Fathoming the Changes between Heaven and Earth. Reconsidering the Status of the Book of Changes in Wang Bi’s Philosophy

Hybrid event: in-person and online (via Zoom). Registration required for online attendance.

The present talk addresses the status of Wang Bi 王弼 (226‒249)’s Commentary on the Book of Changes (Zhouyi Zhu 周易注) in the overall framework of his thought. Apart from a few exceptions, Wang Bi’s thought has been approached through his Commentary on the Laozi (Laozi Zhu 老子注). In this perspective, the two commentaries are either read as sharing the same philosophical approach and as pertaining to the same theoretical endeavour (this is notably R. Wagner’s approach), or studied apart from each other. In this latter approach, the tone of the Commentary on the Changes, which display a much lesser focus on metaphysical speculations than the Commentary on the Laozi, is interpreted as a sign that the inquiry of this work is almost exclusively turned toward human affairs and political philosophy. This talk demonstrates that another reading is possible. To nuance the idea that Wang Bi’s view on the Changes ultimately focuses on political philosophy, it will be reminded that since the early Yi-tradition, the Changes has been conceived as an all-encompassing book, capable of comprehending the whole cosmos. The speaker will then address the issue of the relationship of Wang Bi’s two commentaries. By doing so, he intends to show how the two works might be related, although their scopes remain distinct. Finally, he will question Wang Bi’s interpretation of the two first hexagrams and stress how his reading establishes the Changes as a book concerned with what is between Heaven and Earth.