Yang Xiao 蕭陽 has been teaching in the Department of Philosophy at Kenyon College since 2003. He can be reached at xiaoy@kenyon.edu.

Xiao's major in college was theoretical physics. He received a master degree in philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, and a Ph.D. at the New School for Social Research in New York. Xiao was a visiting student at Wolfson College at Oxford University. He has studied with Peter Strawson, Richard Bernstein, Agnes Heller, Yirmiyahu Yovel, Reiner Schürmann, Axel Honneth, Albrecht Wellmer, Jerome Kohn and Seth Benardete. When he lived in Berkeley, he took courses with Bernard Williams, Robert Bellah, Donald Davidson, Hubert Dreyfus, Barry Stroud and Frederic Wakeman.

Xiao was a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley and at Harvard. He has spent his sabbatical years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and the Institute for Advanced Study at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou.

Xiao has been the book review editor of "Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy" since 2005.

In 2011 Xiao was elected as vice president of the International Society for Comparative Studies of Chinese and Western Philosophy (ISCWP) for the term 2011-2014. Xiao was the president for the term 2014-2017.

Xiao was the director for the Sino-British-American Summer School of Philosophy in 2019 held at East China Normal University 華東師大 in Shanghai, and the theme of the year was "Environmental Philosophy".

Xiao started teaching a course dealing with climate change in 2016, "The Anthropocene as a Philosophical Problem", which might have been the first course of its kind.

For PDF versions of his articles and chapters, please go to Xiao’s website at academia.com.

Areas of Expertise

Ethics, Political Philosophy, Chinese Philosophy, Philosophy of Language, Eco-Philosophy (Environmental Philosophy and Climate Change)

Courses Recently Taught

This course examines moral issues we encounter in our private, as well as public, lives from a philosophical point of view. We discuss various ethical approaches such as Kantianism, utilitarianism and value pluralism through analyzing issues such as abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, the moral status of nonhuman animals, the environment, climate change, war, world poverty, inequality and the ecology of rural life. There is a strong emphasis on discussion and we use diverse methods such as Brandeis Brief and moral heuristics. This course is suitable for first-year students. This counts toward the ethics requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every year.

This course is a philosophical introduction to the environmental humanities, taking the concept of the Anthropocene as our point of departure. We are especially interested in critical examinations of the following concepts and topics: the meanings of ahumana and anaturea, big history, religion in human evolution, global environmental history, how humans are connected to nature and nonhuman animals, the pastoral ideal and technology, rituals and place, ecology and production of space, environmental justice and the environmentalism of the poor. We also explore how traditional disciplines in the humanities, especially philosophy and religion, might be rethought in light of these new intellectual developments. Scholars we read include Hannah Arendt, Robert Bellah, Rachel Carson, William Cronon, Cora Diamond, Ian Hacking, Donna Haraway, David Harvey, Martin Heidegger, Carolyn Merchant, Ramachandra Guha, A.N. Whitehead and Ludwig Wittgenstein, as well as thinkers from Chinese philosophical tradition. ENVS 112 is recommended. This counts toward the metaphysics requirement for the major. No prerequisite.

Language plays a central role in our life. But how does language work? For instance, how does communication take place in our everyday life? How should we interpret literary or religious texts? What is the relationship between language, thought and the world? How do we "do things with words"? We examine these issues through the writings of Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Quine, Davidson, Austin, Grice, Lewis and Brandom. This counts toward the metaphysics requirement for the major. Offered occasionally.

This course examines concepts and issues at the intersection between moral philosophy and psychology or theory of human nature. We discuss philosophical ideas regarding the nature of action, agency, practical reasoning, moral heuristics and moral freedom. We examine these issues through the writings of Aristotle, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Murdoch, Frankfurt, as well as novels by Jane Austen and Tolstoy. This counts toward the ethics requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered occasionally.

