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Philosophy | Dao Annual Best Essay Award

Dao Annual Best Essay Award

2017 Dao Annual Best Essay Award Winner 

Yujian Zheng, “Interpretational Paradox, Implicit Normativity, and Human Nature: Revisiting Weakness of Will from a Perspective of Comparative Philosophy.” Dao 16 (2017): 145-163.

A well-constructed and tightly articulated study, the essay engages a range of existing works on the contested issue of the weakness of will from a comparative perspective, with a refreshed look at the Davidsonian paradox of irrationality. It develops and proposes a unifying thesis about a type of dynamic normativity that helps both explain the relation between destiny (ming 命) and human nature (xing 性 ) in the Mencius more robustly and shed some penetrating light on the seemingly dual status of “the Plato Principle” (“no one willingly acts counter to what he knows to be best”) in light of what the author terms Chinese diachronic holism. The duality involved, indicating some tension between its descriptive vs. normative aspects, serves to reveal the idea that humans not only have natural roots similar or homologous to animals but also have a natural-cum-normative destiny to become fully rational and moral. It exemplifies the type of comparative philosophy Dao aims to promote.

2016 Dao Annual Best Essay Award Winner 

Thomas Ming, “Who Does the Sounding? The Metaphysics of the First-Person Pronoun in the Zhuangzi.” Dao 15.1: 57-79

Demonstrating both command of the secondary literature and grasp of the original text, Thomas Ming’s “Who Does the Sounding?: The Metaphysics of the First-Person Pronoun in the Zhuangzi” furnishes an original reading of the Zhuangzi by focusing on its use of the two first-person pronouns, wu 吾 and wo 我, in the famous saying, “I lost myself” (wu sang wo 吾喪我). While much of the scholarship on the Zhuangzi subscribes to either the “single-reference” view (SR), i.e., the two pronouns refer to the same self, or the “double-reference” view (DR), i.e., the two refer to two different selves, Ming proposes what he calls the “no-reference” view (NR), i.e., neither has a reference. According to this novel reading, just as there may be sound without a sound maker as the Zhuangzi shows with the metaphor of piping of heaven, the Zhuangzi is telling us that there can be thought without a thinker. What matters in this deep and thick analysis of the semantics of the two characters is the deliberate, and successful, endeavor to generate a more nuanced understanding of the text. Conceptually and methodologically, it also brings the interpretive and explanatory power of contemporary philosophy of language, particularly that of Wittgenstein and Anscombe, to bear on the parsing of the lineaments and meanings of the metaphysics of Zhuangzi. It represents the type of comparative studies that Dao aims to promote.

2015 Dao Annual Best Essay Award 

David Wong's paper, "Early Confucian Philosophy and Development of Compassion" (Dao 14.2: 157-194)

In “Early Confucian Philosophy and Development of Compassion,” David Wong carefully examines such metaphors as adorning, crafting, water flowing down, and growing sprouts used for moral cultivation in early Confucian texts, the Analects, Mencius, and Xunzi. While clearly with different meanings, Wong argues that, far from being competitive, such metaphors, working together, adequately reflect the complexity of moral cultivation, which in turn reflects the complexity of human nature. Central to this picture of moral cultivation is its emphasis on the relational and holistic aspects: cultivation of self with others and within social practices. Wong makes a strong case for this Confucian version by connecting it with some of the best of contemporary human sciences, including psychology, cognitive sciences, and neurosciences. Wong’s essay seamlessly combines solid textual analysis with sophisticated philosophical argument. It exemplifies the type of scholarship that Dao aims to promote.

2014 Dao Annual Best Essay Award 

Peimin Ni, “Seek and You Will Find It; Let Go and You Will Lose It: Exploring a Confucian Approach to Human Dignity” (Dao 13 [2014]: 173-198)

Despite the fact that human dignity is a modern Western conception, which is absent in Confucianism, an ancient Chinese tradition, Peimin Ni presents a convincing argument for taking seriously an implicit Confucian account of human dignity, a unique feature of which is that human dignity is an achievement rather than a right. While it is significant in its own light, Ni also makes a strong case that it can resolve the two dilemmas underlying the modern Western conception of human dignity, one involving the question of whether human dignity is based on some inherent human properties, and another the question of whether the inalienability of human dignity is factual or normative. Moving skillfully between the ancient and modern and between the Chinese and the Western, Ni’s paper is both textually well-grounded and philosophically innovative. It exemplifies the type of comparative philosophy that Dao aims to promote.

2013 Dao Annual Best Essay Award 

Amy Olberding, "Confucius' Complaints and the Analects' Account of the Good Life," Dao 12.4: 417-440.

"Confucius' Complaints and the Analects' Account of the Good Life" is a highly original and thought provoking interpretation of the Analects focusing on an internal tension in the text. Its insightful reflection on a cluster of often neglected passages, in which Confucius seems to complain of the life he leads, feels its sorrows, admits his fallibility, and even possesses some despair, yields a convincing alternative reading that questions and illuminates the kind of exemplar Confucius is supposed to be and the way the Analects serves as an ethical guide for ordinary people. It exemplifies the type of research that Dao aims to promote.

