Warp, Weft, and Way

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

2014 Pacific APA meeting ACPA group sessions: Call for Commentators

The Association of Chinese Philosophers in North America (ACPA) is requesting space for two group sessions on the program of the 2014 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association (APA), which will be held in San Diego, CA from April 16 to April 20, 2014.  The ACPA is currently looking for (a) volunteers to serve as commentators on the individual papers that have already been accepted onto our group program proposals and/or (b) volunteers to serve as session chairpersons for these proposed group sessions.

Info on the papers that are part of the two ACPA group sessions being proposed is below.

If you are interested in serving as a commentator or a session chair for ACPA at the 2014 Pacific APA, please email all three current officers of the ACPA (see below).  If you wish to comment, please indicate the individual paper or papers for which you would be willing to serve as a commentator.

Please let us know as soon as possible.  We will be finalizing our proposals and submitting them to the APA as soon as they are finished–certainly within the next week or so.


Tongdong Bai (ACPA President)

Huaiyu Wang (ACPA Vice-President)

Steven Geisz (ACPA Secretary-Treasurer)


Proposed APCA Panel 1 for Pacific APA 2014: Just War Thinking: A Chinese Perspective

The just war tradition is deeply entrenched in the West and is still the dominant moral framework to guide and criticize decisions concerning warfare. This panel intends to address analogous issues, discussing the ethical concerns about war and peace from the perspective of early Chinese tradition and their contemporary relevancy. There will be four papers presented:

(1)  The Confucian Conception of Just War and Its Actual Practice: The Cases from theZuozhuan — Qingxin Wang (Tsinghua University, PRC)

(2)  Wang Yang-ming on the Ethics of War — Sumner Twiss (Florida State University, USA) & Jonathan Chan (HKBU)

(3)  Zheng (Punitive Expeditions) as Zheng (Corrective Actions): Mengzi’s Confucianism vs. Laozi’s Daoism  — Ellen Zhang (HKBU)

(4)  Legalism vs. Confucianism: Political Realism and Idealism in the Chinese Court Debate on National Security 81 BCE  — P.C. Lo (HKBU)


1. The Confucian Conception of Just War and Its Actual Practice: The Cases from the Zuozhuan — Wang

This paper studies the ancient Chinese conception of just war during the Spring-Autumn Period of the Chou Empire and the Confucian ethical foundation that underpinned the conception of just war in the inter-state relations of the Chou Empire. It asks the following questions: How did the ancient Chinese conceive moral principles, especially the concept of just war that were used to regulate the inter-state relations in the Chou Empire? What was the ontological basis of these moral principles? How do the ancient Chinese concepts of just war differ from the concepts of just war in the Western tradition of natural law? The paper argues that the ancient Chinese conception of just war as recorded in Confucian classic Zuo Zhuan(Tso Chuan) is very similar to the conception of just war in the Western tradition of just war. This is because the Chinese conception of just war is derived from the Confucian religious worldview centered on the concepts of Heaven and filial piety, which resembled the role of Scripture that provided the moral basis for the Western tradition of natural law.


2. Wang Yang-ming on the Ethics of War – Twiss and Chan

In addition to being a premier neo-Confucian philosopher, Wang Yang-ming was also a soldier and statesman, sometimes combining these roles into one—that is, serving as a military governor in border territories requiring both military action against banditry and subsequent material and social reconstruction.  Given Wang’s views of the unity of knowledge and action, it is entirely to be expected that his military practice would be infused with and guided by significant Confucian moral values, and a close reading of his biography, memorials to the emperor, and public announcements and instructions, as well as reports on his military strategies and action, reveal as much.  At the risk of some anachronism, we divide his ethics of war into three broad concerns or phases: ius ad bellumius in bello, and ius post bellum.

3. Zheng (Punitive Expeditions) as Zheng (Corrective Actions): Mengzi’s Confucianism vs. Laozi’s Daoism – Zhang

The idea that zheng 征 (a punitive military expedition) as zheng 正 (a corrective action) in ancient China indicates that a punitive expedition is viewed as something that is not only morally permissible but also morally obligatory. The discourse of jus ad bellum in this case is centered on questions concerning authority, sovereignty, and obligation to protect. In this presentation, I shall discuss the Confucian/Mengzian notion of “punitive expedition” in light of Confucian “role ethics,” explicating how warfare could be legitimized and moralized based on a de facto principle instead of a normative principle. The paper will also address a non-interventionist, if not an entirely pacifist, position in ancient China represented by the Daoist philosophy of Laozi which questions the viability of using war and violence in establishing andmaintaining social order. Unlike Confucianism, Daoism which promotes self-determination at both individual and state levels takes a more critical position on coercive actions imposed by a powerful authority, in a gesture of either wu (武) or wen (文). The presentation will also submit that the two positions on punitive military expeditions can be understood as being based on two modalities of “harmony” and “harmonization” (he 和) in the ancient Chinese culture. These two modalities can also be applied to the practice of realpolitik (i.e., hierarchical or egalitarian) in the contemporary discourse on international relations and global order.


