Cathay Liu

Humanities (Philosophy)





Assistant Professor


Assistant Professor Cathay Liu received her PhD in Philosophy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2012). She was an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine (class of 2004) where she also earned an MA in Philosophy (2006).

Teaching and Residential Life

While at Chapel Hill, Asst Prof Liu’s teaching was recognised with the Future Faculty Fellowship Program award, and she was also the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Ryan-Headley Scholar. She has served on search committees, speaker committees, and colloquium planning committees at UNC. She organised the King’s College London/UNC Conference (2010-11) on Theories of Ideas in Early Modern Philosophy. From 2007-2008, Asst Prof Liu served as the director of the Philosophy Outreach Program, which runs philosophy programmes in a youth detention center, various high schools and retirement communities in the greater area surrounding Chapel Hill.

On Joining Yale-NUS College

I grew up in a Southern Californian community comprised predominately of new immigrants. Because both my parents worked several jobs after they immigrated to the US, I was raised largely by my grandmother who never learned to speak English. At home, we spoke exclusively in Mandarin, while on the playgrounds in school my peers spoke Mandarin, Korean or Spanish. Immigrant communities have a unique set of hurdles relevant to higher education. Extra curricular activities were tolerated, or sometimes required, only insofar as they were necessary for admittance to a university where one was expected to take up one of a few “acceptable” majors.

Any emphasis placed on attaining a good education or doing well in school were in terms of its instrumental value in increasing one’s chances of attaining a practical job. Very few parents were familiar with a liberal arts education, even fewer wanted their children to major in anything in the humanities. My parents were no exception. In majoring in philosophy and then pursing graduate school for anything other than a professional degree, I made choices that took my family several years to understand but eventually support and encourage. Those interim years have provided me with experiences of both the challenges and rewards of broadening a traditional conception of higher education and impressed upon me the need to extol the value and virtues of the humanities and the liberal arts more generally.  

The global nature of the core curriculum, I hope, will be of similar use to students as they enter an increasingly-connected world and cross-cultural communication becomes ever more vital. For these reasons, I am very excited about the proposed intercultural and interdisciplinary curriculum at Yale-NUS. I think the interdisciplinary nature of the courses at Yale-NUS will be especially effective in equipping students to recognise and navigate the complexities of the world around them. And Singapore’s unique history and location is an ideal location for the global curriculum of Yale-NUS. It is a wonderful and rare opportunity to be able to help design and launch a new college—one that I embrace with energy and enthusiasm.

Asst Prof Liu’s research interests are interdisciplinary, as she is interested in the history and the philosophy arising from the developments begun during the scientific revolution, specialising in early modern philosophy and the philosophy and history of science. Her research in these areas includes an emphasis on Descartes’ philosophy of mathematics and physics. She is currently working on a series of articles stemming from her dissertation on Descartes’ metaphysics of numbers, his development of analytic geometry, and his unification of mathematics with physics. Asst Prof Liu has also begun some new research on the mathematics and physics found in Descartes’ Compendium of Music.