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We are living in what the philosopher Jonardon Ganeri has called the “age of re: emergence“, i.e., a new period defined by a growing appreciation of local, non-Western ways of thinking, a deepening of intellectual pluralism, and increasing global dialogue. Whereas quite a few philosophers in Europe and the United States still remain doubtful about the need to integrate non-Western texts into the philosophical canon, a growing number of philosophers are willing to engage in a dialogue between Western and Asian philosophy. Numerous scholars have already amply demonstrated that contemporary debates on the nature of consciousness and the self can learn important things from Indian theories (see, for example, the edited volume Self, No Self? Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological, and Indian Traditions, OUP 2010).
During our conference “Selfhood, Otherness, and Cultivation – Phenomenology and Chinese Philosophy“, we hope to continue these dialogues by focusing on the Chinese philosophical traditions. Like in India, philosophers in pre-modern China have debated Buddhist positions regarding the nature of consciousness, the experiencing “I“ (often thought to be non-existing), and the givenness of objects. Furthermore, Daoist and Confucian thinkers have also developed complex accounts of selfhood, self-awareness, and states of being selfless. Some of these accounts are defended even today by scholars in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, for example by disciples of the highly influential philosophers Mou Zongsan and Tang Junyi.
Our conference aims at exploring these non-Western conceptual traditions in more depth. In particular we hope to clarify a number of central questions: How do the Chinese philosophical traditions characterize phenomenal self-experience, and what is their understanding of self-consciousness? How were Classical Buddhist ideas regarding the illusory nature of the self interpreted in the Chinese world? What had pre-modern Chinese thinkers to say about the cultivation of consciousness, i.e. the training of the subject’s attention through meditation and other practices? How was the self supposed to persist over time? How did Daoist and Confucian thinkers conceptualize thoughts, emotions, and perceptions? What views of intersubjective experience did they develop? And, finally, what can the Chinese philosophical traditions contribute to contemporary debates on questions about selfhood, otherness, and cultivation?
Among the participants of our conference will be Dan Zahavi, who is one of the most important representatives of contemporary phenomenology and the philosophy of mind. Zahavi will give a key-note speech during our conference and will participate in a roundtable discussion with all conference participants. His views about the nature of consciousness, awareness, and intersubjectivity will thus play a major role in our discussions. We therefore encourage participants to engage with Zahavi’s work or the broader phenomenological tradition. This said, the focus of our conference will be in the area of Chinese philosophy, and we are open to both historical and systematic approaches to the topics of selfhood, otherness, and cultivation. We plan to publish the papers from this conference in an edited volume with a major publisher in the Anglophone world.