12th Annual Midwest Conference on Chinese Thought

The University of Chicago

March 11-12, 2016

Third-floor lecture hall, Swift Hall (the Divinity School)

Friday, March 11

2:00-3:30 Personal and Social Cultivation in Early Confucianism

  • Jonathan Kwan (Graduate Center, CUNY): “Ethical and Aesthetic Judgment in the Analects
  • Dobin Choi (Towson University): “Moral Artisanship: Mengzi 6A7 Revisited”
  • Aaron Stalnaker (Indiana University, Bloomington): “An Early Confucian Theory of Shared Practice”

3:45-4:45 Action and Non-action in the Zhuangzi 

  • Joseph Sta. Maria (Ateneo de Manila University): “Purposeful desirelessness: An attempted solution to the Daoist paradox of desiring-non-desiring”
  • Asia Guzowska (University of Warsaw): “Responsive Action and the Cosmic Way: The Notion of Dao in Zhuangzi 22”

5:00-6:30 Keynote Address
Chad Hansen, University of Hong Kong: "Dào Exists∴Dào≠God"

Saturday, March 12

9:00-10:00 Knowledge and Meaning in the Zhuangzi

  • John R. Williams (National University of Singapore): “The Radical Zhuangzi: Zhuangzi and Contemporary Skepticism”
  • Julianne Chung (University of Louisville): “Is Zhuangzi a Fictionalist?”

10:15-11:45 Language, Reality, and Truth

  • Susan Blake (Indiana University, Bloomington): “Names and Standards in Early Chinese Philosophy”
  • Stephen C. Walker (University of Chicago): “‘Dao cannot be regarded as something—nor as nothing.’”
  • Alexus McLeod (Colorado State University): “Zhen as a Truth Concept: the Chuzhen Chapter of Huainanzi

1:30-2:30 “I Am One Condemned by Heaven.”

  • Michael Ing (University of Indiana, Bloomington): “Encircled by Hardships and Difficulties: Regret and Lament in Early Confucian Thought”
  • Hagop Sarkissian (Baruch College): “Can Contempt Be a Virtue? A Case Study from the Analects

2:45-3:45 Confucian Role Ethics

  • Cheryl Cottine (Oberlin College): “Reconsidering Friendship in Early Confucianism”
  • John Ramsey (Denison University): “Confucian Social Roles: The Early Confucian Contribution to the Contemporary Social Role Literature”

4:00-5:00 Neo-Confucianism

  • Judson Murray (Wright State University): “Debating the Value and Purpose of Quietist Contemplation in Chinese and Japanese Neo-Confucian Programs of Moral Cultivation”
  • Jean Tsui (College of Staten Island): “An Onto-Hermeneutic Turn in China’s Political Modernization: From New Knowledge to Crisis of Meaning”

Paper Abstracts (In order of presentation)

Jonathan Kwan (Graduate Center, CUNY): “Ethical and Aesthetic Judgment in the Analects

For what is often read as a work of ethics, Confucius’s Analects mention music and the arts an inordinate amount. The character yue , or music, occurs 48 times in 28 passages and is regularly discussed in conjunction with li , or ritual. Since many rituals themselves involve performances of music, it is tempting to offer a purely ethical reading of Confucius’s references to music as simply a function of further explicating li. However, to do so would be to not take seriously what Confucius has to say about music and the aesthetic. I contend that there is a deeper connection between music and ethics in the Analects. In particular, for Confucius, the same kind of judgment involved in determining moral value (what is the right thing to do) is involved in determining musical or aesthetic value (what makes an artwork good). First, I give an account of the sort of judgment operative in the ethical domain. Through the concepts of li and yi (, rightness or appropriateness), Confucius presents a picture of ethical judgment that involves balancing between general rules of behavior and sensitivity to the salient particularities of a given context. Second, I show how appreciating music analogously incorporates both knowledge of generalities that link certain qualities (beauty or felicity) to aesthetic goodness and the appropriate attunement to the relevant and nuanced features of a work. Additionally, both ritual and music need to be fused with the correct emotional comportment, which involves precisely the non-rule governed context-sensitivity characteristic of yi. Third, I discuss how music and ritual both aim at harmony, which further helps to bring together the general aspects of li with the particular aspects of yi. Harmonization in music can be understood as a form of analogical reasoning involved in yi that extends a base case to a novel situation by eliciting and articulating anew their relevant similarities. I conclude with the observation that for Confucius the ethical is always already intertwined with the aesthetic, which helps to explain why the same sort of judgment is implicated in both—that is, one and the same—domain(s).

