“There is Nothing Outside the Mind”: From Ontology to Construction of Meaning

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.1, 2014


“There is Nothing Outside the Mind”: From Ontology to Construction of Meaning



Chen Shaoming


Besides interpreting things or principles through metaphors, Wang Yangming’s theory of mind, as a complete world outlook, still had to deal with the issue of things-in-themselves. The key point in understanding the proposition that “There is nothing outside the mind” lies in the transition from ontology to theory of meaning. The precise implication is that separated from the mind’s concerns, the meaning of things cannot be confirmed, nor can their value relationship with man be established. Affirming the independent existence of things and affirming mind as the condition and source of meaning implies that what we call “things in the mind” broadly refers to things in different conscious activities. Things that enter the mind or consciousness and elicit an emotional response, or are even taken into inherent cognition or schema, all represent the manifestation, to different degrees, of bringing things into the mind. Moving from objects outside the mind to objects within the mind involves a general grasp of the conditions which make manifest the meaning of the myriad things. Analyzing the relationship between things and the mind exhibited in man himself from the perspective of phenomenology shows that it is here that Confucian ethics begin. The transmission of “things within the mind” from one man to another is the force that shapes civilizations.