Frontiers of Philosophy in China

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Consciousness, Free Will, and the Sciences of the Mind
Timothy O’Connor
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (3): 394-401.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0030-6
Abstract   PDF (287KB)

In his review of the trio of philosopher-scientist dialogues on the nature and capacities of the human mind, Paul Thagard (2018) advocates clearly and forcefully for a fairly extreme position, which he advances as preferable to an equally extreme alternative. I will suggest a middle path that becomes attractive when one attends not just to the range of data now pouring forth from the sciences of mind but also to our own experience as minded individuals.

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Philosophy and Science Dialogue: Consciousness
Giulio Tononi, Owen Flanagan
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (3): 332-348.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0026-1
Abstract   PDF (335KB)

This is a dialogue between a philosopher and a scientist about the scientific explanation of consciousness. What is consciousness? Does it admit of scientific explanation? If so, what must a scientific theory of consciousness be like in order to provide us with a satisfying explanation of its explanandum? And what types of entities might such a theory acknowledge as being conscious? Philosopher Owen Flanagan and scientist Giulio Tononi weigh in on these issues during an exchange about the nature and scientific explanation of consciousness.

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Mind, Consciousness, and Free Will
Paul Thagard
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (3): 377-393.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0029-2
Abstract   PDF (266KB)

This commentary discusses how philosophy and science can collaborate to understand the human mind, considering dialogues involving three philosophers and three cognitive scientists. Their topics include the relation of philosophy and science, the nature of mind, the problem of consciousness, and the existence of free will. I argue that philosophy is more general and normative than science, but they are interdependent. Philosophy can build on the cognitive sciences to develop a theory of mind I call “multilevel materialism,” which integrates molecular, neural, mental, and social mechanisms. Consciousness is increasingly being understood as resulting from neural mechanisms. Scientific advances make the traditional concept of free will implausible, but “freeish” will is consistent with new theories of decision making and action resulting from brain processes. Philosophers should work closely with scientists to address profound problems about knowledge, reality, and values.

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Philosophy and Science Dialogue: Free Will
Marcel Brass, Derk Pereboom
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (3): 361-376.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0028-5
Abstract   PDF (243KB)

In this dialogue Derk Pereboom and Marcel Brass discuss the free will problem from the perspective of philosophy and cognitive neuroscience. First, they give their opinion on how the two disciplines contribute to the free will problem. While Pereboom is optimistic regarding the contribution of science, Brass is more pessimistic and questions the usefulness of an empirical approach to the question whether free will exists or not. Then they outline their position on the free will problem. The idea of a transcendental agent is discussed in more detail. Furthermore, it is discussed whether free will scepticism is a politically, socially, psychologically viable position. Pereboom argues that promoting the idea of free will scepticism can have a positive impact on retributive emotions and the political practice regarding retributive punishment. Brass argues that retributive emotions are deeply rooted in evolution and therefore difficult to change via high-level beliefs about free will. Finally, the future of the free will debate is discussed. Both agree that the dialogue between philosophy and psychology should be intensified. Philosophy can benefit from taking empirical research more seriously. Psychology and neuroscience can benefit from philosophy by appreciating the sophistication and conceptual clarity of the philosophical debate. Both have to find a common language and define common problems that can be tackled from both perspectives.

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Seventy Years in Philosophy of Mind: An Overview, with Emphasis on the Issue of Mental Causation
Terence Horgan
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (3): 300-331.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0025-4
Abstract   PDF (315KB)

This paper is an opinionated overview of major developments in philosophy of mind during the past seventy years, with emphasis on the issue of mental causation. Its most prominent positions all embrace a broadly “naturalistic” or “materialistic” conception of human beings, and of mentality and its place in nature. Included in this paper are discussions of analytical behaviorism, the psychophysical identity theory, functionalism, multiple realizability and strong multiple realizability, supervenience, the causal exclusion problem, phenomenal mental states, wide content, contextualist causal compatibilism, agentive phenomenology, and the agent-exclusion problem.

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Philosophy and Science Dialogue: Mental Causation
Thalia Wheatley, Terence Horgan
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (3): 349-360.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0027-8
Abstract   PDF (308KB)

This paper is a dialogue between Thalia Wheatley and Terence Horgan. Horgan maintains that philosophy is a broadly empirical discipline, and that philosophical theorizing about how concepts work treats certain intuitions about proper concept-usage as empirical data. He holds that the possibility of strong multiple realizability undermines the psychophysical identity theory. He holds that the concept of causation is governed by implicit contextual parameters, and that this dissolves Kim’s problem of “causal exclusion.” He holds that the concept of free will is governed by implicit contextual parameters, and that free-will attributions are often true, in typical contexts, even if determinism is true. Thalia Wheatley holds that the concept of multiple realizability hinges on the level of abstraction discussed and that neuroscientific data does not yet support multiple realizability of mental states from specific, high resolution brain states. She also holds that compatibilism redefines the concept of free will in ways that bear little resemblance to the common understanding―that of being free to choose otherwise in the moment. She maintains that this folk understanding is incompatible with the brain as a physical system and is not rescued by concepts of context and capacity.

