Ethics in the Zhuangzi

My main current research project concerns ethics in the Zhuangzi anthology. In particular, I am interested in the cluster of ethically significant views found primarily in the Inner Chapters that I believe can be developed into a kind of ethical pluralism. The main idea is that while certain sections of the Zhuangzi reject the idea of promoting a single, fixed set of values, they also give some insight on how to flourish, and promote certain higher-order values of their own, such as tolerance and flexibility. My book explores and develops an account of Zhuangist-inspired pluralism about ethics.

My most recent publication on the topic is entitled “Ethics in the Zhuangzi: Diversity and Sagacity”, published in International Philosophical Quarterly (June, 2020).

Zhuangist Primitivism

One fairly unified group of writings in the Zhuangzi anthology offer radical critiques of conventional and moral artifices, such as those championed by the Confucians, the Mohists, and other philosophical rivals, in favor of a return to primitive, small, agrarian societies where people can lead simple, primitive lives. A.C. Graham has dubbed these writings “primitivist” and the name has stuck.

Philosophical research on the primitivists is very much in its early stages, as these writings are often overshadowed by the more poetic, exciting, and some would say philosophically interesting writings found elsewhere in the Zhuangzi. My most recent article, “Primitivism in the Zhuangzi: An Introduction” (Philosophy Compass, August 2020), introduces and organizes primitivist writings thematically, hopefully making them more accessible to researchers.

Truth in Ancient China

In 1985, Chad Hansen published a striking and provocative paper claiming that there is no concept of truth in ancient Chinese philosophy. The paper, along with Hansen’s subsequent defenses of the thesis, has stirred up quite some controversy among experts in Chinese and comparative philosophy, with scholars arguing (convincingly!) on both sides of the issue.

Indeed the issue is significant not only for the study of Chinese philosophy, but for the study of the concept of truth and the philosophy of language more generally. My most recent essay on this topic will be published in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy in early 2022. An author’s preprint can be downloaded here.

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