The Confucius Foundation Book Prizes for Chinese Philosophy

The NUS Department of Philosophy wishes to congratulate the following students for their academic excellence in Chinese Philosophy:

  • Sim Yeow Huat, Jonathan
  • Wang Fang, Kate
  • Yeo Siew Hua, Chris

The Confucius Foundation sponsors three Book Prizes every year, which are awarded to students who excel in Chinese Philosophy. Winners will receive the Confucius Foundation Book Prizes at the annual celebration of Confucius’ Birthday held by the Nanyang Confucian Association on Friday, 12 Oct 2012.

“Leibniz and the Meaning of ‘Philosophy’ in China” by Franklin Perkins (13 Sep)

The first translation of a Chinese text into a European language was called Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, that is, Confucius, Philosopher of China, published in 1687. The translation was controversial, but not for calling Confucius a philosopher. Until the late 18th century, it was taken for granted that philosophy existed in cultures outside of Europe. This would be unremarkable if philosophical common sense had not since reversed itself – it would now be unusual for a philosophy student to read anything written outside of Europe, because it is assumed that philosophy is uniquely European. This shift took place primarily in the 19th century, appearing most clearly in the work of Hegel, who explicitly denied the Chinese a place in the history of philosophy. As one might expect, answers to the question of whether or not China had philosophy largely coordinate with the status granted to Chinese thought and culture.

This paper examines the historical roots of this shift, focusing on Leibniz’s writings on China. While Leibniz consistently refers to Chinese Philosophy, the contrast he draws between Europe and China suggests the same differences that would later be used to exclude China from Philosophy: Europeans are skilled in theoretical reflection while the Chinese have practical observations and ethical rules. Why, then, does he still insist that the Chinese have philosophy? The answers reflect conceptions of philosophy and of human reason that were gradually given up in the 19th century.

By showing the historicity of exclusive conceptions of philosophy, this paper aims to shed light on current discussions of the status of other cultures within the discipline of philosophy.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 13 Sep 2012
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Franklin Perkins, Professor of Philosophy, DePaul University, Chicago
Moderator: Dr. Neil Sinhababu

About the Speaker: Franklin Perkins is Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University (Chicago), and is currently a visiting professor at Nanyang Technological University.  His research is on comparative philosophy, including Early Modern European philosophy and Classical Chinese thought.  He is the author of Leibniz and China: A Commerce of Light (Cambridge University Press, 2004; Chinese translation, Peking University Press, 2012) and Leibniz: A Guide for the Perplexed (Continuum Press, 2007), and he was coeditor of Chinese Philosophy in Early Excavated Bamboo Texts (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).  He has published numerous articles on Chinese and Comparative Philosophy, on topics ranging from excavated bamboo texts to human nature in the Mengzi to the role of laughter in the Journey to the West.  He is currently completing a book manuscript on the problem of evil in Classical Chinese Philosophy.

“Ritual Disjunctions: Theories of Ritual from Classical China” by Michael James Puett

Philosophy Seminar Series: 16 Feb 2012, 2-4pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Michael James Puett, Professor of Chinese History, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University; Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

Theories of ritual that developed in classical China are among the most complex in world philosophy.  This paper will explore these theories in relationship to theories of ritual that have developed recent Western thought.  I will argue that the theories from classical China have much to offer contemporary discussions.

About the speaker: Michael Puett is the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University.  He is the author of The Ambivalence of Creation: Debates Concerning Innovation and Artifice in Early China and To Become a God: Cosmology, Sacrifice, and Self-Divinization in Early China, as well as the co-author, with Adam Seligman, Robert Weller, and Bennett Simon, of Ritual and its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity.


More information on the Philosophy Seminar Series can be found here. A list of past talks in the series can be found here.


“Death as the Ultimate Concern in the Neo-Confucian Tradition: Wang Yangming’s Followers as an Example” by Peng Guoxiang

Philosophy Seminar Series: Thursday, 2 Feb 2012, 2-4pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Peng Guoxiang, Professor in Chinese Philosophy, Intellectual History and Religions, Peking University; Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

A prevalent view of Confucianism is that Confucian scholars have paid great attention to the value and significance of life while overlooking the question of death. As far as the Confucian tradition before the mid-Ming dynasty is concerned, this observation is roughly correct. Can we, however, consequently assert there has been no deep reflection upon and insight into death at all in the larger Confucian tradition? In fact, among Neo-Confucian scholars in the middle and late Ming Dynasty, especially among the students and followers of Wang Yangming王陽明(1472-1528), death as an ultimate concern received considerable attention.

