History of Chinese Philosophy: Antiquity to 1200

Course Description: 

Tracing its beginnings back to the time of the pre-Socratics, the Chinese philosophical tradition is marked by a diversity and sophistication that makes it interesting not only in its own right, but also as a point of comparative reference: it offers an alternative conceptual and moral space from which to think about basic concepts and questions, and to interrogate the very foundations of philosophical inquiry itself. This course introduces the major texts of the Chinese philosophical tradition from its beginnings c. 6th century BCE to around 1200 CE. The first half will be devoted to key texts of the early philosophical tradition –  those connected to the figures of Confucius, Mozi, Mencius, Xunzi, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Han Feizi and others. We will learn about the distinctive concerns and approaches of each of these texts, and the positions they represented within the cosmological, ethical and political debates that ensued during the period of the Warring States (4th-3rd centuries BCE). In the second half of the course, we will learn about new styles of inquiry that accompanied the rise and consolidation of the first empires in China, as well as those that emerged in the wake of imperial collapse in the 3rd century CE. In this part we will study texts connected to the cosmological synthesis of the Han empire; Buddhist hermeneutics and metaphysics; the “Learning of the Mystery”;  medieval Daoist self-cultivation; literary theory; and Neo-Confucianism. Source texts will be read in English translation.

Learning Outcomes: 

1. To achieve an understanding of the main concepts, concerns and positions of major early and medieval thinkers.
2. To understand the distinctive features of the Chinese philosophical tradition, and to develop ways in which Chinese perspectives and ideas could be brought to bear on philosophical inquiry more generally.
3. To gain new perspectives and frameworks for critically examining, and reevaluating, prevailing categories and ways of thinking about philosophical problems and issues.
4. To develop skills in the analysis and interpretation of texts and to communicate them effectively in writing and in class discussions.


1. Participation (25%)
2. Two short presentations of readings + corresponding questions for discussion (2 x 15%)
3. 1 short paper (15%)
4. Final paper (30%)

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