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  1. Lao-tzu Ch 2: 有 & 無

    This is an interesting thought. Please forgive me if the following is too narrowly analytic, but like Confucius I am a 'man mutilated by heaven' and this kind of discussion interests me more than it should. The mutual arising paradigm ('MAP') is one that has deep roots in Chinese thought; even the earliest formulations of the yin and yang cosmology take MAP as central. It seems, in fact to be a shared paradigm of both the 'Taoists' and 'Confucians', with the former attributing the mutual arising of things as from tao and the latter's notion of the harmony of earth/man/heaven. The obvious contrast is the Newtonian cause and effect paradigm ('CEP'). MAP implies no priority to linked events, whereas CEP directly disagrees by making the central claim that 'cause' is always prior to 'effect' - it is by this they are distinguished. Your claim seems to be saying is that evolution can only be modelled with CEP and not with MAP. Certainly this would be the standard view of most evolutionary biologists. Evolution it would be argued is about change through time and this change can only be understood by reference to preceding conditions – in other words to understand evolutionary change is to understand an effect, which requires understanding of a cause – ie CEP is required to model evolution. One point to note here is that there is an implicit division between species and environment; it is the shape of the environment which ‘selects’ (in a blind sense) what species (mutations) will die out and what will flourish. I would contend that we can also model evolution with MAP. I think the key move is to break down the division between species and environment. Just as the environment mediates which species are successful so the species mediate the environment. We can say that species which are most efficient at using oxygen will flourish and this is caused by the oxygen rich nature of our atmosphere. However we must also acknowledge that the oxygen rich nature of our atmosphere was caused by the species that flourished early in earth’s history (oxygenating bacteria). So just as we can say the environment ‘selects’ species so too can we say that species ‘select’ environments. Taking this insight further we can actually do away with the division between species and their environments all together (A related thought - Where should we set the edges of an organism? - does the 'human being' include the bacteria in its gut required for survival, or the oxygen dissolved in its blood etc...?). A MAP view of evolution would not see a causative relationship between environment and species but the fluid unfolding of a single system - a system whose parts arise mutually. This is not to say that evolution is better understood using MAP, or that CEP is faulty; merely that both options are open to us. As David Hume argues in Enquiry Concerning Understanding the principle of causation (CEP) is not one we can demonstrate with any a priori certainty. Rather it is simply a ‘way of seeing’ the world (what Kant in Critique of Pure Reason later called a synthetic a priori); I would say the same is true of MAP. It seems to me both CEP and MAP are valid approaches to interpreting change (including, but not limited to, evolutionary change). I agree with you that evolution is ‘fact’ in so far as we can talk of facts. However, as the story of the quail and the great P’eng in Chaung-tzu Ch1 teaches us, the way we choose to interpret ‘facts’ is far more fluid…
  2. Lao-tzu Ch 2: 有 & 無

    Again interesting will spend some time with it.
  3. Lao-tzu Ch 2: 有 & 無

    I suppose the question then is does tao have nature at all? we are told that tao is without form and without name (wu hisng wu ming che) and surely the nature of something is its form and name. Of course there is a paradox here, how can a thing have activity (ie operate as a principle) and yet have no nature? I like to think that this paradox is what is pointed to in Ch 1 with the claim that the division and sameness of the 'named' and 'unamed' is the 'mystery upon mystery' (玄 之 又 玄) of tao. In other words the mystery (玄) of tao is not its nature (as is assumed in 'religious' Taoism), but the notion that something without nature none the less has activity.
  4. Unbalance Between Career & Spirituality?

    ps. I love noir, let me know if anything you've written is published or posted online
  5. Unbalance Between Career & Spirituality?

