Philiminality Oxford Reading Group: The Philosophy of the Xunzi

Hilary Term 2023
Time and Location: Thursdays, 2-3:30pm, weeks 1, 3, 5 & 7; Colin Matthew Room (Radcliffe Humanities building, ground floor)
In Hilary term 2023, we will be reading and discussing some chapters of the text attributed to the Confucian philosopher Xunzi (3rd century BCE). Even though Xunzi conceived of himself as the orthodox Confucian of his time, his philosophy was rejected by most of the cultural mainstream throughout imperial history, and Xunzi has become most infamous for his opposition to the Mencian doctrine that human nature fundamentally tends towards the good. However, Xunzi’s text has regained widespread attention and recognition in the 20th and 21st century, and today he is again regarded as one of the most important Confucian philosophers. Xunzi’s philosophy is of significant interest not only because he provided a passionate defense of the Confucian Way against countless attacks of rivaling schools, but also because he learned about and incorporated many of the ideas that those rival schools popularised in his time, thus creating an intriguing synthesis of pre-Qin thought. In four sessions throughout this term, we will be following Xunzi’s thought on the metaphysics of Heaven, the importance of ritual and personal cultivation, human nature, and how it is that humans can gain insight in the Way.
Everyone is welcome and no prior background in Chinese philosophy or knowledge of Classical Chinese is required.
We will use Eric Hutton’s (2014) translation of the text. For each meeting, we will discuss a chapter of the Xunzi, read in advance (chapters are usually about 10 pages in length).
HT Week 1: Intoduction to the text. Discussion of Xunzi’s view on the relation between humans and the natural world.
Reading: Discourse on Heaven (Chapter 17).
HT Week 3: Human nature and self-cultivation.
Reading: An Exhortation to Learning (Chapter 2) and Human Nature is Bad (Chapter 23)
HT Week 5: Ethical Knowing in the Xunzi
Reading: Undoing Fixation (Chapter 21)
HT Week 7: The origin and form of ritual
Reading: Discourse on Ritual (Chapter 19)
Convenor: Julius Geissler (Oxford)
To sign up to the reading group and in order to receive more information, please contact the convenor, Philiminality's Julius Geissler (julius.geissler[at]
For more information about Philiminality, click here.
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