The Semantic Field of 性 in Ming Neo-Confucianism
Engaging Chinese Philosophy through Schleiermacher’s Hermeneutics
Keywords:hermeneutics, inter-cultural, Chinese philosophy, Neo-Confucianism, human nature
This article will focus on the interpretation of a key concept in Chinese Neo-Confucianism of the Ming dynasty, namely that of xing 性. The concept is commonly translated as “nature” in Western languages, but this text will point out that there is a gap between the meaning of the Western concept “nature” and the Chinese concept 性. The main contribution of this paper is therefore to suggest a new method of interpreting Chinese philosophical concepts that bridges this gap. The method takes its inspiration from the hermeneutic theory of F. Schleiermacher. It consists, firstly, in re-placing the concept in its historical context—i.e. in the original “language area” where it assumes a meaning; secondly, in identifying the conceptual network which surrounds it, and thirdly, in determining the meaning of the concept in question by its relations to other concepts within the network. The end product of such a method is what we call the “semantic dictionary” of a concept. This article will give an example of how part of the meaning of 性 can be determined by its relations to another key Neo-Confucian concept, li 理.
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