Deeper than Languages Lie Zhuang Zi’s Roots

This is a paper on Zhuang Zi’s epistemology discussed in his 齊物論 q w ln "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 Hu 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 Lng, 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.

Three documents:

The Abstract

The Full Paper

Bibliography


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