I shall take Confucians in the middle and late Ming dynasty, mostly the followers of Wang Yangming, as an example to probe death as an ultimate concern in the Neo-Confucian tradition. My account includes three interrelated aspects. First, relying upon original evidence, I will point out that the taboo regarding talking about death changed dramatically and that concern with death became a central focus and explicit problem for a large number of Confucian scholars in general and among the followers of Wang in particular. Second, I will show that these Confucians’ concern about death arose not only from the influence of Buddhism but also from the political environment in which they lived. Finally, I will compare the striking views advocated by Wang’s followers about the way to liberate oneself from death with those of Buddhism. I will argue that the origin of the fundamental difference in their responses to death lies in the very different ontological bases of Confucianism and Buddhism. Spiritually, a Confucian may accept wu 無 in the sense of “detachment” as a kind of living wisdom. Ontologically, however, a Confucian cannot give up you 有, “existence,” or morality as an ultimate commitment.

About the speaker: Peng Guoxiang is a Professor of Chinese philosophy, intellectual history and religions at Peking University and the director of the Center for Cultural China Studies at the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies of PKU. He was visiting professor, visiting scholar, and research fellow of universities including University of Hawai’i, Harvard University, Wesleyan University, National Taiwan University, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, etc. He received many fellowships and awards including Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award bestowed by the Humboldt Foundation and the Ministry for Education and Research of Germany. He was invited to give lectures at universities in the United States, Europe and East Asia. He is secretary general of the Chinese Society for Confucian Studies and board member of the International Confucian Association. He is also a member of the editorial advisors of the European Journal for Philosophy of Religion (Europe), the executive editor of the Journal of the History of Chinese Philosophy (Beijing), etc. His publications include four books and more than seventy peer reviewed articles.


More information on the Philosophy Seminar Series can be found here. A list of past talks in the series can be found here.

“Progressive Confucianism” by Stephen Angle (10 Jan 2012)

Philosophy Seminar Series: 10 Jan 2012, 2-4pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Stephan C. Angle, Professor, Wesleyan University, USA; Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

In recent years, political philosophy has emerged as a key locus of debate for contemporary Confucian philosophers. This lecture surveys some of the competing approaches and then introduces a new alternative, “Progressive Confucianism.” According to Progressive Confucianism, ethical insight leads to progressive political change, which in turn leads to greater realization of our potential for virtue. The institutions advocated by Progressive Confucians are valued not because of their ancient pedigree but because of their capacity to assist in the realization of the fundamental human virtues that Confucians have valued since ancient times. Social structures that set barriers to the realization of virtue, therefore, need to be critiqued and changed. Progressive Confucian criticism of social, economic, or political oppression will often resemble the criticisms raised by other sorts of progressivism, but Progressive Confucianism remains true to the founding insights of Confucianism in many ways. It endorses versions of hierarchy, deference, ritual, and state-sponsored ethical education. Progressive Confucian political philosophy argues that our narrowly political institutions and values must be understood to exist in a balanced, mutually dependent relationship with two other distinct sources of value and practice, the ethical and the ritual.

About the speaker: Stephen C. Angle received his B.A. from Yale University in East Asian Studies and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Michigan. Since 1994 he has taught at Wesleyan University, where he is now Professor of Philosophy. Angle is the author of Human Rights and Chinese Thought: A Cross-Cultural Inquiry (Cambridge, 2002), Sagehood: The Contemporary Significance of Neo-Confucian Philosophy (Oxford, 2009), and Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy: Toward Progressive Confucianism (Polity, 2012), as well as and numerous scholarly articles on Chinese ethical and political thought and on topics in comparative philosophy.
More information on the Philosophy Seminar Series can be found here. A list of past talks in the series can be found here.

Announcing Confucian Foundation Book Prizes for Chinese Philosophy

Book PrizeThe Confucian Foundation is sponsoring three Book Prizes every year of SGD1000 each, to be awarded to students who excel in Chinese philosophy. The NUS Philosophy Department will select the award winners from those enrolled in its Chinese Philosophy modules. Winners will receive the Confucian Foundation book prizes at the annual celebration of Confucius Birthday, 2012-2014, to be held by the Nanyang Confucian Association. The Association, represented by its President Mr Kek Book Leong, and the department, represented by Associate Professor Tan Sor Hoon, signed the MOU for the book prizes at this year’s Confucius Birthday celebrations on 24 Sep 2011. The event was reported in the Lianhe Zaobao (26 Sep 2011).

A series of talks by Joseph Chan (16, 18, 19 Nov 2010)

A series of lectures by Joseph Chan,Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration and Associate Director of the Centre for Civil Society and Governance, The University of Hong Kong

Seminar 1: Interplay between ideal and nonideal thinking in early Confucian political thought (Tuesday, 16 November, 2010, 2-3:45 p.m.)

