Yuan Yuan, Ph.D.
Dr. Yuan's areas of research are ethics, political philosophy and philosophy of law, with an emphasis on the interface between them.
Yuan Yuan, Ph.D., received her doctorate in philosophy from Yale University in 2020. Her primary areas of research are ethics, political philosophy and philosophy of law, with an emphasis on the interface between them. She is currently working on a series of papers on just war theory, which defends the core principles of the international laws of war by illustrating how political relations transform interpersonal morality in politically oriented or mediated warfare.
She also has a secondary research interest in experimental philosophy, which employs empirical methods to explore patterns in ordinary people’s philosophical intuitions. In an ongoing project, she and her collaborator are studying how people understand corporate crimes perpetrated not by corporate employees but through algorithms.
Q&A with Dr. Yuan
Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little about your educational journey?
I grew up in China. I attended Peking University for an M.A. in philosophy and then pursued my Ph.D. in philosophy at Yale University.
When did you first fall in love with your field of study? What made you decide to work in academia?
I fell in love with philosophy as an undergraduate student. As an undergraduate student, I was very attracted to the ideas of constitutional government, democracy, and human rights, while many of my fellow students disagreed with me. As we were in China, those ideas were criticized and underplayed continuously by the government. Initially, I turned to political philosophy to learn better arguments for my positions. Gradually, I found myself not satisfied with many existing answers to my questions and wanted to get into the discipline and advance my own positions. I decide to work in academia because it allows me to indulge in philosophical inquiries while making ends meet.
Can you explain the focus of your research?
My research lies at the intersection of ethics, political philosophy and the philosophy of law. My dissertation, "Public War: Restoring the Political Nature of Warfare," systematically reexamines the moral doctrines embedded in the international laws of war, including the requirement of legitimate authority, the right to national defense, the equality of just and unjust combatants, and the principle of civilian immunity.
What attracted you to VCU? What are you most excited about in regards to VCU and Richmond?
I was attracted to VCU mainly because of the collegiality of the philosophy department and the mild winters in Richmond. I am most excited to mentor students and collaborate with my colleagues for teaching and research.
Can you talk a little about your teaching philosophy? What do you most like about teaching?
I have three main objectives when I teach philosophy. First, I aim to draw all kinds of students into fascinating philosophical questions. Second, I intend to improve their critical thinking and communication skills. Third, I strive to foster a respectful, inclusive and collaborative learning environment for every student. What I like the most about teaching is to see students change each other's minds by the power of reason, which happens a lot in my seminars.
Can you tell us either a quirky fact about yourself or some of your hobbies?
My first and last names are spelled the same in English, though they correspond to two different Chinese characters with entirely different meanings. My last name Yuan (袁) is my family name, which does not have other meanings. My first name Yuan (源) is a given name, which means the source of water and the ultimate cause for things.