Call for Commentators-ACPA at APA Eastern 2013


We still need commentators, and please let me know if you are interested.  Dr. Kim’s and Mr. Lu’s papers already have commentators (and there are three other commentators who are not set on any particular paper yet).  Thanks!

– Tongdong Bai (

ACPA Group Meeting at the APA Eastern Convention
December 27-30, 2013, at the Marriott Waterfront, Baltimore


Session 1: Moral Cultivation and Moral Agency in Confucianism and Western Philosophy
1. Mental Blindness and Moral Rectitude: The jiebi chapter of the Xunzi

David Chai, University of Toronto, Canada,

Abstract: The idea of being figuratively blind is a well-used trope in early Confucian thought. Confucius referred to blindness of virtue while Mencius to blindness of the senses and speech. For Xunzi, blindness stems from a person having ‘two minds,’ that is, one’s mind is caught between two principles or goals of moral conduct. Xunzi’s solution, like Guanzi’s theory of ‘mental arts’ (xinshu 心術), was to engage in ‘singular concentration’ (jing 精). Through a close hermeneutic reading of chapter 21 of the Xunzi (jiebi 解蔽, “Removing Blindness”), this paper will examine Xunzi’s use of jing and how cultivating one’s mental essence by adhering to Dao can result in overcoming mental blindness. It will also look at one of the more interesting metaphors Xunzi uses, that of brightness (ming 明). Moral brightness is a quality every person should strive for in that it reflects the perfect virtue of Dao. For Xunzi, using ming to nurture jing is not enough to cure a person completely of their mental blindness however; they must endeavor to replicate the mind of Dao. How they do this is through studying the principle of men’s minds as Xunzi so clearly illustrates: “Sageliness consists in a comprehensive grasp of the natural relationships between men. True kingship consists in a comprehensive grasp of the regulations for government. A comprehensive grasp of both is sufficient to become the ridgepole for the world.” (Xunzi, 21.9)

2. Emotion and Judgment: Two Roots of Moral Motivation in Mengzi

Myeong-seok Kim, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Korea,

Abstract: As David Nivison has aptly pointed out, Mengzi was not merely concerned about making people behave in a certain way, but making them grow into the kind of people who will always do certain actions with “the right feelings and dispositions.” Then, when people say that they are short of moral strength required for doing moral actions, Mengzi might interpret them to be saying that they do not feel, say, enough compassion for the starving people on the street to share food with them, do not find it especially humiliating when they are offered ten-thousand bushels of grain in a manner compromising their moral dignity, and so forth.

This sounds a very plausible view of Mengzi’s conception of moral motivation, but actually this view gets problematic when it is combined with Nivison’s specific thesis that moral emotions constitute the only source of moral motivation. According to Nivison, Mengzi postulates only one source of moral motivation (“heart” as the locus of moral emotions or feelings), whereas Mengzi’s rival thinkers additionally postulate “maxims” or “doctrines.” However, I argue that Mengzi also postulates two sources of moral motivation, and this interpretation of mine enables us to solve Nivison’s “immediate action problem.”

That is, according to Nivison’s view of “one-source morality,” one cannot perform moral actions until one has fully cultivated one’s ethical “sprouts,” but this seems to introduce a serious moral dilemma for Mengzi because Mengzi acknowledges that there are some moral obligations that should be fulfilled immediately. In this paper, I try to solve this problem by arguing that what really motivates oneself in Mengzi is not an emotion but an ethical reason that may or may not be embodied in an emotion, and this in turn reveals Mengzi’s idea that full moral action is possible even before one fully cultivates one’s ethical emotions.

3. Are We All Obligated to Become Fully Virtuous on Classical Confucian and Aristotelian Ethics?

Sean Drysdale Walsh, University of Minnesota Duluth,

Abstract: Stephen Angle says that “We (Confucians) are committed to seeking full virtue.”[1]  I agree with Angle.  In this paper, I argue against the view that (i) we are not ethically obligated to seek full virtue and (ii) we are not obligated to do what a fully virtuous person would do.  Some argue that what a fully virtuous person would do is often supererogatory (above and beyond the call of duty or obligation).  Such a person might say that “The fully virtuous agent would invite his or her elderly mother to live in his household, but that is not morally required under the circumstances.”  In this paper, I argue that on Mencius and Aristotle’s views, most rational agents are (a) able to pursue and develop full virtue and (b) ought to pursue full virtue.  Given (a) and (b), then we are obligated to do the action of the “fully virtuous.”

