13th Annual Midwest Conference on Chinese Thought

Indiana University

April 21-22, 2017

Friday, April 21 (in the Hoagy Carmichael Room, Morrison Hall)

  • 1:30-2. Mandy Wu (Assistant Professor, Hanover College): “Construction of Chineseness under the Xianbei-Northern Zhou (557-581 CE): An Archaeological Perspective”
  • 2-2:30. Xiaolong Wu (Associate Professor, Hanover College): “Statecraft, Confucianism, and Zhongshan Bronze Inscriptions”
  • 2:30-3. P. Nicholas Vogt (Assistant Professor, Indiana University): “Rebuilding King Wen: Philosophy, Biography, and Paratext in the Yizhoushu

3-3:15              Break

  • 3:15-3:45. Hao Hong (PhD candidate, Indiana University): “The Metaphysics of Dao in Wang Bi’s Interpretation of Laozi
  • 3:45-4:15. Stephen Walker (PhD candidate, University of Chicago): “‘Dao’ as an inclusive term in the Qiwulun
  • 4:15-4:45. Asia Guzowska (PhD candidate, University of Warsaw): “Freedom as Symmetry Keeping: A Case Study of Zhuangzi 2”
  • 4:45-5:15. Michael Ing (Assistant Professor, Indiana University): “Things Endure While We Fade Away: Tao Yuanming on Being Himself”

5:15-6:30         Dinner Break

6:30-8:00         Keynote Address (in the Global and International Studies Building, GISB Auditorium)

  • Amy Olberding (President’s Associates Presidential Professor of Philosophy, University of Oklahoma): “A Philosophy of Funerals”

8-9:00              Reception

Saturday, April 22 (in the Global and International Studies Building, GISB 1118)

  • 9-9:30. Youngsun Back (Assistant Professor, Sungkyunkwan University): “Three Layers of Mozi’s Jian’ai 兼愛” 
  • 9:30-10. Judson Murray (Associate Professor, Wright State University): “Agrarianism, Ethics, and Statecraft: Appropriating Nongjia Thought” 
  • 10-10:30. Benjamin Huff (Associate Professor, Randolph Macon College): “Abiding in the Highest Good:
Formal Eudaimonism in Early Confucian Thought”

10:30-10:45     Break

  • 10:45-11:15. Rui Fan (PhD student, Indiana University): “The ‘Impersonator of the Dead’ as Image of the Ancestral Spirit in the Liji
  • 11:15-11:45. Rohan Sikri (Visiting Scholar, University of Georgia): “Between Emptiness and Abundance: Problems of ‘Naming’ in the Excavated Texts”
  • 11:45-12:15. Nicholaos Jones (Associate Professor, University of Alabama—Huntsville): “An Axiomatic Approach to the Analects

12:15-1:45       Lunch Break

  • 1:45-2:15. Brian Hoffert (Professor, North Central College): “Rethinking Gender Equity in Contemporary Confucianism”
  • 2:15-2:45. Dennis Arjo (Professor, Johnson County Community College): “Confucian Role Ethics and the Challenge of Gender”
  • 2:45-3:15. Dobin Choi (Instructor, Towson University): “Mencius and Hume”
  • 3:15-3:45. Meng Zhang (PhD candidate, Indiana University): “Righteousness (Yi) in Mengzi: An Exploration of Justice as a Personal Virtue”

3:45-4              Break

  • 4-4:30. Aaron Stalnaker (Associate Professor, Indiana University): “Embracing Mutual Dependence”
  • 4:30-5. Timothy Gutmann (PhD candidate, University of Chicago): “Questioning Chinese Tradition”
  • 5-5:30. Julianne Chung (Assistant Professor, University of Louisville): “Why Chinese Philosophy is Indispensable”

Paper Abstracts (in order of presentation) 

Mandy Wu (Assistant Professor, Hanover College): “Construction of Chineseness under the Xianbei-Northern Zhou (557-581 CE): An Archaeological Perspective”

In Northern China at the onset of the medieval period, a dramatic and rapid change of political systems, along with economic and cultural transformations of local society, prompted the construction of new identities –ethnic, religious, family-based or class-based—that could serve as a way of legitimating groups for political purposes. In this paper, I will focus on three Chinese generals who originally served the Han Chinese regime of the Northern Qi and later surrendered to the non-Han rulers of the Northern Zhou: Wang Shiliang, Wang Deheng, and Hou Ziqin. In the early 1990s, fifteen Northern Zhou tombs have been excavated, including those of the three Chinese generals. However, the material remains from those Northern Zhou tombs and some important issues, such as the concept of Chineseness, have not been fully studied yet. The goal of this paper is to focus on the tombs of those three generals and use the intact tomb of Wang Deheng as a case study to discuss how material remains and written documents reveal the complexity of the stories of the Wang family and a larger issue of identity construction during the end of the Northern Zhou period. I argue that the intentional interment of miniature bronze ritual vessels, not often seen in tombs during the time, and the inclusion of carefully worded biography were decisions consciously made by Wang Shiliang’s father in order to protect the reputation of the Wang family through a dialogue about loyalty and betrayal. In order to legitimate their political and cultural authority, it is possible that the Wang family created a collective memory of Chinessness through funerary ceremony within the Chinese community.

Xiaolong Wu (Associate Professor, Hanover College): “Statecraft, Confucianism, and Zhongshan Bronze Inscriptions”

This paper deals with the political philosophy in the State of Zhongshan during the Warring States Period, and the role bronzes and their inscriptions played in Zhongshan statecraft and politics. The three long commemorative inscriptions on the bronze ritual vessels from Cuo’s tomb are complex in meaning and purpose and can sustain detailed rhetorical analysis. My reading of these inscriptions suggests that the lord-subject relationship between the king and his chancellor was critical to the survival of this state, and King Cuo was concerned with the loyalty of his chancellor and intended to secure the throne for his heir through these inscriptions. Their strong Confucian overtones and political rhetoric reveal that the king used these inscriptions to assert claims of cultural and political legitimacy to rule the state. These ritual bronzes were made and displayed at ceremonial occasions in order to maintain the internal political order and to sustain the survival of the state.

