Moral values and the Taoist Sage in the Tao de Ching

Asian Philosophy 4 (2):127 – 136 (1994)
Abstract
Abstract The theme of this paper is that while there are four seemingly contradictory classes of statements in the Tao de Ching regarding moral values and the Taoist sage, these statements can be interpreted to be consistent with each other. There are statements which seemingly state or imply that nothing at all can be said about the Tao; there are statements which seemingly state or imply that all value judgements are relative; there are statements which appear to attribute moral behaviour to the Taoist sage and there are statements which appear to attribute amoral or immoral behaviour to the Taoist sage. A consistent interpretation of these different statements can be found first by qualifying the assertion that the Tao is not capable of description to the less absolute assertion that nothing absolutely true can be said about the Tao; second, by arguing that the statements that appear to make all values relative refer to the correlativity of concepts, not the equality of values. Moreover, since the statements that appear to attribute moral behaviour to the sage are, by virtue of their predominance in the text, well justified and that by virtue of their paucity in the text, it is plausible to seek an alternate interpretation for the statements that seem to attribute amoral or immoral behaviour to the sage. Finally, the way in which the sage can be seen as good without attributing goodness to the Tao is by distinguishing between the way the sage appears to the observer who is outside of the Tao and the way in which the sage appears to himself. This latter distinction takes the form of the sage as appearing to display the quality of goodness in itself but not goodness for itself
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