Northeast/Midwest Conference on Chinese Thought
April 27-29, 2018
University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT
Friday, April 27 (Laurel Hall 205)
1-2:30pm Death and Loss (chair- Mathew Foust, Central Connecticut State University)
- Brian Finnegan (Eastern Michigan University) "Death is Good”
- Pengbo Liu (University of Massachusetts) “Attachment, Loss, and Adaptation”
- Bin Song (Boston University) “The Transcendence Debate in the History of Christian-Ru (Confucian) Interaction and How to Tackle It Today”
2:45-4:15pm Daoism (chair- Alexus McLeod, University of Connecticut)
- Frank Saunders (University of Hong Kong) “Ethics in the Zhuangzi: Sagehood Amid Diversity”
- Stephen Walker (University of Chicago) “Dao as an Unfixed Referent in the Qiwulun”
- James Beebe (State University of New York, Buffalo) “Zhuangzi, Intellectual Humility, and Skepticism”
4:30-6:00pm Comparative Chinese-Western (chair- Andrew Lambert, College of Staten Island)
- Ori Tavor (University of Pennsylvania)—"The Neurophysiology of Early Chinese Death Rituals”
- May Sim (College of the Holy Cross) “Zhuangzi and Plato on ‘Creative Resilience’ for Economic and Environmental Justice”
- Ambrose DeMarco (College of the Holy Cross) “Mencius and Aristotle: Rethinking Moral Motivation”
Saturday, April 28 (Laurel Hall 205)
9-10:30am Comparative Chinese-Western 2 (chair- Aaron Stalnaker, Indiana University)
- Joseph Harroff (Temple University) “A Somaesthetic Rhythmanalysis Approach to ‘Optimal Appropriateness’ (yi) in Si-Meng Confucian Role Ethics”
- Joshua Mason (West Chester University of Pennsylvania) “A Little More: Incorporating the Chinese Moral Vocabulary into Ricoeur’s ‘Little Ethics’”
- Susan Blake (Bard College) “Tension in Theories of Reference”
10:45am-12:15pm Political Philosophy (chair- David Elstein, State University of New York, New Paltz)
- R.A. Carleo (Chinese University of Hong Kong) “Can Mencius Support Political Liberties?”
- Shu-Shan Lee (Nazarbayev University) “What Did the Emperors Ever Say?—The Public Transcript of Imperial Confucian Political Obligation”
- Brandon King (University of Pennsylvania) “The Hidden Curriculum in the Legalist State”
1:45-3:15pm Aesthetics and Ritual (chair- Michael Ing, Indiana University)
- Andrew Lambert (College of Staten Island) “From Aesthetics to Ethics: The Role of Delights and Musicality in Confucian Social Ethics”
- Julianne Chung (University of Louisville) “Moral Cultivation: Landscape Gardens, Personal Ideals, and Learning from the Arts”
- Thomas Radice (Southern Connecticut State University) “Not for the Sake of Others: Ritual and Spectatorship in the Mengzi”
3:30-5pm Neo-Confucianism (chair- Stephen Angle, Wesleyan University)
- Sam Cocks (University of Wisconsin, La Crosse) “The Neo-Confucian Perspective on the Place and Content of Flourishing”
- Ann Pang-White (University of Scranton) “How to Become a Female Sage? Neo-Confucianism and Empress Renxiaowen’s Teaching for the Inner Court”
- Benjamin Huff (Randolph-Macon College) “Tian as Agent or Ground of Possibility in the Confucian Tradition”
Sunday, April 29 (Laurel Hall 205)
9-10:30am Mengzi (chair- Yuhan Liang, University of Connecticut)
- Jing Hu and Seth Robertson (University of Oklahoma) “Constructing Morality with Mengzi: Three Lessons on Moral Discovery and Meta-ethics”
- Tim Connolly (East Stroudsburg University) “An Exemplarist Perspective on Mencius 5B3”
- Howard Curzer (Texas Tech University) “Stingy King Meets Savvy Sage: Rethinking the Dialog Between Xuan and Mengzi”
10:45am-12:45pm Later and Contemporary Issues (chair, Alexus McLeod, University of Connecticut)
- Alice Simoniato (Leiden University) “The Manifesto of 1958: A Statement to the World on Behalf of Chinese Culture”
- Stephen Angle (Wesleyan University) “Can Artificial Intelligence Lead Us to Genuine Virtue? A Confucian Perspective”
- David Elstein (State University of New York, New Paltz) “Interpreting Confucian Ethics”
- Timothy Gutmann (University of Chicago) “Chinese Traditions and the Category of Religion”
Paper Abstracts (in order of presentation)
Brian Finnegan (Eastern Michigan University): "Death is Good”
Daoism holds a unique understanding of mortality, which lacks the anxiety and fear around death many in the West experience. Not only is there a natural calm regarding death, but Zilai claims death is good (Zhuangzi Chapter 6). We can understand what Zilai means by looking at death as it fits in the flow of the Dao. By showing death is merely one stage in a constant transitional flow within the Dao, we can understand that death and life are not only equal, but one necessarily entails the other. To live means to die as one transitions and naturally changes. Not only is it evident with the body, but one can understand this with the self as well. For a sage to identify with the Dao means the personal identity is not strictly limited to that of the physical human form. For a sage to understand this connection with the world the meaning of death becomes positive in that it means a continuation in the processual nature of the Dao a sage identifies with. For this reason death is good. Regarding the loss of another, the challenge of accepting death is a little different. As seen with the death of Zhuangzi’s wife, or his recollection of his lost friend Huizi, seeing another’s death as part of the person’s processual nature is closely tied to the sage-like emotional maturity expressed in Daoism, unlike the devastation Confucius felt at Yan Hui’s death and the loss of his star pupil and protégé (Analects 11.9-11). By accepting and celebrating another’s passing, one can experience grief on a healthy and natural level without the risk of being overwhelmed by the emotion. By understanding death as good and necessary, one is allowed to experience grief over the death of another without being overcome by the emotion.
Pengbo Liu (University of Massachusetts): “Attachment, Loss, and Adaptation”
Recent empirical research on bereavement suggests that, contrary to com-mon beliefs, most people do not su er from long-term distress in the face of the loss of loved ones, and, on the order of just a few months, their subjective well-being would return to the normal level. However, some philosophers argue that our resilience in the face of such a loss, even if all things considered bene cial to us, is in some respects deeply disturbing: it exposes the shallowness of our love, or at any rate indicates that our loved ones are not really nonsubstitutable, and thus are much less important to us than we imagine.
This paper is a Zhuangzi-inspired defense of resilience. According to Zhuangzi, one cannot properly respond to death unless one is able to see it as an essential part of the ceaseless process of cosmic transforma-tions(hua). Unlike some Stoics and Buddhists, however, for Zhuangzi the recognition that death is an inevitable part of natural processes does not mandate detachment, nor is it incompatible with the emotional distur-bances that often accompany attachment and valuing. Instead, a greater knowledge(dazhi) consists in an openness to the plurality of values (and ways of valuing the same object) and a readiness to embrace change.
