In this lecture, I present a sketch of how action and agency are conceived of in pre-Qín 先秦, or classical, Chinese thought, along the way drawing some contrasts with familiar Western conceptions of action. I will also comment briefly on how the ideas I present might affect our interpretation of early Chinese texts and how they might help us to relate early Chinese thought to contemporary action theory and ethics.
, originally was not an independent chapter in the Fei Gong (Condemning Aggression) series, but rather part of the ending of Mozi 26, the first of the Tian Zhi ¤Ñ§Ó (Heaven’s Intention) chapters. I will argue that we have no reason to..
This note responds to an interpretation of Mohist Canon and Explanation B 671 published by John Makeham some years ago.2 Makeham’s interpretation makes significant contributions to our understanding of this passage, especially in calling attention to problems with two influential previous interpretations, those of A. C. Graham and Chad Hansen.3 Yet his reading presents difficulties of its own, which I will attempt to rectify here.
Correspondence: Chris Fraser (J) (Assistant Professor) Department of Philosophy Rm. 430, Fung King Hey Bldg. Chinese University of Hong Kong Shatin, N.T., Hong Kong Telephone: 852-9782-0560 Fax: 852-2603-5323 E-mail: email@example.com..
This essay applies John Searle’s account of weakness of will to explore the classical Chinese problem of weak-willed action. Searle’s discussion focuses on the shortcomings of the Western classical model of rationality in explaining weakness of will, so he naturally says little about the practical ethical problem of overcoming weak-willed action, the focus of the relevant Chinese texts. Yet his theory of action, specifically his notion of the Background, suggests a compelling approach to the practical issue, one that converges with (...) a plausible account of the classical Chinese conception of agency. On this approach, the practical problem is due to weaknesses of the self in carrying out intentions. The key to overcoming the problem lies not in restructuring the agent’s affective states, as suggested by prominent interpreters of Chinese thought such as David Nivison, but in strengthening the agent’s Background capacities, much as we do when mastering new skills. (shrink)
John Searle’s “thesis of the Background” is an attempt to articulate the role of nonintentional capacities—know-how, skills, and abilities—in constituting intentional phenomena. This essay applies Searle’s notion of the Background to shed light on the Daoist notion of wú-wéi—“non-action” or non-intentional action—and to help clarify the sort of activity that might originally have inspired the wú-wéi ideal. I draw on Searle’s work and the original Chinese sources to develop a defensible conception of a wú-wéi-like state that may play an intrinsically (...) and instrumentally valuable role in the exercise of agency. At the same time, however, I argue that Searle’s view that “Intentionality rises to the level of the Background abilities” convincingly explains why the conception of wú-wéi presented in ancient texts is untenable. Wú-wéi-like states can generally occur only as components of an intentional flow of activity, and thus they are not fundamentally nonintentional. (shrink)
The article proposes an account of the prevailing classical Chinese conception of reasoning and argumentation that grounds it in a semantic theory and epistemology centered on drawing distinctions (biàn ) between the similar and dissimilar kinds of things that do or do not fall within the extension of ?names? (míng ). The article presents two novel interpretive hypotheses. First, for pre-Hàn Chinese thinkers, the functional role associated with the logical copula is filled by a general notion of similarity or sameness (...) (tóng ). Second, these thinkers? basic explanation of reasoning is that it is a process of moving from a comparison of whether something is similar to a ?model? or ?standard? ( f? ) to a judgment about whether that thing is part of a certain kind (lèi ). Classical texts treat judgment as the attitude of predicating a ?name? of something, or, equivalently, of distinguishing whether something is the kind of thing denoted by a certain term. Reasoning is treated as a process of considering how some acts of term predication, or drawing distinctions, normatively commit one to making further, analogous predications or drawing further, analogous distinctions. Inference is thus understood as the act of distinguishing something as a certain kind of thing as a result of having distinguished it as similar to a relevant ?model? or ?standard?. The article concludes by summarizing the consequences of the proposed account of early Chinese semantic and logical theories for the interpretation of other areas of classical Chinese thought. (shrink)
