Associate Professor Karyn Lai

Associate Professor
BA Hons, MA Hons (NUS), PhD, Philosophy (Sydney)
School of Humanities and Languages


9385 1194
Room 326, Morven Brown
Fields: History and Philosophy of Specific Fields, Philosophy, Environmental Philosophy
Tags: School of Humanities and Languages

Dr Karyn Lai is Associate Professor of Philosophy in the School of History and Philosophy. Karyn Lai’s primary research area is in early (pre-Qin) Confucian and Daoist philosophies. Her books include Learning from Chinese Philosophies (2006. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing) and Introduction to Chinese Philosophy (2008. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press). She is co-Editor (with Vincent Shen) of the “Chinese Comparative Philosophy” section of the journal, Philosophy Compass, published by Blackwell.

Her work is often of a comparative nature, drawing insights from Chinese philosophies to address issues in a number of philosophical areas including moral philosophy, environmental ethics, reasoning and argumentation and epistemology.

Current research project

Epistemology in Chinese philosophy. I am currently working on epistemology in the Confucian Analects. While ‘knowing’ in this text is often characterised as ‘knowing-how’ rather than propositional knowledge, I propose that this description is not sufficiently sensitive to the concerns of the early Confucians and their focus on self cultivation. I propose that a particular conception of knowing—knowing to act in the moment—is better suited to capturing the Analects’ emphasis on exemplary lives in actual contexts. These investigations might lead us to re-consider knowing-how in epistemology in western philosophy. In the longer term, I will extend these investigations to other traditions in pre-Qin philosophy.

Current research students and their projects

  • Yuzhou Yang (PhD, Philosophy): Practical Contextualism in Chinese Philosophy
  • Thomas McConochie (PhD, Philosophy): Zhuangzi's Great Thoroughfare
  • Theodore Brooks (PhD, Philosophy)
  • Mindy Xu (PhD, Philosophy): Comparative Bioethics

PhD Completions

  • Winnie Sung, PhD: Xunzi’s Concept of Xin (graduated in 2010; currently post-doc fellow at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
  • Ranie Villaver (PhD, Philosophy): Is there a Tension between the Zhuangzi’s Scepticism and its Normative Recommendations?: A Yangist Interpretation of the Neipian (graduated in 2012)
  • Wai Wai Chiu (PhD, Philosophy): Zhuangzi’s Concept of Zhi (knowledge, knowing, wisdom) (graduated in 2013)


    Book Chapters

    • Lai KL, 2014, 'Ren ?: An Exemplary Life', in Dao Companion to the Analects, edn. 1st, Springer, Heidelberg, New York, London, pp. 83 - 94,
    • Lai KL, 2013, 'Environmental concern: Can humans avoid being partial? Epistemological awareness in the Zhuangzi', in Meinert Carmen (ed.), Nature, Environment and Culture in East Asia: The Challenge of Climate Change, edn. Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI), Germany, Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands, pp. 69 - 82,
    • Lai KL, 2007, 'Understanding Change: the interdependent self in its environment', in Lai K (ed.), New Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Chinese Philosophy, edn. 1, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, pp. 81 - 99
    • Lai KL, 2003, 'Confucian Moral Cultivation: Some Parallels with Musical training', in Chong K-C; Tan S-H; Tan CL (ed.), The Moral Circle and the Self: Chinese and Western Approaches, Open Court, Chicago and La Salle, Illinois, pp. 107 - 139,
    • Lai KL, 2001, 'Classical China', in Dale Jamieson (ed.), A Companion to Environmental Philosophy, Blackwell Publishers, USA, UK, pp. 21 - 36

    Journal articles

    • Lai KL; CHIU WW, 2013, 'Ming in the Zhuangzi Neipian: Enlightened Engagement', Journal of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 40, no. 3-4, pp. 527 - 543,
    • Lai KL, 2012, 'Knowing to Act in the Moment: Examples from Confucius? Analects', Asian Philosophy: an international journal of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Buddhist, Persian and Islamic philosophical traditions, vol. 22, no. 4, pp. 347 - 364,
    • Hetherington SC; Lai KL, 2012, 'Practising to Know: Practicalism and Confucian Philosophy', Philosophy, vol. 87, no. 3, pp. 375 - 393,
    • Lai KL, 2011, 'Assessing participation skills: online discussions with peers', Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education,
    • Lai KL, 2009, 'Ethics Without Principles', Sophia: an international journal for philosophical theology and cross-cultural philosophy of religion, vol. 48, pp. 77 - 84,
    • Lai KL, 2008, 'Learning from the Confucians: Learning from the past', Journal of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 35, pp. 97 - 119
    • Lai KL, 2007, 'Review of Antonio S. Cua's Human Nature, Ritual, and History: Studies in Xunzi and Chinese Philosophy', Sophia: an international journal for philosophical theology and cross-cultural philosophy of religion, vol. 45, pp. 203 - 205,
    • Lai KL, 2007, 'Ziran and Wuwei in the Daodejing: an ethical assessment', Dao: a journal of comparative philosophy, vol. 6, pp. 325 - 337
    • Lai KL, 2007, 'Confucianism and women: A philosophical interpretation', The China Journal, vol. 57, pp. 226 - 228
    • Lai KL, 2007, 'Understanding Confucian Ethics: reflections on moral development', Australian Journal of Professional and Applied Ethics, vol. 9, pp. 21 - 27
    • Lai KL, 2006, 'Philosophy and Philosophical reasoning in the Zhuangzi: Dealing with Plurality', Journal of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 33, pp. 365 - 374
    • Lai KL, 2006, 'Li in the analects: Training in moral competence and the question of flexibility', Philosophy East and West: a quarterly of comparative philosophy, vol. 56, no. 1, pp. 69 - 84
    • Lai KL, 2003, 'Conceptual Foundations for Environmental Ethics: A Daoist Perspective', Environmental Ethics: an interdisciplinary journal dedicated to the philosophical aspects of environmental problems, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 247 - 266,
    • Lai KL, 2003, 'Critical Notice of Joel Kupperman, Learning from Asian Philosophy', Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 81.1, pp. 126 - 133
    • Lai KL, 2000, 'The Daodejing: Resources for Contemporary Feminist Thinking', Journal of Chinese Philosophy, pp. 131 - 153
    • Lai KL, 1995, 'Confucian moral thinking', Philosophy East and West: a quarterly of comparative philosophy, pp. 249 - 272
Professional Contribution

Editor, Philosophy Compass (Chinese Comparative Philosophy section)

Associate Editor, Australasian Journal of Philosophy

Co-Editor, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Chinese Philosophy)

Assistant Editor, Sophia: International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Metaphysical Theology and Ethics

Book Reviews Editor (Asia and Europe) Journal of Chinese Philosophy

Editorial Board, Frontiers of Philosophy in China

Affiliations and Membership

Membership of Professional Organisations

International Society for Chinese Philosophy (ISCP)

Regional Representative (Australia) (2005- ).

President (2003-2005).

Vice-President (2001-2003).


Australasian Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy

President (2013-)