Both historical literature and bronze inscriptions suggest that Confucian thought played an important role in the official ideology of the state of Zhongshan. Some historians even attributed the destruction of Zhongshan to its Confucian policies. However, checking the rhetoric against the events of the time betrays that the Zhongshan rulers did not follow the Confucian ideals and policies faithfully. Instead, my reading of the bronze inscriptions suggests that the Zhongshan kings used Confucian ideas as a tool to rectify their status inside and outside the state, to facilitate their diplomatic policies, and to maintain the political order of Zhongshan.

P. Nicholas Vogt (Assistant Professor, Indiana University): “Rebuilding King Wen: Philosophy, Biography, and Paratext in the Yizhoushu

The Yizhoushu, or Remnant Documents of Zhou, comprises a number of philosophical and political documents supposedly associated with the most famous kings of the Western Zhou period. Many of these texts contain little or no internal evidence linking them to those figures. However, the preface to the Yizhoushu offers a detailed account of their production, situating them within the chronology of Western Zhou history and, as a side effect, producing intellectual biographies of the early Zhou kings.

This presentation examines the preface’s account of just one such figure: King Wen, the culture hero and posthumously crowned founder of the Zhou dynasty. It reviews the Yizhoushu texts that directly mention King Wen, focusing on the substance of their political philosophy, and compares them with the full set of chapters that the preface assigns to his reign. Through this comparison, the presentation considers the question of intellectual coherence as a factor in how the preface as paratext assembled its account of King Wen’s reign; in closing, it explores the implications of the comparison for the interpretation of the Yizhoushu as a whole.

Hao Hong (PhD candidate, Indiana University): “The Metaphysics of Dao in Wang Bi’s Interpretation of Laozi

Contemporary analytic metaphysicians turn their attention from the question what there is to the question what grounds what in the past decade. While this approach revives the Aristotelian tradition in analytic metaphysics, there are abundant resources on similar topics in Chinese philosophy that are worth exploring. One such example is Wang Bi (226-249 A.D.), who is one of the most important interpreters of  Yijing (易经) and Laozi (a.k.a. Daodejing, 老子, 道德经).

In this paper, I focus on Wang Bi’s view on the metaphysics of Dao in his Commentary on the Laozi (老子注) and “The Structure of Laozi’s Subtle Pointers” (老子指略). The key thesis of Wang’s metaphysics of Dao is that Dao is featureless (or formless, 无形) and ineffable (无名), and it is the ontological ground for the myriad things. I further explore this thesis by answering three questions: (1) How should we understand the featurelessness and ineffability of Dao? (2) Why is Dao featureless and ineffable and how does it ground the myriad things? (3) How should we deal with some seemingly contradictory statements that sometimes claim Dao is something but sometimes claim that Dao is not a thing (or Dao is nothing/non-being)?

First, I argue that Wang takes Dao to be featureless in the sense that it does not have any features had by ordinary things and he takes Dao to be ineffable in the sense that no ordinary predicates can be used to describe Dao. However, the reason that Dao is featureless is not because Dao is nothing or non-being, but because Dao is great (大). The greatness of Dao has two important ontological implications. Frist, Wang thinks that any feature is a limit on Dao’s nature; so, Dao’s greatness prevents it from having any limit on its nature, i.e. having any feature. Second, being great, according to Wang, cannot be regarded as a real feature of Dao; saying that Dao is great is not to genuinely describe Dao using a predicate. Rather, this is just to help us understand Dao. Theoretically speaking, Dao is not great; Dao is greater than great, and is greater than greater than great, ad infinitum. This is why Laozi describes Dao as “mysterious and more mysterious” (玄之又玄).

Next, I argue that Dao must be featureless in order to be the ontological ground of the myriad things. This is because Wang thinks that Dao ontologically grounds the myriad things in virtue of being the opposite (反). This idea is similar to an interpretation of Leibniz’ Principle of Sufficient Reason: the ultimate ground for all things of a kind K cannot be something of K; otherwise, it would be an explanatory circularity. According to Wang, if there is something that grounds the myriad things of all different kinds, this ground cannot have any features had by the myriad things. Therefore, only by not having any feature could Dao serve as the ontological ground of the myriad things.

However, my interpretation of Wang’s view on Dao is in seeming conflict with some of Wang’s statements, which suggest that Dao is nothing or non-being. I argue that we should not read those statements as suggesting that Dao is nothing or non-being. One such statement takes Dao as “not-thing” (无物). I argue that Wang uses “thing” (物) in two different senses: it is used to refer to both existing entities and “thingly-features”. When Wang says that Dao is not a thing, he means that Dao does not have thingly features. Another statement is “You () is generated from Wu ().” I argue that we should not understand this statement as saying that being is generated from non-being. Rather, it should be understood as a generalization on the having and not-having features, and there is textual evidence for this understanding. So, it is the claim that having-a-feature is generated from not-having-that-feature, which echoes my interpretation of Dao.

Stephen Walker (PhD candidate, University of Chicago): “‘Dao’ as an inclusive term in the Qiwulun

This paper presents a line-by-line analysis of the Qiwulun’s doctrines about dao, starting from the interpretive hypothesis that this text employs the word in a thoroughly inclusive sense. Just as the Qiwulun discusses yan “speech, language, sayings” in general, it also addresses dao in general—each and every case of dao, however diverse these may be. Building principally on work by Chad Hansen and Chris Fraser, I argue that all forms of activity or behavior count as dao, and therefore that the Qiwulun’s statements about it must be understood as applying to any activity or behavior we can conceive of. Those statements consistently make less sense if we assume that dao refers only to some kinds of activity and not to others.

