David B. Wong

David B. Wong

Susan Fox Beischer and George D. Beischer Trinity College Arts and Sciences Professor of Philosophy

External address: 
211 W Duke Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
Internal office address: 
Duke Box 90743, Durham, NC 27708-0743
(919) 660-3046


David Wong is the Susan Fox Beischer and George D. Beischer Professor of Philosophy. Before he came to Duke, he was the Harry Austryn Wolfson Professor of Philosophy at Brandeis University and the John M. Findlay Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Boston University.

The main subjects of his research include 1) the nature and extent of moral differences and similarities across and within societies and how these differences and similarities bear on questions about the objectivity and universality of morality; 2) the attempt to understand morality naturalistically as arising from the attempt of human beings to structure their cooperation and to convey to each other what kinds of lives they have found to be worth living; 3) the nature of conflicts between basic moral values and how these give rise to moral differences across and within societies; 4) how we attempt to deal with such conflicts in moral deliberation; 5) the relevance of comparative philosophy, especially Chinese-Western (Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism) comparative philosophy, to the above subjects; 6) Whether our reasons to feel and act are based solely on what we already desire or whether reasons transcend what we desire and are used to critically evaluate and shape our desires; 7) the extent to which a person's recognizing that she has reasons to feel and act in certain ways can enter into the constitution of her emotions and change those emotions.

His books include Moral Relativity (University of California Press, 1984) and Natural Moralities (Oxford University Press, 2006).  A book of critical essays on Natural Moralities is Moral Relativism and Chinese Philosophy: David Wong and his Critics, ed. by Yang Xiao and Yong Huang, SUNY Press, 2014), with responses by Wong to the essays.  Wong has co-edited with Kwong-loi Shun Confucian Ethics: a Comparative Study of Self, Autonomy and Community  (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Articles and chapters include "Coping with Moral Conflict and Ambiguity," (Ethics, 1992), "Xunzi on Moral Motivation" (Chinese Language, Thought, and Culture: Nivison and his Critics, 1996), "Reasons and Analogical Reasoning in Mencius" (Essays on the Moral Philosophy of Mengzi, 2002), "Relational and Autonomous Selves" (Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 2004), "Zhuangzi and the Obsession with Being Right" (History of Philosophy Quarterly, 2004), “A Relational Approach to Environmental Ethics” (with Marion Hourdequin, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 2005),"Moral Reasons: Internal and External," (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2006), "Emotion and the Cognition of Reasons in Moral Motivation" (Philosophical Issues 2009), "Complexity and Simplicity in Ancient Greek and Chinese Thought" (in How should we live? Comparing Ethics in Ancient China and Greco-Roman Antquity, ed. Dennis Schilling and Richard King 2011), "How Are Moral Conversions Possible?" (in In Search of Goodness, ed. Ruth Grant 2011), "Sustaining Cultures in the Face of Globalization" (with Nicole Hassoun, Culture and Dialogue, 2013), "On Learning What Happiness Is" Philosophical Topics, 2013, actually appearing in 2015), "Integrating Philosophy with Anthropology in an Approach to Morality" (Anthropological Theory, 2014), "The Different Faces of Love in a Good Life" (in Moral Cultivation and Confucian Character: Engaging Joel J. Kupperman, ed. Chengyang Li and Peimin Ni 2014), "Early Confucian Philosophy and the Development of Compassion" (Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 2015), "Growing Virtue: The Theory and Science of Developing Compassion from a Mencian Perspective" (in The Philosophical Challenge from China, ed. Brian Bruya 2015). He has written articles on moral relativism for A Companion to Ethics, The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Encyclopedia of Ethics, and Dictionnaire de philosophie morale, and articles on Comparative Philosophy, Chinese and Western" and "Chinese Ethics" for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  He was interviewed on the subjects of cultural and moral relativism for the Public Television Series, "The Examined Life." He has written on comparative ethics for The Encyclopedia of Ethics and on comparative philosophy for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy. 

Wong is co-director with Owen Flanagan of the Center for Comparative Philosophy at Duke.  He is currently a member-at-large of the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association.

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., Princeton University 1977

  • B.A., Macalester College 1971

Wong, D. Moral Relativity.: University of California Press, 1984.

