15th Annual Midwest Conference on Chinese Thought

North Central College (Naperville, IL)

April 26-27, 2019

 Wentz Science Center, Room 104

Friday, April 26

1:30-3:15 Wandering with the Way (Chair: Brian Hoffert)

  • Roy Porat (Fulbright Postdoc Fellow, Harvard University)
    “Two Ways of Seeing Things as One in the Zhuangzi Qiwulun”
  • Stephen Walker (PhD Candidate, University of Chicago Divinity School)
    “The Way and the Sway in the Huainanzi
  • Michael Ing (Associate Professor, Indiana University, Bloomington)
    “The Ecstasy of Ale: Tao Yuanming on Life’s Enjoyments”

3:15-3:30 Break

3:30-5:15 Confucian Moral Theory (Chair: Susan Blake)

  • Dobin Choi (Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Iowa)
    “Confucian Care with Distinctions and Internal Moral Self-Cultivation”
  • Julianne Nicole Chung (Assistant Professor, University of Louisville)
    “Making Sense of Aesthetic Obligation”
  • Sam Cocks (Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse)
    “Wang Yangming, Moral Realism, and Moral Fictionalism”

5:30-6:30 Keynote Address

  • Peimin Ni (Professor of Philosophy, Grand Valley State University)
    “Theories of the Heart-Mind and Globalization of Confucianism Today”

Saturday, April 27

9:30-10:40 Subtle Tones of Moral Expression (Chair: Cheryl Cottine)

  • Brandon King (Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania)
    “Moral Concern in the Legalist State”
  • Hannah Haejin Kim (PhD Candidate, Stanford University)
    “Human Nature and Music: Competing Confucian Views on Music’s Moral Relevance”

10:40-11:00 Break

11:00-12:00 Round Table on Interdisciplinarity Approaches to Chinese Thought (Chair: Michael Ing)

  • Susan Blake (Visiting Assistant Professor, Bard College)
  • Julianne Nicole Chung (Assistant Professor, University of Louisville)
  • Brian Hoffert (Associate Professor, North Central College)
  • Aaron Stalnaker (Associate Professor, Indiana University, Bloomington)

12:00-2:00 Lunch 

2:00-3:45 The Application of Confucian Ethics (Chair: Aaron Stalnaker)

  • Ben Birkenstock (Trinity Western University)
    “The Character of Ethical Judgment: Shared Perspectives in Aristotle and Confucius”
  • Rui Fan (PhD Candidate, Indian University, Bloomington)
    “Mencius 1A7 and What the Mencian Gentleman Would Eat in Today’s America”
  • Liang Cai (Assistant Professor, University of Notre Dame)
    “The Master Kept a Distance from His Own Son: Filial Piety, Confucius’ Learning Community, and Textual Stratification”

3:45-4:00 Break

4:00-5:10 Exploring the Boundaries of Identity and Difference (Chair: Julianne Nicole Chung)

  • Jenny Hung (Visiting Scholar, University of California, Riverside)
    “The Concept Ji 即 in T’ien-t’ai Buddhism”
  • Tim Gutmann (PhD Candidate, University of Chicago Divinity School)
    “Relations and Difference: Wang Daiyu’s Muslim and Confucian Humanisms”


Paper Abstracts (in order of presentation)

Roy Porat (Fulbright Postdoc Fellow, Harvard University): “Two Ways of Seeing Things as One in the Zhuangzi Qiwulun”

While the notion of unity plays an important role in the Zhuangzi - and the Daoist philosophy in general - actual references to oneness or the unification of things are relatively rare within the text. The phrase weiyi 為一, for example, appears only six times throughout the entire Zhuangzi, all of which within the qiwulun 齊物論; a closer look at the relevant paragraphs, however, reveals that even in those cases, half refer not to the ideal state of unity as identified with Dao or with the deeds of the sage, but rather to the false conception of oneness, the flawed attempt to "unify things without realizing that they are already one".

In line with this example, I would like to suggest that many textual problems surrounding the qiwulun can be easily resolved by reframing the text as an argument between two competing visions of unity: a positive, Hegelian-like view that aims to unify all things by seeing them as different parts of a greater unitary whole (the "one body" 一體 approach), and on the other hand, a negative or "empty" vision of oneness - advocated by the author of the text - which treats the very existence of duality as a mere construction of our mind. The difference between these two approaches can be roughly mapped onto the more familiar distinction between relativism and monism, and, in turn, depicts two corresponding visions of equanimity: a realistic, "within the world" type of liberation that treats duality as unavoidable but grants the sage with the ability to "switch" between different value systems at will (everything can be either shi 是 and fei 非), or, alternatively, aiming for a complete annihilation of all distinctions, and a direct experience of nonduality in its fullest form (there is no shi是and fei非).

Following A.C. Graham's work, I too suggest that the positive side of the equation can be traced back to the philosophy of Hui Shi and the Mingjia, a fact that portrays most of the qiwulun as a philosophical response to their views; however, I would like to take this proposal one step further, and claim that substantial parts of the ideas that are commonly attributed to the author of the text were in fact references to the "positive" philosophy of his opponents that he wished to refute; some examples are the concept of yinshi 因是 or the ideal of yiming 以明, two strictly "Zhuangzian" ideals according to traditional readings, which most likely referred to the philosophy of the mingjia, and were contrasted by the author of the text with the "negative" ideals of yinshiyi 因是已 and baoguang 葆光. According to the proposed reading, the mix between these two originally competing theories led to some of the discrepancies that characterized the text ever since, which, as I claim, can be largely resolved by better differentiating the two philosophies apart. In my talk I will analyze some of the pivotal passages in the qiwulun, and present a general overview of the argument as an inter-monist dialog regarding the characteristics of unity.


Stephen Walker (Junior Fellow, University of Chicago Divinity School): “The Way and the Sway in the Huainanzi

The Huáinánzǐ seems to have been written at least as much to bowl its readers over with poetic vision and intensity as to teach them the unteachable art of governance. Perhaps being bowled over is precisely the point: no one is fit to govern others, from the Huáinánzǐ’s point of view, who hasn’t learned to be shocked, befuddled, and disarmed by whatever’s going on around them. For writers like these, leadership begins in helplessness and giving up—and in this presentation I’ll talk through three of the core concepts the Huáinán authors use to coax us into seeing things this way.

The first concept is precisely that of “things” (物). Things in the Huáinánzǐ are all things formed, anything a person could distinguish from another. Things emerge, play out their lives, and disappear in cycling patterns that are to some extent knowable and usable by us. We ourselves are things, and so have limited control over our own and others’ courses. For the Huáinán authors, rival philosophical traditions wander from one thing to the next—getting sometimes very detailed knowledge of them—without ever seeing them in the breadth that governance requires. So long as we let the strivings of one thing or another be what impresses us, we’ll base our sense of leadership on striving. Pushing and pulling our way against others, we’ll harm them more than we help, and the Huáinán authors would like to sketch for us a different frame of reference.

Dào 道 is “the way” in being the only way forward: nobody acts except by way of this only way there is, which means the only way there is enables everything there is. Enabling everything that takes on any character at all, the way has no character of its own: the one thing that might serve as master-explanation is ipso facto not a thing and has no power to explain. The Huáinán authors don’t promote their “way” as a source of determinate guidance; for that, you need to consult some set of things that might actually guide you along. Instead, they seem to offer the way as something a leader can acknowledge and appreciate, can change themselves in light of. The way enables things not by doing anything to them, but by being the means by which they do what they’re disposed to do.

In parallel, these writers think that government works best when it’s positioned and constituted to serve as the means by which human beings work themselves out in their courses of life. “德”, a term notoriously translatable as “power”, “virtue”, and a range of words in between, is what a thing possesses when it serves as such a means for others. The Huáinánzǐ would have us understand effective leadership as deeper than moral virtue, deeper even than power or force as we normally take it: a leader is someone by whose presence in the world others are able to do what they do. “”, therefore, is what things exercise when they play the very role that dào is playing at a deeper level: being like dào is something anyone can do, so long as their position and constitution enable someone else to flourish.

I propose “sway” as a translation that captures this function of “”: those who have it are the most important people in any scenario, but it’s not because of any specific thing that they do or way they uphold. Exercising requires neither knowledge nor well-formed character. People frequently exercise without knowing it, just as dào enables everything without even the capacity to know. For the Huáinán authors, the first and final lesson of governance is to let sway be what and where it is, accepting one’s own befuddlement and incompetence to sway things in any other direction than they’re disposed to go.


Michael Ing (Associate Professor, Indiana University): “The Ecstasy of Ale: Tao Yuanming on Life’s Enjoyments”

In the preface to the series of poems Tao Yuanming writes after “Drinking Ale” 〈飲酒〉 he explains that while in retirement, and with “few delights” 寡歡 available to him, he happened across some quality ale. Each night he would drink the ale, and as it took effect he would write a few verses for his “own amusement” 自娛. As the pages multiplied he asked a friend to copy them down—putting them together for their “delight and laughter” 歡笑. What follows, however, are 20 poems that are mostly somber in attitude.

