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Conferences & lectures

Harvey Lederman | Wang Yangming on Principles and Things | Philosophy Speaker Series

Friday, November 17, 2023
3 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Harvey Lederman, Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities, University of Texas, Austin


This event is free. All are welcome.


514-848-2424 ext. 2500


J.W. McConnell Building
1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
R. Howard Webster Library

Room 362



"Former Residence of Wang Shouren in Shaoxing" by 猫猫的日记本, Creative Commons, 2017.

Abstract: According to the textbook story, Song-Ming (960-1644) "Confucian" thought divides into two schools: a conservative, orthodox "school of Principle", and a more radical, heterodox "school of Mind". On this standard story, the great Ming Dynasty thinker Wang Yangming (1472-1529) was the most sophisticated proponent of the School of Mind; he counts as a member of the school because of his signature claim that "mind just is Principle" (心即理). This talk takes up the venerable, difficult question of what, exactly, Wang meant by this claim. Some have suggested that, for Wang, it represents only a shift in emphasis from the doctrines of his predecessors. Others have argued that the claim embodies Wang's total rejection of their world-view, suggesting that here, as well as in in his oft-repeated claim that "what the mind is directed at, is a thing" (意之所在便是物), Wang denied the existence of the mind-independent world and endorsed a form of idealism. I aim to chart a middle path. The first half of the talk considers the evidence related to "principle". I suggest that Wang did indeed make striking new claims about the metaphysics of principle and mind, and in particular about the role of the mind in meta-ethical explanation. The second half of the talk turns to Wang's provocative remarks about "things". I suggest that these comments provide evidence that Wang held that the primary objects of ethical assessment are mental, but that he did not take a stand on the mind-dependence of ordinary material objects.

Harvey Lederman

Harvey Lederman is the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin. He has broad interests in the history of philosophy and contemporary philosophy. Recently, his work has focussed on philosophy of action and on the Ming dynasty philosopher Wang Yangming (1472-1529).

His essay on “What Is the ‘Unity’ in the ‘Unity of Knowledge and Action’?” published in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy won the 2022 Dao Best Essay Award.

This presentation will be delivered both in person and streamed live over Zoom.

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