To address the argument against resilience, it is crucial to note that even if someone's role in our life is nonsubstitutable, it does not follow that inde nite distress is the only appropriate response to her death. On the contrary, chronic grief over the death of loved ones, though sometimes a testimony of the strength of the love, often is a symptom of what I would call valuational narrow-mindedness: First, it may rely on a kind of self-indulgence, where the bereaved is obsessed with the particular loss that she su ers, and thus neglects, or in any case fails to take to heart, the fact that such loss is an inevitable feature of the human condition. Such self-indulgence not only restricts, to echo a Buddhist theme, our ability to transcend our own perspective and to have empathetic concern for others, but also threatens to undermine our love for the now deceased. Secondly, it blinds us from other worthwhile ways to appreciate the importance of our loved ones, and ways to preserve our relationship after the loss: pursuing our common projects, promoting our shared values, passing down our story, etc. The death of our loved one is not the end of our relationship, but its transformation; as the relationship has transformed, it is natural that the ways we appreciate their importance would change accordingly, and vary with the circumstances we nd ourselves in. Hence, resilience per se is unproblematic: what matters is whether we can achieve resilience in ways that suitably express their importance to us and that continue our valued relationship after they are gone.
Bin Song (Boston University): “The Transcendence Debate in the History of Christian-Ru (Confucian) Interaction and How to Tackle It Today”
Through three stages of the history of Christian-Ru interaction (16th and 17th , 19th, the middle of the 20th century and on), a “transcendence debate” subsists, but is far from settlement. The debate refers to a controversy over whether the Ruist (Confucian) idea of Tian (Heaven), or its metaphysically more accurate referent Taiji (Ultimate Polarity), is transcendent in comparison to Christian ideas of the Creator-God. In order to tackle the debate, we need to investigate its major contentions, and to devise an appropriate methodology to impartially and legitimately compare involved metaphysical ideas. The basic situation of the debate can be summarized as following:
Three cohorts of disputants: Christian scholars, Ru scholars, and independent comparativists.
Four kinds of definitions of “transcendence” have been adopted: what is transcendent can be defined as (1) Something determinate ontologically unconditioned by the existing world. (2) Something indeterminate ontologically unconditioned by the existing world. (3) Something constantly advancing beyond the de facto existence of realities in the world. (4) Something beyond humans, which can be taken as the origin of both the existence and the moral values of human life.
Although the diversity of views regarding the debated problem is substantial, it turned out that if transcendence is understood ontologically, i.e., according to the definitions (1) and (2), disagreement among scholars, even when they are within the same cohort, tends to be more intensive.
Three major reasons for the disagreement: One, obviously, scholars used varying definitions of transcendence. Two, different texts and figures in each of the compared traditions were targeted for comparisons. Three, comparative methodologies were disparate.
Hence, in order to advance the scholarship triggered by the transcendence debate, the paper proposes three major facets of methodology for a needed comparative project:
(1) To focus upon the first two definitions of transcendence in order to tackle the most controversial point in the debate.
(2) To survey the intellectual histories of two ideas – “creatio ex nihilo” in the Greek-Europe Christian tradition and “sheng sheng” (birth birth) in the Chinese Ru tradition – so as to provide necessary comparative data.
(3) To devise a method so as to impartially and accurately compare those ideas. This will be a methodology drawing upon the pragmatist use of “vague category” (Robert Neville) or “bridge concept” (Aaron Stalnaker) .
Frank Saunders (University of Hong Kong): “Ethics in the Zhuangzi: Sagehood Amid Diversity”
Philosophers in China during the Warring States period generally saw themselves as ivestigators into, disputers of, and leaders of others along the Dao 道—the uniquely authoritative Way to live and to flour-ish. They went about their projects by entering into disputation (bian 辯) with one another, and by of-fering competing explanations (shuo 說) of the Dao in the hopes of settling upon a constant (chang 常) way of making final or ultimate (guo 果) linguistic, evaluative, and epistemic distinctions (shi-fei 是非 “right”-“wrong” or “this”-“not this”). With these comprehensive distinction-drawing practices authori-tatively settled and publicly known, society could then follow the Dao. But certain voices found in the Warring States anthology, the Zhuangzi, provide a radical response to these ethical and political projects by rejecting the premise that there exists a uniquely authoritative Dao by which all people can and ought to be constantly, auspiciously guided. Instead, they believe in the existence of a plurality of dao, none of which have the absolute moral authority that many like the Ru and the Mo (ru 儒 and mo 墨) ascribe to theirs. Within this strand of Zhuangist thought, the idea of a uniquely authoritative Dao is just an illusion. There is no way to establish in a non-question-begging manner the authority of any particular dao. Rather, “Ways (dao) are made complete by walking” (道行之而成; 2/33).
But in these very same texts that undermine the possibility of authoritatively identifying the Dao, the authors make a number of positive ethical suggestions regarding how to live and flourish. In contrast to their Ru and Mo moralizing opponents, they claim, for example, that only after we loosen the shackles of our teachings (束於教; 17/6), renounce the phony authority of our individual completed heart-minds (成心; 2/21), and accept the irreducible diversity of the myriad dao without depending upon (dai 待) other things can we flourish and wander without limits (you wu qiong 游無窮; 1/21). This is to say that among the devastating, skeptical arguments against Ru, Mo, and other absolutist ethical thinkers, we also find the makings of a novel theory of flourishing and virtuosity.
In this paper, I explore this cluster of ethical views in the Zhuangzi, doing so in three parts. In the first part, I discuss how these Zhuangzi authors react to the ethical ideal associated with the Ru of becoming “complete” (cheng) in one’s ability to follow the Dao. These Zhuangzi authors question the Ru’s valuing of completion, and instead claim that the myriad perspectives that exist are all “complete” in their own ways, and furthermore are normatively equal. In the second part, I discuss how the authors use a number of stories of diversity to demonstrate the normative equality of different completed perspectives, further solidifying their pluralist tendencies regarding the myriad ways of flourishing. In the third part, I discuss how the authors discuss features of sagely and flourishing virtuosity in the context of these diversity stories, as well as briefly touch on some stories that appear to apply these at times superhuman virtues in daily life.
Stephen Walker (University of Chicago): “Dao as an Unfixed Referent in the Qiwulun”
A fundamental claim advanced in Zhuangzi 2 is that things are what they’re called. Being called in different ways, they simply are in different ways. We’ll find this idea perplexing if we think that a thing can be only one way—as we very often do—and the text implies that this ontological stance depends on the deeper assumption that we can know what things are like without labeling them in language. The text seems clearly dismissive of the latter possibility.
“Dao” is a word, so by these lights something is dao if someone says it is. The present paper will examine all of the Qiwulun’s statements about dao, keeping in mind its radically permissive stance on what counts as proper labeling. Apparently the writer or writers responsible for this text thought it was possible to understand dao at a deeper level than most people do; this couldn’t have involved understanding what dao is really like or where it’s located and where it’s not, since the text repeatedly ridicules attempts at deciding such issues.
The Qiwulun’s central claim about dao—or, at least, the claim that best combines easy intelligibility with philosophical punch—is that “dao takes form as [agents] walk it out”. This comes in direct parallel with the claim that things are what they’re called. Absolutely anything that some agent performs counts as dao, which makes eminent sense given the term’s broad application to ways of behaving, physical roadways, methods and instruments, and so on.