Dobin Choi (Towson University): “Moral Artisanship: Mengzi 6A7 Revisited”

This paper argues that in 6A7 Mengzi takes the sages’ primary role as their manifestation of internal righteousness rather than being excellent moral judges. While other-regarding benevolence, though internal, can be manifested to others by one’s continuous benevolent acts and sentiments, self-regarding righteousness is hardly noticed especially when it is regarded internal. Mengzi shows that the sages are the explicit manifestation of internal righteousness, and our unanimous sentimental approval upon their virtues demonstrates our having the same hearts as the sages. Vegetative and taste analogies in 6A7 exhibit the categorical sameness of human nature, yet are not sufficient to conclude that “order and righteousness” are precisely what our heart prefers by nature. As an analogical relation between the perceptual masters and the sages enables Mengzi to pinpoint such objects of the heart’s natural preference, this paper will elucidate the similarity between the masters and the sages. In contrast to a moral connoisseurship model that emphasizes the normative force of the sages’ moral judgments, I present a moral artisanship model: Mengzi’s sages are moral artisans who unceasingly cultivate themselves by virtuous performances and become the fundamental source for both our recognition of the heart’s natural preference and our motivation for self-cultivation. The sages’ role of moral judges, though implicit, is not directly inferred from 6A7. Their normative and motivational forces are not derived from their excellence in making moral judgments as good connoisseurs, but from their endeavor to self-examination for perfection as master artisans. Our moral sentiments of approbation and admiration felt towards such moral artisans will lead us into the moral apprenticeship of self-cultivation, while recognizing the categorical sameness of human nature, the crux of 6A7, will encourage us to set forth on such a long ethical journey of self-cultivation. 

Aaron Stalnaker (Indiana University, Bloomington): “An Early Confucian Theory of Shared Practice”

Several analysts have argued that the dào or “way” of the early Rú or “Confucians” is practical in the sense that it concerns human life and its proper organization.  I think the early Confucians should be seen as practical because they are very concerned with the actual practices people engage in, and view the dào as consisting of repeated activities that shape human relationships, character, and embodied skills.  This approach builds on long-standing scholarly fascination with Confucian “self-cultivation,” but extends it to focus on the formative and expressive practices the early Rú advocated, as well as their richly elaborated views of human relationships, roles, and how individual development relies on and fits into the web of human relationships.

According to early Rú sources, following the Way requires teachers and students to engage in long-term relationships of practical training in crucial arts such as ritual and music, together with textual study and a communal life in the study group.  Mastery of these arts and practices, when properly integrated together, constitute mastery of the dào as a whole. And Confucian analysis of the transmission of traditions of practice suggests that while some practices, such as ritual, are crucial to the cultivation of virtuous skill mastery ( ), a greater variety of practices, such as archery, have the potential to be practiced so that they contribute to real mastery, even if they are more vulnerable to failure and deformation.  Thus the early Rú see a spectrum of practices from the most humanly essential and generally valuable, on the one hand, to the most narrow and inessential, on the other, with important consequences for thinking about how best to approach and understand a variety of human activities that many already perform.  My approach to these issues is to interpret the early Rú as “practice theorists” in their own right, rather than as exemplifying some contemporary theory such as that of Pierre Bourdieu.

Joseph Sta. Maria (Ateneo de Manila University): “Purposeful desirelessness: An attempted solution to the Daoist paradox of desiring-non-desiring”

