Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"Facing Human Vulnerability in a Dangerous World"

I'd love to do an in depth post on this, probably starting with something about how human behavior and moral dilemmas and the debates about what is the right ethical path has been hotly and insightfully debated for over 2000 years.   Professor Aaron Stalnaker is going to be here tomorrow (Wednesday March 18) to talk about what ancient Chinese philosophers said about the same kinds of issues we face today.   I'd like to write about how easy it is for us to think that people living today are so much smarter than those who lived in the distant past.  But that there were people living then who whose abilities to think through complex human issues were as powerful as anyone alive today. 

But I've got lots of other things to do and this talk is tomorrow evening, so I'll just send this on for people who might wish to gain some perspective on our current ethical debates. 

Here's the official announcement: 

Confucius Institute invites you and your family to join our next academic Lecture, to be held in the UAA/APU Consortium Library, Lewis E. Haines Meeting Room, Room 307, on Wednesday, March 18, from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m.
Facing Human Vulnerability in a Dangerous World: 
Two Chinese Responses.
This lecture will address Mengzi’s (and perhaps Xunzi’s) defense of ritual as an appropriate response to human desires and aspirations, given our nature and the nature of the world as a whole; and then turn to Zhuangzi’s criticism of received ritual forms, in favor of a more radical acceptance of unstoppable change.  

Our speaker Dr. Aaron Stalnaker is a distinguished scholar and philosopher. He is an associate professor of Religious Studies, Philosophy, and East Asian Languages and Cultures at Indiana University. He is a core faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies, serves as the Dean of Graduate Studies, and has made tremendous contribution to the Department of Religious Studies in building its strong academics. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford, and obtained his PhD from Brown. He is an expert in ethics and philosophy of religion, giving serious attention to both Chinese and Western theories and practices.

He is the author of Overcoming Our Evil: Human Nature and Spiritual Exercises in Xunzi and Augustine (Georgetown University Press, 2006), a comparative study of different models of moral and religious personal formation. He recently co-edited Religious Ethics in a Time of Globalism: Shaping a Third Wave of Comparative Analysis (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). He has lectured at many leading universities, including Harvard Divinity School, Princeton University, University of Michigan, Georgetown University, etc.

And for those who want to do a little homework first, here's an excerpt from a review of Stalnaker's book Overcoming Our Evil:
Having made these points about Stalnaker's interpretation and analysis of Xunzi's theory of self-transformation, let me turn to a lingering concern about the overarching goal of comparative analyses. Stalnaker makes a very strong case for needing forms of spiritual exercises to accomplish self-transformation toward better, moral forms of life. Furthermore, he, like I, wants to be able to retrieve some of these practices for contemporary purposes, to be used to transform lives today. Yet our desire to retrieve these spiritual exercises must confront the problem of whether or not they can be divorced from their conceptual and cultural context and still remain effective practices for self-transformation. Stalnaker believes it may be possible to retrieve some practices once we untangle the complex web of relations between the context and the practices themselves, the kind of work he undertakes in this book. 
 I picked this paragraph because it raises questions about the extent to which the ancient Chinese practices are applicable, as I suggested above.  

Events like this are just one of the many benefits of having a good university in our city. 

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