Li and Qi as Supra-Metaphysics

Galia Patt -Shamir*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Zhu Xi’s 朱熹 conceptions of li 理 and qi 氣 have been long regarded by the field as the core of his metaphysical discourse. It has also been claimed that for Zhu Xi, this li–qi system is part of a broader dialectic of oppositions—including pairs of concepts such as substance (ti 體) and functions (yong 用); and root (ben 本) and branches (mo 末). In this system of oppositions, li is prioritized. Due to this, Zhu Xi’s philosophy has stirred critics to regard him as a dualist (Feng 1938; Chan 1963). Zhu Xi tends to understand life, action, and thought through polarities, in particular through li and qi. More recently, this agreement has been questioned, most commonly through understanding Zhu’s philosophy as philosophy of process (Cheng 1991; Berthrong 1998, 2005; Baba 2015), and/or suggesting li–qi as a logical and linguistic axis for metaphysics (Zhang 2015; Thompson 2015). It is my wish to follow this latter line of thought. I claim that when focusing on the various roles and relatedness of li and qi, rather than looking for their importance and asking which is prior, one realizes that Zhu Xi cannot be regarded as a dualist. Moreover, I suggest that when the so-called “li–qi metaphysics” is presented along this line, a “sense of metaphysics” is revealed that embraces much more than metaphysics—and in this way, reaffirms and renews Confucian praxis in time-honored philosophical terminology and method.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDao Companion to Zhu Xi’s Philosophy
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9783030291747, 9783030291754
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NameDao Companions to Chinese Philosophy
ISSN (Print)2211-0275
ISSN (Electronic)2542-8780


FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation395/12


    • Chinese literature
    • 900-1299 Song dynasty period
    • Zhu Xi (1130-1200)
    • prose
    • Neo-Confucian writers
    • metaphysics
    • epistemology


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