Cultures of Asia: Philosophy and Religion (Spring 2003)

Professor Yoko Arisaka (

Paper Topics #1: Due March 26: 5-6 pages.

Select ONE question—specify which one you are answering.

In all of the topics below, be sure to include actual passages from the text(s) to back up your arguments.  Please specify which question you are answering.


1.  In what way can Confucianism be an ethic of liberation?  In what way can it be an ethic that is oppressive?  Explain both.

2.  On a superficial reading, it is easy to claim that Confucianism demands too much personal sacrifice and that it compromises one’s personal freedom.  If you think this is an unfair criticism (which it could be, according to the Confucius of Analects), defend Confucianism against this criticism.  (That is, explain how Confucianism could respond that persons really don’t “sacrifice” their freedom.)  If you think this is a fair criticism, explain in what way.

3.  On a superficial reading, it is easy to say that Confucianism is regressive and therefore not conducive to innovative changes in cultural practices.  Do you think Confucianism can accommodate the ideas of “cultural change” and “innovation?”  If you think it is possible, explain how so.  If you think it is not possible, explain how the theory excludes such a possibility.


1.  Explain the two ways in which the issue of “right and wrong” is understood in Taoism.  In what way is it relative, and in what way is it not relative?  Develop a Taoist explanation of why social evil (such as mass-murder, despotism, racism) exists.  What would be a Taoist solution?  Select one example of such evil and explain.

2.  Taoism is often criticized as being too “quietist,” too “disengaged,” or “anti-social,” i.e., not showing passion or concrete socio-political engagement in favor of “letting the Tao take care of itself.”  Develop a counter-argument to this sort of criticism, if you believe this is an unfair characterization.  Explain why it is not a quietist doctrine.

Comparative Issues

1.  What are Taoist criticisms of Confucianism?  What would be a Confucian reply to the Taoist criticism?  If you had to choose a side, which side would you support?  Why?  Explain your arguments.

2.  If you are to present a social criticism of our culture today (meaning in the U.S., in 2002) using Confucianism and Taoism, what are some of the claims you would make, and what would be your arguments?  (You could use either Confucianism OR Taoism, but see if you could use both.)

3.  What, in your view, are some of the most striking differences between Confucianism/Taoism vs. aspects of Western philosophy?  Explain.   (Again, you can take EITHER Conf or Taoism)

If you have a topic of your own, check with me first.  Most likely that’s fine, but I can give you some input.

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