A second central claim comes again in parallel with a claim about language: just as there’s no constancy to speech, “there have never been boundaries on dao.” In the overall context of the Qiwulun, this makes “dao” exactly like every other label: for reasons that lie somewhere between rigorously technical and breezily flippant, every term can apply to everything so they’re all without limits. Between dao’s taking shape any time someone does something and the permissibility of labeling anything “dao”, it looks like the main thing people misunderstand is their own freedom to declare what and where dao is.
Several further statements make sense on this reading: “Dao is concealed by small formations” because every dao that takes shape differs from every other dao that takes shape, and can therefore obscure or distract from the latter. The “great dao”, or “dao not taken as dao” includes all the dao we don’t recognize or use; it provides no guidance and is never cited, because we can’t rely on more than the small formations we happen to adopt. When rights, wrongs, and loves take shape, they subtract from the great dao—not because they oppose it (since they themselves are dao) but simply because they’re limited and it’s not.
According to the Qiwulun’s exact wording, what distinguishes a sage from other people is not (as competing schools of thought would hold) that he knows or practices dao while others fail at this. Instead, the sage employs an “axle” or “pivot” of dao, something that permits him to shift smoothly from one way of acting to the next. This means that sagehood lies in granting our freedom to declare what and where dao is, and in working along with whatever we happen to say about it rather than correcting anyone’s speech.
James Beebe (State University of New York, Buffalo): “Zhuangzi, Intellectual Humility, and Skepticism”
In this paper, I explore two sets of related questions about epistemological skepticism. One concerns why members of the philosophical community think it is worthwhile to teach and write about a view that an overwhelming majority of philosophers thinks is false. The second concerns the best ways that non-skeptical philosophers can make their students feel the force of the skeptical challenge, all the while (a) ensuring that students do not find skepticism too plausible and (b) explaining why the allure of skepticism is based upon flawed reasoning. I argue that standard approaches to skepticism often fail to explain (or even gesture toward possible reasons) why reflection upon radical skepticism is an intellectually valuable activity and fail to excite the minds of their students about the possibility that their beliefs might be grossly mistaken. I will argue that the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (4th Cent. BCE) articulated an approach to skepticism that provides a more intellectually satisfying explanation of the value of skeptical contemplation (i.e., as an exercise that brings students of philosophy to a point of greater intellectual humility) and employs thought experiments whose philosophical points are more difficult to dismiss than those of standard Cartesian skeptical hypotheses.
Ori Tavor (University of Pennsylvania): "The Neurophysiology of Early Chinese Death Rituals”
The commemoration of one’s ancestors is one of the central institutions of Chinese ritual culture. Early sources, such as the Book of Rites (Liji, 禮記), feature detailed prescriptions of mortuary procedures, as well as theoretical discussions on the meaning of ancestral sacrifices. In this paper, I will offer a new reading of these passages against the backdrop of recent scholarship on the neurophysiology of trauma and argue that in early China, ritual was often depicted as a preventative measure designed to deal with immediate aftermath of death and foil the somatic effects of potential trauma. Focusing on two examples, the preparatory stage of ritual fasting (zhai, 齋) undertaken by the mourner and the role of the “personator of the dead” (shi, 尸) in the subsequent sacrifice, I will demonstrate that the goal of these rituals was to facilitate a therapeutic experience of contact with one’s ancestors that can physically contradict the distress and helplessness associated with the trauma of their death. The shift between the sensory deprivation of the fast and the stimulation the takes place in the ensuing sacrificial event, in which the personator offers a palpable tactile presence, are all combined to offer a preventative healing experience designed to thwart the long-term effects of potential trauma by replacing the memory of the loss of one’s parents with the life-affirming, and palpably corporeal, celebration of their life.
May Sim (College of the Holy Cross): “Zhuangzi and Plato on ‘Creative Resilience’ for Economic and Environmental Justice”
Living in an increasingly global and transforming world (e.g., climate change and the world's continual march toward ever greater economic growth and development), I examine the resources that classical Chinese and Ancient Greek philosophy can offer (i) to foster better cross-cultural understanding between China and the U.S., by tapping into (ii) a virtue I call 'creative resilience'. I propose that creativity is required to act in the face of great changes, and resilience is needed to persevere through great challenges to understand and preserve values (e.g., wisdom, justice and courage) that extend beyond the temporary and expedient. Using Zhuangzi and Plato as representatives, I focus on their resources for a creative resilience for dealing with great transformations, an idea now more timely than ever because both are thrown into great transformations that challenge and threaten their values. E.g., since we have now exceeded the 400 ppm carbon dioxide mark globally, what solutions would creative resilience from these philosophies offer to the world's march toward ever greater economic development and growth? Critically comparing their accounts of creativity and resiliency while dealing with great changes, e.g., in politics, economics and the environment, I examine what their accounts of these virtues are, who has the stronger account and what they can learn from each other. In short, what lessons about acting creatively and resiliently can these Eastern and Western philosophical ways of life offer governments in the East and the West for engaging each other as they face a common world in which climate change depends on their decisions regarding their political economies? Taking the great transformations before us as urgent situations that challenge our actions, can these historically acknowledged traditions of wisdom offer resources for what actions and decisions are just, and would promote justice, not only nationally but globally?
Ambrose DeMarco (College of the Holy Cross): “Mencius and Aristotle: Rethinking Moral Motivation”
This paper will explore the shortcomings of Manyul Im’s analysis of emotion and virtue in Mencius’s writings. In “Emotional Control and Virtue in the Mencius,” (Philosophy East & West 49.1, 1999) Im claims that the “perfectibility of emotional response through practice and habituation” (p.1) was a misreading of Mencius’s view of emotion. Im defends his view by discussing Mencius’s anecdote about how a nobleman would not personally instruct his own son due to how he couldn’t help but become angry in the process of having to correct his son’s mistakes. Another example Im discusses is Mencius’s view that the gentleman would stay away from the kitchen because he can’t help feeling compassionate for the animals being slaughtered, despite how such a feeling is misplaced. Im’s reading of Mencius contrasts his views with Aristotle’s, saying that Mencius doesn’t hold that an emotional capacity can or ought to be tempered by cultivation in order for one to be virtuous. Im cites Aristotle saying that “Someone who is virtuous feels the right thing, in the right way, and toward the right objects” (p. 4). In contrast, Im points to how Mencius’s exemplary person cannot control his emotions such as anger, compassion and love. According to Im, Mencius would have the ethically exemplary person deal with his emotional reactions by avoiding the situations which produce them instead of attempting to perfect his emotions (p. 4). For instance, the nobleman would avoid teaching his son altogether and pass this duty to someone who is less personally invested in that pursuit. Im attributes Mencius’s emotions to a lack of “refinement to a mean between deficiency and excess” (p. 4). Yet, because the emotions (compassion, shame, deference, feelings of approbation and disapprobation) make up our human nature and our human nature is good for Mencius, Im argues for how they don’t need to be perfected (p. 2). Through comparing Mencius’s view of emotions to Aristotle’s view that emotions can be perfected, Im casts doubt on the idea that Mencius believes that moral development is the process of perfecting one’s emotional capacities.
