Weakening Strategies: Vattimo and Chinese Thought

Gianni Vattimo (1936–) is one of Europe’s foremost contemporary philosophers, whose work has had a lasting influence on a broad range of fields including sexuality, theology, art and politics. He is known chiefly for the idea of “weak thought” (pensiero debole), which aims to weaken the strong narration of Western metaphysics and the violence of dogmatic positions. From such “weakening strategies” develop an ethic and political philosophy that opposes totalitarianism and fascism, a project that Vattimo undertook personally as a Member of the European Parliament. In his later work, Vattimo also connected weak thought to themes of kenosis (self-emptying), sacrifice, and secularization in religious and theological studies. In an era that emphasizes might, power, and strength, now is precisely the time to pay attention to weakness as a philosophical concept and ethical value, and to do so in a globalized, even multipolar context. 

In this regard Chinese thought, and especially Daoist philosophy, can become a rich interlocutor with Vattimo’s philosophy. The Daode jing 道德經 emphasizes virtues of softness and passivity, stating that  “The soft and weak overcome the hard and strong (柔弱勝剛強).” The classical Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi, moreover, is known for his emphasis on perspectivalism, understanding the limits of knowledge, and critiquing those who claim to have a complete understanding of truth. Daoism and other forms of Chinese philosophy have an important role to play in investigating the concept of weakness, in conversation with Vattimo’s philosophical and ethical project.

Duke Kunshan University’s Humanities Research Center, in partnership with the Vattimo Archive and Center at Universitat Pompeu Fabra is pleased to sponsor a one day symposium that aims to advance comparative understanding of the concept of weakness, in conversation with the Vattimo’s philosophy and Chinese thought. European speakers will be invited to attend in person where possible; speakers from China will attend via videoconference. Students from Duke Kunshan University’s program in Barcelona and students from UPF will be invited to attend.

Speakers

  • Leonardo Caffo, Professor of Philosophy of Art, Media, Fashion and Design at Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti (NABA)
  • Massimiliano Lacertosa, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Warwick
  • Liangjian Liu, Professor of Philosophy, East China Normal University
  • Lin Ma, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Renmin University of China
  • James Miller, Professor of Humanities, Duke Kunshan University
  • Manel Olle, Associate Professor of Humanities, Pompeu Fabra University
  • Erica Onnis, Research Fellow, RWTH Aachen University, and University of Turin
  • Graham Parkes, Professorial Research Fellow, University of Vienna
  • Mario Wenning, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Loyola University Andalusia
  • Ming Xie, Professor of English, University of Toronto
  • Santiago Zabala, ICREA Research Professor,  Pompeu Fabra University

Sponsors

  • Duke Kunshan University Humanities Research Center
  • Centre d’Estudis i Arxiu Gianni Vattimo de la Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Organizers

Massimilano Lacertosa is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick. He completed his PhD in philosophy at SOAS, London, and  has wide interests that span ethics, continental philosophy, art, history, archaeology, photography, aesthetics and visual design. He is the author of From Metaphysical Representations to Aesthetic Life: Towards the Encounter with the Other from the Perspective of Daoism (Albany: State University of New York Press, forthcoming).

James Miller is Professor of Humanities and Co-Director of the Humanities Research Center at Duke Kunshan University. He is known worldwide as a scholar of Daoism, China’s indigenous religion, especially in relation to nature, environment and ecology. He has published three monographs and four edited volumes including China’s Green Religion: Daoism and the Quest for a Sustainable Future (Columbia University Press 2017).

Santiago Zabala is ICREA Research Professor and Director of the Vattimo Archive and Center at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. He studied philosophy at the University of Turin where in 2002 he obtained his M.A. (with a thesis under the supervision of Gianni Vattimo) and in 2006 his Ph.D. (summa cum laude) from the Pontifical Lateran University of Rome. In November 2007 he was awarded the Humboldt Research Fellowship by Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for the years 2008/2009 at the University of Potsdam. He is also a visiting professor in Italy, USA, and other countries. Zabala is the author and editor of several books, essays and often writes opinion articles for The New York Times, The Guardian, and other newspapers