PHIL2430 Chinese Philosophy: Ethics

(Semester 1, 2017–2018 Academic Year)

(Thurs 13:30-15:20)

Note: PHIL2430 is designed as an intermediate course especially suitable for second-year students. It is also suitable for third- and fourth-year students.

This course will explore and critique personal and social ethical ideals as presented in early Chinese ethical discourse. Major texts to be considered include the Analects 論語, Mèngzǐ 孟子, Xúnzǐ 荀子, Mòzǐ 墨子, Dàodéjīng 道德經, and Zhuāngzǐ 莊子. Central questions discussed include: What is dào (the proper way or path of life)? What standards can guide us in following dào? What grounds can we have for confidence that these are the correct standards? What kind of person should we strive to be? What values should take priority in our lives? The relevance of early Chinese ethics to contemporary ethical discourse will also be discussed. Class meetings will be a mixture of lecture and discussion.

Learning Objectives and Outcomes

After completing this course, students should be able to:

  • Explain major concepts and related issues in early Chinese ethics, such as the content of dào 道, the role of ritual (禮), the significance of virtues such as benevolence (rén 仁) and filial devotion (xiào 孝), the role of models ( 法), and the ideals of non-action (wúwéi 無為) and wandering (yóu 遊)

  • Critically examine a range of positions on and approaches to these issues and identify their strengths and weaknesses

  • Demonstrate interpretive, analytical, and argumentative skills in oral presentation and writing by discussing these issues in written assignments and tutorials

  • Demonstrate appreciation of the distinctiveness and complexity of Chinese ethics and how it relates to the broader discourse of philosophical ethics

Course Outline

Introduction (9/7)

Reading: Handout PHIL2430-Intro; Rachels, The Right Thing to Do, 1–20; Griffin, Value Judgement, 98–122.

1. 儒 (9/14, 9/21, 9/28) (10/5 holiday)

Reading: Selections from Analects (Lúnyǔ), Mencius (Mèngzǐ), Xúnzǐ; Handout PHIL2430-1; Wong, “Chinese Ethics,” section 2; Robins, “Xunzi”; Ames and Rosemont, "Were the Early Confucians Virtuous?"; Fraser, "Happiness in Classical Confucianism: Xunzi"; Hansen, A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought, pp. 60–78

2. 墨 (10/12, 10/26, 11/2) (10/19 reading week)

Reading: Selections from Mozi; handout PHIL2430-2; Fraser, "Mohism"; Van Norden, "A Response to the Mohist Arguments in 'Impartial Caring'"; Robins, "Mohist Care"

3. Dào 道 (11/9, 11/16, 11/23)

Reading: Selections from Daodejing and Zhuangzi; handout PHIL2430-3; Lai, "Ziran and Wuwei in the Daodejing: An Ethical Assessment"; Fraser, "Daoism and the Heterogeneity of Value"; Fraser, "Wandering the Way"; Nivison, "Xunzi and Zhuangzi"; Wenzel, “Ethics and Zhuangzi: Awareness, Freedom, and Autonomy"; Huang, "The Ethics of Difference in the Zhuangzi"

Coursework and Assessment

Class discussion (20%), three short writing assignments (250–500 words each, 40%), final paper (1500–2000 words, 40%).

All written assignments are to be submitted by email to:


A detailed syllabus and reference list will be distributed. All readings will be available online through the HKU Moodle page for the course.