My paper aims to give a possible resolution to a paradox found in Daoist philosophy, namely that of “desiring-not-to-desire,” using resources from Ancient Stoicism. According to scholars such as Benjamin Schwartz and Edward Slingerland, there is a paradox that can be found in the Daoist philosophical texts, like the Daodejing and Zhuangzi, because these texts advocate that one should cease from holding things in regard and desiring them. Consequently, one should face with equanimity or indifference those various dyads which represent the contrarieties of life such as wealth and poverty, honor and disgrace, and even life and death itself.  At the same time however, these texts also seem to urge the reader to value and desire one “pole” of the dyad, namely, the one that conventional society disdains, while rejecting the other pole which society admires.  Thus there is the injunction in the nineteenth chapter of the Daodejing to throw away wisdom, benevolence, and profit, for the sake of living simply. I propose that a possible answer to this paradox can be found in the resources of Ancient Stoic thought since I believe that Stoic philosophy encountered a similar paradox. In Ancient Stoic philosophy, it was understood that virtue alone was good, and so all other things were indifferents in that they were inessential in contributing to human flourishing. Nevertheless, Stoic philosophers created a distinction between preferred and dispreferred indifferents, the former being those things that human beings should prefer in normal circumstances since they are naturally fitting for human beings. This concept in turn was criticized by Aristo who believed that the idea of preferred indifferents contradicted the idea that virtue alone was good. It is the response against Aristo by other ancient Stoics, as well as contemporary scholars of Stoic philosophy, which I intend to utilize as a possible answer to the Daoist paradox of desiring-not-to-desire. In sum, I propose that an answer to the aforesaid Daoist paradox can be obtained if one considers the injunction to prefer the non-conventional pole of the dyad as a rule of thumb. Furthermore, this rule of thumb should be understood as an instructive means to guide people precisely towards the ideal state of desirelessness.

Asia Guzowska (University of Warsaw): “Responsive Action and the Cosmic Way: The Notion of Dao in Zhuangzi 22”

In his study of the notion of dao in Classical Daoism, most notably the Zhuangzi, Dan Robins argues that the term dao has several meanings and may refer to: (1) an established way of acting; (2) a way which is somehow built into the situation; (3) a way characterized by responsiveness to such situational dao; (4) the way the ten thousand things take shape which may or may not be construed as the dao of the world’s mother or ancestor; (5) the cosmic mother or ancestor herself (Robins 2011). The last usage of the term is an obvious reification and marks, as Robins puts it, “a shift in meaning, but an intelligible one” (Robins 2011: 118).

My goal is to use the framework cited above to explore the notion of dao found in Zhuangzi 22, and more precisely, to unpack the relationship between responsive action and the cosmic process whereby the world is continually generated and sustained. My contention is that responsive action is meant to emulate the cosmic process in the hope of reproducing some of its features and effects, including productivity and sustainability. It is also important, as I will argue, in connection with the problem of death. 

John R. Williams (National University of Singapore): “The Radical Zhuangzi: Zhuangzi and Contemporary Skepticism”

Zhuangzian skepticism--i.e., the kind of skepticism entailed by the three types of skeptical argument found throughout the Zhuangzi text--brings two widely (but not universally) held assumptions about radical skepticism into question: (i) that radical skepticism is somehow fundamentally intertwined with externalism (either logically or causally); and (ii) that the groundlessness of radical skepticism is somehow problematic, i.e., radical skepticism is somehow a problem to be overcome. For Zhuangzian skepticism, radical skepticism need not have anything whatsoever to do with externalism, while radical skepticism is not a problem, but rather the default state of the authentic person. In this paper, I present the three types of skeptical argument found throughout the Zhuangzi text that, in conjunction, motivate a kind of radical skepticism. Then I argue that this kind of skepticism avoids the two commonly held assumptions stated above.

Julianne Chung (University of Louisville): “Is Zhuangzi a Fictionalist?”

One important problem that interpreters of the Zhuangzi face concerns the role that skeptical arguments play in the work. For, on the one hand, while the Zhuangzi explicitly articulates and appears to advocate a variety of skeptical positions (of varying generality), on the other, it also explicitly articulates and appears to advocate a variety of positive claims that are seemingly inconsistent with them. Some proposed ways of resolving these tensions include: that Zhuangzi’s skepticism is narrower in scope, or more limited, than many have been inclined to think (see, e.g., Graham 1983 and Sturgeon 2015), that Zhuangzi is, e.g., a relativist, pluralist, or perspectivalist rather than a skeptic (see, e.g., Hansen 1983, Wong 1984, and Connolly 2011), that Zhuangzi’s skepticism is better construed as a method or therapy rather than a thesis (see, e.g., Raphals 1996 and Van Norden 1996), and that Zhuangzi does not sincerely advocate skeptical positions, despite appearances to the contrary (see, e.g., Schwitzgebel 1996).