This is an introduction to Hannah Arendt, one of the most important, interesting and controversial political thinkers of our time. Fearless in her thinking, she “thinks without banisters,” one of the reasons she does not take her ideas as final or conclusive; she would be the first to acknowledge that she might not get it right sometimes. She follows no party lines; she is neither a liberal nor a conservative – in fact, no existing ideological label applies to her. This is why she is often misunderstood and misused by people from all kinds of political ideologies. If you are satisfied with none of the existing mainstream political ideologies and want to explore and imagine new possibilities, this course is for you. It is a “practical introduction” to Arendt. Students try to learn to think like Arendt by thinking with and against her, engaging in what she calls “exercises in political thought.” This also means trying to think about what she has tried to think about and beyond – namely, the political experiences in her time and ours. In this process, the course introduces and critically examines the key concepts invented by Arendt to make sense of modern political experiences: vita activa (labor, work and action); life of the mind (thinking, willing and judging); Earth, world (worldliness or amor mundi); natality; plurality; public happiness; non-sovereign freedom: and responsibility. Some examples. We try to think about the Afghanistan Papers in light of Arendt’s 1969 essay “Lying in Politics: Reflections on The Pentagon Papers.” If we think like Arendt, we learn to connect this phenomenon and other political phenomena, such as the disappearance of epistemic authority in journalism and the elitist bureaucratization of politics (the rule of no-one). We think about the pandemic in light of Arendt’s thoughts about the ideology that the government must take human life in its biological sense as having the highest value. She was the first to think about this modern political phenomenon before it was eventually named “biopolitics” by Foucault and Agamben. Other modern political experiences and phenomena to think about include antisemitism, imperialism, globalism (neoliberalism), populism, race-thinking and racism, authoritarianism, fascism, totalitarianism and republicanism, the Holocaust, revolution, civil disobedience, violence and refugees. We try to explore the possibility of an Arendtian defense of something that might be called “democratic constitutionalism” or “constitutional populism.” Finally, the course is also a “philosophical introduction” to Arendt that explores how she – like several other Jewish philosophers, such as Strauss and Levinas, who also studied with Husserl and Heidegger – developed her new thinking as she worked out an ethical and political critique of Heidegger. We look at Arendt critically from the perspective of Strauss and Levinas, who have given different critiques of Heidegger. The counts toward the great thinkers area requirement for the major. No prerequisite.

This course introduces one of the most original visions of philosophy, articulated by a group of four women, all of them associated with Somerville College (the first women’s college at Oxford University): Elizabeth Anscombe (1919-2001), Iris Murdoch (1919-1999), Mary Midgley (1919-2018) and Philippa Foot (1920-2010). A consensus recently has emerged that they should be recognized among the most important and original philosophers of the 20th century. There are two group biographies of these four: “The Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics” (Oxford University Press, 2021) and “Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life” (Doubleday, 2022). “The Somerville School of Philosophy” refers to these four and to those they have influenced, such as Cora Diamond, Michael Thompson, Raimond Gaita, Peter Winch, Martha Nussbaum, John McDowell and Bernard Williams, and those who share their vision and style of philosophizing, such as Wittgenstein, Simone Weil, Stanley Cavell, Levinas and many ancient philosophers and religious thinkers. Some of the latter are the sources from which the Somervilleans draw their inspiration, such as Wittgenstein, Thomas Aquinas, Simone Weil, and Daoism and Buddhism. The course focuses on the four Somervilleans’ work in ethics, philosophy of language, philosophy of action, theory of human nature, philosophy of literature and their arguments that these subfields are intimately connected to ethics. Readings include some of those who have influenced the four. The course explores how the Somervilleans have articulated an original and unique vision of ethics. The field today is dominated by “ethical theory,” which isolates ethics from not only other subfields of philosophy, but also the humanities in general. But the Somerville school holds that ethics is first philosophy, that it has no subject matter because everything is “ethical” and cannot be considered in isolation from other parts of philosophy or other parts of the humanities, such as history, religion, literature and the arts. This counts toward the philosophical schools and periods area requirement for the major. No prerequisite.

This seminar examines important topics in normative ethics as well as meta-ethics; it emphasizes 20th-century philosophers. We discuss contemporary normative ethical theories such as ethical naturalism (Foot and Thompson), Neo-Kantianism (Korsgaard), agent-based virtue ethics (Zagzebski and Slote), utilitarianism (Smart and Singer) and critique of modern moral philosophy (Anscombe, MacIntyre, Taylor and Williams). We also discuss meta-ethical issues such as moral realism, relativism, the sources of normativity, the concept of virtue and the possibility of moral understanding. This counts toward the ethics requirement for the major. Prerequisite: philosophy major and junior standing or permission of the instructor. Offered in a three-year rotation with PHIL 405 and 410.