Chinese Philosophy

Chinese science and philosophy: some cultural knowledge needed to understand the original text

Competitive Arenas: 

We cannot understand the original text of The Art of War without understanding its underlying cultural context.  In Sun Tzu's own era, even our English title of the work, borrowed from a book on the military by Machiavelli, would have been considered inapproapriate.

Where all translations of Sun Tzu (even our own) go wrong

Competitive Arenas: 

No book written in the conceptual ancient Chinese can be completely translated into English prose sentences. The original Chinese has more in common with mathematical formulas than English sentences. Like formulas, they have various meanings in different contexts. English translations of these formulas are like describing the meaning of E=mc2 in a single sentence. It can be done, but it misses much more than it captures.

The Battle Looms: Upcoming Presidential Debates

Much of Sun Tzu's system is based on choosing the conditions under which we meet our opponents. The term that we translate as "battle" from Chinese means "a meeting." It is not the same concept as "conflict," which is another Chinese character (and the worst case outcome of any meeting). Too often, we prepare for meetings with opponents thinking only in terms of conflict and, since that is what both side prepare for, it is too often the result. We are about to see the first meeting of the presidential race.

Claiming an Enemy Position: The McCain Change Message

A basic principle of strategy is that you cannot hope to win a strongly defended position from your opponent. However, this doesn't mean that you cannot win an opponent's position. People too often choose positions that cannot be defended, which is why "aiming" requires choosing positions that can be defended easily. The most dramatic example of this has been the ability of McCain to claim the "change" message from Obama. I was completely wrong a few days ago in criticizing his attempt to do this. Actions speak louder than words.

Confusing Emotion and Gut Insticts

In this recent article, Richard Reeves call Obama a man of thought and McCain a man of emotion, but what he is describing is not emotion on McCain's part but gut instinct. As we discuss on our site in this and related articles on gut instincts, cognitive research shows that in complex, chaotic situations, experts make instant gut decisions based on their unconscious recognition of the situations key factors.

Communication and Symbols: Obama's Strengths

Leadership demands great communication skills. Sun Tzu specifically teaches that a leader must focus his people's attention on him using the right tools. One of the great weaknesses of Bush has been his lack of such skills and his inability to use symbols. The later half of Obama's European trip, the speech in Germany and press conference in France, were great applications of communication skills and symbolism. McCain simply pales in comparison, but such skills can be mastered no matter what your natural limitations.

Strategic Perspective: Food for Thought

Foolish ideas seem logical if they are repeated often enough. Sun Tzu's strategy teaches the use of analogies to support logic. For example, do the arguments about energy policy make sense in terms of food policy? Current food technology does a thousand times more ecological damage than any other human activity including using oil. Farming cuts down trees, plows up the land, depletes limited water resources, spreads dangerous chemicals, and intentionally poisons natural plants and animals. Using ecologically unsound food is destroying the planet.


Subscribe to RSS - Chinese Philosophy