Truth in Asian Philosophy

December 8, 2021
Underwood International College, Yonsei University

South Korea


Zhejiang University
Hiroshima University
National University of Singapore

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The Asian Journal of Philosophy ( launched in October 2021. An event series has been organized in order to mark the journal launch.

The symposium Truth in Asian Philosophy will take place on Wednesday, December 8, 10.00am - 1.00pm (Korean Standard Time ; Tuesday, December 7, 8.00 - 11.00pm Eastern Standard Time). The symposium will feature Prof. Laura P. Guerrero (College of William & Mary), Prof. Alexus McLeod (University of Connecticut), and Prof. Jamin Asay (University of Hong Kong) & Prof. Frank Saunders Jr. (Yonsei University). 

The event is open to all but please register using the link in the right column of this page. 

Laura P. Guerrero: Ontological Pluralism and the Buddhist Two Truths 

  • Abstract: In his article “Abhidharma Metaphysics and the Two Truths” Kris McDaniel has proposed interpreting the Abhidharma Buddhist distinction between two kinds of truth, conventional truth and ultimate truth, as reflective of a pluralist ontology. On that interpretation, ultimate truth and conventional truth are to be “defined up” from a more basic distinction between two different ways an entity can exist: ultimately or conventionally. On McDaniel’s view, both ultimate and conventional entities are real and they exist, although they exist in different ways — they have distinct modes of being. Ultimately existing entities, dharmas, have a metaphysically fundamental mode of being. Conventionally existing entities, on the other hand, have a degenerate mode of being. McDaniel’s proposal promises to make accounting for conventional and ultimate truth relatively straightforward. On his view, both conventional and ultimate entities can serve as truth makers for expressions that are literally about them. As McDaniel puts it “conventional (ultimate) truths are truths about what conventionally (ultimately) exists” (449). Testing McDaniel’s proposal, in this paper I will attempt to offer an account of conventional and ultimate truth that is “defined up” from an ontological pluralist interpretation of the Sarvāstivāda tradition of Abhidharma Buddhism.  

Alexus McLeod: Truth as Authenticity and Ideal in Early Chinese Philosophy 

  • Abstract: The concept of zhen in Daoist texts such as the Zhuangzi and the Han syncretic text Huainanzi flags both ideality and authenticity. A thing becomes zhen when it performs the actions characteristic of the kind of thing it is at the highest possible level. The zhen person is one who performs the characteristic actions of a human at this level. Such a person can be thought of as the very model of a person. The zhen ruler, likewise, does perfectly all of the things that a good ruler is supposed to do. In achieving the ideal, something that is zhen can also be considered the most genuine or authentic expression of such a thing—thus zhen is sometimes translated ‘genuine’. I argue here that zhen captures a broad conception of truth in certain early Chinese texts, and that consideration of zhen yan (zhen statements) as a specific type of zhen is connected to the language acts of zhen people. To understand truth in terms of statements, for Daoist texts and the Huainanzi, we have to understand what it is to be a zhen person, which is a matter of understanding and following the patterns (li) inherent in nature. The influence of this conception of zhen in later work on truth in Han Dynasty philosophy leads to the kind of pluralist conception of truth we find in texts such as Wang Chong’s Lunheng.

Jamin Asay & Frank Saunders Jr.: Truth in Ancient Chinese Philosophy: A Minimalist Account

  • Abstract: One of the most fascinating discussions going on in contemporary comparative philosophy concerns truth and Chinese philosophy. In some ways, however, progress within current discussions has been limited, as contributors have brought multiple and often incompatible conceptions of truth to the debate, each of which leads to dramatically different conclusions about the role of truth in ancient Chinese philosophy. In this paper, we seek to contribute to this discussion by offering a novel methodology for exploring the role of truth in ancient Chinese philosophy that doesn’t turn on a partisan background conception of truth. This methodology enables us to argue that while truth does get expressed in ancient Chinese philosophical texts, it rarely if ever rises to being the subject of its own philosophical inquiry. We begin by articulating our methodology, which primarily focuses on a minimal characterization of truth—a thin account of the various forms of alethic phenomena that are accepted by all major theoretical perspectives on truth. Equipped with this minimal characterization, we turn to the texts of ancient Chinese philosophy and locate the alethic phenomena that are found therein. Then we turn to the metaphysical and conceptual consequences of those linguistic discoveries. After completing our positive account of the alethic phenomena to be found in ancient Chinese philosophy, we consider its dialectical significance, showing what implications it has on other views that have been offered on the question of truth in ancient Chinese philosophy. 

The Asian Journal of Philosophy Launch Event Series is generously sponsored by Underwood International College, Yonsei University.

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December 8, 2021, 10:00am KST

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