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Anger, Compassion, and the Idea of “No Self”

April 4 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


Kwong-loi Shun
Professor of Philosophy
University of California-Berkeley
April 4, 4:00 pm
141 Park Hall, UB North Campus
UB Confucius Institute/Department of Philosophy Lecture
Free and open to the public

The talk will address three questions in Confucian ethics having to do with anger, compassion, and the idea of “no self”. First, in relation to anger, the Confucians distinguish between anger that “resides in oneself” (zai ji 在己) and anger that “resides in things” (zai wu 在物); what is the nature of the distinction between these two forms of anger? Second, in relation to compassion, the Confucians idealize a state in which one “forms one body” with all things (wan wu yi ti 萬物一體); what is it to be in this state of “one body”? Third, in presenting the process of ethical self-transformation, the Confucians describe it as a progression toward a state of “no self” (wu wo 無我); how should we understand this state of “no self”?  The answers to the first two questions help address the third question, and conversely, a discussion of the third question helps highlight a certain distinctive feature of Confucian thought that underlies the answers to the first two questions.

This distinctive feature has to do with the way we conceptualize our relation to our environment. Namely, our responses to our environment are conceptualized primarily as responses to situations (or affairs – shi 事) that involve individuals, rather than to individuals as such. This leads to a perspective on our ethical life that cannot be adequately described in terms of contemporary philosophical conceptions, such as the distinction between first and third person perspectives or notions such as sympathy and empathy.

Kwong-loi Shun began his study of Chinese Philosophy at the New Asia Institute of Advanced Chinese Studies, attending classes by Mou Zongsan. He then studied at Oxford University and received the B. Phil. in Philosophy in 1982. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Stanford University in 1986, writing his thesis on Mencius under the supervision of David S. Nivison.

He took up an Assistant Professor position in ethics at UC Berkeley in 1986, and taught primarily ethics and Chinese philosophy. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1990, and then Professor of Philosophy in 1996. He was later appointed Dean of the Undergraduate Division in 2000. He left Berkeley in 2004 to join the University of Toronto as Professor of Philosophy and East Asian Studies, and as Vice President of the University of Toronto and Principal of the University of Toronto at Scarborough. He then joined the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2007 as Chair Professor of Philosophy, Sin Wai Kin Professor of Chinese Culture, and Head of New Asia College. In 2014, he returned to Berkeley as Professor of Philosophy.

Professor Shun’s main research project is a multivolume work in Confucian ethics that started in 1988. The goal is to start with close textual studies of early and later Confucian thought, and then transition to a primarily philosophical study of Confucian ethics, with close attention to the methodological issues involved. The first volume, Mencius and Early Chinese Thought, was published by Stanford University Press in 1997. A manuscript of the second volume, Zhu Xi and Later Confucian Thought (tentative title), has been completed and is currently under revision. The third volume, From Philology to Philosophy (tentative title), is close to completion and will focus on methodological issues in the transition from textual studies to philosophical explorations. It is anticipated that the final manuscripts of both volumes will be completed by 2018, after which additional volumes will follow.

He is currently on the editorial or advisory boards of a number of publications, including Journal of the American Philosophical Association, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Comparative Philosophy, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Series in Chinese and Comparative Philosophy, Journal of East-West Thought, International East-West Studies, Confucian Studies, Journal of Chinese Philosophy and Culture, New Asia Academic Journal, Bulletin of the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy of Academia Sinica, Soochow Journal of Philosophical Studies, Taiwan Journal of East Asian Studies, General Education Online, Education Journal. He was also on the editorial board of Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy (Garland Publishing, Inc., 2003) and a consulting editor for the second edition of Encyclopedia of Philosophy (MacMillan, 2006).


April 4
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


141 Park Hall
University at Buffalo North Campus
Buffalo, NY 14260 United States
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