“Had He Lived Always among the Chinese or with Savages”: A Musing on a “Chinese” Descartes of Modernity in the Discourse on MethodKy


Following is an excerpt:
Thinking “With the Same Mind”
Wait, what, Chinese? What’s happening? What was “China” or “Chinese” for René Descartes, “the father of modern philosophy”? Why is he stitching those “Chinese or savages” into his semi-autobiography, Discourse on Method? There, you might say, he is just making some ‘multi-culty’ comparative point on how come ‘we are the world,’ how we are just all of “the same mind (son même esprit),” “charactological” differences or divergences notwithstanding. Sure, simple enough. Then what kind of or which cliché is being recruited in this “characterization” of those Chinese or savages or French or German — and to what end? Where and when did that caricatured passage click into a position on this map of thinking drawn, hypothetically, together with all others at work or play? Where does the “or” of “the Chinese or savage” come from? When and where, at what point, does such exclusionary or optional thinking begin to matter at all? Indeed, you might still ask, what’s the matter?

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