Call for Papers
18th International Conference on Chinese Philosophy
By the International Society for Chinese Philosophy (ISCP)
Chinese Philosophy and the Way of Living
July 21-24, 2013
State University of New York at Buffalo
Deadline for submission of the abstracts and symposium proposals: November 30th, 2012.
Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org
For details, please visit the Conference website: http://iscp.philosophy.buffalo.edu/
The theme of the conference
One major characteristic of Chinese philosophical tradition is that it is not just a matter of theoretical pursuit, but is more a practical enterprise. Philosophy is thought to be a “Learning of Living” (生命的学 问), and doing philosophy is to practice a way of life that one chooses and to cultivate and transform character. The central question of Chinese philosophy is “what is the Dao?” and dao (literally, road or way) is the way in which human beings should lead their lives. This conception of philosophy differs from the prevailing modern university conception of philosophy, according to which philosophy is mainly a theoretical discipline and philosophical reflection is peripheral to life.
The conception of philosophy is worth studying, keeping alive, and reviving as an alternative way of doing philosophy. It is similar to the idea that philosophy is the “art of living,” which was prominent in ancient Greek/Roman philosophy, especially in the spirit of Socrates. His motto that “the unexamined life is not worth living” clearly shows that what is examined is “life” rather than “knowledge” or “proposition.” The Jewish tradition is also characteristic of the idea that letter and spirit, idea and life, are inseparable. In the West this conception has been marginalized in modern times, but seems to have experienced a sort of renaissance, as can be seen in the works of (to name only a few) P. Hadot, A. Nehamas, M. Nussbaum, and others.
The Buffalo conference is to explore in details and in depth Chinese conception of philosophy as a learning of living. It seeks not only to deepen our understanding of the nature of Chinese philosophy, but also, through a cross-cultural comparative approach, to enrich the conception of philosophy as a way of living and contribute its revival in contemporary philosophy.
Sub-themes of the conference include but are not limited to:
1. Chinese philosophy as a learning of living
2. Philosophical discourses and philosophical practicality
3. Justifying a way of living: metaphysics, aesthetics, and rhetoric
4. Practical wisdom
5. Moral psychology
6. Formation of self, character, and virtue
7. Happiness, death and suicide
8. Politics and the way of living
9. Philosophical therapy and spiritual practice
10. The Art of Living: Chinese and Greek
11. The Art of living: Chinese and Jewish
12. Methodology of comparative study
(I find myself wondering what it means to say that e.g. Mengzi had a certain view “of philosophy.” He had that view about — what?)
Could it mean that he had a view of something, X, without an explicit single term, that comprises a cluster of things that overlap with some of the things that we would comfortably call ‘philosophy’?
What I’m wondering about is not whether Mengzi could have had a view that we can fairly call a view “of philosophy.” Rather, I’m wondering what view the announcement has in mind. If someone says “Mengzi regarded philosophy as L, and we should take that view seriously ourselves,” one wants to know what view the speaker means to articulate, ascribe, and recommend: Mengzi regarded what as L?
(My question may be unfair. It’s appropriate and standard for the theme statements in announcements of conferences sponsored by nonpartisan organizations to be empty fluff; maybe that’s the intent here. Still the theme statement here does rather look like a mini-manifesto. And a manifesto is much more fun than empty fluff.)
Philosophy is thought to be a “Learning of Living” (生命的学 问), and doing philosophy is to practice a way of life that one chooses and to cultivate and transform character.
What is/was thought to be LL? What does Jiyuan mean? Some candidate answers:
a. Thinking about and discussing important abstract questions.
b. The best thinking we can do toward becoming wise.
c. The most effective way to become (and stay) wise.
d. The sort of thing that was the main life-activity of the people we call Chinese “philosophers.”
e. The sort of thing those people did in virtue of which we call them “philosophers.”
I think Jiyuan doesn’t mean (a) or (b).
I have a worry about (c). Suppose it turns out that the most effective path to general wisdom is to drink an infusion of licorice. I think it would be a plain linguistic error to say that we had found out that philosophy is the drinking of licorice. I think part of the core meaning of the term ‘philosophy’ is that philosophy is primarily an intellectual activity: thinking, discussing. (Also I think that insofar as philosophy is by definition concerned with wisdom – which I think may already be a stretch – it has to be understood that wisdom is not the same thing as virtue or general excellence. Rather it’s a/the specifically intellectual virtue.)
Still, (c) might be what Jiyuan means.
It seems to me that (d) is way too vague. Also I think if we are to attribute to the earliest Chinese philosophers a view about (d), we should offer some other way that they would have had, of picking out that sort of activity, since they couldn’t survey their posterity.
As for (e), I’m not sure on what grounds people other than me call Kongzi and Mengzi “philosophers.” Speaking just for myself, I suppose I call them “philosophers” on grounds of conception (a). And because that’s what people conventionally say. And because I wanted to teach them in Departments “of Philosophy.” None of these three reasons makes sense of (e) in a way that could satisfy Jiyuan’s purposes, I suppose.
To wrap up – I’m not proposing that my question is hard for Jiyuan to answer. I just don’t know what the answer is. What’s the view that’s being ascribed to the Chinese tradition and commended to us?
((e) also seems to run too tight of a circle in answering your initial question.)
Yes, it does seem that way. But there’s at least the theoretical possibility that in classifying certain long-dead people as Chinese “philosophers” we use a different standard, not the criteria we’d use in other contexts. Maybe you suggested something like this a while back?