[Public Lecture] “Enlightening Ways” – The Three Teachings as One 《三教为一》(23 Mar)

Prof. Roger T. Ames, who is currently teaching Chinese Philosophy and Pragmatism here in our Department, will be delivering a lecture in the Asian Civilisations Museum.

This lecture is organised by the Asian Civilisations Museum. All are welcome!

Date: Saturday, 23 March 2013
Time: 1 to 2pm
Venue: Ngee Ann Auditorium, Asian Civilisations Museum.

This is a free lecture. No registration required.


One feature of the East Asian philosophical traditions – Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism (儒道佛) is that they are understood to be complementary rather than exclusive. These importantly different “enlightening ways” share a common point of depareture. Each of them is committeed to the need for a regimen of personal cultivation in our everyday lives in order to transform the human experience and to make the most of our narratives as human beings. I will take representative stories from the canonical texts of the three traditions to argue that they in fact become one as each of them in their own way seeks to make the ordinary extraordinary, to enchant the everyday, and to enlighten our way in the world.

About the Speaker:

Roger T. Ames received his doctorate from the University of London and has spent many years abroad in China and Japan studying Chinese philosophy. He has been Visiting Professor at National Taiwan University, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Peking University, a fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and has lectured extensively at various universities around the world. Professor Ames has been the recipient of many grants and awards. In addition, he has authored, edited, and translated some 30 books, and has written numerous book chapters and articles in professional journals. He was the subject editor for the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean entries in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Currently, he continues to work on interpretive studies and explicitly “philosophical” translations of the core classical texts, taking full advantage in his research of the exciting new archaelogical finds.

“In Defense of Habit: Cognitive Science and Confucian Virtue Ethics” by Edward Slingerland (14 Mar)

In this talk I will argue that recent work in cognitive science and social psychology suggests that the sort of “cognitive control” that plays a central role in modern deontology and utilitarianism is actually a very weak foundation upon which to build an ethical education system. Human rationality is, in fact, not particular dependable in day-to-day situations, which means that a style of ethics that focuses on habits and automatic emotions, rather than reasoning styles, might be expected to do a better job of getting people to reliably act in an ethical manner. I will argue that the early Confucian emphasis on moral spontaneity, moral emotions, and the inculcation of virtuous habits is based upon a much more empirically defensible model of human cognition, portraying early Confucian virtue ethics as involving a kind of “time-delayed cognitive control.” Virtue ethics involves a system of ethical training that acknowledges (explicitly or not) the limitations of individual, in-the-moment cognitive control, and therefore designs a system of training regimes and ethical guidelines—themselves the products of cognitive control—which are to be internalized and automatized. Virtue ethics might this be seen as a clever way of getting around the limits of human cognitive control abilities, embedding higher-level desires and goals in lower-level emotional and sensory-motor systems. I will also argue that the specific features of Confucian virtue ethics—in particular, its emphasis on situation-sensitive training—avoid some of the weaknesses of traditional Western models of virtue ethics.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 14 Mar 2013
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Edward Slingerland, Professor of Asian Studies and Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition, University of British Columbia, Canada
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker: 

Edward Slingerland is Professor of Asian Studies and Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition at the University of British Columbia, where he also holds adjunct appointments in Philosophy and Psychology. His research specialties and teaching interests include Warring States (5th-3rd c. B.C.E.) Chinese thought, religious studies (comparative religion, cognitive science and evolution of religion), cognitive linguistics (blending and conceptual metaphor theory), ethics (virtue ethics, moral psychology), and the relationship between the humanities and the natural sciences. His publications include Effortless Action: Wu-wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China (Oxford 2003), the Analects of Confucius (Hackett 2003), What Science Offers the Humanities: Integrating Body & Culture (Cambridge 2008), and Creating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and Humanities (co-edited with Mark Collard, Oxford 2012), as well as numerous articles in top journals in a wide variety of fields. He is currently also PI on a large Canadian government grant on “The Evolution of Religion and Morality” and Director of the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium (CERC).

“Confucian Role Ethics: A Challenge to the Ideology of Individualism” by Roger T. Ames (17 Jan)

In the introduction of Chinese philosophy and culture into the Western academy, we have tended to theorize and conceptualize this antique tradition by appeal to familiar categories. Confucian role ethics is an attempt to articulate a sui generis moral philosophy that allows this tradition to have its own voice. This holistic philosophy is grounded in the primacy of relationality, and is a challenge to a foundational liberal individualism that has defined persons as discrete, autonomous, rational, free, and often self-interested agents. Confucian role ethics begins from a relationally constituted conception of person, takes family roles and relations as the entry point for developing moral competence, invokes moral imagination and the growth in relations that it can inspire as the substance of human morality, and entails a human-centered, a-theistic religiousness that stands in sharp contrast to the Abrahamic religions.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 17 Jan 2013
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Roger T. Ames, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker: 

Roger T. Ames is Professor of Philosophy and editor of Philosophy East & West. His recent publications include translations of Chinese classics: Sun-tzu: The Art of Warfare (1993); Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare (1996) and Tracing Dao to its Source (1997) (both with D.C. Lau); the Confucian Analects (1998) and the Classic of Family Reverence: A Philosophical Translation of the Xiaojing (2009) (both with H. Rosemont), Focusing the Familiar: A Translation and Philosophical Interpretation of the Zhongyong, and A Philosophical Translation of the Daodejing: Making This Life Significant (with D.L. Hall) (2001). He has also authored many interpretative studies of Chinese philosophy and culture: Thinking Through Confucius (1987), Anticipating China: Thinking Through the Narratives of Chinese and Western Culture (1995), and Thinking From the Han: Self, Truth, and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture (1997) (all with D.L. Hall).  Recently he has undertaken several projects that entail the intersection of contemporary issues and cultural understanding.  His Democracy of the Dead: Dewey, Confucius, and the Hope for Democracy in China (with D.L. Hall) (1999) is a product of this effort. Almost all of his publications are now available in Chinese translation, including his philosophical translations of Chinese canonical texts. Confucian Role Ethics: A Vocabulary (2011), his most recent monograph that evolved from the endowed Ch’ien Mu lectures at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is an argument that this tradition has a sui generis vision of the moral life. He has most recently been engaged in compiling the new Blackwell Sourcebook of Chinese Philosophy, and in writing articles promoting a conversation between American pragmatism and Confucianism.

“Ritual in the Xunzi: A Change of the Heart/Mind” by Winnie Sung

Philosophy Seminar Series: Thursday, 22 Mar 2012, 2-4pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Winnie Sung, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson


This paper seeks to advance discussion of Xunzi’s view of ritual by examining what it is that ritual addresses and the way in which it targets the problem. I argue that the root of the problem is the natural inclination of human beings to be concerned only with self-interest. The reason ritual works is that, on the one hand, it requires a person to disregard concern for self-interest and observe ethical standards and, on the other, it allows one to express feelings in an ethically appropriate way. The ideal effect of ritual on the person is a sense of ease and security; the ideal character shaped by ritual is one of deference and responsiveness in dealing with affairs and people. Based on these conclusions, I will flesh out implicit assumptions Xunzi might have adopted to help us understand the nature of ritual transformation for Xunzi.

About the Speaker: Winnie Sung is a postdoctoral fellow of Chinese Philosophy at Nanyang Technological University. She received her BA in philosophy from University of Toronto and Ph.D. from the University of New South Wales. She is interested in early Chinese thought, with emphasis on Xunzi and Confucian ethics.

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

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 (philoyhc@nus.edu.sg). To register for the public lecture, please contact Anjana (anjana@nus.edu.sg).

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.