I seek to criticize Im’s account that Mencius doesn’t share an Aristotelian ideal that emotions are subject to moral development and perfection in the exemplary person. I’ll show that his interpretation of how the sage’s emotions are not cultivated, but rather, only his will or deliberative capacity is subject to cultivation, cannot result in the virtuous behavior we expect from the sage. As such, I’ll contradict two points Im makes. Namely, I’ll show that Im’s claim that (i) Mencius doesn’t share an Aristotelian account of moral virtue and development with respect to the emotions; and (ii) Mencius offers an alternative way of emotional engagement, i.e., that the emotions can be controlled by our will without prior cultivation, cannot hold true for Mencius. However, just because I hold the view that Mencius and Aristotle would agree about the necessity of cultivating the emotions and deliberation to become virtuous, doesn’t mean that there aren’t disagreements between their views on these issues. I’ll end by discussing some differences between Mencius’s and Aristotle’s views of emotions and deliberation, and show what one can learn from the other on these concepts essential for moral motivation.
Joseph Harroff (Temple University): “A Somaesthetic Rhythmanalysis Approach to ‘Optimal Appropriateness’ (yi) in Si-Meng Confucian Role Ethics”
In this essay I will be introducing the theoretical stances of Richard Shusterman's neo-pragmatic somaesthetics and Henri Lefebvre's neo-marxist rhythmanalysis to open up an inter-cultural conversation regarding the embodied and situationally embedded presuppositions of Si-Meng (思孟) role ethics. I read into received and recently unearthed early Confucian texts a shared conceptual constellation that puts "concerning creativity" at the heart of projects aimed at cultivating ever more robust moral imagination and ethical sensibility in a non-foundational ontology of persons, agency, and responsibility. I will be considering in detail the Mengzian claim that "only optimal appropriateness matters" (wei yi suozai 唯義所在) by exploring his use of exemplarist thinking through specific narratives of Shun in ethically problematic situations and his creative responses. The kind of creative intelligence derived from somaesthetic rhythmanalysis of role-focused exemplarist ethics will then be deployed to consider ways in which we can avail ourselves of the "portable tradition" (Neville) of Confucianism in addressing current predicaments of culture.
Joshua Mason (West Chester University of Pennsylvania): “A Little More: Incorporating the Chinese Moral Vocabulary into Ricoeur’s ‘Little Ethics’”
Opposition between theories of teleology and deontology (happiness and justice, the good and the right, paternalism and liberalism) has driven moral philosophy for centuries. A powerful and underappreciated reconciliation of these ethical orientations is put forward by Paul Ricoeur as his “little ethics” in Oneself as Another and in later writings on “justice.” Ricoeur divides our ethical and moral pursuits into three levels, each necessary and none individually sufficient, and shows how they are interdependent and complementary, rather than locked in opposition. He describes the broad sweep of ethics and morality as encompassing 1) a foundational teleological vision of the good life, which is filtered and refined by 2) a deontological concern to extend the circle of moral respect. The abstract laws produced by deontological reasoning run into contradictory duties in concrete situations, and so 3) practical wisdom in action seeks to minimize violations of respect-worthy laws, justifying exceptions through appeal to our considered convictions about the good life.
I see strong parallels to this three part framework in several modern conceptions of Chinese social and ethical philosophy. We can find roughly similar explanations of the breadth of ethical life laid out in traditional Chinese vocabularies in Qu Tongzu’s explanation of the history of Confucian li and Legalist fa and the interplay between them in judicial decisions, in Cheng Chung-ying’s theory of ren and yi in pursuit of harmony, and in Huang Yushun’s “Chinese Theory of Justice.” Each of these accounts can be mapped onto the three-part reconciliation that Ricoeur lays out, helping to overcome stubborn theoretical conflicts, and giving us additional resources for enriching our understanding of the dynamic processes of ethical practices across cultures.
Susan Blake (Bard College): “Tension in Theories of Reference”
Theories of reference generally include two components: a metaphysical component that illuminates why certain categorizations and uses of terms are correct; and an epistemological component that details the knowledge that might allow us to correctly make such categorizations. In the analytic tradition, causal theories of reference arose from the recognition that traditional theories do not accurately categorize what most individuals know about particular natural kinds; and thus do not seem to provide a way of demonstrating how we can make correct judgments in such matters. On the other hand, causal theories of reference, such as that presented by Hilary Putnam, seek to provide a description of how our incomplete knowledge can nevertheless allow us to classify objects—thus satisfying the two tasks by different means. However, the Mohists provide a description of both the metaphysical and epistemological components of a theory of reference that is based on similarity between the objects in a class. This paper examines the strengths and weaknesses of the Mohist theory in comparison with Putnam’s theory.
R.A. Carleo (Chinese University of Hong Kong): “Can Mencius Support Political Liberties?”
Much modern and contemporary scholarship has recognized that the teachings of the Mencius exhibit a certain affinity with liberal principles. Such liberality rests on the Mencian theory of inherent moral equality. The realization of persons’ equal moral potential is a matter of both one’s own effortful and reflective self-cultivation and one’s social conditions. In virtue of the latter social dimension, individual moral potential lays normative claims on society and government: Persons ought to be provided the basic, necessary social conditions for self-development. This line of argument, from equal moral worth to normative political principles, parallels much liberal thought, including common liberal justifications for political liberties. Gerald Gaus argues this to be a central theme of ‘modern liberal’ thought from T. H. Green and J. S. Mill to John Rawls; it takes particularly explicitly form in Ronald Dworkin’s writing as well.
Much liberalism, then, founds political liberties on a conception of equal moral personhood shared with Mencius. However, Joseph Chan points out that this traditional Confucian view seems to provide only a limited degree of support for civil liberties. He identifies the limitation in Confucianism’s endorsement of freedom being ‘content dependent’: it can endorse only the freedom to do good. This reading of the Confucian view on freedom is common in modern and contemporary scholarship. (It is similarly regarded as precluding modern liberty by Tang Junyi, but more recently celebrated by Ni Peimin and Li Chenyang.) Chan attempts to overcome this limitation by reformulating the nature of the Confucian ‘perfectionist’ commitment in a way that allows for more robustly support of civil liberties, although Sungmoon Kim rejects Chan’s proposed solution for no longer being identifiably Confucian.
I propose that considerable support for political liberties may in fact be found in the Mencius itself. What conflicts with liberal support for political liberties, as J. S. Mill and Will Kymlicka would be quick to point out, is not commitment to the good but rather the state’s role in determining the good. It is not perfectionism but state paternalism that threatens civil liberties. The question then is whether Mencius would endorse determination and promotion of good ways of life by the state or through the free influence of moral leaders amongst society. To affirm the former would preclude robust civil liberties, but to affirm the latter would demand them. Examination of the text finds consistent reduction and restriction of the ruler’s moral authority and advocacy of the authority of personal moral judgment. This supports a reading of the Mencius in which the moral fallibility of the ruler along with the equal moral capacity of persons logically precludes state interference with freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. I conclude that the Mencius thus supports basic political liberties, but under political and social conditions that allow only for this limited assertion of protections of freedom, and not the more robust protections that liberal democracy enables, and that this still qualifies Mencius as an exemplar in the eyes of leading contemporary liberals.
