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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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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Tricking or Benefitting the People? Guanzi on Objective Government and Subjective Preferences
Henrique Schneider
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (3): 363-383.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0022-7
Abstract   PDF (292KB)

This paper discusses Guanzi’s philosophy regarding how the state should levy taxes. As Guanzi writes, people react individually to what they perceive as taxes, whereas government wants people not to react at all and simply pay the levies. Based on a philosophical analysis of human action, Guanzi suggests introducing a consumption tax on salt and iron. First, people have no way of evading them; second, because of the implicit character of the tax, people will not notice it. Therefore, these taxes will not influence behavior. This paper uses this discussion as a case study in order to show how Guanzi’s philosophy differs from other forms of Legalism. It will be shown that Guanzi is foremost a pragmatic thinker willing to use Confucian and Legalist elements, amalgamating them into policy-advice. The paper, however, does not discuss issues of Sinology as they relate to the text of the Guanzi, taking the text instead as a philosophical body.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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My Ordinary Anti-Sceptical Beliefs Are Not Insensitive
LAI Changsheng
Front. Philos. China    2019, 14 (3): 469-489.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s030-008-019-0028-9
Abstract   PDF (263KB)

An orthodox sceptical hypothesis claims that one’s belief that “I am not a brain-in-a-vat (BIV)” (or any other ordinary anti-sceptical belief) is insensitive. A form of sensitivity-based scepticism, can thus be constructed by combining this orthodox hypothesis with the sensitivity principle and the closure principle. Unlike traditional solutions to the sensitivity-based sceptical problem, this paper will propose a new solution—one which does not reject either closure or sensitivity. Instead, I argue that sceptics’ assumption that one’s ordinary anti-sceptical beliefs are insensitive will give rise to self-contradiction. The orthodox sceptical hypothesis is thus revealed to be incoherent and arbitrary. Given that there is no coherent reason to presuppose our ordinary anti-sceptical beliefs to be insensitive, the argument for sensitivity-based scepticism can thus be blocked at a lower epistemological cost.

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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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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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