Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Subjective Soliloquies I

Scott Bradley


I return to Guo Xiang's criticisms of Zhuangzi to further consider their merit Previously, I considered them on the basis of their being straw men, misrepresentations for the sake of repudiation, and on the basis of their being partisan, and thus a failure to have understood and applied Zhuangzi's central idea, namely the relative equality of all ideas. Here I would like to simply consider them on their individual merits.

Speaking of the Zhuangzi, Guo writes: "These did not meet the requirements of daily life, his writings being merely subjective soliloquies." Were they subjective soliloquies? Do subjective soliloquies fail to meet the requirements of daily life? I think that the answer to the first question is a resounding yes. The answer to the second is a resounding no.

One benefit of reading lots of philosophy is that one is exposed to an endless flow of subjective soliloquies. In the end, one begins to realize that that's about all that these pronouncements on the nature of reality amount to. One can come to understand that his or her own ruminations are likewise subjective. Most philosophers do not subscribe to this point of view, of course. They understand that the previous ideas were subjective soliloquies, but not their own. Theirs is an objective understanding, the truth of things.

Zhuangzi suggested his own idea which is that all ideas, including his own, are subjective soliloquies and that this does not matter, because their value is not in their objective rightness or wrongness, but in their being an expression of the human, which in turn is an expression of Tao. If his philosophy was critical of others, it was because of their assumed objective fixity and consequent inability to include all the others. And he saw inclusion as a most essential attribute of Tao and thus of Tao-ish-ness.

I like Zhuangzi's soliloquies and echo them. I would also hope that my echo is an expression of my own unique subjectivity.

Every succeeding philosopher reads his predecessors, finds something lacking and adds his own ideas. As in the previously mentioned meadow, species flourish and founder, flourish and founder. The lupines and poppies were right in their time, the mosses and fungi in theirs. Everything really is okay.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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