Wong, DB. "Foundations for Moral Relativism." Mind 125.497 (January 2016): 284-290. Full Text

Wong, DB. "Six Myths about the Good Life: Thinking about What Has Value." Dao a Journal of Comparative Philosophy 10.1 (March 2011): 107-109. Full Text

Wong, D. "Review of Reasonable Disagreement by Christopher McMahon." Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews online (March 2010).

Wong, D. "Review of Fieldwork in Familiar Places by Michele Moody-Adams." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 63 (2002): 716-720.

Wong, DB, and Moody-Adams, MM. "Fieldwork in Familiar Places: Morality, Culture, & Philosophy." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 63.3 (November 2001): 716-716. Full Text

Wong, D. "Review of Richard Garner’s Beyond Morality." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 57 (1997): 721-725.

Wong, D. "Review of The Conception of Value by Paul Grice." Philosophical Books 34 (1993): 45-47.


Wong, DB. "Chinese Ethics (substantive revision)." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Zalta, E. 2018. (Essay)

Wong, DB. "Dialogue in the Work of Michael Krausz." Interpretation, Relativism, and Identity: Essays on the Philosophy of Michael Krausz. Ed. Koggel, CM and Ritivoi, AD.: Lexington Books. 2018. 67-74. (Essay)

Wong, DB. ""Moral Sentimentalism in Early Confucian Thought"." Ethical Sentimentalism New Perspectives. Ed. Debes, R and Stueber, K.: Cambridge University Press. September 30, 2017. 230-249. (Chapter)

Wong, DB. "DIgnity in Confucian and Buddhist Thought." Dignity A History. Ed. Debes, R.: Oxford University Press. June 1, 2017. (Essay)

Wong, DB. "Xunzi's Metaethics." Dao Companion to the Philosophy of Xunzi. Ed. Hutton, EL.: Springer. November 9, 2016. 139-164. (Chapter)

Flanagan, O, Sarkissian, H, and Wong, D. "Naturalizing Ethics." The Blackwell Companion to Naturalism. February 5, 2016. 16-33. Full Text

Wong, D. "Growing Virtue: The Theory and Science of Developing Compassion from a Mencian Perspective." The Philosophical Challenge from China. Ed. Bruya, B.: MIT Press. 2015. (Essay)

Wong, D. "Response to Blum, Response to Geisz and Sadler, Response to Hansen, Response to Gowans, Response to Bloomfield and Massey, Response to Huang." Moral Relativism and Chinese Philosophy: David Wong and his Critics. Ed. Xiao, Y and Huang, Y.: SUNY Press. 2014.

Wong, D. "The Different Faces of Love in a Good Life." Moral Cultivation and Confucian Character: Engaging Joel J. Kupperman.: SUNY Press. 2014.

Wong, D. "Mencius." International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Ed. LaFollette, H.: Blackwell. 2013.


Wong, DB. "Responses to Snow, Miller, and Seok." Dao 16.4 (November 2017): 577-584. Full Text

Wong, DB. ""Making an Effort to Understand"." The Ultimate Guide From Philosophy Now One: Ethics (November 2017). (Essay)

Wong, DB. "The Excitement of Crossing Boundaries." Journal of World Philosophies 2.Summer 2017 (June 2017): 149-155.

Wong, DB. "Institutional Structures and Idealism of Character." Philosophy East and West 67.1 (2017): 25-36. Full Text

Wong, DB. "Responses to Commentators." Dao 14.2 (June 2015): 225-233. Full Text

Wong, DB. "Conserving Nature; Preserving Identity." Journal of Chinese Philosophy 42.1-2 (June 2015): 176-196.

Hassoun, NJ, and Wong, DB. "Conserving Nature; Preserving Identity." Journal of Chinese Philosophy 42.1-2 (March 2015): 176-196. Full Text

Wong, DB. "Integrating philosophy with anthropology in an approach to morality." Ed. Cassaniti, JL and Hickman, JR. Anthropological Theory 14.3 (September 2014): 336-355. Full Text

Wong, DB. "On Learning What Happiness Is." Philosophical Topics 41.1 (2013): 81-101. Full Text