This essay examines the theory of ritual propriety presented in the Xúnzǐ and criticisms of Xunzi-like views found in the classical Daoist anthology Zhuāngzǐ. To highlight the respects in which the Zhuāngzǐ can be read as posing a critical response to a Xunzian view of ritual propriety, the essay juxtaposes the two texts' views of language, since Xunzi's theory of ritual propriety is intertwined with his theory of language. I argue that a Zhuangist critique of the presuppositions of Xunzi's stance (...) on language also undermines his stance on ritual propriety. Xunzi contends that state promulgation of anelaborate code of ritual propriety is a key to good social order (zhi) and that state regulation of language is a key to smooth communication and thus also good order. The Zhuāngzǐ provides grounds for doubting both contentions. Claiming that ritual propriety causally produces social order is analogous to claiming that grammar causally produces smooth linguistic communication, when in fact it is more likely our ability to communicate that allows us to develop shared rules of grammar. Humans have fundamental social and communicative capacities that undergird our abilities to speak a language or engage in shared ritual performances. It is these more fundamental capacities, not their manifestation in a particular system of grammar or ritual norms, that provide the root explanation of our ability to communicate or to live together harmoniously. The Xunzi-Zhuangzi dialectic suggests that ritual is indispensable, but normatively justified rituals will be less rigid, less comprehensive, less fastidious, and more spontaneous than a Xunzian theorist would allow. (shrink)
Among the many striking features of the philosophy of the Zhu?ngz? is that it advocates a life unperturbed by emotions, including even pleasurable, positive emotions such as joy or delight. Many of us see emotions as an ineluctable part of life, and some would argue they are a crucial component of a well-developed moral sensitivity and a good life. The Zhuangist approach to emotion challenges such commonsense views so radically that it amounts to a test case for the fundamental plausibility (...) of the Daoist ethical orientation: If the Zhuangist stance on emotion is untenable, then other aspects of Daoist ethics may founder as well. In this essay, I explore what I call a Zhuangist ?Virtuoso View? of emotion and its connections with human agency, attempting to show that at least one version of a Zhuangist approach to emotion passes the ?basic plausibility? test. I begin by describing the Virtuoso View and sketching its theoretical foundation, which involves claims about human agency, the self, psychophysical hygiene, the good life, epistemology, and metaphysics. Next, I defend the Virtuoso View against three objections, namely that it abandons intentionality, that it interferes with a good life, and that it yields a schizophrenic conception of agency. I argue for three major theses. First, the Virtuoso View is easily intelligible and largely defensible. Second, it reflects a crucial insight into a fundamental dichotomy at the core of human agency: the unavoidable conflict within a self-aware human agent between an internal, engaged perspective and an external, detached one. Third, I suggest that certain problems or conflicts arising from the Virtuoso View actually reflect inherent features of the human predicament and thus are not mere conceptual defects. Hence even if we do not find the Virtuoso View wholly convincing, we can nevertheless gain much insight from it. (shrink)
Drawing primarily on the Mòzǐ and Xúnzǐ, the article proposes an account of how knowledge and error are understood in classical Chinese epistemology and applies it to explain the absence of a skeptical argument from illusion in early Chinese thought. Arguments from illusion are associated with a representational conception of mind and knowledge, which allows the possibility of a comprehensive or persistent gap between appearance and reality. By contrast, early Chinese thinkers understand mind and knowledge primarily in terms of competence (...) or ability, not representation. Cognitive error amounts to a form of incompetence. Error is not explained as a failure to accurately represent the mind-independent reality due to misleading or illusory appearances. Instead, it can be explained metaphorically by appeal to part-whole relations: cognitive error typically occurs when agents incompetently respond to only part of their situation, rather than the whole. (shrink)
The ethics of the Zhuāngzi is distinctive for its valorization of psychological qualities such as open-mindedness, adaptability, and tolerance. The paper discusses how these qualities and their consequences for morality and politics relate to the text’s views onskepticism and value. Chad Hansen has argued that Zhuangist ethical views are motivated by skepticism about our ability to know a privileged scheme of action-guiding distinctions, which in turn is grounded in a form of relativism about such distinctions. Against this, Icontend that the (...) Zhuāngzi’s skepticism and its ethical stance jointly rest on a metaethical view of value as inherently plural, perspectival, heterogeneous, and contingent. This view provides grounds for moral consideration toward others and for political liberalism. It also explains how the psychological qualities valorized in the Zhuāngzi contribute to the value of our individual lives, by showing what their absence costs us. (shrink)
