Tian as Cosmos in Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucianism
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Tian 天 is central to the metaphysics, cosmology, and ethics of the 800-year-long Chinese philosophical tradition we call “Neo-Confucianism,” but there is considerable confusion over what tian means—confusion which is exacerbated by its standard translation into English as “Heaven.” This essay analyzes the meaning of tian in the works of the most influential Neo-Confucian, Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130–1200), presents a coherent interpretation that unifies the disparate aspects of the term’s meaning, and argues that “cosmos” does an excellent job of capturing this meaning and therefore should be adopted as our translation of tian.
KeywordsMetaphysics Ethics Tian 天 Cosmos Neo-Confucianism Zhu Xi 朱熹 Translation
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I am grateful to comments from two anonymous reviewers that helped me to improve this essay, to Ben Huff for extensive comments on an earlier draft, and to Justin Tiwald for many conversations that have significantly shaped my understanding of Zhu Xi and of Neo-Confucianism more generally.
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