This book presents a systematic account of the role of the personal spiritual ideal of wu-wei--literally "no doing," but better rendered as "effortless action"--in early Chinese thought. Edward Slingerland's analysis shows that wu-wei represents the most general of a set of conceptual metaphors having to do with a state of effortless ease and unself-consciousness. This concept of effortlessness, he contends, serves as a common ideal for both Daoist and Confucian thinkers. He also argues that this concept contains within itself a (...) conceptual tension that motivates the development of early Chinese thought: the so-called "paradox of wu-wei," or the question of how one can consciously "try not to try." Methodologically, this book represents a preliminary attempt to apply the contemporary theory of conceptual metaphor to the study of early Chinese thought. Although the focus is upon early China, both the subject matter and methodology have wider implications. The subject of wu-wei is relevant to anyone interested in later East Asian religious thought or in the so-called "virtue-ethics" tradition in the West. Moreover, the technique of conceptual metaphor analysis--along with the principle of "embodied realism" upon which it is based--provides an exciting new theoretical framework and methodological tool for the study of comparative thought, comparative religion, intellectual history, and even the humanities in general. Part of the purpose of this work is thus to help introduce scholars in the humanities and social sciences to this methodology, and provide an example of how it may be applied to a particular sub-field. (shrink)
Why is it hard to fall asleep the night before an important meeting? Or be charming and relaxed on a first date? What is it about a comedian whose jokes fall flat or an athlete who chokes? In all these cases, spontaneity is elusive. This book shows us how we can harness its power and become more effective.
This edition goes beyond others that largely leave readers to their own devices in understanding this cryptic work, by providing an entrée into the text that parallels the traditional Chinese way of approaching it: alongside Slingerland's exquisite rendering of the work are his translations of a selection of classic Chinese commentaries that shed light on difficult passages, provide historical and cultural context, and invite the reader to ponder a range of interpretations. The ideal student edition, this volume also includes a (...) general introduction, notes, multiple appendices--including a glossary of technical terms, references to modern Western scholarship that point the way for further study, and an annotated bibliography. (shrink)
The purpose here is to explore metaphorical conceptions of the self in a fourth century B.C.E. Chinese text, the Zhuangzi, from the perspective of cognitive linguistics and the contemporary theory of metaphor. It is argued that the contemporary theory of metaphor provides scholars with an exciting new theoretical grounding for the study of comparative thought, as well as a concrete methodology for undertaking the comparative project. What is seen when the Zhuangzi is examined from the perspective of metaphor theory is (...) that conceptions of the self portrayed in this text are based on a relatively small set of interrelated conceptual metaphors, and that the metaphysics built into the Zhuangzi's classical Chinese metaphors resonates strongly with the (mostly unconscious) metaphysical assumptions built into the metaphors of modern American English. This should not be surprising, considering the claims of contemporary cognitive linguists that the metaphoric schemas making up the foundation of human abstract conceptual life are not arbitrarily created ex nihilo, but rather emerge from common embodied experience and are conceptual, rather than merely linguistic, in nature. (shrink)
_The Essential Analects_ offers a representative selection from Edward Slingerland's acclaimed translation of the full work, including passages covering all major themes. An appendix of selected traditional commentaries keyed to each passage provides access to the text and to its reception and interpretation. Also included are a glossary of terms and short biographies of the disciples of Confucius and the traditional commentators cited.
This dissertation has two major theses. The first is that the concept of "wu-wei" serves as a spiritual ideal for a group of five pre-Qin thinkers--Confucius, Laozi, Mencius, Zhuangzi and Xunzi--who share what might be called the "mainstream" Chinese worldview, and that this concept serves as a soteriological goal and spiritual ideal that cannot be understood except within the context of this worldview. More specifically, this worldview is primarily characterized by the belief that there is a normative order to the (...) cosmos , within which human beings have a proper place and proper mode of behavior; that human beings once existed in a state of accord with this order, but have since fallen out of this state of harmony; that wu-wei represents a re-establishment of this original ideal state; and that a person who has regained this state will acquire a type of charismatic virtue or inner power referred to as de. The second thesis is that this ideal of effortless action contains within it a tension--referred to as the "paradox of wu-wei"--that can be seen as the central problematic with which the five thinkers discussed in the dissertation were concerned. In its most basic form, the paradox is that wu-wei represents a state of effortless action that needs to be regained through a process of self-cultivation or transformation, but it is hard to see how one can try not to try. It is argued that this tension at the center of wu-wei is a productive one, for perhaps the most revealing way of understanding these thinkers is to see them as responding in various ways to both the paradox of wu-wei and previous thinkers' proposed "solutions" to the paradox. It is argued that this central problematic of mainstream pre-Qin thought continues to be a dominant theme throughout the entire history of Chinese religious thought and--as a tension that seems to appear in any philosophy of self-cultivation--is relevant as well to the Western "virtue ethical" tradition. (shrink)
The turn to descriptive studies of ethics is inspired by the sense that our ethical theorizing needs to engage ethnography, history, and literature in order to address the full complexity of ethical life. This article examines four books that describe the cultivation of virtue in diverse cultural contexts, two concerning early China and two concerning Islam in recent years. All four emphasize the significance of embodiment, and they attend to the complex ways in which choice and agency interact with the (...) authority of tradition. In considering these books, this article examines the relations between our academic claims concerning the self and ethics, conceptual or theoretical claims made in the elite writings of traditions, and the lived experiences of the people we study. The conclusion turns to our methodological foundations for studying these topics both comparatively and constructively. (shrink)