The first thing we learn about dao in the Qiwulun (and in the Zhuangzi overall) is that it is obscured or covered over by accomplishments. By the use of rhetorical questions, the text seems to imply that dao accompanies, indeed permits all behavior—and that it escapes the dichotomy between “genuine” and “fake”. Any curiosity we have about what the real way forward is, about which paths to trust and which to mistrust, is driven not by insight into the way forward (however that might present itself) but instead by the perfections and achievements we have learned to prize. Dao is something other than prizeworthy, and it is certainly something other than the good and the right. If anything, dao responds to valued and disvalued things rather than itself being a valued or disvalued thing.

That dao, each and every way forward, comes about in the very act of walking it out means that the exercise of agency both presupposes dao and generates or constructs more of it. Verbal cues in the text indicate that the tracks and traces left behind by agents become the paradigmatic “perfections” and “achievements” that obscure dao, but the Qiwulun does not conclude (as Guo Xiang does) that the tracks and traces are not dao. They are indeed dao, like puddles are indeed water, and what they obscure when fixated upon is all the other dao—this puddle is not the rain or the sea, and taking it to exhaust what is meant by “water” resembles the mistake we make when puzzling over which way forward we can really trust.

The reason dao connects things as one is not that it is one to the exclusion of two or many —a conception that would be, the text argues, nonsensical. If it is a basis or field that somehow grounds or unites the world, this is because uniting and connecting require relaxation and movement. If dao is simply activity, in whatever form that takes, and if it responds to things rather than being fixed as a thing, then it unites the world by its very dynamism and indifference. Dao can be divided up in myriad ways, just as things can. But the less divided and more indistinct things are, the less they meet our intuitions about “things” and the more they resemble transitions from one thing to the next. This is the sense in which dao is privileged as a term connoting oneness; with its aid, we can understand the text’s mystical moments without falling afoul of its own insistence that “oneness” is not a cognitive object.

While no other text in the Zhuangzi develops such a subtle and intricate portrait of dao, this does not mean that the text “as a whole” is after something less subtle and intricate than the Qiwulun is. The paper closes by glancing at a half-dozen other passages that scrutinize or thematize dao, and concludes that an inclusive, panoramic understanding of the term explains their content better than an exclusive one does—better than any model whereon according with dao constitutes success, and departing from it constitutes failure. 

Asia Guzowska (PhD candidate, University of Warsaw): “Freedom as Symmetry Keeping: A Case Study of Zhuangzi 2”

There is no one term in the Zhuangzi that could be rendered as “freedom” problem free. Perhaps the best candidate is the expression wu dai 无待, translatable as independence, or lack of dependence. Another possible linguistic placeholder for the concept of freedom could be the term you 游, often rendered as wandering, connoting lack of restraint and ease. Neither choice is perfect.

Of course, the fact that an idea or notion is not distinguished on the terminological level—at least not in a manner clear to the contemporary reader—does not mean that it is not implied, or present on the conceptual level. In this paper, I intend to demonstrate that an interesting conception of freedom is operational in the Zhuangzi, despite the lack of an explicit and singular term for freedom in the text.

The notion of freedom is notoriously ambiguous. I intend to argue that the conception of freedom found in the Zhuangzi can be expressed in terms of symmetry keeping, as opposed to symmetry breaking. The symmetry I have in mind is one between the multitude of possible courses of action, or dao, permitted in the particular context or situation. The choice of one such dao constitutes a breach of this symmetry. Freedom, on the other hand, is linked to the ability on the part of the human agent to keep this symmetry intact or, to use an expression found in Zhuangzi 2, to position oneself at the hinge of [all possible] dao. This ability opens up the possibility of action that is independent of the past—be it some previously formulated guide for action or habit—and therefore, by all accounts, free.

I am going to discuss this conception, icluding its subjective and objective dimension, in more detail based on Chapter 2 of the Zhuangzi

Michael Ing (Assistant Professor, Indiana University): “Things Endure While We Fade Away: Tao Yuanming on Being Himself”

This presentation will argue that Tao Yuanming recognized a tension between being himself (ziran 自然) and the natural transformations of the world (hua 化). While Tao advocated a kind of “naturalism” 自然主義, he did not believe that he, or human beings in general, were predisposed to accept the inevitable changes in the world. Hence, his “naturalism” is not about fitting into his natural surroundings; despite the fact that he relies on these surroundings in his poetry, and that contemporary scholars sometimes see his work as “pastoral.” Through an examination of several poems I will demonstrate three things: 1) that Tao saw human beings as distinct from the other “myriad creatures” 萬物 who otherwise accept or fit into the natural transformations of the world; 2) that Tao understood ziran 自然 as “being himself”; and 3) that he often saw hua 化 as a threat to him being himself. I will also situate this view in contemporary scholarship on Tao, much of which fails to detail this tension.

Amy Olberding (President’s Associates Presidential Professor of Philosophy, University of Oklahoma): “A Philosophy of Funerals”

Early Chinese philosophers argued long and avidly about how best to manage funerary rites.  These arguments are diverse and include disputes such as how long one ought mourn upon the death of a parent, just what constitutes an appropriate use of resources in burying the dead, and even whether, put plainly, there is anything wrong with simply leaving a corpse exposed to the elements.  It might be tempting for contemporary interlocutors, especially those principally trained in western philosophies, to see these arguments as a parochial curiosity, as little more than cultural artifacts betraying preoccupations rooted in idiosyncratic tradition and discourse.  However, I wish to argue that we do indeed need philosophies of funerary rites.  Influenced by the early Chinese philosophical disputes, my essay is an effort to capture just what philosophies of funerals ought include, what interests and desiderata they ought answer, and, most basically, why we would profit from them. 

