Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Introducing Chinese Philosophy in Phil 101

I want to take up an issue that Bill raised in the last thread (China’s First Philosophers?, comment #18): integrating Chinese philosophy into introductory courses in philosophy. Have folks taught or taken courses that try to do this? Or tried to imagine such a course? What works and what doesn’t? What challenges are there? Are they any different from the challenges involved in integrating a variety of western texts into a single introductory course?

The one such course I’m most familiar with is a comparative introduction to philosophy that Chad Hansen teaches at the University of Hong Kong. (I was a tutor on the course a few times when I was a grad student.) One thing that helps make this course work is that (as those who know Chad’s scholarship might expect) a significant theme of the course is the ways in which the two traditions differ—so some of the issues that might otherwise make it hard to treat Chinese and western texts side-by-side get dealt with front and center. (Of course you might not consider that an advantage if you think Chad’s all wrong about the ways in which the traditions differ.)

What other approaches might work? Bill’s suggestion was that the Mohists might fit well in a course that also touches on utilitarianism. And I know there are a few regulars here who’ve included Chinese texts in courses on virtue ethics (though mostly at a more advanced level, I think). So there are ways of linking up materials from the different traditions thematically.

I guess my own main worry (and now that I’m putting it in writing it seems like a pretty dumb one) has been that getting at some of the ideas I’d want to cover if I were teaching Chinese texts requires a degree of contextualisation and interpretive work that wouldn’t suit an introductory course that isn’t specifically devoted to Chinese thought. (One reason for thinking this is dumb: maybe this would be a good way to teach skills in close reading. And of course the interpretive issues I’m thinking of don’t arise only with ancient Chinese texts.)

Well, those are my (rather scattered) thoughts. What do you think an introductory course that incorporates both Chinese and western materials might look like? (Or does anyone think this would be a bad idea?)

March 4, 2008 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Pedagogy | 25 comments

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