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Mohist Optics and the Will Heaven

Posted By admin On 11:49 AM In Past Events 2020-21 | Comments Disabled

2020-21 School of Chinese Online Seminar


Mohist Optics and the Will Heaven


Dr. Boqun Zhou


Tsinghua University

日期Date: May 10, 2021 (Monday)

時間Time: 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

地點Venue: via Zoom

演講語言Language: 普通話Putonghua

https://hku.zoom.us/j/94302780557?pwd=U3pOQXJUSUlqU3JEcFAwcTVLN0kxQT09 [1]

Zoom Meeting ID: 943 0278 0557

Password: 247022



It is well-known that in Mohist philosophy the “three gnomons” is an important epistemological metaphor for the correct standards of valid arguments. The metaphorical meaning of the gnomon comes from a technique known as the “shadow method” based on the gnomon’s optical function, namely to establish due east and west by observing gnomon shadows at dusk and dawn. I argue that there is also an overlooked, implicit aspect of the gnomon metaphor that comes from another of its optical functions – measuring the height of heaven indirectly through proportional calculation. The method of indirect measurement inspires a strategy of argumentation in Mohist ethics, which involves a series of parallel cases arranged proportionally from the small scale to the large scale. Such a strategy, which I call “analogical upscaling,” helps to determine the content of the Will of Heaven in a particular circumstance, just as the gnomon measures heaven’s physical height. In the end, I shall also examine the logical structure of the optics section in the Mohist Canon.



Boqun Zhou is a postdoctoral fellow in the Tsinghua-Michigan Society of Fellow. He earned his doctorate at the University of Chicago in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. His research interests range across ancient Chinese intellectual history, history of science and technology, and excavated bamboo manuscripts, with particular emphasis on how classical thinkers utilize technological metaphors in their ethical and political theories. He is currently working on his book manuscript, The Mechanical Mind: Metaphor, Body, and Technology in Early China, as well as an annotated translation of six manuscripts from the Tsinghua Bamboo Slips.

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