PHIL4361 Legalist Philosophy

This course focuses on a core topic of discussion and debate in traditional Chinese political philosophy: the role of fǎ 法 (laws, standards) in governance. The material is deeply relevant to understanding the nature of and philosophical grounds for rule of law and indeed constitutes a rich collection of resources reflecting traditional Chinese thinkers’ contributions to the philosophy of law. The course will start from the early emphasis on fǎ in Guǎnzǐ and Mòzǐ and work through a series of Legalist texts, including Shāngjūn Shū, Shènzǐ, selected Guǎnzǐ texts, and Hánfēizǐ. We will then consider early critiques of Legalism as found in the Analects, Mèngzǐ, Xúnzǐ, and the Discourses on Salt and Iron. The discussion will then move on to Sòng, Míng, and Qīng dynasty discussions of the role of fǎ, covering such figures as Oūyáng Xiū, Chéng Yí, Wáng Ānshí, Chéng Hào, Hú Hóng, Chén Liàng, Fāng Xiàorú, Gù Yánwǔ, and Huáng Zōngxī.

Topics will include: the nature, content, and role of fǎ (laws, standards) in pre-Qin thought; traditional views on the application of fǎ and their relation to early Chinese logic and moral psychology; the relation between fǎ and political ideals of impartiality and consistency; early Ruist critiques of the Legalist application of fǎ; Song dynasty discourse on fǎ and governance; Song and Qing dynasty debates over the relation between fǎ and moral character.

Class meetings will focus mainly on discussion of primary texts, with less than one-half of the time devoted to lecture. A major aim of the course is for students to engage directly in interpreting and exploring the implications of the primary texts. Bilingual materials will be provided for all primary source readings.

A detailed syllabus will be posted in late August.