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SagehoodThe Contemporary Significance of Neo-Confucian Philosophy$
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Stephen C. Angle

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195385144

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385144.001.0001

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Li 理/Coherence

Li 理/Coherence

(p.31) 2 Li 理/Coherence

Stephen C. Angle (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Li is a difficult term, sometimes translated as “principle” or “pattern,” that lies at the center of Neo-Confucian philosophizing. Building on the insights of Willard Peterson, Brook Ziporyn, and other scholars, the chapter argues that li means “the valuable and intelligible way that things fits together,” and chooses “coherence” as the best short translation of li. The chapter draws not only on Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming, but also on other Neo-Confucians like Zhang Zai and Luo Qinshun. P.J. Ivanhoe's important arguments concerning the influence of Huayan Buddhism on Neo-Confucianism are both developed and critiqued. The chapter examines li's combination of subjective and objective dimensions, including the way that li is partly constituted by human purposes. Other topics include the ontological status of li, its causal role, and its simultaneous unity and multiplicity. The chapter concludes by showing that once li is understood as coherence, the question of how it can be both descriptive and prescriptive—which has long bedeviled interpreters, some of them worried by Hume's distinction between “is” and “ought”—is readily answered.

Keywords:   Principle, Pattern, Brook Ziporyn, Zhang Zai, Luo Qinshun, P. J. Ivanhoe, Huayan Buddhism, ontology, normativity

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