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Causal Exclusion and Causal Autonomism
CAI Weixin
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (3): 402-419.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0031-3
Abstract   PDF (275KB)

The causal exclusion problem is often considered as one of the major difficulties for which non-reductive physicalists have no easy solution to offer. Some non-reductive physicalists address this problem by arguing that mental properties are to some extent causally autonomous. If this is the case, then mental properties will not be causally excluded by their physical realizers because causation, in general, is a relation between properties of the same level. In this paper, I argue that the response from causal autonomy cannot be successful for two reasons. First, it does not offer a satisfactory explanation for how mental particulars can have causal efficacy in a non-reductive physicalist framework. Second, the causal considerations underpinning this response do not really support the conclusion that mental properties are causally autonomous.

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Chinese Marxist Philosophy Since Reform and Opening-Up
SUN Zhengyu
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (3): 430-448.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0033-7
Abstract   PDF (242KB)

Since reform and opening-up began in 1978, Chinese Marxist philosophy has undertaken the double mission of enhancing the emancipation of the mind in society and of realizing its own ideological emancipation. It has gone through an evolutionary process from “extensive discussion about the criterion of truth” to “reform of philosophical textbooks”; from the proposal of the philosophical conception of “practical materialism” to reflection on “modernity”; and from the carrying-out of dialogues among Chinese, Western, and Marxist philosophies to the exploration of “new forms of civilization.” Chinese Marxist philosophy has shifted its way of doing research with practical materialism as a core conception, and it changed such modes of thinking as the intuitive theory of reflection based on na?ve realism, the theory of linear causality based on mechanical determinism, and the reductionism of essence based on abstract substantialism. As a result, it has boosted changes that were already underway in Chinese philosophy, worldviews, theories of truth, conceptions of history, and views of development, and it has further endowed the discourse system of Marxist philosophy with laudable subjectivity and originality.

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A Contemporary Re-Examination of Confucian Li 禮 and Human Dignity
XU Keqian
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (3): 449-464.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0034-4
Abstract   PDF (318KB)

In modern Western liberal discourse, human dignity has been cast as an important component of basic human rights, while so-called human rights have been generally understood as certain inborn, inherent and inalienable properties of every human being. In this understanding, human dignity is just a natural endowment rather than a historically constructed social-cultural phenomenon. Based on this premise, liberalism is justified for the reason that under a social condition of complete freedom, individuals will spontaneously exercise their rights thus to secure their dignity. However, from a Confucian point of view, human dignity is socially defined and exists in concrete forms in social-cultural contexts. Dignity is not an abstract, universal, minimal standard that can be applied to all people at every time; it refers to individuals’ decency and grace under various given social contexts, and it corresponds to particular roles, statuses and even ages and genders of individuals in their respective societies. The full realization of human dignity relies on certain social-cultural or institutional arrangements. Confucian li is precisely this kind of arrangement, which designs a whole set of regulations and norms in order to maintain human dignity in general, as well as to maintain different people’s dignity in varying situations. Therefore, according to Confucianism, behaving appropriately according to the norms and regulations of li is just a way to preserve dignity.

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He Lin and German Philosophy in the Zhanguoce School: An Idealist Philosopher on History and Cultural Reform
Tung Tin Wong
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (4): 616-633.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0046-5
Abstract   PDF (378KB)

The Zhanguoce School emerged in 1940 and actively responded to the crisis caused by the Sino-Japanese War. The cultural morphology of Oswald Spengler (1880–1936) inspired most of the leading Zhanguoce scholars to reflect on the culture, history, and status quo of China. They believed that China was suffering from a total war with world superpowers and that it was in a new Warring States epoch; they thus advocated radical cultural reform as a necessary condition for victory and invoked Nietzschean philosophy to champion heroism and power. However, He Lin 賀麟 (1902–92), a philosopher in this school, looked to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) and Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) for different theories of cultural reform and history. This article examines He’s integration of the philosophies of Hegel and Fichte into his cultural and historical thought. Based on the Hegelian notion of Spirit, He rethought the nature of culture and the relationship between Chinese and Western cultures; he also interpreted history by comparing the historical theories of Hegel and Wang Fuzhi 王夫之 (1619–92). Furthermore, He investigated individual realization with reference to Fichte and repudiated radical heroism.

