Bryan W. Van Norden

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Bryan W. Van Norden (born 1962) is a translator of Chinese philosophical texts, scholar of Chinese and comparative philosophy, and public intellectual. He taught for twenty years at Vassar College but is currently Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Visiting Professor at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.[1]


Van Norden's ancestors can be traced back to the 17th century in North America. They fought on both the Loyalist and Revolutionary sides in the Revolutionary War and served with both the Union and Confederate armies in the Civil War.[2] Van Norden's father was an officer in the Navy in World War II and was a corporate secretary at Kennametal, an industrial tool company.[3] In high school, Van Norden's interest in China was stimulated by the Kung-fu craze following the success of Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon in 1973, and the opening of China to the West after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. He became interested in philosophy while participating in interscholastic debate over the legitimacy of military conscription. At college, he studied both philosophy and Chinese language and culture. Although his interest in Chinese philosophy was discouraged by both philosophers and Sinologists, he decided to pursue Chinese philosophy in graduate school.[4]

Among Van Norden's hobbies are poker, and he has played in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.[5]

Academic career[edit]

Van Norden received his BA in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania in 1981.[6] He attended Stanford University on a Mellon Fellowship and was awarded a PhD in philosophy in 1991. Before he joined the faculty at Vassar, Van Norden was a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Vermont, and then at the University of Northern Iowa. Van Norden has been on the faculty at Vassar College since 1995, and has served as Chair of both the Philosophy Department and the Department of Chinese & Japanese. He has also been a Visiting Professor at Wuhan University in the spring of 2014 and the summer of 2016.[7] He has been a member of both the Advisory Committee on Non-Western Philosophy and its Committee on the Status of Asian and Asian-American Philosophers and Philosophies of the American Philosophical Association. He is on the Editorial Board of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews and the Advisory Board of the Philosophical Gourmet Report.

Van Norden has been the winner of a number of competitive fellowships and awards. In 2005, he was a Fulbright scholar at Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan. Van Norden was identified as one of the best 300 college or university professors in the US by the Princeton Review.[8] In 2016, Van Norden was one of the winners of the 2016 American Philosophical Association Public Philosophy Op-Ed Contest for his essay, “Confucius on Gay Marriage."[9]

Controversy over "If Philosophy Won't Diversify"[edit]

In May 2016, Jay L. Garfield and Bryan W. Van Norden published an opinion piece in The Stone column of The New York Times, entitled "If Philosophy Won't Diversify, Let's Call It What It Really Is."[10] In this article, they state: "we have urged our colleagues to look beyond the European canon in their own research and teaching." However, "progress has been minimal." Consequently, so long as "the profession as a whole remains resolutely Eurocentric," Garfield and Van Norden "ask those who sincerely believe that it does make sense to organize our discipline entirely around European and American figures and texts to pursue this agenda with honesty and openness. We therefore suggest that any department that regularly offers courses only on Western philosophy should rename itself 'Department of European and American Philosophy.'"

The article received 797 comments in just 12 hours. (None of the other Stone columns that month had over 500 comments.) In response to the controversy, an article was published the next day on the New York Times Editorial Page Editor's blog, summarizing the variety of opinions, pro and con, on this topic.[11] Patricia McGuire, the President of Trinity Washington University spoke in favor of diversifying philosophy: "Let's face facts: there's a Muslim Mayor in London, signifying the fact that even those who revere All Things British need to catch up with the now-settled reality of great diversity in contemporary life. The canon of learning should reflect that, including Philosophy."[12] However, many readers expressed views similar to the following: "Please preserve us from your political correctness. ...there's a reason that Europe leaped ahead of the rest of the world. I do not believe that we should sacrifice that merely because of an ooshy gooshy need to pretend that all cultures are equally advanced."[13]

