One and Many

One and Many: A Comparative Study of Plato's Philosophy and Daoism Represented by Ge Hong

Ji Zhang
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  • Book Info
    One and Many
    Book Description:

    Is the world one or many? Ji Zhang revisits this ancient philosophical question from the modern perspective of comparative studies. His investigation stages an intellectual exchange between Plato, founder of the Academy, and Ge Hong, who systematized Daoist belief and praxis. Zhang not only captures the tension between rational Platonism and abstruse Daoism, but also creates a bridge between the two.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6118-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction “One and Many” as an Ontological Problem
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    Why does this book compare Ge Hong (AD 284–344?) with Plato (428–347 BC)?¹ Reasons of personal intellectual history are involved. When I encountered Platonism in the field of Christian systematic theology, I admired its persistent search for inner coherence of truths and was deeply impressed by its transcendentalism and its unshakable influence on two streams of Western thought, philosophy and theology. Although I resonated with its idealism, over the years it became increasingly clear to me that this intellectual tradition imposed on me a demand that restricts the development of my own thought rooted in Chinese tradition. In...

  6. Part One Textual studies
    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. xxv-xxvi)

      Ge Hong’s religious philosophy is a converging point of three intellectual streams. First, from the early philosophical stream derived from Laozi and Zhuangzi, Ge Hong inherited cosmogony as the general worldview. He then reinterpreted the cosmogony into the genealogical one and many. Unlike a fixed being, the Dao is not an idea, but an act. “From nothing into being” is an act of creativity; it therefore defines what Dao is by articulating what Dao does. This core of reality was articulated as an ongoing genealogical process in which the creative One and its unfolding expressions in progenies constituted the relationship...

    • CHAPTER 1 Ge Hong’s Doctrine of Xuan Dao
      (pp. 1-31)

      TheInner Chaptersof theBaopuzi,which adopts Ge Hong’s pseudonym the Master Embracing Simplicity, opens with the chapter on the doctrine of Xuan Dao.

      [Genealogical One and Many]

      (1) That which is Dark is the primordial ancestor [shizu始祖] of Nature and the Great Forebear [dazong大宗] of the myriad different [things].

      [The Rhapsody of Xuan]

      (2) Its impenetrable depth is called formless; its unbroken continuity is named as excellence. Its height caps the nine heavens [jiuxiao九霄]; its breadth covers eight directions [bayu八隅].

      (3) Its brightness exceeds the sun and the moon, and its speed surpasses lightning....

    • CHAPTER 2 Plato’s Answer to the Pre-Socratic Debate
      (pp. 32-52)

      The study of Plato has many starting points. I start from the book ofParmenidesbecause of its obvious discussion of the one and the many. Having said this, one cannot ignore the current Plato scholarship on the subject. Yet reading Plato and reading someone else’s readings of Plato create two different issues. The former is the historical issue that Greek antiquity is far distant from the modern world. The latter is a methodological problem in that the analytical tradition of the Plato scholarship is very remote from the Daoists, who do not think cognitively through the mind but contemplate...

    • CHAPTER 3 Ge Hong’s Preservation of the One
      (pp. 53-78)

      Having traced the development of the OM debate from the pre-Socratics to Plato, we must now come to terms with Daoist epistemology. Strictly speaking, epistemology is not the right term for Daoism because it suggests the cognitive knowing of things that are rationally worthy of belief. Unlike Plato’s abstract reasoning, Ge Hong’s notion of knowledge is empirical. It neither regards reason as having the monopoly on knowing Dao nor believes objective knowledge is superior to subjective opinion. For Ge Hong, cultivation plays the central role in the activity of preserving truth. Ge Hong uses a specific term meaning “to cultivate...

    • CHAPTER 4 Plato’s Doctrine of Forms
      (pp. 79-90)

      In Chapter 2 I investigated historical connections between Plato and the pre-Socratics through the study of theParmenides.Parmenides’ ontological tradition of Being, answered the question of the one and the many with the theory of Forms and exposed before the Eleatic school one of the key problems of the theory, namely, the separation of Forms from sensibles. But the investigation also indicated that Plato’s Forms had radically changed the one and many debate from a cosmogonical schema, in which universals were understood as primordial stuff out of which the world was made, to an ontological schema, in which universals...

