Ideas from 'The Book of Chuang Tzu' by Chuang Tzu [350 BCE], by Theme Structure

[found in 'The Book of Chuang Tzu' by Chuang Tzu (ed/tr Palmer,M /Breuilly,E) [Penguin 1996,0-14-019488-6]].

green numbers give full details    |     back to texts     |     unexpand these ideas


1. Philosophy / A. Wisdom / 1. Nature of Wisdom
Words of wisdom are precise and clear
                        Full Idea: Words of wisdom are precise and clear.
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.2)
                        A reaction: I can only approve of this. The issue of clarity is much discussed amongs philosophers, especially in the analytic v continental debate. Note, therefore, the additional requirement to be 'precise'. Should we be less clear in order to be precise?
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 7. Despair over Philosophy
Don't even start, let's just stay put
                        Full Idea: Don't even start, let's just stay put.
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.2)
                        A reaction: What a remarkable proposal! He seems frightened to make an omelette, because he will have to break an egg, or he might burn himself. I can't relate to this idea, but it's existence must be noted, like other scepticisms.
2. Reason / C. Styles of Reason / 1. Dialectic
Disagreement means you do not understand at all
                        Full Idea: The sage encompasses everything, while ordinary people just argue about things. Disagreement means you do not understand at all.
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.2)
                        A reaction: This is why democracy and western analytical philosophy come as a package. We can't assume that our government is always right, and we can't assume that a 'sage' has managed to encompass everything. Criticism is essential!
2. Reason / C. Styles of Reason / 3. Eristic
If you beat me in argument, does that mean you are right?
                        Full Idea: If you get the better of me in a disagreement, rather than me getting the better of you, does this mean that you are automatically right and I am automatically wrong?
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.2)
                        A reaction: Very nice. I don't, though, think that this invalidates the process of argument. What matters about such an exchange is the resulting reflection by the two parties. Only a fool thinks that he is right because he won, or wrong because he lost.
11. Knowledge Aims / A. Knowledge / 1. Knowledge
Do not try to do things, or to master knowledge; just be empty
                        Full Idea: Do not try to do things. Do not try to master knowledge. ...Just be empty.
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.7)
                        A reaction: Stands as a nice challenge to the assumption that knowledge is a good thing. Aristotle's views make a nice contrast (Ideas 548 and 549). Personally I totally agree with Aristotle, and with the western tradition.
13. Knowledge Criteria / D. Scepticism / 5. Dream Scepticism
Did Chuang Tzu dream he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dream he was Chuang Tzu?
                        Full Idea: Once I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt that I was a butterfly, flitting around and enjoying myself. Suddenly I woke and was Chuang Tzu again. But had I been Chuang Tzu dreaming I was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I was now Chuang Tzu?
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.2)
                        A reaction: Plato (Idea 2047) also spotted this problem, later made famous by Descartes (Idea 2250). Given the size of a butterfly's brain, this suggests that Chuang Tzu was a dualist. What can't I take the idea seriously, when reason says I should?
16. Persons / E. Rejecting the Self / 4. Denial of the Self
The perfect man has no self
                        Full Idea: As the saying goes, 'The perfect man has no self'
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.1)
                        A reaction: This seems to be quoted with approval. This is interesting because it implies that lesser beings do have a self, and that having a self is a moral issue, and one which can be controlled. One could, I suppose, concentrate on externals.
To see with true clarity, your self must be irrelevant
                        Full Idea: When a man discerns his own self as irrelevant, he sees with true clarity.
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.6)
                        A reaction: Seeing 'with clarity' is only one of the ways of seeing, and one mustn't unquestioningly assume that it is the best. Wisdom should contemplate vision with and without the self, and then rise higher and compare the two views. Compare Parfit (Idea 5518).
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 10. Denial of Meanings
If words can't be defined, they may just be the chirruping of chicks
                        Full Idea: Our words are not just hot air. Words work because they are something, but the problem is that, if we cannot define a word's meaning, it doesn't really say anything. Can we make a case for it being anything different from the chirruping of chicks?
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.2)
                        A reaction: This obviously points us towards Quine's challenge to analyticity, and hence the value of definitions (Ideas 1622 and 1624). Even for Chuang Tzu, it seems na´ve to think that you cannot use a word well if you cannot define it.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 3. Virtues / d. Courage
Great courage is not violent
                        Full Idea: Great courage is not violent.
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.2)
                        A reaction: A very nice remark. This, I think, is what the Greeks were struggling to say about courage, but they never quite pinned it down as Chuang Tzu does.
27. Natural Reality / F. Biology / 2. Life
As all life is one, what need is there for words?
                        Full Idea: As all life is one, what need is there for words?
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.2)
                        A reaction: In a sense this is nonsense, but it has an appeal. I presume that God would not need words, any more than he would need arithmetic. Life is obviously a complex one, with parts which can be discussed.
29. Religion / C. Spiritual Disciplines / 2. Taoism
Fish forget about each other in the pond and forget each other in the Tao
                        Full Idea: Fish forget about each other in the pond and forget each other in the Tao.
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.6)
                        A reaction: Strikingly different from Christianity. No wonder Europeans used to describe orientals as 'enigmatic'; the faces of Taoists presumably express indifference. Not for me, I'm afraid. I identify with my fellow humans, because of our shared predicaments.
Go with the flow, and be one with the void of Heaven
                        Full Idea: Don't struggle, go with the flow, and you will find yourself at one with the vastness of the void of Heaven.
                        From: Chuang Tzu (The Book of Chuang Tzu [c.350 BCE], Ch.6)
                        A reaction: Ugh. I've got all eternity to do that. The underlying assumption of Taoism seems to be that it is better not to have been born, and if you are thus unfortunate, you should try to pretend that it never happened. Much too negative for my taste.