After decades of attempts, comparisons between classical Chinese and Greco-Roman philosophy have had limited success. While there have been some productive lines of inquiry (for example, comparing early Confucian ethics to virtue ethics as represented by Aristotle), the overall record is disappointing because concepts such as Plato’s theory of forms or Aristotle’s emphasis on syllogism have proved incommensurable with most classical Chinese ways of thinking. But much of the problem can be attributed to the habit of comparing Chinese thinkers to Plato and Aristotle without asking whether they are the most suitable philosophers for this purpose. For most of the twentieth century, Hellenistic philosophy was scarcely considered. Yet very recently, provocative similarities have been identified between Chinese philosophy and Stoicism, especially Epictetus. I shall argue that these parallels are even more significant than previous scholarship has recognized (I hope to convince the reader that some of them are indeed staggering), and conclude by asking why we find such parallels in the first place. My claim will not be direct or even indirect transmission; this is a case, to borrow a distinction from evolutionary biology, of analogous rather than homologous development.
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