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The divine ordinary: what the West can learn from Chinese philosphy

This paper is a work of what I call “critical comparativism.” I compare civilizations and try to use the results to suggest more critical ways of thinking about our own society. One of the benefits of comparativism is that it allows us to be critical of a society by referring to actual examples of alternative ways of doing or thinking found in other societies. It undercuts the charge of utopianism often laid on proponents of change in a given society. If we can point to actual, living examples of alternative practice, it is therefore uncontestable that it can be done, and that it is at least possible that it will turn out over time to be a good decision. One of the most distressing aspects of, for example, the health care debate in the U.S. has been the near absence of a comparative perspective. While Canada’s system was sometimes cited, generally inaccurately, in the debate, the public discussion was carried on as if no other society had ever tried to build or reform their health care system. It was this lack of comparativism that led to the relatively trite level of discussion and far from optimal result.

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