpretations of how early Chinese texts. And then there's lots of topics that people haven't really talked about very much. You know, so I was asked to write an essay for an encyclopedia of philosophy, religion on philosophy, religion in early China. I'm not sure anybody's talked about it. I came in like totally kind of from scratch to think, well, how would I even approach this? Because they don't distinguish philosophy and religion in the same way. And it's so different, you know, but how do you bring that into this discourse? Whereas anybody in Western philosophy would at least have some orientation on how you're going to bring them into a discussion of philosophy of religion. So there's more uncertainty in the interpretations and more space for creativity. I have to say part of why I shifted from Leibniz to Chinese philosophy was just that it's really hard to say anything importantly new on Leibniz. You can, but it's hard. A lot has been discussed. With Chinese philosophy, it's pretty easy. Like there's lots of topics that no one has talked about in a contemporary setting. You know, I mean, of course, through the history of Chinese philosophy, you have lots of interpretations of Mencius. But when you're trying to think, well, how does it apply to the world now? There's a lot more space for how to figure that out.

Peter Adamson: OK, well, that's a bit of motivation for anyone who's out there listening, wondering whether they should get into the field of Chinese philosophy. And one of the purposes of this series is to encourage people to think that that might be a good idea. So I think you've helped a little bit with that. 


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