Oneness, Aspects, and the Neo-Confucians

In Philip J. Ivanhoe, Owen Flanagan, Victoria S. Harrison, Hagop Sarkissian & Eric Schwitzgebel (eds.), The Oneness Hypothesis: Beyond the Boundary of Self. New York, USA: Columbia University Press (2018)
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Confucius gave counsel that is notoriously hard to follow: "What you do not wish for yourself, do not impose on others" (Huang 1997: 15.24). People tend to be concerned with themselves and to be indifferent to most others. We are distinct from others so our self-concern does not include them, or so it seems. Were we to realize this distinctness is merely apparent--that our true self includes others--Confucius's counsel would be easier to follow. Concern for our true self would extend concern beyond the narrow selves we appear to be. The neo-Confucians held just such a view. They espoused an identity with the universe and everything in it, arguing that this identity explains a natural concern for everyone and everything, not just for our narrow selves. However, many things in the universe differ from each other, that is, some have qualities others lack. If they are all one and the same thing then that one thing differs from itself. I will suggest that the objection can be answered with some metaphysical innovation. I will address the objection by sketching a theory--call it the theory of aspects--that explains how numerically identical things can differ qualitatively.

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Donald L. M. Baxter
University of Connecticut


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