11th Annual Midwest Conference on Chinese Thought
North Central College, Naperville, IL
May 1-2, 2015
Friday, May 1
1:00-2:30 The Virtues of Mengzi (Chair: Aaron Stalnaker)
- Dobin Choi (State University of New York, Buffalo): “Mengzi’s Maxim on Self-Cultivation for Righteousness in 2A2”
- John Ramsey (Scripps College): “Are the Fruit of Duan of the Same Species? Mengzian Virtues as Heterogenous”
- Franklin Perkins (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore): “Five Conducts (Wu xing 五行), Mengzi, and the Way of Heaven”
2:45-4:15 Daoism in the Post-Qin Era (Chair: Michael Ing)
- Ori Tavor (University of Pennsylvania): “More than Human: Sagacity and Bio-spiritual Technologies of Enhancement in the Huainanzi”
- Judson Murray (Wright State University ): “Shenming 神明 in Han Dynasty Thought: An Ethical Reading of its Import”
- Stephen Walker (University of Chicago): “Guo Xiang’s Qiwulun—Philosophical and Philological Assessment”
4:30-6:00 Keynote Address
Donald Harper, University of Chicago
“Reading the Peking University Han Laozi Manuscript from the Perspective of Western Manuscript Studies and the New Philology”
Saturday, May 2
10:00-11:30 Practicing Confucian Ethics (Chair: Judson Murray)
- Thomas Radice (Southern Connecticut State University): “Performing Filial Piety in the Analects”
- Aaron Stalnaker (Indiana University, Bloomington): “Teacher-Student Relationships in the Mèngzi”
- Hagop Sarkissian (Baruch College): “Natural Daos, Diversity, and Moral Relativism”
1:30-3:00 Value Conflict and the Pursuit of Ideals (Chair: Brian Hoffert)
- Dan Robins (University of Hong Kong): “The Way Without Crossroads Revisited”
- Michael Ing (Indiana University, Bloomington): “Irresolvable Value Conflicts in Confucian Thought”
- Michael Paradiso-Michau (North Central College): “The Mystery of Effortless Action”
3:15-4:45 Contemporary Confucianism (Chair: Franklin Perkins)
- Larry G. Israel (Middle Georgia State College): “The Renaissance of Wang Yangming Studies in the People’s Republic of China”
- Cheryl Cottine (Oberlin College): “Social and Environmental Justice: What We Can and Cannot Learn from Early Confucian Texts”
- Samuel Cocks (University of Wisconsin La Crosse): “Wang Yangming and Being One with Inanimate Objects”
Paper Abstracts (In order of presentation)
Dobin Choi (State University of New York, Buffalo): “Mengzi’s Maxim on Self-Cultivation for Righteousness in 2A2”
This paper argues that various interesting topics in Mengzi 2A2 converge upon the cultivation for righteousness in term of vital energy (qi). Showing that such topics in 2A2 as courage, an “unperturbed heart,” Gaozi’s maxim, the relation between the will and qi, and the “flood-like qi” are relevant with qi cultivation, I aim to demonstrate that the positive aspects of qi lie at the center of Mengzi’s thought on cultivation for righteousness. My holistic reading of 2A2 hinges upon a reinterpretation on Mengzi’s maxim, which reads “1) wu zheng (勿正), 2) xin wu wang (心勿忘), but 3) wu zhu zhang (勿助長).” Assuming that his simplified teaching structurally parallels with Gaozi’s maxim previously cited by Mengzi—“What you do not get from doctrines, do not seek for in your heart. What you do not get in your heart, do not seek for in your qi,” (不得於言, 勿求於心; 不得於心, 勿求於氣.) I claim that he suggests a maxim about cultivation for righteousness, consequently translated as “do not align yourself with doctrines, do not forget the sentimental heart, and do not help qi grow.” The first phrase rebuts Gaozi’s reliance on doctrines, and the second emphasizes the heart’s importance as the ground both for reflective thinking (6A15) and for moral sentiment, mostly expressed in emotive qi as the case of seeing an endangered baby (2A6). The last phrase warns us not to excessively excite emotive qi that is often regarded as a good source for righteousness in common sense, just as the term yi qi is still widely used in East Asian languages. This reading resolves the conundrum that Nivison recognized as “the problem of immediate action” about the degree of immediacy for virtue cultivation. The farmer of Song is not conducting such a behavior as extending the compassionate heart in 1A7 for assisting the growth of virtue, but merely boosting the superficial bodily qi, perhaps without the intervention of his heart’s reflective function. This anecdote implies that qi’s positive aspects are manifested together with other functions of the heart.
