Asian Philosophy


PHIL 37 – SPRING 2021 – 23403 – ONLINE

Instructor: Eric Gerlach – email:

Office Hours: Friday Noon – 1 pm @ K’s Coffee, next to BCC

Texts:  The readings will be posted at the top of each lecture online.

Assignments: Two 4 page essays (2 x 25%) & a final 8 page paper (50%), typed, double-spaced and emailed to  Focus on an issue we cover, clearly state and argue for your position with evidence, empathy, and examples from your life, history or fiction.

Aug 24 – Introduction to Asian Thought

Aug 31 – Indian Thought & Hinduism

Sept 7 – The Upanishads & The Indian Epics

Sept 14 – The Orthodox & Unorthodox Indian Schools

Sept 21 – Office hours for Papers – 1st 4-5 pg Paper Due Sunday Sept 23

Sept 28 – Buddhism in India & Tibet

Oct 5 – Buddhism in China & Japan


Oct 19 – Chinese Thought & The Hundred Schools

Oct 26 – Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi & Neo-Confucianism

Nov 2 – Office hours for Papers – 2nd 4-5 pg Paper Due Sunday Nov 4

Nov 9 – Mozi & the Logicians


Nov 23 – No Class Thanksgiving Break

Nov 30 – Daoism: Laozi, Zhuangzi & Liezi

Dec 7 – Zen Buddhism

Dec 14 – Warriors & Strategy: Sunzi & Bushido – Final 7-10 pg Paper Due Sunday Dec 16

First Response Essay Topics

1)  In the ancient world, we can see traditional beliefs (legends, metaphors, rituals) mixed together with progressive science (physics, biology, psychology).  What does this tell us about ancient and modern human thought?  Has human thought changed over time, or is it still the same as it was in ancient times?  What role did philosophy play in the ancient world, and does it play the same role today?

2)  In the ancient world, we can see anthropomorphic polytheism (many human-like gods) giving rise to de-anthropomorphic philosophical monism (one beyond-human truth).  What does this tell us about human thought?  What does this tell you about your own thinking?

3)  According to the Vaisheshika and Nyaya schools, there is absolute truth and universal knowledge.  According to the Jains and Buddhists, there is no absolute truth but only particular perspective.  What do you find yourself agreeing with more, and why?

Second Response Essay Topics

1) While the Theravada Buddhists believe in a close and closed community, and that one should be a nun or monk in the monastery if one is serious about enlightenment, the Mahayana Buddhists believe in the open and common community, and that anyone, inside or outside of the monastery, can be radically enlightened.  Which of these do you prefer, and why?

2) While Buddhists, such as the Dalai Lama, argue that emptiness is the essence of compassion and enlightenment, others have argued that this is quite nihilistic.  Can emptiness or ideas of relative truth be distinguished from nihilism, and how?

3) Are notions of absolute and relative truth incompatible or complementary, and how?  Are the two positions separate, or are they one and the same?

Third Response Essay Topics

1) The two major Confucians after Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi, agree that Confucius’ teachings are wise and that we should cultivate ourselves through education and participating in society.  However, they completely disagree on whether human nature is good or evil.  Mencius argues that human nature is good, and education expands what we originally are.  Xunzi argues that human nature is evil, and society is necessary to change us from what we originally are.  Who do you find yourself agreeing with more, and why?

2) Mozi argues for universal love versus the Confucians such as Mencius who argue that love is naturally varied depending on familiarity. Are the two positions compatible? Is one more favorable than the other?

3) Hui Shi and Gongsun Long use paradoxes to show the complexity of human grammar and meaning. Are they successful? What do these paradoxes show us?

2) The Daoists use metaphors to show that “a sage’s that has a this”. Pick a metaphor from the three texts and show how it illustrates this and applies to life.

4) Much of the advice of the strategists fits together with teachings of Daoism. What does it mean that these teachings can be applied to war as well as peace of mind?

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs):  Upon completion of this class, students will be able to do the following:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the concepts of major Asian philosophers.
  2. Analyze & evaluate philosophical positions through argument that displays individual perspective.

This class is acceptable for credit at UC and CSU. It counts towards GE AA/AS area 3; CSU area C2; and IGETC area 3. It can be used as an elective for the Liberal Arts with an Emphasis in Arts and Humanities, Associate in Arts Degree Program and the Liberal Arts: Intersegmental General Education Transfer (IGETC) Certificate of Achievement and the Global Studies AA Degree.

General Student Requirements:  Students are expected to come to class prepared to ask questions and participate in discussions. All readings and assignments should be completed by the beginning of class on the day they are listed here. This class is run as a lecture/discussion course.  Students are responsible for all class material (even if they miss class). If you miss class, it is strongly advised that you ask a classmate for notes. It is your responsibility to ask if you missed something; it is not the instructor’s responsibility to remind you. Please read through the syllabus and plan ahead.

Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Plagiarists, intentional or inadvertent, will receive a zero on the assignment in question; repeat offenders will get an F for the course and will be subject to college disciplinary action. Students are encouraged to review plagiarism policies in the current Vista College catalog.  Attendance is mandatory. If you miss more than five classes, you will receive an F in the course. (Note: I do not distinguish between “excused” and “unexcused” absences; if you miss more than five classes, for any reason, you cannot pass the class.)

Disabled Student Program and Services (DSPS) are provided for any enrolled student who has a verified disability that creates an educational limitation that prevents the student from fully benefiting from classes without additional support services or instruction. Please let the instructor know if you require any support services or would like more information about DSPS.

This syllabus is subject to change at the discretion of the instructor. Any changes will be announced in class. Additional handouts of required readings may also be added.

One thought on “Asian Philosophy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s