Seminar 2: Confucian ideal conception of the ruler-ruled relationship (Thursday, 18 November, 2010, 2:00-3:45p.m.)

Seminar 3: Confucians today and the roles and functions of human rights in ideal and non-ideal conditions (Friday, 19 November, 2010, 2-3:45p.m.)

Abstract: This seminar series examines early Confucian political thought and its contemporary relevance from a perspective that explores the intricate interplay between political ideal and reality. The series develops two tracks of theorizing—one track is to explain or justify a Confucian conception of social and political order on the ideal level, bracketing practical questions of feasibility and compliance; another track is to develop a non-ideal conception of the order that addresses those practical questions. The challenge of this two-track theorizing is two-fold: to justify keeping the ideal conception even though it is not likely to work in the real world and show how a feasible non-ideal conception of order still tallies with the Confucian ideal conception and keeps its aspiration. In other words, the challenge is to maintain a proper interplay between ideal and reality in the two-track theorizing.

The first seminar of the series introduces the interplay between ideal and nonideal thinking in early Confucian political thought. The second and third seminars apply that general perspective to political relationships and human rights respectively. The second seminar describes the Confucian ideal conception of the ruler-ruled relationship and discusses whether there are non-ideal political institutions that can maintain a proper interplay between ideal and reality. The third seminar discusses how Confucians today should understand the roles and functions of human rights in ideal and non-ideal conditions.

chanAbout the Speaker: Joseph Cho Wai Chan received his B.Soc.Sc in politics from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and M.Sc. and D.Phil. in political philosophy from the LSE and Oxford University respectively. He is Professor at the Department of Politics and Public Administration and Associate Director of the Centre for Civil Society and Governance, The University of Hong Kong. His recent research interests include Confucian political philosophy, contemporary liberalism and political perfectionism, the theory and practice of human rights, and civil society and social cohesion. He is working on a book tentatively titled Confucian Political Philosophy: A Critical Reconstruction for Modern Times.

More information on the Philosophy Seminar Series can be found here.

Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration and

Associate Director of the Centre for Civil Society and Governance

The University of Hong Kong

Talk: Interpreting the Mohist’s three standards, by Yuen Ming De (21 October 2010, 2-3pm)

Philosophy Seminar Series: 21 October 2010, 2-3pm, AS3-05-23;
Speaker: Yuen Ming De , Current MA Student, NUS;
Moderator: Dr. Christopher Brown

Abstract: Chad Hansen in his book A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought, and in other publications, argues for the position that (pre-buddhist) early Chinese philosophy has no concept of truth. Hansen argues that this position makes it more plausible to interpret the Mohist’s three standards as proposals about appropriate use of language, rather than proposals about the truth of statements. Bryan W. Van Norden, in his book Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy points out some general objection against the interpretation and problems with Hansen’s interpretation of each standard. I attempt to evaluate and reply to these objections.

Ming De

About the Speaker: Yuen Ming De is currently pursuing a Masters degree in NUS. His areas of interest include early Chinese Philosophy.

More information on the Graduate Seminar Series can be found here.

From Philology to Philosophy: A Study in Confucian Moral Psychology

A Series of lectures by Distinguished Philosophy Visitor Professor Shun Kwong-loi, Chair Professor of Philosophy and Sin Wai Kin Professor of Chinese Culture, Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Session 1: Methodological Reflections (AS3 0523, 4 Aug, 2-4 p.m.) (.pdf)

Session 2: A Confucian Theme (AS3 0523, 5 Aug, 2-4 p.m.)

Session 3: Purity, Moral Trials, and Equanimity (AS3 0523, 6 Aug, 2-4 p.m.) (.pdf)

Public Lecture: On Anger – A Confucian Perspective (AS7 0116/17/18, 10 Aug, 5-6.30 p.m.) (.pdf)

The series of four lectures present a certain methodological approach to the philosophical study of Chinese thought, illustrated by a number of Confucian ideas related to the Confucian understanding of propriety (yi 義). The first lecture presents the methodological approach, and distinguishes between three different though related goals in the study of Confucian ethical thought. The first seeks to approximate the ideas recorded in early texts through careful textual and historical analysis. The second aims at extracting the insights behind the texts that are of relevance to our own contemporary ethical experiences. The third attempts to build a systematic and reflective account on the basis of these insights that deepens our understanding of our own ethical life. The first task is primarily philological and focuses on the past, namely, on approximating the thinking of past Confucian thinkers. The third task is primarily philosophical and focuses on the present, namely, on building a reflective account of our ethical experiences that is of appeal to us nowadays. The second provides a transition from the philological to the philosophical, and involves our moving between the past and the present in an attempt to articulate the insights of past Confucian thinkers that are of present relevance.