For Aristotle and Mencius, I argue, mastering virtue is a little like mastering calculus.  Many of my students, for example, claim that they cannot possibly master calculus.  However, each step in the mastery of calculus is well within their power, and if they practice step-by-step with practice-problems every day, in a year’s time most any of my students would master Calculus I and II.  Similarly, every step toward full virtue is well within most people’s power, and most people are able to stay on the path of virtue.  However, most people do not seriously consider this option to pursue full virtue much as most students do not seriously consider the option to work regularly on calculus.

However, in this paper, I argue that there is some ambiguity in what is meant by “fully virtuous,” and I argue that it could mean “part of a necessary stage of moral development that is part of the life that leads to complete virtue” or “a life in the final stage of complete virtue.”  In the paper, I argue that on either interpretation, we can and ought to do what the fully virtuous agent would do on Aristotle and Mencius’ ethical accounts.

4. Moral Agency and Liangzhi: A Comparative Study of Kantian and Confucian Ethics

Tzu-li Chang, East China Normal University,

Abstract: In recent years, the researches concerning Kantian philosophy have gradually been breaking new ground. For example, American scholar Christine Korsgaard is renowned for her interpretation of Kantian ethics via the notion of moral agency and thereby refutes the Reductionist thesis of Derek Parfit. Parfit’s view is that personal identity just involves physical and psychological continuity, which can be described in an impersonal way and without claiming that experiences are had by a person. Korsgaard points out that Parfit’s arguments depend on viewing the person primarily as a locus of experience. If we regard persons primarily as agents, we will reach different conclusions both about the nature of personal identity and about its moral implications. Korsgaard notes that Kant had pointed out as rational beings we might view ourselves from two different standpoints, the theoretical and the practical. From the theoretical standpoint, an action may be viewed as just another experience, but from the practical point of view, actions and choices must be viewed as having agents and choosers. This is what makes them our own actions and choices rather than events that befall us. And it is this important feature of our sense of our identity that Parfit’s account leaves out.

Personal identity as the chooser of our desires and author of our actions can be thought of as the common denominator between Korsgaard and Confucianism. Take Wang Yangming, he supposed that a person serves as both an agent and chooser in that human beings are endowed with liangzhi. Firstly, liangzhi is exactly the agency that originates our moral actions by responding to things and events with activity when influenced by them. Secondly, this response concurs with the immediate judgment of the sense of right and wrong, urging the moral agent to do what is right and repel what is wrong, thus a chooser. For example, on seeing a child falling into a well, people had a feeling of commiseration that this should not have occurred. We may instantly intend to rescue it by seizing it with the hand. For Wang, it is liangzhi that expresses someone’s true or authentic self as well as personal identity.

However, besides the common ground, we also have to pay attention to the divergence between the two. Korsgaard emphasizes that personal identity has nothing to do with metaphysical fact while the two dimensions of liangzhi, ontological and ethical, are intertwined with each other.


Session 2: Classical Chinese Philosophy and Modern/Contemporary Western Philosophy

1.      An East and West Debate on Torture and Animal Rights

Benedict Chan, Hang Seng Management College, Hong Kong,

Abstract: There are many debates on rights against torture between the East and the West.  In the past, most scholars in these debates focused on human rights only. Nevertheless, in recent years, these debates have been extended to animal rights. My project will focus on one of these debates and discuss the thoughts from some philosophers in both the East and the West. Bai (2009), Blakeley (2003), and Fan (2010) have used different approaches to discuss how Confucianism, especially the ideas from Confucius, Mencius, and Neo-Confucians, treats animals. In general, all of these scholars agree that Confucianism supports the idea that human beings should not torture animals, but they have different ideas and arguments on whether Confucianism supports animal rights; and if there are Confucian animal rights, what the list of such rights is. The first part of my project tries to discuss how to develop a Confucian approach to animal rights to answer all of these questions.

The second part of my project focuses on whether such a Confucian approach to animal rights can contribute to some discussions on animal rights in the West. I will discuss two famous approaches to animal rights: Peter Singer’s Utilitarian approach (e.g., Singer: 1990) and Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach (e.g., Nussbaum: 2006). My focus in the project is not to decide which of these two approaches is better, but whether Confucian approach to animal rights can contribute to these approaches.

