Welcome to Early Chinese Thought!
Note to online readers of this archived course version.
In general, each class session involves a brief online introduction, such as this, to orient students to the upcoming lecture.
Lecture PowerPoint Deck
"Early Chinese thought" refers to the ideas expressed in a group of texts that were generated in China during the period circa 500-200 BCE (the same as BC). These texts deal with issues of the cosmos, the supernatural, and the natural world, but they primarily deal with ethics, and prescribe various ways that people should govern themselves and society. The influence of these texts on Chinese culture for the following two thousand years and more cannot be overstated - these are in many ways the founding ideological documents of Chinese traditional culture, and their impact on contemporary Chinese society remains profound. Indeed, as China becomes increasingly confident of its importance in the modern world, these culturally characteristic intellectual are likely to become more rather than less important.
In this course, as we explore the various major schools of early Chinese thought, each class will be introduced by an online page such as this one. Future pages will include links to online reading assignments - most (but not all) class readings will be available online - links to homework assignments, and brief previews of what we will do in class.
For our first class, I'll be saying a few things about the course contents, requirements, and so forth, and then we'll consider briefly some large-scale issues that it's good to have in mind as you study early Chinese philosophy -- questions such as these:
What are the main questions that early Chinese thinkers attempted to address?
How do these questions differ from those that gave rise to philosophical thinking in the West?
How does the enterprise of early Chinese philosophy differ from the early Western enterprise?
To get a sense of where we will go from that point, link to the introductory page for our next meeting.