However, if emotive qi is cultivated to be properly expressed, it does not only leads energetically the will (zhi) to perform righteous acts immediately, but also forms the sentimental heart that serves as an inherent standard for reflective deliberation by restoring our natural orientation for goodness. In this way, Mengzi takes emotive qi as an indispensable constituent of his sentimentalist theory on the goodness of human nature.
John Ramsey (Scripps College): “Are the Fruit of Duan of the Same Species? Mengzian Virtues as Heterogenous”
As is well known, Mengzi argues that humans have four duan 端, or sprouts, that if cultivated and developed flourish into ren 仁, yi 義, li 禮, and zhi 智. Many commentators and scholars assume that these four so-called virtues are homogeneous but disagree over whether the virtues are best characterized as dispositions, skills, or forms of reasoning. In this paper, I take a step towards challenging the received orthodoxy and contend that the cardinal Mengzian virtues are heterogeneous. In other words, I maintain that the mature, cultivated forms of zhi and li are best understood as skills while ren and yi are best characterized dispositionally. If the heterogenous thesis is correct, Mengzi’s account of virtue opens conceptual space that interestingly departs from Western virtue ethicists and frameworks that understand virtues as homogenous and unified.
My conference paper—a first step in arguing for a virtues-as-heterogeneous reading of Mengzi— explores the role of zhi in Mengzi’s moral psychology and its relationship with ren and yi. Employing recent work in contemporary psychology and philosophy, I argue that zhi is a moral skill that involves expert decision-making and is, therefore, reason-responsive.
Since expert decision-making involves grasping and employing success-reasons (i.e. reasons to act so to achieve or contribute to achieving a goal) and self-regulative reasons (i.e. reasons to act so to overcome internal obstacles in the way of acting as decided), we should expect to find such reasons or functional equivalents in Mengzi. We do—in Mengzi’s appeals to renyi (as in 1A1 and 6B4)—success reasons are those obligations and prohibitions that individuals who have cultivated ren and yi recognize. In other words, individuals who cultivate their sprouts of compassion and sense of shame through the techniques of zhi (e.g. reflection and extension) develop dispositions—similar to perceptual affordances—to recognize their agent-relative duties of ren and yi.
In short, the homogeneity of Mengzian virtues disappears as we begin to appreciate zhi as a skill that engages one’s ren and yi dispositions. Moreover, as a form of decision-making, zhi involves reasoning about the obligations and prohibitions of ren and yi, while ren and yi have a quasi- phenomenological character insofar as they dispose us to “see” duties.
Franklin Perkins (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore): “Five Conducts (Wu xing 五行), Mengzi, and the Way of Heaven”
There is now a general consensus that Xunzi’s criticism of Zisi and Mengzi for advocating wu xing 五行 is explained by the excavated text known as Five Conducts (Wu xing) (WX), but the connection with the Mengzi remains unclear. Mengzi uses four virtues instead of five, groups wisdom with benevolence, rightness, and propriety rather than with sagacity, and makes no use of WX’s distinction between goodness (shan 善) and de 德. Mengzi’s key concepts are similarly absent in WX, which does not even use the term xing 性, natural dispositions. The goal of this paper is to determine more precisely what the Mengzi and WX have in common, while also making sense of the fundamental ways in which they diverge. I will focus in particular on the connection between the internal grounding of the virtues and the way of heaven (tiandao 天道), arguing that WX introduces a conception of the way of heaven as immanent in the human way. This is taken up in the Mengzi, where it is integrated with the discourse of human dispositions (xing 性), genuine affects (qing 情), and vital energy (qi 氣) that we first see expressed in the Xing zi ming chu.
The paper will be divided into three parts – the first discussing the distinction between the human way and the way of heaven in WX, the second trying to place that distinction in the broader context of Warring States Thought, and the third showing how the distinction is taken up in the Mengzi.
Ori Tavor (University of Pennsylvania): “More than Human: Sagacity and Bio-spiritual Technologies of Enhancement in the Huainanzi”
The sage, or the “one who embodies the Way,” is a figure of utmost significance in the Huainanzi. As the ruler of men, he is an indispensable cog in the text’s vision of human society. Descriptions of the sage, however, suggest that he is something more than human. Unlike ordinary people, he does not rely on sensory perception to experience reality, he lacks emotions and desires, and when he sleeps, he does not dream. These accounts led some scholars to claim that the sage represents the highest attainable level of human perfection, while others have suggested that he is a theomorphic, god-like being, superior to the rest of humanity. In this paper, I will draw on contemporary scholarship in the field transhumanist thought in order to offer an alternative reading of sagacity in the Huainznai. The sage, I will suggest, can be seen as a representation of the next stage in the evolution of mankind, a transhuman figure that rises above human culture, institutions, and values, but is nonetheless crucial for their survival. Recent technological innovations have engendered animated discussions on the social and ethical ramifications of biomedical enhancement techniques, such as physiopharmaceutical augmentation, gene manipulation, and surgical intervention. Drawing on this discourse, I will suggest that the attainment of sagehood in the Huainanzi involved the use of bio-spiritual technologies of enhancement, seated meditation in particular, designed to elicit a complete psychophysical transformation. Understanding the nature of these technologies can thereby offer us some insights into the elusive figure of the sage and the vision of the Huainanzi as a whole, but it can also contribute to the current public and academic posthumanism debate.