Shu-Shan Lee (Nazarbayev University): “What Did the Emperors Ever Say?—The Public Transcript of Imperial Confucian Political Obligation”
Although scholars have challenged the stereotype that Imperial Confucianism demands the commoners’ absolute obedience, they stop short of specifying its theory of political obligation. Some maintain that, instead of submissiveness, the concept of “remonstrance” in Imperial Confucianism justifies the criticism of wayward rulers. However, these scholars cannot help us understand Imperial Confucian political obligation. Put simply, whereas the theory of political obligation concerns the commoners’ duty to obey the state, political remonstrance is exclusively the duty of scholar-officials to emperors.
Other scholars, though paying attention to the commoners’ compliance and resistance in the Confucian context, have not yet specified its theory of political obligation. They correctly demonstrate that the Confucian idea of “the people as the root” indicates that ordinary people’s obedience is conditioned upon their receipt of benefits from the state. However, it is still not a precise definition of political obligation. The receipt of benefits points to a family of political obligations such as fair-play and gratitude. Without identifying the principle underlying the obligation generated by the benefits received, these scholars offer an incomplete explanation of Imperial Confucian Political Obligation.
I adopt a “public transcript” approach to address the gap in the literature. According to James C. Scott, a public transcript stipulates the appropriate manners and claims of subjects toward the ruling class. Subordinates’ compliance with the public transcript indicates the effectiveness of domination they encounter. In this framework, I select two pieces of propaganda—The Imperial Grand Pronouncements and The Amplified Instructions of the Sacred Edict—to analyze the state ideology of political obligation. I then compare it with the repertoire of popular protests during the same period, asking whether a discursive affirmation of Imperial Confucianism is observable in the commoners’ behaviors. Consequentially, I discover that the public transcript of Imperial Confucian political obligation is a theory of paternalistic gratitude: the commoners owe a debt of gratitude to their benevolent emperors; they should demonstrate their gratefulness through obedience.
My study also questions John Simmons’ critique of the gratitude-driven political obligation. Simmons argues that the problem of this theory is its “vagueness in content.” He maintains that even if theorists could justify people’s debt of gratitude to the state, they fail to demonstrate that political obligation is the necessary performance of that gratitude. Imperial Confucianism offers a counterexample in which Chinese emperors effectively constructed people’s understanding that the appropriate expression of gratefulness to the state is political obligation.
Brandon King (University of Pennsylvania): “The Hidden Curriculum in the Legalist State”
This presentation loosely draws some parallels between the experience of a subject in a so-called “Legalist” state with that of a contemporary student in Western schooling today. I explore how governance in the Book of Lord Shang and the Hanfeizi can be interpreted as pedagogy. Defining pedagogy in a relatively broad sense, I investigate the rationalizations for the existence of the state, the application of state mechanisms, and even the concentration of the ruler’s power all teach subjects habits, attitudes, and sensibilities in a similar fashion to what Philip Jackson called the “hidden curriculum”. Through his framework of “crowds, praise, and power” the presentation will explore how governance teaches and what those subjected to it learn. This study provides some insight into the usefulness of approaching “Legalist” texts with a positive sociological lens. Drawing from ideas introduced by Henry Giroux, C. Wright Mills, and Philip Jackson, it suggests that the “Legalist” conception of law during the Warring States period had potential to rationalize the necessity of the state, produce culture, and transform individual subjects.
Andrew Lambert (College of Staten Island): “From Aesthetics to Ethics: The Role of Delights and Musicality in Confucian Social Ethics”
This paper explores the place of pleasure or delight (le 樂) in classical Confucian social ethics, and argues that the enjoyment or creation of delight-like states is important to a full articulation of Confucian ideals such as exemplary persons and harmony.
I first examine Michael Nylan’s account of the role of pleasure (le) in socio-political order. Nylan focuses on naturalistic pleasures (desires inherent in human nature, such as a love of honor), the need for their refinement and ordering, and the use of public spectacle to both satisfy desires and ensure political stability. I argue that Nylan’s analysis overlooks other important conceptions of delight, such as that represented by Yan Hui (LY 6.11).
Drawing on the work of Li Zehou and Western scholars on joy and delight, I develop an alternative account of the place of delight in Confucian social ethics. Developing an analogy with the accounts of music developed in the Yueji and Xing Zi Ming Chu, I argue that another important conception of delight is the creation of shared social events in everyday social interaction, in which delight-like states are an important goal (LY 11.26; MZ 4A27). Such experiences partly “justify” the demandingness of social role and customary norms.
I finish by considering the limits of this account, but also the prospects for extracting it from its historical roots and bringing into dialogue with conceptions of ethics that prioritize impartiality, universality and deliberative justification.
Julianne Chung (University of Louisville): “Moral Cultivation: Landscape Gardens, Personal Ideals, and Learning from the Arts”
How do so-called ‘non-Western’ artistic traditions and aesthetic approaches conceive of the relation between aesthetics and ethics, and how might such conceptions of this relationship be brought to bear on issues in ‘Western’ philosophy? This paper addresses these, and several connected, questions by means of a case study revolving around Chinese and Japanese-influenced landscape gardens—the construction and appreciation of which is considered to be at once aesthetic and ethical, artistic and philosophical, practical and theoretical. It proceeds in two parts. The first explores three key aesthetic and ethical themes that illustrate important ways in which aesthetics and ethics are thought to be intertwined in the construction and appreciation of such gardens: interdependence and oneness, harmony and change, and finally, non-verbal learning and teaching. The second explains how these conceptions of the relationship between aesthetics and ethics with respect to such gardens can be brought into dialogue first, with discussions of personal ideals in contemporary Anglo-analytic aesthetics and ethics, and second, with discussions of cognitivism about art in contemporary Anglo-analytic aesthetics and epistemology. This is especially significant because although it strikes many of us as plausible that we can learn from art (and acquire, e.g., moral knowledge from creating and appreciating it), it is far less clear as to how exactly this might be so—especially since it is very natural to think that we generally appreciate art for features such as, e.g., its beauty (features which philosophers will tend to say are connected with its aesthetic value), rather than for features concerning its capacity to transmit knowledge (features which philosophers will tend to say are connected with its cognitive or epistemic value). Additionally, even for those who think that art can teach us something about the world, it is fairly common in Anglo-analytic philosophy to think that aesthetic and epistemic value often—if not always—come apart. (Cf. Lopes 2005, Kieran 2006) However, this is plausibly less common in Chinese and Japanese philosophy, where it is often thought that certain things can only be learned by properly engaging art, and aesthetic and epistemic value influence one another (as in the case of gardens). (Cf. Higgins 2003) Further, though it remains controversial in Anglo-analytic aesthetics whether artworks can have cognitive or epistemic (in addition to, say, aesthetic) value at all, the arts (broadly construed so as to include both, e.g., the construction and appreciation of gardens) are often treated as philosophical practices in a number of East Asian traditions. Here aesthetic and epistemic value are typically considered to be so deeply interconnected that aesthetics occupies a privileged position, arguably on par with the preeminent role that metaphysics has played in the history of European-influenced philosophy. (Cf. Ames 2000, Carter 2008, Zehou 2010, and Chinn 2016) Thus, it seems as if there is potentially much to gain from engaging such alternative (from the perspective of Anglo-analytic philosophy) philosophical perspectives. We need only take seriously the possibility that contemporary Anglo-analytic philosophy stands to benefit from engaging philosophies native to other places and times, and with distinct (and distinctive) methods, goals, and assumptions. Also, as this paper hopes to show, such reflections also give non-aestheticians reason to take aesthetics more seriously in general.