The Mohist Canons are a set of brief statements on a variety of philosophical and other topics by anonymous members of the Mohist school , an influential philosophical, social, and religious movement of China's Warring States period (479-221 B.C.).  Written and compiled most likely between the late 4th and mid 3rd century B.C., the Canons are often referred to as the “later Mohist” or “Neo-Mohist” canons, since they seem chronologically later than the bulk of the Mohist writings, most of (...) which are probably from the mid-5th to the late 4th century. The.. (shrink)
Three views of psychological emptiness, or x , can be found in the Zhu ngz . The instrumental view values x primarily as a means of efficacious action. The moderate view assigns it intrinsic value as an element of one Zhuangist vision of the good life. The radical view also takes it to be an element of the ideal life, but in this case the form of life advocated is that of the Daoist sage, who transcends mundane human concerns to (...) merge with nature or the D o. The instrumental and moderate views articulate a relatively commonsensical position, on which the agent continues to pursue at least some characteristically human projects. On the radical view, by contrast, the agent ceases to exercise agency and lives a life hardly recognizable as human. The three views thus signal a tension in Zhuangist ethics, and the unattractiveness of the radical view poses a potential obstacle to the application of Daoist ideas in contemporary ethical discourse. The paper argues that there are principled grounds within Zhuangist thought for detaching the instrumental and moderate views from the radical view and rejecting the latter. (shrink)
Three views of psychological emptiness, or x?, can be found in the Zhu?ngz?. The instrumental view values x? primarily as a means of efficacious action. The moderate view assigns it intrinsic value as an element of one Zhuangist vision of the good life. The radical view also takes it to be an element of the ideal life, but in this case the form of life advocated is that of the Daoist sage, who transcends mundane human concerns to merge with nature (...) or the Dào. The instrumental and moderate views articulate a relatively commonsensical position, on which the agent continues to pursue at least some characteristically human projects. On the radical view, by contrast, the agent ceases to exercise agency and lives a life hardly recognizable as human. The three views thus signal a tension in Zhuangist ethics, and the unattractiveness of the radical view poses a potential obstacle to the application of Daoist ideas in contemporary ethical discourse. The paper argues that there are principled grounds within Zhuangist thought for detaching the instrumental and moderate views from the radical view and rejecting the latter. (shrink)
The “School of Names” ming jia ) is the traditional Chinese label for a diverse group of Warring States (479-221 B.C.) thinkers who shared an interest in language, disputation, and metaphysics. They were notorious for logic-chopping, purportedly idle conceptual puzzles, and paradoxes such as “Today go to Yue but arrive yesterday” and “A white horse is not a horse.” Because reflection on language in ancient China centered on “names”.
: This essay critiques Chad Hansen’s "mass noun hypothesis," arguing that though most Classical Chinese nouns do function as mass nouns, this fact does not support the claim that pre-Qin thinkers treat the extensions of common nouns as mereological wholes, nor does it explain why they adopt nominalist semantic theories. The essay shows that early texts explain the use of common nouns by appeal to similarity relations, not mereological relations. However, it further argues that some early texts do characterize the (...) relation between individuals and collections as a mereological relation. (shrink)
Tang Junyi (T’ang Chun-i 唐君毅) was among the founders of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the first chair of the Department of Philosophy at CUHK, an influential scholar of Chinese philosophy, and one of the leaders of the New Confucian movement. In this article, I take issue with the line of interpretation he develops in a provocative 1955 study of Mencius and Mozi. Though I don’t make the connections explicit, Tang’s views and my critique of them are relevant to (...) issues in contemporary discussions of action and motivation, particularly the debate between motivational Humeanism and anti-Humeanism. (shrink)