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Sense perception, which is of enormous importance in Western philosophical traditions, has scarcely attracted the notice of scholars of early China. As a result of little direct comment on the senses in the Chinese philosophical classics, sinologists have generally interpreted their occasional references to sense functions in familiar Western philosophical terms. This original work challenges this tradition, arguing that despite the scarcity of direct comment on the senses in these sources, it is possible to discern early Chinese views of sensory functions from a close reading of the texts. Working with metaphorical and structural analysis, the author reconstructs an understanding of sense perception that seems to have been taken for granted by the early Chinese philosophers. By departing from traditional sinological approaches, this method uncovers a detailed picture of certain shared underlying views of sense perception in the Lun Yu, the Mozi (including the Neo-Mohist Canons), the Xunzi, the Mencius, the Laozi, and the Zhuangzi.
Based on its assembly of textual evidence, the book presents a conception of sense perception that diverges from the "five senses" model so prevalent in the modern world. It argues that in early Chinese texts the importance of hearing and seeing surpasses that of the other senses. These two modalities--aural and visual--are paired with one another and constitute the sensory foundation for trust and knowledge in the Chinese worldview. The work also draws on the parallels between the ears and eyes to challenge standard understandings of the early Chinese notion of reality.
University of Hawaii Press
Chinese thought, senses, Chinese philosophy, knowledge theory, Chinese classical period
School of Arts and Sciences
Philosophy | Religion
Geaney, Jane. On the Epistemology of the Senses in Early Chinese Thought. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002.