Judson Murray (Wright State University ): “Shenming 神明 in Han Dynasty Thought: An Ethical Reading of its Import”
This paper examines different uses and understandings of the challenging and polysemous term shenming in Han dynasty thought, most notably in the Huainanzi. The examination combines historical, comparative, and textual analyses, on the one hand, to survey both the broad array of meanings shenming had for Han thinkers and the diverse intellectual discourses—e.g., cosmological thinking, theistic beliefs and self-divinization, political and bureaucratic theory, military science, historiography, ritual, cultural theory, education, and ethics—in which it was employed. On the other hand, following this contextual and conceptual overview of shenming the study then narrows in its focus to consider, in greater detail, one particular reading of this concept that has received much less attention in the secondary literature. The paper examines a coherent and compelling narrative that interrelates the qualities and power of shenming with not only sages and cultural innovation but also moral psychology and moral education.
Specifically, the analysis begins by explaining the part shenming plays in the cosmogonic process and the manner in which it creates. Thus the cosmos—its phenomena and patterns—consists of foci of shenming that inherently possess and exhibit extraordinary power and efficacy. The narrative recounts that these cosmological models and patterns inspired cultural creativity in early Chinese sages who were attuned to them and discerning about the possibilities they presented to human ingenuity. People undoubtedly were also born from this cosmogony and into this cohesive world, and therefore are themselves, or at least have been and perhaps can again be, powerful and awe-inspiring catalysts of shenming. Shenming can empower and has empowered them both intellectually and morally. Humankind’s intellectual achievements have been most effective when fashioned in a way that mirrors the models and patterns that function efficiently in nature. People treat one another best morally when they rely on their innate and genuine feelings of moral goodness, and communicate them to others with real sincerity. When these aspects of shenming prevail, people not only subsist materially but also flourish in harmony with one another and with their hallowed world. The narrative also explains that, during later, degenerate ages when shenming has been obscured, education is what has preserved and transmitted its traces, and the values and forms it inspired, from earlier times and sages, in order to remind people of its presence and power. In short, the analysis will show that the cosmogonic, cosmological, ethical, cultural, and educational meanings and implications of shenming all interrelate in a coherent way in at least one Han reading of its import. This view equates shenming with creativity, efficacy, perspicacity, sincerity, and goodness—qualities of a divine origin and nature for the ancient Chinese that have inspired and transformed humankind, both morally and culturally.
Stephen Walker (University of Chicago): “Guo Xiang’s Qiwulun—Philosophical and Philological Assessment”
This presentation will analyze Guo Xiang’s commentary on the Qiwulun as both a philosophical work and a pioneering attempt at explaining the contents of that chapter. The exposition will proceed in four stages: (1) an overview of Guo’s philosophical interests and the themes he detects at the core of the Zhuangzi; (2) analysis of the arguments he ascribes to the Qiwulun concerning perspective, predication, and justification; (3) philosophical critique of the resulting views; and (4) suggestions about the ways in which Guo has read the text against its own grain.
(1) Guo sees a metaphysical point about causation as the “master argument” in the Zhuangzi, namely that all things come about of themselves rather than being brought about by anything else. Appreciating metaphysical spontaneity permits sagely persons to cultivate normative spontaneity—a family of strategies for coping with life and attaining excellence centered on non-interference with both oneself and others. Guo’s Zhuangism, then, can be fruitfully read as an extensive development of the basic normative ideal of wuwei.
(2) As Guo reconstructs them, the Qiwulun’s arguments about normative status and proper description presuppose the radical incommensurability of perspectives. Guo states throughout his commentary that all things affirm themselves and reject each other, and he reads statement after statement in the Qiwulun as hingeing on the necessity of mutual rejection. A key contrast between his reading and those prevailing in contemporary Anglophone scholarship is that Guo takes all affirmation and rejection to be of persons, or stand-ins for persons (positions, voices), rather than claims or descriptions as such. What I’m in a position to affirm or reject, for Guo, is not judgments like “this is a horse” or “military aggression is wrong”, but myself (whatever I happen to claim) and everyone else (whatever they happen to claim). I will argue that this reconstruction of the text is plausible and natural in some places, but that Guo applies it far too mechanically and ignores the variety and ambiguity of the points the text advances.
