Early Chinese Philosophy


This lecture series forms an introduction to the foundational texts and ideas of one of the world’s most long-standing philosophical traditions, the Confucian tradition from early Chinese philosophy The series focuses on texts by major figures in early Confucian philosophy: Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi. (Works by the non-Confucian thinker Mozi will also figure).

We will look at central texts from each of these thinkers in some detail, and consider relations between their ideas. (Some comparison of their ideas and those of notable philosophers from the Western philosophical tradition will also feature).

The series begins with an introduction to the background of the thinkers in question. This is followed by a study of the Analects of Confucius, and consideration of some of its main themes, such as correct social/political organisation, the ideal political leader, the importance of ritual, and of virtues such as loyalty, empathy, and filial piety.

We then consider a critique of Confucian philosophy by Mozi, his ‘caretaker argument’, and his ideas about impartial caring, honouring the worthy, obeying one’s superiors, and aggressive war.

Then we move back to the Confucian tradition, looking at the best-known texts of the other important early Confucian thinkers, Mengzi (Mencius) and Xunzi. In each case we will look primarily at their claims about ethical cultivation, the sage and the ideal political leader, the nature and components of virtue, human nature, and the Dao. We consider how they each can be said to have developed the Confucian philosophy.

The series as a whole conveys an understanding of some of the underpinnings of Chinese thought. Continued interest in figures from the Confucian tradition (and its offspring) within China meaning that it is relevant to understanding Chinese thinking right up to the present day.

Programme details

Mondays, 2–3.30pm (UK time)

For those attending in person at Rewley House, registration takes place at 1.45pm before the first lecture (18 October 2021 only). Tea and coffee are provided in the Common Room after each lecture, from 3.30pm.

For those joining us online, please join in good time before each lecture to ensure that you have no connection problems. We recommend joining 10-15 minutes before the start time. 

Monday 18 October 2021

Confucius and Early Chinese Philosophy

Monday 25 October 2021

Deeper into the Analects of Confucius

Monday 1 November 2021

Mozi’s Opposition to the Confucian Tradition

Monday 8 November 2021

Mengzi on the goodness of Human Nature

Monday 15 November 2021

Xunzi on the badness of Human Nature  

Monday 22 November 2021

Conclusions on the Early Confucian Tradition


Description Costs
Tuition - in-person attendance £125.00
Tuition - virtual attendance £125.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Prof John Preston


John Preston is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading, specialising in the history of analytic philosophy, the philosophy of science, and figures such as Mach, Wittgenstein, Popper, Feyerabend Kuhn. He has taught Chinese philosophy since early 2019.

Dr Doug Bamford


Tutor in Philosophy and Political Economy, OUDCE

IT requirements

You can opt to attend this hybrid teaching event either online (via a livestream) or in person at Rewley House, Oxford. You will be given the option of how you wish to attend during the enrolment process. You can only pick one option. If your preferred attendance format is fully booked, you can email us to be put on the waiting list.

For those joining us online

The University of Oxford uses Microsoft Teams for our learning environment. If you’re attending online, you’ll be able to see and hear the speakers, and to submit questions via the Teams interface. Joining instructions will be sent out prior to the start date. We recommend that you join the session at least 10-15 minutes prior to the start time – just as you might arrive a bit early at our lecture theatre for an in-person event.

If you have not used the Microsoft Teams app before, once you click the joining link you will be invited to download it (this is free). Once you have downloaded the app, please test before the start of your course. If you are using a laptop or desktop computer, you will also be offered the option of connecting using a web browser. If you connect via a web browser, Chrome is recommended.

Please note that this course will not be recorded.