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Chinese Philosophy Seminar Series

Chinese Philosophy Seminar Series 2022/23

Fridays, 3:00-4:30pm on MS Teams. To register click on the registration link of the seminar you are interested in.


21/10/2022 – RegistrationLink opens in a new window

Robin Wang (Loyola Marymount University)

Why Yinyang 陰陽? A Philosophical Reflection

The concept of yinyang lies at the heart of Chinese thought and culture for thousands years. The relationship between these two opposing, yet mutually dependent, forces is symbolized in the familiar black and white symbol that has become an icon in popular culture across the world. The real and genuine significance of yinyang is, however, more complex and subtle. This talk will start with the questions: does yinyang offer an alternative for reality/thinking? Can we move from struggle with problems to flow with opportunities? It will discuss six types of yinyang relationship to show a complex, multidimensional framework to explore the variety of human mind and a greater dimension of spatial and temporal reality or entanglement.


11/11/2022 – RegistrationLink opens in a new window

Chris Fraser (University of Toronto)

The Xunzian Critique of Legalism and its Contemporary Significance

Xunzi famously claims that “there are persons who produce good order; there are no standards that produce good order.” In this presentation, I situate Xunzi’s claim within the context of late classical Chinese “Legalist” thought and unpack its significance both as the basis for a critique of Legalism and as a profound insight into the functioning of standards, norms, laws, and institutions. Legalist thought sought to achieve impartiality and consistency in governance by creating a system of clear, precise standards of conduct, buttressed by incentives for cooperation and disincentives for failure, that would eliminate risks arising from the fallibility of human judgment and motivation. Xunzi offers compelling arguments that undermine the very idea of such a system and drive home the centrality of ethical expertise, discretion, and character in the operation of any institution, including rule of law. Impartiality and consistency, he suggests, can be attained only through open critical discussion among qualified parties concerning the significance and application of standards. The talk concludes by suggesting that the considerations Xunzi offers against Legalism remain relevant today and help to explain failures of contemporary institutions. I suggest that, in form if not substance, the traditional Confucian emphasis on the role of moral education in sustaining civil institutions remains pertinent today.


9/12/2022 – RegistrationLink opens in a new window

Sarah Flavel (Bath Spa University)

Daoism and Strategic Thinking

When discussing the origins of the notion of wu-wei 無為 in early Chinese texts, scholars have often pointed out that (especially for the Daodejing) the notion begins as an idea designed to inform a certain model of non-interventionist governance. It is at the same time understood that even in the political relevance of the term, it is designed as guidance for the personal development of the ruler, so that these two levels – the political and the personal – are not ever or necessarily separate levels of meaning. In other words, in order to develop themselves toward right rulership, the Daoist sage must undergo a process of self-cultivation. In the later history of Daoist philosophies, often also in contemporary applications of Daoist thinking, the notion of wu-wei and surrounding concepts in the Daoist canon have been applied as a philosophy of personal development in its own right.

Although scholars have noted there are problems with a literalist reading of wu-wei as "non-action" – better understood as "non-purposive" or "effortless action" – there is nonetheless a prevailing view that the Daoist worldview (informed by this central notion) is to a large extent something of a passive, anti-interventionist or quietist philosophy. To be wu-wei, in relation to our individual lives, and perhaps politically, is thought to imply an association with letting things be, taking them as they come, learning not to try to interfere with the way of things (Dao 道), and learning that interference and intervention themselves are detrimental to the prospect of things going well.

In this paper I argue, drawing on other scholarship for support, that wu-wei, in combination with knowledge of Dao and with cultivation of the art of ziran 自然, can equally well be understood through a more active lens as a tool in the art of proactive management: management of events, environments, and in anticipating outcomes so as to be able to respond to them most effectively. This, I suggest, is a strategic interpretation of the applications of the early Daoist cannon that would have been considered more fitting with the surrounding context of the intellectual environment in Early China (and with subsequent uses of the Daodejing in the Ancient Chinese political world). I will suggest that a number of key respondents to Laozi’s philosophy in the Ancient Chinese Tradition – including Sunzi, Han-fei and even Zhuangzi – developed just such pro-active and interventionist readings of Daoist practices as tools in the art of managing unpredictable circumstances, toward an often specific and defined goal – or imagined ideal outcome.

In this sense I wish to put forward a view of Daoist personal cultivation that is far from the stereotype of being quietist or recommending withdrawal and instead shows the value of foundational Daoist concepts as tools in the project of strategic self-cultivation.


20/01/2023 – RegistrationLink opens in a new window

Jingjing Li (Leiden University)

Husserlian Phenomenology, Chinese Buddhism, and The Problem of Essence


10/02/2023 – RegistrationLink opens in a new window

Paul D’Ambrosio (East China Normal University)

Confucian Contingency Model: Person, Agency, and Morality


10/03/2023 – RegistrationLink opens in a new window

Ai Yuan (Tsinghua University)

Silence in the Analects, Zhuangzi and Yanzi Chunqiu


14/04/2023 – RegistrationLink opens in a new window

Yumi Suzuki (Bern University)

Sino-Hellenic Environmental Philosophy: How Did Ancient Chinese and Greek Philosophers Think About the Environment Differently?


12/05/2023 – RegistrationLink opens in a new window

Jifen Li (Renmin University of China)

A New Account of Human Nature in the Xunzi


For any question, please email Max Lacertosa