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0 Metaphysical Fundamentality as a Fundamental Problem for CS Peirce and Zhu Xi Fr. James Dominic Rooney, OP Department of Religion and Philosophy, Hong Kong Baptist University jdrooney@hkbu.edu.hk Contemporary metaphysics has begun to focus on questions having to do with the methodology of metaphysics. In particular, there are two prominent approaches to delineating the unique kinds of explanations offered by metaphysical theories. One is an approach associated with Aristotle, where metaphysics aims to provide explanations in terms of what entities or relations, etc., are more fundamental than others, identifying the right kinds of dependence relations among entities – i.e., “what grounds what”.i Another approach is one on which metaphysics aims to provide those concepts that are ‘joint-carving,’ giving us knowledge of the fundamental structure of the world, aiming to provide perfectly ‘natural’ representations of what the world is like.ii Even though advocates of grounding can also make use of a notion of joint-carving, their notion of what kinds of distinctions are joint-carving would highlight precisely the grounding relations. The entities and their relations are theoretically primary, with joint-carving-ness defined in terms of those relations. The inverse holds true of the advocates of a joint-carving approach: assuming there were entities which ground other entities, those relations will figure prominently in a well-constructed ontology. Yet this latter approach will understand metaphysics as primarily a matter of representing the world’s structure accurately. The conceptual issues 1 associated with metaphysical ideology take precedence over the substantive issues of whether there are fundamental entities or relations. In this paper, I attempt a contrast between two historical figures – the American pragmatist CS Peirce and the twelfth-century Confucian thinker Zhu Xi (朱熹). The contemporary approaches to metaphysics which highlight either grounding or joint-carving are mirrored, I argue, in these two historical figures, as epistemological assumptions made by these two are shared in some ways by the contemporary approaches to metaphysics. Pierce, for example, gives theoretical primacy to semiotic and other logical disciplines, whereas metaphysics has a subordinate role coordinating natural scientific theories. The hierarchy of sciences corresponds to the way in which Pierce understands the aim and nature of knowledge, i.e., as a pragmatist. One might therefore take Pierce to approach metaphysics as providing knowledge of fundamental entities, but instead – I argue – his position more resembles that of the joint-carving approach. Conversely, although Zhu Xi holds that knowledge of the world involves knowledge of the world’s structure, he does not approach metaphysics in as a joint-carver would. Instead, one comes to know that structure by means of knowing the entities in the world and their relation to one another. And the point is not merely epistemological. Zhu Xi paints the moral ideal of the sage as achieving unity with the world by means of his knowledge because the structure of the entities in the world involves an extra-mental unity or dependence – the sage comes to know and appropriate his own pre-theoretical unity with other things in knowing the world’s structure. 2 Even though interpretation of either thinker is controversial, my survey contrasts Pierce and Zhu Xi as exemplars of distinct approaches to metaphysics. I will conclude that there is an important divergence between Zhu Xi and Pierce because of the distinct ways in which they conceive of the epistemology of metaphysics. This points to a more perspicuous manner to contrast contemporary debates in metaphysics, because the joint-carving and grounding-centric approaches to metaphysics implicitly involve distinct epistemological presuppositions that lead them to their respective notions of metaphysical structure. Examination of Zhu Xi and Peirce sheds light on these divergent approaches to metaphysics and can help, I will propose, to decide between them. Zhu Xi, Li, and Self-Cultivation Zhu Xi, as a twelfth-century Confucian, was far removed from Peirce’s context. As a commentator on classical texts of the Confucian tradition, Zhu Xi needed to reconcile two tendencies found in that tradition. On one hand, it is uncontroversial that Confucianism aims at moral self-cultivation, “the purpose of Zhu Xi’s entire philosophical and educational system.”iii Self-cultivation is intimately connected to governing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1898
Print ISSN
0031-8221
Launched on MUSE
2021-10-13
Open Access
No
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