Episode 3 of “This Is the Way”: Oneness

In the third episode of This Is the Way we explore the topic of oneness with our guest Philip J. Ivanhoe, a distinguished scholar and translator of East Asian philosophy. In part I, Justin gives a quick overview of Neo-Confucian philosophy and its connection to oneness. In part II, we talk with Ivanhoe about his book, Oneness: East Asian Conceptions of Virtue, Happiness, and How We Are All Connected. Some issues that we discuss include the following: the truth value of oneness (neither “strictly true” nor a groundless and pointless hallucination), the benefits of oneness (security, spontaneity, and metaphysical comfort), and the sense in which we are the minds of Heaven, Earth and the myriad things (Wang Yangming was right after all!).

Below you will find a more detailed accounting of topics, some specific passages and books or articles mentioned in the episode, and an opportunity to “weigh in” and share your views about the topic (or about the hosts’ wild claims about oneness or Chinese philosophy).

Your feedback is very welcome! Please leave a comment below, mail the hosts at ChinesePhilosophyPodcast@gmail.com, or follow them on X @ChinesePhilPod.

Chapter markers

0:00  Part I — Introduction
4:40 Justin’s quick summary of Neo-Confucianism
22:59 Part II — Oneness
23:00 Introducing our guest: Philip J. Ivanhoe
25:32 Three motivations for the book on oneness
33:30 A pragmatic alternative to Neo-Confucian metaphysics
43:36 The truth-value of oneness: neither “strictly true,” nor a groundless hallucination
52:42 Oneness as a source of security, spontaneity, and metaphysical comfort
1:03:55 The worry that the oneness view can’t make sense of genuine altruism
1:11:05 Whether life is required for a sense of mutual identity (biocentric views vs. Wang Yangming’s view)
1:17:59 Closing questions for our guest

Key passages

“The Western Inscription” of Zhang Zai 張載 (1020-1077)


Heaven is the father; Earth is the mother. And I, this tiny thing, dwell enfolded in Them. Hence, what fills Heaven and Earth is my body, and what rules Heaven and Earth is my nature. The people are my siblings, and all living things are my companions. My ruler is the eldest son of my parents, and his ministers are his retainers. To respect those great in years is the way to “treat your elders as elders.” To be kind to the orphaned and the weak is the way to “treat your young ones as young ones.” The sage harmonizes with Their Virtue; the worthy receive what is most excellent from Them. All under Heaven who are tired, crippled, exhausted, sick, brotherless, childless, widows or widowers—all are my siblings who are helpless and have no one else to appeal to. (Zhang Zai, “The Western Inscription,” translation by Bryan W. Van Norden and Justin Tiwald)

Other figures, movements, and texts mentioned

Note: This Is the Way is a podcast series on Chinese philosophy. Links to support pages for all published episodes can be found here.

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