One challenge in interpreting these “Drinking Ale” poems is to make sense of the seeming disconnect between the preface and the content of the poems. How did Tao find amusement in composing this kind of poetry? How does sharing them with others foster delight and laughter? What are the connections between feelings like sadness and feelings like enjoyment? This presentation will take up this challenge by exploring these and similar questions across Tao’s poetry. More specifically, I will discuss Tao’s views on immediate enjoyments including food, drink and friends, as well as his views on mediated enjoyments, focusing on how Tao’s poetry confronts negative emotions such as sadness and transforms them into enjoyable experiences.


Dobin Choi (Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Iowa): “Confucian Care with Distinctions and Internal Moral Self-Cultivation”

The essence of Confucian moral teaching is represented by the principles of “love with gradation” and “care with distinctions.” These principles are important because they present to us a way to achieve virtue given our incessant self-cultivation. Mengzi clearly instructs in Mengzi 1A7 that for achieve the genuine virtues, we should extend our care for those who are close to those afar. Moreover, Confucians also believed that our pursuit for virtue actually benefits our individual and social flourishing. As is argued in Mengzi 1A1, the king’s taking Confucian virtue as a governing principle promotes a state’s eventual flourishing, contrary to other profit-based moral theories. Considering the benefits of taking virtue as a practical principle, we can in part understand why Confucians emphasize in unison our care with distinctions. In order to accomplish individual and social flourishing—which everyone aspires—we should achieve virtues by moral self-cultivation, but this task is fulfilled only by our caring for others with distinctions, motivated from our love with gradation.

This explication, however, is not complete and satisfactory until we seek a plausible account that expounds why the genuine virtue of ren is achievable only through our care with distinctions. Mengzi’s “method of extension” has merely been characterized as a paradigmatic way of Confucian moral self-cultivation, but we can still question what makes him so convinced of the suitability of this single directional extension for achieving ren. In this picture, the missing part is a clear view about the functionality of their partialistic principles to fulfill Confucians’ goal of achieving virtues. To complete this sequence of Confucian moral self-cultivation, we need a reliable account of the functionality of Confucian care with distinctions especially for one’s internal moral development: why a person’s concentration on his or her love to parents and its extension to others improve that person’s internal states enough to become virtuous?

In this essay, I attempt to account for the epistemic reasons to endorse Confucian principles of “care with distinctions” for the aim of virtue achievement. I argue for this point by virtually restoring the epistemic configurations that would buttress Mengzi’s conviction about the effectiveness of his extension of compassionate feelings and actions from close to afar. However, due to deficient textual support about the epistemic elements involved in this sequence, we need to seek an auxiliary framework that would help us figure out his reason of endorsing care with distinctions. For this external framework, I refer to David Hume’s analysis of the passions of benevolence and compassion, which are distinguished by their originality in the mind and the intervention of imagination. Applying this demarcation to Mengzi’s heart of compassion, I argue that Confucian principles of “love with gradation” and “care with distinctions,” when practiced by Mengzi’s extension, are designed to stimulate the original patterns engraved in the individuals’ hearts. A person’s sincere repetition of extension would disclose the forms of his or her mental patterns, which can be identified with full-blown internal virtues in general.


Julianne Nicole Chung (Assistant Professor, University of Louisville): “Making Sense of Aesthetic Obligation”

As a variety of philosophers have pointed out, some judgments concerning aesthetic objects—e.g., that a landscape or painting is beautiful—are commonly thought to differ from ordinary empirical judgments in a number of significant ways. (Cf. Moran 2012, Cross 2017, and Kubala 2018) One such way is that some aesthetic objects seem to demand our attention not (just) in a causal sense, but instead in such a way that we could either succeed or fail with respect to responding to them appropriately. Assuming that this experienced demand constitutes (or at least points toward) a genuine normative requirement, a problem arises: what is its source and nature? The obligation involved does not appear to concern other people, as it could arise even in their absence. It would seem, then, that it concerns either a) the aesthetic object itself, or b) oneself. Many, however, find a) implausible on its face. One cannot, it would seem, owe anything to, or have a demand placed on them by, e.g., a tree or flower, or an inanimate object like a mountain or painted canvas. Hence, in recent years, variations of b) have received more attention: for example, Anthony Cross (Cross 2017) argues that aesthetic obligation is a species of self-obligation incurred in virtue of loving some object, and Robbie Kubala (Kubala 2018) argues that aesthetic obligation is a species of self-promising.