Garfield and Van Norden's article was almost immediately translated into Chinese,[14] and over twenty blogs in the English-speaking world have commented or hosted discussions, including Reddit.[15] Garfield and Van Norden's piece has continued to provoke strong reactions. Some have applauded their call for greater diversity in the US philosophical canon.[16][17] In addition, their piece has been featured in several recent essays arguing for greater diversity in philosophy.[18][19][20]

However, there has also been extensive criticism of the Garfield and Van Norden article. Two conservative editorials criticized the piece for failing to acknowledge the superiority of Western philosophy.[21][22] Two other articles argued that "philosophy" is, by definition, the tradition that grows out of Plato and Aristotle, so nothing outside that tradition could count as philosophy.[23][24] The editor of the DailyNous blog suggested[25] the following typology of other criticisms of the original article: the philosophical equivalent of the "All Lives Matter” (parts of Anglo-European philosophy are also neglected) criticism,[26] the "Don't Be Presumptuous" (in projecting a Western conception of philosophy onto other cultures) criticism,[27] the "Be More Radical" (by questioning the racist, sexist, and imperialist bases of philosophy in the West) criticism,[28] the "Red Herring" (the canon isn't really the problem with philosophy) criticism,[29] the "Up Periscope" response,[30] and the "Pardon Me, Gentlemen" (but you are ignoring how androcentric Western philosophy is) criticism.[31] Professor Amy Olberding of the University of Oklahoma wrote a detailed reply to critics of Garfield and Van Norden, arguing that criticisms fall into a stereotypical pattern that betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the issues.[32]



  • Co-edited with Justin Tiwald. Readings in Later Chinese Philosophy: Han to the 20th Century. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2014.
  • Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2011.
  • Translator, The Essential Mengzi: Selected Passages with Traditional Commentary. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2009.
  • Translator, Mengzi: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2008.
  • Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Co-edited with Philip J. Ivanhoe, Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy. Second ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2005.
  • Editor, Confucius and the "Analects": New Essays. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Editor, The Ways of Confucianism by David S. Nivison. Chicago: Open Court Press, 1996. Chinese translation published as 儒家之道 : 中国哲学之探讨 (Nanjing : Jiangsu renmin chubanshe, 2006).

Academic articles[edit]

