Zhuangzi on Friendship and Death

Southern Journal of Philosophy 52 (4):575-592 (2014)
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Zhuangzi suggests that death is a transformation that we commonly and mistakenly think means the end of someone but really just marks a new phase of existence. This metaphysical thesis is presented at several points in the text as an explanation of distinctively Daoist responses to death and loss. Some take a Daoist response to death, as presented by Zhuangzi, to indicate dual perspectives on friendship and death. But I argue that the metaphysical view sketched above is consistent with a unified perspective, allowing the Daoist to enjoy deep friendships without risking some potential for grief typically associated with strong attachment. However, it leaves the Daoist best suited to friendships with those who endorse the same metaphysics. Furthermore, while the grief associated with the death of a friend is somewhat mitigated, the Daoist has reason to mourn even given this thesis



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Alexis Elder
University of Minnesota, Duluth

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