Goals of Postgraduate Study

In pursuing a Ph.D. in Chinese philosophy, you should seek to achieve the following goals.

1. Linguistic and Sinological training. You need to acquire a general familiarity with Chinese history and culture and professional competence in classical Chinese, modern Chinese, and aspects of philology bearing on the primary sources you will work with.

If you are a graduate of a Chinese university, then you will already have much of the needed competence. If you are from an English-speaking country, you should try to complete at least two years of language training before commencing postgraduate study, so that you can work with the primary texts in the original language right from the start. Your training must include both modern and classical Chinese. You may want to consider a year of language study in Taipei, Beijing, or Hong Kong.

2. General philosophical training. You need a general familiarity with the history of Western philosophy and one or more subfields of contemporary philosophy, along with a deeper understanding of areas of contemporary philosophy closely related to your work in Chinese philosophy. Also necessary is practical training in writing the sorts of research papers characteristic of good contemporary philosophy. If philosophy was your undergraduate major, then you have already taken steps toward acquiring the necessary competence. Even so, you’ll need to complete some coursework in Western philosophy.

3. Training in Chinese philosophy. You need a broad familiarity with the history of Chinese thought, so that eventually you can teach courses on periods and traditions outside your specialty, and a deep, thorough understanding of the particular period or tradition in which you specialize. Your knowledge should cover primary sources and commentaries in Chinese and relevant secondary literature in Chinese, English, and other languages, if possible.

4. Dissertation. You want to produce a polished, original, philosophically significant dissertation that can readily be transformed into a monograph or several journal articles.

5. Teaching competence. You should be prepared to teach courses in Chinese philosophy (your area of specialization, or AOS) and one or two other subfields of philosophy (areas of competence, or AOCs). Your employment prospects will be considerably greater if you can teach not only Chinese thought but one or two other subfields, such as ethics, epistemology, or metaphysics. Developing such teaching competence will require opportunities for practice teaching as a teaching assistant and coursework in fields other than Chinese philosophy.

6. Employment prospects. To enhance your employment prospects, you want to achieve all of the above goals while having prospective employers perceive you as having done so. When you go on the job market, you will need a polished, professional writing sample and strong letters of recommendation from prominent scholars. Publishing a journal article or two would help.

Employers’ perception of you is one reason attending a highly ranked postgraduate program can enhance your job prospects. Not only have graduates of such programs generally received excellent training, employers perceive them as having done so, because of the programs’ reputation.

Pursuing These Goals

Your chances of developing a high level of linguistic and Sinological competence, acquiring a rich understanding of your area of specialization, and completing a significant, original dissertation project are increased by working with a supervisor who is a specialist in your particular research area or a closely related one. Ideally, this person will be a well-established scholar with a solid publication record.

    Note: A “specialist,” for the purposes of this discussion, is a scholar whose own postgraduate training was largely in Chinese philosophy, whose publications are mainly devoted to Chinese philosophy, and who can provide training in reading Chinese philosophical texts in the original language.

Your chances of developing the general philosophical expertise you need are enhanced by attending a postgraduate program that is strong across the board in core areas of philosophy, such as epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics.

If you hope to teach at a university in an Anglophone country, your chances of landing an attractive first job are increased by attending a postgraduate program that not only is strong in core areas, but is widely perceived as such—as reflected, for instance, by ranking among the top thirty or so of the “Top 50 Faculties in the English-Speaking World” in the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR).

Ideally, then, you would want to attend a program that is strong overall—as reflected by a high rank in surveys of professional philosopher—in which you can study with an established specialist in Chinese philosophy.

Unfortunately, as of 2009, no one program fits this description. No program with a specialist in Chinese thought comes close to being in the PGR world top thirty. The highest ranked program at which you can work with a specialist is the University of Utah, which ranks 48th in the 2009 PGR for departments in the United States. One mid-ranked department, Duke (world #33), and one lower-ranked one, Connecticut (US #43), allow you to work with distinguished scholars who have strong publication records in Chinese philosophy but do not have specialized linguistic and philological training. Several departments can provide the latter training but have but have less overall strength.

In choosing a program to attend, then, you must make a complex trade-off between several desiderata.