However, there are many other potentially fruitful interpretive strategies that have not yet been pursued. One such approach concerns the possibility that Zhuangzi is best interpreted as some sort of fictionalist: in other words, that he holds a view to the effect that many sentences should not be understood as being used literally, but rather should be regarded otherwise, perhaps as being used in a way that involves some kind of pretense. In many respects this is very similar to Schwitzgebel’s position sketched above. However, while Schwitzgebel attempts to resolve the inconsistencies at hand by arguing that Zhuangzi does not seriously endorse skeptical positions, a defender of the approach on offer might well have it that the situation is the opposite: that perhaps Zhuangzi does seriously endorse skeptical positions—at least in a sense—and does not seriously endorse claims that are incompatible with skeptical positions. 

This paper argues that this alternative possibility is well worth investigating. It proceeds in three parts. Part one briefly discusses two distinct and very general types of fictionalism—force and content—that might prove useful for an interpreter of the Zhuangzi. The former type of view would have it that the sentences in question—that is, the sentences that Zhuangzi is held to use non-literally—are not used in way that aims at truth, but are instead used with some other goal in mind, whereas the latter type of view would have it that the sentences in question are used in a way that aims at truth, if in a non-literal fashion (cf. Eklund 2015). Part two surveys evidence in favor of the possibility that Zhuangzi can be interpreted as one or the other of these two types of fictionalist and argues that Zhuangzi is quite plausibly better interpreted as endorsing a version of the former, the result being a very specific version of “therapeutic” skepticism. Finally, part three explains how interpreting Zhuangzi as a fictionalist might help to resolve the tensions outlined above and explores several additional merits of this reading of the Zhuangzi.

Susan Blake (Indiana University, Bloomington): “Names and Standards in Early Chinese Philosophy”

First, I seek to demonstrate that the idea of standards (fa ), as described in Mohist Canons and Explanations A70, is implicit to theorizing about the use of names in early China.  To do this, I argue that the theory accurately describes the rectification of names as recommended by Xunzi in Chapter 22 of his text.  Insofar as Xunzi seeks to establish a standard that determines whether a given person is a father, he seeks to provide a standard for fathers that is normative and objective; that is, resemblance to an exemplar of fatherhood determines whether someone is or is not a father.  For this reason, it is important to be clear on who counts as an exemplar.  The emphasis on rectification of names thus corresponds to what is described in the Canons.

Further, I argue that this notion of standards—as serving to establish whether or not something is so—leads to skeptical problems when it is used to provide a normative and objective standard.  Skeptical hypotheses like some of those in the first two chapters of the Zhuangzi seem to criticize the notion of standards on these grounds.  For example, if the Peng bird is taken as the exemplar of large, other things will not be large—a counterintuitive consequence of taking any one thing as the standard for large things.  If standards actually grounded what it is to be large, or what it is to be a father, then there would be no possibility of adjudicating between apparently conflicting claims, since apparently conflicting claims in fact concern different classes, based on different standards.  (These skeptical concerns are equally applicable to contemporary psychological theories of concepts as being embodied in a prototype or exemplar, and thus are reasons to reject such theories as sufficient for describing the concepts.)  I further suggest that the text presents a solution to this problem based in shared practices.  

Time permitting, I will also address the recent publications of Brook Ziporyn and Jane Geaney, who make claims about theories of language in early China that disagree with my analysis of these texts.  

Stephen C. Walker (University of Chicago): “‘Dao cannot be regarded as something—nor as nothing.’”

The “Know-little” dialogue that concludes Zhuangzi 25 argues at length that “Dao” connotes something formally incommensurable with determinate entities. As Dao relates in the same way to all entities at once—by “providing” for them no matter what they are or do—it lacks a determinate identity of its own, and our thoughts about it do not correspond with any inhabitant, portion, or aspect of the world we engage. Identifications of Dao with nothingness, or with a determinate origin or basis of things, yield theoretical nonsense and compromise the concept’s properly metaphysical meaning. Unfortunately, the dialogue does not go on to offer us what we might most expect, given the Western thinker inevitably evoked by this style of argument: an explanation of the practical role that the concept plays in our lives.

