Lao Sze-kwang

Doctor of Literature, honoris causa, CUHK

Prof. Lao was brought up in a family rich in the tradition of Chinese humanities. As a child prodigy, he composed his first classical poem at the age of seven. He entered the Department of Philosophy, Peking University in 1946. In 1949 he went to Taiwan and graduated from the Department of Philosophy, Taiwan University two years later. In 1955, he became lecturer at the Chu Hai College , Hong Kong . Prof. Lao’s long association with the Chinese University of Hong Kong began in 1964 where he served first as Lecturer at the Department of Religion and Philosophy, Chung Chi College and later as Senior Lecturer and Reader at the Department of Philosophy, as well as Head, Division of Philosophy. He formally retired from the Philosophy Department in 1985 but served another decade as Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Chinese Studies as well as Senior College Tutor of Shaw College. Prof. Lao has held visiting positions and professorship at Harvard University , Princeton University (twice), National Tsing Hua University , National Normal University , National Chengchi University and Soochow University , Taiwan . Since 1994 Prof. Lao has become Chair Professor at the Department of Philosophy, Huafan University , Taiwan . He is a member of the Consultative Council, Research Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica since 1996. He returned to the Chinese University of Hong Kong as Visiting Professor at the Department of Philosophy in 2000–01. For half a century, Prof. Lao has contributed to the education of several generations of scholars in the Chinese speaking academia.

Prof. Lao’s rich academic contributions have been rewarded by numerous honours. They include the Distinguished Academic Achievement Award from the Phi Tau Phi Scholastic Honour Society (2000), the 46th Annual Academic Award of the Ministry of Education, Republic of China (2002), Cultural Prize of the Executive Yuan, Taiwan (2002), twice the National-Endowed Chair Professorship of the Ministry of Education, Republic of China (2002 & 2005), and Doctor honoris causa in Literature conferred by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (2004).

Prof. Lao is a prolific writer. He is the author of more than 30 books including the 3-volume History of Chinese Philosophy (existing in classical and simplified Chinese edition as well as Korean translation); Lao Sze-Kwang’s Early Writings (7 volumes); A New Compilation of Professor Lao Sze-Kwang’s Academic Works (13 volumes); Lectures on Philosophy of Culture ; Illusion and Hope: On Contemporary Philosophy and Culture ; The World of Crisis and the New Century of Hope: On Contemporary Philosophy and Culture , II ; Chinese Culture’s Way Ahead: New Reflections ; Philosophical Essays ; and Selected Poems of Lao Sze-Kwang . For over two decades his History of Chinese Philosophy has been a must read for teachers and students of the history of Chinese philosophy or Chinese thought across the Taiwan Straight.

Yet Prof. Lao is not a scholar confined to the ivory tower. He took part actively since his youth in the construction of democracy and legal rule in Modern China. His reflections on the future of China and the entire humanity can been seen in the following works: Philosophy and Politics ; Knowing Oneself and Knowing Others ; Remote Concerns and Immediate Worries (all in Lao Sze-Kwang’s Early Writings ); The Punishment of History, New & Augmented Edition ; China’s Way Out, New & Augmented Edition ; Liberty, Democracy and Cultural Creation ; China in the World: Essays on Contemporary Issues (all in A New Compilation of Professor Lao Sze-Kwang’s Academic Works ); Disenchantment and Legislation ; and Lao Sze-Kwang’s Essays on Social and Political Issues .

Prof. Lao is the ninth laureate of the Tang Chun-I Visiting Professorship and the first scholar of Chinese origin to receive such honour. He will offer a public lecture on “Variations and Constancy in Philosophical Problematics”, and a four-week graduate seminar on “Rationality: a Defense.”

Variations and Constancy in Philosophical Problematics

Monday, 8 October 2007
16:30 – 18:30 (Tea reception at 16:00)
T. Y. Wong Hall, Ho Sin-Hang Engineering Building, Central Campus, CUHK

1. On the constantly changing character of philosophical problematics

“Philosophy has no definition”: this expression is repeated throughout the history of philosophy. The precise meaning of this expression consists in the following: philosophical problematics are constantly changing from one to another, thus there cannot be any “essential definition” for philosophy. In other words, it is not possible to define philosophy in the following way: “philosophy is the study of such and such a domain of problems”. Ancient philosophers have tried to define philosophy in various ways, but resulted in numerous theoretical difficulties. Modern philosophers often use “ostensive definition” to tackle the problem of definition of philosophy. In fact, when the term “philosophy” is used in daily language, it is under such a usage in most cases.

However, ostensive definition, strictly speaking, cannot provide the taxonomical criteria for the distinction among domains of problems. We have to try a new way if we want to arrive at a precise but valid statement about the nature of philosophy. Thus, instead of defining what philosophy is, there is the suggestion to determine the nature of philosophy by defining what “philosophical thinking” is: it is the ever deepening reflective thinking. The results of this kind of thinking are the contents of “philosophy”, while the variations in her problematics do not hinder the manifestation of the nature of philosophy.

2. Theoretical problems derived from the determination of philosophical thinking

To exhibit the nature of philosophy by showing the nature of philosophical thinking is a progress in terms of methodology. But this gives rise to further theoretical problems. Foremost of them is the communication among different philosophical traditions. There is also the problem of universality of the rationality of each of these traditions.

If philosophical thinking is understood as reflective thinking, it shows a formal universality. However, the interests inherent in different ethnicities and communities serving as the basis of their reflective thinking are different. If universality can only be affirmed at the purely formal level, the difference in interests among different philosophical traditions renders them “incommensurable”. If this problem cannot be overcome, the “world of meaning” will be a fragmented world. Inherent in the image of this fragmented world is: each of its heterogeneous parts will have her own rationality. “Rationality” will thus be a term basically incomprehensible. The entire theoretical endeavor for philosophical and cultural enquiry would be immerged in the muddle of “failure of self-understanding”.

3. The present lecture will try to tackle this immense problem and provide some suggestions as conclusion.

Rationality: A Defense

6 Oct 2007 (Sat) 2:30 – 5:15 p.m.
13 Oct 2007 (Sat) 2:30 – 5:15 p.m.
20 Oct 2007 (Sat) 2:30 – 5:15 p.m.
22 Oct 2007 (Mon) 6:30 – 9:15 p.m.
Li Koon Chun Hall, 3/F., Sino Building, Chung Chi Campus, CUHK

(I) Introductory Remarks

  1. Relevance of the problem of Rationality
  2. A problem in development
    — Three dimensions of Meaning, as three Stages of Philosophical Thinking

(II) The Three Stages

  1. A metaphysical Problem
    1. Authority of Rational Thinking
    2. Meanings as entities
    3. Reason as Substantiality
  2. An Epistemological Problem
    1. Critique of Reason
    2. Meanings as Constitutive Forms of Possible Experience
    3. Reason as Subjectivity
  3. An Action-theoretic Problem (or a Problem of Pragmatics)
    1. Re-positioning of Reason
    2. Meaning as Foundation of Communicative Actions
    3. Reason as Intersubjectivity

(III) Significance of the concept of Rationality for Philosophy of Culture

  1. Concept of Validity Claims and Orientation of Cultural Life
  2. An open-textual Principle for Social Integration
  3. Delimitation of the Post-metaphysical Thinking

(IV) Concluding Remarks