Category Archives: Psychology

New Book: Ziran: The Philosophy of Spontaneous Self-Causation

I’d like to announce the publication of my new book Ziran: The Philosophy of Spontaneous Self-Causation. Targeted specifically at students, this book takes a key concept form early Chinese metaphysics—ziran 自然—and applies it to several fields of contemporary scholarship.

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Philosophy Meets Cultural Diversity, 13-14 March 2015 at University of Pittsburgh

This conference should be of interest to anyone working on issues in comparative thought and philosophy. A terrific lineup of speakers and panelists (if I do say so myself). -HS

Over the last decade, the newly emerging field of “experimental philosophy” has posed a challenge to the claim that professional philosophers’ judgments about philosophically important thought experiments are universal. Rather, in a growing number of studies, it has been shown that people in different cultural groups – Asians and Westerners, males and females, people of high and low socio-economic status, people with different personality types, people of different ages, people with different native languages, etc. – have different intuitions about cases designed to explore what people think about knowledge, morality, free will, consciousness and other important philosophical issues. However, the extent and sources of this variation remain by and large unknown. The goal of this conference is to bring together anthropologists, psychologists, comparative philosophers, and experimental philosophers in order to further our understanding of the similarities and differences in the lay understanding of, on the one hand, knowledge, and, on the other, agency and person across cultures. Furthermore, we hope to sketch new avenues of research for philosophically sophisticated cross-cultural studies of the concepts of knowledge, person, and agency.

Invited Speakers
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Neuroimaging Study of Korean vs U.S. Moral Thinking

Stanford scholar shows Koreans and Americans tackle moral dilemmas using different brain regions … offers first look at neural differences between cultural groups solving tricky moral problems.

Someone pointed me to the story, published here (thank you, Annette Bryson!). The study, which is hyperlinked in the story, is available here for free download (last I checked). I have no real comment on it yet, but thought some blog readers who are interested in empirical studies about moral thinking in Confucian societies might find it interesting, assuming, as I do, that Korea has a society that still remains heavily influenced by its history of Confucianism.

Grant Received for “Oneness”

PJ Ivanhoe and the Center for East Asian and Comparative Philosophy at City University of Hong Kong have been awarded a John Templeton Foundation Grant for a project on “Eastern and Western Conceptions of Oneness, Virtue, and Human Happiness.”   For more information, check out their website. Congratulations!

Moral Exemplars and Moral Connoisseurs

A number of scholars in our field have suggested that the model of connoisseurship is helpful in understanding Confucian moral education and the nature of the Confucian moral exemplar (the junzi or sage). Eric Hutton’s “Moral Connoisseurship in the Mengzi” (in Liu and Ivanhoe, eds., Essays on the Moral Philosophy of Mengzi, 2002) is a classic essay; more recently, Hagop Sarkissian (“Confucius and the Effortless Life of Virtue,” History of Philosophy Quarterly 27:1 [2010]) and P.J. Ivanhoe (“McDowell, WANG Yangming, and Mengzi’s Contributions to Understanding Moral Perception,” Dao [2011]) have also developed related ideas.

I’m going to excerpt here a bit from an essay of mine that is currently unpublished, part of a volume that will eventually wend its way through the review process and see the light of day. My concern in the essay is to further develop some comparisons between Neo-Confucians and contemporary psychological literature that I began in Sagehood and continued in “A Productive Dialogue? Contemporary Moral Education and Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucian Ethics,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy (2011). In particular, I refine the idea of “active moral perception” introduced in Sagehood, and as part of that process, find myself arguing against the idea that moral exemplars are best understood as people who have honed their sensitivities to moral reasons or moral properties in a connoisseur-like way. My target here is not, at least explicitly, the interpretations of Kongzi and Menzi suggested in the essays cited above, but rather to argue that a common-sense idea (supported by recent psychological research) of what moral exemplars are like, and what they do, actually fits very well with key elements of Wang Yangming’s picture. I’d love feedback!

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Stoic Week

A fascinating experiment this next week: live like a stoic. Having taught a course, “Philosophy as a Way of Life,” that included a five-day practical exercise at the end (living for those five days as inspired by Seneca was one option; the Analects and Zhuangzi were other options), I am intrigued! (Here is a link to some discussion on our blog here prior to my teaching that class. I keep meaning to post some follow-up thoughts, but haven’t yet gotten around to it….) There is a lot of interesting material available at the website linked above, including specific exercises!

Eichmann, Arendt, Milgram and Mencius

A cross-posting of Eric Schwitzgebel’s post on his Splintered Mind blog. Please address all comments directly to Eric; he’ll be checking in here periodically to reply.


Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt, Stanley Milgram, and King Xuan of Qi

Perhaps my favorite Mencius passage is 1A7.  At its core is a story of a king’s mercy on an ox.

While the king was sitting up in his hall, an ox was led past below. The king saw it and said, “Where is the ox going?” Hu He replied, “We are about to ritually anoint a bell with its blood.” The king said, “Spare it. I cannot bear its frightened appearance, like an innocent going to the execution ground.” Hu He replied, “So should we dispense with the anointing of the bell?” The king said, “How can that be dispensed with? Exchange it for a sheep.” (Van Norden, trans.)

Mencius asks the king (King Xuan of Qi):

If Your Majesty was pained at its being innocent and going to the execution ground, then was is there to choose between an ox and a sheep?… You saw the ox but had not seen the sheep.  Gentlemen cannot bear to see animals die if they have seen them living. If they hear the cries of their suffering, they cannot bear to eat their flesh. Hence, gentlemen keep their distance from the kitchen.

(Note that Mencius does not conclude that gentlemen should become vegetarians.  Interesting possibilities for reflection arise regarding butchers, executioners, soldiers, etc., but let’s not dally.) Continue reading →