Chinese Philosophy, Ethics Discussed at NEH Seminar

Posted 05/01/08
American philosophers with a background in virtue ethics will convene this summer at Wesleyan to explore Chinese philosophy.

The six-week seminar, titled “Traditions into Dialogue: Confucianism and Contemporary Virtue Ethics,” will take place July 7 through Aug. 15 at the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies. The event is funded by a $128,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent grant-making agency of the U.S. government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. Fifteen participants, all doctorates in philosophy, will receive stipends to support their attendance at the seminar.

According to seminar co-director Stephen Angle, associate professor of philosophy, associate professor of East Asian studies and chair of the Philosophy Department (at right), virtue ethics has experienced a recent revival.

“Virtue ethics was the predominant approach to ethical theorizing in the ancient Western world, but in modern times virtue ethics was largely dormant,” Angle explains. “In the past few decades, partly as a result of dissatisfaction with the dominant utilitarian and Kantian traditions, virtue ethics has made a comeback, and it now stands as a leading direction of research in academic moral philosophy.”

The summer seminar is geared to stimulate new philosophical growth through broadening the sources drawn on by contemporary virtue ethicists, or those interested in virtues more generally, to include the Confucian tradition.

Each week of the seminar will be devoted to a particular Confucian thinker including Confucius (551-479 BC) and the Analects, Mencius, Xunzi, Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming, and Dai Zhen. Supporting topics include use of specialized electronic resources relevant to Chinese philosophy; relevant background in Chinese history; basics of the Chinese language and the various systems for romanizing it; and the large topic of translation, both of texts and of particular terms. The seminar also will feature several guest lectures which will be open to the public.

“Our goal this summer is to provide a context in which participants can develop the familiarity with Confucianism that they need in order to begin using it in their research and teaching,” Angle says. “We also hope to initiate an ongoing conversation about the ways in which putting Confucianism into dialogue with other work in virtue ethics can contribute to both.”

In addition to the seminar, participants will be invited to present a paper at a conference on “Confucianism and Virtue Ethics” that will bring Chinese and American scholars together in Beijing during the summer of 2009. Angle and his co-director Michael Slote, a prominent professor of ethics from the University of Miami, are also collaborating on planning this conference.

For more information on the seminar, go to

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor