Skip to main content

An interview with Rev. Dr. James Dominic Rooney: Zhu Xi, “Study Everything at All Times, Everywhere.”

26 Oct 2023
Staff Achievement

Rev. Dr. James Dominic Rooney, OP received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Saint Louis University. He is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Religion and Philosophy at HKBU. Dr. Rooney is particularly interested in Chinese Cheng-Zhu philosophy and recently has published Material Objects in Confucian and Aristotelian Metaphysics: The Inevitability of Hylomorphism, a book in which he discusses the similarities between Zhu Xi’s metaphysics and that of Aristotle and other Western philosophers. It is an honor to have Dr. Rooney share his view on Zhu Xi and Christianity as well as the importance of studying.

The Good in Zhu Xi and Medieval Western Metaphysics
Dr. Rooney’s interest in Zhu Xi resides in his philosophical worldview. For Zhu Xi, all material objects are composed of both li and qi. Li represents the structure of an object, its “form”, and explains what something is. Qi, differently, is whatever gets structured by li — akin to its “matter”. In the material world, these two are never found apart from each other. Zhu Xi sees li as what accounts for the goal of perfecting our moral life, that is, who and what we are. What we are (our nature) is a reflection of the principle that is the nature of everything, Taiji. Dr. Rooney defends that there is a similarity between medieval Christian philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas and Zhu Xi. Both point to a principle — God/Taiji — that is the source and origin of all goodness. The nature of everything in the world reflects the goodness of God/Taiji. Everything that exists is good, and the purpose of our moral lives is to cultivate our nature to more closely resemble God/Taiji. Therefore, to become morally virtuous is to become more of what and who we are by nature.

The Reason for Studying
When we hear the word “metaphysics”, we might have a feeling that it is unnecessary for us to understand it, as it is too complicated and seems not to have a direct and meaningful connection to our daily life. We might ask ourselves “why do we need to study metaphysics?” Responding to this question, Dr. Rooney suggests that we first need to understand who we are in order to know where we are going. Knowledge (not only metaphysics) is the tool that helps us discover the structure of the world, the true nature of humans, and the meaning of our life. When we recognize the origin of goodness, Taiji or God, we better understand what it is to live a meaningful life, a life that will bring us closer to what we want to be. Since we cannot seek what we don’t know, it is crucial for us to study.


A Few Words for Students
“Study everything at all times, everywhere — this is the road to success.” This quote from Zhu Xi suggests that learning is an important and lifelong process. Knowledge and wisdom are valuable not only for academics, but also for enriching our everyday lives with meaning and value. To thrive in our era of tremendous technological advancements, we must acquire additional knowledge to grasp the values and concepts that enable us to comprehend our lives as a whole. Therefore, never lose the drive to learn and study more. Even a small amount of progress toward becoming a better and wiser person will pay off.


Text by
LUI Wing Kwan (Department of Religion and Philosophy)

Extracted from <Arts Fanfare> Issue No. 11