The Emotions in Early Chinese Philosophy

Research output: Book/ReportBook


In China, the debate over the ethical status of emotions began around the fourth century BCE, when early philosophers began to invoke psychological categories such as the mind (xin), human nature (xing), and emotions (qing) to explain the sources of moral authority and the foundations of knowledge about the world. Although some thinkers during this period proposed that human emotions and desires were temporary physiological disturbances in the mind caused by the impact of things in the world, the account that would become authoritative would be the idea, articulated by the mainstream thinkers of the Chinese intellectual tradition, that emotions represented the underlying, dispositional constitution of a person, and that they embodied the patterned workings of the cosmos itself. This book sets out to explain why the emotions were such a central preoccupation among early thinkers, and considers what was at stake in the discussion, situating the entire debate within developments in thinking about the self, the cosmos, and the political order. It shows that the mainstream account of emotions as patterned reality emerged as part of a major conceptual shift toward recognition of the natural world itself as intelligible, orderly, and coherent, and that this convergence of ethical and naturalistic discourses would give rise to a distinct vision of the human self—one that would dramatically shape ethical, political, and cultural values in China.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages240
ISBN (Print)9780190498818
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2017

Publication series

NameEmotions of the Past
PublisherOxford University Press


  • emotions
  • self
  • cosmos
  • mind
  • human nature
  • knowledge


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