Thomas Radice (Southern Connecticut State University): “Not for the Sake of Others: Ritual and Spectatorship in the Mengzi”
In this essay, I examine ritual (li 禮) in the Mengzi 孟子. Like the Analects (Lunyu 論語) and the Xunzi 荀子, the Mengzi stresses an internal component to ritual practice, such as grief and respect, but to a much greater extent. Unlike the Analects and the Xunzi, the Mengzi de-emphasizes (though does not reject) many of the inherited (and external) features of ritual practice. The Mengzi conceives ritual as a cultivated, but also unadulterated, expression of intentions and emotions, which become apparent in the body, especially the face (se 色). As the text asserts in 3A5, external expressions emerge “not for the sake of others” (fei wei ren 非爲人), but rather as a direct result of these internal states. Nevertheless, in the process of describing and arguing for this position, the Mengzi makes much of people “seeing” (jian 見) or “observing” (guan 觀) these expressions, especially in ritual contexts. For this reason, I analyze various passages in light of spectatorship – the phenomenon of individuals witnessing, interpreting, and evaluating performances. In several passages, spectators have the ability to discern a person’s intentions, emotions, or even moral character. Though performers do not behave for the approval of spectators, these spectators are important factors in reinforcing proper conduct, especially for rulers and others with political power. I describe this interpretation of ritual performance and spectatorship as “anti-theatrical,” (to borrow a term from Jonas Barish), insofar as it is concerned with avoiding notions of artifice that may compromise the integrity of ritual performance and the relationship between performer and spectator. However, there are a number of passages in which the Mengzi acknowledges that this moral and ritual spectatorship is not perfect – that spectators can misinterpret performers’ inner states or level of moral cultivation, even when artifice is not a factor. This apparent discrepancy results in an interesting tension within the text that is not easily resolved.
Sam Cocks (University of Wisconsin, La Crosse): “The Neo-Confucian Perspective on the Place and Content of Flourishing”
The following essay will argue that Neo-Confucian philosophy, particularly that of Wang Yangming, supports the view that appropriate interaction with the world includes developing a suitable “built-space” or “built-world” in which to fulfill the human promise or vision oriented around becoming one with all things. In order to clarify the former, we will draw on contemporary architectural theory, including that of Todd Saunders.
(1.) Perception that is not burdened by si yu allows for the correct apprehension of the li or “principle” and “coherence” of people and things. This means, among other things, being cognizant of the sort of value these phenomena instantiate, how such interconnect or cohere with one another, whether they are flourishing as the thoroughly relational and interconnected entities they are, and how we may be able to contribute to said flourishing. I would like to emphasize that the former is concerned with reality in all of its diversity – from the living to the nonliving (i.e, Wang’s “stones and tiles”). I will focus on the nonliving in order to return to a discussion of living beings.
(2.) Serving as an example, being sensitive to a dilapidated shanty not only demonstrates that the materials or elements that this thing is made of aren’t flourishing, it also points, in an interconnected and contextual manner, to the possible lack of thriving of the surrounding environment, the people who dwell there, their socio-economic conditions, and more. Notice that, not only does the appropriate mindset lead us to see what is problematic about these situations, but also that these very conditions inhibit the potentially healthy ways that people and things can continue to interrelate in an ever enriching manner.
(3.) Following from #3, I will discuss how the work of architect Todd Saunders approaches the built environment in a way that correlates with the above remarks. In one way, structures can be created that themselves realize flourishing. They can, in an astonishingly complex way, be sustainably integrated with their environment, reveal the fuller promise of the materials themselves, and refer to a community of human beings who were active in contributing to the design and implementation of the project. In another way, these very same structures can serve as the ground for possible flourishing in that they establish the framework for increased social interaction, a nourishing relationship with the natural environment, and provide the conditions in which valuable vocations and activities may be entertained in a productive and meaningful manner.
(4.) Finally, the ideal built space or world both demonstrates the realization of a specific range of li as thriving, and establishes the proper conditions for the further contexual enhancement of living and nonliving phenomena.
(5.) What it means for nonliving things and their parts to flourish from a specifically Neo-Confucian perspective will be given special attention. In addition, this paper will take also consider counter-arguments that demonstrate it is the very lack of ideal conditions that may serve as the opportunity for human development as understood within the Neo-Confucian tradition.
Ann Pang-White (University of Scranton): “How to Become a Female Sage? Neo-Confucianism and Empress Renxiaowen’s Teaching for the Inner Court”
Empress Renxiaowen 仁孝文皇后 (1361–1407 CE) of the Ming dynasty 明 (1368–1644 CE) authored the Teachings for the Inner Court (Neixun 《內訓》). This work, completed in 1405, is both the longest and the most conceptually sophisticated of the Four Books for Women (Nü shishu 《女四書》). It not only stresses women’s learning but also commends their contributions to the well-being of the State. In terms of subject matter and the impact on women’s social standing, this work surpasses both Ban Zhao’s Lessons for Women and Song Ruoxin’s and Song Ruozhao’s Analects for Women. Even though originally intended mainly for teaching imperial women, this work was promulgated among the common people as a consequence of several emperors’ decrees. In addition to Wang Xiang’s 王相 Four Books for Women (Nü sishu jizhu《 女四書集註 》), this work is included in Chen Menglei’s 陳夢雷 Collection of Illustrations and Books from Antiquity to the Present (Gujin tushu jicheng 《古今圖書集成》) and is the only work of the Four Books for Women included in the “masters section” (zibu 子部) of Ji Yun’s 紀昀 Complete Library in Four Sections (Siku quanshu 《四庫全書》), the largest Chinese imperial collection of literary works compiled during the Qing dynasty 清 (1644–1911 CE). The Teachings for the Inner Court is also well known in Japan and Korea, and was often used to teach empresses. Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucianism was highly regarded in the Ming dynasty. Empress Renxiaowen adeptly interpreted these Neo-Confucian values with creative hermeneutic and female sensibility in her Teachings for the Inner Court, particularly in her discussion on the cultivation of endowed human nature, qi, emotions, and the potential for woman sagehood. This paper will explore how her creative reworking of the Confucian texts interfused with Buddhist and Daoist insights manifests in this important book for women’s education.
Benjamin Huff (Randolph-Macon College): “Tian as Agent or Ground of Possibility in the Confucian Tradition”
Steve Angle challenges the traditional translation of tian 天 as ‘Heaven’ in his forthcoming article (in Dao 17:2), “Tian as Cosmos in Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucianism.” He raises a number of considerations that call for serious reflection, including a subtle reading of just how tian is understood in the Neo-Confucian period. By contrast, I have argued that while ‘cosmos’ presents a valuable comparison, ‘Heaven’ is a more fitting translation for tian in my recent article, “Servants of Heaven: the place of virtue in the Confucian cosmos.” Angle’s article thus presents a valuable opportunity to explore the reasons for our different conclusions.
In this paper I argue that our differences represent much more than a merely verbal dispute. On the one hand, they bring out interesting questions of comparative cosmology as we consider how far there are meaningful analogies between heaven in the Western tradition and tian in Chinese thought, to ground the helpfulness of ‘Heaven’ as a translation. I argue that the English ‘heaven’ has a broader range of available meanings than what Angle sees in the term, with a different center of gravity. While Angle seems to focus on contemporary usage, I argue that its history is much richer. Thus ‘Heaven’ has more to offer as a translation of ‘tian’ than Angle's analysis suggests.
