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Introduction to Chinese Philosophy

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

This course is intended as a gateway into the philosophical traditions and texts of classical Chinese philosophy. Through a close reading of some of the most influential philosophical texts in the classical Chinese period, students will develop an understanding of its key philosophical approaches. Discussion will revolve around one central issue that preoccupied the classical Chinese philosophers: the question of what it means to be human. Students will also acquire an appreciation of how debates in Chinese philosophy resonate across cultures and eras.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No prior knowledge of philosophy or Chinese languages is required.

Content of Course

1. Confucianism I: General Background and the Analects.

This session provides a general historical, cultural, geographical, and socio-political background to the foundation of classical Chinese philosophy in the text of the Analects, before going on to consider Confucian ideas about human nature.

2. Confucianism II: Mencius and Xunzi.

We discuss a key debate between the two major Confucian philosophers, Mencius and Xunzi, on whether human nature is intrinsically good or bad.

3. Daoism I: Daodejing.

In this session, we consider how the Daodejing challenges the humanism of Confucianism by displacing human beings as the most important beings in nature and what implications that has for the moral status of human nature.

4. Daoism II: Zhuangzi.

We examine how Zhuangzi presents both an advance for the ideas in the Daodejing but also helps us to better understand the debate between Mencius and Xunzi.

Teaching method(s)

The main focus of this course is on reading and discussing Chinese philosophical texts, which will be provided on the day. Each of the four sessions will begin with a presentation that introduces the context, concepts and implications of some of the key ideas of the relevant philosophers. After that, we will break up into discussion groups and go over short excerpts from philosophical texts on the specific topics of each session. At the end of each session, we will summarise and relate each excerpt to each other and the lecture before.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify different approaches in classical Chinese philosophy;

  • Describe the positions of Chinese philosophers on philosophical issues;

  • Read and analyse extracts of Chinese philosophical texts in English translation.


Web Sources

English translations are available as open access on the following websites:

The Analects:




Class Handouts

Short extracts from philosophical works will be provided by the tutor. 


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.