Atkinson philosopher heads up western ‘all-stars’ at Shanghai conference

It’s not often one is given such succinct advice on how to plan the rest of their life, but three tips from famed German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer certainly did the trick for York Professor Jay Goulding of the Atkinson Faculty’s School of Social Sciences.

Hans Georg Gadamer

Left: Hans-Georg Gadamer

It was 1973 and Goulding, then a first-year student at Hamilton’s McMaster University, had just made friends with an engineering mathematics professor who happened to be the philosopher’s nephew. He offered to introduce Goulding to his uncle, who was a guest lecturer there at the time.

“When I met him, we talked for about 20 minutes and then he told me, ‘study Greek, learn Chinese and go to Hawaii,’” recalls Goulding, now himself a researcher in the field of hermeneutics, which was Gadamer’s specialty (Gadamer died in 2002 at the age of 102). Years later, after following those instructions and becoming a faculty member at York, Goulding found himself moving in the same circles as his mentor, writing and attending conferences which focussed on comparative studies of Western and Eastern philosophical traditions and in particular, the impact of Chinese philosophers who studied in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s

Goulding and Cheng in Shanghai

Right: From left, Professor Cheng Chung-ying, Goulding and Gu Linyu

And so it was that he came to find himself at East China Normal University in Shanghai this past August as co-chair of an international conference on Chinese and Western comparative philosophy. His job was to coordinate the participation of the Western “all-star” philosophers who were engaging their Chinese counterparts

The conference, which was entitled “Ontology and Hermeneutics”, was devoted to the scholarship of Goulding’s colleague from Hawaii, the prominent Chinese philosopher Cheng Chung-ying, professor at the University of Hawaii and president of the International East-West University in Honolulu. Cheng is the founder of both the International Society for Chinese Philosophy and its Journal of Chinese Philosophy. His work is instrumental in the rebirth of Chinese interest in the study of philosophy.

Goulding arranged the participation of such leading figures in the field as Robert Neville, dean of divinity at Boston University, Richard Palmer, professor emeritus at MacMurray College, Illinois (and translator of Gadamer’s works), Ng On-cho, Chair of history and religion at Penn State University and Hyun Höchsmann, Chair of philosophy and religion at New Jersey City University. Scholars from China included Gong Qun of Renmin University in Beijing, Yang Guorong of East China Normal University and Gu Linyu, managing editor of the Journal of Chinese Philosophy along with 25 other speakers from China, the United States, Australia and Canada.

Goulding in  ShanghaiLeft: Goulding on tour in Hangzhou, China

Goulding delivered several talks including a keynote speech entitled “The Two Gadamers and Chinese Philosophy” as well as “Cheng Chung-ying’s Chinese Hermeneutics and Phenomenology” and “Confucian and Daoist Cosmologies.” In addition to chairing panels on “Ontology of Hermeneutics and Hermeneutics of Ontology” and “Yijing, Zen, and Daoist Buddhist Interactions,” he contributed a chapter entitled “Rorty, Heidegger, Cheng: Pragmatism, Phenomenology, Ontocosmology” to a volume prepared for the conference, Ontology and Interpretation: A Special Collection of Treatises Honouring Cheng Chung-ying’s 70th Birthday edited by the hermeneutics scholar Pan Derong and published by Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences Press.

On the significance of the event as the first major Chinese conference to celebrate Cheng’s East-West philosophy, Goulding said it marks a return to a tradition of engaging other cultures. “It recalls the old Chinese expression, ‘Western on the outside; Eastern on the inside,’” Goulding said.

Goulding received support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Atkinson’s Travel Funds for the conference.