On the other hand, our differences illuminate important dimensions of the classical and Neo-Confucian conceptions of tian, including significant differences between them. First, in the classical period tian is clearly distinguished from Earth (di 地), the two together forming a complementary pair, whereas Zhu Xi primarily understands tian as all-inclusive. Second, while in both periods tian is understood as a power that governs all events, its agency is understood quite differently. For Confucius and Mencius, tian figures as an active and decisive agent that causes both overall patterns and specific events. While these thinkers may have understood tian primarily in naturalistic terms, they emphasize and carefully preserve the continuity of their thought with that of the Zhou, whose conception is more theistic. Zhu Xi, by contrast, explicitly embraces a naturalistic conception of tian, and understands its agency or governance more statically in terms of a Pattern (li 理) that events should follow, and whose influence over vital stuff (qi 氣) is more subtle, not complete or entirely decisive.
Thus ‘heaven’ is a more fitting translation than Angle suggests, and a rather helpful translation in the context of classical Confucianism. At the same time, the differences between the classical conception of tian as a decisive agent and Zhu Xi’s conception of tian as the ground of possibility are significant enough to justify a change in how we translate the term. That is to say, I argue that Angle and I are both right, but that in order to see this we must deepen our understanding of both heaven in the Western tradition and tian in Confucian thought.
Jing Hu and Seth Robertson (University of Oklahoma): “Constructing Morality with Mengzi: Three Lessons on Moral Discovery and Meta-ethics”
Genuine instances of moral discovery (e.g. discovering that slavery is wrong, or that it is impermissible to limit educational opportunities by gender) seem to provide support for moral realism: over time, we discover new objective moral truths. But, recently, several philosophers have turned the tables against moral realism by developing constructivist accounts1 of moral discovery2 that, they claim, provide better explanations of moral discovery than moral realism can (Kitcher 2011; Campbell and Kumar 2012, 2013; Kurth 2017). Moral discovery amounts to developing processes, systems, and attitudes in which our moral values are applied more broadly or consistently, rather than uncovering objective moral truths.3 In this paper, we explore three lessons from the early Confucian philosopher Mengzi (372-289 BCE) that enrich this discussion on behalf of the constructivists.
1. We argue that analogical reasoning provides more robust and compelling explanations of moral discovery. To see something in terms of something else based on similarities, “is used to understand one less intelligible or accessible realm of experience in terms of another more intelligible or accessible realm” (Wong 2015). In this way, we are able to learn new moral values and understand new moral situations that are similar to those we experienced before.
2. We point out that moral learning occurs through both reasoning and emotional manipulation, such as Mengzi’s “Method of Extension”.
3. We argue, insight from Confucian philosophy supports constructivist accounts of moral discovery (such as Mengzi 3A5). In this passage, Mengzi claims that before the invention of funerals, people disposed of their parents’ corpses by throwing them in ditches and came to feel ashamed about it, and invented funeral rituals in response to this negative moral feeling. They had no inkling that one ought to have funerals for one’s parents, but they discovered it. However, a careful examination of this case (we argue) shows that it is best explained by constructivist accounts of moral discovery: the people did not discover new objective moral values but instead discovered new areas in which their old values applied.
By engraining debate in ancient Confucian tradition, we offer ancient yet provocative insight to contemporary discussions of moral discovery and their metaethical implications. We support the constructivist account through the discussion of analogical reasoning, the method of extending of both emotion and reasoning, and the case study of the invention of funeral rites in Mengzi.
Tim Connolly (East Stroudsburg University): “An Exemplarist Perspective on Mencius 5B3”
In Mencius 5B3, Wan Zhang asks Mencius why Shun banished or executed several ministers who were corrupt, yet allowed his brother Xiang, who was trying to kill Shun, to administer the territory of Youbi. Mencius, in response, defends Shun’s action and praises his love for his brother. The passage has been significant in recent debates because it illustrates an apparent conflict between the demands filial morality (xiao) and the humane treatment of people in general (ren). In these debates, the tendency is to begin with examples such as this one and then quickly move to a discussion of concepts such as xiao and ren. In this paper, however, I will use an exemplarist methodology to understand the debate, contextualizing Shun’s treatment of Xiang within the rest of the narratives about Shun in the Mencius, and drawing out from these narratives the reasons that Mencius finds Shun to be admirable. By using Shun’s exemplary behavior as our guide, we can gain a new perspective on this longstanding debate.
Howard Curzer (Texas Tech University): “Stingy King Meets Savvy Sage: Rethinking the Dialog Between Xuan and Mengzi”
King Xuan substituted a sheep for an ox in a ritual sacrifice. His subjects attribute Xuan’s substitution to stinginess, but Mengzi suggests that Xuan was motivated by sympathy for the ox, instead. Mengzi observes that his decision to spare the sad-eyed ox indicates that Xuan has the “sprout” (innate tendency) of benevolence. Mengzi urges Xuan to “extend” his compassion for the ox to the wider circle of his people. Xuan demurs, citing his “weakness” for retaliation-when-insulted, and later his “weaknesses” for wealth, and sex. Mengzi urges him to “share” these weaknesses with his people. (Mengzi 1A7-1B5)
On the standard interpretation, Mengzi believes that Xuan had compassion for the ox, and that his compassion can be extended to encompass his subjects. Extending his weaknesses will help him implement this benevolent stance toward his subjects.
However, the standard interpretation is problematic. Mengzi’s general view of moral development entails that virtue grows outward with diminishing intensity from oneself to family members, then to friends and relatives, then to fellow citizens, fellow humans, and finally to animals. So it would be inconsistent for Mengzi to maintain that Xuan can extend benevolence from animals to people. Moreover, substituting one animal for another is not evidence of compassion, so the standard interpretation attributes a blunder to Mengzi. Finally, Mengzi urges Xuan to share his vices, but vices do not become virtues by being shared. So on the standard interpretation, Mengzi is confused about character improvement.
On my interpretation, Xuan really is stingy rather than compassionate, and Mengzi knows it. When Mengzi offers Xuan a benign, though false account of the sheep-for-ox substitution, Xuan accepts the account in order to avoid looking like a cheapskate. But Mengzi’s offer is a trap. Once Xuan gives lip service to benevolence, he can be shamed into implementing it. The strategy Mengzi hopes to implement is not extension of an already-existing proto-virtue, for Xuan hasn’t actually shown any benevolence, yet. Instead, it is habituation, a method that brings a virtue into being from almost nothing (from mere willingness to repeat actions).
Mengzi’s description of “sharing weakness” reveals that sharing is not what he actually wants. Instead, he urges Xuan to transform his vices into virtues. Xuan’s anger at insult is to be retargeted at injustice. His desire to gain money is to be reversed, becoming a desire to spend money help his people obtain basic needs. And Xuan’s sexual desire is to become the recognition that commoners can enjoy refined aesthetic pleasures. (I take Mengzi to be building on his earlier poetic allusion [1A2] to the people’s enjoyment of a beautiful tower, pond, and park.) Mengzi is advocating a third character improvement strategy: sublimation of wayward passions.
