Frontiers of Philosophy in China

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The Tianzhu Shilu Revisited: China’s First Window into Western Scholasticism
Daniel Canaris
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (2): 201-225.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0013-7
Abstract   PDF (406KB)

On 29 September 1584, the first Catholic catechism was printed in China under the title The True Record of the Lord of Heaven (Tianzhu Shilu 天主實錄). Written primarily by the Jesuit missionary Michele Ruggieri (1543–1607) with the assistance of at least two other Jesuits and Chinese interpreters, the catechism inaugurated the rich cultural exchange between China and Europe for which the Jesuit China mission would be renown. Despite the pioneering role of this catechism, it has been viewed for the most part by posterity as a pale forerunner of the later catechism by Ruggieri’s confrère, Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven (Tianzhu Shiyi 天主實義). This article attempts to skirt the anachronistic comparison with Ricci’s Tianzhu Shiyi by proposing the Tianzhu Shilu as an autonomous text expressive of a cogent strategy for tailoring Western scholasticism to the contingencies of the Chinese cultural context.

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Motivation to Act in Confucianism and Christianity: In Matteo Ricci’s The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven (Tianzhu Shiyi 天主實義)
Michele Ferrero
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (2): 226-247.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0014-4
Abstract   PDF (287KB)

The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven (Tianzhu Shiyi 天主實義) is a Chinese text of the 17th century written by the Italian sinologist and missionary Matteo Ricci. It contains, among other topics, a discussion between a Confucian scholar and a Christian about the motivation to act. For Confucianism a good action should be performed for its own sake, without any thought of future reward. For Christianity it seems that good actions are performed in order to go to Heaven. Ricci argues that human actions are complex. The ultimate motivation for goodness comes from a relation with God. The Confucian scholar claims that actually not all actions need a motive. Sometimes things “just happen.” Also, a good tradition can move people to behave properly. Dealing with topics such as soul, eternal life, causes, descendants, tradition, happiness and proper behavior, this dialogue offers a great insight of the meeting of two great traditions: Confucianism and Christianity.

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What the “Failure” of Aristotelian Logic in Seventeenth Century China Teaches Us Today: A Case Study of the Mingli Tan
Thierry Meynard
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (2): 248-263.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0015-1
Abstract   PDF (371KB)

The Mingli Tan is recognized as the first Chinese-language treatise introducing Western logic in China. First published in the final years of the Ming dynasty, the work was presented to Emperor Kangxi in 1683. Despite its sophisticated thought and innovation, the work failed to gain support among intellectuals and court officials. By analyzing the objectives of the Mingli Tan in tandem with its companion work, the Coimbra commentary, this paper explores some of the important philosophical, pedagogical, and historical reasons that can help to explain this failure. Through this historical failure, we can gain some insights about the nature of logic and its current position in China.

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Revelation or Reason? Two Opposing Interpretations of the Confucian Classics during the Chinese Rites Controversy
WANG Niecai
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (2): 284-302.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0017-5
Abstract   PDF (408KB)

The Four Books were a frequent point of reference in publications during the Chinese Rites Controversy. In the Tian Ru Yin (1664), the Franciscan Antonio de Santa María Caballero (1602–69) used an allegorical approach, interpreting the true meaning of the Chinese Classics as Christian revelation while rejecting the traditional reading of the Confucian Classics. On the contrary, the Jesuits in the Confucius Sinarum Philosophus (1687) used a rationalistic approach, harmonizing Western intellectualism with Confucianism. We shall show how these two interpretations are rooted in different theological traditions, leading the two sides to take opposite stances in the Chinese Rites Controversy.

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The Limits of a Confrontational Approach: Fabian Fukansai’s Critiques of Neo-Confucianism and Christianity
Yoshimi Orii
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (2): 181-200.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0012-0
Abstract   PDF (403KB)

This paper analyzes the critique of Neo-Confucianism by the Japanese Jesuit Brother Fabian Fukansai (c. 1565–1621) in the Myōtei Dialogues (Myōtei Mondō 妙貞問答) (1605), as well as Fabian’s later critique of Christianity. It clarifies the author’s understanding of Neo-Confucian theory and his apology for Christianity by analyzing his explanation of the Great Ultimate (Tai’kyoku/Taiji 太極) and Principle (ri/li 理), which Fabian sees as nothing but an expression of Buddhist monistic mentalism. It also demonstrates that his explanations of the Great Ultimate and Principle have a crucial flaw: they do not sufficiently explain Zhu Xi’s metaphysics, which tried to make the immanent and transcendental characteristics of the Great Ultimate and Principle compatible. This is because Fabian addresses only the elements of “local” religions including Neo-Confucianism with novel keywords that support the framework of Christian Creationism and the Anima Rationalis theory. However, his later work Deus Destroyed (Ha Daius 破提宇子), written after he had rejected Christianity, overturned his former claim by accepting the Neo-Confucian concept of Principle. Fabian’s works are a historical example showing the potential limits of a confrontational approach toward other religions.

