“Sustainability, Complex Systems, and the Greeks” by Mark Usher (Mar 5)

Proponents of sustainability and complex systems tend to present their ideas and prescriptions as new and innovative, and sometimes as conceptual insights and a set of values that have been recovered from non-Western traditions. On the first point, to the extent that sustainability studies and complexity theory utilize new technologies and scientific discoveries in their pursuits, they are indeed new and innovative. However, the fundamental tenets of sustainability—living within limits; imposing/encouraging limits and stewardship through social pressures/incentives and civic policies—are some of the hallmarks of ancient Greek culture and thought. As for systems thinking—the idea that no phenomenon is a discrete, isolated entity or event, but must be viewed as part of complex, interrelated wholes with physical, moral, social, and noetic dimensions—this is exactly the philosophic undertaking of the Presocratics and of the poet Hesiod, and, in their wake, of Plato and Aristotle, and, later, the Stoics, Cynics, and Epicureans.

This lecture is the first installment of Professor Usher’s new book project in which he traces the trajectory of modern ideas about sustainability and complexity theory back to the Greeks. Its aim is 1) to invigorate current thinking in these areas, and 2) to underscore the extent of the Greco-Roman contribution to these topics of contemporary, global concern.

Philosophy Seminar Series
Date: Thursday, 5 Mar 2015
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: AS3 #05-23
Speaker: Mark Usher, University of Vermont
Moderator: Dr. Qu Hsueh Ming

About the Speaker:

Picture1M.D. Usher is Professor and Chair of Classics at the University of Vermont. In addition to academic books and articles, he has published three children’s books, original poetry and translations, and two opera libretti. The impetus for this project on sustainability and complex systems stems from his training as a Classicist specializing in Greek literature, his appointment as a Sustainability Faculty Fellow at the University of Vermont for 2010-11, and twelve years of hands-on experience as a farmer. (He and his wife built and operate Works & Days Farm, a small, diversified farmstead that produces lamb, poultry, eggs, and honey on 125 acres.)


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.