Wittgenstein, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu: The art of circumlocution

Asian Philosophy 17 (1):97 – 108 (2007)
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Where Western philosophy ends, with the limits of language, marks the beginning of Eastern philosophy. The Tao de jing of Laozi begins with the limitations of language and then proceeds from that as a starting point. On the other hand, the limitation of language marks the end of Wittgenstein's cogitations. In contrast to Wittgenstein, who thought that one should remain silent about that which cannot be put into words, the message of the Zhuangzi is that one can speak about that which cannot put into words but the speech will be strange and indirect. Through the focus on the monstrous character, No-Lips in the Zhuangzi, this paper argues that a key message of the Zhuangzi is that the art of transcending language in the Zhuangzi is through the use of crippled speech. The metaphor of crippled speech, speech which is actually unheard, illustrates that philosophical truths cannot be put into words but can be indirectly signified through the art of stretching language beyond its normal contours. This allows Eastern philosophy, through the philosophy of the Zhuangzi to transcend the limits of language.

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Robert E. Allinson
Soka University