    • CHAPTER 5 Two Forms of Enlightenment
      (pp. 91-103)

      At the end of the Simile of the Sun, Plato says: “What gives the objects of knowledge their truth and the knower’s mind the power of knowing is the form of the good (508e). . . . The good therefore may be said to be the source not only of the intelligibility of the objects of knowledge, but also of their being and reality; yet it is not itself that reality, but beyond it, and superior to it in dignity and power” (509b).

      The Form of Good has occupied the supreme position within the doctrine of Forms. For Plato Forms...

    • CHAPTER 6 Ge Hong’s Doctrine of Immortal Beings
      (pp. 104-142)

      During the Western Han (202 BC–AD 9), a dynasty before Ge Hong, there was a widespread belief in the existence of immortals. Archaeological evidence discovered over the last few decades has revealed a belief in immortality expressed in art and iconography with strong cosmological symbolism in pre-Buddhist China.¹ The hope for immortality was mainly focused on the subjects of death, burial ceremonies, and the theology of postmortal existence. Contrary to the belief in life after death, one of Ge Hong’s obscure arguments is his “life without death” doctrine. HisShenxian zhuan神仙傳 represents a different way to express the...

  7. Part Two Comparative Ontology
    • [Part Two Introduction]
      (pp. 143-144)

      Why is not-being denied ontological properties? And why is being the starting point of ontology? The following three chapters on comparative ontology proceed from such basic questions.

      Key issues in comparative ontology shall be investigated by looking at how the concepts of being and not-being are categorized in Plato’s dialogues and how Daoist not-being (wu無) and being (you有) are used in Ge Hong’s writings. Chapter 7, titled “Nothing,” is intended to address these questions in three parts. First, it identifies subject negation: not-being is treated as the absence of being—the wholly unreal are thus excluded from ontology....

    • CHAPTER 7 Nothing
      (pp. 145-182)

      The OM problem is ontological. The problem is located at the heart of knowledge and has to do with the philosophy of what primary reality is (or what primary realities are). Any presupposed ontological reality (or realities) must answer one central question: how does the changing world, both whole and parts, either rise out of or hinge upon the irreducible? The previous chapters on Ge Hong and Plato have worked the texts down to an irreconcilable propositional difference: Plato’s “being without not-being” defined by logical exclusion of the two and Ge Hong’s “not-being with being” articulated in terms of the...

    • CHAPTER 8 The One
      (pp. 183-237)

      “Dao begins with the One, and its prestige is its uniqueness. Qi occupies each of the categories [ge ju yi chu各居一處] and makes the likeness heaven, earth, and humanity (yixiang tiandiren以象天地人] . Therefore one says the three ones [guyue sanyi故曰三一]” (IC323). According to Ge Hong, the One can be found in all three categories of existence, heaven, earth, and humanity. In relation to Xuan’s nothingness, it is something. In relation to the world of many, it designates the oneness of natural life. In cosmogonical terms, “the One can complete Yin and give birth to Yang [Yi...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Many
      (pp. 238-314)

      This chapter is situated against the background of two distinct natural philosophies: Ge Hong’s alchemical universe and Plato’s geometrical world. The comparative study is textually based. It starts with my critique of the “alchemy as chemistry” thesis in Daoist studies with the aim to free alchemy from the need to explain itself by the means of modern science. Then I introduce my “alchemy-cosmogony” approach and place Ge Hong’s instrumental studies of minerals in dialogue with Plato’s geometrical structures of matter.

      “Alchemy as chemistry” has been the dominating thesis in alchemical studies. It started in 1930 with an essay on “Chinese...

  8. Conclusion Comparative Methodology
    (pp. 315-326)

    I mentioned in the introduction that I would not treat methodology as a precondition of this comparative study, but as a conclusion of it. Now, at the end of this study, I still maintain the proposition, but something has changed. The becoming has reshaped the being.

    First, the method of comparing and contrasting is conditioned by two sets of texts. Hence it is not a “scientific” principle universally applicable to every situation. Instead of accepting methodology as another Platonic “one over many” structure that caps all intertraditional engagements, the act of comparing and contrasting is a “one under many” discourse....

  9. Notes
    (pp. 327-346)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 347-356)
  11. Index
    (pp. 357-364)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 365-374)