99th Lecture - Leibniz, Hegel, and the Political-Theological Interpretation of Chinese Philosophy
In this talk, I will explore the ethical-political and political theological contexts of the reception and interpretation of Chinese political culture and thought in German philosophy from Leibniz to Hegel. This paper focuses on political philosophy and “political theology” in order to clarify how thinkers such as Leibniz and Hegel interpreted the Chinese political system and Confucian political thought in divergent and contradictory ways. China offered a model of benevolent enlightened kingship rooted in natural theology in the context of the early Enlightenment. This approach— articulated with varying degrees of enthusiasm in thinkers such as Leibniz, Wolff, Bilfinger, and Voltaire—would in the later and post-Enlightenment period—in thinkers antagonistic to Chinese thought and culture such as Herder, Kant, and Hegel— become an instance of the abuses of absolute power and represent the obedience and heteronomy of the ancien régime as much as of the “Orient.” The modern Western idea of China as an ahistorical and timeless regime of “Oriental despotism” developed in earlier thinker such as Montesquieu and was subsequently shaped by disputes over the appropriate relationship between politics and religion and enlightened monarchy and popular self-determination during the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century.
Eric S. Nelson is Associate Professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He has published over seventy articles and book chapters on Continental, Chinese, and Comparative philosophy. He is the author of Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in early Twentieth-Century German Thought (Bloomsbury, 2017) and is currently working on the early modern German reception of Chinese philosophy from Leibniz to Hegel. He is the co-editor of the Bloomsbury Companion to Heidegger (Bloomsbury, expanded edition 2016), Between Levinas and Heidegger (SUNY Press, 2014), Anthropologie und Geschichte: Studien zu Wilhelm Dilthey aus Anlass seines 100. Todestages (Königshausen & Neumann, 2013), Rethinking Facticity (SUNY Press, 2008), and Addressing Levinas (Northwestern University Press, 2005). He has also edited special topic issues of Frontiers of Philosophy in China and the Journal of Chinese Philosophy.