Youngsun Back (Assistant Professor, Sungkyunkwan University): “Three Layers of Mozi’s Jian’ai 兼愛” 

This paper examines Mozi’s 墨子 doctrine of Jian’ai (兼愛). The secondary literature on Mozi’s jian’ai has been written primarily based on the Mengzian contrast between Mozi’s jian’ai as “love without distinctions” and Ruist ren (仁 benevolence) as “love with distinctions.” According to Mengzi’s simple appraisal of “love without distinctions,” Mozi’s jian’ai has been interpreted as prescribing universal obligations, meaning that all beings have the same ethical duties toward all other beings. However, in this paper, I argue that Mozi’s jian’ai is a complex and multilayered system that promotes universal obligations and, at the same time, incorporates particularistic obligations as well.

By analyzing the three chapters of “Jian’ai,” I argue that there are three different layers in Mozi’s doctrine of jian’ai: Impartial Care1, Impartial Care2, and Impartial Care3. At the basic level, Impartial Care1 applies to each distinct relationship we encounter in our lives. By practicing Impartial Care1, we give equal weight to the well-being of another person and our own, and thereby we can fulfill our various obligations toward others. At the second level, Mozi required a more demanding form of Impartial Care2: in our dealings with strangers, we should take care of them as we take care of our family. At the third level, Mozi demanded the most difficult and extreme form of Impartial Care3 from rulers: rulers should take care of all people equally and universally. In other words, I will show that Mozi’s jian’ai embraces all the characteristics of “impartiality,” “inclusivity,” and “universality.”

Judson Murray (Associate Professor, Wright State University): “Agrarianism, Ethics, and Statecraft: Appropriating Nongjia Thought” 

In this presentation I examine different appropriations of early Chinese Nongjia (“Agriculturalists”) agrarianism for the purpose of either criticizing and limiting or endorsing and augmenting the state’s power over the people. The methodology I employ is cross-cultural and comparative, as thinkers from early China, both its pre- and early imperial historical contexts (c. 3rd–1st centuries BCE), and Tokugawa-period (1600–1868 CE) Japan exhibit notable similarities and differences in their appeals to agrarianism. Generally speaking, the analysis reveals that the concerns of thinkers both in ancient China and in medieval Japan focused on identifying specific values worth emulating, delineating both the correct policies those in power should enact and the duties rulers must perform, and determining the proper apportioning of land for the subjects they govern.

More specifically, critics of the state’s unrestrained power, and its exploitation of the people as the primary means to preserve and exercise that power, lauded the ancient Chinese sage-ruler Shen Nong—the values he embodied and his personal example, his method of statecraft, and the sociopolitical, material, and even cosmological conditions he established during his house’s reign—as the exemplary standard by which to judge these matters in their own ages. These critics theorized an ethics relating to the commonplace activities of farming and weaving, as there is a particular kind of moral education they afford to both ruler and ruled, which, they argued, should also inform the priorities and practices of governing. Conversely, supporters of the state’s interests also appropriated the example of Shen Nong to demonstrate an important measure that would assist them in enhancing their control of the realm and its subjects, by projecting back onto this figure, and the manner in which he governed, the very geopolitical arrangement they believed would augment and most effectively exercise the ruler’s power and authority.  Thus, this paper examines the diverse, and sometimes competing and contradictory, ways the agrarianism associated with Shen Nong has been interpreted and deployed by different Chinese and Japanese thinkers. It also brings to light both the manner in which arguably the most fundamental and interrelated human activities of farming, weaving, and governing have been conceptualized in a normative way, and the extent to which thinkers have sought to define and control how these undertakings ought to interrelate, in these East Asian philosophical and historical contexts. 

Benjamin Huff (Associate Professor, Randolph Macon College): “Abiding in the Highest Good:
 Formal Eudaimonism in Early Confucian Thought”

Early Confucian thought aims at nothing less than world peace, to be achieved by following the Way of Yao and Shun. The path to this peace begins in the cultivation of one’s own character, but has implications for all major aspects of human life. The Great Learning presents a concise summary of the Confucian project, tracing it from the level of the individual heart to that of the entire world. The unifying theme of this summary is the identification of the goal—the “ultimate” or “highest good” (zhì shàn 至 善)—and of the processes for achieving it. In this paper I argue that early Confucian thought is formally eudaimonistic, centered on a conception of the highest good.

The first stage of this argument is a close reading of the Great Learning, where the focus on the highest good is explicit. I argue that from start to finish the Great Learning is a teleology—an account of goals or ends and what leads to them. The teleological structure is clearly announced at the beginning of the text and reiterated at the end, invoking as its pattern the relationship between roots and branches (běn mò 本末). The text then gives its particular account of the highest good and its causes, identifying eight distinct stages in its achievement. Interestingly, it enumerates these stages not once, but twice, from branch to root and again from root to branch, in a pattern that reflects the structure of deliberative reasoning.

Based on this structure, I argue that the Great Learning’s notion of the highest good is primarily defined in formal terms: the highest good is the goal at which all human activity should aim. We may therefore define formal eudaimonism as a feature of an ethical theory that is centered on a conception of the highest good. As it happens, this is also a standard feature of ancient Greek ethical thought, which refers to the highest good as eudaimonia.
In the second stage, I argue that while the term “highest good” (zhì shàn 至善) does not appear in the Analects or Mencius, the message of the Great Learning is strongly present in these texts, including much of its structure and vocabulary. Hence it, and its formal eudaimonism are faithfully representative of their thought. This conclusion is important both to clarify the structure and concerns of early Confucian thought, and to provide a framework for comparative work with other eudaimonist theories, such as those of classical Greece. 

