Ironies of Oneness and Difference

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

By Brook Ziporyn

Subjects: Asian Religion And Philosophy, Asian Studies, Philosophy, Comparative Philosophy, Buddhism
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9781438442884, 333 pages, July 2013
Hardcover : 9781438442891, 333 pages, September 2012

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Table of contents

Introduction: Rethinking Same and Different
Coherence and Li: Plan Method of This Book and Its Sequel
1. Essences, Universals, and Omnipresence: Absolute Sameness and Difference
Essences, Universals, Categories, Ideas: Simple Location and the Disjunction of Same and Different in in Mainstream Western Philosophy
Same and Different in Form Matter
Two Opposite Derivations of Omnipresent
2. What Is Coherence? Chinese Paradigms
Coherence As Opposed to Law, Rule, Principle,Pattern: Harmony Versus Repeatability
Is White Horse Horse?
Qian Mu’s Pendulum
Ironic and Non-Ironic Coherence
3. Non-Ironic Coherence and Negotiable Continuity
Coherence and Omniavailability of Value in Confucius and Mencius
Coherence and Heaven in Analects
Ritual Versus Law: Cultural Grammar
Rectification of Names: Negotiated Identity as a Function of Ritual
Classes and Types in Mencius
Omnipresence in Mencius
Transition to Ironic Coherence: Qi-Omnipresence and the Empty Center in Pre-Ironic Proto-Daoism
4. Ironic Coherence and the Discovery of the “Yin”
The Laozi Tradition: Desiring Wholes
Overview of Ironic Coherence in the Laozi
The Five Meanings of the Unhewn: Omnipresence and Ironic Coherence in the Laozi
Zhuangzi’s Wild Card: Thing as Perspective
Using the Wild Card
The Wild Card Against Both Objective Truth and Subjective Solipsism
Conclusion to Chapter 4: Ironic Coherence
5. Non-Ironic Responses to Ironic Coherence in Xunzi and the Record of Ritual
Xunzi and the Regulation of Sameness and Difference
Omnipresence and Coherence in Xunzi
Two Texts from the Record of Ritual (Liji): “The Great Learning,” and “The Doctrine of the Mean”
6. The Yin-Yang Compromise
Yin-Yang Theism in Dong Zhongshu: The Metastasis of Harmony Irony
An Alternate Yin-Yang Divination System: Yang Xiong’s Taixuanjing
Conclusion and Summary: Toward Li

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.

Brook Ziporyn is Professor of Chinese Philosophy, Religion, and Comparative Thought at the University of Chicago Divinity School and Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. His books include The Penumbra Unbound: The Neo-Taoist Philosophy of Guo Xiang, also published by SUNY Press.


"Ziporyn takes on the deepest issues and most difficult texts from a millennium and a half of Chinese thinking, and offers exciting new ways to make sense of both individual texts and the tradition's broader concerns … Whether read separately or together, these two volumes are among the most provocative and tightly argued works on Chinese philosophy to appear in many years, and richly repay the effort it takes to learn to see through the lens of coherence." — Dao

"…Ziporyn's two volumes on 'oneness and difference' represent a well-argued and highly sophisticated attempt at understanding Chinese metaphysics on its own terms … I recommend these two volumes unconditionally to the reader." — Kai Marchal, Philosophy East & West

"…constitute[s] the first comprehensive attempt in any Western language to explore the meaning and history of the difficult term li prior to the Song period … Ziporyn displays a tremendous knowledge of difficult philosophical texts such as the commentaries to Daoist classics by Wang Bi and Guo Xiang as well as primary texts and commentaries of the Buddhist Tiantai and Huayan traditions." — Monumenta Serica