On Truth and Chinese Philosophy


I am pleased to announce that my paper, “Truth and Chinese Philosophy: A Plea for Pluralism” has been accepted for publication in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy. My first ever published paper was on this very topic back in 2014, also in Dao, and so I’m very excited to be revisiting it in Dao once again. The abstract can be found below, followed by an author’s preprint of the article. (Note: The preprint might have some minor differences from the final, published version.)


The question of whether or not early Chinese philosophers had a concept of truth has been a topic of some scholarly debate over the past few decades. The present paper offers a novel assessment of the debate, and suggests that no answer is fully satisfactory, as the plausibility of each turns in no small part on difficult and unsettled philosophical issues prior to the interpretation of any ancient Chinese philosophical texts—particularly the issues of what it means to “have a concept” and how we understand the concept of truth itself. This paper summarizes prominent views within the debate over truth and Chinese philosophy and offers conditional assessments of each answer with respect to contemporary theories of concepts and theories of truth. The paper concludes with an appeal to methodological and interpretive pluralism, within reasonable constraints, in discussions of this topic.

Keywords: truth, Chinese philosophy, concepts, methodology

An overdue update

As of March 2021, I have started my new position as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Yonsei University’s Underwood International College in Songdo, South Korea. I am extremely grateful to be here, to be teaching both enthusiastic and talented students, and to be surrounded by enthusiastic, wonderful colleagues.

My faculty profile page can be found here, and you can find a brief writeup for myself and other, wonderful incoming colleagues here.

I will be updating my photography website in due time to reflect this change of location–from dr_hk_birdnerd to dr_sk_birdnerd–and plan to explore the birds of South Korea and post my photos there regularly (once my camera arrives from Hong Kong).

Re-vamping my Photography Website

I’ve decided to try and re-vamp my website for wildlife photos. I ignored it for a while because 1) I wasn’t sure how to expand its reach and 2) Intsagram seemed sufficient. What’s more is that I just didn’t do as much birding as I would have liked this past year because of the Hong Kong protests and now the COVID-19 pandemic. But this is a hobby I’ll keep for my life, and so I think it’s worth documenting.

The website includes regular blog posts about birds and wildlife in Hong Kong, links to my PicFair site, where you can purchase downloads or prints of my photos, as well as what I’m calling a Hong Kong bird log documenting the birds I’ve photographed in Hong Kong.

You can visit the frankswildlife.photos here.

Ethics in the Zhuangzi: Diversity and Sagacity

The following essay is forthcoming in International Philosophical Quarterly (June, 2020) entitled “Ethics in the Zhuangzi: Diversity and Sagacity”. Its content is largely based on the penultimate chapter of my PhD dissertation, and has benefited greatly from feedback at various international venues over the past few years. An author’s preprint of the essay can be downloaded here.

An abstract follows:

Philosophers in China during the Warring States period generally saw themselves as investigators into, disputers of, and leaders of others along the Dao 道—the uniquely authoritative Way to live and to flourish. However, certain voices found in the Zhuangzi offer a radical response to these philosophical projects by rejecting the premise that there exists such a uniquely authoritative Dao. Instead, they argue that there exist myriad, diverse dao, none of which has absolute, moral authority. But these very same texts that undermine the idea of an authoritative Dao simultaneously make positive ethical suggestions regarding how to live and flourish, exemplified by various sagely figures. In this paper, I explore texts in the Zhuangzi that discuss both the diversity of dao and sagely flourishing, and argue that these two themes come together to form the basis of a comprehensive ethical view that I call Zhuangist pluralism.


Xunzi and the primitivists on natural spontaneity (xìng 性) and coercion

The following article entitled “Xunzi and the primitivists on natural spontaneity (xìng 性) and coercion” will appear in Asian Philosophy 27:3 (DOI here). It explores a hypothetical debate between the ru 儒 philosopher Xunzi and the primitivist writers associated with the Daoist tradition concerning the value of natural, human spontaneity (xìng 性). The author’s preprint can be found here, while the Abstract follows:

This article explores two opposing views from Warring States China concerning the value of human natural spontaneity (hereafter xìng 性) and large-scale government coercion. On the one hand, the Ruist (Confucian) philosopher Xunzi championed a  comprehensive and coercive ethical, political, and social system or Way (dào 道) that he believed would lead to social order and moral cultivation while opposing people’s xìng.  On the other hand, the authors of roughly books 8-10 of Zhuangzi, the primitivists, criticized a Way bearing a striking resemblance to Xunzi’s on the grounds that it  seriously harms people by opposing their xìng. I argue that the primitivists offer compelling reasons for Xunzi to modify his own Way regarding its relationship with xìng, though their own proposed alternative Way is not very attractive. I conclude with a brief discussion of one primitivist-inspired alternative view found in the Lü Shi Chun Qiu, which plausibly suggests that one way of respecting people’s xìng is by offering them opportunities to explore their natural abilities.