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When Virtues, Roles and Duties Fail: Early Greek and Chinese Accounts of Akrasia
Lisa Raphals 瑞麗
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (1): 29-46.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0003-0
Abstract   PDF (361KB)

Both the Mohist canon and the works of Aristotle recognize that people sometimes fail to act according to virtues, roles and duties, what in a Western context is called akrasia or “weakness of will,” an important topic in both Greek and contemporary philosophy. I argue that questions of akrasia are treated different in the early Chinese and ancient Greek philosophy. Greek accounts focus on issues of will and control, while some Chinese thinkers treat akrasia as a lack of a skill, and the failure to act in the right way is less lack of will than lack of skill. I begin with a brief account of the problem of akrasia as first presented by Plato in the “Protagoras” and Republic, and developed by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics. I then turn to akrasia in an early Chinese context, focusing on a very different Mohist view of akrasia as lack of a skill. Finally, I contrast the “skill” the Mohists find lacking with a very different account of skill in the Zhuangzi.

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Emotional Attachment and Its Limits: Mengzi, Gaozi and the Guodian Discussions
Karyn Lai
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (1): 132-151.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0008-5
Abstract   PDF (411KB)

Mengzi maintained that both benevolence (ren 仁) and rightness (yi義) are naturally-given in human nature. This view has occupied a dominant place in Confucian intellectual history. In Mencius 6A, Mengzi’s interlocutor, Gaozi, contests this view, arguing that rightness is determined by (doing what is fitting, in line with) external circumstances. I discuss here some passages from the excavated Guodian texts, which lend weight to Gaozi’s view. The texts reveal nuanced considerations of relational proximity and its limits, setting up requirements for moral action in scenarios where relational ties do not play a motivational role. I set out yi’s complexity in these discussions, highlighting its implications for (i) the nei-wai debate; (ii) the notion of yi as “rightness,” or doing the right thing; and (iii) how we can understand the connection between virtue and right action in these early Confucian debates. This material from the excavated texts not only provides new perspectives on a longstanding investigation of human nature and morality, it also challenges prevailing views on Warring States Confucian intellectual history.

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Necessity and Memory in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: A Reconstruction
Hans-Georg Moeller
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (4): 505-517.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0040-3
Abstract   PDF (257KB)

This paper discusses two core concepts in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: necessity (Notwendigkeit) and memory (Erinnerung). The analysis is based on an investigation of the connotations and linguistic components of the two terms as they are used in the German language. Occurrences of the terms in decisive passages in the Phenomenology of Spirit are investigated and seen as a key to an understanding of Hegel’s overall project of constructing a “scientific” (wissenschaftlich) philosophy in the form of a conceptual system. The paper aims at showing that this project can in part be understood as an attempt to transform the contingency of all moments of the path of the self-cultivation, maturation, and growth (Bildung) of spirit (Geist)—understood both in terms of its personal dimension and as “world spirit”—into necessity. It is argued that memory plays a decisive role in this endeavor, not only in the sense of a recalling of the past, but also as a prerequisite for a future that opens up room for further cultivation, maturation, and growth.

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Situationism and Moral Responsibility
ZHANG Ke
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (3): 420-429.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0032-0
Abstract   PDF (214KB)

In section 1, I will describe how moral responsibility requires normative competence. In section 2, I will introduce an influential social psychology experiment and consider one of its philosophical interpretations, situationism. In section 3, I will discuss the possession response in defense of normative competence. This is an approach to save normative competence via possession, and in turn the concept of the morally responsible agent, by relinquishing the need for exercising normative competence. After discussing its pros and cons, section 4 will focus on the exercise response, which emphasizes each singular exercise of normative competence. Given these two responses, I will argue that we are faced with a dilemma. If we admit that the concept of the morally responsible agent is grounded in the mere possession of normative competence, then the concept becomes useless in a practical sense, forcing us to embrace a concept that is tied to the exercise of normative competence. If we admit that the morally responsible agent is grounded in only the exercise of normative competence, the concept of the morally responsible agent no longer aligns with common sense.