Rui Fan (PhD student, Indiana University): “The ‘Impersonator of the Dead’ as Image of the Ancestral Spirit in the Liji

The “impersonator of the dead” shi 尸 as a participant in ancestral sacrifice appears in several early Chinese texts, such as the Shijing, the Mencius, and the three ritual canons. Based on descriptions from the texts, the impersonator is typically a young male descendant of the deceased acting on behalf of the latter during sacrificial rituals. Regarding the ritual function of the impersonator, some scholars, such as Jordan Paper and Michael Carr, read it as a case of spiritual possession: during the sacrifice the impersonator enters an altered state of mind through intoxication and serves as a shamanic medium, a physical receptacle for the ancestral spirit brought down through sacrificial rituals. This paper argues that although the shamanic reading of shi can be supported by evidences from the Shijing, it is problematic, as the aforementioned scholars did, to apply this interpretation to the understanding of shi in other texts, such as the Liji. As the paper shows, the Liji and its traditional commentaries challenge the shamanic reading in two ways. Firstly, despite the consumption of alcohol, a state of intoxication or hallucination is not called for in the ritual performance of the shi. Neither is the young descendant’s transition into the impersonator marked by the entrance into an altered state of mind, nor is it plausible that he enters such a state in the process of the sacrifice. Secondly, in expressing uncertainty on the part of the participants of the sacrifice over the whereabouts of the spirits throughout the ritual, the text complicates the shamanic reading that the shi serves as a receptacle of the ancestral spirit during the sacrifice.

In place of the shamanic reading, the paper suggests a reading of shi in the Liji as an embodied image of the ancestral spirit that is physically absent from the ritual scene. The paper identifies three ritual functions that the impersonator as embodied image of the spirit serves in the Liji. Firstly, in providing a visual representation of the spirit that is otherwise intangible, the impersonator serves a performative tool that enables other ritual actors to carry out their performance as if the spirit were present. Secondly, the presence of the impersonator as embodied image of the spirit strengthens the filial devotion of the host of the sacrifice, which the text deems to be the core of the sacrificial ritual. Thirdly, the image that the impersonator embodies constitutes part of a larger image, an indexical sign of both the ancestral spirit and the living ruler’s benevolence, which the sacrificial ritual aims to make visible. 

Rohan Sikri (Visiting Scholar, University of Georgia): “Between Emptiness and Abundance: Problems of ‘Naming’ in the Excavated Texts”

Scholars have frequently identified problems of language across Warring States philosophical texts as being coextensive with a binary organization of the categories of ‘nature’ and ‘culture.’ The quality of this organization – that is, whether ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ are seen as continuous, oppositional, or as fundamentally incompatible ontological orders – comes to then determine the role that ‘names’ (ming 名) and ‘speech’ (yan 言) play. At one end of this spectrum, a naturalistic bias deems that words must be aligned with patterns of nature, free from the artificial conventions of human culture. At the other end, it is precisely these institutions, and their normative history, that emerge as the source of the standards for the ‘correct’ use of words (expressed in the idea of zhèngmíng正名).

My presentation extends this exploration into the problem of language to the excavated corpus. I focus specifically on three texts – Tài Yī Shēng Shuǐ 太一生水; Héng Xiān 恒先; and the Yŭcóng 語叢 – and identify a set of positions that are rendered along a scale of ontological possibilities. In the case of the Tài Yī Shēng Shuǐ, the problem of ‘naming’ is specifically related to a cosmogonic account, where an underlying structure of binary pairings governs the nature and use of ‘names.’ The text articulates the question of language, in other words, in relation to an onto-generative model, and the potential of ‘names’ (ming 名) is rendered in their ability to either maintain or upset this generative structure. The Héng Xiān, I argue, offers an alternative account in which the organizing conceptual frame is the ontological division between being, or presence (yǒu 有), and non-being, or absence ( 無). ‘Names’ (ming 名), in this binary account, are endowed with a mediating role between a conscious, coercive activity and a complete absence of the same. The text articulates this middle ground through the creative notion of ‘names’ and accompanying ‘endeavors’ (shì 事) that ‘become (or happen) of themselves’ (zì wéi自為). And finally, in the fragments of the Yŭcóng, I show that a decidedly anthropocentric bias in the text might shed some clues regarding views on language that its authors might have adopted. In opposition to the Héng Xiān, the potential of language in the Yŭcóng is celebrated in its ability to bring out the “abundance” (hòu 厚) that is at heart of all existence (of “things” / 物) – an ability, moreover, that is a prerogative of the human experience. 

Nicholaos Jones (Associate Professor, University of Alabama—Huntsville): “An Axiomatic Approach to the Analects

The call for analytically-trained professional philosophers to engage with Chinese philosophical traditions is growing. Advocates cite factors such as diversity, pluralism, and decolonization as stimuli for strengthening and enriching philosophical research and education. But success in answering the call has proven difficult. Candidate causes are manifold: few professionals who specialize in Chinese philosophy receive training from analytically-oriented departments; those departments discourage or disincentivize engagement, as does the past and continuing capture of “mainstream” and general professional journals; pressures of specialization discourage adequate self-scrutiny.

Common approaches to ameliorating these causes include orienting primary sources around conceptual themes, likening Chinese philosophy to respected styles from ancient European traditions; striving to make Chinese philosophy speak to the contemporary concerns of analytic philosophers. I develop a variant of this last solution: strive to make Chinese philosophy speak in accord with contemporary norms of analytic philosophers.

Despite its growing quality, scholarship on Chinese philosophy tends to satisfy norms prevalent among pragmatist, speculative (process), and ideology-critique (“continental”) traditions. These norms recommend thematizing texts, constructing narratives that fit passages into context, using commentarial traditions and linguistic mastery to explain unfamiliar concepts. But the unit of analysis for analytically-trained philosophers is the argument rather than theme, excerpt, or concept. None of the preceding techniques are directed toward extracting, reconstructing, and analyzing arguments. None fit what Kristie Dotson calls the “culture of justification” in the philosophy profession.