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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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Ontological Epistemology: William James and the Chinese Traditional Philosophy of Experience
JIANG Niling, ZHOU Jing
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (2): 342-356.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0020-3
Abstract   PDF (383KB)

William James’s understanding of the concept of experience has much in common with ideas in Chinese traditional philosophy. This connection, however, has remained unexplored. Here we introduce the idea of ontological epistemology as a way to bring these important commonalities into view. By highlighting two features of the concept of experience in Chinese philosophy, we suggest that the perspectives of holism and relationism are common to both James and the Chinese tradition. With regard to the personal and impersonal characteristics of radical experience and its commensurability with Chinese philosophy, we will pay attention to the self-dissolving aspect of both. However, there are still some theoretical complexities that remain unresolved, which clearly show the possibility of further research in the comparative study of contemporary pragmatism and Chinese philosophy.

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Encounter between Soul and Human Nature: An Examination of Xia Dachang’s “Xingshuo”
HUANG Zhipeng
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (2): 264-283.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0016-8
Abstract   PDF (334KB)

Matteo Ricci introduced into China the Western theory of soul, a term which he translated as linghun 靈魂. Afterwards, two other Italian Jesuits, Giulio Aleni and Francesco Sambiasi, separately completed two Chinese interpretations of the De Anima (On the Soul), the former privileging the word linghun, and the later, yanima 亞尼瑪, a transliteration for anima. Xia Dachang 夏大常 (Mathias Hsia) is probably the first Chinese person to write specifically on the topic of the soul. However, he used a different term, lingxing 靈性 (human spiritual nature), and also he titled his work “The Theory of Human Nature” (“Xingshuo” 性說). Xia’s work has received little scholarly attention, and this paper aims at investigating how he adopts the Western theory of the soul, why he still uses the concept of lingxing, and which Chinese editions of De Anima or other works written by the Jesuits had influenced him. We shall also see how Xia Dachang uses traditional Chinese sources and Catholic doctrine to support his viewpoint of human nature and how he criticizes theories of human nature within Chinese philosophy. This will enable us to comprehend how Chinese Christians in the Early Qing dynasty understood the theory of the soul and to reflect on the contemporary relevance of this theory in Chinese culture today.

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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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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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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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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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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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Chinese Philosophy of Value over the Past Four Decades
WU Xiangdong
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (4): 651-661.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0048-9
Abstract   PDF (296KB)

Chinese philosophy of value arose from reflection on the Cultural Revolution and an inherent need amidst the implementation of reform and opening up, and it was directly triggered by extensive discussions about the standard of truth. The development of the philosophy of value over the past forty years shifted from value to evaluation before moving on to the research topics of values, in particular core socialist values. Currently, its major characteristics are the unity of theoretical logic and practical logic, the mutual interaction between and enhancement of the study of the philosophy of value and research on Marxist philosophy, and exchanges and dialogues with foreign philosophies of value. Its main achievements in the philosophy of value include the implementation of a subjective paradigm based on the theory of practice and the theoretical construction and clarification of core socialist values. Future directions for the development of the philosophy of value include improving subjective interpretation on the basis of the theory of practice, deeply exploring value concepts and value principles in the new form of civilization, and bringing the philosophy of value into interaction with multidisciplinary research.

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Hegel, Schelling and Laozi on Nothingness
Kwok Kui Wong
Front. Philos. China    2018, 13 (4): 574-584.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-007-018-0044-1
Abstract   PDF (337KB)

This article looks at Hegel’s and Schelling’s discussions of Laozi’s wu 無 in History of Philosophy and Philosophy of Mythology respectively, and then relates them back to those two Western thinkers’ own understandings of the concept of nothingness. This exploration demonstrates that while Hegel sees nothingness more as a logical concept not different from being, Schelling equates Laozi’s wu with Nichtseiende of the first potency in his theory of the potencies of God. This article will further put the question in perspective by examining or speculating how the three philosophers would address the problem of ex nihilo nihil fit. Finally, it will highlight the striking similarity between the views of Schelling and Laozi regarding the role of the will or desire (yu 欲), in our knowledge about nothingness: While Schelling’s first potency, Nichtseiende, is a “not willing will,” the second potency is “willing” and therefore the beginning of existence. Laozi, on the other hand, believes that without desire we can discern the ultimate mystery, while with desire we can only see the outer fringe of things. However, Laozi differs from Schelling in that the latter’s willing God is absent in his philosophy.