If, however, we are willing to take alternative metaphysical views seriously, alternative possibilities emerge. For while European-influenced metaphysics has tended to focus on what we might call problems of reconciliation (concerning how ontologically distinct things can interact), Chinese metaphysics, e.g., has been more concerned with problems of distinction. This is because, for many Chinese philosophers, individual things are best conceived as smaller parts of harmoniously unified larger wholes. (Cf. Perkins 2016, Ivanhoe 2017) While this raises a variety of intriguing metaphysical questions (such as how to individuate these parts), I argue in this paper that this perspective can enable us to think about aesthetic obligation in new ways—not least of all because these possibilities cannot, it would seem, be neatly categorized as belonging to any one of the categories delineated (i.e., as intimated above, object-focused, relationship-focused, or self-focused), but rather appear to belong to several of them. Therefore, to this extent, this perspective in turn promises to bring these seemingly disparate approaches together into a unified account. I discuss just two such alternative possibilities. On the first, self is construed more expansively, such that it is (at least partially) constituted by relationships to objects located beyond the confines of one’s own individual person (e.g., brain, body, and perhaps even mind). Aesthetic objects can inspire us to see ourselves as (at least partially) constituted by some such relationships. Consequently, insofar as certain judgments about, e.g., beauty express intimate connections to other objects such that those relationships can be thought to (at least partially) constitute one’s (enlarged conception of) self, aesthetic obligation can be seen as a species of self-obligation (namely, to care) that arises in virtue of those connections. (Assuming that that we have an obligation to care for ourselves.) This comprises a special way of making out obligations imposed on us by aesthetic objects as instances of self-obligation, one that more robustly incorporates both relationships and aesthetic objects in so doing. On the second, loci of value are construed more expansively, such that individual persons (and perhaps even selves) are held to be smaller parts of harmoniously unified larger wholes that are the fundamental bearers of value. Aesthetic objects can inspire us to see ourselves as indeed harmoniously unified with other things in such ways, and hence as dependent on harmoniously unified larger wholes of which we are parts. Therefore, we can see that we plausibly have obligations to care about the harmoniously unified larger wholes of which we are parts, and hence about other parts of them, too (as our well-being is held to be to some extent dependent on theirs). Interestingly, this is the inverse of a self-regard view: this view is fundamentally whole-regarding, and situates care for individuals in the context of care for wholes.


Cross, Anthony. 2017. “Obligations to Artworks as Duties of Love.” Estetika 54(1): 85-101

Perkins, Franklin. 2016. "Metaphysics in Chinese Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/chinese-metaphysics/>.

Ivanhoe, Philip J. 2017. Oneness: East Asian Conceptions of Virtue, Happiness, and How We Are All Connected. (Oxford University Press: New York)

Kubala, Robbie. 2018. “Grounding Aesthetic Obligations.” British Journal of Aesthetics 58(3): 271-285.

Moran, Richard. 2012. “Kant, Proust, and the Appeal of Beauty.” Critical Inquiry 38 2): 298-329


Sam Cocks (Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse): “Wang Yangming, Moral Realism, and Moral Fictionalism”

A common theme running through Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism is that reality is value-laden in the sense that value is an intrinsic part of the natural world (cf., the work of Tien, Angle, Tiwald, and Ivanhoe). The former view aligns with what we know as moral realism in that values are essentially objective, and mind-independent. Importantly, this way of regarding the world in no way denies the unique way in which human subjects grasp and are motivated by these values. The above conviction reaches its greatest clarity in Neo-Confucianism when thinkers such as Wang Yangming claim that human intelligence not only directly perceives for example, what is morally salient, but in so doing comprehends the very essence of Tianli, or Heavenly Principle. This is crucial, for while the human mind possesses a unique relationship to Tianli, the influence of the latter on reality is in no way dependent on the human mind. Put differently, reality is thoroughly saturated with the presence of value, and this is due to the structuring function of Tianli.

I am sympathetic to the above view, given the supporting scholarship, but believe that an approach exclusively associated with moral realism might be an inadequate way to capture what Neo-Confucians such as Wang Yangming have in mind. Neo-Confucian scholar Anthony Cua asserts the intriguing claim that moral behavior is motivated by a human generated vision. That is, a belief that humans form one body with the cosmos, can perceive whether every feature of reality, from the living to the nonliving, is or is not flourishing, and is able to deepen this connection through ongoing engaged activity. This process involves the overcoming of selfish desires (si yu). To be sure, it appears that Cua also embraces moral realism. However, it is my conviction that there is something more complex at play. I believe that moral fictionalism is a meta-ethical theory that might help us better capture the important way that human agents create visions that guide moral behavior. On one hand fictionalism is at odds with moral realism in that it recognizes the projective import of a human constructed vision that in some ways goes beyond what is perceptually given. On the other, fictionalism is not required to remain at odds with moral realism in that its vision is based on certain clues provided for us by reality. That is, recognizing the utility of a fictionalist approach does not necessarily commit one to a view that values are exclusively mind-dependent. Some human concerns are powerfully motivated by a way of seeing the world that is fashioned by imagination. These imaginative considerations then come to influence how it is that we perceive and approach reality. Further, and importantly, my suggested approach helps us to understand and accept Wang and other’s belief that we experience morally related concerns about things as particular and peculiar as broken tiles (the nonliving).