Another Zhuangist text, however, does exactly this. I will argue that the first half of Zhuangzi 17—a well-known exposition of skeptical and relativist themes similar to those of the Qiwulun—shares enough common ground with the “Know-little” dialogue that it probably represents the same philosophical agenda. For the author of “Autumn Floods”, we are inescapably biased by our constitutions, positions, and shifting commitments. Our grasp of our own limited natures implies the idea of an unlimited nature, which could not be biased any more than it could act or perceive. Appreciating the difference between ourselves and that ultimate other helps us cope more effectively with changing circumstances, reminds us that our views are always partial, and halts any attempted reduction of the world to some finite distribution of standpoints.  If “Know-little” and “Autumn Floods” are together developing a single view of the world and of our prospects in it, then that view can look strikingly modern: the more abstract the concept, the more its meaning lies in our practices rather than in the order of things outside them. 

Is this pragmatic, pluralistic worldview distinctive, not just in the broader context of early Chinese thought, but even within the Zhuangzi itself? Few Zhuangist texts operate at this level of generality, and those that appear to disagree with the pluralist picture are often simply addressing different questions. A genuine disagreement may lurk, however, behind many texts’ shared identification of Dao as formless. Some of them imply that, Dao being formless, we can normatively evaluate things and behaviors according to their degree of formlessness. The ability of Daoist writers to rank and reprove while remaining recognizably “Daoist” hinges on this physicalization of the concept, a move that “Know-little” vigorously resists. If the formless Dao provides no determinate guidance, does this mean we should guide ourselves by the indeterminate—which always turns out, in this application, to be part of the determinate world? Or does it mean, rather, that all the guidance we could ever use is determinate, hence contingent and limited?

Alexus McLeod (Colorado State University): “Zhen as a Truth Concept: the Chuzhen Chapter of Huainanzi

Philosophers in the contemporary analytic tradition are increasingly coming to recognize that concepts of truth are broader than that of a property of statements (linguistic entities with assertoric content).  Our own language suggests a broader role for truth.  The English term ‘true’ encompasses the “true friend” or the “true self” as much as it does the “true statement.”  While contemporary philosophers have tended to neglect non-semantic truth concepts in recent decades (I argue elsewhere that truth consists of a cluster of concepts rather than a single concept), non-semantic aspects of truth were at the center of truth concern in much of early Chinese thought.  

Pinning down the general nature of truth will require understanding the ways in which non-semantic aspects of truth inform semantic aspects.  We find an account of the connection between thes two, I argue, in the Chuzhen 俶真 chapter of the early Han text Huainanzi 淮南子.  The concept of zhen (often translated as ‘genuine’), primarily seen as a non-semantic truth concept in early Chinese literature, is here tied to evaluation of teachings, statements, and language.

I argue: 1) that the concept of zhen as developed in early Chinese thought is indeed a truth concept; 2) that, as developed in Chuzhen, it is fundamentally pluralist in nature; and 3) that in Chuzhen we see a consideration of the connection of the non-semantic senses of truth to semantic senses.   In particular, in Chuzhen this is done in the service of the attempted synthesis of schools, teachings, and statements at the heart of the Huainanzi.  This meditation on truth in Chuzhen is grounded in a consideration of the possibility of human perfection.  Explaining the way to become a zhen ren 真人 (genuine person) is the goal, and part of becoming such is attaining the ability to properly evaluate statements and teachings.  It is for this reason that Chuzhen contains the most relevant passages in the Huainanzi concerning the semantic sense of truth The account of truth developed in Chuzhen points in the direction of pluralism. What makes a person (or a quality) zhen in one context will be different than what makes it zhen in another context.  I argue that this conception of zhen as truth informs and grounds the semantic sense of truth concepts in Huainanzi and later Han literature, and that a broader and better understanding of the concept of truth in Chinese thought in general can come through analysis of zhen as its foundation (for particular thinkers), particularly as developed in Chuzhen and employed throughout the Huainanzi.

