Justice, equality, and righteousnessthese are some of our greatest moral convictions. Yet in times of social conflict, morals can become rigid, making religious war, ethnic cleansing, and political purges possible. Morality, therefore, can be viewed as pathology-a rhetorical, psychological, and social tool that is used and abused as a weapon. An expert on Eastern philosophies and social systems theory, Hans-Georg Moeller questions the perceived goodness of morality and those who claim morality is inherently positive. Critiquing the ethical "fanaticism" of Western (...) moralists, such as Immanuel Kant, Lawrence Kohlberg, John Rawls, and the utilitarians, Moeller points to the absurd fundamentalisms and impracticable prescriptions arising from definitions of good. Instead he advances a theory of "moral foolishness," or moral asceticism, extracted from the "amoral" philosophers of East Asia and such thinkers as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Niklas Luhmann. The moral fool doesn't understand why ethics are necessarily good, and he isn't convinced that the moral perspective is always positive. In this way he is like most people, and Moeller defends this foolishness against ethical pathologies that support the death penalty, just wars, and even Jerry Springer's crude moral theater. Comparing and contrasting the religious philosophies of Christianity, Daoism, and Zen Buddhism, Moeller presents a persuasive argument in favor of amorality. (shrink)
The narrative of the Death of Emperor Hundun 混沌, who finally perishes from the seventh hole that his two fellow Emperors have drilled into his formless body to do him the favor of supplying him with a face, famously concludes the seven Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi 莊子.1 Perhaps the sudden demise of the story’s protagonist is meant to signal paradoxically to the reader that he or she, too, has, unwittingly, now come to an end and reached a stage of (...) no return. With the completion of the seventh chapter, seven deep holes have been drilled into one’s head and have transformed one irredeemably. Zhuangzi, too, may have repaid the kindness of those who took him home with equal kindness and deprived them of their... (shrink)
Wang Bo’s Zhuangzi: Thinking Through the Inner Chapters is the first title of a new book series on “Contemporary Chinese Scholarship in Daoist Studies” by Three Pines Press, an independent U.S. publisher of academic literature on Daoism and scholarly translations of Daoist texts. It is also part of a larger current wave of translations of contemporary philosophical works by Chinese authors into English. In this new development, as in the case of Wang’s book, a publication is often sponsored by private (...) donations and/or public institutions and organizations from China, and I believe it should be welcomed wholeheartedly. Books like Wang’s provide much-needed insights into current Chinese... (shrink)
The seventh chapter of the Zhuangzi 莊子 contains a narrative about Liezi 列子, his teacher Huzi 壺子, and a physiognomist named Jixian 季咸. Traditionally, the story has been read as a didactic tale about how to become a true Daoist sage or as an illustration of attaining spiritual perfection. This essay will argue for an alternative reading of the story as a humorous parody about failed sages, and, at the same time, as an illustration of the benefits of a playful (...) facelessness—or genuine pretending. It thereby turns out to be a counterpart of the following narrative of Hundun 混沌 which completes the Inner Chapters. The story about Liezi’s retirement illustrates how his teacher Huzi remains unharmed by virtue of being a faceless “genuine pretender” whereas Hundun’s demise is due to his failure to maintain his facelessness. (shrink)
When asked by students taking Chinese Philosophy classes with me what I can recommend as reading material, I usually say, among other things, anything written by François Jullien. Thankfully, with Vital Nourishment: Departing from Happiness, there is now a new title available in English translation to add to this list. As with the works of most philosophically inclined writers whom I like, this book by Jullien does not really say much that has not already been said by him, at least (...) implicitly, in previous publications. More or less "creative" writers, paradoxically, tend to produce variations of one or more themes and thus repeat themselves to a certain degree. That is, so to speak, the price one has to pay if one .. (shrink)
Various passages in the Laozi and the Zhuangzi, the two most important texts of “philosophical Daoism,” critically mock Confucian sacrificial rites. Perhaps the best known of these criticisms refers to a practice involving straw dogs. This article will attempt to expose the philosophical dimensions of these passages that show, in my reading, how Daoist philosophy looks at such sacrificial rituals as a sort of evidence of the Confucian misconceptions of time, of death and life, and of cosmic and social order.
This article introduces a semiotic methodology that can be applied in Comparative Philosophy as an alternative to still dominating content-based methods. Isuggest distinguishing between three semiotic structures that operate on the basis of different relations between the signifier and the signified. These are the structures of “presence”, “representation”, and “significance”. I argue that ancient Chinese philosophy tends to employ the first structure whereas traditional Western philosophy tends toward the second. Postmodern philosophy, however, gives preference to the third one. In accordance (...) with these different semiotic structures, culturally and historically different conceptions of nature and culture have emerged. (shrink)
In the history of Chinese and European philosophy, metaphysics has played an outstanding role: it is a theoretical framework which provides the basis for a philosophical understanding of the world and the self. A theory of the self is well integrated in a metaphysical understanding of the totality of nature as a dynamic process of continuous changes. According to this view, the purpose of existence can be conceived of as the development and realization of the full potential given to the (...) individual by its nature. In regard to human nature specifically, this idea of self-realization includes the development of all cognitive faculties as well as of the moral character. Metaphysics has, however, suffered a loss of importance in current debates, especially in ethics. As a result, we observe the emergence of such philosophical views as moral skepticism and even nihilism. The consequence of this tendency has been the renunciation of a claim to understanding and to providing a solid ground for ethics. Yet an intercultural dialogue can provide us with some hope as the consolidation of debates on crucial topics of our traditions might indeed serve as the basis for a more powerful philosophy in the future. (shrink)
This article discusses New Confucian views on individuality and related philosophical problems. Special emphasis is given to the position of Tu Wei-Ming, a foremost living New Confucian thinker. It is pointed out that many New Confucian philosophers share a vision of a Confucian 'ideal' individuality or selfhood based on social integration - as opposed to a Western type of individuality sometimes portrayed as an individuality by isolation. These patterns of individuality are further examined on the basis of Niklas Luhmann's historical (...) analysis of the semantics of individuality and his categories of 'individuality by inclusion' and 'individuality by exclusion'. Finally, some parallels and differences between Confucian and the Luhmannian viewpoints are pointed out, and a suggestion on how a Luhmannian perspective might contribute to reformulations of New Confucian thought is attempted. (shrink)
"All men by nature desire to know"-this is the famous first sentence of Aristotle's Metaphysics. It is interesting to note how knowledge, at least since Aristotle, could be understood as a desire, as a mental craving, so to speak. When understood as a desire, knowledge necessarily goes along with a certain absence, a lack. Those who crave for knowledge are not yet fully in its possession, they are still on the search.