I shall, accordingly, develop some central ideas from Chinese philosophy—in particular, from the Analects—as following from a small set of “first principles” through a series of cogent arguments. I provide nothing as ambitious as Spinoza’s Principles of Descartes’ Philosophy. My intent is similar: to extract key claims from the Analects, both explicit and implicit; to organize those claims as “axioms,” “postulates,” and derived theorems; and to reconstruct their inferential connections. But I am more modest than Spinoza, aiming only to create an analytic-friendly gateway to orient further engagement.

I provide, as axioms, definitions and doctrines likely shared amongst Warring States period philosophers. For example: that rectifying names means interacting with others according to proper social convention (禮 li); that consummate conduct (仁 ren) consists in perfectly enacting proper culture (文 wen). For postulates, I provide historical, psychological, and sociological claims that motivate Confucius’ program, some of which competing traditions reject. For example: that those lacking Zhōu culture lack social harmony (和 he); that correct behavioral dispositions and feelings involve and require mastering proper ritual. Finally, I derive as theorems claims that develop the Confucian program for living well. For example: that mastering proper ritual, learning, and arts involves, and requires, following Zhōu culture; and that rectifying names produces social harmony. (Here I omit other claims and argument reconstructions for reasons of space.) 

Brian Hoffert (Professor, North Central College): “Rethinking Gender Equity in Contemporary Confucianism”

During the twentieth century, Confucianism was strongly criticized for its promotion of rigidly defined social roles that limited the potential of certain segments of society and hindered China’s attempts to adapt to the modern world. Women were particularly affected by the restrictive demands of social conformity for they were subordinated to their fathers when young, to their husbands when married, and to their sons when widowed. As Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee concludes in Confucianism and Women, “The nei-wai [內外inner/outer] gender division of labor not only reduces women’s function in the patrilineal family to their reproductive capacity, but also denies women of all classes a legitimate access to vital cultural resources that are needed for the cultivation of the consummated Confucian personhood, which marks the substance of being one’s own person in the world” (113).

While this paper will not defend the historical treatment of women in “Confucian” China, it will argue that the Confucian ideal of social harmony demands the minimization (if not elimination) of all forms of oppression and that the tradition has always possessed the conceptual resources to establish and maintain gender equity. More specifically, I will argue that humaneness (ren 仁) and ritual propriety (li 禮) are properly understood as mutually generating virtues in the sense that normative patterns of behavior help us to cultivate humaneness if and only if the normative patterns of behavior truly embody a genuine concern for the welfare of others. Historically, Confucian gender roles were primarily determined by men and became increasingly oppressive over time, which undermined Confucianism’s ability to provide a moral foundation for Chinese society and contributed to the tradition’s decline in the twentieth century. With the resurgence of Confucianism in the twenty-first century, however, the time is ripe to examine contemporary social norms to determine the extent to which they embody the principle of humaneness. Towards this end, my paper will conclude with some thoughts on how the theory of ren and li as mutually generating virtues can contribute to the establishment of gender equity in the present era.

Dennis Arjo (Professor, Johnson County Community College): “Confucian Role Ethics and the Challenge of Gender”

In a series of recent works Roger Ames and Henry Rosemont Jr. have argued classical Confucianism represents a distinct kind of ethical thinking, what they call Confucian Role Ethics. This paper uses their work as a starting point to consider some questions of the place of gender in classical Confucian thought. I argue first for what I think is the most plausible understanding of the phrase “Confucian Role Ethics”, which holds that a distinctive feature of classical Confucianism is its focus on the particular roles captured in the Wu Lun, or Five Relations: ruler, subject, father, son, husband, wife, older, younger, and friends. I then develop a framework—what I call Confucian Naturalism—that offers a plausible defense of Confucianism’s focus on these roles rather than many others that humans might enter into. This focus is what makes Confucian Role Ethics Confucian, and I argue there is something to be said for this focus even when judged by contemporary philosophical standards.

After clarifying my understanding of Confucian Role Ethics I consider the place of gender within it. Here I argue we should not be too quick to translate gender out of the Wu Lun by, for example, substituting “parent and child” for “father and son”, or “spouses” for “husband and wife.” While common among its contemporary Western defenders, this habit risks obscuring some important features of Confucian thought. This is because, I argue, from a Confucian standpoint making gender distinctions within the Wu Lun is as defensible as the moral elevation of these particular relations itself.

This is not an entirely comfortable conclusion for anyone hoping to reconcile classical Confucianism and any philosophical position informed by modern feminism, which is deeply suspicious of gender and gender roles. While the matter remains rather vexed within feminist thought it-self, at least one position sees the entrenched and universal practice of dividing the human population into ‘men’ and ‘women’ as something that needs to be overcome. If, as I argue, classical Confucianism instead puts this distinction at the core of its moral thinking, it may seem it and contemporary feminist thought are not in the end compatible. I finish the paper with the beginnings of a defense of the Confucian position.

Dobin Choi (Instructor, Towson University): “Mencius and Hume”

This essay explores aspects of a comparative study of the virtue theories of Mencius and modern Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711–1776). This comparative study hinges upon the fact that both philosophers base the theoretical foundations of their moral systems upon sentiment. By indicating our compassionate feeling toward a baby about to fall into a well, Mencius articulates that all humans have “the heart of compassion (ceyin zhi xin 惻隱之心)” (Mengzi 2A6).  In “Of Morals,” Book III of A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume argues that the moral distinction of virtue and vice is derived from sentiment, not from reason. Mencius believes that our recognition and cultivation of ceyin zhi xin causes the virtue of Ren 仁 (benevolence) to bloom, and Hume believes that one’s benevolent character makes one “agreeable and useful in all the parts of life” (T; SBN 604). Both philosophers, taking virtue as the main topic of their moral thoughts, clearly believe that our concentration on sentiment either develops or determines virtue.