(3) Guo’s reading of the Qiwulun seems to yield a philosophy with near-nihilistic implications for cooperation and understanding among agents. I will argue that, if it really is true that all things affirm themselves and reject each other, then interactions and shared projects of any kind become basically unintelligible. Guo tries to explain cooperation as a specifically sagely mode of competence, arising from the sage’s ability to affirm and reject self and other simultaneously, but I will argue that this is too inconsistent with the necessary-mutual-rejection thesis to cohabit with it in the same philosophical system. If sagely competence is possible, then our situation as agents cannot, at bottom, be as simplistically partial as Guo makes it out to be.
(4) The Qiwulun’s skepticism about metaphysical accounts of causation would seemingly include Guo’s spontaneity thesis under that umbrella. It follows that the original text cannot be arguing on the basis of such a thesis, and that we have no grounds for interpreting its claims as premised on a spontaneous preference for self. I will close by presenting my own hypothesis: for the original text, the rightness of every position follows not from self-preference but from the incoherence of trying to “correct” any judgment, preference, or practice beyond simply agreeing with it, disagreeing with it, or ignoring it altogether. The Qiwulun makes room for self-rejection, other-affirmation, and total disengagement (thus for self-critique, shared projects, and matters of no interest), and rests its normative pluralism on arguments, not about the intrinsic dispositions of agents, but about the inevitable loss attending the substitution of one dao for another.
Thomas Radice (Southern Connecticut State University): “Performing Filial Piety in the Analects”
This paper is an examination of filial piety (xiao 孝) in the Analects (Lunyu 論語) from a performance perspective. First, I show that filial piety in the Analects is best described as a form of ritual (li 禮), and then build upon the work of Herbert Fingarette, Joel Kupperman, and Amy Olberding to sketch what I call “dramaturgical” interpretation of Confucian ritual performance. In particular, I develop what Kupperman and Olberding refer to as a sense of “style” to describe certain aesthetic features of Confucian ethics by drawing from the performance-related work of Richard Schechner, Denis Diderot, and Erving Goffman. My dramaturgical interpretation examines the performer/spectator relationship within filial ritual performances, and characterizes the aesthetic/ethical communication between performers and spectators as a form of “theatricality.” I propose that ritual performers engage in theatricality in at least two ways. First, theatricality is a function of “ornamentation” or “refinement” (wen 文) that expresses genuine emotions and respect to others. This form of theatricality is especially important in death rituals to properly express grief within a set of prescribed formal behaviors. Second, theatricality is also a function of “concealment” (yin 隱) when performers wish to convey one impression in public while simultaneously hiding other aspects of themselves from others. This second form of theatricality is particularly helpful in understanding the famous “Upright Gong” passage (Analects 13.18). I interpret this passage in light of other narratives from the Zuozhuan 左傳and the Zhanguo ce 戰國策that portray individuals who use this kind of theatricality to display behavior that emphasizes certain relationships publicly, while privately fulfilling other obligations that conflict with those relationships. Understood within this context, Confucius’ emphasis on “concealment” with regard to the father/son relationship in 13.18 can be interpreted as more than merely valuing filial piety over other obligations. It reveals a conception of the self in which the almost inevitable conflict between social roles requires public performances that do not reflect the performer’s private feelings exactly. Thus, though filial piety in the Analects can function as the aesthetic and moral expression of genuine feelings and motivations toward parents in ritual performances, it also can function within creative attempts to harmonize complex human personalities within their communities.
Aaron Stalnaker (Indiana University, Bloomington): “Teacher-Student Relationships in the Mèngzi”
The early Confucian dào should be understood as a practice-centered tradition of religiosity and politics. According to early Rú sources, following the way requires teachers and students to engage in long-term relationships of practical training in crucial arts such as ritual and music, together with textual study and a communal life in the study group. Mastery of these arts and practices, when properly integrated together, constitute mastery of the dào as a whole. Confucian teaching relationships, consequently, should be interpreted as pedagogical and even psychagogical (analogous to the “training of souls” in ancient Mediterranean thought). And Confucian analysis of the transmission of traditions of practice suggests that while some practices, such as ritual, are absolutely crucial to the cultivation of virtuous skill mastery, a greater variety of practices, such as archery, have the potential to be practiced so that they contribute to real virtuous mastery, even if they are more vulnerable to failure and deformation. Thus the early Rú see a spectrum of practices from the most humanly essential and generally valuable, on the one hand, to the most narrow and inessential, on the other, with important consequences for thinking about how best to approach and understand a variety of human activities that many already perform. My approach to these issues is to interpret the early Rú as “practice theorists” in their own right, rather than as exemplifying some contemporary theory such as that of Pierre Bourdieu. While I think these claims fit several early Rú texts, in this talk I propose to concentrate on the Mèngzi.
