Series on the History of Chinese Philosophy, Pt. 21

The Bing Fa Tradition

“Master Sun’s Art of War” by Jiang Lu and Xiong Yongping at the National Museum of China

Welcome to Part 21 of the series! The previous parts are here:

Now that we’ve seen how “ministers of methods” operated in the throne room (Part 20), let’s take a look at how they fared on the battlefield.

The Bingfa, or “Military Methods” tradition hasn’t enjoyed quite the same philosophical scrutiny in the west as the more “academic” schools of thought… mainly being studied by military and business leaders. As Andrew Meyer has stated:

“In the study of Warring States sources, the treatment of “military texts” (bing shu 兵書) has been parochial by comparison with…


Series on the History of Chinese Philosophy, Pt. 20

Like Driving Horses with Reins and Whips

“Hanfeizi and His Legalist Philosophy” by Xu Liang and Zhang Junde at the National Museum of China

Welcome to Part 20 of the series! The previous parts are here:

In this segment we’ll gain a view into Legalism, or Făjiā, which is the last of the four main pillars of Chinese philosophy (i.e., Ru, Dao, Mo, Fa).

[法] can be translated as “law, rule, or method” and the philosophers associated with this philosophy all believed in strict laws in political affairs and cunning methods on the battlefield.

In Part 21, we’ll turn our attention to the military tradition known as Bīng Fă — or “military methods” — but for now we’ll just stick to “methods”…


Series on the History of Chinese Philosophy, Pt. 19

From “Universal Love” to “The White Horse”

“Night-Shining White” painted by Han Gan (CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Welcome to Part 19 of the series! The previous parts are here:

In this installment we’ll follow the philosophical line of thought from Mozi and his band of followers, down to the philosophers Hui Shi and Gongsun Long — who are associated with what’s become known as the “Disputers of Names,” or Míng Biàn [名 辩] school of thought.

Although Mohism (the school named after Mozi) and the Disputers of Names have traditionally been viewed as distinct intellectual lineages, it’s likely there was a philosophical thread connecting them, because there are some important overlaps in their approaches. …


Series on the History of Philosophy, Pt. 18

The San Biao and the Ten Theses

“Mozi in the War” by Pang Maokun, Liu Xiaoxi, Wang Chaogang, Zheng Li, and Wang Haiming at the National Museum of China

Welcome to Part 18 of the series! The first 17 parts are here:

In this entry let’s go back to the beginning of the Warring States period to follow another philosophical line of thought almost as old as Confucianism — founded by a man named Mozi.

Like many others, Mozi despised the political chaos of his time — though he blamed Confucian philosophy for a lot of those ills. He devised an alternative philosophy that he believed could actually bring peace to the land and improve any State that adopted it. …


Series on the History of Chinese Philosophy, Pt. 17

Dao Strategy, Moral Imagination, and the Genuine Person

The Chinese idiom “Mantis stalks cicada, unaware of magpie behind.” [螳螂捕蟬, 黃雀在後] Inspired by Chapter 20 of the Zhuangzi. (Image from sina.com.cn)

Q: “Why was the hipster so jealous of the cicada?”

A: “Because it stayed UNDERGROUND for 17 years!”

As the 17th part in the series, it’s only appropriate we talk about cicadas. You can check out previous entries, too:

We finished up Part 16 with an introduction to Butcher Ding’s “knack” and its association with what Zhuangzi called the “secret for nourishing life.”

As we saw, stories like this one run throughout the text (we called them knack passages) and they present characters who possess a unique combination of moral imagination and bodily spontaneity that we compared to the…


From a Philosopher (and Father).

Author (and son) planting trees at a community food forest.

“Human nature exists and operates in an environment… as a plant is in the sunlight and soil.” — John Dewey

I started teaching a college course on environmental philosophy in 2007.

Seven years later, I became a dad.

As much as I enjoy talking with undergraduates about moral obligations to the environment, sustainability, and deep ecology— it pales in comparison to watching my son build the habits of a conscientious Eco-citizen and a thoughtful member of our family.

I’ve discovered that those two roles actually reinforce one another…as each involves a special kind of care for others. After all, whatever…


Series on the History of Chinese Philosophy, Pt. 16

From the Pipes of Heaven to Moral Knack

“Poetic Images of the Tang Dynasty” by Lu Yanshao (1909–1993)

Q: “What did the river-rapid say to the tsunami?”

A: “Nothing — they both just WAVED.”

Welcome to Part 16 of the series! In this entry we’re looking deeper into the normative themes of the book named for the Daoist sage Zhuangzi. If you’ve missed the previous installments, you can check them out here:

Click to view the complete series


Series on the History of Chinese Philosophy, Pt. 15

or, The Happiness of Minnows

“Carefree Wandering” by Chen Yungang at the National Museum of China

Welcome to Part 15 of the series! If you’ve missed earlier entries, you can find them with the link below.

In this installment we’ll take a look at how the Daoist text known as the Zhuangzi (named for Master Zhuang Zhou) plays with language, challenges perspectives, and allows meaning to “carefreely wander afar” — or, Xiāo Yáo Yóu [逍遙逌] — which is the title of the first chapter of the text.

According to Zhuangzi scholar Kuang-ming Wu, the phrase Xiāo Yáo Yóu expresses the Daoist sentiment that: “To go far and wide creatively is life’s joy — of growing…


Series on the History of Chinese Philosophy, Pt. 14

A River Returning to the Sea

“Zhuangzi Contemplates Waterfall” artist unattributed (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Welcome to Part 14 of the series! If you’ve missed earlier entries, you can check them out here:

In this installment we’ll be finishing up with the Dàodéjīng and making our first foray into the text known as the Zhuangzi. Together, these texts are typically considered the cornerstone of Daoist thought.

I want to spend some time talking about the ways in which each text has been interpreted among European and Anglophone philosophers, especially with regard to the notion of mysticism.

Before we get too deep into saying what mysticism is, though, it might be useful to say what…


Series on the History of Chinese Philosophy, Pt. 13

Great Carvers Cut Little

A Statue of Laozi in Quanzhou (氤氲小调, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Welcome to Part 13 of the series! If you’ve missed earlier entries, you can check them out here:

We concluded the last entry with an extended metaphor for Daoist metaphysics — the image of a fallow field.

It has one major flaw, though… it implies there’s something like what the ancient Greek philosophers called κόσμος, or cosmos, lying at the heart of Daoist metaphysics.

This is problematic, though, because ‘cosmos’ carries connotations of an ordered, unified whole… an idea echoed in our word UNI-verse.

While a holism of a CERTAIN SORT is undoubtedly present in Chinese metaphysics, it’s anything…

Christopher Kirby

Father, husband, son, brother, philosopher, life-long student. Professional site at: https://www.christopher-c-kirby.com/

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