Harvey Lederman – Columbia Society for Comparative Philosophy Lecture: “Weakness of the Will and Liangzhi in Wang Yangming”, Mar.18 @ 5:30pm


Welcomes: HARVEY LEDERMAN (New York University)
With responses from: STEVE ANGLE (Wesleyan University)

Please join us at Columbia University’s Religion Department on FRIDAY, MARCH 18th at 5:30PM for his lecture entitled:

Weakness of the Will and Liangzhi in Wang Yangming”

This paper starts from Wang Shouren’s (王守仁, Yangming 陽明 1472-1529) doctrines concerning weakness of the will, with the aim of developing an interpretation of his theory of “intuition” (l ́ıangzh ̄ı 良知). Wang famously insisted on the “unity of knowledge and action” (知行合一). “Action” is understood in this claim as the subject’s affect; to act appropriately is to have the ethically appropriate affective response. In claiming that knowledge and action are one Wang claims that one form of weakness of the will is impossible: if one knows piety (for example), one is guaranteed to have a pious affective response, that is, to act piously. Wang held that humans have an innate capacity to respond to stimuli with ethically appropriate affect, and that the explanation of this capacity somehow involves the faculty of “intuition” (良知), the faculty by which one obtains moral knowledge. But how does intuition yield moral knowledge? And how does this knowledge guarantee that one will have the affect appropriate to the circumstances? This paper aims to answer these questions. I develop three different models of the role of intuition, draw out their implications for Wang’s views about weakness of the will, and finally consider arguments for and against them on the basis of the textual evidence. I close by discussing how Wang’s moral psychology and epistemology (on my interpretation of them) fit or fail to fit into taxonomies current in ethics and metaethics.


April 8: Shigenori Nagatomo (Temple University)

April 29: Sara McClintock (Emory University)


FRIDAY, MARCH 18, 5:30-7:30 pm

Rm. 101, 80 Claremont Ave, Columbia University





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