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.
Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.
If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.