A philosophy workshop – Nanjing (China)

A philosophy workshop

By: Xiaojun Ding – Nanjing (China)


I have attended and organized many workshops on Philosophical Practice since last year, and I was always wondering how I can get up with a totally new and different way to start a workshop. Today Oscar really opened my eyes with his special approach of facilitating our work by asking someone to summarize his work. Both of Lin and I raised our hands to indicate that we were familiar with it. Lin said that Oscar organized people together and led them to think. At the same time Lin also realized that it’s not sufficient for others but Lin and I to understand what would be done during the workshop. Then she tried to add something more to make the definition of Oscar’s work more understandable: Oscar designs some rules at first; the participants have to obey those rules and keep on thinking through playing such games. Although Lin did grasp some important aspects of Oscar’s work, but it’s still far from perfect or sufficient. Thus when I was asked to evaluate her explanation and grade it, I gave it 7 out of 10, which meant that Lin had left out some other important elements in her explanation, such as thinking independently and actively.

But actually I myself didn’t know how much else I should add into the former explanation to get a score of 10. After Oscar pointed that to me, I suddenly realized that he’s right in that if I didn’t know the sufficient and perfect answer, then it’s obviously possible that any acceptable answer could be regarded as a sufficient one, otherwise I should figure out what’s missing there. I also understood that the process of revising Lin’s explanation could be endless, so I chose to stop doubting and just gave Lin and myself the score of 10. Of course Yang No. 2 was right that we could still do more to make our explanation more precise, but I didn’t see the necessity to do that at that moment. Sometimes it’s OK for us to accept a problematic answer temporarily until we found a new way to ameliorate it.

Whether habit is a cause or a consequence, it’s fiercely discussed during the workshop. Cai insisted that it depended on different conditions. When people are hungry, they like to eat; when they are full, they don’t like to eat. But still, we should make a decision based on the general sense and information; otherwise, we can never make any “absolute” statement confidently. Most general ideas allow some exceptions. We have to judge things based on what we know!

I also observed that if someone has a problem, it’s actually everyone’s problem. At least 3 out of 10 participants were always hesitant to make a choice; they believed that they didn’t have sufficient reasons to refute or accept an idea. So when they were in a poll, they refused to raise their hands. Actually everything that people said could be questioned and criticized. That’s why Lao Tzu once said that for every sentence, once it was already said, it’s problematic.


It’s a common phenomenon that every time when there was a confusion or misunderstanding between us, people would blame the function of natural language or foreign language. But with the help of Oscar, some of us realized that it’s our incompetence and inflexibility which made the mutual understanding so difficult. I also noticed that Oscar always reminded us that we should pay attention to the internal contents and external forms of our argumentations. When I was in a rush and eager to explain my “wonderful” ideas to others, I would easily forget to organize my words in a clear and valid way, which would in fact make me difficult to be understood. That’s a very bad habit of mine.

When dealing with Cai’s problem, Oscar mentioned that there were four poisons that stopped the thinking: fear, doubt, surprise, and confusion. They were four deep-rooted mental or intellectual problems to be overcome in Kumdo. One could argue that there are many more emotions that you need to pay attention to, but the majority of them are a reaction arising from one of these four states. It is important to recognize these states within yourself, so you can correct it. We should always keep in mind that we can only doubt when we have a good reason to do so, otherwise we will never come into a state of confidence and satisfaction.

Buridan’s donkey is a good illustration of a paradox in philosophy in the conception of free will. It refers to a hypothetical situation wherein a donkey that is equally hungry and thirsty is placed precisely midway between a stack of hay and a pail of water. Since the paradox assumes the donkey will always go to whichever is closer, it will die of both hunger and thirst since it cannot make any rational decision to choose one over the other. This story reminds us that sometimes it’s difficult to decide which choice is better and we intend to get all of the benefits, but we have to make a decision quickly and give up the other options, otherwise we will lose all of them.

At last, only 1 people out of 6 did a good job in critical thinking, which meant that either most of us were not good at finding appropriate problems of others’ sentences, or we were too stubborn to accept the criticisms toward ourselves. Just like what I have experienced for many times, some participants were very inflexible; they didn’t want to change their ideas and positions. It seemed to them that if they accepted the criticisms easily, that meant they were stupid; or they argued that they did have some rational reasons to justify themselves, but they forgot that to think we had to be flexible; to admit that I am wrong doesn’t mean that all my words are not right. Of course I can make some sense to some extent, but what’s important and fun is that we should learn from others and expose our ignorance to the public in the workshop. Just relax and enjoy it.


1. How can I purely observe without doing any analysis?

2. Don’t give a man fish, teach him how to fish. It’s also a well-known Chinese proverb. But when a man is starving to death, is it still right to insist on not giving him the fish directly but teaching him how to fish?

3. Oscar proposed “laziness” as the fifth poison to thinking, how laziness hinders our thinking?

4. What is the poison that stops my own thinking? How can I overcome it?

5. Can Oscar himself give us a perfect explanation of his own work? If not, why should I force myself to do such a difficult job?

6. When I am in a dilemma, how can I make a decision as soon as possible and at the same time do nothing rash?

7. Why am I so eager to be always right? What will happen if someone who used to admire me finally finds that I am not as perfect as he thought?

8. Some people are very serious. They don’t like to make jokes and can’t understand or take a joke. Why don’t they like to be fun? What’s the matter?

9. Can people just listen without any thinking? If one prefers to listening, can we conclude that he’s afraid of making mistakes by expressing his own ideas out?

10. When I am organizing a workshop and suddenly find some participant stubborn, how much time and strength should I spend on him to deal with his attitude without resulting in ignoring other participants?