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, my paper will consider how my proposal helps us to handle debates about value in the field of environmental ethics. Specifically, whether Wang’s view on the natural world is one best associated with anthropocentrism, weak anthropocentrism, non-anthropocentrism, or some combination of the three. The issue of the precise status of value is an issue of considerable influence in environmental ethics, and Wang’s commitment to being and becoming one with all things is obviously related to the former.

I will also consider objections to my view on moral fictionalism, including those from P.J. Ivanhoe. I will end my paper with a consideration of the possibility that even if my approach is warranted, Wang’s own commitment to a particular way of understanding value may block alternative interpretations of his philosophy.


Brandon King (Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania): “Moral Concern in the Legalist State”

“Moral Concern in the Legalist State” seeks to explore Legalist governance as pedagogy and answer the question, “To what extent can we say that its state education is moral?” This study argues that the Legalist perspective presented a new foundation for moral education that grounded itself in the basic features believed to be shared by all human beings: gravitation towards profit and aversion to harm and loss. Both the BLS and the HFZ clearly demonstrate awareness of the benefits that all members of a Legalist state collective would experience. The formation of the monarchical state is said to save the people from destructive conflict, distribute resources in a competitive and just fashion, and enhance collective security and wealth. In this sense, we can think of the state itself as a moral requirement because it is the only form of communal arrangement that can provide a unifying education for the various individuals, families, and other smaller groups with differing interests.

I hope to show that the Legalist state can be interpreted as a means of not just establishing social order but also preventing the inevitable instability that a human organization governed with inadequate statecraft suffers. Using Durkheim’s framework for moral education, we will see that the Legalist attention to morality lies in understanding the monarchical state as the only way to facilitate patterns of behavior that contribute to the improvement of collective welfare and overcome the destructive conflict that is produced from an unregulated competition for resources. I will first provide a brief account of Durkheim’s conception of moral education. Then I will follow his three elements of morality, discipline, connection to the collective, and self-determination to explain how they illustrate the Legalist political vision’s moral concern. Ultimately, the effects of rewards prove to play a particularly enhanced role in the cultivation of discipline and commitment to impersonal objectives amongst the populace. This of course challenges the popular understanding of Legalist governance that views rewards as mere reinforcement for the effects of punishment.


Hannah Haejin Kim (PhD Candidate, Stanford University): “Human Nature and Music: Competing Confucian Views on Music’s Moral Relevance”

Music plays a prominent role in Confucianism. The ancient Chinese considered music to be a reflection of the order of the cosmos, and the concepts of beauty and harmony was thought to have a metaphysical basis. It has been noted that the pentatonic scale, the scale in which ancient Chinese music was composed, corresponds to the Five Elements (wood, metal, fire, water, earth) which was believed to be the elementary unit of everything. The pentatonic scale also corresponded to the seasons, the four notes apart from the tonic note possessing seasonal associations. Lastly, musical notes were correlated with yin and yang, opposing yet complementary principles which order all change in the universe.

In addition, music, alongside ritual, was considered important for moral cultivation. Ever since the classical age of the Western Zhou dynasty the term “ritual” (li 禮) was joined with the term “music” (yue 樂) to create a hybrid term, liyue, to signify the ultimate means to achieve order. Like rituals, music was to be justified and valued because of its contribution to social cohesion and development of moral character. Therefore, music was considered a “guide to achieve perfection”, a necessary element of the proper development of a Confucian moral agent.

Though it is clear that music plays an important role in Confucian moral education, it is unclear what the Confucians thought music’s connection to morality is. One thing they agree on is that neither individual moral cultivation nor harmonious social ordering rely on a simplistic relationship between music and morality. The main argument of this paper is that music’s role in moral cultivation is conceived differently depending on one’s view of human nature. All three classical Confucians (Kongzi, Mengzi, and Xunzi) admit a connection between music and morality, but depending on whether they think human nature is “good” or “evil,” their explanations for how and why music is relevant to moral development will be different.

