My review of Brook Ziporyn’s two-volume study of Chinese philosophy through the lens of “coherence” has now been published, and should be available to those with access to Dao. Here’s the first paragraph of the review:
Near the end of the second volume of the two books under review (hereafter referred to as Ironies and Beyond Oneness), Brook Ziporyn says that his goal has been to “provide the power to think a greater number of more greatly differing thoughts…. Truth is important, but it is important only because it makes things so much more interesting” (2/314). No one who reads these books with any charity can deny that he has achieved this goal—in fact, far exceeded it. Ziporyn takes on the deepest issues and most difficult texts from a millennium and a half of Chinese thinking, and offers exciting new ways to make sense of both individual texts and the tradition’s broader concerns. At the core of his account is an idea he labels “coherence,” a category he argues is fundamental in most Chinese thought, and from which “sameness and difference are negotiable, non-ultimate derivatives” (2/2). The term most often used to express coherence, especially in post-Han 漢 dynasty texts, is li 理. The fact that li is more prominent in later texts allows Ziporyn to divide his story into two volumes: the first looks at the idea of coherence as it emerges in Warring States and Han texts, with only tangential attention to li; the second recenters the discussion around li, repeating only a little of the ground covered in the first book as it focuses primarily on Wang Bi 王弼, Guo Xiang 郭象, and both Huayan 華嚴 and Tiantai 天台 Buddhism. Each book can thus be read independently; read together, the argument for the pervasiveness and complexity of perspectives on coherence—and for seeing Chinese Buddhism as in many ways continuous with and further developing themes in indigenous Chinese thinking—is extremely powerful. Whether read separately or together, these two volumes are among the most provocative and tightly-argued works on Chinese philosophy to appear in many years, and richly repay the effort it takes to learn to see through the lens of coherence.