To get a sense of how the Mèngzi represents the relations between practice, teaching, and relationships between aspiring disciples and more fully cultivated masters, I will build my broader interpretation around an analysis of Mèngzi 4B24, a strange but revealing passage. This text contrasts correct and misguided exemplifications of the dào of archery, and in the process reveals much about Mèngzi’s conceptions of proper training in the arts of living. Archer Yì is a legendary figure renowned for his skill with a bow, who in Mèngzi’s hands seems to be primarily based on the tale of a badly flawed duke from the Xià dynasty. The other figures in the passage are more or less historical, from the more recent past preceding Mèngzi’s time. While Archer Yì is an ambiguous figure in early Chinese culture generally, Mèngzi 4B24 condemns him quite straightforwardly. He might appear to represent one-sided skill without adequate virtue, but we should instead interpret Mèngzi’s account of his way as a truncated dào, unnaturally separated from broader considerations of character and training; we have here examples of the proper dao of archery, in contrast to the supposed dào of archery that others foolishly celebrate. Actual effectiveness is crucial to Mèngzi’s account, but it is just as much a matter of effective transmission of a whole portfolio of commitments to people, values, and practices, as it is effective ability to hit distant targets.
Hagop Sarkissian (Baruch College): “Natural Daos, Diversity, and Moral Relativism”
In Foundations for Moral Relativism (Open Book, 2013), David Velleman outlines a version of relativism based upon an account of the emergence of moral diversity. The account goes something like this: Human beings have a drive toward sociability. In order to be social humans need to be interpretable to one another. Thus, in their attempts to get along, a community of humans will converge on a shared ontology of doables—that is, ways of being ordinary. More accurately, they will invent or construct this ontology as they are driven by the need to get along. Since different communities have different ontologies of doables (differing sets of action types), everything is relative.
The doables allow community members to comport themselves in ways that make them interpretable to one another, so members will feel the normative force of conforming to them (as a general rule). Of course, members can (and will) deviate from the shared ontology—that is, they will behave in ways that are decidedly not ordinary. However, they cannot do so as a rule les they risk being uninterpretable (to others if not themselves). This fosters a general conservatism about the doables—which may be revised but only in ways that resonate with existing values, practices, and commitments.
So what sorts of norms will emerge in such communities? Velleman adverts to aspects of human nature which must be accommodated by any moral community, including “an aversion to pain, separation, and frustration; an inclination toward pleasure, connection, and the fluid exercise of skill; the inborn and automatic fight-or-flight response… plus an array of physiological appetites” (64). These aspects of human constrain the range of possible moralities that communities will construct (cf. Wong 2006). However, apart from this, he does not discuss the content of the moralities that such communities would embrace.
In this paper I will suggest that if Velleman’s claims concerning the centrality of interpretability are correct, then we ought to be able to find a number of norms (or classes of norms) present in nearly all moral communities. These include:
- ‘be interpretable’
- ‘interpret others charitably’
- ‘conserve the ontology / deviate mindfully’
Strikingly, we find these norms articulated in classical Confucianism, especially in core concepts such as shu 恕 (imaginative / perspectival understanding), which demands that one interpret others charitably, and li 禮 (ritual decorum or propriety), which is understood (at least in some accounts) as aimed toward rendering one’s intentions transparent to others. Indeed, as I have suggested in the past, when we generalize over the various commitments of classical Confucianism they can all be boiled down to just two broad injunctions: 1) mind your comportment, and 2) give others the benefit of the doubt. These correspond quite well with ‘be interpretable’ and ‘interpret others charitably’. And conservatism abounds.
Having outlined these points of contact, I will conclude that the similarities are not accidental, since both Velleman and the classical Confucians (with the possible exception of Mencius) embrace a functional view of morality. And since metaethical functionalism leads inexorably to relativism, I will suggest that Confucians ought to embrace this too.
Dan Robins (University of Hong Kong): “The Way Without Crossroads Revisited”
Herbert Fingarette argued that for Confucius the Way is “a way without crossroads,” that is, that a moral agent never genuinely faces a choice between competing ways. This paper mostly defends that claim, though with reference to the Mencius rather than the Analects.