Michael Ing (University of Indiana, Bloomington): “Encircled by Hardships and Difficulties: Regret and Lament in Early Confucian Thought”

This presentation will examine the role of regret in early Confucian moral thought. Through an interpretation of passages from texts such as the Kongcongzi 《孔叢子》 and the Kongzi Jiayu 《孔子家語》 I will demonstrate that early Confucians advocated a lamentation model of regret where the moral agent expresses disappointment and a desire for things to have been otherwise. I will contrast this with contemporary interpretations of Confucian thought, which advocate that early Confucians were indifferent to external goods (such as positions of power in the government) or that they merely sorrowed for the loss external goods. Differing from this, I will show that early Confucians, at the very least, expressed a deeper notion of sorrow that entailed a frustration or disappointment that the world is such a place where things valued are sometimes harmed or that tough choices have to be made. I will go on to suggest that they believed that these experiences partially shaped the self such that the condition of the world warranted grief, resentment, or even the transgression of moral norms. 

Hagop Sarkissian (Baruch College): “Can Contempt Be a Virtue? A Case Study from the Analects”

Much is said about what Kongzi liked or cherished. Kongzi revered the rituals of the Zhou. He cherished tradition and classical music. He loved the Odes. He enjoyed a good swim. Far less is said, however, about what he despised or held in contempt (wu ). Yet contempt appears in the oldest stratum of the Analects as a disposition or virtue of moral exemplars. We are told, rather unambiguously, that “only the humane can love others, or despise them” (4.3). Nevertheless, the virtue of contempt is seldom discussed in the secondary literature; more prominent are discussions of other virtues, such as being loyal, filial, or sincere. 

In this presentation, I will argue that understanding the role of despising or contempt in the Analects is important in appreciating Kongzi’s dao in two related though distinct ways. First, I will argue that in parts of the Analects morally exemplary individuals (such as the nobleman) are straightforwardly described as despising and holding certain individuals in contempt. Second, I will suggest that reflecting on the targets of contempt in the text might help to uncover some of the tacit worries that Kongzi may have had concerning his own teachings on self-cultivation. Specifically, I will argue that trying to embody Kongzi’s teachings—including mastering the ritual minutiae of the waning Zhou high culture—risks making one pedantic, pretentious, and glib, and that this helps us understand why such individuals are held out for particular contempt in the text. In the concluding section, I state more general reasons why we might consider certain negatively valenced emotions such as contempt to be morally laudable. 

Cheryl Cottine (Oberlin College): “Reconsidering Friendship in Early Confucianism”

In this paper, I analyze friendship as a role-relation with distinct virtues and obligations. Contending that early Confucian texts depict friendship as generating obligations in particular is to argue against scholars such as Xiufen Lu, who, for example, remarks, “In friendship one freely commits oneself to certain modes of conduct that are neither role defined nor obligatory and one develops the strength of character to follow through on that commitment.” Lu is not alone in his resistance to associating obligations with friendship. Roger Ames in Confucian Role Ethics also overlooks the evidence generated from early Confucian texts, which suggest that the five relationships (parents/children, husband/wife, siblings, friends, and rulers/ministers) are all governed by role norms, which generate role-specific obligations. By focusing on one of the five relationships, namely friendship, I demonstrate how one might proceed when analyzing the early Confucian role-relations as generating both obligations and virtues.

Scholarship on Confucian portrayals of friendship ranges widely. Some, like Sin Yee Chan, Norman Kutcher and Wiebke Denecke, see friendship as occurring among equals, something that is odd in a tradition very comfortable with hierarchy. On this interpretation, friendship is voluntary and egalitarian in nature. Others, such as Hall and Ames, maintain that friendship is indeed hierarchical, as one should only befriend those of superior virtue. The problem with this latter position, as Xiufen Lu points out, is that friendship becomes unidirectional, and cannot account for the mutual “correcting” that friends ought to engage in. It is not my intention to settle this debate; in fact, I demonstrate that friendship as depicted in the early Confucian texts resists classification as being either purely hierarchical or purely egalitarian. 

Rather, I want to ask why friendship is considered essential and listed as one of the five relationships. I identify two important reasons for its inclusion. First, it comes with distinct virtues that can be cultivated especially in this relationship, helping to round out the person. Second, it acts as a bridge between the family and the larger social world. 

Unlike the parent-child relationship, friendships are often relationships that pertain to non-kin. This is not to say the friendships do not blossom between family members, but rather that the texts focus on friendships that form outside of the family. Venturing beyond the confines and security of the family requires making oneself vulnerable to frustration and hurt that can accompany opening oneself to someone else. This is perhaps why trustworthiness (xin ) becomes the defining virtue of friendship. Learning to trust others and to become trustworthy oneself is an important virtue for all forms of human interaction.