On the standard interpretation, The Mengzi offers only two strategies of character improvement: extension (turning “sprouts” into virtues), and habituation (creating virtues from “seeds”). On my interpretation, Mengzi implicitly provides a third strategy: sublimation (turning “weeds” into virtues). This strategy is no less important to us than to Mengzi. Like Mengzi, we in the modern world have a pressing need to instill virtues in vicious rulers.
My interpretation not only avoids the problems of the standard interpretation, and makes Mengzi into a subtle sage, it also fills a gap. The Mengzi explicitly discusses only four virtues: benevolence, righteousness, ritual propriety, and wisdom. This is quite a meager list; several obvious virtues are omitted. My interpretation helps by taking Mengzi to invoke three additional virtues in talking with Xuan: justice, monetary generosity (Aristotelian liberality), and an unnamed virtue (recognition of the humanity of people who seem different from oneself).
Alice Simoniato (Leiden University): “The Manifesto of 1958: A Statement to the World on Behalf of Chinese Culture”
With the rapid proliferation of New Confucian studies since the mid 1980s, it has become an unquestioned dogma that one particular event at the beginning of 1958 marks a watershed in the development of New Confucians' movement. This event is the publication of the Manifesto that Mou Zongsan 牟宗三, Tang Junyi 唐君毅, Xu Fuguan 徐復觀, and Zhang Junmai 张君劢 co-signed and published almost simultaneously in the two journals Minzhu pinglun 民評論 (Democratic Tribune) and Zaisheng 再生(National Renaissance) with the title “为中国文化敬告世界人士宣言─我们对中国学术研究及中国文化与世界文 前途之共同认识” (Wei Zhongguo wenhua jinggao shijie renshi xuanyan –women dui Zhongguo xueshu yanjiu ji Zhongguo wenhua yu shijiewen qiantu zhi gongtong renshi; translated in English as “A Manifesto on the Reappraisal of Chinese Culture – our Joint Understanding of the Sinological Study relating to World Cultural Outlook.”). Scholars have interpreted the document as an emblematic expression of cultural conservatism, in reaction to the intellectual trend of 1920s best represented by the so-called “Scienticist School” (科学家 kexuejia). Concepts such as cultural identity and cultural conservatism, however, are not enough to explain the philosophical richness articulated in the Manifesto, whose main purpose is to benefit Western intellectuals in 'aiding them to appreciate Chinese culture'. In order to do so, the authors employ a strategic terminology, which allows them to build a consistent cross-cultural dialogue between Western and Chinese philosophy by means of an unprecedented discourse on 'Chinese Rationalism' ( 中国心性之学 Zhongguo xinxing zhi xue). Interestingly, the latter is described by the authors as “the essence of Chinese Culture” and, beside its comparative value, represents the most comprehensive configuration of Confucianism in the context of 20th century. Academic interest in global philosophy should take into account the articulation of Chinese Rationalism in the Manifesto of 1958 as representing a paradigm of post-comparative dialogue that exemplifies the underlying philosophical continuity beyond consistently different traditions of thought.
Stephen Angle (Wesleyan University): “Can Artificial Intelligence Lead Us to Genuine Virtue? A Confucian Perspective”
Philosophers, technologists, and pundits are beginning to recognize the deep ethical questions raised by artificial intelligence. So far, attention has concentrated in three areas: (1) how we are being damaged or controlled by profit-driven algorithms (“the attention economy”), and what to do about it; (2) how to ensure that autonomous, intelligent machines (like driverless vehicles) make “good” decisions, and how to define what these decisions are; and (3) how to think about (and perhaps resist) the possibility of artificial superintelligence surpassing and perhaps controlling us. To the extent that theorists have looked at the good that AI can bring, they have tended focus on possibilities for material abundance and leisure. In addition, virtually all of this theorizing to-date has been limited to Western ethical frameworks. Especially given the huge investments in AI presently being made in China, it seems prudent to expand our collective philosophical frameworks to encompass a more global set of ethical perspectives.
This paper proposes that when AI is viewed from a Confucian vantage point, a natural question to ask is whether artificial intelligence can assist in the project of making humans and human society more virtuous. And if so, would the result be “genuine” virtue, even though the “intelligence” aiding us is “artificial”? The paper is structured around the five canonical Confucian virtues (humaneness, rightness, propriety, wisdom, and trust) and draws on readily realizable technologies and concepts like “artificial emotional intelligence” and “persuasive ambient intelligence” to make its case for a positive relationship between AI and virtue. The paper concludes with replies to various potential objects.
David Elstein (State University of New York, New Paltz): “Interpreting Confucian Ethics”
This presentation introduces three main interpretations of Confucian ethics in current Chinese philosophical circles at present: the role ethics and virtues ethics in Western scholarship, and the ethics of intention popular in East Asia. Role ethics takes a pragmatist approach, opposed to any concept of an essence, instead emphasizing the relationality of humanity. It makes the role the standard of ethics, believing relations are prior to individuals. Virtue ethics points out that traditional Confucian thought has no decision procedure like the categorical imperative or principle of utility. Rather it places importance on personal cultivation and the development of virtues. I argue that Western scholars of Chinese philosophy misunderstand ethics of intention, believing it to be an imposition of Kantian deontology onto Confucian thought. They are largely unaware that contemporary New Confucians do not endorse Kant’s separation of reason and affect. However, I also argue that New Confucians overemphasize the necessity of autonomy in ethics and neglect the importance of environment. Whether one looks at Confucian classical sources or sociology and psychology, it is impossible to deny that environment has a considerable influence on personal character. Moral autonomy is not an absolute concept in Confucian thought, better cohering with the virtue ethics interpretation.
Timothy Gutmann (University of Chicago): “Chinese Traditions and the Category of Religion”
This paper examines the study of Chinese traditions at the origin of the modern academic study of religion and how those traditions might speak back to that project.
It specifically focuses on James Legge’s mission in China and his translation of Confucius’ Analects as part of the Max Müller’s Sacred Books of the East collection. Legge’s project of making Confucian humanism intelligible as a religion involved canonizing its literature and emphasizing its moral dimensions.
The paper asks in turn about the influence of the concept of religion, translated zongjiao 宗教 into Chinese, and its influence on the political thought of late-Qing 清 and early-Republican political thought at the start of the 2oth century. Thinkers such as Kang Youwei 康有為 called for the institution of Confucianism as a state religion. Liang Qichao 梁啟超 hoped that religious practice would help guide the country to renewal of the past and modern maturity.
This paper examines such tensions of modern understandings of religion that emphasize both its universality as a category of human society and the distinctiveness of each tradition for a specific community. As conceived by 19th-century sinologists, and their orientalist colleagues, the religious marks a particular spiritual and political domain, into which translations of Confucianism have not easily fit. Beyond contemporary disciplinary debates about where the study of Confucianism and other East Asian traditions belongs, this paper draws on the work of Talal Asad, Tomoko Masuzawa, and Anna Sun, the paper asks about how 19th-century concepts of religion make those traditions intelligible and their place in the political imaginary of the nation and the state.
Finally, this paper suggests how thinking with emic concepts of tradition (tong 統) and the political commitment of the associated with the vocation of the imperial scholar-officialdom might challenge the comparative model that puts Chinese traditions in the category of religion.