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Ironies of Oneness and Difference

Coherence in Early Chinese Thought; Prolegomena to the Study of Li

Brook Ziporyn

Publication Year: 2012

Explores the development of Chinese thought, highlighting its concern with questions of coherence. Providing a bracing expansion of horizons, this book displays the unsuspected range of human thinking on the most basic categories of experience. The way in which early Chinese thinkers approached concepts such as one and many, sameness and difference, self and other, and internal and external stand in stark contrast to the way parallel concepts entrenched in much of modern thinking developed in Greek and European thought. Brook Ziporyn traces the distinctive and surprising philosophical journeys found in the works of the formative Confucian and Daoist thinkers back to a prevailing set of assumptions that tends to see questions of identity, value, and knowledge—the subject matter of ontology, ethics, and epistemology in other traditions—as all ultimately relating to questions about coherence in one form or another. Mere awareness of how many different ways human beings can think and have thought about these categories is itself a game changer for our own attitudes toward what is thinkable for us. The actual inhabitation and mastery of these alternative modes of thinking is an even greater adventure in intellectual and experiential expansion.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. 1-18

Let’s suppose for a moment that “questioning our assumptions” is something worth doing—because it frees us from prejudices, because it expands our powers of thought and action, because it opens up new possibilities, because to do so is almost the definition of learning and thinking per se...

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Chapter One: Essences, Universals, and Omnipresence: Absolute Sameness and Difference

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pp. 19-48

What do Chinese thinkers mean when they make those assertions we translate in the form of “This is that”—for example, “this is a horse,” or “human nature is good,” or “the nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth”? We quickly get into trouble if, applying familiar models of particular entities...

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Chapter Two: What is Coherence?: Chinese Paradigms

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pp. 49-88

In the previous chapter we attempted to broadly characterize the typical Greco‑European handlings of sameness and difference through the lens of some version of a doctrine about universals and particulars, or alternately, its correlate or by‑product, particular substances with definite essences...

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Chapter Three: Non‑Ironic Coherence and Negotiable Continuity

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pp. 89-138

Let us begin by looking at the non‑ironic notions of coherence as they take shape in the texts of the early Chinese philosophical tradition. As noted in the previous chapter, what we are calling the “non‑ironic” notion of coherence focuses on three related themes, namely...

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Chapter Four: Ironic Coherence and the Discovery of the “ Yin”

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pp. 139-198

Let us now take a look at what I will call the “ironic tradition,” and the transformations of the idea of coherence that take place there. I call coherence “ironic” when it disassociates the three aspects involved in non‑ironic coherence: “harmony (hanging‑together in some mutually enhancing way),”...

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Chapter Five: Non‑Ironic Responses to Ironic Coherence in Xunzi and the Record of Ritual

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pp. 199-228

In this chapter we will be considering the encounter between the two types of coherence described in the previous two chapters. In particular, this chapter will deal with ways in which the non‑ironic conception of coherence regroups and is reconfigured in response to the challenge posed...

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Chapter Six: The Yin‑Yang Compromise

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pp. 229-264

Yin and Yang have become English words, now standing as perhaps the most broadly recognized of all Chinese terms among nonspeakers of Chinese. Ask an American on the street about Chinese philosophy, and he or she will likely say something about Yin and Yang. Press a little harder, and you may...

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Conclusion and Summary: Toward Li

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pp. 265-268

In the preceding pages, we have attempted to draw attention to an emergent conception of coherence in early Chinese thought, which comes to play a crucial role in accounting for the presence, value, sustainability, and intelligibility of things. We have delineated two intertwining variants of this...


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pp. 269-306


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pp. 307-314


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pp. 315-323

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781438442907
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438442891

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2012