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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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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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Honour and Kingship in Herodotus: Status, Role, and the Limits of Self-Assertion
Douglas Cairns
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (1): 75-93.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0005-4
Abstract   PDF (355KB)

The notion of timê (τιμή, normally translated “honour”) is a key concept when it comes to thinking about virtues, roles, and duties in ancient Greek ethics and society, both in popular and in philosophical terms. This discussion concentrates on the work of the fifth-century historian, Herodotus, where the idea of timê as the fulfilment of a specific role in society takes on particular and interesting inflections. In Herodotus, as in Greek generally, timê covers both the esteem that one receives from others and the claim to esteem that the individual him- or herself brings to bear in social interaction. Thus timê is both “deference” and “demeanour” (to use Goffman’s terminology). As a quality of an individual that commands others’ respect, timê also encompasses the roles that are bound up with one’s status. Roles and offices express, attract, and demand timê, but such demands are normally constrained by reciprocal respect for the timê of others. The office of the Persian king, however, appears at first sight to involve unconditional claims to recognition respect, powerful drives towards appraisal respect (in Darwall’s terminology), and only limited acknowledgement of either ethical norms or others claims as potential limitations to regal self-assertion. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the values of mutual respect that underpin the freedom enjoyed by citizens of Greek poleis are also felt by Herodotus to ground claims to freedom and independence on the part of those poleis themselves, claims that the historian’s narrative suggests are ultimately upheld by the gods and embedded in the structure of the cosmos itself.

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Drunkenness as a Communal Practice: Platonic and Peripatetic Perspectives
Jan Szaif
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (1): 94-110.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0006-1
Abstract   PDF (318KB)

Greek philosophers in general share a strong commitment to a life of reason and excellence. It is therefore surprising to see some of them argue in defense of symposiastic drunkenness. This essay investigates several such arguments. Its main source texts are books I and II of Plato’s Laws and a passage in the excerpts on Peripatetic ethics in the doxography of Arius Didymus. The arguments are analyzed and situated in a broader cultural and philosophical context. The Peripatetic passage approves of drunkenness as an aspect of certain established forms of communal activity, with the caveat that the virtuous person will not desire drunkenness for its own sake. While it is clear that the Peripatetic author grounds the need for communal activities in our social nature, he fails to justify the existence of communal activities that lead to drunkenness. Plato’s arguments, by contrast, sketch out and justify a new, non-traditional framework for certain highly regulated forms of communal drunkenness. His first main argument relates to the goal of testing and nursing self-control through exposure to wine, while the second is based on the idea that the rejuvenating force of wine renders mature men again susceptible to the formative influence of song and dance as vehicles of good ethical qualities.

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Luck, Control, and Contrastive Explanation
XU Xiangdong
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (2): 303-321.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0018-2
Abstract   PDF (274KB)

This paper is aimed to show how the libertarian conception of free choice is mistaken or misleading by focusing on Robert Kane’s attempt to solve the problem of luck, which arguably constitutes the most serious challenge to libertarianism about free will. I will argue that either Kane’s solution to the problem of luck falls into some inconsistency or he must introduce the requirement of contrastive explanation into his account of plural voluntary control. Either way, Kane fails to show how his emphasis on the requirement of plural voluntary control is made consistent with his unswerving commitment to the requirement of the libertarian free will for a metaphysical indeterminism.

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“Athl-Ethics”: Virtue Training in Mencius and Aristotle
Rina Marie Camus
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (1): 152-170.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0009-2
Abstract   PDF (391KB)

The late Zhou of China and the Classical age of Greece both saw great impetus in intellectual thought and were marked by intense warfare. Being closely linked to warfare in antiquity, sports was a vital, commonplace activity whose jargon and practices naturally informed philosophical discourses. One can thus observe convergences between athletics and ethics in texts which took shape in these times and places, a phenomenon which I shall refer to as “athl-ethics.” In this paper, I separately examine and then compare athl-ethic phenomenon in Mencius and in the Nicomachean Ethics. Both texts are rife with sports metaphors. I regard the use of sports-derived imagery as a thin form of athl-ethicism. Sports, however, did more than inspire useful analogies. Physical training and competition were considered occasions for nourishing and practicing virtue. This generated thicker forms of athl-ethicism.

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