Sorai and the Will of Tian

Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 5 (2):313-330 (2006)
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Abstract

My purpose has been more negative than positive. That is, I have challenged the view that Sorai understoodtian as an intentional agent. At minimum, Sorai’s philosophical views do not depend upon such a conception oftian, and he refrains from characterizingtian in such terms when he discusses the concept oftian directly. However, I do not claim to have proven that Sorai’s view oftian was completely naturalistic, or even that Sorai did not—at some level—believe thattian had intentions. I have, I hope, shown thatthe case that Sorai viewedtian as intentional has not been convincingly made. Further, something closer to a dynamic and indeterminate naturalistic view is a reasonable alternative. On my reading, Sorai steers a course between the Song Confucian view oftian as static and knowable (a view that he explicitly rejects) and a view oftian as intentional (a view he never unequivocally expresses)—indeed, he rejects the idea of personifyingtian. When Sorai speaks of thexin or mind of tian, he is best understood as employing a metaphor that implies complexity, mystery, activity, and perhaps moral structure, but not intentionality in the normal sense. The complexity, indeterminacy, and dynamism oftian, as these are expressed in Sorai’s writings, do not necessarily imply willful intent on the part oftian, for they are all consistent with the Xunzian interpretation oftian as a natural process, even iftian’s regularities have a moral character

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Kurtis Hagen
University of Hawaii (PhD)

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