Teaching Chinese Philosophy as a Way of Life
Next Fall I am planning on teaching a first-year seminar–the first time I’ll ever have taught a course just for first-year students–called “Philosophy as a Way of Life.” The title comes from Pierre Hadot’s wonderful book, which we’ll read some of, and the idea comes in part from past classes I have taught about the “sagehood” ideal. I want to offer comparative perspectives on what it might mean to take seriously some sort of “philosophical life,” partly as a way of myself thinking more about whether philosophy in our day and age can be anything more than a classroom activity. Of course I was intrigued by our discussion here a while back about the idea of “gongfu” as philosophy. I am also interested in James Miller’s new book Examined Lives, and wonder about using biographies of Chinese philosophers as well. This leads me to my first question:
- Does anyone have suggestions about biographies of Chinese philosophers? There are various alledgedly biographical bits in many of the texts, of course, and that may turn out to be a good approach. But I wonder about other options.
I don’t really have a clear sense of what I think about these matters right now–that is, about whether philosophy can provide a distinctive kind of life today, and if so, whether this life is worth pursuing. Another of my motivations for the class is the worry that because it is so manifestly a purely ivory-tower concern, “philosophy” is not an apt category for Confucianism today; many who make this charge would also say that to the degree one is “just” an academic philosopher, one is not really a Confucian (and they often offer Mou Zongsan as a case in point). So a related question concerns what it means today to take Confucianism as a way of life. Another question, then:
- Other than Rodney Taylor’s book on Okada Takehiko, can you think of any books on living a Confucian life today?
Other than these two questions, I’d be happy to hear any ideas about how you might teach such a class, or what your thoughts are on the kinds of issues I have raised. Thanks!