  • “儒家伦理思想是否属于美德伦理学?” in 哲学评论 (武汉大学哲学学院编) 17 (2016): 206-222.
  • “Problems and Prospects for the Study of Chinese Philosophy in the English-Speaking World,” APA Newsletter on the Status of Asian and Asian-American Philosophers and Philosophies, 15:2, (Spring 2016): 23-26, URL=
  • “Principles, Virtues, or Detachment? Some Appreciative Reflection on Karen Stohr’s On Manners,” Dao 15:2 (June 2016): 227-239.
  • “Zhuangzi’s Ironic Detachment and Political Commitment,” Dao 15:1 (March 2016): 1-17.
  • “Wang Yangming,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <URL => (7,800 words).
  • “Mencius", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = (11,000 words).
  • “Anthropocentric Realism about Values,” in Chenyang Li and Peimin Ni, eds., Moral Cultivation and Confucian Character: Engaging Joel J. Kupperman (State University of New York Press, 2014), pp. 65–96.
  • “Toward a Synthesis of Confucianism and Aristotelianism," in Stephen C. Angle and Michael Slote, eds., Virtue Ethics and Confucianism (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 56–65.
  • “’Few Are Able to Appreciate the Flavors’: Translating the Daxue and the Zhongyong,” in Journal of Chinese Studies 56 (January 2013): 295-314.
  • “Han Feizi and Confucianism: Toward a Synthesis," in Paul R. Goldin, ed., Dao Companion to the Philosophy of Han Fei (Springer, 2013): 135-145.
  • “Response to Angle and Slote," Dao 8:3 (September 2009): 305-309.
  • “Three Questions about the Crisis in Chinese Philosophy," APA Newsletter on Asian/Asian American Philosophers and Philosophy, 8:1 (Fall 2008): 3-6, URL=
  • “On 'Humane Love' and 'Kinship Love,'" Dao (Symposium: Filial Piety, Part 2), 7:2 (Summer 2008): 125-129.
  • “Feature review of Scott Cook, ed., Hiding the World in the World: Uneven Discourses on the Zhuangzi, in China Review International 12:1 (Spring 2005): 1-14.
  • “Mengzi and Virtue Ethics,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 40:1-2 (Winter-Spring, 2003): 137-150.
  • “What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Zhu Xi?" in Robin R. Wang, ed., Chinese Philosophy in an Era of Globalization (Albany: SUNY Press, 2004), pp. 99–120.
  • “How to Add Chinese Philosophy to Your Introductory Courses," APA Newsletter on Asian/Asian American Philosophers and Philosophy 3:1 (Fall 2003): 15-19, URL=
  • “A Response to the Mohist Arguments in 'Impartial Caring,' " in Kim-chong Chong, Sor-hoon Tan and C.L. Ten, eds., The Moral Circle and the Self (Chicago: Open Court Press, 2003), pp. 41–58.
  • “Virtue Ethics and Confucianism," in Bo Mou, ed., Comparative Approaches to Chinese Philosophy (London: Ashgate Publishing, 2003), pp. 99–121.
  • “What Is the Dao of Confucius?" Asian Philosophy, 12:3 (November 2002): 157-71.
  • “Relativism or Pluralism? A Brief Introduction to David B. Wong's Work," APA Newsletter on Asian/Asian American Philosophers and Philosophy, 1:2 (Spring 2002): 32-34.
  • “Mencius and Augustine on Evil: A Test Case for Comparative Philosophy," for Bo Mou, ed., Two Roads to Wisdom? Chinese and Analytic Philosophies (Chicago: Open Court Press, 2001), pp. 313–36.
  • “Unweaving the 'One Thread' of Analects 4:15," in Van Norden, ed., Confucius and the Analects: New Essays (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 216–36.
  • “The Emotion of Shame and the Virtue of Righteousness in Mencius," in David Wong and Kwong-loi Shun, eds., Confucian Ethics: A Comparative Study of Self, Autonomy and Community (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 148–82.)
  • “Method in the Madness of the Laozi," in Mark Csikszentmihalyi and Philip J. Ivanhoe, eds., Essays on Religious and Philosophical Aspects of the Laozi (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1999), pp. 187–210.
  • “Mencius on Courage," in The Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 21 of Midwest Studies in Philosophy (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997), pp. 237–56.
  • “Competing Interpretations of the Inner Chapters," Philosophy East and West, 46:2 (April 1996): 247-68.
  • “What Should Western Philosophy Learn from Chinese Philosophy?" in Philip J. Ivanhoe, ed., Chinese Language, Thought and Culture: Nivison and His Critics (Chicago: Open Court Press, 1996), pp. 224–49.
  • “Yearley on Mencius," Journal of Religious Ethics, 21:2 (Fall 1993), pp. 369–76.
  • “Hansen on Hsün-tzu," Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 20:3 (September 1993), pp. 365–82.
  • “Mengzi and Xunzi: Two Views of Human Agency," in Thornton C. Kline and Philip J. Ivanhoe, eds., Virtue, Nature and Agency in the Xunzi (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2000), pp. 103–34.
  • “Kwong-loi Shun on Moral Reasons in Mencius," Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 18:4 (December 1991), pp. 353–70.

