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Ontology and Metaphysics in Chinese Philosophy

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This paper begins with a critique of the uses of the term “bentilun 本 體論 (ontology)” in modern Chinese scholarship by tracing their claim to being theoretical paradigms for understanding Chinese philosophy as a philosophical tradition. It is supplemented by a contrastive discussion of bentilun and its original ancient Greek counterpart, i.e. ontology, to show that the object of discourse in bentilun does not match up with that of ontology, namely “being qua being.” This comparative study also demonstrates that bentilun finds its philosophical significance in connection with the theory of xinxing 心性 (heart-mind). In the second section of this paper, a comparative study of “xingershangxue 形而上學 (metaphysics)” and “metaphysics” highlights the central tenet that the dao essentially transcends language. Daoist philosophy is used as an example that identifies a unique predilection toward philosophical concepts that transcend the realm of nameable thoughts and objects in Chinese philosophy. Textual evidence is provided to show that the conceptual possibility of xingershangxue is based upon a fundamental difference between you 有 (being) and wu 無 (not-being), in a way that is similar to philosophical developments in other early civilizations. Nonetheless, in addition to a philosophical interest in principles and values that transcend the material world, Daoist xingershangxue exhibits an idiosyncratic attention to notions and theories whose object of discourse is essentially unnameable. This characteristic philosophical interest is identified with the aim of locating essential disciplines within Chinese philosophy, including the theory of xinxing, practical wisdom, and the theory of jingjie 境界 (state-of-attainment) in a wider framework of east and west philosophical traditions.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, Peking University


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