Shang Oracle Bone Agency: Its Contemporary Philosophical Significance

By Astrid Vicas.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

A distinctive conception of action and agency can be extracted from divinatory records preserved in Shang oracle bone inscriptions and in the Zhouyi, the oldest part of the Yijing. It is suggested that agency as presented in oracle bone inscriptions is symmetrical and does not present a driving factor; it is non-genetic and does not segregate events into linear chains; it also does not distinguish between spurious and underlying regularities. The agency of oracle bone inscriptions places action and its assessment in coeval configurations. It presents a conception of action that is objective, strongly tied to circumstances, and that has a relatively restricted temporal and spatial focus. The proposed features of oracle bone agency will be briefly compared with those of a widely shared conception of agency, which can be inferred from a reading of Sumerian wisdom literature and proverbs. The object of this essay is to argue that there is a greater variety of conceptions of agency than currently recognized in contemporary philosophical analyses. Examining divinatory records from Shang culture suggests that there are interesting alternatives to explore for scholars trained in Western philosophy, alternatives that can help expand the way action and agency are theorized in philosophy.

Keywords: Philosophy of Action, Agency, Shang Oracle Bone Inscriptions, Zhouyi, Sumerian Wisdom Literature, Deleuze and Guattari, Heidegger

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.121-132. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.178MB).

Dr. Astrid Vicas

Associate Professor, Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, FL, USA

Astrid Vicas is currently working on projects that examine the relation between agency, culture, and values, and that focus on the impact of developments in technology on our conceptions of agency and narrative. She is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Saint Leo University.

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