David Wong
  • David Wong

  • Professor and Susan Fox Beischer & George D. Beischer Professor of Philosophy
  • Philosophy
  • 203E West Duke Building
  • Campus Box 90743
  • Phone: (919) 660-3046
  • Fax: (919) 660-3060
  • Office Hours: Varies by semester. Please email d.wong@duke.edu for current hours.
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Specialties

    • Ethics
    • Moral Psychology
    • Chinese Philosophy
  • Research Description

    David Wong (Ph.D. Princeton, 1977) is the Susan Fox Beischer and George D. Beischer Professor of Philosophy. Before he came to Duke, he was the Harry Austryn Wolfson Professor of Philosophy at Brandeis University and the John M. Findlay Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Boston University. His works include Moral Relativity (University of California Press, 1984) and Natural Moralities (Oxford University Press, 2006), and articles and chapters on ethical theory, moral psychology and early Chinese philosophy. He was interviewed on the subjects of cultural and moral relativism for the Public Television Series, "The Examined Life." He is co-editor with Kwong-loi Shun of an anthology of comparative essays on Confucianism and Western philosophy: Confucian Ethics: a Comparative Study of Self, Autonomy and Community (Cambridge University Press, 2004). The main subjects of his research include 1) the nature and extent of moral differences and similarities across and within societies and how these differences and similarities bear on questions about the objectivity and universality of morality; 2) the attempt to understand morality naturalistically as arising from the attempt of human beings to structure their cooperation and to convey to each other what kinds of lives they have found to be worth living; 3) the nature of conflicts between basic moral values and how these give rise to moral differences across and within societies; 4) how we attempt to deal with such conflicts in moral deliberation; 5) the relevance of comparative philosophy, especially Chinese-Western (Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism) comparative philosophy, to the above subjects; 6) Whether our reasons to feel and act are based solely on what we already desire or whether reasons transcend what we desire and are used to critically evaluate and shape our desires; 7) the extent to which a person's recognizing that she has reasons to feel and act in certain ways can enter into the constitution of her emotions and change those emotions.
  • Current Projects

    A book on the classical Chinese thinkers Mencius, Xunzi, and Zhuangzi. Work on the relation between practical reason, desire, and emotion
  • Areas of Interest

    Ethical Theory, 
    Moral Psychology, 
    Comparative Ethics, 
    Chinese Philosophy
  • Education

      • PhD,
      • Princeton University,
      • 1977
      • B.A., Summa Cum Laude, Special Honors in Philosophy,
      • Macalester College,
      • 1971
  • Awards, Honors and Distinctions

      • Fellow, National Humanities Center,
      • 2007-8
      • Susan Fox Beischer and George D. Beischer Professor of Philosophy,
      • July 2007
      • Harry Austryn Wolfson Professorship in Philosophy,
      • Brandeis University,
      • 1993 - 2000
      • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for College Teachers,
      • 1992 - 1993
      • Chancellor's Distinguished Lecturer,
      • University of California at Irvine,
      • 0 1990
      • American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship,
      • 1986 - 1987
      • NDEA (National Defense Education Act) Fellowship,
      • 1971-1974
      • Phi Beta Kappa,
      • 0 1971
  • Recent Publications

      • D. Wong.
      • ""On Learning What Happiness Is"."
      • Philosophical Topics: Special Issue on Happiness
      • (Accepted, 2015)
      • .
      Publication Description

      I explore conceptions of happiness in classical Chinese philosophers Mengzi and Zhuangzi. In choosing to frame my question with the word ‘happiness’, I am guided by the desire to draw some comparative lessons for Western philosophy. “Happiness” has been a central concept in Western ethics, and especially in Aristotelian and utilitarian ethics. The early Chinese concept most relevant to discussion of Mengzi and Zhuangzi concerns a specific form of happiness designated by the word le, which is best rendered as “contentment.” For both Mengzi and Zhuangzi, there is a reflective dimension of happiness that consists in acceptance of the inevitable transformations of life and death, though these two thinkers chart very different paths to such acceptance. Mengzi holds that it lies in identification with a moral cause much larger than the self. Zhuangzi is profoundly skeptical about the viability of such a path to contentment. He instead offers identification with a world that transcends human good and evil, and a way to live in the present that can be deeply satisfying. One interesting outcome of both their discussions of achieving happiness is that both come to question the importance of happiness as a personal goal.

      • D. Wong.
      • ""Reconciling the Tension between Similarity and Difference in Critical Hermeneutics"."
      • The Agon of Interpretations: Towards a Critical Interncultural Hermeneutics.
      • Ed. Ming Xie.
      • University of Toronto,
      • 2014.
      • 165-186.
      Publication Description

      Practicing critical hermeneutics throws us into the tension between the requirement to construe others as being like us and to open ourselves to ways they may differ fundamentally from us and pose challenges to our cherished truths. I analyze this tension and propose a way to reconcile them. I argue that embrace of difference is necessary if we are to interpret others as being like us, because we need sufficient diversity in the "us." Whom we decide to include in the "us" depends on relations of power. I draw from the relationship between China and the West to illustrate this argument, discussing what it takes for "us" in the West to understand Confucian ethics, and the efforts of contemporary Chines thinkers to "translate" the concept of rights from the West.

      • D. Wong.
      • ""Growing Virtue: The Theory and Science of Developing Compassion from a Mencian Perspective"."
      • The Philosophical Challenge from China.
      • Ed. Brian Bruya.
      • MIT Press,
      • Accepted, 2014?.
      Publication Description

      This paper is a development of earlier attempts of mine to interpret what conception of the moral development of natural compassion is contained in the Mencius. I bring crucial features of this conception into dialogue with contemporary science on the development of empathy.

      • D. Wong.
      • ""Integrating Philosophy with Anthropology in an Approach to Morality"."
      • Anthropological Theory
      • 14
      • .3
      • (2014)
      • :
      • 336-55.
      Publication Description

      Philosophy and anthropology need to integrate their accounts of what a morality is. I identify three desiderata that an account of morality should satisfy: 1) recognize significant diversity and variation in the major kinds of value; 2) specify a set of criteria for what counts as a morality; and 3) indicate the basis for distinguishing between more or less justifiable moralities, or true and false moralities. I will discuss why these three desiderata are hard to satisfy at the same time, and why they are controversial. Anthropologists and philosophers will differ on which ones they are inclined to reject. I argue that all three should be accepted and can be satisfied.

      • D. Wong.
      • ""The Different Faces of Love in a Good Life"."
      • Moral Cultivation and Confucian Character: Engaging Joel J. Kupperman.
      • Ed. Chengyang Li and Peimin Ni.
      • SUNY Press,
      • 2014.
      • 97-126.
  • View All Publications
  • PhD Students

    • Jing Hu
      • 2013 - present
      • Status: PostPrelim
      • Web Page
    • Daniel J. Stephens
    • John J. Park
      • 2011 - 2013
      • Status: PostPrelim
      • Web Page
    • Lester W. Miller
    • James Abordo Ong
      • April, 2009 - present
      • Status: PostPrelim
      • Web Page
    • Hagop Sarkissian
      • September 01, 2005 -2008
      • Status: Graduated
  • Teaching

    • PHIL 216.01
      • Biddle 086
      • MW 03:05 PM-04:20 PM