Some reformulation is required. Fingarette’s conception of what it would be for a way to feature crossroads is (intentionally) bound up with thick concepts of choice and responsibility that derive from western traditions. This makes it unlikely that any early Chinese philosopher conceived of the way as having crossroads in his intended sense. Accordingly, I reformulate the idea in what I hope are less tradition-bound terms.
This leads me to focus on three questions. How did the authors of the Mencius conceive of the ostensible ways of their rivals? What did they have to say about hard cases in which norms they endorsed conflict? And what role if any did they give to normative judgment in the moral cultivation of an individual? (This need not be the normative judgment of the individual concerned, it might be the judgment of a teacher or an ancient sage, for example.) I argue that the answers to these questions imply that the authors of the Mencius conceived of their way as a way without crossroads.
Most of my time will be spent on the third question, since that turns out to be trickiest. I argue that the authors of the Mencius thought of moral cultivation in such a way that it made sense to ask whether and to what extent an individual was cultivated, but not whether the individual had been cultivated in the right way. This is so even on interpretations (such as my own) that take the Mencius to be advancing relatively modest claims about human nature.
Michael Ing (Indiana University, Bloomington): “Irresolvable Value Conflicts in Confucian Thought”
In this presentation I will argue that early Confucians recognized the possibility of irresolvable value conflicts. I will begin the presentation with an overview of the ways in which contemporary scholars have described Confucianism as a worldview without irresolvable value conflicts. Value conflicts, according to these scholars, are understood as epistemic, not ontological. In other words, many contemporary scholars assert that early Confucians understood the world as a place where tensions between values can be resolved if the skills or other capacities of the moral agent are sufficient to resolve them. Failure to tend to some value signifies a shortcoming of the moral agent, not a problem with the possibilities afforded by the world. I will challenge these narratives by looking at several vignettes that depict irresolvable value conflicts.
In constructing my argument I will distinguish between a strong claim and a more moderate claim; the latter of which I wish to emphasize. I will not make the strong claim that Confucians believed that values inherently conflict. Early Confucians did not believe that we live in a fractured world where values are necessarily at odds with each other. Yet they did believe in the reality of value conflicts such that tragic circumstances are possible. In other words, early Confucians recognized the complexities of life such that even the highly skilled moral agent (i.e., a sage) could encounter a situation were the values at stake were fundamentally incapable of being harmonized. As such, early Confucians could see the world as conflictual, although they did not see the world as necessitating conflict. The Confucian conflictual world is one of possible incongruity, where minor value conflicts may even be inevitable given the complexities of life, but values in the abstract sense are not thought to be in conflict in and of themselves. In this light, deep value conflicts such as those I will discuss in this presentation may rarely occur, but the fact that they can occur, and that they can occur for even the most profound people is significant in forecasting the sentiments people have about the world they live in.
Michael Paradiso-Michau (North Central College): “The Mystery of Effortless Action”
Last year, Edward Slingerland published a popular book, Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity (New York: Crown, 2014). Here I critically examine his courageous attempt to synthetically incorporate seemingly disparate and anachronistic traditions of ancient Chinese thought with aspects of contemporary psychology for the purpose of both better understanding the complexities of wu-wei and making constructive suggestions for better living. I deeply sympathize with Slingerland’s effort to render the slippery idea of wu-wei relevant to a general audience. However, I pose critical questions about what he identifies as “the paradox of wu-wei,” specifically the paradoxicality of the paradox itself, and how this conundrum is addressed by four ancient Chinese figures: Confucius, Laozi, Mencius, and Zhuangzi. I identify what Slingerland isolates to be particularly paradoxical about the paradox of wu-wei in conversation with Gabriel Marcel’s important distinction between problems and mysteries. I contend that Slingerland, in his incorporation of ancient Chinese thought with contemporary Western psychological ideas, has reduced the mystery of wu-wei into a problem, a paradox (in the sense of holding two conflicting opinions, or mental propositions) that needs to be resolved. I thus find his positive suggestions for developing effortless human action wanting. I suggest that the effortless, unforced action taught by Confucians and Daoists is indeed rather mysterious and need not be conceptually disentangled. On my understanding, one crucial dimension of wu-wei is developing the ability to find comfort and one’s way in the uncertain, complex, and troublesome ebbs and flows, the Dao, of everyday life. While there is undoubtedly a conceptual component to this task, this is by no means the entirety of the situation. By extracting “paradox” or problem-talk and replacing it with the mystery of wu-wei, one stumbling block toward achieving wei-wu-wei may be avoided.