2012 Dao Annual Best Essay Award Winner 

“Instruction Dialogues in the Zhuangzi: An ‘Anthropological’ Reading” by Carine Defoort

Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 11:459–478
This essay provides a fresh reading of the ancient Chinese Daoist classic Zhuangzi. While the author claims that it is a non-philosophical reading, it turns out to be a philosophical reading that is most appropriate to the Zhuangzi and perhaps many if not all other ancient Chinese classics. The Zhuangzi authors, just like many other classical Chinese philosophers, were not so much interested, if at all, in theory building as in transformation of the person. Through a focus on the formal characteristics of the dialogues, careful textual analyses, perceptive interpretations, and coherent arguments, Dr. Defoort convincingly shows that the instruction of the Zhuangzi’s masters hint at the importance of non-teaching in various senses; it also focuses on attitudes and skills (knowing how) rather than knowledge (knowing that). The essay thus breaks ground not only in our interpretation of the Zhuangzi but also in our understanding of philosophy per se. It is the type of work that Dao promotes.

Winner 2011: Edward Slingerland 

“Metaphor and Meaning in Early China.” Dao (2011) 10:1–30

"This is a ground-breaking essay. Slingerland debunks a fairly common assumption that Chinese way of thinking is metaphoric, while the Western way of thinking is logical, an assumption shared by both earlier Orientalists, who claimed the superiority of the Occidental, and more recent “reverse Orientialists,” who claim the superiority of the Oriental. In contrast, using his expertise in contemporary cognitive sciences, Slingerland argues convincingly that metaphor is a universal and fundamental feature of human cognition.
What makes the Chinese way of thinking unique is thus not that it is metaphoric but that early Chinese thinkers were more self-aware of the metaphoric nature of language, while modern Western thinkers are more self-deluded about what they are doing.
The essay as a whole is thus original in its interdisciplinary, comparative, and philosophical natures. It is the type of work that Dao aims to promote."

Winner 2010 

  • KIM Myeong-seok
What Cèyǐn zhī xīn (Compassion/Familial Affection) Really Is
Volume 9, Number 4, pages 407-425
"Cogently connecting the idea of ceyin zhi xin to pertinent current western philosophical conceptions of emotions, Kim sheds on it a new and comparative light by arguing that it should be understood as a concern-based, cognitive construal. Marshaling rich evidentiary resources from the Mengzi itself and other texts, Kim advances his new interpretation while judiciously accommodating and critiquing previous commentators on Mencian thinking. His essay shows a firm command of the original texts and secondary readings and demonstrates sensitive and reasonable use of western analytic constructs. It is a significant contribution to the study of Mengzi in particular and Confucian moral psychology in general."

Winner 2009 

  • KIM Sungmoon
Self-Transformation and Civil Society: Lockean vs. Confucian
Volume VIII.4: pages 383-402
"In this contribution to the on-going dialogue between Confucianism and liberalism, Sungmoon Kim breaks the ground by going beyond the common contrast between the two as one between communitarianism and individualism. Kim argues that, while both aim at a society free from anti-social passions, Confucianism is unique in incorporating ritual propriety, instead of liberal self-control, in its idea of self-cultivation. His examination of the liberal view of the individual and society is balanced and substantial, and his contrast between Confucian self-cultivation and Lockean self-transformation is subtle and revealing. Kim's work represents the type of comparative philosophy that Dao promotes."

Winner 2008 

  • Justin Tiwald
A Right of Rebellion in the Mengzi?
Volume VII.3: pages 267-282
In this clearly written and analytically exercised essay, Justin Tiwald challenges the received opinion that Mengzi endorses people’s right for popular rebellion. Instead, Tiwald argues that, for Mengzi, people are only sometimes permitted to participate in a rebellion and not to decide when a rebellion is warranted, which suggests an intriguing division of deliberative labor. This interpretation makes Mengzi’s political philosophy more coherent than the traditional ones. This philosophically well argued position is based on solid historical and textual scholarship, representing the type of quality work that Dao aims to promote.

Winner 2007 

  • Erin M. Cline
“Two Senses of Justice: Confucianism, Rawls, and Comparative Political Philosophy.”
Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy VI.4: 361-381
In this penetrating article, Erin M. Cline chooses an important but often neglected aspect of John Rawls’s theory of justice, his view of sense of justice, and brings it into dialogue with the idea of moral sense discussed in the Analects. As the result, there emerges not only a fresh understanding of both Rawls’s sense of justice and Confucius’ moral sense but also a new appreciation of how a sense of justice develops. This article displays Cline’s scholarly rigor, philosophical depth, and broad knowledge of both Chinese and Western philosophy. It represents the type of comparative work that Dao promotes.