This essay is meant to shed light on a discourse that spans centuries and includes different voices. To be aware of such trans-textual resonances can add a level of historical understanding to the reading of philosophical texts. Specifically, we intend to demonstrate how the notion of the ineffable Dao 道, prominently expressed in the Daodejing 道德經, informs a long discourse on incongruent names in distinction to a mainstream paradigm that demands congruity between names and what they designate. Thereby, we trace (...) the development of the idea of the ineffable Dao quite differently from modern mystical interpretations. We show how, in an early Chinese context, it first gives rise to a sociopolitical critique of the incongruity underlying socially constructed names in the Zhuangzi 莊子, then to a discourse on the incongruity between moral virtues and names in Xuanxue 玄學 philosophy, and eventually to Sengzhao’s 僧肇 claim that a perceived congruence of names with things does not entail actual congruence between names and reality. (shrink)
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)
This paper discusses the meaning of the concept of ‘second-order observation’ used by Niklas Luhmann. Luhmann identifies second-order observation as a defining characteristic of modern world society. According to Luhmann, all social systems construct a social reality on the basis of the observation of observations. Rating agencies in the economy or the peer-review process in the academic system are examples of social mechanisms manifesting second-order observation. Social media also represent organized second-order observation. The paper suggests that in a society based (...) on second-order observation, ‘genuine pretending’ is an adequate mode of existence. This notion is derived from the Daoist text Zhuangzi. It indicates a disassociation from social roles which allows their performers to exercise these roles with ease and, at the same time, maintain a state of sanity. (shrink)
Does cross-cultural philosophy stand in need of a hermeneutical expansion? In engaging with this question, the symposium focuses upon methodological issues salient to cross-cultural inquiry. Douglas L. Berger lays out the ground for the debate by arguing for a methodological approach, which is able to rectify the discipline’s colonial legacies and bridge the hermeneutical distance with its objects of study. From their own perspectives, Hans-Georg Moeller, Paul Roth and A. Raghuramaraju analyze whether such a processual and hermeneutically-sensitive approach can indeed (...) open up new hermeneutic horizons. Their responses shed light upon cross-cultural philosophy’s continued embedment in Euroamerican professional philosophy and how the locality of its knowledge-seeking endeavors may indeed have repercussions on attempts to bridge temporal and spatial distances. (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.
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)
"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.
The past few years have seen a dramatic backlash against identity politics from academics such as Michael Sandel, Kwame Appiah, Mark Lilla, and Francis Fukuyama. In the vocabulary of identity conceptions, we can classify this as a reaction to a growing dissatisfaction with the perceived hollowness and ineffectiveness of “authenticity” that calls for a return to “sincerity”—or a “Political New Sincerity.” We argue that a third identity paradigm is in play as well, namely “profilicity.” This profile-based approach to understanding oneself, (...) others, and the world has had a major impact on social and political life, and yet has gone largely unnoticed or otherwise been mis-diagnosed. Our analysis provides a critical reflection on the emergence of profilicity to pave the way for developing insights into our changing sociopolitical and inter-personal landscapes. (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)
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)
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)
This essay attempts to provide a preliminary outline of a theory of identity. The first section addresses what the sociologist Niklas Luhmann has called ‘the problem of identity’, or, in other words, the mind–society problem: In how far can the internal self and the external persona be integrated into a unit? The second section of the essay briefly defines a basic vocabulary of a theory of identity. ‘Identity’ is understood as the existentially necessary formation of a coherence between the ‘self’, (...) its body and its social ‘persona’. Three different major paradigms of identity formation are distinguished from one another: a sincere identity is constructed through a firm commitment of the self to its social roles; an authentic identity is constructed through the creation of a social persona on the basis of one’s unique and original self; a ‘profilic’ identity, as we call it, is shaped by successfully presenting a personal profile under conditions of second-order observation as they prevail, for instance, in the social media, but also in other contemporary social systems. In the third section of the essay, we present a sketch of the historical sequence of these three paradigms of identity. Although these paradigms are not mutually exclusive and can coexist, it seems that sincerity flourished in pre-modern society, while authenticity came to prominence along with the functional differentiation of modern society and is now, along with the increased significance of second-order observation, gradually overshadowed by the influence of profilicity. (shrink)
The story of “Cook Ding” —who actually acts not so much as a cook, but as a butcher at a ruler’s court—has gained almost iconic status as, one might say, the mother of all knack stories in the Zhuangzi 莊子. It has become one of the most widely known narratives of the text, both in and outside the Chinese cultural world, and in both past and contemporary times. The story, and its protagonist, have thereby come to represent a standard conception (...) of what the book and the philosophy of Zhuangzi is supposed to be all about: a form of Daoist sagehood, somewhat vaguely understood as manifesting itself in a marvelous level of skill that makes one a “virtuoso” in the art of life, or... (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)