The Great Ultimate and Heaven
in Chu Hsi's Philosophy
IT HAS BEEN SAID that Chu Hsi's philosophy is a li-ch'ia dualism. The li (principle) and ch'i (material force) are not merely juxtaposed in Chu's philosophy. Li is more fundamental and essential; it is superior to ch'i and is seen as the ultimate principle of existence in the universe. In other words, li is one of the most important concepts in the theoretical system of Chu Hsi's philosophy.
But holding the view that li is the supreme notion in Chu Hsi's philosophical theory poses some problems. One cannot accept it without reservations, for other concepts in his philosophy have played an important role, especially T'ai-chib (Great Ultimate) and T'ienc (Heaven).
First, T'ai-chi is generally acknowledged as a concept equally as important as, or even more important than, li. Many scholars have accepted this interpretation, but I cannot regard T'ai-chi in the same way, because the word "t'ai-chi" never appeared in Chu Hsi's serious discussions on philosophical issues.
Second, it seems to me that T'ien has been neglected when considering Chu Hsi's philosophy. There are not a few examples in Chu's philosophical writings in which T'ien is obviously superior to li, if we interpret the original texts without regard to traditional interpretations. Hence, I think that we ought to reconsider the relationship between li and T'ien in a new light.
T'ai-chi and li have been understood to stand on the same level because T'aichi can be thought of as the Great Ultimate from which everything is generated and in which everything exists. But a higher place, a place superior to li, can be given to T'ai-chi because it is "the ultimate of li" or "the totality of li." This is a fairly prevalent way of understanding of Chu Hsi's philosophical system.
In Japan, Uno Tetsuto,d for example, wrote in his Lectures on the History of Chinese Philosophy, "Chu Hsi, combining Chou Tun-i'se [1017-1073] 'T'ai