Efficacy, Western and Chinese modes | François Jullien

Philosopher and sinologist François Jullien (on Wikipedia) was cited in the articles of Wen-Yuan Lin and John Law. Jullien writes in French, with some works translated into English.

In one book review, by Paul Dragoș Aligică (whose biography includes study with Vincent and Elinor Ostrom), is an intriguing concise point made by Jullien about “efficacy through adaptation” vs. “efficacy via action”.

Jullien’s work leads masterfully toward a truly comparative strategy framework. Two parallel paradigms are articulated.

In China, efficacy is effective through adaptation; in the West, through action. In Chinese thinking it is determined by an exploitation of the potential implied by the given situation. In the West, efficacy is the result of application, “a deliberate construction designed to exert pressure on things so as to bring about the desired end.”

The simplicity and elegance of the comparative formula is remarkable. When “strategy” consists of allowing oneself to be carried along by the evolution of the situation, while adapting to the effects resulting from the potential of that situation, “there is no longer any need to choose (between means) or to struggle in order to attain an end.”

Thus, the Western difficulties ensuing from the logic of the theory-practice, model-reality dichotomy, and plaguing the works of so many Western thinkers on strategy, seem to be at least in part avoided.

Chinese thought on efficacy might not be able to solve those difficulties, yet it might manage to sidestep them and “thanks to the displacement that it occasions, allow us to perceive the reasons for those difficulties more clearly.”28

It seems that Jullien is writing about efficacy in the Western conception related to strategy (that might be considered teleological) related to action. Lin and Law take efficacy in the sense of Chinese philosophy (i.e. wu wei) instead with adaptation.


Aligica, Paul Dragos. 2007. “Efficacy, East and West: François Jullien’s Explorations in Strategy.” Comparative Strategy 26 (October): 325–37. https://doi.org/10.1080/01495930701598623. [alternate search on Google Scholar]

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