About the Philosophy Department

Philosophy has been taught at HKU for nearly 100 years. The Philosophy Department today is a diverse and vibrant unit actively contributing to the teaching and research of the University, and it engages with both the local and global community through knowledge exchange. It has about eight members of teaching staff, teaching undergraduate students from different faculties within the University. The Department of Philosophy also offers two higher degrees by research, the M.Phil and the Ph.D, and we welcome both international and local students to apply.

The Department has research strengths in Chinese and comparative philosophy, philosophy of mind and language, ethics and politics, and the history of European philosophy. Members of the Department have secured 5 GRF grants from the Hong Kong Government since 2007.

The Department currently has about 40 majors and 20 minors and attracts 20 to 30 new majors per year. Its undergraduate teaching spans a wide range of fields, including knowledge and reality, mind and language, moral and political philosophy, and history of philosophy and covers Western, Chinese, and comparative philosophy. The Department is also a pioneer in online teaching, as exemplified by its popular online introductory logic course. The undergraduate program has consistently received high marks from external examiners. The Department has historically played an important service role in supporting general education. In the past few years, the Department has made a significant commitment and contribution to HKU's new Common Core Curriculum, offering over 10 courses on critical thinking, values, and Chinese philosophy.

Dr. Joe Lau is the current Department Chairperson (until July 2017).


History of the department

Old main building

Philosophy has been studied in the University of Hong Kong for more than eight decades.

The Hong Kong College of Medicine was established in 1887, and it was later incorporated as the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong. Sir Frederick Lugard, the then-governor of Hong Kong, laid the foundation stone on March 16, 1910. The official opening with 54 students took place on March 11, 1912.

Donations towards the costs of the Main Building came from Sir Hormusjee Mody, "a Parsee [Zoroastrian] gentleman 50 years resident in Hong Kong" (Main Building Foundation Stone), together with generous contributions from "Chinese residents of Hong Kong, Canton, Macao, Saigon, Newchwang, Amoy, Penang, Waichow and Australia" (HKU Calendar, 1913/14), from Butterfield & Swire, and from the then Government of China, as well as strong support from Chang Jen Chung ("Viceroy" of Canton), the Governor of the Straits Settlements, the Governor of Macao, and the Municipal Council of Shanghai.

The original plan was to begin with Faculties of Medicine and Engineering, which would be "of practical utility to China in coping with disease, in developing her resources by railways and by the exploitation of her mineral wealth, and in checking by the light of modern engineering science the terrible floods which almost every year occasion famines and great loss of life".

But this plan was enlarged "at the special request of the Chinese residents in Honkong", to include a Faculty of Arts (including as main subjects "Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, History, the English and Chinese languages and literature, and Political Economy"). Additional courses were funded "by the generosity of Mr. Cheung Pat Sze and his partners". They included an Intermediate course in "Logic and Scientific Method", listed in the curriculum for 1913/14. In 1914/15, the University Calendar shows, among the 12 teachers in the Faculty of Arts, a lecturer (pro tem.) in Logic, Mr. E.J. Surman.

Thus, historically, the initiative and support for our Faculty, and for the subject of philosophy in particular, came from the Chinese community of Hong Kong. A separate Philosophy Department (of four members) existed in 1951/52. One of its members, H.T. Woo (himself a graduate of the University), taught psychology. And in 1966, the department was renamed "The Department of Philosophy and Psychology". By 1968, the department had been split into separate departments of Philosophy, and Psychology. The Philosophy Department had only two members of teaching staff, and low student enrolments threatened its continued existence. But it gathered strength during the following decade, and a Chair of Philosophy was filled for the first time in 1979 by F.C.T. Moore.