Wang Yangming’s conception of oneness : three modes of reasoning in instructions for practical living
Date of Issue2018
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
In this paper, I attempt to investigate Wang’s conception of oneness. I identify three modes of reasoning for oneness, namely general or web mode, chain mode, and the loop mode, by drawing from passages in Instructions for Practical Living. They represent three different structural relationships between the “one” and the “many.” This is to say that each structural relationship reflects a certain reasoning patterns with regards to how the “one” and the “many” relate to one another. Then, I delve further into Wang’s conception of oneness by contextualising it within the core metaphysical tenet held by Neo-Confucians, namely principle is one but its particularisations many. I make use of the three modes of reasoning to explicate the logic behind Wang’s reasoning on this core metaphysical tenet. To aid understanding, I contrast it with the Zhu’s account. I argue that the point of divergence between Zhu’s reading and Wang’s reading is the appeal to condition or context to differentiate the one from the many. Then, I argue that Wang’s account is a reading that is just as prevalent in Neo-Confucian text but is eclipsed by the standard traditional reading. Finally, I draw on the findings from Wang’s conception of oneness to defend against the claim that Chinese thinkers lack logical thinking. I visit the scholarship that posits Chinese language lacks logic by nature and pick out the assumption motivating this argument: Being poetic is incompatible with being logical. I reject this problematic assumption by appealing to the modern saying of “literature, history, and philosophy do not part ways,” drawing from modern scholarships that attempts to reconcile literature, history, and philosophy. Here, I re-visit Wang’s three modes of reasoning to argue that it is precisely the literary forms that provide logical meaning to these modes of reasoning and that they are the kinds of reasoning that we employ in our everyday lives.