Ways of Being: Philosophical Theory and Practice in Early China
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Hamm, Matthew James
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CitationHamm, Matthew James. 2018. Ways of Being: Philosophical Theory and Practice in Early China. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation analyses three texts from China’s Warring States period (475-221 BCE): the Wu Xing 五行 (“Five Conducts”), the “Tianzhi” 天志 (“Heaven’s Will) Triplet of the Mozi 墨子, and the “Neipian” 內篇 (“Inner Chapters”) of the Zhuangzi 莊子.
It contends that reading these three texts according to their shared concern of philosophical practice demonstrates that each one presents a general theory of how to live one’s daily life. The texts construct their theories by first presenting patterns of daily behavior. They then use the relationship between Heaven (a figure that embodies their respective ideals) and their presumed practitioners to organize those daily patterns into “ways of being” or “existential modes”: comprehensive, philosophical lifestyles that form in relation to Heaven’s ideal.
In addition to explicitly arguing for its respective theory, each text also emphasizes its key ideas through a fractal reiteration of themes across multiple levels of content and rhetoric that establishes itself as a textual facsimile of the mode that it advocates. That reiteration also helps construct an “implicit dialogue” between text and reader in which the text attempts to transform the reader into a practitioner.
While previous scholarship has noted the importance of practice within early Chinese texts, it has done so according to frameworks that conflate the arguments of multiple works and overemphasize the texts’ contextual specificity, preventing contemporary readers from regarding them as sources of general theory. By contrast, this study uses the three texts as case studies to demonstrate the theoretical sophistication and contemporary relevance of early Chinese thought.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41121256
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