Deeper than Languages Lie
Zhuang Zi’s Roots
This is a paper on Zhuang Zi’s epistemology discussed in his 齊物論 qí wù lìn "Treatise on Leveling All Things."
I argue that Zhuang Zi’s intent was to show the limitations of
philosophers who discussed certain philosophical issues solely within
the context of language. One such group of thinkers were the later
Mohist authors of the 小取 xiǎo qǔ chapter who sought to promote clear
discursive thinking. Another group centered around 惠施 Huì Shī, a
philosopher who used paradoxical arguments to display the consequences
of set theory that a present-day speaker might elucidate with Venn
diagrams. The third group, centering around 公孫龍 Gōng-Sūn Lóng,
attempted to demonstrate cleverness by confounding language.
Zhuang Zi alerted people to the problem of pitting one expert against
another, and does not engage himself in approving of one logician’s use
of concepts or disapproving of another’s deployment of concepts
to defeat the first one. Instead, he casts light on what concepts are,
where they come from, and their limitations that may become
problematical through careless use.
For Zhuang Zi, concepts are the products of active creative processes
of human minds that are static but attempt to tag elements of an
ever-shifting reality. Like a 巵 zhī tippy wine vessel, they should dump
their meaning whenever they become over-filled.