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Ergo | Summer 2014

From China to Knoxville:  Pursuing a UT Ph.D.

The department is building bridges to China: three current Ph.D. students -- Jiajun (Albert) Hu, Xinghua Wang, and Qianlu (Lily) Ying -- hail from that country, and a fourth (Yuanyuan Liu) is set to arrive this fall.

Hu was the first of this cohort to join the department, arriving in 2011; he heard of the department through Shaomeng Li, who completed a dissertation under the direction of David Reidy in 2007 to become the first Chinese-born student to earn a Philosophy Ph.D. from UT.  Hu says he came to philosophy by accident, becoming exposed to it by a friend while working as a volunteer for a charitable organization.  He was attracted to Western philosophy as an alternative to Chinese philosophy, which he regards as insufficiently critical and excessively deferential to great figures of the past.  The work of Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant interested Hu in particular, and he sought a position at UT mainly because of the presence of (now) Emeritus Professor Richard Aquila, an eminent scholar of Kant and other modern German philosophers. Since arriving Hu’s interests have come to center on contemporary work of free will and moral responsibility, undoubtedly inspired by UT faculty (E.J. Coffman, David Palmer, and Markus Kohl) who specialize in the area.  These important topics are not treated satisfactorily by Chinese philosophy, on Hu’s view.  One need only spend a few minutes with Hu to feel his passion for philosophy.  He is at the center of countless philosophical conversations on the 8th floor of McClung Tower.  "Philosophy," Hu says, "is like a drug."

Wang and Ying joined the Ph.D. program the following year.  In contrast to Hu, Ying was drawn to philosophy by personal considerations rather than any dissatisfaction with Chinese thought. "I was not brought up to be curious," Wang says, "but philosophy made me curious." She continues: "In daily life we don't see many questions, but in philosophy we see them, and we want to answer them." Her focus is in ethics, which she describes as both a disciplinary subject matter and a guide for life.  Working in ethics she hopes to draw together moral, intellectual and professional goals and to "to become a better person and to teach others." Ying's first exposure to philosophy in the U.S. came during a visit to Baylor,  but she sought a position at UT because it better fit her intellectual interests. These include the political philosophy of John Rawls and topics in ethical theory and meta-ethics; UT faculty David Reidy, Jon Garthoff, and Adam Cureton specialize in these areas. Ying credits Cureton with awakening in her an interest in the ethics of disability. She indicates that her work with Cureton on that topic has "transformed her way of thinking." She also credits UT graduate students Maggie Haggerty and Mary Helen Brickhouse with helping her manage the transition to life in the U.S. Ying describes herself "once a stranger and still a foreigner," but says also that the UT Philosophy Department is an inspiring place where it is a "pleasure and honor to study."

Hu, Wang and Ying are each flourishing both inside the department and out.  They have delivered numerous conference presentations throughout the country.  And they have contributed immensely to UT Philosophy’s draw on other Chinese philosophers.  Xiaosheng (“Sean”) Chen visited the UT Department of Philosophy as a J-1 visa international scholar for AY2011-12 while a Ph.D. candidate at Peking University working on the political philosophy of John Rawls.  Lian Yu visited the following year, also as a J-1 visa international scholar, while a Ph.D. candidate at Renmin University working on issues of human rights and cultural tolerance and assimilation.  Each found in Knoxville and benefited from a thriving community of Chinese scholars, including numerous philosophers.

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