A New Book: Chinese Metaphysics and Its Problems, Chenyang Li and Franklin Perkins (eds.), Cambridge University Press (2015). [Amazon link]
The new issue of Modern China has an article by Xiaoqing Diana Lin entitled “Creating Modern Chinese Metaphysics: Feng Youlan and New Realism.” The abstract is available at this link.
This is a guest post by David Chai of the University of Toronto. Please address all questions or comments to him.
In thinking of a topic to share with all of you, I found myself repeatedly returning to the subject of a new course I am teaching this semester: Neo-Confucianism. While gathering materials for the course I came across an article by Donald Blakeley (“The Lure of the Transcendent in Zhu Xi” History of Philosophy Quarterly, 21.3 (2004): 223-240). The paper discusses whether qi and li should be read as transcendent or immanent. After surveying a variety of contemporary theories, Blakeley argues that “a modified definition of transcendence” is needed such that “that there is independence and self-sufficiency in certain respects but not in others.” (232-233) His conclusion is that “li transcends qi in that any material formations depend upon li. Qi is in a dependent relation to li in this respect and li is independent from qi in this respect. Li, in being what it is as li, is independent from the ongoing affairs in the field of qi. But qi transcends li in that any material formations depend upon qi; li is in a dependent relation to qi in this respect and qi is independent from li in this respect.” (233)
For me, his argument is not convincing for several reasons. First is his need to modify the traditional meaning of transcendence. Second is his very use of transcendence to describe Zhu Xi’s li. From a Daoist perspective, li comes across as being very close to natural law. While Dao is transcendent, its fa, or li, is immanent. For li to possess the same transcendental qualities as Dao would be to deny Dao its own existential nature. So, my question is can li be understood as Blakeley so wishes without the need to modify what is meant by transcendent? If so, how would this play-out in terms of qi’s connection to Dao? On a more fundamental level, can we say Zhu Xi is espousing a cosmogonist doctrine involving qi and li or is he merely putting forth one that is pseudo-cosmological? If the former, then I’d have material with which to conduct a soteriological comparison with Zhuangzi; if the latter, then I am unclear as to the advantages his qi-li dyad holds over the wu-you pairing seen in the texts of Lao-Zhuang.
Here is anther recent dissertation in Chinese philosophy, posted with permission. David has already published articles on Ji Kang and on Xuanxue, and will be presenting papers at the Eastern and Central APAs on topics ranging from “Ziqi and Yan Hui on Forgetting” to “Heidegger’s Lichtung in Light of Daoism” to “Being and the Abyss: Heidegger’s Leap into Daoist Nothingness.”
Title: Nothingness, Being, and Dao: Ontology and Cosmology in the Zhuangzi
Author: David Chai (email@example.com)
Defended: February 2012
Institution: University of Toronto, Canada (Dept. of East Asian Studies)
Supervisor: Vincent Shen
Another in a series of posts by guest blogger Joel Dietz, discussing the metaphysical doctrine of the Dao De Jing. Please address comments to him.
There is a natural relationship between metaphysics and “esoteric” subjects, insofar as metaphysics generally claims to discuss reality in a way that is not perceived by every human being, including often elusive topics such as “God/godhead” or various types of “essence.” It also has a natural relationship with aesthetics, insofar as metaphysical claims are frequently made as a part of artistic creation and evaluation. These frequently introduce a qualitative difference between different artistic works, as exhibited by the famous quip of Mahler, “There was only Beethoven and Richard [Wagner] – and after them, nobody.”
I often wonder about the connections—or lack thereof—between some interesting and potentially mind-blowing metaphysical claim and what might be called (although I don’t like the phrase) “real life.” Lately, that wonder has been directed toward ways in which training in a practice such as taijiquan that at least purports to be meaningfully Daoist might inform and be informed by academic study of Daoist metaphysics.
I’ve had a bunch of different taijiquan teachers over the years. Some of them were widely read about Chinese culture and history. Others, not so much. For whatever it’s worth, only one them—my first taijiquan teacher, who taught Yang family style in Chapel Hill back in the late 90’s—was Chinese, and though I never found out how well-read he was, I have come to appreciate how deeply knowledgeable that old man was about both taijiquan and Chinese traditions. I feel like I learned a great deal from some of my teachers and that I managed to learn a bit less from others, but I’m grateful to all of them for offering me something important, and I suspect that I could have learned more from each and every one of them than I did, had I understood how to be a better student. In each case, the teacher taught with sincerity.
As I’ve tried to learn taijiquan, I’ve had various moments when I’ve had the opportunity to think about the connections between the practice I was learning and the Chinese philosophy I work on academically. Let me share two such incidents. Continue reading →