The first lecture of the series lays out this methodological approach, while the other three lectures illustrate the three tasks just described, using a number of Confucian ideas related to the Confucian understanding of propriety as the guiding theme. The second lecture provides a discussion of these ideas, including yi 義, ming 命, cheng 誠, xu 虛 and si 私, and analyses the way these concepts are understood in early and later Confucian thought . The third lecture builds on the second by drawing out the philosophical implications of the ideas discussed in the second lecture, focusing on the phenomena purity, moral trials, and equanimity. The fourth lecture builds on the third by providing a more in-depth and primarily philosophical discussion of ideas highlighted in the third lecture, using the phenomenon of anger as a focus for the discussion. Together, the four lectures illustrate a way of integrating philological and philosophical methods in the study of Chinese thought.

Public Lecture, 10 August, 5 to 6.30 p.m., FASS Seminar Room , AS7-01-16/17/18

On Anger – A Confucian Perspective

The lecture discusses the phenomenon of anger as viewed from a Confucian perspective. After introducing the phenomenon of anger, it describes the Confucian view of disgrace and self-regard, and discusses the implication of this view for the Confucian perspective on anger. This perspective explains why the notions of resentment and forgiveness do not play a prominent role in Confucian thought, and also provides a sense in which the Confucian attitude is ‘detached’ in a way that leads to a sense of invulnerability and equanimity.

For more information, please contact Dr. Loy Hui Chieh ( To register for the public lecture, please contact Anjana (

The Philosophy Department welcomes three distinguished Chinese Philosophers

Professor Shun Kwong-loi, Chair Professor of Philosophy at Chinese University of Hong Kong and Sin Wai Kin Professor of Chinese Culture, will be delivering a series of four lectures, “From Philology to Philosophy – A Study in Confucian Moral Psychology,” 4 to 10 August. The last lecture, “On Anger: A Confucian Perspective,” will be open to the public. Before joining CUHK, Professor Shun held key positions at the University of Toronto and the University of California at Berkeley. His scholarship is impressive both for its sinological expertise and its philosophical rigor. He contributed many entries to Encyclopedias on Chinese Philosophy (Oxford Companion to Philosophy), Confucius (Encyclopedia of Ethics), Mencius (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), Wang Yangming (Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy) and other related topics. He has published widely on Confucian ethics, most recently on “Studying Confucian and Comparative Ethics,” and “Wholeness in Confucian Thought: Zhu Xi on Cheng, Zhong, Xin, and Jing.” His book on Mencius and Early Chinese Thought has become a classic in Chinese Philosophy and an exemplar of philosophical interpretation of ancient Chinese texts.

Professor Chad Hansen, Chair Professor Emeritus, University of Hong Kong, is visiting the department in AY 2010/2011. He will be teaching Introduction to Comparative Philosophy (PH3218) and Topics in East Asian Philosophy (PH4205) in Semester I. In Semester II, he will be teaching Comparative Philosophy (PH4213) and a graduate module (PH6760: Philosophical Topics). Among Professor Hansen’s works, the most famous is A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought. Other monographs include Language and Logic in Ancient China and Laozi: The Tao Te Ching: on The Art of Harmony. He has published many articles and book chapters, recent ones include “The Normative Impact of Comparative Ethics: Human Rights” (Confucian Ethics : A Comparative Study of Self, Autonomy, and Community); “The Metaphysics of Dao” (Comparative Approaches to Chinese Philosophy); “Reading with Understanding: Interpretive Method in Chinese Philosophy” (Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy); “Prolegomena To Future Solutions To “White-Horse Not Horse”: Being Uncharitable To Gongsun Long” (Journal of Chinese Philosophy); “Washing the Dust from my Mirror: The Deconstruction of Buddhism” (Philosophy East and West).

Professor Lisa Raphals joins the department from AY2010/2011 and will be teaching Greek Philosophy: Aristotle (PH 3222) in Semester I, followed by Greek Thinkers (PH4209) and Early Chinese Philosophy I (PH2301) in Semester II. Well known for her nuanced study of both the ancient Greek and ancient Chinese traditions, Professor Raphals is author of Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece and Sharing the Light: Representations of Women and Virtue in Early China. Her journal articles and book chapters include “Fate, Fortune, Chance and Luck in Chinese and Greek,” (Philosophy East and West); “Notes on Baoshan Medical Manuscript” (Studies on Recently-Discovered Chinese Manuscripts); “Craft Analogies in Chinese and Greek Argumentation (Literature, Religion and East-West Comparison); “Divination and Medicine in China and Greece” (East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine); “Daoism and Animals” (A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion and Ethics). Her current research focuses on a comparative study of key religious ideas such as fate and divination in China and ancient Greece.