Research in academia has to be played according to the rules of the respective disciplines, but in philosophy these very rules should also be called into question. This is all the more so when unfamiliar topics such as ancient Chinese ideas enter the field. This lecture proposes “mental fasting” as one possible philosophical exercise. Instead of constructing or deconstructing the philosophical systems attributed to early Chinese masters, we linger at the consequences of seeing and temporarily relinquishing the historically contingent frameworks that constitute their current portrayals. Instead of leading to any new certainty, this lingering may loosen the rigidity of our own assumptions and allow novel interpretations to emerge. This exercise concerns emotions and attitudes as much as information and data.

I distinguish three interconnected layers in academic debates or research: on the top, there is contention in terms of knowledge: facts, theories, hypotheses, etc. Below that level are usually unacknowledged, but nevertheless influential, emotions. On the bottom lies an infinite realm of tenuous reality or unshaped potential. I argue that a more explicit recognition and appreciation of the two lower levels—the sensitivities that are involved as well as our overwhelming ignorance about the object of study—would benefit research in Chinese philosophy.

As an illustration of this three-layered reality—certainties, emotions, and ignorance—I analyze in detail the response of Liu Xiaogan (2015) to Esther Klein’s Zhuangzi paper (2010). My target is not these two specific scholars, but the common phenomenon in academia that they illustrate.


做学术研究,各有其专业的规矩法则可依,这已成为学界惯例。不过,对哲学而言,这些规矩法则本身已颇具争议;当古代中国思想这类较冷门的学科进入哲学研究的范畴时,学者是否应该跟随某些规条去做研究,而这些规条到底为何,则更莫衷一是。本讲提出以「心斋」作为一个可行的哲学活动。与其建立或者破坏先秦诸子的思想系统,我们不如先审视并暂时放下那些解释的历史框架――即是构成今天对先秦诸子论述的理论框架,然后让思想驻足静定。这种驻足静定并非旨在确定某些新的答案,而是让我们尝试放下固有的成见,从而让新意涌现。这种练习,不仅涉及资讯数据,情绪和态度也同样重要。 我会把学术论辩或研究分为三个相互紧扣的层次:顶层是知识的论争,包括事实、理论、假设,等等;下一层是情绪,情绪往往备受忽略,却颇具影响力;底层则是未明事实之境,或曰无形无状之潜能。我认为,倘若我们能够更明确地接受下面的两层,更用心地欣赏当中细致的情绪,更坦然地承认我们对研究对象的无知,相信中国哲学的研究会有更长足的进步。 为了解释上述的三个层次──确定性、情绪、无知──我会详细分析刘笑敢2015年对Esther Klein一篇关于庄子的论文(2010)的回应。我的讨论重点并非这两位学者,而是他们所显示出来的一些学界的普遍现象。