Professor Karyn Lai

Professor Karyn Lai


BA Hons, MA Hons (National University of Singapore), PhD, Philosophy (Sydney)

Arts, Design & Architecture
School of Humanities & Languages

Dr Karyn Lai is Professor of Philosophy in the School of Humanities and Languages. Her research in Chinese philosophy has been influential internationally, with impacts on scholarship, education and in the broader community. By engaging Chinese and Western philosophy in dialogue, her publications in quality outlets offer more culturally-inclusive and relevant models of human wellbeing, attracting significant multidisciplinary scholarly interest. She has investigated the nature of moral life in the Confucian tradition and draws on discussions in the Confucian texts to diversify our conceptions of ethics. More recently, she has been exploring the Daoist texts, particularly the Zhuangzi (4th c. BCE), to understand what its fascinating stories tell us about mastery, action, knowledge and agency. 

She has established UNSW’s internationally-renowned program in Chinese philosophy, which has been highly endorsed by peers and students. She has helped advance research excellence in the field, especially through key editorial roles in quality journals. She is editor of the Chinese Comparative Philosophy section, Philosophy Compass (Wiley-Blackwell), co-editor of the Chinese philosophy section, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and Associate Editor of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy.

+61 (2) 9065 5421
326 Morven Brown

Awards and Nominations

  • Nominee for Best HDR Supervision Award, Dean’s Research Award, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, 2018
  • Representative of the Australian Academy of Humanities (AAH) at the joint conference and MOU treaty with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing, China, June 2014.
  • Dean’s Award for the Best Contribution to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2011, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, UNSW. (Lai, Karyn. 2011. Assessing participation skills: online discussions with peers. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education IFirst: 1-15. (26 Jul 2011) DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2011.590878.)
  • Anthony Mason Fellow, UNSW. Fellowship awarded for international exchange at Beijing University. Feb-July 1999.

2019 Plenary Speaker, British Society for History of Philosophy conference, Kings College London, 24-26 April.

2019 Invited Speaker, Curing through Questioning: Philosophy as Therapy Across Ancient Traditions and Modern Applications, University of Oxford, 1-2 June.

2019 Plenary Speaker, International Society for Chinese Philosophy Conference, Bern University, 2-5 July.

2018 Invited speaker, "Horizons of Community: Exclusivity and Inclusivity in Ancient Greece and Early China workshop", University of Melbourne, 22-23 November.

2018 Invited speaker, "Comparing Virtues, Roles, Duties in early China and Graeco-Roman antiquity Symposium", Renmin University, Beijing, 5-8 July.

2018 Invited Speaker "The Epistemic Responsibilities of the Humanities", East-West Philosophy conference, Abraham Kuyper Center, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, 30-31 May.

2018 Invited speaker, "Slote Encountering Chinese Philosophy Conference", Chinese University of Hong Kong, 16-17 March.

2017 Invited speaker, Practical Reason: East and West, Aarhus University, conference sponsored by a Humboldt Foundation Grant, November.

2017 Plenary speaker, International Society for Chinese Philosophy Conference, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, July.

2017 Invited speaker, The Art of Feeling: East and West, Berne University, Switzerland, July.

2014 Keynote speaker, Confucius World Consortium, University of Hawai’i, October.

2009 Keynote speaker, Practical Reasoning and Ethics in pre-Qin Confucian Philosophy, International Society for Chinese Philosophy Conference, National Taiwan University.

2009 Invited speaker, Happiness East and West, Faculty of Arts Strategic Research Theme (China-West Studies), School of Humanities, University of Hong Kong.

2007 Plenary speaker, Chinese Philosophy and Moral Psychology, Division of Humanities, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

2005 Presidential Address, Chinese Philosophy and Human Well-Being: Change, Anticipation and Response, Conference of the International Society for Chinese Philosophy, University of New South Wales, Australia.

2005 Public Lecture, Philosophy and Philosophical Reasoning of Zhuangzi: Dealing with Plurality, University of Queensland.

Membership of Professional Organisations

International Society for Chinese Philosophy (ISCP)

  • Regional Representative (Australia) (2005-)
  • President (2003-2005)
  • Vice-President (2001-2003)


My Research Supervision

  • Waldemar Brys (PhD, Philosophy): Epistemology Enlarged: Knowledge as Practice in Chinese and Western Philosophy.
  • Sophia (Feiyan) Gao (PhD, Philosophy): Early Confucian Ethics and Feminist Care Ethics.
  • Xie, Shizhen (PhD, Philosophy): The Weeping Sage: The Image of Shun in the Mengzi.
  • Kok So (MA, Philosophy): Lean upon ren: the embodiment of Confucian ren in Chinese art and material cultures.

My Teaching


Undergraduate courses

  • Chinese Philosophy
  • Ethics
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Epistemology