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时间:2019-10-09 12:16:27

The Mechanical Mind: Metaphor, Body, and Technology in Early China


This project examines the impact of technological artifacts on the development of ethical and political theories in the Warring States period (475–221 BCE). It is well known that Chinese philosophers of this period were enamored with metaphors and analogies in their philosophical discussion. Imageries of plants, tools, and bodily skills abounded in debates over morality, politics, language, and human nature. While the majority of existing scholarship on Chinese metaphors focus on organic ones such as plant and water, I argue that mechanical metaphors played no less significant a role in the shaping of the early Chinese worldview. Most of these metaphors were based on the lever, a powerful simple machine widely used in technologies of weighing and weight-lifting such as the scale, the well sweep, the crossbow trigger, and the trebuchet. These machines provided metaphorical models for conceptualizing various types of balance and imbalance in human relationships. On the one hand, the function of weighing became a metaphor for moral choice in Confucian ethics. On the other hand, the function of weight-lifting became a metaphor for strategic advantage in military and political craft. Accordingly, the two functions corresponded to opposite kinds of rationality – value rationality that seeks to find balance in moral dilemmas and instrumental rationality that seeks to create imbalance in power dynamics. Due to the double function of the lever itself, the classical word quan acquired paradoxical meanings of “weighing” (as in quanheng 權衡) and “leverage” (as in quanshi 權勢), both of which survived well into modern Chinese but lost the metaphorical association. The term gradually made its way into the standard vocabulary of morality and politics in the Warring States intellectual milieu, widely shared by Confucian, Legalist, and Militarist philosophers. Drawing on contemporary theories of metaphor in cognitive linguistics and philosophy, I will analyze the cognitive function of these metaphorical models and chart their historical development.


Boqun Zhou received his PhD in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago in 2019. His research covers early Chinese intellectual history, metaphor theory, manuscript studies, and paleography. Currently he is working on two book projects. The first one, titled The Mechanical Mind: Metaphor, Body and Technology in Early China, studies the impact of Warring States mechanical technology on the development of ethical, social, and political ideas, focusing on the extensive use of mechanical metaphors in Confucian, Legalist, and military texts. The second project is a critical translation and study of five ancient bamboo manuscripts housed at Tsinghua University and published in the last decade.
主持人:Julianne VanWagenen
时间: 2019年10月10 日星期四 11:45-12:45
地点: 文南楼204会议室


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