Merely bracketing the similarities of Mencius and Hume, however, does not always bring a significant extension of our knowledge about their moral thoughts and beliefs. If we put aside the indisputable philosophical difference between ancient Mencius and modern Hume, this comparative project may distract us from the cores of their moral theories despite its good intention. A well-balanced comparative study between these two philosophers begins with establishing a conceptual framework that is equally applicable to them and does not lose focus on their theoretical essences. Hence, this essay aims to present this proper framework for comparing the ethics of Mencius and Hume. The point of comparison must be their identical moral foundation of sentiment, but we should note that this point of sentiment affords us two directions of comparison. On the one hand, we can focus on sentiment to examine its epistemic characteristics and its relation to morality. On the other hand, we can broaden our scope to see how virtue theories are fabricated upon the theoretical basis of sentiment. Referring to the former as epistemic comparison and the latter as structural comparison, I argue in this paper that the latter is the only proper method for comparing Mencius’s and Hume’s virtue theories. Furthermore, I will show how our appreciation of the parallel structure of the two philosophers’ sentiment-based theories of virtue deepens our understanding of Mencius’s moral theory.

Meng Zhang (PhD candidate, Indiana University): “Righteousness (Yi) in Mengzi: An Exploration of Justice as a Personal Virtue”

This paper locates Mengzi’s discussion of righteousness in the contemporary discussion of justice as a virtue. It first articulates a set of difficulties generated by the tempt to relate two seemingly distinctive dimensions of the concept of justice, and then argues that Mengzi’s discussion of righteousness contains promising resources for us to reconsider those difficulties and illuminates our understanding of justice as a virtue.

In both philosophical ethics and the ordinary use of language, the concept of justice includes two dimensions - the dispositional dimension and the institutional dimension. The former refers to justice as a character trait (which may involve psychological impulses, sentiments, ability of judgment, certain understanding of well-being, etc. depending on which theory is under discussion) to treat persons with desert, dignity, or other measurement of value. The latter refers to justice as a system via which some good is distributed in a principled way. The way in which the two are related is crucial to understand the concept of justice as a virtue. It is tempting to treat justice primarily as an institution, as many modern thinkers do, and thus to view justice as a character trait as parasitic to that institution. But in doing so, one encounters the difficult task to account for the origin of that institution and its normative force. Without predicting the failure of non-virtue-ethical approaches to complete that task, I choose to discuss the virtue of justice within virtue ethics which at the first glance avoids the question of origin easily by advocating the dispositional dimension as primary. Yet treating the dispositional dimension as primary is not without a price: taking the temperament of a just person as primary seems either to risk subjectivism or to sneak in the reliance on institution to account for the content of such temperament.

Locating Mengzi’s discussion on righteousness in this background, I find in the concept of righteousness as delineated by Mengzi some significant resemblances with the concept of justice. On the one hand, for Mengzi, righteousness has intimate relationship with both the physiopsychological factor of qi and with the inborn tendency of holding reactive attitudes such as shame and disdain, and thus is treated as a disposition. On the other hand, the concept of righteousness is involved in the discussion of the social order which determines the correct way to conduct a wide range of activities - from getting married to taking governmental positions - and sometimes even refers to such order itself. In several instances, the institutional aspect of righteousness is primary so that righteousness (yi) is paralleled with the term ritual (li) which is closely related to a codified order specifying proper behavior. Incorporating such diverse dimensions, the concept of righteousness in Mengzi seems to suggest a way to account for justice as a personal virtue without giving up the core commitment of virtue ethics – understanding morality primarily in terms of virtue. I propose to understand the Mengzian virtue of righteousness as the temperament to discern and abide by the social order (institutional justice) which can only exist upon the human psychological tendency of internalizing the attitude that others hold toward oneself. Understood in this way, Mengzian righteousness enriches and contributes to the on-going discussion of justice both as virtue and as institution by bridging these two aspects in nuanced understanding of moral psychology.

Aaron Stalnaker (Associate Professor, Indiana University): “Embracing Mutual Dependence”

Over the last few years several serious books and numerous articles have appeared that focus on Confucian political theory (by authors such as Steve Angle, Joseph Chan, Sungmoon Kim, David Elstein, Leigh Jenco, and Loubna El Amine, among others).  Many of these studies focus on the possible relations between Confucian thought and democratic theory and practice, from various angles.  My proposal is an attempt to extend this consideration to Confucian economic theory, a relatively understudied but still important set of ideas, which is highly relevant to an assessment of the contemporary significance of Confucian thought for ethics and political theory.

More specifically, in this talk I will argue that early Confucian texts such as the Mengzi articulate a vision of political economy based on a full and welcome recognition of human mutual dependence.  Early Ru generally argue that dependence on others is natural, normal, and good, across the full human lifespan, and includes different sorts of dependence such as economic, political, intellectual, and personal or familial reliance on others.  Their resulting views of family life (including “reproductive labor”), education, welfare policy, and the value of work are sufficiently intriguing, and sufficiently different from common “conservative” and “liberal” orientations in contemporary United States debates, that they deserve close attention from ethicists and political theorists.  The present talk will sketch out the main lines of these ideas, drawing primarily on the Mengzi, and speculate briefly about how some of their basic orientations might be adapted for contemporary societies.

Timothy Gutmann (PhD candidate, University of Chicago): “Questioning Chinese Tradition”

This paper explores how Chinese tradition was reconceived around the turn of the 20th century and how it can help us reexamine the concept of tradition itself and its relationship to modernity. It engages accounts of tradition such as those of Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor with Talal Asad’s thinking on colonial modernity, and concepts of historicity such as Reinhard Koselleck’s. These works are formative in understanding how the past informed and instructed later times and the disruptions wrought through the Enlightenment and the imperial universalism. However, their contrasts of Christian, and Islamic, traditions and modernity do not account for the particular ruptures caused through the abandonment of long-lived East Asian institutional forms in the modern moment and for the different lives they had before. Specifically, canonical forms of academic theory have difficulty assessing Confucianism and modernization. How is it simultaneously a patriotic legacy of spiritual civilization (jingshen wenming 精神文明) while little practiced and alienated from the political context of its formative texts? Can Confucianism, or other traditions, be simply pronounced living, dead, suspended, and if so, how can its premodern form of life be understood?

