CFA: Varieties of Ineffability in Ancient Philosophy

Varieties of Ineffability in Ancient Philosophy

Online conference, 18th-21st September 2023

Call for Abstracts –Deadline: 1 February 2023


We invite proposals for papers to be given at an online conference on varieties of ineffability in ancient philosophy (spanning ancient Chinese, Graeco-Roman and Indian thought), on 18th-21st September 2023. The conference is expected to take place in the afternoon (British Summer Time) over the course of the four days.


Confirmed participants:

  • Lea Cantor (Oxford)

  • Amber Carpenter (Yale-NUS)

  • Ursula Coope (Oxford)

  • Nilanjan Das (Toronto)

  • Chris Fraser (Toronto)

  • Dirk Meyer (Oxford)

  • Adrian Moore (Oxford)

  • Parimal Patil (Harvard)

  • Shaul Tor (KCL)

This conference will examine notions of philosophical ineffability in ancient Chinese, Graeco-Roman and Indian texts, dating up to the 9th century CE. By philosophical ineffability we mean the idea that the object of one’s philosophical inquiry, or some aspects of that inquiry itself, are wholly or to some extent beyond the reach of articulation through words. The conference will seek to explore the variety of reasons (sometimes congruent) that might lead a philosopher to adopt some version of an ineffability attitude (e.g. a particular conception of the limits of one’s capacities for knowledge, thought or linguistic expression; a particular ontological stance; secrecy in relation to the uninitiated; a conception of silence as somehow spiritually formative; reverential inhibitions, etc.) as well as the variety of reactions a philosopher might then have in the light of their ineffability attitude (e.g. a qualified or non-committal approach towards the status of one’s own speech; an appeal to metaphors, analogies or periphrasis; some version of the via negativa; silence, etc.). We are interested in how these sorts of motivations and reactions might relate to one another, as well as to wider cultural models on which they sometimes draw. Our aim is not to attempt or approximate comprehensive coverage, nor to offer a survey. Instead, the conference will seek to explore case-studies stemming from the three traditions that, in conjunction, will show something of the variety and richness of the phenomenon of ineffability in ancient philosophy. We welcome both papers that take a fresh look at famous examples and papers that examine cases that are less often discussed. It is hoped that the consideration of a diverse range of ineffability attitudes, as well as the adoption of a comparative, cross-cultural perspective, will throw into sharp relief different patterns of philosophical preoccupations and strategies, and indeed will offer one particular and productive angle from which to think about the scope and orientation of some central aspects of ancient philosophy.


CfA Eligibility & submission guidelines


We invite abstracts of 300-500 words from researchers at all levels (abstracts from graduate students and ECRs are particularly welcome), suitable for 30- to 35-minute presentations.


We welcome abstracts which address the themes of the conference in relation to one or more of the following ancient traditions: Chinese, Graeco-Roman and Indian. Comparative, cross-cultural and/or ‘connected’ approaches are welcome, but not necessary.


Please submit abstracts as an email attachment to ineffabilitiesconference[at] by 1 February 2023. Abstracts should be submitted as .pdf files and should not exceed 500 words.


Please write ‘Conference Abstract Submission’ in the subject line of your email and include your name, departmental affiliation (if relevant), email address, and the title of your paper (as well as the year in which your PhD was awarded in the case of ECRs) in your email. Abstracts should be prepared for blind review, so please ensure that your abstract is free from any identifying personal details (i.e. including title and abstract, but no information about author or institutional affiliation).


Decisions will be communicated by 15 February 2023.




Lea Cantor (Oxford)

Ursula Coope (Oxford)

Nilanjan Das (Toronto)

Shaul Tor (KCL)




For more information and updates, please visit our conference website. If you wish to be kept informed about the conference (and how to attend), please register your interest here.


For any inquiries, please contact one of the conference organizers directly.

3 thoughts on “CFA: Varieties of Ineffability in Ancient Philosophy

  1. I am curious: I learned about the notion of ineffability within the study of mystical traditions in several religious/philosophical worldviews. I realize the concept is wider in application (as noted above) but would like to know if the notion of mysticism was studiously avoided here for one reason or another. Thanks.

  2. The ineffable is an enigma, hiding in plain sight. The enigma is actually self-proclaiming, yet something indomitable in the human psyche refuses to recognize this. Ineffability is a universal, as, to some degree is the denial thereof. Some cultures have traditionally placed importance on puzzling and problem-solving. Those are repositories of inevitability. The East is classic among these.

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