    Keep writing. The nineteenth century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was in love with a young woman called Regina Olsen. Better yet, she was in love with him. They were engaged and they were happy. However Kierkegaard was also on a spiritual quest, to live by the highest standards of faith and dedicate himself to expression of the sublime. He saw that he could not both be a husband of Regina and continue this quest. So he left her. Friends were baffled, Regina's father would stand outside Kierkegaard's door demanding audience with him, but nothing would change his mind. In the end Regina moved on and married a nasty bully. And Kierkegaard lived the rest of his life alone; he had been banned by Regina's new husband from contacting her but knew she read his books; they became filled with covert love letters, apologies and attempted explanations of his behaviour; but to no avail. Kierkegaard abandoned his love and only when it was too late saw that in doing so he had failed by his own standards, he had failed in terms of the faith he was trying to attain. To abandon your love in order to attain enlightenment is to fail by your own terms. Keep writing.
  6. Lao-tzu Ch 2: 有 & 無

    Sorry have been busy haven't checked this thread in a while; I make a poor host. While I find this elegant I am not sure how far I agree. It seems to me the themes of mutual arising, origin, and turning back as descriptive of tao relate to behaviour, or as the Han commentators put it principle (li), rather than any metaphysics. My feeling is that the 'dualist/monist' discussion is one not found in the text at all. When ideas of 'number' to come up it is always couched in terms of 'origin' (eg Ch's 1, 25, 40 & 42) and so are about the activity of tao rather than its nature. In terms of the nature of reality the author of the Lao-tzu seems to hold the standard yin yang cosmology - though it is not discussed in any detail, implying that the author is largely disinterested in such matters. The discussion of the tao on the other hand seems far more focused on using it as a principle (exemplified by images of water) to guide the actions (or, better, non-actions) of the sage-ruler. In this sense I think discussion about the nature or character of tao (as dualist, monist, ineffable, metaphysical, Nothingness, existing, non-exiting, mystery etc...) are not found in the Lao-tzu (or, at minimum, a minor concern of the author). It is only later with later works like Wang Pi's commentary or the Lieh-tzu that such discussions are read into the text.
  7. Lao-tzu Ch 2: 有 & 無

    Interesting... I suppose hidden has resonance with 玄 and would imply a more metaphysical approach.
  8. Lao-tzu Ch 2: 有 & 無

    There are two parts to chapter two of the Lao-tzu the first deals with ‘mutual arising’ the second deals with the use of the tao as a model for the sage. I want to focus on the first part. We are presented with a series of ‘mutual arising’ claims – the beautiful and the ugly, good and bad, ease and difficulty, long and short, note and sound (as Lau points out the translation of this pair is tentative at best), and before and after. The third pair we are presented with, however, seems to be the general case. In the Chinese it reads: 故有無相生; this is usually translated as Something and Nothing produce each other. What I want to look at is the translation of 有 & 無 – ‘something’ and ‘nothing’. It seems to me that there are two different translations and the way we choose to do so has profound influence on our understanding of the text as a whole. Option (1) we take 有 & 無 to mean ‘Something’ and ‘Nothing’; that is we take these terms to refer to ontological entities. In more modern language we might use the philosophical terms ‘Being’ and ‘Nothingness’. Option (2) we take 有 & 無 to mean ‘to have’ and ‘not to have’; that is we take these terms as merely functional and not ontological at all. If we go with option (1) then the ‘mutual arising’ of Chapter two has great metaphysical importance. It would fit with the idea that tao can be described as 無 ‘nothingness’; and from this ‘nothingness’ all ‘being’ 有 emerges. This would seem to fit well with Ch 1 and Ch 42 where the metaphysical role of the tao as involved in the cosmology of existence. It would also fit with the metaphysics of Buddhism and the ideas which became central to religious Taoism. However it does not really explain the other ‘mutual arising’ examples given in chapter; the fact that 有 & 無 arise mutually does not give us any interpretative help with the notion of ‘good and bad’ arising mutually. After all both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are states of ‘being’ and so both 有. The same is true of all the other examples; beauty and ugliness, short and long etc… are all ‘things’; none of them are on the side of ‘nothingness’. This makes the translation of 有 & 無 as ‘Something’ and ‘Nothing’ (or ‘Being’ and ‘Nothingness’) unattractive. Option (2) resolves this problem, if we translate 有 & 無 as, ‘to have’ and ‘not to have’ then the other examples make perfect sense. If ‘having’ produces ‘not having’ then obviously ‘having beauty’ produces ‘not having beauty’, ‘having goodness’ obviously produces ‘not having goodness’. Thus this functional translation makes very good sense of the other examples. However it does imply that the association of the tao with some ‘metaphysical’ notion of ‘nothingness’ is incorrect. Interestingly, while in the Lao-tzu we are told that the tao lacks many thing (no name wu-ming, no form wu-xing etc…), we are never explicitly told that the tao is ‘nothing’. The closest we get is in Ch42 with ‘the tao begets the one’ though even here that is far from explicit (moreover this chapters absence from the Guodian texts implies it is a late addition). This may have some far-reaching implications. If we do translate 有 & 無 as merely ‘functional’ and not ‘metaphysical’ then, it seems to me we end up with a very different view of the Lao-tzu as a whole. To put is crudely it makes the text ‘referential’ to the world of ‘things’ very much in line with Confucian ideas; and undermines the ‘mystical’ reading which is central to religious Taoism and Chan Buddhism.
  9. It's not that big a deal