To focus these questions, this paper explores changes affected in the name of tradition in contrasting in mass education with neo-Confucian concepts of knowledge and the politics of belonging in late- imperial China. I examine Zhang Zhidong's 張之洞 1898 essay "Exhortation to Learning (Quan xue pian 勸學篇)". Zhang reimagines ritual spaces repurposed for universal compulsory teaching. For him, as for a generation of reformist Confucian scholars, China can meet the ethical and geopolitical challenges of modernity by expansive reinterpretation of Confucian traditions. Effectively, they imagine Confucian traditions of the imperial state as resources for all the nation's people. They universalize Confucian traditions beyond the elite class of scholars at the center of their religious and literary flourishing while narrowing them to the Chinese national state. This disjunction transformed formative concepts out of which the tradition was built.

To assess these disjunctions, the paper looks to earlier ideas of learning and vocation associated with the imperial-service exam system (ke jü 科舉) as routinized in the Song 宋 dynasty (960-1279). The ke ju presented a teleological structure for scholarly achievement and public service. It also had an exterior space for other kinds of Confucian being, such as that of the literati (wen ren 文人). Rather than acting as a challenge to the dominant tradition, these reinforced it through providing other forms of study, critique, and social life productively discursively tied to the dominant imperial traditions, especially Zhu Xi's 朱熹 (d. 1200) way- learning (dao xue 道學). In contrast, modern states do not have such exteriorities. Education, as Zhang and others conceived, integrates all Chinese traditions with modern science in the production of a critical citizen, a very vaguely-defined role in contrast to the specific duties of a Confucian imperial official. Rather than only contrasting the “good tradition” with the “bad state”, as is often a main form of postcolonial critique, the paper suggests how understanding different habitations and discourses of Chinese tradition shape, and conform to, different historical situations. 

Julianne Chung (Assistant Professor, University of Louisville): “Why Chinese Philosophy is Indispensable”

Although it is commonly acknowledged that Chinese philosophies should be better incorporated into contemporary analytic philosophical discourse, many skeptics remain. Often, they will phrase their concerns as a dilemma for those who pursue greater inclusion for Chinese philosophies, along these lines. Either Chinese philosophies do the same things as Western philosophies or they don’t. If they do, then there is no reason to include them in discussions of Western philosophies, as they will not offer anything distinctively different. But if they don’t, then there is still no reason to include them in discussions of Western philosophies, as they will not offer anything distinctively relevant. This purported dilemma may also be compared to what Amy Olberding has called a “double-bind”, which “can register as an impossible, importunate demand:  ‘Show us something we have not seen before, but be sure it looks well and truly familiar to us too.’” (Olberding 2015, pp.14-15)

Happily, as the work of many others has demonstrated, there are a number of ways that such challenges can be met. And this paper comprises another attempt to explain how Chinese philosophies can be brought into productive dialogue with contemporary analytic philosophy—but with a bit of a twist, in that it makes a case for the claim that its greater inclusion might not only be beneficial, but also essential. In it, I argue—by means of a case study focusing on the Zhuangzi—that Chinese philosophy is not just epistemically important, but rather, that it is epistemically indispensable: in other words, that engaging it has the potential to yield knowledge that we could not have acquired by any other means. This is because the content of some works in Chinese philosophy, such as the Zhuangzi, can plausibly only be fully grasped by attending to certain elements of their form. In order to explain why this might be, I draw on a contemporary account of literary cognitivism (a term that, roughly, picks out any view on which works of literature can track and transmit extra-fictional truths, or at least knowledge), independently developed in analytic aesthetics. This account holds that many written works—insofar as they have cognitive (as opposed to simply aesthetic) value of a meaningful sort—specify their cognitive content in a way that is essentially demonstrative, and that in order to access it, one must thus attend to their aesthetic features (naturally, among other things). If this is right, however, then it may be the case that the content of some works in Chinese philosophy can only be completely understood by engaging them directly, as it were, and not merely by, e.g., re-describing them. This paper thus not only explores why Chinese philosophy is indispensable, but also provides a detailed account of why exactly claims such as these, from Paul Kjellberg and P.J. Ivanhoe, resonate with interpreters of the Zhuangzi: “One of the greatest challenges facing any interpreter of the Zhuangzi is that its protean nature and literary subtlety are inseparable from its philosophical message: one cannot understand its content without careful attention to its multifarious and moving form. The very difficulty of the text is one of the ways the Zhuangzi uses literary style to make its philosophical point.” (Kjellberg and Ivanhoe 1996) What’s more, it supplies an additional potential means of explaining not just why the arts were in fact often treated as philosophical practices in a number of Asian traditions (and why aesthetics occupied a principal place in the philosophies included here, arguably on par with the preeminent role that metaphysics has played in the history of European philosophy (cf. Chinn 2016))—but also why we might think that this should be so more broadly speaking, as well.


Chinn, M., 2016. “Asian Aesthetics: American Society for Aesthetics Curriculum Diversification Project,” last accessed 1/30/17, URL= <aesthetics-online.org/resource/resmgr/files/diversity/Chin_Asian_Aesthetics.pdf>

Kjellberg, P. and P.J. Ivanhoe (eds.), 1996. Essays on Skepticism, Relativism, and Ethics in the Zhuangzi. New York: SUNY Press

Olberding, A., 2015. “It’s Not Them, It’s You: A Case Study Concerning the Exclusion of Non-Western Philosophy,” Comparative Philosophy 6, no. 2: 14-34