Mengzi, who believed human nature is good, considered music a revealer of our shared nature and innate goodness. He thought the fact that humans are inclined towards certain sounds points a shared inner disposition and suggested that the kind of delight we feel in acting virtuously is akin to the spontaneous delight we also feel in and through music. Because music wasn’t seen as a tool for moral correction or development, Mengzi didn’t think there was any particular music especially well-suited (or ill-suited) for moral cultivation.

In contrast, Xunzi believed only the ancient music from the Zhou dynasty or music based on the Odes had a positive effect on one’s character. Believing human nature to be evil, Xunzi gave music a more active role in transforming character. There are a few different ways to understand Xunzi’s philosophy of music, and I present a reading by drawing from analytic philosophy of music and the Korean translation of Xunzi. I will eventually argue that Xunzi saw music as a “continuum of psychophysical processes” which affects humans through physiological means.[1] Accounting for music’s moral efficacy through its physiological effects explains how even humans who are innately evil can benefit from music, i.e. how an agent without a preexisting desire to be good might still morally benefit from music.

[1] Park, So Jeong. “Sound and Notation: Comparative Study on Musical Ontology”. Dao 16 (2017): 417-430. 419.


Ben Birkenstock (Trinity Western University): “The Character of Ethical Judgment: Shared Perspectives in Aristotle and Confucius”

A key question in metaethical inquiry is the attempt to discern what the content of moral judgment is—rational, emotional, dutiful, or otherwise. Modern philosophy often runs into dichotomizations of utilitarianism versus deontology here. This paper aims to show that, taken as representatives of the Western and Chinese virtue (or non-modern) ethical traditions, Aristotle and Confucius are in substantial agreement about the nature of ethical discernment. Only the person who has cultivated a virtuous disposition, a familiarity with and expertise in good decision making, can intelligibly judge what is good in a given situation. Without experience in trying to make good choices, abstract reasoning about ethics will be premise-less, and without expertise developed from this experience, we lack the capacity to draw reliable ethical conclusions. This expertise is developed, for Aristotle, through habituation in the virtues, guided by just laws, and similarly for Confucius, in self-cultivation through li, or ritual propriety.

I first show that objections viewing such virtue-based approaches to moral judgment as circular are based in problematic modern dichotomizations between the moral and amoral realms of life. Then, I discuss Aristotle’s governing ethical virtue, phronesis or prudence, and how it entails an identification of praxis and insight. Ethical discernment for Aristotelian virtue ethics is thus eminently practical, and involves the agent being able to intentionally reason his way through his circumstances into good action. I thus refute the objection that the virtue of prudence is separable from moral judgment in the abstract, and that the difficulty of obtaining prudence is an argument against it being an active disposition in the agent.

Next, I turn to Confucius, for whom ritual propriety (li) is essential to ethical behavior, and a good/benevolent (ren) disposition is essential to discerning how to apply ritual properly. I use Slingerland’s (2011) description of Mencius use of “emotional analysis” in the story of King Xuan and the ox to show that even for those not yet virtuous, attentiveness towards the roots of benevolence within one’s disposition are necessary for moral reasoning. I also use Shun’s (2002) argument that while li is constitutive of ren, ren is definitive of li, to show that no conflict inheres in maintaining that rituals/good habits are both productive and expressive of moral insightfulness. Finally, I briefly reiterate the decisive agreement between the two traditions on the content of moral judgment, and its significance for contemporary metaethical discussion. I conclude that metaethics for these virtue traditions is proactive, a “pre-” or “pro-ethics.”


Rui Fan (PhD Candidate, Indian University, Bloomington): “Mencius 1A7 and What the Mencian Gentleman Would Eat in Today’s America”

In Mencius 1A7, Mencius makes the apparently perplexing statement regarding the morally exemplary person, or gentleman’s attitude toward the killing of animals: “A gentleman cannot bear to see animals die if he has seen them living. If he has heard them crying of suffering, he cannot bear to eat their flesh. Hence, gentlemen keep away from the kitchen.” 君子之於禽獸也,見其生不忍見其死,聞其聲不忍食其肉,是以君子遠庖廚也。[1] Contemporary interpretations of the passage share two assumptions: 1) In stating that the gentleman has certain emotional reactions to the scene of animal suffering, Mencius describes the gentleman’s capacity, as a result of his moral cultivation, to expand his compassion toward his fellow human beings to encompass everything in the universe, including animals. 2) In stating that the gentleman stays away from the slaughtering scene so that he may be able to bear to eat the slaughtered animal, Mencius in effect expresses his approval of the practice of meat consumption. As a consequence of these two assumptions, many authors find this passage to contain an obvious point of inconsistency or hypocrisy that deserves to be either criticized or explained: If the morally exemplary person is able to extend his compassion to animals and thus develop a sense of moral obligation toward them, how could his staying away from the scene of slaughtering alone be sufficient to fulfill that obligation?