4. Legalism vs. Confucianism: Political Realism and Idealism in the Chinese Court Debate on National Security 81 BCE – Lo

This paper is inspired by Michael Walzer’s famous work on just and unjust war (Walzer 1977), which integrates moral reflection with abundant cases in military history. The paper is focused on the only recorded, sustained disputes on war and peace in debate format in the long history of China, viz., relevant sections in The Discourse on Salt and Iron (Yantielun). The treatise is a compilation of speeches and petitions in a two-day imperial court debate in 81 BCE, which is the culmination of a series of debate decades ago. This debate has some more contemporary relevance. First, the anti-war voice similar to that of the 81 BCE debate, for a number of reasons, is seldom articulated in China today. The pro-war rhetoric of that debate, however, is very much alive. Hence we need to retrieve this ancient document and examine the debate in great details with fresh eyes. Second, the concerns about national security after September 11 have led USA to fight two controversial wars in distant lands. The Chinese experience of defending national security in faraway lands hopefully can kindle further moral reflections on the war that is far from over.



Proposed APCA Panel 2 for Pacific APA 2014:  Issues in Chinese Political Philosophy

1.      Xunzi on the Role of Military Tactics in Ordering the State

Eirik Harris, City University of Hong Kong

Chapter 15 of the Xunzi is framed as a debate between Xunzi and his interlocutor over the question of the crucial points of military affairs.  Therein, the interlocutor focuses on a range of specific military tactics familiar to anyone knowledgeable about early Chinese military texts.  Xunzi, though, refuses to be drawn into a discussion of military strategy, arguing instead that such practical questions are of secondary (and derivative) importance.  Rather, he returns to a theme explicit in other chapters, that a heavily normative sense of community, itself based on a particular set of allotments and divisions that arise out of rituals and yi (義), provides the best chance for a long-lasting, flourishing state.  And, in order for such a state to exist, it must be ruled by a virtuous ruler.  In Xunzi’s rhetoric, once such a virtuous ruler is in place, not only is his own people’s loyalty assured, he has nothing to fear from any enemy, for his enemy’s subjects  will flock to him rather than following their own ruler.  Thus, no matter how tactically advanced or militarily skilled the officers and troops of his enemy, the virtuous ruler has nothing to fear.  Such a view may well seem overly optimistic, even Pollyannish.  Herein, I endeavor to provide the most plausible interpretation of Xunzi’s views, an interpretation that recognizes the idealism present in this chapter, but seeks to demonstrate that while his rhetoric may at times be look absurd, his position is not as idealistic nor is his dismissal of military tactics as complete as initially appears.   His fundamental argument remains, however, that the quest for order cannot be fulfilled simply by coming to a deep understanding of military tactics.


2. Was Mencius a Liberal or a Conservative?

Shirong Luo, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Simmons College, Boston, MA

Mencius’ achievements in traditional Chinese thought cannot be overestimated, nor can his profound influence on Chinese culture in general. If we wish that China could move in the direction of liberal democracy, it is not irrelevant to ask whether a giant historical figure such as Mencius held views that resemble at the most fundamental level Western liberalism. To answer this question, I apply Jonathan Haidt and Craig Joseph’s Moral Foundations Theory (MFT). According to this theory, morality has five foundations and they are: Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. What distinguish liberals from conservatives, at the most fundamental level and as far as contemporary American politics is concerned, are their moral concerns in relation to those five foundations. For liberals, their concerns are almost exclusively about the first two foundations, namely care and fairness, whereas the moral concerns of conservatives are more or less evenly associated with all five foundations. In order to ascertain whether Mencius’ moral-political philosophy had a liberal streak, we need to carefully comb through the Mencius in search of textual evidence. In this paper I argue through analyzing textual evidence found in the Mencius that his ethical-political thinking leaned toward the liberal, two-foundation outlook, and therefore Mencius can be plausibly seen as a liberal philosopher in a qualified sense.


