My major research goal is to improve understanding of the causal power of Confucianism, especially Warring States Period Confucianism, to influence the emotion, cognition, and behavior of generations of people. An explanation is a set of representations that generate understanding about relations among facts. The motivation gains importance in an increasingly interconnected world in which China's influence grows. At the same time, study of Confucian Heritage Culture by leading cross-cultural psychologists, while discovering unusual facts, did not put these into enlightening relationships with further facts about culture, biology, ecology and more.
Grand psychological tours, for example, Hazel Markus's Clash!: How to Thrive in a Multicultural World (2014), yielded moments of exquisite surprise and reflection. Yet reading such books can seem like getting a night tour of a historical site on which the guide shuttles us from beneath one street light to another. We receive more value than we paid for, to be sure, but that doesn't allow us to shake the dizzy feeling of arriving at one illuminated patch of ground, casting our heads down for a few minutes of observation, then moving quickly on to the next attention-grabbing nugget. Worse, sometimes it appears the authors of these books themselves do not know the lay of the land between the lampposts, a suspicion confirmed when one mistakes the author of the Daoist classic Daodejing (道德經), named Laozi (老子), for being a great leader of the rival Confucian school (2014, 3; ISBN 0142180939).
Generating a lot of knowledge about a culture without any knowledge of the culture's history, ecology and traditions is difficult but is done successfully by many cross-cultural psychologists; this still falls short of creating understanding of Confucian Heritage Culture. My goal has led me to careful study of books and papers across philosophy, psychology and cognitive science of explanation and across cross-cultural differences in filial piety, shame, and gendered behavior. To ground the goal in a proper philosophy of science, I have read and written about metaphilosophical issues about the role of science in the humanities and text analytics and interdisciplinary method. Work towards achieving my research goal has also pushed me to conduct some psychological experiments with human subjects, partner closely with data modelers and analysts, and do methods-development for quantitative studies of corpora.
I inch closer to completion with each slow, methodical step, but I have much, much more to learn before arrival.
Having described my interest in Early Confucianism, my knowledge also ranges over areas of cultural transmission, the psychology and philosophy of religion, and 18th-century Scottish philosophy. Last but in no way least, I have many outstanding collaborators without whom I could not have come to understand what I do. I thank them.
Ryan Nichols, Department of Philosophy, California State University, Fullerton