Unpacking what the virtue of xin is and entails helps us get a better grasp on the importance of friendship for the larger project of moral cultivation. Like most virtues, xin must be understood as having both dispositional and active dimensions. Filiality, for example, requires a specific demeanor as well as actively tending to the needs of one’s parents. In this way, obligations associated with the role of child are closely tied to, if not inseparable from, the virtue of filiality. Likewise, xin requires not only a trustworthy disposition, but also fulfilling whatever obligations that trust demands. Obligations associated with friendship are not as elaborately enumerated and fixed as they are with parents and children, and are instead generated by something akin to the speech act of promising. 

In sum, I argue that we can make a fairly strong claim about the nature of obligations associated with friendships in the early Confucian texts. Friends are indeed obligated to correct, encourage, and help establish the other as virtuous. Failing on any of these seems to be grounds for rebuking, or even severing ties with the other. Friendship, in short, is a role that comes with distinct obligations and virtues.

John Ramsey (Denison University): “Confucian Social Roles: The Early Confucian Contribution to the Contemporary Social Role Literature”

I develop a broadly Confucian account of social roles based on early Confucian texts (Analects, Mengzi, Xunzi). This account serves two purposes. In offering a sustained treatment of Confucian social roles, it aims to fill a gap in the existing commentary on early Confucianism. Also, the account contributes to and problematizes the sparse contemporary, analytic literature on the nature of social roles. 

When most contemporary philosophers discuss the nature of roles, they do so from an individualistic perspective that fails to track how most people live through their various social roles. They explain the normative power of roles through some external feature rather than the role’s own normative force. For instance, on the standard view, the apparent binding, normative commitments of a role are cashed out in terms of voluntarily entering a contract that underwrites that role (e.g. a marriage contract or enrolling at university). Involuntary roles are understood to lack binding, normative grounding. Additionally, analytic philosophers are troubled by the unequal hierarchies often implied by roles because these hierarchies are often unjust. As a consequence, contemporary accounts understand roles as frustrating one’s personhood and moral commitments, and as being merely incidental to who one is. 

In contrast, a Confucian account of social roles emphasizes three features, all of which I develop in the paper/presentation. First, a role is constituted by a constellation of social (li ) and moral (ren ) norms that govern social interactions. Second, each role has a two-fold normative force in virtue of (a) various social and moral norms underwriting or constituting the role and (b) the role as a locus of meaning for the role-occupier. In other words, the binding moral force of a role is its function: to develop, cultivate, and shape persons with particularly embodied values and socio-ethical understandings. Third, a Confucian account embraces the fact that many roles are involuntary and hierarchical (and those that are voluntary and non-hierarchical are outliers). Nonetheless, social hierarchies, when not grounded in unjust orderings are purposeful so that one can one to learn to act meaningfully with others, as is clear with the hierarchy between parent and child or teacher and student. Thus, a Confucian account not only debunks the standard account’s treatment of roles as incidental to our lives, but also better explicates the purpose and significance of social roles in our lives. 

Judson Murray (Wright State University): “Debating the Value and Purpose of Quietist Contemplation in Chinese and Japanese Neo-Confucian Programs of Moral Cultivation”

Techniques of meditative practice such as “quiet-sitting” and “the practice of quietude” began to be theorized and incorporated into Confucian programs of moral training and education as early as the reinvention and revival of the tradition during Song times. Not long thereafter heated debates about both the value and the proper purpose of such contemplative practices for one’s personal moral cultivation arose within the tradition among rival Neo-Confucian thinkers and schools. This paper examines key aspects of these intellectual debates from the perspectives of both medieval Chinese and Japanese Tokugawa period Neo-Confucian thinkers. For example, it reveals that Neo-Confucians debated whether stillness or movement (or quiescence or activity) was humankind’s—in particular the human heart-and-mind’s (xin)—optimal natural condition, and how the ideal of proper relationality, not only between human beings but also among Heaven, Earth, all things, and humankind, relates to these two qualities. Neo-Confucians also debated which actions and activities that are directed at people’s moral development should be prioritized by them, given both our limited time in this world and the degree to which our most productive years and time are limited still further. A key point contested concerning this question was the proper method of “embodying” moral values to develop people morally in the most efficacious manner. Thinkers also differed regarding whether genuine moral transformation ideally took place through a sudden realization of one’s true moral nature and its relationship to the principles of things as they are, or through a much slower, cumulative and gradual approach. 