Against the first assumption, I argue that to Mencius, the spontaneous affective reaction toward animal suffering described in 1A7 is not a result of the gentleman’s extension of his benevolence beyond the human community, but is another manifestation of the “heart that cannot bear to see the sufferings of others” 不忍人之心, or the “heart of pity and compassion” 惻隱之心 innate to human beings. Thus it is part of the “sprouts of benevolence” 仁之端 that the virtuous agent strives to retain and develop throughout his life. This allows me to argue, against the second aforementioned assumption, that the emphasis of Mencius’s statement in 1A7 is not on the moral status of animals or the morality of the practice of killing animals for human purposes, but is on the detrimental affect that personal participation in the affliction of pain on animals may have on the gentleman’s preservation and cultivation of his innate benevolent sensitivities.

Even though 1A7 does not hold an explicit position on the moral status of animals and the morality of the practice of killing of animals for human purposes, it does not mean, as some scholars believe, that Mencius is ready to accept any positions on these issues, or does not have the resource to decide between different positions. My reading of 1A7 suggests that Mencius acknowledges that animals, just like human infants, are proper objects that our “heart of pity and compassion” 惻隱之心 is naturally directed to. This by no means mean that Mencius regards animals and human infants as having the same moral status, but it does mean that for Mencius, our behavior regarding animals can have beneficial or detrimental effects on our “heart of pity and compassion” toward them and can be evaluated in terms of such effects. A survey of the mentions of the killing of animals in the Mencius and other early Chinese texts and of the cultural and socio-economic meanings of meat consumption in Mencius’ time suggests that even if we are to read 1A7 as expressing an implicit sanction of the killing of animals, it sanctions only the kinds of killing for a “good” reason—those that serve important cultural and moral purposes, as opposed to those that only satisfy certain gastronomical desires. This leads me to conclude that the Mencian gentleman, if living in today’s America, where extremely large numbers of animals are being systematically tortured for no purpose other than the satisfaction of human desires, would find it insufficient for the preservation of his “sprouts of benevolence” 仁之端 to simply stay away from the slaughterhouse. Instead, he would adopt a dietary practice that prohibits not the consumption of meat per se, but any contribution to the suffering of animals.

[1] D.C. Lau’s translation.


Liang Cai (Assistant Professor, University of Notre Dame): “The Master Kept a Distance from His Own Son: Filial Piety, Confucius’ Learning Community, and Textual Stratification”

In the past decade, consanguineous affections and filial piety have been heated topics in the study of Confucianism. This paper scrutinizes the communal life of Confucius and his disciples, exploring its dynamics with the teaching of filial piety. As soon as we draw a parallel between the daily life of the sage presented in the Analects and the conventional wisdom about filial piety, an apparent tension between devotion to the master and devotion to parents become manifest. Examining the available sources, I point to three different layers of text that pose three distinct answers to this tension. First, centering on the Analects, we find an ironic picture: whereas the text elaborates upon the obligation of serving one’s parents, the family lives of both Confucius and his disciples are overshadowed by their communal life together. Second, starting with the Mencius, materials produced in the Warring States and Qin-Han periods form the next layer in our sources. A filial son Zeng Can emerges who has become an exemplary Confucian embodying filial action and a theorist elaborating the teaching of filial piety. In this layer of texts, the focus has been shifted from learning community to family life, and a balance is achieved between Confucian teaching and the disciples’ actions. Third, in the sources that were generally produced in the Han dynasty, Confucius’ learning community is criticized for disturbing filial obligations toward one’s parents, and disciples of Confucius are urged to say farewell to their master and return home to serve their parents. The evolution of ideas show us different intellectual landscapes from the Spring and Autumn periods to early imperial China, which in turn provides clues about textual stratification in the early Chinese corpus.