    This reminded me of the Ch'ung Hsüan ('double mystery') school of Taoism; the idea that not only should we reject the distinction between 'something' and 'nothing' (有 & 無) but we should also reject the distinction between 'not-something' and 'not-nothing' (無有 & 無無). On this understanding the Tao is neither reality nor illusion, not moving nor still; neither having a nature nor not having a nature. All these assertions are equally absurd!
  10. It's not that big a deal

    I think this is a valuable insight - and seems to be very much in line with much of what I find in the Lao-tzu. Where we part ways a bit is I don't agree that the Chuang-tzu has a notion of 'the One'; in fact I think in places it expressly speaks against such an idea: "Now that we are one can I still say something? Already having called us one, did I not succeed in saying something? One and the saying makes two, two and one make three. Proceeding from here even an expert calculator cannot get to the end of it, much less a plain man! Therefore if we take the step from nothing to something we arrive at three, how much worse if we take the step from something to something! Take no step at all, and the 'That's it' which goes by circumstances [yin shih] will come to an end - Ch 2 trans. Graham. It seems to me that the Chuang-tzu is more radical than the Lao-tzu it is not that there is the One but more so there is Nothing. So death and life are nothing, in naming them we bring them forth; it is this realization which frees us from death, but it does not make us 'immortal' (a claim is one Chuang-tzu explicitly rejects in Ch 4). A view, which if I understand your post, you seem to share. As for the use of the concept 'enlightenment'; my only concern (and it arguably is a trivial one), is that it is really a Buddhist concept (none the worse for that!) but in labeling the classics with such terminology we will, to some extent twist them just as glass bends the light. Better, if we can, to read the texts without trying to classify... Anyhow thank you for your thoughtful post
  11. It's not that big a deal

    Possibly; I am always willing to consider the possibility that I am wrong. My question is, are you? Tell you one lesson I have learnt from the reading the classics; those who profess certainty tend to end up looking silly...
  12. It's not that big a deal

    Have you actually read the classics? While the Lao-tzu is silent on the issue of immortality both the Chuang-tzu (esp Ch 6 though also Ch's 3, 4 & 5) and the Lieh-tzu (Ch's 1 & 6) expressly advocate against the notion of immortality; rather they see reconciliation with death as merely part of inevitable change (hua). To take only one of myriad examples: the opening of Ch 3 Chuang-tzu expressly makes the following argument; life is confined, if we use it (life) to pursue the unconfined that is purest danger (tai). Throughout both the Chaung-tzu and the Lieh-tzu people are criticised for their inability to accept the inevitability of death. The cult of immortality seems to enter into 'taoism' during the period of Han Synthesis in about 200AD about half a millennia after the writings of Lao-tzu and Chaung-tzu. It seems to have its roots in Shamanism; which itself is mocked in the Chuang-tzu; Lieh-tzu (see for example the story of the meeting of Lieh-tzu the shaman and Hu-tzu) and is not discussed in the Lao-tzu. As for enlightenment; it is certainly true that the classics talk of 'sages', 'men of old', or 'utmost men'. However it is interesting that these figures are usually murky often absurdly mythical; in the Chuang-tzu they are often given 'silly' names 'Nobody's-there'; 'No-name'. In other passages talking about 'sages' the stories are introduced as 'reckless speech' or 'wild words like the milky way'. In the Lieh-tzu we find similar motifs and, moreover the 'sage' is at a couple of points compared to an automaton - that is explicitly non-human. I think it is entirely plausible to read taoist texts on the basis that sage-hood; while an ideal to aim it; is not, in fact, attainable (moreover there is good contextual evidence for this reading as we know that the use of 'sages' is common to almost all philosophical schools of the warring states - Confucianism, Mohism, Yangism etc... and no-one would accuse these schools of advocating anything as 'spiritual' as 'enlightenment'). The notion of 'enlightenment' as you seem to be describing sounds far closer to the later religious taoism (道敎) which developed after 200AD not the philosophical taoism (道家) of the classics written c.600BC-200AD.
  13. Meeting of Confucius and Old Tan in the Chuang-tzu

