Associate Professor Karyn Lai

Associate Professor

BA Hons, MA Hons (NUS), PhD, Philosophy (Sydney)

School of Humanities & Languages


9385 1194
326 Morven Brown
Fields: History and Philosophy of Specific Fields, Philosophy, Environmental Philosophy
Tags: Expanding Knowledge in Philosophy and Religious Studies

Dr Karyn Lai is Associate Professor of Philosophy in the School of Humanities and Languages. 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).

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.


Teaching and Supervision


Undergraduate courses

  • Chinese Philosophy
  • Ethics
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Reasoning and Argumentation

Current research students and their projects:

  • Olusegun Samuel (PhD, Philosophy): Environmental Philosophy: rethinking monistic ethics.
  • Milton Lee (PhD, Philosophy): Understanding Yinyang and Wuxing.
  • Yu-Yi Lai (PhD, Philosophy): Guan in the Yijing.
  • Charintorn Nongbua (PhD, Philosophy): Dao in the Analects.
  • Andrew Koh (PhD, Philosophy) Shen in theory and practice in traditional Chinese Medicine.
  • 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)
  • Yuzhou Yang (PhD, Philosophy): Practical Contextualism in Chinese Philosophy (graduated in 2016)
  • Yu-Yi Lai (MA, Philosophy). Heng in the Yijing (graduated in 2017)
  • Thomas McConochie (PhD, Philosophy) Zhuangzi's Great Thoroughfare (graduated in 2017)

Graduate student completions

  • Jasim Uddin, PhD, Interconnectedness as the basis of environmental ethics. Graduated 2004
  • Winnie Sung, PhD, Xin in the Xunzi. Graduated 2010
  • Ranie Villaver, PhD, Zhuangzi’s Scepticism In Light Of Yangist Ideas. Graduated 2012
  • Wai Wai Chiu, PhD, The Idea of zhi in the Zhuangzi. Graduated 2013
  • Yu-Yi Lai, MA, Heng in the Yijing. Graduated 2016
  • Yuzhou Yang, PhD, Practical contextualism in Chinese philosophy. Graduated 2017
  • Thomas McConochie, PhD, Mysticism in the Zhuangzi. Graduated 2017

Honours and prizes

Awards and Distinguished Lectures

  • Plenary Speaker, International Society for Chinese Philosophy Conference, Nanyang Technological University, July 2017.
  • Representative of the Australian Academy of Humanities (AAH) at the joint conference and MOU treaty with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing, China, June 2014.
  • Keynote speaker, Confucius World Consortium, University of Hawai’i, 8-12 October 2014.
  • Dean’s Award for the Best Contribution to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2011, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, UNSW. (Lai, Karyn. 2011. Assessing participation skills: online discussions with peers. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education IFirst: 1-15. (26 Jul 2011) DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2011.590878.)
  • Keynote speaker. “Practical Reasoning and Ethics in pre-Qin Confucian Philosophy,” International Society for Chinese Philosophy Conference, National Taiwan University, 2009.
  • Plenary speaker. “Happiness East and West,” Faculty of Arts Strategic Research Theme (China-West Studies), School of Humanities, University of Hong Kong, 2009.
  • Plenary speaker. “Chinese Philosophy and Moral Psychology,” Division of Humanities, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, 2007.
  • Presidential Address. “Chinese Philosophy and Human Well-Being: Change, Anticipation and Response,” Conference of the International Society for Chinese Philosophy, University of New South Wales, July 2005.
  • Public Lecture. “Philosophy and Philosophical Reasoning of Zhuangzi ― Dealing with Plurality,” University of Queensland, 2005.
  • Anthony Mason Fellow, UNSW. Fellowship awarded for international exchange at Beijing University. Feb-July 1999.

Engagement and Professional contributions

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

Related links

Other information

Recent Administrative Roles

  • Postgraduate Research Coordinator, School of Humanities and Languages, 2017 Dec - ongoing
  • Elected Faculty Representative, Academic Board (UNSW) 2015 - ongoing
  • University Promotions Committee (UNSW) 2015 - ongoing
  • Chair, Bachelor of Arts Degree Program, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (UNSW) 2012-2014
  • Acting Director, Confucius Institute (UNSW) 2012
  • Chair, Philosophy Discipline (UNSW) 2009-2011