CFP: Moral and Public Agency in Early Chinese Philosophy

Call for Papers for a special issue of “Ethical Theory and Moral Practice”: Moral and Public Agency in Early Chinese Philosophy

Organized by: Eirik Harris, Colorado State University, and Henrique Schneider, Nordakademie

Early, or Classical, Chinese Philosophy is a label encompassing the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods (771-221 BCE) of Chinese history. In those times of chaos and conflict, philosophy emerged as a tool for answering the question of how to establish order, and thus unification, peace and prosperity. Several different answers arose, some complementary, some contradictory. The philosophical works that arguably still form the basis of Chinese philosophy are a fruit of that time, including Kongzi’s (Confucius’) Analects, the Guanzi, the Hanfeizi, the Mozi, the Daodejing (Tao Te King) of Laozi, the Book of Lord Shang, and many more.

Put in contemporary terms: The quest for order was the overall goal of these different philosophies on a macro-level. On a micro-level, however, agency was central. Early Chinese Philosophy understood – arguably before any other system of thought – how agency is central to order. For several reasons, this is interesting:

– Arguably, Chinese philosophy developed a conception of agency without (necessarily) tying it to individualism, or, to put the claim more robustly, Early Chinese Philosophy dealt with agency without accepting individualism.

– Early Chinese Philosophy understood agency as the link between the micro and the macro level: order can only prevail if agents behave in certain ways. As such, agency was understood as a public endeavor.

– The question of how agents ought to behave was answered differently among the philosophers, and a major point of contention was whether agency tied to morality led to order or not. If it did, which kind of morality led to order? If it did not, what was the alternative?

This special issue / symposium will explore the issue of agency in Early Chinese Philosophy. Highlighting agency as central to Chinese moral thinking as well as to political philosophy, the papers collected here discuss following aspects:

– The content and controversies of moral agency

– The content and controversies of public agency

– The link between moral and public agency

– The relationship between agency, politics, order, and general morality

– Different types of moral agency depending on public functions

– Problems between principals and agents

– Confucian approaches to public and moral agency

– Daoist approaches to public and moral agency

– Mohist approaches to public and moral agency

– Legalist approaches to public and moral agency

– The Guanzi as an integrative approach to public and moral agency

The goal of this special issue / symposium is, first, to make Early Chinese Philosophy available to a larger public with a background in analytic ethics, second, to investigate the content, controversies, and interrelations of the discourse on agency in Early Chinese Philosophy, and, third, to advance Chinese philosophical thought beyond the scope of comparative philosophy.

While specialists in Chinese philosophy, the contributors to this volume employ jargon-free language enabling them to explain Chinese philosophical terms and ideas, and their implications, to a wide audience. While uncompromising in the philosophical content of Early Chinese Philosophy, this special volume works to demonstrate the relevance of these ideas to contemporary discourses on morality and political action, in an analytic as well as in a broader context.

Authors interested in contributing a paper should send an abstract of maximum 200 words as well as their contact details and institutional affiliation (if any) to the organizers before September 20th, 2021.

Eirik Harris:

Henrique Schneider:

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