Event — Lecture

POSTPONED Asian philosophy and Asian worldviews

Postponed until further notice in connection with the Corona measures.

For this afternoon, we have invited two scholars from the Leiden Institute of Philosophy, who will both talk about their own subject. The broader aim of the afternoon is to discuss aspects of Indian and Chinese philosophy in relation to how people in and from these countries see the world and existence in general.

Douglas Berger examines some of the most pervasive and powerful social ideas of classical Chinese Confucianism, and the ways in which these ideas both inform and create tensions in modern Mainland and Overseas Chinese life.

Stephen Harris provides a philosophical analysis of the concept of suffering (duḥkha) in Indian Buddhism and shows how this can help our understanding of Buddhist ethical text as well as its relevance to contemporary philosophy.

Drinks afterwards.


15:00 Introduction by Willem Vogelsang, IIAS Deputy Director 

15:15 Two lectures, Q&A and drinks afterwards

Douglas L. Berger: From the Four Beginnings to the Four Seas: Confucianism in the Modern and Overseas Chinese Experience

Stephen Harris : Suffering (duḥkha) and Indian Buddhism


From the Four Beginnings to the Four Seas: Confucianism in the Modern and Overseas Chinese Experience

This talk will explore how some of the most important social and moral ideas of classical Chinese Confucianism effect everyday life and conduct in modern Mainland China and in the experience of various Overseas Chinese communities.  How does the fundamental virtue of Confucian ethics, xiao or “family care” continue to influence family life and wider social roles or gender relations?  How does the value placed on xue or “learning” still affect what modern Chinese people expect from education?  How do crucial Confucian concepts like ren or “co-humanity” and li or ritual persist in informing the ways Chinese people deal with others as well as with modern forms of guanxi or “social connections?”  This talk will engage with classical philosophical texts, modern literature, sociological studies and anecdote in order to illuminate persisting but sometimes invisible structures of Confucianism in contemporary Chinese life. 

Douglas L. Berger is Professor of Global and Comparative Philosophy and the Director of the Institute for Comparative Philosophy at Leiden University.  He teaches and advises graduate and post-graduate research in classical Chinese and Indian philosophical traditions.  He has authored three books, including Encounters of Mind: Luminosity and Personhood in Indian and Chinese Thought (SUNY Press, 2015) and “The Veil of Māyā:” Schopenhauer’s System and Early Indian Thought. (Global Academic Publications, SUNY, 2004)  and written dozens of essays and book chapters in these areas as well as on methodological approaches to intercultural hermeneutics.  He is the chief editor of the University of Hawaii Press book series Dimensions of Asian Spirituality and is the former president of the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy.  

Suffering (duḥkha) and Indian Buddhism

Indian Buddhist texts often position themselves as responding to the problem of suffering (duḥkha). Many of its basic concepts and categories, such as the 4 Noble Truths and the 8-fold Noble Path, are presented as the means to understanding and eliminating suffering.  In this talk, I draw on early Buddhist and Mahayana sources in reconstructing a philosophically significant account of Indian Buddhist conceptions of suffering.  I then apply this background understanding to select passages in the 8th century Mahayana philosopher Śāntideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva way of Life.  I show how reflecting on these shared background assumptions can help us gain a better understanding of some of Śāntideva’s arguments and philosophical positions. I close by suggesting the relevance of this analysis to contemporary philosophical work

Stephen Harris is Assistant Professor (Universitair Docent) at Leiden University, where he teaches in the Institute for Philosophy and the International B.A. program.  He has also taught philosophy at the University of New Mexico and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.  He specializes in Cross-Cultural and Indian philosophy, with a particular interest in Buddhist ethical texts.  He has published articles in several academic journals, including Sophia, Philosophy East and West, the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and the Journal of Indian Philosophy.