“Pitiful” lecture is anything but

By: Kevin Thomas ~Campus News Editor~

Photo courtesy of philosophy.fudan.edu.cn | Dr. Tongdong Bai is a Fulbright Scholar at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

Although philosophy lectures are often not well-attended, the 59th annual Thomasfest lecture was the opposite of pitiful, even though that was the subject.

On Wednesday evening, Dr. Tongdong Bai, currently a Fulbright Scholar at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, gave a lecture regarding his recent work in the field of political philosophy entitled “Mencius, Nietzsche, and Pity as a Modern Virtue.” Bai is the Dongfang chair professor of philosophy at Fudan University in Shanghai, China and was a professor of philosophy at Xavier from 2003 to 2010.

The lecture and subsequent reception took place in the Arrupe Overlook in Gallagher Student Center. It drew a crowd of around 60 to 70 people, according to sophomore Politics, Philosophy and the Public major Ryan Kambich.

“I know the Thomasfest lectures are always a really excellent program put on by the philosophy department every year,” Kambich said, “so for me, I wanted to swing by and see how it was going, and I really enjoyed it.”

Bai was introduced by Dr. Timothy Quinn, chair of the philosophy department and a longtime friend. While at Xavier, Bai taught the philosophy of science, but it was during his time here that he became interested in political philosophy, his current area of expertise.

“He told us multiple times that the things that came together in his paper and this lecture. He took bit by bit from his colleagues at Xavier,” Kambich said. “So it was a very instrumental time for him as a professional.”

Bai’s work revolved around the usage of pity in larger communities as being a way for understanding and relationships to occur between strangers, building off the writings of Mencius, a Chinese political philosopher who wrote in the fourth century B.C.E.

The lecture was overwhelmingly regarded as successful on all sides, especially Bai, who apparently remarked to Quinn that he was pleased with the reactions from students.

“I have to say that Dr. Bai himself was extremely impressed with the students’ questions,” Quinn said. “He made a point of calling on the students during the question and answer before calling on any of the faculty and the students really had very challenging questions for him. He remarked that, afterwards, that it was quite impressive.”

On the receiving end of the lecture, both Quinn and Kambich thought that the lecture was a great one.

“Because [the lecture] was so provocative, it was a satisfying lecture,” Quinn said. “I don’t want to listen to people I agree with. I want to learn something, and I felt like a lot of students felt the same way.”