East Asian philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G218-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved January 31, 2023, from

2. One-world natural cosmology

In the dominant world view of classical East Asia, we do not begin from the dualistic ‘two-world’ reality/appearance distinction familiar in classical Greek metaphysics, giving rise as it does to ontological questions such as: ‘What is the Being behind the beings?’ Rather, we begin from the assumption that there is only the one continuous concrete world that is the source and locus of all of our experience, giving rise to cosmological and ultimately ethical questions such as: ‘How do these myriad beings best hang together?’ Order within the classical East Asian world view is ‘immanental’ and ‘emergent’, an indwelling regularity in things themselves. It is the always unique yet continuous graining in wood, the distinctive striations in a piece of jade, the regular cadence of the surf, the peculiar veining in each and every leaf. The power of creativity resides in the world itself. The order and regularity this world evidences is neither derived from nor imposed upon it by some independent, activating power, but inheres in the world itself. Change and continuity are equally ‘real’; time itself is the persistence of this self-transformation.

The ‘one’ world, then, is the efficient cause of itself. Situation takes priority over agency; process and change take priority over form and stasis. The context itself is resolutely dynamic, autogenerative, self-organizing and, in a real sense, alive. This one world is constituted as a sea of qi, psychophysical energy that disposes itself in various concentrations, configurations and perturbations (see Qi). There is an intelligible pattern (see Li) that can be discerned and mapped from each different perspective within the world (see De) that is its dao, a ‘pathway’ which can, in varying degrees, be traced out to make one’s place and one’s context coherent (see Dao). Dao is, at any given time, both what the world is and how it is, always as entertained from some particular perspective or another. In this tradition, there is no final distinction between some independent source of order, and what it orders. There is no determinative beginning or presumptive teleological end. The world and its order at any particular time is self-causing, ‘so-of-itself’ (ziran) (see Chinese philosophy; Daoist philosophy; Daodejing; Zhuangzi). Truth, beauty and goodness as standards of order are not ‘givens’: they are historically emergent, something done, a cultural product. Given the priority of situation over agency, there is a continuity between nature and nurture, a mutuality between context and the human being. In such a world, it is not unexpected that the Yijing (Book of Changes) is the first among the ancient classics (see Yijing).

Citing this article:
Ames, Roger T.. One-world natural cosmology. East Asian philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G218-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2023 Routledge.

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