Papers on Philosophy VI

11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room 5

  • Maddalena Poli, “Textual Composition in the Service of Oral Practice in Early China. The Case of the 4th Century B.C.E. ‘Natural Dispositions Come from Heaven’s Mandate’ (Xing zi ming chu 性自命出)”
  • Margus Ott, “Extended Knowledge in the Analects, Mozi, and Zhuangzi
  • Yumi Suzuki, “Environmental Philosophy in Early Confucianism”
  • Xing Lan, “No Fear from Heaven: Revisiting the 11th Century Chinese Debate on Five Phases Theory in the Interpretation of Portents”

Maddalena Poli, “Textual Composition in the Service of Oral Practice in Early China. The Case of the 4th Century B.C.E. ‘Natural Dispositions Come from Heaven’s Mandate’ (Xing zi ming chu 性自命出)”

This paper introduces a new approach for the study of excavated manuscripts from early China. It analyses the much-debated Guodian manuscript Natural Dispositions come from Heaven’s Mandate 性自命出 and its parallel Debates on Natural Dispositions and Emotions 性情論, showing that they are not two straightforward versions of the same text. I argue that these manuscripts were exercises used to train aspiring ministers for orally performed debates taking place at courts. Such claim reopens the relentless questions of what we are reading, and how we should do so: I discuss criteria that can identify manuscripts used to develop oratorical skills, testing them on Thickets of Sayings 語叢 and Lord Mu of Lu asked Zisi 魯穆公問子思. Recent scholarship on Dunhuang and Tangut manuscripts has shown that these sources too fulfilled pedagogical purposes: they were primers used to learn not just Chinese language but also literary tropes and themes (Nugent 2018; Galambos 2015). The features characterising these manuscripts are similar to those I identify for early sources: a compressed elliptical style, repetitiveness, reliance on generative formulae, etc. If correct, the identification of these manuscripts as material to foster oratorical skills sits uneasily with the traditional understanding of these sources as “self-contained piece[s] of thought” and “consciously written philosophy” (Meyer 2008). In fact, once we abandon this perspective, intra- and inter-textual variations of the same narratives become meaningful expressions of the intellectual world in early China, rather than inconsistencies to resolve.

Margus Ott, “Extended Knowledge in the Analects, Mozi, and Zhuangzi

One prominent idea in embodied epistemology is that knowledge is not generated or processed by the brain or even by one’s body only, but extends to things and beings in the environment. In contemporary philosophical discussions of embodied epistemology, some common examples of extended knowledge include technical devices such as hammers, cars and computers. However, ritual objects are not often discussed. I investigate three examples of extendedness in early Chinese philosophy: (1) Ritual items in the Analects (e.g. jade tablet, zither); (2) the Mozi’s technical devices (compass, square, ink-line, water-line, plumb-line); and (3) objects in the Zhuangzi’s self-cultivation stories (ox’s carcass, wood, water). In the Analects, ritual items are contextualized in embodied thinking processes. By contrast, the Mozi’s discussions of technical devices are set against themes of decontextualization and disembodiment. Finally, the Zhuangzi’s self-cultivation objects have a practical purpose, like those in the Mozi. However, in the Zhuangzi’s stories, the themes of contextualised and embodied knowledge is even more prominent. The embodied processes undertaken by the Zhuangzi’s masters generate a new, contextualised knowledge, through the decentering and transformation of self.

Yumi Suzuki, “Environmental Philosophy in Early Confucianism”

Unlike Daoism whose ideal way of life is generally thought to be compatible with contemporary environmental ethics, early Confucianism is often thought to have never regarded natural environment as an important subject. Both Kongzi’s agnostic attitude towards heavenly events (Lunyu 5/13, 11/12) and Xunzi’s accounts of hierarchic relations between humans, animals, and plants (Xunzi 9/39/9-10) typically represent their limited focusses on social and political affairs. Nevertheless, strong interests in human nature (xìng 性) found in the Mengzi and the Xunzi indicates that both Confucian moral values such as rén 仁 and 義 and ideal political institutes are natural creations inevitable and indispensable for human flourishment. This paper, therefore, demonstrates that Xunzi’s political philosophy deeply originates with his keen discernment of heavenly nature (tiān 天). Xunzi maintains that yāo 妖 (ominous events) such as famine and diseases as caused by political deficiency, but not by natural or supernatural forces (17/81/10-82/4) and that the virtue ( 德) of the ruler lies in his ‘ecological responsibilities’ of properly responding to natural revolutions to succeed in various domestic enterprises completed at proper times and effectively coping with the natural crises (17/79/16-21) as well as satisfying and regulating the nature of its people since humans intrinsically do not differ from other animals (23/113/3 ff.). I suggest that his attempt is not to integrate nature into his anthropocentric political system but on the contrary to align political system with its own natural state and surroundings, thus rather can be nature-centred.

Xing Lan, “No Fear from Heaven: Revisiting the 11th Century Chinese Debate on Five Phases Theory in the Interpretation of Portents”

This study discusses why and how Confucian thinkers in the 11th century criticised the application of the Five Phases theory to explain portents.
In China, portents have been interpreted within the framework of the Five Phases since the 1st century. This portent interpretation has been analysed from different angles. Some studies have shed light on the formation of this tradition during the Han Dynasty (Sivin 1995, Espesset 2016) but very few studies engage in the alterations and challenges which convey essential changes in Chinese intellectual history.
To fill in this gap, this paper focuses on the Chinese scholarly discussion about separating the Five Phases from the interpretation of portents in the 11th century. This discussion involved numerous famous scholars like Wang Anshi, Ouyang Xiu, and Su Shi and was also largely advanced through the reformation of Wang Anshi.
My paper is to argue that both intellectuals and officials in the 11th century were dissatisfied with the application of the Five Phases in interpreting portents, but invalidating it was difficult because it was established on Han’s commentaries on the Confucian classics. Instead of challenging the authority of Confucius, they also reflected ideas in the form of commentary to remove the application of the Five Phases.
In my paper I will distinguish three different strategies of argumentation within this historical debate: denying the authenticity of chapters about the Five Phases in the Confucian classics, refusing Han scholars’ interpretation about the Five Phases, and revealing contradictions in received principles of the Five Phases.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room 5