In Pursuit of Wisdom Conference: Ancient Chinese and Greek perspectives on cultivation

When:15 Jan 2016, 11am - 12:30pm
14 Jan 2016, 5:30pm - 7pm
Venue:New College Main Common Room
In Pursuit of Wisdom COnference


You are invited to attend two of the Conference’s keynote speeches on Friday 15th January:

“On Spontaneity” (11.00 am - 12.30 pm)

Professor Lisa A. Raphals, University of California, Riverside, USA, author of Divination and Prediction in Early China and Ancient Greece (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and Sharing the Light: Representations of Women and Virtue in Early China, (SUNY, 1998).

Several modes of action or attitudes of mind have been proposed as skills or processes at the heart of good lives. Prominent among these are, in a Greek context, the devious but felicitous quality of m?tis, and in a Chinese context the particular type(s?) of indirection characterized as wuwei ??. Both, in different ways, are centrally concerned with spontaneity.

In Reason and Spontaneity, A.C. Graham attempted to address Hume's famous lacuna between “is” and “ought.” He proposed a theory of value that grounds all values in the imperative to “be aware,” an approach explicitly derived from the Zhuangzi. I reconsider these arguments from three points if view: (1) Graham's account of inclination informed by awareness as the basis for agency and choices among ends; (2) recent research on the biology of agency; and (3) possible continua between humans and animals. I conclude with a few brief remarks on how Greek m?tis and Chinese wuwei might fit into such an account of awareness and spontaneity.

“Beneficial actions and beautiful actions” (5.30 pm – 7.00 pm)

Professor Sophie-Grace Chappell, The Open University, UK, editor of Intuition, Theory and Anti-Theory in Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2015) and author of Knowing What To Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Reading Plato’s Theatetus (Hackett, 2005)

It is routinely assumed that the ancient Greeks were eudaimonists: they believed that the point of action is to bring about eudaimonia, a word which we usually (mis)translate as “happiness”. It might be roughly true of some of the views that Socrates presents to say that they are, in our sense, eudaemonist views, and there is of course plenty of material that can be used to support this reading in Aristotle. Nonetheless there are also deep mistakes in this view even of the “big three” ancient Greek philosophers; and eudaimonism is nowhere near the truth about the ethical views of many other Greek thinkers, in particular the tragedians Aeschylus and Sophocles.

My project in this paper is to reappropriate, in particular from Sophocles and Aristotle, the ethical idea of beauty as a reason for action. I claim that our moral, and so our ethical, concepts, and the moral and ethical normativity that goes with them, are deeply aesthetically-coloured. The beautiful does indeed have a central place within our thinking about normativity; because it has a central place within our thinking about moral normativity. And the central place it has is this (or this is one of them): very often, it is a good answer to the question “Why should I do x?” to reply “Because x is the beautiful thing to do.”

Bringing the idea of to kalon, the beautiful, to a central place in our ethical thinking and our understanding of the ancient Greeks’ ethical thinking is a somewhat unusual move; but it has great explanatory power when we are trying to understand them. It also casts surprising light on a number of other issues, including how to understand unhappiness ethically, and even the theological problem of evil.

Venue for both talks: New College Main Common Room

New College is at Campus map reference L5: (PDF)

Registration for the keynotes is free, but bookings are essential.

RSVP: A/Prof Karyn Lai at

More details of the conference are available at:

If you wish to attend the entire conference, please register as soon as possible at the conference website.

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