    Nice observation . Well I suppose it depends on your reading; to paraphrase in English: Either: Old Tan was unwilling to help. He asked Confucius to explain them. (ie Old Tan refuses then he asks about them.) Or: Old Tan was unwilling to help: he asked Confucius to explain them. (ie Old Tan refuses because he asks about them.) Obviously I would prefer the latter reading - though, in all honesty, I think the former is more plausible. However even if we accept the former; that Old Tan refused the books before seeing them; it is far from inconsistent with the model of Taoist sages who often refuse help when asked. See, for example, Leih-tzu's master in Ch 7, Tzu-k'uei and Chu Ch 6, or the opening two dialogues of Ch 7. It seems to me that the point of the Ch 5 Chuang-tzu passage part of the theme that death and life are only 'deemed' (是 / 非) good and bad by virtue of words; in reality they are part of the unbroken process of change (化); see, for example, the middle three dialogues of Ch 6. As for Ch 2 Lao-tzu it seems to be saying that values are synchronous; ie that the short requires the long in order to be short. I don't think the Ch 5 Chuang-tzu passage is saying this about life and death at all; it is not about their synchronous nature, but that an attack on ethical nominalism - ie deeming 'life' and 'death' as 'good' and 'bad'. I agree that there is a thematic link between Ch 5 Chuang-tz & Ch 50 Lao-tzu extracts in that both see an overvaluing of life in negative terms. However in the Chuang-tzu extract the problem is that Confucius is in error because he is mutilated by heaven in his need to deem (是 / 非). In the Lao-tzu extract on the other hand makes the claim that overvaluing life leads to death. These ideas are not mutually exclusive, but neither are they all that similar.
  14. Meeting of Confucius and Old Tan in the Chuang-tzu

    Sorry to repeat myself; as you may have gathered I'm a talkative bugger, so repetition is a constant hazard. In terms of why Confucius was forbidden from depositing his books, my reading of the story is that it is primarily about establishing the priority of Taoism over Confucianism (there I go again, repeating my first post again ). So we can find an easy motive for this refusal: it makes Confucius all the more subservient to Taoism that his 'twelve classics' are of insufficient quality for Old Tan's library.
  15. Meeting of Confucius and Old Tan in the Chuang-tzu

    The problem with this analysis is how the passage continues: Then he (Confucius) went through the twelve classics explaining them. Old Tan interrupted his explanation 'Too long winded I would rather heat the gist of it.' 'The gist is goodwill and duty.' The reference to the twelve classics gives this story a late date. The attribution of 'classic' 經 to the Confucian texts (as these clearly are - hence goodwill and duty) only happened in the Han Dynasty. The fact there are twelve means that not only do we have the six Confucian classics of canon (六經), but also the wei-shu texts which are also Han. This means that the story is only being written in the Han at at least 250 years after the events it is meant to record. Even assuming that these texts are meant to be historical (and I am really skeptical of that - see my OP) they cannot be relied upon for historical accuracy; any more than someone writing today could be relied upon to accurate record a conversation had in 1750. (That is not to say it is impossible they are accurate, merely that without any earlier corroboration it would be bad historical method to argue so).