Opinion pieces and popular works[edit]


  1. ^ Ying, Yip Jie. "Philosopher and public intellectual named the second Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Professor". Yale-NUS College. Yale-NUS College. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  2. ^ Van Norden, Theodore Langdon (1923). The Van Norden Family: Three Hundred Years in America: 1623-1923. South Salem, NY: Horse and Hound.
  3. ^ Marquis Who's Who (1980). Marquis Who's Who in America (41st ed.).
  4. ^ Cleary, Skye. "Chinese Philosophy in the English-Speaking World: Interview with Bryan Van Norden". Blog of the APA. American Philosophical Association. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  5. ^ Bronski, Peter. "Alter Ego: Bryan Van Norden, Philosophy Professor". Vassar Hub for Alumnae/i and Families. Vassar Alumnae/i Association.
  6. ^ "Curriculum Vitae of Bryan W. Van Norden" (PDF). Retrieved 10 December 2016. Most facts in this section are from this source.
  7. ^ School of Philosophy, Wuhan University. "Bryan Van Norden's Teaching". Announcements. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  8. ^ Princeton Review (2012). The Best 300 Professors. New York: Random House. pp. 241–242.
  9. ^ Nuoffer, Linda. "2016 Op-Ed Contest Winners Announced". American Philosophical Association. American Philosophical Association. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  10. ^ Garfield, Jay L.; Van Norden, Bryan W. "If Philosophy Won't Diversify, Let's Call It What It Really Is". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  11. ^ Tessier, Marie. "Should Philosophy Departments Change Their Names? Readers Join the Debate". Editorial Page Editor's Blog. The New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  12. ^ McGuire, Patricia. "Comment on Garfield and Van Norden, "If Philosophy Won't Diversify"". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  13. ^ Hill, Josh. "Comment on Garfield and Van Norden, "If Philosophy Won't Diversify"". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  14. ^ Wu (translator), Wanwei; Garfield, Jay L.; Van Norden, Bryan W. "哲学若无多样性,只配称为欧美哲学". Aisixiang. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  15. ^ "What's your take on the recent NYTimes article advocating diversification in philosophy departments in the west?". Reddit. Retrieved 10 December 2016.See notes below for some of the other websites
  16. ^ Miller, James A. "Diversify or Die". Anotherpanacea. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  17. ^ Whitaker, Justin. "Getting Buddhist Philosophy (and Other Non-Western Thought) into the Academy". American Buddhist Perspectives. Patheos. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  18. ^ Levine, Peter. "The Lack of Diversity in Philosophy Is Blocking Its Progress". Aeon. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  19. ^ Krishnamurthy, Meena. "Adamson, Greek-Responding Philosophy, and the Indian Subcontinent". Philosopher. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  20. ^ Sayer, Emily. "Vassar College Wants More Diversified Courses". The Miscellany News. The Miscellany News. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  21. ^ McArdle, Mairead. "NYT Op-Ed: Supremacy of Western Philosophy "Hard to Justify"". NewsBusters. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  22. ^ McGarvey, Robert. "There's a Reason Western Philosophy Is Dominant". Troy Media. Troy Media. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  23. ^ Tampio, Nicholas. "Not All Things Wise and Good Are Philosophy". Aeon. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  24. ^ Peon, D. Kyle. "Yes--Let's Call Philosophy What It Really Is". Weekly Standard. Weekly Standard. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  25. ^ W, Justin. "Philosophical Diversity in US Philosophy Departments (Updated)". Daily Nous. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  26. ^ Leiter, Brian. "Anglophone departments aren't "Departments of European and American Philosophy"..." Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  27. ^ Smith, Justin E.H. "Garfield and Van Norden on "Non-European" Philosophy". NUNC ENIM SERMO DE TOTO EST. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  28. ^ Drabinski, John E. "Diversity, "Neutrality," Philosophy". John E. Drabinski. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  29. ^ "On the Very Idea of Non-Western Philosophy". Digressions and Impressions. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  30. ^ Protevi, John. "The Still Invisible Dimensions of "Western Philosophy"". John Protevi's Blog. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  31. ^ Johnson, Leigh M. "Philosophy's Gatekeepers". Read More, Write More, Think More. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  32. ^ Olberding, Amy. "When Someone Suggests Expanding the Canon..." Daily Nous. Retrieved 10 December 2016.

External links[edit]