A Ku Indeed!

Local Knowledge, Effective Teaching

Posted in Academia, Course Material, Pedagogy by Chris on December 20, 2008

Reading Daniel Bell’s book it has struck me that his points about East-West human rights dialogue can be generalized to other areas of one’s life where successful communication between parties is required. The most immediate connection that came to my mind while reading was the teacher-student relationship – how should we, as teachers, approach our students with the lessons that we have prepared for them to learn?


Teaching Chinese Philosophy

Posted in Chinese Philosophy, Course Material, Pedagogy by Chris on November 29, 2008

In the last few days I’ve learned that Tsinghua may not want me to teach the culture class I was scheduled for next semester — instead they want me to teach Chinese Philosophy. This is fine with me, and would likely be a lot of fun, but I’ve never taught this as a standalone course. Instead, I’ve taught courses that deal with a focused area within Chinese philosophy (such as my “Confucian Virtue Ethics” course) or that deal with a wider Asian theme (such as my “Asian Ethics” course that also covers Indian thinkers). So if I do wind up teaching this course, I’ll have to build it quickly, which means selecting the right books and figuring out which thinkers to cover.


Walking Betwixt Two Worlds

Posted in Buddhism, China, Chinese Philosophy, Course Material, Existentialism, Life by Chris on November 11, 2008

As I read the Theravada Buddhist work the Dhammapada, I find myself thinking of Kierkegaard. Specifically, I find myself thinking of Abraham and the Knight of Faith, and the relationship between their predicament (as described by Kierkegaard) and the life-situation of the potential Buddhist Arahant. Both typologies, the Buddhist and the Existentialist, seem to me to offer as an ideal a way of “walking betwixt the two worlds” in which one lives as the being that one is.


Hume on Data Mining

Posted in Course Material, Life by Chris on October 12, 2008

I’ve been reading through some financial journals and websites reading about the current financial and market situation. One thing stuck me: after each financial pundit said what they’d do — which was always rooted in some analysis of past crashes — at the bottom there would always be this proviso, “the future is not guaranteed to resemble the past.” For those who have read Hume’s Treatise, and especially so for students who tend to think that Hume’s points here have no “practical application” — this little bit of Humean wisdom may be amusing in a not-so-amusing time.

Free Will and Knowledge

Posted in Course Material, philosophy by Chris on October 5, 2008

I’m teaching my Free Will seminar this semester, and an issue came up in class that is an interesting one. The question is this: is it necessary to having free will that you be aware of the presence of your free will at the time you have it? I don’t mean theoretically. A person could be convinced that in general they are free, but not know whether they are free right now. I’m curious whether it is important to resolving the “free will problem” that a person be able to go beyond theoretical knowledge — to have a phenomenological awareness of their own freedom. For those in the class (or who know the issue), this problem emerges in Kane’s work. Kane thinks that our freedom relies on the existence of certain events that can occur in our lives, events that are sub-atomic in nature. As it turns out, though, there’s really no way of you even knowing whether any of those events have ever happened — or are happening — in your life right now. Does this make the solution to the problem unsatisfactory?

Suggestions Needed: Teaching Culture in China

Posted in China, Course Material, Fun, Life, Pedagogy by Chris on September 27, 2008

Next semester Christie (my wife) and I will be teaching at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Each of us will be teaching a course called “American Culture.” The course content is entirely up to us, and we’ve been slowly engaged in the task of putting together the material we will eventually be covering (individually, the courses aren’t team-taught, but we’ll teach the same syllabus). We really need help accumulating suggestions from people regarding what to cover, and how to cover it. Click below the fold and give us a hand! All suggestions welcome — especially from students!


In Search Of: Asian Films

Posted in Chinese Philosophy, Course Material, Ethics, Fun, Pedagogy by Chris on June 17, 2008

In my usual Values Analysis course (core curriculum ethics course), I have students watch two films — one after reading Confucius, and one after reading Mill/Bentham. Students are expected to write a paper that answers a question about the film using the material just studied. So, for instance, we watch Groundhog Day and students are expected to use the Analects to answer the question: Is Phil a junzi at the end of the film? Similarly, students are expected to use consequentialism and answer the question “is (Ramon’s plea for) euthanasia acceptable?” after watching Mar Adentro (an excellent foreign film, by the way). In the fall, I’ll be teaching Asian Ethics, a course meant to fulfill the core requirement of Values Analysis (a course in ethics) but from an Asian perspective. So I need some Asian films!


To Annotate, or not to Annotate

Posted in Analects, Chinese Philosophy, Course Material, Ethics by Chris on May 29, 2008

I’ve developed a new course in the fall that is meant to serve as an alternative ‘path’ for students at my college to fulfill their “values inquiry’ gen-ed requirement (ethics is a requirement for all students). The course is called Asian Ethics and allows students who are interested in Asian Studies (or just Asian-oriented themes) to opt-in to gen-ed courses more suited to their individual interests. My question here isn’t about the course itself, or even Asian Studies, but rather is about which translations I should use for the various Asian classics. And even here it’s not really about which translations read best (though I’d welcome suggestions there too). For me, it real thorny question is “to annotate, or not to annotate.”


Modern Enlightenment

Posted in Course Material, Life, Sunday Comics by Chris on May 27, 2008

I’m developing some pages for my fall courses (to the right) and, for those of you who use them, you know I always start the page with a cartoon. In looking for one to fit “Asian Ethics” I came across this one (below). It’s funny although at the same time a bit depressing, because it is likely a true commentary on the state of the modern self and its journey for enlightenment/eudaimonia (or whatever word can be substituted in there for “spiritual authenticity”).

Yen Hui and the “Mystery” of 11.4

Posted in Analects, China, Chinese Philosophy, Course Material, Ethics by Chris on March 31, 2008

In my opinion, Lun Yu 11.4 is one of the simplest and most straightforward passages in the Confucian text. It reads: “The Master said, ‘Hui! He is of no help to me! He agrees with everything I say!” Yup. Seemingly simple, straightforward and clear. But yet most commentators don’t think that it say what it seems to say. Philosophers! Leave it to them to muddy the clear waters on make murky what was obvious. Well, I’m not complaining. That’s how I make my bacon too. But in this instance, I just gotta disagree!


Such is Her Te!

Posted in Analects, China, Chinese Philosophy, Course Material by Chris on March 24, 2008

One of my students in my Confucius class asked today an interesting question: How does Confucius explain bad behavior, thinking specifically in terms of the role of modeling in the Analects when it comes to cheng (correction). Now, it is clear that Confucius thinks that good people tend to draw others into the “orbit” (Analect 2.1) of their jen, this leading them to become good as well (or at least to start on the road towards it) as a result of imitation (Analect 12.19 is perhaps a clear expression of this, but there are many others textual spots as well). As a result, when a person’s particular focus or virtue (te) is great (they are exemplary in their pursuit of personal cultivation), such will the effect of their te on others. But what about the bad folks? What explains them?


The East Speaks…

Posted in China, Chinese Philosophy, Course Material, Life by Chris on March 14, 2008

A colleague of mine sent me an e-mail yesterday drawing my attention to this very cool set of comic books dealing with Eastern philosophy, written by Chih-Chung Ts’ai. I had hoped to find something like this because eventually when my daughter is old enough, I’d like to expose her to a variety of spiritual/philosophical traditions, and let’s face it, eastern thought is not particularly easy. Especially for a young kid.