Work in Progress

Political Meritocracy in Early China

Volume under contract with Cambridge University Press.

Explaining and Illustrating the Laozi: The Earliest Commentaries on the Daodejing

With Eric L. Hutton. Volume under contract with Oxford University Press.

Adventures in Chinese Realism: Classic Philosophy Applied to Contemporary Issues
Edited with Henrique Schneider. Volume under review.
Amoral Desert: Han Fei's Theory of Punishment
This paper argues that Han Fei provides us with a theory of punishment that needs not rely upon any sort of moral justification. Furthermore, feelings, including those of disgust, resentment, and anger, are completely irrelevant to the question of punishment. Rather, punishment is simply seen as a mechanistic tool that is employed when some aspect of the political system breaks down, such as when a minister’s proposals do not match their deeds or their deeds do not match their job description. These ideas are quite closely tied to his views on desert, a concept of desert quite different from what we see in the West. Not only does his view lack certain elements that Western desert theorists such as Joel Feinberg consider essential to the very concept of desert, he is quite conscious of this lack and provides a defense of his view. In particular, he offers a conception of desert that does not require that it be conceptually and morally prior to social institutions. As such, Han Fei provides us with a unique lens through which to analyze punishment and its justification that is importantly different from either retributivist or consequentialist justifications.
(Under Review)
Han Fei and Ethics in the Corporate Realm
There is a wide array of contemporary arenas toward which the ideas of Han Fei may be directed. One of these is the arenas where Han Fei may potentially be of use is that of corporate and business ethics. Even if we disagree with Han Fei’s pessimistic assumptions about human dispositions and the plausibility of moral cultivation, we may find such a framework useful for analyzing how businesses, corporations, indeed any sort of bureaucracy can and should function. Milton Friedman was of course famous for his claim that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business―to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” On this account, businesses not only do, but should act in a fashion which bears stark similarities to how Han Fei believes that human dispositions lead them to act at the individual level. He then draws a range of conclusions from this, and it is worth exploring the extent to which these conclusions are useful as we determine how to analyze, evaluate, organize, and limit corporate behavior.
(under review)
Developing Political Realism: Some Ideas from Classical China

While most discussions of political realism in the West draw their inspiration from thinkers such as Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Hobbes, they were far from the only political theorists developing such an approach. Rather, we see realist approaches to politics not only in a vast array of European thinkers throughout history, but also in in a diverse range of non-European traditions. From Kautilya’s 2nd c. BCE Sanskrit classic to the eponymously named Han Feizi from China, a variety of realist visions were developed alongside arguments detailing structural problems in the more idealist political visions of their rivals. One such thinker, whose ideas have largely been lost to the contemporary world was the Chinese philosopher Shen Dao (c. 350-275 BCE).

One of the most philosophical intriguing arguments Shen Dao develops focuses on the sources of political resentment and the necessity of eliminating them as a prerequisite to a strong and stable society and state. This essay develops Shen Dao’s argument that resentment arises not merely when people’s desires are not fulfilled but rather when there was an expectation that they could have been fulfilled and work to demonstrate how he envisions eliminating sources of resentment in the political sphere. In doing so, it engages with much more prevalent Confucian views, demonstrating that Shen Dao presents a trenchant criticism of one of the very bases of Confucian political philosophy and, indeed any political theory that develops itself from moral foundations.

This paper closes with an analysis of how Shen Dao’s ideas may be brought into conversation with those of political realists more familiar to a Western audience, with a goal of “pursuing the ideal of working with similarities in differences and differences in similarities.” In particular it raises the question for students of why the worries of resentment were not foregrounded in the West in the way that they were by Chinese realists. This provides students with entry into examining the ways in which different cultures approach very similar topics and allows us to more deeply reflect not only on why certain things were emphasized in a particular tradition but why others were de-emphasized or seemingly ignored.

(To be included in Amber Griffioen and Marius Backmann, eds., Pluralizing Philosophy’s Past: New Reflections in the History of Philosophy. New York: Palgrave.)

Xunzi's Virtue Jurisprudence

Recently, there has been a resurgence of studies of virtue ethics in the Western world, and there are those who have used this as a framework for understanding early Confucian ethics. There have also been those who have used these insights as a stepping stone for understanding Confucian political philosophy as a version of virtue politics. What I argue in this paper is that it may be profitable to extend the virtue based analysis of Confucianism, and in particular Xunzi, even further and understand his theory of law as a version of virtue jurisprudence. In doing this, I first lay out a thin description of virtue jurisprudence and demonstrate why it is that it makes sense to understand Xunzi’s legal thought in these terms. I then develop an understanding of Xunzi’s particular thick conception of virtue jurisprudence, which has important differences from contemporary Western versions and analyze how a better understanding of Xunzi’s theory may be useful for those advocating virtue jurisprudence today.

The Four Sprouts and the Seven Feelings - What would Mengzi (Mencius) Say?

This paper looks at Mengzian ideas of virtue in an attempt to understand the relationship between the four sprouts of virtue (四端 si duan) found in the Mengzi and the seven feelings discussed in the Lijing 禮經 and elsewhere. This is important because it gives us a way of examining the relationship between emotions and ethics, and if the four sprouts do carry the normative force that Mengzi seems to think they do, then by comparing them with the seven feelings we may be able to determine wherein lies this normative force and why the seven feelings lack it.

I argue that the four sprouts have a connection with the heart/mind that is absent in the feelings. Further, because the four sprouts give one a basis of other regarding factors to take into consideration when deciding on any action, they can be seen as a normative guide for the feelings, as a way of determining whether or not one should follow the dictates of one’s other emotions. This then fits in with our natural tendency to think that there are some times when one should follow their feelings and sometimes when one should go against them. In addition, it gives us an actual way to go about determining when we should follow our feeling and when we should not. As such, we can think of the four sprouts as more fundamental to right action than the seven feelings, as a sort of normative foundation upon which to build conceptions of how one should act.