Balphin Symposium, Chinese Philosophy, Vilnius, 4-8 December 2017

I post here below the programme of the intensive course successfully completed.


Chinese philosophical traditions can be traced back more than 2500 years and even

longer when considering their roots in the ancient art of divination during the 2nd

millennium BCE. Contemporary Western philosophers are increasingly turning their

attention, in particular, to Confucianism and Daoism (as well as other Asian schools

of thought), mainly as they offer alternative philosophical approaches and responses

to pressing questions of our times, in particular regarding relations between human

beings in society, between humans and the environment, between past, present

and future generations, etc. However, rarely if ever such work by experts reaches

philosophy students in their ordinary curricula. Chinese philosophy remains for many

an object of attraction but for the most part unknown or misunderstood as a mere

collection of aphorisms.


The course aims to improve on this situation by giving students from member

institutions a unique opportunity to be in direct contact with first-rate specialists in

Chinese philosophy. Concretely, the course will focus on the philosophical schools

that arose during 6th-4th centuries BCE and are still vibrant in East Asia, i.e.

Confucianism and Daoism. Confucianism addresses in particular ethical and political

issues related to family, tradition, social living, education, personal cultivation and

good government. Daoism presents an explicit cosmological framework, within which

human existence takes place and focuses on the wider relations between human

and nature, individual freedom, the meaning of life and ways to nurture the good

life. While playing a somewhat peripheral role in the course, other schools from the

ancient period will also be discussed, e.g. Legalism, Moism and School of Names.

Depending on time restraints, the rise of the Daoism- and Buddhism-influenced Neo-

Confucian movement during the Song and Ming dynasties (10th-14th centuries) may

be discussed, and, finally, contemporary developments in Confucianism and Daoism


Upon completing the course, students (1) will have a reliable and systematic

overview of Confucian and Daoist thought; (2) will be able to compare these

approaches with relevant areas of Western philosophy; (3) will have direct

acquaintance with, and a critical understanding of, key texts in Chinese philosophy;

(4) will be able to engage in seminar discussions with peers concerning the

interpretation and plausibility of challenging philosophical claims and theories, and to

practice essay writing.


The course ties in with the existing curricula in various ways. First, Master students

from member institutions are the ideal target group for such a course, because in

their studies they will have already gained sufficient knowledge both of the history

and the methods of Western philosophy to be able to intelligently compare them with

Chinese thought. Second, in each of the member institutions ethics and politics (and

their history) play a large role in Master curricula, so students are in an especially

good position to appreciate the focus specifically offered in this course. Third,

some students might have learned some Asian philosophy before, and so will

be in a position to both deepen their knowledge (possibly also in view of their Master thesis)

and contribute to the seminar discussion from a vantage point that will be beneficial to all.


The course is innovative first and foremost for its subject-matter. Despite its

attractions and the interest it stimulates, Chinese thought is rarely part of philosophy

curricula, and so this course offers a unique opportunity for students to learn

something completely new, under the trusted guidance of experts. The chosen

location (Vilnius University) is also home to one of the best European research

centers on Asian philosophy, adding particular value to this course.



It will be a five-day intensive course, with six daily hours of class/seminar activities.

Each day will include diverse activities, such as lectures, seminar discussion of

relevant philosophical texts, and viewings of documentary or fictional material

with the aim of both illustrating the issues and facilitating classroom discussion.

Required readings include original philosophical texts in English translation, such

as the Confucian Analects and Daodejing, as well as overview texts. The readings will

be made available in advance to registered students in a dedicated dropbox folder. A

selection of documentaries on the manifestations of contemporary Chinese philosophy and

religion will also be screened. Required readings will be discussed during seminars.

If needed, students will be split into smaller groups to ensure contribution from all.


The mutual exchange, moderated by the lecturers, will ensure wide participation,

learning through reciprocal feedback, and practice in argumentative conduct. It will

also enable the lecturers to monitor students’ progress in the course. Lectures are

intended to prepare students for the readings and so will be fully adapted to the



Assessment is based on active participation in the seminars (50%) and a written

essay (50%) that has to be submitted no later than one month after the final day of

the course. The topic of the essay will be discussed and decided with teachers during

the course. Depending on class size, lecturers may also choose alternative forms of

assessment, such as small group presentations.


After successful completion of the course, students will be awarded 6 ECTS to be

recognized at the student’s home institution.


Work programme (tentative lecture/seminar topics):

  1. Day: Overview of history of Chinese philosophy. Why Chinese philosophy matters.
  2. Day: Confucianism.
  3. Day: Daoism.
  4. Day: Comparison with Western ethical and political theories.
  5. Day: Neo-Confucian movement and contemporary developments.



The course lecturers will be Geir Sigurðsson (University of Iceland) and Vytis

Silius (Vilnius University). Sigurðsson is Director of ASÍS – Icelandic Centre for Asian Studies,

University of Iceland/University of Akureyri. He is a leading specialist in Chinese

philosophy and has recently published Confucian Propriety and Ritual Learning: A

Philosophical Interpretation (SUNY Press, 2015). Silius is Director of the Centre of

Oriental Studies at Vilnius University and President of the European Association for

Chinese Philosophy. He has worked, in particular, on the relation between Confucian

ethics and Aristotelian theory of virtue.



Francesco Orsi, University of Tartu, Balphin Coordinator

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