Larry G. Israel (Middle Georgia State College): “The Renaissance of Wang Yangming Studies in the People’s Republic of China”
The revival of Confucianism in the People’s Republic of China and its political, cultural, social, and academic significance have received much attention in the English-language scholarly literature over the last decade. But a review of this literature reveals that important pieces of this story have not yet been considered. For instance, since Reform and Opening, “Wang Yangming Studies” (or “Wang Learning” and “Yangming Studies”) has seen an intense revival that has manifested itself in a number of different and telling venues. First, the volume of scholarship on Wang Yangming and the schools of thought that trace their origins to him has ballooned over the last three decades. Notably, the quality of this scholarship and the theoretical perspectives that are brought to bear on this field provide a refreshing contrast with what little research there was during the Maoist years. This intellectual history in itself invites a historiographical study. Second, with the support of governments at various levels, dozens of conferences have been held on Wang Yangming and his followers, typically attended by party officials, senior and junior scholars writing in this field and, for the international conferences, scholars principally from East Asian nations but also from Europe, Russia, and the United States. For the sponsors and participants alike, these conferences serve not only to promote scholarship and scholarly exchange, but also other agendas with political, nationalist, and transnational significance. Third, during this same period of time, numerous centers and societies for the study of Wang Yangming (and his followers) have been established by institutions of higher education, research institutes, and scholars. The motivations behind the actors involved here are complex, but what is perhaps most worthy of research is how intellectuals view the reasons for this revival and the importance of it philosophically speaking. Fourth, governments at various levels, especially in the provinces of Zhejiang and Guizhou (but also Jiangxi, Fujian, and Guangdong), have invested a great deal of money in the renovation of historical sites related to this revered Ming Dynasty philosopher and the construction of museums to commemorate him. Meeting the goals of the Chinese Communist Party with regard to appropriating the past for present purposes, promoting local identity and pride, and encouraging tourism explain much of this activity.
The purpose of my paper will be to provide a prospectus for the historiography (or intellectual history) of this field of study in mainland China since 1980, to outline the history of related activities explained above, and to explore their political, cultural, and social significance. For example, over the last three decades, Professors Wu Guang, Qian Ming, and Dong Ping of the Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences have labored to issue new and more complete editions of Wang Yangming and his followers’ collected works, as well as numerous conference volumes and monograph series on Yangming Studies. We can not only place their efforts in the context of their personal histories and the history of the P.R.C., but also in the context of their understanding of the significance of what they have achieved and of Wang Yangming’s philosophy for contemporary times. Similar questions can be asked about why Professor Zhang Xinmin established the Journal of Yangming Studies at Guizhou University. As for other dimensions of this renaissance, we can map out the political culture and economic motives behind the investment the local government in Heping County, Guangdong, made in a park and museum in honor of Wang Yangming’s brief presence there from 1517-1518 while suppressing rebellions, as well as why police officers are required to go to exhibitions at this museum as part of the government policy of “constructing clean government.” Similarly, Xiuwen County in Guizhou is modernizing the city and shopping district around a Wang Yangming public square and museum because that is where he spent two years in exile and had his first great “enlightenment.”
Materials for this project were gathered while I attended two conferences on Wang Yangming last year and spent time in Zhejiang and Guizhou. My hope is that those attending the conference will find this topic to be worthy of study and stimulating and, most importantly, share their insights so that I can continue to develop the article I am writing.
Cheryl Cottine (Oberlin College): “Social and Environmental Justice: What We Can and Cannot Learn from Early Confucian Texts”
In this paper I argue that early Confucian texts, especially the Mengzi, provide environmental ethicists with insights regarding the importance of linking environmental and social justice issues. More specifically, the Mengzi provides conceptual resources for arguing that environmental justice is foundational for the possibility of social justice. Using early Confucian texts to make this argument departs from the more traditional way of utilizing these texts with respect to environmental ethics. Ethicists working with these texts usually focus on developing a more expansive notion of a self that deemphasizes the individual and emphasizes the situatedness and interdependence of humans in and with the natural environment. By asking how texts such as the Mengzi can speak to questions about the relationship between environmental and social justice, I aim to demonstrate that a more sophisticated environmental ethic can be articulated than has heretofore been performed.
Ever since Lynn White argued in 1967 that the Judeo-Christian tradition played a large part in encouraging a way of being in the world that was detrimental to the environment, environmentally minded philosophers and theologians have turned to “non-western” traditions in the hope of finding less anthropocentric modes of being and engaging with the environment. In this search, scholars frequently turned to Daoism, Buddhism, and indigenous traditions, all of which were depicted as being more nature focused. These scholars sought to demonstrate the difference a more holistic, less human focused understanding of the human-nature relationship can make for developing an environmental ethic. Some Confucian scholars have likewise analyzed early texts such as the Analects, Mengzi, and Xunzi for useful concepts and resources that can speak to contemporary environmental concerns. Even though many agree that these texts (the Xunzi, perhaps, being the exception) do not contain a full-fledged environmental ethic, what the texts do provide is a helpful depiction of the human-nature relationship that deemphasizes the individual and situates them within a much larger framework that includes the natural environment.
