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Dr. Philip Ivanhoe on "Oneness"


Dr. Philip J. Ivanhoe visited Hamilton on Sept. 13 to discuss Oneness, a theory that integrates the past with the present and draws people of different backgrounds together.

The talk, hosted by the Philosophy Department and supported by the Truax Fund, coincides with the release of Ivanhoe’s newest book, Oneness: Asian Conceptions of Virtue, Happiness, & How We Are All Connected. Ivanhoe, who is chair professor of East Asian and Comparative Philosophy and Religion at City University of Hong Kong, focused his lecture on the question “how do modern individuals care about cultivating care in the world?”

The Empathy-Altruism model argues that empathy generates altruism. Empathy begins as a desire to feel as another feels and comes from a concern for the wellbeing of others. Eventually, it evolves into altruism and “helping others at your own expense,” Ivanhoe said.

Yet Ivanhoe finds fault in this philosophical argument because it lacks explanation for human connection to animals, plants, and inanimate objects. Based on the Neo-Confucian views of oneness, and set against a modern-day context, Ivanhoe’s theory argues that human beings are intrinsically connected to one another, including non-human creatures and things.

A “robust sense of oneness,” Ivanhoe argues, informs the individual to identify as one part of a whole, rather than separate beings. In essence, it is how an illuminated view of the self produces a greater overall care for others. Ivanhoe’s communal theory not only initiates discourse with previous and widely accepted literature, it also engages with the present, given the social and political climate.

Ivanhoe claims that the Oneness theory is not an “ethical problem solver,” but simply an explanation for “what dictates our desire to care about others.”

Nevertheless, it challenged faculty from the Chinese, Art History, and Philosophy departments, students from varying disciplines, and guests to shift their perspective from the West to the East.

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