Some Thoughts on Convention and Ritual in Xunzi

I recently returned from the 2012 AAR Annual Meeting, at which I was involved with two excellent panels, on Confucian Ethics (I chaired a session featuring three excellent papers by Cheryl Cottine, Aaron Stalnaker, and Michael Ing), and on Comparative Chinese-Indian thought (I presented a paper on a panel including fantastic papers by Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Laurie Patton, and David Lawrence).  I presented a paper on Xunzi and the Mimamsa Sutra, and have been thinking further about this paper in the last couple of days.

Let me throw a particular issue out there that I’ve been thinking about recently, related to part of what I cover in this paper.  I considered the question of the source of ritual in Xunzi, and whether we ought to see Xunzi as endorsing a conventionalist view or a realist view of ritual.  One of my contentions in the Continue reading


Reading the Zhuangzi in a Zhuangist Way

Recently I’ve been working on a couple of articles on the Zhuangzi, and have been thinking about the critically important question of how we read the text, and how this influences our interpretations.  The last few times I’ve read the text through, I’ve tried to approach it in a much different manner than I used to, and this, I’ve found, has both opened up a deeper layer of meaning in the text, and perhaps most strangely, simplified its themes and arguments.  I want to talk briefly here about first, a way of reading the text, and second, a possible misunderstanding of some of the seemingly extreme claims made in the Zhuangzi. Continue reading

Wang Chong in the IEP

My article for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Wang Chong has just been posted, here.  Check it out!  (An outline of what I’m covering in the book, more or less…)

What is 天 Tian?

In Wang Chong’s essay Tan tian (談天) “Discussing Tian” (I leave it untranslated here so as not to beg questions), he (as usual) criticizes a number of common views concerning what tian is and what it does.  This discussion leaves open the question, however, of just what Wang himself thinks that tian is and does.  We get some indication of Wang’s view on this in other essays of the Lunheng, and a bit in the Tan tian itself, but for the most part we are left to piece together his position on tian, as he focuses much more on undermining incorrect positions than advancing his own concerning tianContinue reading

Wang Chong as Philosopher: A Preview

I have recently (since I began working on these Wang Chong posts) been working on a longer work on Wang Chong’s philosophical thought, tentatively titled “Wang Chong as Philosopher”–I’ll likely come up with something better as I go along.  Anyway–I thought that this would be a good place to give a short account of the project, before I get into some of the issues I’m working through in future posts.

I engage with Wang Chong as philosopher, rather than as social critic, political thinker, or historical figure.  Certainly, aspects of these features of Wang Chong’s work must be considered in any study of Wang’s thought, but I focus mainly in this project on the philosophical thought of Wang, as it reveals itself through the method he advocates, his arguments and conclusions, and the sometimes startling ways these arguments can help to inform certain positions and debates in contemporary philosophy.

Thus, my purpose is in some sense historical, but in a larger sense it is an attempt to reflect along side of Wang Chong, thinking about solutions to pressing philosophical problems in ways that often import Wang’s thinking to solve contemporary problems and vice-versa.   I necessarily consider Wang outside of his historical and cultural context, assuming that philosophical method and arguments need not be tied to particular historical and cultural contexts (as we regularly do with philosophers such as Kant or Plato, and to a somewhat lesser extent with religious philosophers like Aquinas, Augustine, or Avicenna, whose central theological motives are often seen as archaic and therefore historically and culturally bound).

One way of seeing the intent of this work, then, is that of thinking through contemporary philosophical problems through the lenses of and with the aid of Wang Chong, a unique and penetrating ancient Chinese thinker, whose method and arguments can be of immense use in contemporary philosophy.  Wang approaches subjects from ethics and politics to metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and philosophical method, in an often very different way than his contemporaries and near-contemporaries in the earliest and most widely studied (by philosophers in the west) period of Chinese thought. Wang Chong’s thought is well suited to inform contemporary debates in ethics, metaphysics, and philosophy of language, and contemporary philosophical concepts can also help illuminate Wang’s own project.

Keep an eye out for much more on Wang here on Unpolished Jade in the coming days and weeks!

Determinism and “Completion of Character” in Lunheng

This is the most strongly worded statement of something like behavioral determinism I’ve found in Lunheng.  Interestingly enough, it comes in a chapter on government (治期 Zhi qi), and I suspect this is the reason the statement is as stark as it is.  Let’s jump right in (my rough translation follows below-I haven’t tackled Zhi qi yet in my Lunheng translation, though it’s next on my list): Continue reading

Three Kinds of Destiny

I’ll be talking about Wang Chong quite a bit on this blog in the coming months, as I’ve just plunged into a major project on his work, stemming from the past work I’ve done on his philosophical views.  There’s just far too much of philosophical interest in Lunheng to be overlooked.  The plan is to consider Wang’s philosophy in light of both Han debates and in comparison with contemporary western philosophy, to which Wang Chong’s ideas can make a number of contributions.  I’ve also made a new years resolution for 2012 to post here on UPJ more regularly, as the comments I get here are of great help to me in chiseling and polishing this “unpolished” work!

I’ve come across an interesting issue in Lunheng recently, and an interesting translation difficulty/issue.  Wang Chong distinguished three types of ming 命(destiny) in the essay Ming yi 命義, and there is a difficulty surrounding how this distinction ought to be understood.  Continue reading