Furthermore, there was also a viewpoint expressed in this discourse arguing that the categories of people optimally suited to the task of developing themselves morally were the average and lowborn, not the highborn. In rejecting techniques of mind control as being far too abstract and intellectualized and fundamentally elitist and even parasitic, some Neo-Confucians substituted more commonplace activities for them—including farming, weaving, and craftsman’s work—as the most suitable activities to undertake, not only to contribute to the common good but to cultivate exemplary moral character. Likewise, conventional metaphors—namely, still water and a mirror—that were used to analogize the optimal state of the heart-and-mind that can be achieved through techniques of quietist contemplation, and that afford adepts a kind of spontaneous moral virtuosity, were criticized, and alternate images were proposed to replace them. One example set forth was the home’s hearth, with its material, moral and cosmological significations. Lastly, by employing a cross-cultural and comparative methodology we will see that whereas different notable Chinese Neo-Confucians allotted a space for techniques like quiet-sitting in their regimens of moral self-cultivation, albeit often a subordinate place, some of their notable Japanese counterparts arguably were more forceful in jettisoning these practices from the Confucian program.

Jean Tsui (College of Staten Island): “An Onto-Hermeneutic Turn in China’s Political Modernization: From New Knowledge to Crisis of Meaning”

Liang Qichao (1873-1929) is famous for the role he plays in China’s modernization process.  But apart from introducing western political knowledge to the country, Liang the self-appointed spokesperson for New Text Studies (今文經學), a rapidly developing intellectual movement during the late Qing period, was equally interested in reviving the Mencius school of Confucianism in the political modernization.  Since 1896, he had vigorously propagated the affinity between Mencius’ utopian pursuit for “Great Harmony” (大同) and the western political concept “people’s sovereignty” (民權).  For Liang, these seemingly unrelated schools of thinking are principally interested in “punishing the autocrat” and “distributing power evenly among the people.”  

By drawing equivalence between Mencius and “people’s sovereignty,” Liang succeeded in achieving his dual purposes: to justify the moral legitimacy of western political theory and to make Confucian morality applicable to the political modern.  Liang’s attempt to transfigure an “objective” concept to an “ontological” experience also entailed an epistemic shift.  In the hope of implementing a corresponding knowledge acquisition method, the late Qing intellectual argued that New Text Studies’ exegetic principles were most relevant in acquiring modern political knowledge.  Rather than going on studying new words and new ideas as semantic “signifiers,” people ought to internalize their “signified” meanings as lived experiences.  

Liang’s pursuit for meanings-beyond-words soon ran the paradoxical risk of reducing recently translated political knowledge to unreliable signifiers.  In fictional writings published during the early 1900’s, novelists such as Wu Jianren and Li Boyuan were keen to depict “people’s sovereignty,” “liberty,” and “constitutional monarchy” as forgeries and jokes.  The sarcastic laughter invited by their cynical remarks had in turn been circulated as “meanings” through the burgeoning print media in Shanghai. 

So far, studies informed by postmodern historiography and postcolonial theory tend to analyze Chinese modernity as a “discursive construct” derived from cross-cultural exchanges and consolidated by power relations.  However, the skepticism Liang expressed for the representative power of words indicates that in late Qing China, language was no longer as illustrative and emblematic as scholars adopting a linguistic approach have assumed.  The heavy emphasis recent studies places on language reveals our negligence of emerging indigenous intellectual trends as well as influences they exerted on the formation of modern political knowledge.  By looking at the much neglected epistemic shift Liang initiated during the early 1900’s, my paper seeks to achieve two tasks: first, to show how a closer scrutiny of the late Qing intellectual history can point us to uncertainties and confusions that were deeply-rooted in China’s modernization process; second, to propose new analytical perspectives to approach “uncanny” modernizing tendencies that cannot be conveniently summarized by fashionable theoretical framework such as discourse construction and postcolonial power relationships.