Ethics in the Zhuangzi: Diversity and Sagacity

The following essay is forthcoming in International Philosophical Quarterly (June, 2020) entitled “Ethics in the Zhuangzi: Diversity and Sagacity”. Its content is largely based on the penultimate chapter of my PhD dissertation, and has benefited greatly from feedback at various international venues over the past few years. An author’s preprint of the essay can be downloaded here.

An abstract follows:

Philosophers in China during the Warring States period generally saw themselves as investigators into, disputers of, and leaders of others along the Dao 道—the uniquely authoritative Way to live and to flourish. However, certain voices found in the Zhuangzi offer a radical response to these philosophical projects by rejecting the premise that there exists such a uniquely authoritative Dao. Instead, they argue that there exist myriad, diverse dao, none of which has absolute, moral authority. But these very same texts that undermine the idea of an authoritative Dao simultaneously make positive ethical suggestions regarding how to live and flourish, exemplified by various sagely figures. In this paper, I explore texts in the Zhuangzi that discuss both the diversity of dao and sagely flourishing, and argue that these two themes come together to form the basis of a comprehensive ethical view that I call Zhuangist pluralism.


Xunzi and the primitivists on natural spontaneity (xìng 性) and coercion

The following article entitled “Xunzi and the primitivists on natural spontaneity (xìng 性) and coercion” will appear in Asian Philosophy 27:3 (DOI here). It explores a hypothetical debate between the ru 儒 philosopher Xunzi and the primitivist writers associated with the Daoist tradition concerning the value of natural, human spontaneity (xìng 性). The author’s preprint can be found here, while the Abstract follows:

This article explores two opposing views from Warring States China concerning the value of human natural spontaneity (hereafter xìng 性) and large-scale government coercion. On the one hand, the Ruist (Confucian) philosopher Xunzi championed a  comprehensive and coercive ethical, political, and social system or Way (dào 道) that he believed would lead to social order and moral cultivation while opposing people’s xìng.  On the other hand, the authors of roughly books 8-10 of Zhuangzi, the primitivists, criticized a Way bearing a striking resemblance to Xunzi’s on the grounds that it  seriously harms people by opposing their xìng. I argue that the primitivists offer compelling reasons for Xunzi to modify his own Way regarding its relationship with xìng, though their own proposed alternative Way is not very attractive. I conclude with a brief discussion of one primitivist-inspired alternative view found in the Lü Shi Chun Qiu, which plausibly suggests that one way of respecting people’s xìng is by offering them opportunities to explore their natural abilities.



More Updates

I have added a Translations page in the Projects page and as a menu item under “Projects” above. I have also moved the previous content of the Projects page to a new Research page.

Making this addition is a bit of an experiment: good, published translations of the texts I’ll be working throughout my career with are in a bit of limbo right now: they’re becoming more common, but still having free, online versions is a good thing. I will both 1) add new translations as I finish them, and 2) update existing translations if I come to disagree with a previous translation of mine at some point, or find a typo. The page will grow as I add more content, and I hope it will become a useful resource.

As always, if you use my translations in your own work, please cite.

Finally, I’ve trashed the “For Students” page and moved those links to the “Links” page. Perhaps the “For Students” page will return at a later date.