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The Consciousness of the Dead as a Philosophical Problem in Early China

Monday, 27 January, 2014

Paul R. Goldin is Professor of Chinese Thought at the University of Pennsylvania.

Many passages from ancient Chinese literature attest to the widespread belief in ghosts and their fearsome power. Beliefs about ghosts are of great interest to intellectual historians, as they can imply deeper metaphysical beliefs, knowingly or unknowingly held.

In this paper, Paul R. Goldin offers an examination of the range of attitudes about postmortem consciousness in early Chinese cilvilization in order to shed light on the range of attitudes about mind and body. Not everyone in China believed in ghosts; not everyone believed that the dead have consciousness; and some people even took advantage in their rhetoric , of the indeterminacy of postmortem existence - but everyone who arrived at such skeptical positions could have done so only after rejecting the mainstream view that we become conscious spirits when we die, for no one in that society could have lived a day or two in ignorance of it.

His publications include the books 'Confucianism' (2011), 'The Culture of Sex in Ancient China' (2002), and 'Rituals of the Way: The Philosophy of Xunzi' (1999), as well as numerous scholarly articles.




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