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Kant’s, Hegel’s and Cousin’s Perceptions of China and Non-European Cultures: Racialism, Historicism and Universalism, and the Methodology of Comparative Philosophy
Jean-Yves Heurtebise
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (4): 554-573.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0043-4
Abstract   PDF (330KB)

The aim of this paper is to discuss some assumptions of comparative philosophy by providing a critical analysis of Hegel’s perception of China and other non-European cultures in relation to Kant’s anthropological works. The main assumption of comparative philosophy is that the temporal-cognitive distance between Plato and Diderot is irrelevant compared to the geographic-cultural distance between Plato and Confucius or Diderot and Dai Zhen. This paper will demonstrate that this culturalist assumption is also a legacy of Hegel’s history of philosophy, whose anthropological basis and historicist framework needs to be deconstructed. Finally, this paper will make reference to Victor Cousin, the French philosopher who introduced German philosophy in France, to show how this thinker’s adaptation of Hegel’s history of philosophy allows us to propose a more inclusive conception of the value of non-European cultures’ intellectual productions and to elaborate, on this basis, a radically non-culturalist framework for comparative philosophy.

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Forty Years’ Study of Chinese Philosophy
LI Cunshan
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (4): 634-650.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0047-2
Abstract   PDF (333KB)

Since China’s reform and opening up in 1978, the study of Chinese philosophy has proceeded together with the times, not only making tremendous academic progress, but also serving as an important part of research on Chinese culture that undertakes the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and Chinese culture. This essay gives a brief review of the study of Chinese philosophy over the last forty years with particular attention to five aspects, namely the new horizons in the study of Chinese philosophy, the characteristics of Chinese philosophy, the comparison between Chinese and Western philosophy that also involves the “legitimacy” of the former, the relevance of Chinese philosophy for contemporary times, and the basic methodologies of Chinese philosophy.

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Patriotism in Early China
Michael Nylan, Allyson Tang, Zhijian Wang
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (1): 47-74.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0004-7
Abstract   PDF (542KB)

This paper considers the difference between the values attached to love of country in early China and in today’s world, through exploration of a series of concept clusters centered on “loyalty,” “glory,” “honor,” and “identity.” Using a wide array of sources, including legends about exemplary figures in antiquity, it assesses the extent to which patriotism or something like patriotism was a normative value in the distant past. It also outlines the appropriate limits of patriotism which the early thinkers insisted upon, thinking them useful guidelines for today.

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Why Is Being Nothing? An Apophatic Reading of Hegel’s Opening to the Science of Logic
Nahum Brown
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (4): 518-534.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0041-0
Abstract   PDF (255KB)

The aim of this article is to analyze Hegel’s famous transition from being to nothing in the opening of the Science of Logic, to outline a variety of interpretations from commentators, and to defend what I call the “indirect apophatic interpretation” as support for the conclusion that Hegel is an ambiguously apophatic thinker. One benefit of the “indirect apophatic interpretation” is that it leads to a reassessment of Hegel’s conception of totality. The prevailing understanding of “totality” as exclusionary exhaustion, completion, and finitude has often been attributed to Hegel’s thought. But the “indirect apophatic interpretation” of the transition from being to nothing that I defend prepares the way for an alternative reading of totality in his work: not as the exhaustion of all positive content, but as the coincidence of being and nothing, as the contradiction A is -A, and as the exhaustion of form and content by way of a dialectic with the apophatic.

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Hegel after Nancy: Sensibility, Singularity, and the Problem of the x
Emilia Angelova
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (4): 535-553.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0042-7
Abstract   PDF (279KB)

This article takes up two models of punishment in Hegel, one that is underdeveloped in the Phenomenology of Spirit and one more fully developed in the Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Both models focus on the notions of law and the legality of personhood. I argue that beyond this, they share a common concept of singularity as an excess over and above the ethical-political order. This concept opens up to what Jean-Luc Nancy calls the “event” of freedom in Hegel. This point about excess lets me deploy Lacan and then Nancy to underscore how, for Hegel, problems concerning the question “what is law?” might be a clue as to how the bad infinite is opposed to the good or “actual” infinite. I take this up in the context of Hegel’s theory of “value,” including the value of the “good.” Altogether this analysis reveals that Hegel’s method allows for a more complex humanism than is typically understood, since his points about law and punishment lead to a more radicalized notion of intentionality and forgiveness than usually derived from the logic of recognition.

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Tragic Recognition: Revisiting Hegel’s Conception of Ethical Life
Mario Wenning
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (4): 483-504.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0039-9
Abstract   PDF (279KB)

This paper interprets Hegel’s engagement with tragedy and especially tragic action as an interpretive model for understanding ethical life in complex societies in which independent value spheres collide. Tragic recognition, in contrast to the kind of recognition introduced in the master and slave dialectic, is not based on desire, but arises from the suffering deriving from clashing value spheres. As a coming to terms with one’s finitude, tragic recognition presents an important corrective to the account of mutual recognition that has been the reference point of contemporary interpretations of Hegel’s social and political philosophy. The paper concludes by pointing to some of the limits of tragedy as a universal interpretive framework for modern societies.

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