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.