I will try to argue the following positions in my project. First, it is possible to develop a Confucian approach to animal rights and there is a list of Confucian animal rights. Second, such an approach does not only show that Confucianism supports animal rights, but also shows that Confucianism and the language of rights are compatible in general. Third, the Confucian approach to animal rights is an alternative to Singer’s Utilitarian approach but quite similar to Nussbaum’s capabilities approach. Lastly, I will discuss how the Confucian approach and the capabilities approach may help each other so that each approach can be developed in a better way.

2. An Ethics of “Great Health” and “Power (de)”: Physical Body, Health, and Illness in Nietzsche and the Zhuangzi

Bilge Akbalik, University of Memphis,

Abstract: Chapter 5 in the seven Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi, which in A. C. Graham’s translation of the text is entitled as “The Signs of Fullness of Power [De Chong Fu],” offers a depiction of a number of physically deformed and, in that sense, “sick” people (cripples, mutilated people etc.) who are yet among the most venerable Daoist sages. The apparent paradox of the embodiment of a “fullness of power” and “sickness” within the same person can be understood, in contemporary philosophical terms, as an attempt to deconstruct a conceptual opposition between “health” and “sickness.” An understanding of “health” and “sickness” as mutually exclusive follows a binary mode of thought. The holistic conception of “health” in the Zhuangzi, however, can be interpreted as a non-binary approach towards health, compatible with the notion of “great health” that Nietzsche introduces in Section 382 of the Gay Science.

Nietzsche’s and Zhuangzi’s perspectives can mutually clarify one another. In the Gay Science, Nietzsche offers an overcoming of the idea of a “normal health.” In contrast to a traditional Western understanding of “health” as the absence of “sickness,” Nietzsche suggests that the greatest state of health cannot be attained at the expense of sickness. This paves the way for a conception of health that transcends narrow medical definitions and that becomes particularly relevant in a comparative light. For both Nietzsche and the Zhuangzi the notions of “health” and “sickness” have to be conceived in a larger dimension and to be taken as “ethical”—in the ancient Greek sense of this word as related to a “way of life”. In their respective ways, both Nietzsche and the Zhuangzi understand healthiness primarily as a comprehensive state of being alive that provides those who possess it with efficacy and productivity. It empowers them and, so to speak, allows them to live richly. Such a conception of health opens up venues for criticisms of a static semantics of health which simplistically contrasts it with sickness and thereby runs the risk of making healthiness an elusive, transitory, and ultimately unattainable ideal.

3. Confucian Notion of Yi and the Phenomenology of Shame

Yinghua Lu, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale,

Abstract: Mencius claims that shame and disdain are the initial manifestations of duty, or righteousness. This paper attempts to clarify the meaning of yi (義) by undertaking a phenomenological analysis of the moral emotion of shame. I will argue in support of Mencius’ claim that, not only ren, but duty is also internal to us because it is precisely what is intended in the feeling of shame, a feeling which reveals the deep meaning of person. Yi is not simply “appropriateness”. For instance, wearing red clothes in a funeral ceremony could be not appropriate, but is not “not-yi,” whereas an officer’s abusing money is certainly not yi. Interconnected to duty, yi (following duty) is a value in terms of principle (li, 理), and a virtue in terms of genuine nature (xing, 性).

For Kant, “duty is the necessity of an action from respect for the law.”[2] Moral law is made by the autonomous free will. There is no moral emotion engaging the formation of moral law. However, in Max Scheler’s phenomenology of value, a priori feeling, not feeling-state or affect, is constitutive to value. By borrowing from Max Scheler’s analysis of shame, which is within Abramic tradition, I intend to clarify the experiential structure of shame in Confucian tradition.

Shame is a feeling which arises when one fails to fulfill what he/her ought to do. It is essentially a movement of self-givenness rather than the givenness of others. Scheler calls the feeling of shame as “turning back to a self.” I try to elucidate and develop Scheler’s description by bringing shame into Confucian tradition. In shame, there is a self-awareness withdrawn from public performance. That is to say, shame protects the value of an individual from being totally absorbing into publicity. However, in Confucian culture, others’ watch and judgment are always given as background of consciousness in shame. The negatively public performance needs to be overcome by keeping one’s own spiritual person, whereas the invisible others’ watch, which stands for honor as higher moral standard and is apparently but not really determined by the society, pushes one feels dishonored. “Others’ judgment” ultimately is not just actual people’s opinion, not ideally responsible people’s judgment. Even if the people around one are shameless, one still could feel shame when one engages in undutiful affairs with them. One feels having no face to confront the people who are closed related to him/her, partially due to that he/she brings shame to himself/herself as well as to his/her kin, ancestor, friend, teacher or other enlarged relational self. As the value of spiritual person’s resistance to the value of lived body, shame refuses excessive desires. After clarifying the structure of shame in terms of selfness and otherness, temporality, valance and modality, I also will examine the issue of debilitating shame in Confucianism, which possesses a negative value. Confucius says, “A literati who has set his heart upon the Way, but who is ashamed of having bad clothes and bad food, is not worth engaging in discussion.” (Analects, 4.9) In sum, there are positive features of shame just as there are debilitating and destructive ones. The former is constitutive to duty and righteousness.

4. Beyond Metaphysics: The Daoist Moral Vision in Heidegger’s “Evening Conversation”

Shuchen Xiang, Penn State University,

Abstract: As the dust settled from the ceasefire of WWII, the darkness of man’s heart was exposed like so many dead corpses. Inquisitions were set up tracing the lines of guilt, pronouncements were made on the banality of evil and all understood the logic of crime and punishment. Why then, as the rest of Europe was on the witch-hunt, did Martin Heidegger insist on the futility of such moral judgments? Why, just months before the end, did he write that, “The process of devastation will thus not be warded off, much less ended, with the setting up of a morally grounded world order.” (Heidegger: 138)?

This quotation comes from a dialogue composed in the winter of 1944, entitled “Evening Conversation”[3]. Other than its seeming moral apathy and abstruseness, what is immediately arresting, is the obsessive repetition of certain Daoist motifs: waiting (warten) without expecting (erwarten), the necessity of the unnecessary, the short-sightedness of adjudicating on justice, and most of all, at the conclusion of the dialogue, a metaphor from the Zhuangzi.

This paper will suggest that all three themes are implicit and only understandable within a larger framework which concerns itself with the limitations of normative ethics; and that furthermore, this moral vision will be elucidated by a comparative understanding of the Zhuangzi. For underlying both Heidegger and Zhuangzi’s visions for human liberation, are strikingly similar ideas about the relationship between metaphysics with the anthropocentric, instrumental thinking which led to the devastations of war. Heidegger’s differentiation in “Evening Conversation” between evil and malice when talking about the misguided assumptions motivating ethical censure, suggests that he is addressing the metaphysical foundations of “good and evil”. For evil, understood as human fallibility is rooted in the imperfection of our knowledge and the finitude of our freedom, presupposes the dualist opposite of absolute freedom and absolute good: it assumes a notion of the transcendent or metaphysical. And so the use of chapter 26 from the Zhuangzi, a disquisition on relativism, as a conclusion to the whole dialogue, suggests that Heidegger’s means for overcoming static ethical concepts, follows closely the logic of the Zhuangzi. A cognisance of relativism, will allow for an apperception of holism which corrects absolutist, transcendent criterion of morality. In the natural order of the Dao after all, there is no good or evil, merely mutually dependent processes completing each other.

Only published in 2010, there has been little scholarly attention on “Evening Conversation”. Further to bringing much needed attention to this fascinating discovery, this paper will be a corrective to so much Heidegger scholarship; whose comparative imagination is limited to establishing the accuracy of Heidegger’s encounters with “Asia”.

[1] See page 29 of Angle’s (2012), Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy: Toward Progressive Confucianism (Oxford: Polity Press).

[2] Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 7.

[3] [3] “Evening Conversation: In a Prisoner of War Camp in Russia, between a Younger and an Older Man” from Country Path Conversations. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.  The German original was not published till 1995.

Tongdong Bai, Professor of Philosophy
School of Philosophy, Fudan University
220 Handan Road, Shanghai, China 200433
President, Association of Chinese Philosophers in North America (ACPA)
Book Review Editor, Dao
Editorial Board, Journal of Chinese Philosophy

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