Environmental ethicists find this notion of a deemphasized self compelling and quite similar to the notion of the self put forward by deep ecologists. Deep ecology’s primary philosophical maneuver is to wed an individual’s interests and flourishing with the flourishing of the entire ecosystem. Deep ecologists hope that an understanding of individual interests as being identical with ecological interests will lead to more environmentally minded individuals. However, deep ecologists and those interested in defining the self in more expansive terms entertain an overly romantic and unrealistic conception of human beings in the sense that it does not help us think practically about many of the current environmental problems.
Focusing primarily on a Confucian conception of personhood is to miss much else in the text that is helpful for thinking about environmental issues. In short, I believe that Confucian texts have more to offer, and, in particular, can help us think more clearly about how social and environmental justice are linked. Thus after briefly surveying how early Confucian texts have been utilized in discussions of environmental ethics, I will, in my paper, ask what resources can be found in the Mengzi for thinking about the link between environmental and social justices in a more fruitful way. In order to help accomplish this task, I will place the Mengzi in conversation with contemporary theories of well-being and discussions of environmental justice.
Samuel Cocks (University of Wisconsin La Crosse): “Wang Yangming and Being One with Inanimate Objects”
The Neo-Confucian philosopher Wang Yangming is known for reiterating a common Neo-Confucian message: human beings “form one body with Heaven, earth, and the myriad creatures.” Such oneness is sometimes explained through the terms of sympathy and empathy (realizing these two terms are not identical). At the moment, I will use the term empathy. This empathy extends all the way from other humans beings to inanimate objects. Comparatively speaking, human kind experiences this sensitivity in the most powerful sense possible. Those who fully express their “humanity” experience a greater intensity of empathy and are unable to tolerate any lack of flourishing. Importantly, the mind of the xiaoren or “small human,” possess this connection as well, but are somehow numb or closed off to more heightened sensitivity. Greater or less felt connection is associated with the state of an individual’s qi. Those overcome with turbid si yu (selfish desire) possess the qi of a xiaoren. Of particular interest to us is Wang’s insistence that this interconnectivity and concern pertains to inanimate objects: “But when they see tiles and stones broken and destroyed, they cannot avoid feeling a sense of concern and regret.” For now, I will link the notion of empathy (or perhaps sympathy) with that of concern and regret.
With this in mind, what does it mean to experience empathy for an inanimate object; how might one make sense of such a claim? In order to begin answering this question I will draw on contemporary research in the cognitive sciences that directly concerns empathy with inanimate objects. For instance, Gregory Currie asserts there is evidence of certain cerebral motor simulations occurring when we experience physical objects within particular scenarios. For example, the physical impact of objects crashing into one another. Hence, “simulation” in this regard is not primarily associated with imagining what the inanimate object may be thinking, but rather the simulation of a form of violent physical contact. The latter simulation is similar to the simulation of touch that occurs in our brain when we witness people touching. Many worldly events are paralleled in the secondary somatosensory cortex. While many of these processes happen at a subconscious level, it might be possible, he contends, to bring some of these states to conscious awareness. In so doing, Currie suggests that our awareness of these simulations would be similar to the awareness of an internal state such as an emotion. My analysis will take into consideration whether this view might be a productive way to address Wang’s thought. I suggest it may be for the following reasons. Many argue that for Wang, the connection with all things addressed above possesses a strong emotional or affective component. Further, there is something like a sensitivity to sensitivity in the sense that we are more or less open to the affective connection we share with a wide body of phenomena. Perhaps the “concern” and “regret” we are able to experience possesses a link to certain forms of motor simulation mentioned above. The latter cerebral simulations and the possibility of bringing them to awareness may be a species specific possibility, a sort of human endowment.
Following a summary of key passages by Wang, and then applying Curries thought, our paper will address – for the sake of comparison and contrast - alternative approaches to Wang’s comments about unity and empathy with inanimate objects (i.e. Steven Angle). The analysis will also make sure to qualify from the outset what the cumbersome terms empathy and/or sympathy imply, how the notions of “concern” and “regret” may not so easily be mapped onto to empathy and sympathy, and how what I’m getting at isn’t merely anthropomorphic projection.