Modern Interpretations of LaoZi

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It should also be known that the fact that the Laozi recognizes the existence of the ruler and the state is still not a convincing enough argument for some that it does not propound anarchism, because anarchism itself does not necessarily negate them. However, I will also show that the Laozi recognizes central and hierarchical political authority, and this is the very thing that anarchism wants to eliminate. Moreover, this dissertation stresses the theoretical and principal differences between the Laozi and anarchism.

The former is that the philosophy of the Laozi has an elaborate metaphysical thought, especially ontology, while anarchism does not. Moreover, if we allow that Chapter 80 of the Laozi depicts a kind of state of nature, we can see that it is different from the one imagined by the Western philosophers in that the latter is a pre- political state, whereas the state of nature of the Laozi has a legitimate political authority. Related Papers. By Sharon Small. The Contemporary Relevance of Wuwei.

By Robert Fabes. Walking Along the Way to Liberty Political taoism and the social contract. We could motivate this conclusion using Buddhist or Western psychology i. He has no concept of reason and treats some desires e. Wei do:deem has another meaning that explains the slogan better in a Chinese context. Wei is used in the Chinese approximation of belief contexts "X believes that T is P". Classical Chinese splits the embedded belief sentence. The optional subject T comes before the wei do:deem and the predicate P after.

The complete form is: "X with regard to T, wei do:deem [it to be] P. If we understand wei do:deem as treating things according to what we deem them to be, we get an insight into Laozi's slogan. It is a corollary of the view that we are to avoid socially instilled distinctions and desires.

So ultimately, we should also avoid action based on our training in linguistic distinctions. The objection is to socialization, not rational purpose or deliberation.

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Laozi indicates that he senses a paradox in wu lack wei deem:act. He also says "lack" wei do:deem and yet lack not- wei do:deem. The problem is that we have just learned a guiding concept complete with a distinction, a desire, and a proposed course of action. If we are to avoid wei we must also avoid avoiding wei.

Laozi's slogan replicates Shen Dao's "abandon knowledge" paradox i. The knowledge in question is still "social guidance," now analyzed as action guided by desires engendered by social distinctions and names. Laozi's motivation is naturalness, spontaneity or freedom from social conventions rather than in fatalism, but the paradox is in the conclusion, not the motivation.

The paradox in wu lack wei do:deem follows a bigger and more interesting circle. Laozi teaches us a potentially controversial way to draw the distinction i. It implicitly encourages a preference or desire for being natural and, finally, based on the names, distinctions and desires, it recommends an action. Laozi says, "in pursuit of dao we daily forget. As long as we do it, we fail to do it.


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In urging wu-wei we have identified an action and in striving to avoid it, we are doing what it tells us not to. Zhuangzi abandoned the paradoxical wu-wei position, but accepted the analysis showing how distinctions and desires are "socially constructed. However, Buddhist theory indicts especially the natural desires. We more plausibly interpret Laozi's stance as allowing "pre-social" desires.

His position tends toward that of the Confucian nativists, e. If we can "forget" the learned desires arising from language socialization, we will return to nature.

Rules for a Good Life - Lao Tzu

The "new born" child does have desires e. These and their "purely natural" successors are the desires that underwrite Laozi's "primitive utopia. The social analysis of knowledge i. This partly gives the text its notorious ambiguity and contradictory character.

One finds passages in which knowledge, clarity, and sages are ridiculed and their "accomplishments" pictured as viciously relative. Then other passages speak positively of knowledge, clarity, and sages. One philosophical way of reading Laozi can both ameliorates the paradox and the inconsistency.

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It also gives a coherent role to interesting stylistic and content features of Laozi's philosophical poem. We read the bulk of the text the political and metaphysical passages as a heuristic and separate three systems of knowledge. The first system of knowledge consists of conventional guidance or wisdom.

Conventional knowledge includes the familiar moral precepts of Confucians traditionalists and the systematic utilitarianism of the Mohists moral reformers. Moralists propose schemes of guidance designed in the hope that everyone in society will learn and follow them. As Laozi noted, these moral systems are based on learning distinctions and using them in choosing actions. Laozi challenges the assumptions behind this "positive" view partly by exhibiting a system we can call the negative Dao.

We get this dao by reversing all conventional moral assumptions. Laozi's strategy shows that for key guiding terms, we can choose exactly the opposite of conventional wisdom. He draws the sayings in this "negative dao " from poems, slogans, couplets and aphorisms collected from many sources and as our textual theory suggests, over a long period of editing.

The sources include military stratagems, political cynicism, and Shen Dao's monism. We may even count Daoist primitivism itself as a heuristic example of anti-conventional advice. This negative dao is Laozi's famous " dao of reversal.

The Emperor and His Councillor: Laozi and Han Dynasty Taoism

We normally value activity, dominance, the upper position, strength and upstanding rigidity. Laozi urges us to see the value of passivity, weakness, the lower position, and receptive yielding.

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Laozi values dullness over brilliance, ignorance over knowledge, lacking over having, etc. These reversals link up easily with the emerging yin-yang, sexual reproduction cosmology. Laozi emphasizes the importance of the female and "draws sustenance from the mother. On the metaphysical side, where we normally value you having:being. Laozi points to the utility of wu lacking:non-being.