3. “Rites as Principles” (Li ji li タ晴エタñ)– a Fundamental Insight in Confucian Ethical and Political Theory

Elizabeth Woo Li, Peking University

Recent discussion of the concept of Li (タí) has taken a new direction with respect to ‘coherence’ (Bol 2008, Angle 2009, Ziporyn 2012), which has traditionally been understood as ‘principle’. This new direction has initiated various debates (Ivanhoe 2010). This conception has various unclear aspects, which may usefully be understood through the work of Zhang Zai (“ZZ”), who plays a pivotal role in integrating the  pre-Qin understanding of Li with li (タñ), which is one and the same. He advocates that “The rites are principles (タエタí)”. Certainly, Neo-Confucian reinterpretation of Li based on the work of the Cheng Brothers (ercheng カウフ) and Zhuxi (ヨ・ä) deviates from the original meaning.

In order to clarify such a complex conception such as Li, it is necessary to understand the relationships between ZZ (Guan Xueケリムァ) and the Cheng Brothers (Luo Xueツ衽ァ). The debate regarding who is the teacher of whom has still not and may never be resolved. Scholars believe it is likely that the former, who is older, would have been the master where the latter further developed and interpreted ZZ’s core concepts based on their own understanding. Though students of ZZ joined the Cheng Brothers’ school, there are indications that some of the interpretations from the Cheng Brothers clearly display a weak understanding of the philosophy of ZZ. (Chen Jumen1989, Kosoff 1989/2002) Suffice it to say that this point is important to this paper, though we will not be able to develop it in detail.

The “rites as/are principles” signifies an important cross-tradition/culture discussion. The contemporary focus on the lack of the Western sense of rights as well as the rule of law, in China often lean towards inscrutability, some observers appeal to Legalism (fajiaキィシメ) as a possible link to bridge this divide (Fukuyama 2010 and others). Others simply present a negative or even evil judgment. Nevertheless, before arriving at a conclusion we must comprehend different traditions and their assumptions. This paper may not find all the answers but at least some questions will be raised.

‘Coherence’ as a redefinition for Li, points to a gap in this interpretation. Some observers think this analysis includes patterns that are simply “glued” (though in the sense of a center of gravity that pulls – Ziporyn P.659) together by Li. As Ivanhoe rightly points out, “What is being glued together?”  It is understandable that this gap appears problematic to scholars external to Chinese culture, to those who from outside attempt, even in the most thorough, to analyze it. I would like to add to this discussion that perhaps what is missing are those aspects of li which are so innate to the Chinese identity that they are sometimes taken for granted. For instance, Chen Lai discuss Zhou li (ヨワタñ) from an anthropological perspective with elements of patterns and types within an ethos (Chen 2005, P158). The pattern, which is filled with rituals, which coheres as the principles upon which, we can formulate an interpretation against what we can call a high context culture. I believe that the interpretation of li as Li recovers the original fundamental meaning before the transformation, which arose in later periods. If in fact li is the element on which coherence is based, this approach might lead to a new form of interpretation. However, Angle clearly states li might be secondary to Neo-Confucians (Angle 2009 P.146-147).

In the contemporary discussion of Confucian politics, it is clearly essential to incorporate essentials of the historical tradition. We will contribute to this end by examining various qualities of leadership, rights and the rule of law. We will also analyze the ritualistic role played by li, which might or might not be essential in the pre-Qin period to Zhang Zai and later Song philosophy. We believe that in this way we can contribute to grasping the reconfiguration of Li as it moved away from the sense of principles toward the conception of coherence.


4. Supernatural Punishment in Early Chinese Texts: A Quantitative Approach

Ryan Nichols, California State Fullerton

Does the pantheon of supernatural agents in early China contain beings that cognitive science of religion would recognize functionally as high gods familiar from other ancient cultures? According to many sinologists, early China’s system of religious belief and commitment contrasts sharply with ancient systems of religious belief and commitment elsewhere in the world by virtue of not having transcendent high gods (Gernet 1985; Yü 2007). Instead, supernatural beings in early China have origins in prudential concerns with divination (Overmyer et al., 1995), shamanism (Ching 1997) or ancestor reverence (Eno, 1990a, 1990b). Recently Clark and Winslett (2011) argued information from early Chinese texts fits a cross-culturally applicable model familiar from cognitive science of religion: early China has high gods and its high gods are punishers. In the present study we operationalize the research question above by quantitatively measuring the frequency of collocations of Chinese characters in four lists across all Han and pre-Han texts in the ctext.org corpus. Our character lists are drawn from synonym and lexeme groups under the terms deity, high god, punishmentand reward generated by the board of editors of the Thesaurus Linguae Sericae <http://tls.uni-hd.de/> project. Using methods of content analysis familiar from corpus linguistics, our data confirm the hypothesis that supernatural agencies in China were intimately associated with concepts of punishment and reward. But contrary to Clark and Winslett (2011) and consistent with Gernet (1985), our data disconfirm the hypothesis that high gods are any more associated with those concepts than are other supernatural agencies.


October 3rd, 2013 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学 | no comments

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