The Zhuangzi and Skepticism

Author: Julianne Chung (University of Louisville)

The Zhuangzi(Wade-Giles: Chuang-tzu) is one of two foundational Daoist texts (alongside the Laozi, orDaodejing). It is widely considered to have been composed (at least in large part) by a Chinese philosopher of the same name in the late 4th century BCE.

Chapter 2 of the Zhuangzi,the Qiwulun, can be read and taught on its own.  Like other parts of the book, this chapter articulates and appears to advocate a variety of skeptical positions but also a number of positive claims that are seemingly inconsistent with them. Commentators have sought to resolve these tensions by claiming:

  • that Zhuangzi’s skepticism is more limited than many have been inclined to think (cf. Graham 1983, Eno 1996, Fraser 2009, and Sturgeon 2015),
  • that Zhuangzi is a relativist, pluralist, or perspectivist rather than a skeptic (cf. Hansen 1983, Wong 1984, Mou 2008 and 2015a, and Connolly 2011),
  • that Zhuangzi’s skepticism is better construed as a recommendation, method, or therapy rather than a thesis (cf. Kjellberg 1996, Ivanhoe 1996, Raphals 1996, Van Norden 1996, and Wong 2005),
  • that Zhuangzi does not sincerely advocate radically skeptical positions, despite appearances to the contrary (cf. Schwitzgebel 1996),
  • and that Zhuangzi can be interpreted as both a global skeptic and fictionalist (Chung forthcoming).

Continue reading “The Zhuangzi and Skepticism”


Guo Xi – “The Interest of Lofty Forests and Springs”

Author: Robert R Clewis (Gwynedd Mercy University)

Guo Xi (Kuo Hsi) (ca. 1000–1090) was a leading Northern Song dynasty (960–1127) landscape artist and theorist of painting. His ideas connect with western ideas about painting and figuration, as well as aesthetic theories regarding awe and the sublime.   In one of his most famous paintings, “Early Spring,” two figures appear to be undergoing an experience of awe, wonder, or the sublime. The painting portrays the natural sublime — the two figures appear struck by a waterfall and a monastery above it. “Early Spring” also depicts what can be called the “transcendent” sublime — the ineffable or unknowable, which has been emphasized in western traditions of negative theology and in theories such as the one Hegel presented in “Symbolism of the Sublime.”

Continue reading “Guo Xi – “The Interest of Lofty Forests and Springs””

The Analects by Confucius (Kongzi)

Author: Nicholas Hudson (University of Hawaii) 

A foundational text of Confucianism, The Analects is a collection of dialogues, sayings, and observations involving Confucius (Kongzi) and his disciples. It is generally believed that Confucius’ disciples started to compose it shortly after his death in 479 B.C.E. and over the next two hundred or so years the text was added to and revised, perhaps becoming the received text around 150 B.C.E. Written during the Warring States Period, a time of great upheaval, much of the book can be seen as a response to violent social and political disorder. It opposes the use of force, advocating instead a government based on ritual and moral authority. Although Confucius describes himself as transmitter and not an innovator (Analects VII.1) and emphasizes the dao (way) of former kings, The Analects does not promote a simple return to the past. Rather, much of the text is concerned with reinterpretation; for example, the word jun, formerly referring to a martial nobleman, comes to mean a cultured noble man. Continue reading “The Analects by Confucius (Kongzi)”

Mencius (Mengzi) on morality and human nature

Author: Pamela Lee  (University of Ottawa)

Mencius (372-289 B.C.E.), a philosopher of the“Warring States” period of Chinese history, is the most influential Confucian to take up Confucius’theory of morality and humanist vision for a flourishing society. He developed a sophisticated moral psychology as an elaboration of Confucius’ ethic of benevolence (ren) and account of the virtuous sage. He is known for his argument that human nature is innately good because of the existence of moral sprouts (duan)—inborn moral preferences or inclinations. He argued that moral virtue or proficiency could be cultivated through the nurturing of these ‘sprouts’through moral reflection (si), a process of analogical ‘extension’ from paradigmatic moral situations to novel ones. Continue reading “Mencius (Mengzi) on morality and human nature”