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Neither 'Primitives' nor 'Others,' but Somehow Not Quite Like 'Us': The Fortunes of Psychic Unity and Essentialism in Chinese Studies

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This paper re-evaluates a persistent but controversial claim in studies of China—to wit, that Chinese thought exhibited a different logical structure than that found in Europe. By situating what is now largely regarded as a Sinological problem within the broader context of the debate between Edward B. Tylor (1832-1917) and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857-1939) about primitive thought, it argues that this line of inquiry about cultural difference, as exemplified by the work of its earliest exponents, Marcel Granet (1884-1940), Joseph Needham (1900-1995), and Angus Charles Graham (1919-1991), is still significant. The significance of these works lies not so much in their specific arguments about China as in the general approach they suggest for explaining cultural difference, an approach that can steer clear of the dangers in evolutionary and essentializing approaches to the study of human mentality. Dans cet article j'examine de nouveau une prétension persistante mais controversée dans les études de la Chine—c'est à dire, que la pensée chinoise fait preuve d'une différente structure logique que celle trouvée en Europe. En situant ce qui est principalement regardé comme un problème sinologique dans le contexte plus large d'un débat entre Edward B. Tylor (1832-1917) et Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857-1939) sur la pensée primitive, j'affirme la signifiance actuelle de cette approche de la différence culturelle, telle que représentée par les écrits de ses premiers partisans, Marcel Granet (1884-1940), Joseph Needham (1900-1995) et Angus Charles Graham (1919-1991). La signifiance de ces ouvrages dérive moins de leurs arguments spécifiques sur la Chine, que de leur approche générale de l'explication de la différence culturelle, une approche qui peut éviter les dangers des approches évolutionnaires et réductionnistes de l'étude des mentalités humaines.

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