Departments of Philosophy, Religious Studies, and East Asian Languages and Cultures

Early Chinese Thought

Brief Course Description:

Chinese philosophy grew out of structures of everyday thinking, speaking, and acting very different from the structures that gave birth to philosophy in the West. And the birth of Chinese philosophy was brought about by social and intellectual crises which largely set its agenda--an agenda different in many ways from that which our traditions first addressed. Chinese philosophy is an alternate species of critical thinking. By studying it we can discover new ways of approaching problems, and get some new perspectives on our own habits of thought.

The goal of this course is to expose students to texts which at first reading usually appear alternately mysterious and simpleminded, and to lead them to discover why these texts became the passionate interest, for two millennia, of the largest national entity in the world.

Students are expected to attend class regularly, prepare reading assignments, and participate in class discussions. Written assignments will include short homework exercises, two short papers, a midterm and a final exam.

Schedule of classes and readings

Books to buy:

Mozi: Basic Writings, Burton Watson, trans. (Columbia pb)
Xunzi: Basic Writings, Burton Watson, trans. (Columbia pb)           

All other course materials will be available as html or pdf online files.

Note for online users: While Burton Watson's translations are beautifully done, there are other more scholarly translations of these two texts available. For Mozi, Ian Johnston's 2010 complete translation can be consulted, and for Xunzi, either John Knoblock's three-volume complete translation (1988) or the more accessible translation by Eric Hutton (2014).
These scholarly translations are of high quality, but expensive; for teaching and learning purposes, Watson's selections remain readable, generally accurate, and inexpensive.