Tsinghua Summer Mini-Course: Chinese Epistemology

As part of a regular summer program in the Department of Philosophy at Tsinghua University, I had the pleasure of meeting a circle of bright, enthusiastic students and up-and-coming young colleagues while teaching a mini-course this July. The course was devoted to early Chinese epistemology, which besides its inherent interest offers many potential insights and resources to develop in our own thinking about knowledge. My deep thanks to Liu Fengrong and Shi Chenwei for organizing the course and Hu Zhenkun for managing the daily operations. 

A sketch of the course follows.

Knowledge and Skepticism in Classical Chinese Thought

Course Description

Classical Chinese texts present a non-representational approach to knowledge on which knowing is a norm-governed competence in distinguishing and responding to things. This competence involves not only correct judgment but knowing how to adapt to various conditions so as to avoid error while conscientiously seeking appropriate norms by which to guide judgment. Skepticism concerns the status of these norms. The central skeptical issue is not whether we engage with the world but whether the norms by which we do so are appropriate or might be rendered inapplicable by changing conditions. The course will explore conceptions and problems of knowledge as presented in Mòzǐ, the Mohist “Dialectics,” Xúnzǐ, The Annals of Lv Buwei, and Zhuāngzǐ.

Tentative Schedule

1. Introduction
Reading: Fraser, “Knowledge and Error in Early Chinese Thought”; chapter 5 of Late Classical Chinese Thought

2. Mohism 墨家
Reading: Selections from Mòzǐ, including Mohist Dialectics

3. Xúnzǐ 荀子
Reading: Selections from Xúnzǐ

4. Lǚ’s Annals (The Annals of Lv Buwei) 呂氏春秋
Selections from the Annals

5. Zhuāngzǐ 莊子
Reading: Selections from Zhuāngzǐ