Jenny Hung (Visiting Scholar, University of California, Riverside): “The Concept Ji 即 in T’ien-t’ai Buddhism”

Zhiyi (智顗) (538-597) is the third patriarch and the most important scholar of T'ien-t'ai Buddhism. There are plenty of unusual expressions in his writings, such as “ignorance equals dharma-nature (wuming ji faxing 無明即法性),” “saṃsāra equals nirvāṇa (shengsi ji niepan 生死即涅槃),” and “suffering equals enlightenment (fannao ji puti 煩惱即菩提).” These expressions have at least one obvious thing in common: Zhiyi uses the term “ji即,” which is normally translated as “equals to” or “is identical to,” to illustrate the relation between two contradictory concepts. If one takes the literal meaning of these sentences, one ends up having dialetheia. In this essay, I investigate the meaning of “ji即” in the sentence “ignorance ji 即 dharma-nature” (wuming ji faxing 無明即法性). My proposed interpretation there is no logical contradiction involved when Zhiyi asserts these sentences. I clarify the meanings of the concepts involved: “ignorance (wuming 無明),” “ji 即” and “dharma-nature (faxing 法性)” and propose that there are three ways to understand “ji 即” in Zhiyi’s writings:

  1. (Co-instantiation): Necessarily, for any property X and property Y, X ji 即Y if and only if X and Y are necessarily co-instantiated.
  2. (Causal): Necessarily, for any entity X and entity Y, X ji即Y if and only if X causes Y.
  3. (Mereological): Necessarily, for any entity X and entity Y, X ji即Y if and only if X is a proper part of Y.

The first understanding of ji 即is by co-instantiation. Dharma-nature is only realized by the myriad things that are created by ignorance, and ignorance has the property of “having dharma-nature.” Practitioners should understand the necessary co-instantiation of the two during their contemplations of the understanding of emptiness. The second understanding of ji 即is causal. A practitioner can transform herself from the stage of ignorance to the stage of dharma-nature. When one achieves the stage of dharma-nature, ignorance is eliminated. Under this construal, the concept dharma-nature is contradictory to the concept ignorance. If one has dharma-nature, one does not have ignorance and vice versa. The third understanding of ji 即is that it means “a proper part of. ” The Buddha has already removed the sickness of ignorance such as negative psychological tendencies like hatred, cravings, etc. Nevertheless, she still relies on the rule of ignorance, such as karmic induction, to re-enter saṃsāra. She reincarnates as a being in the lower realm in order to interact with, teach, and help sentient beings.


Tim Gutmann (PhD Candidate, University of Chicago Divinity School): “Relations and Difference: Wang Daiyu’s Muslim and Confucian Humanisms”

This paper discusses the Confucian doctrine of the three relations and five virtues (sangang wuchang 三纲五常) in the thought of the Muslim scholar Wang Daiyu 王岱輿 (1570-1660). Wang commends the sangang wuchang as an expression of ethical practice and its political and cosmological implications. This doctrine has similar importance and inflections in the Daoxue 道学 revival of the Song 宋 (960-1279) dynasty and back further. I argue that what Wang is presenting is a particular case of commensurability of Islamic and Confucian ethics, and not, as some scholarship suggests, an instance of hybridized or harmonized difference. Such scholarly frameworks emerge from particularly modern anxieties of belonging and difference, and not in the original text or its world.

In his moral philosophy, Wang is concerned with how humans connect to each other, to their creator, and to his creation. Wang says that God created humanity as the noble spirit of creation. Humanity (ren ⼈) is only humanity in its normative sense (ren 仁) when it is shared humanity, the prime example of which is spousal mutuality. This bond is the root of the sangang, the primary familial and political relationships, and to the wuchang, the individual virtues. Humanity that flourishes in the sangang wuchang achieves the state of the human ultimate (renji ⼈極), and is connected to ancestors in the fruitfulness of the divine order.

The sangang wuchang formula has no less significance for the Daoxue. Zhou Dunyi 周敦頤 (1017-73) also believes that one who lives personally and socially fulfilled in this way expresses the paramount ethic of sincerity (cheng 誠), the virtue that marks the sage (shengren 聖⼈). For Zhou, the sage is a kind of human ultimate in whom the way of heaven and earth (tiandi zhi dao 天地之道) is expressed. Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200) concurs with Zhou, and comments that the sangang wuchang is the only way to understand the ancestors and their precedent.

Drawing on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, I argue that Wang’s model of human flourishing is consonant and commensurable with the mature Confucian tradition. By “commensurable” I refer both to MacIntyre’s model of contact and adaptation between partible traditions, but also to a more literal meaning of shared standards of measurement. Humanity’s measurement of progress toward its telos appears similar to Confucians like Zhou and Muslims like Wang. However, it is not clear that either scholar would see their tradition as exclusive of others, and where they drew boundaries, they did not claim identities in the modern sense. As a rule the imperial Chinese state and society did not restrict persons or communities to identifying themselves with one tradition; this is rather a feature of the narrower, modern concept of the Chinese nation.