Thursday, March 15, 2012

Three Points of View, Part 1

Scott Bradley

"Ruo of the North Sea said, 'From the point of view of the Course [Dao], no thing is more valuable than any other. But from the point of view of itself, each thing is itself worth more and the others are worth less. And from the point of view of convention, the value of things is not determined by themselves.'" (Zhuangzi, Chap. 17; Ziporyn)

If one were to name Chapter 17 ("Autumn Floods") of the Zhuangzi topically, "Points of View" would be a good choice, for the author takes Zhuangzi's discussion of the equalizing effect of perspectival relativism as his underlying theme. But while this expansion and refinement of that theme is one of the clearest and most literary of the Zhuangzi, it sometimes goes "too far" in a Zhuangzian sense. Where Zhuangzi is careful to leave things tentative and unresolved, here they are often neatly wrapped up. Nevertheless, this author from the assumed "School of Zhuangzi" provides some truly helpful insight into the point of view of philosophical Daoism.

Perhaps the best place to begin with the three points of view given here would be to understand them in the spirit of the perspectival relativism in which they are shared. In other words, all three are of equal 'worth'. Even if there is a hierarchy of values implied, no one value negates the others. The most helpful perspective is that which sees and affirms them all.

From the perspective of 'Dao', all things are of equal worth. This is because Dao does not valuate things at all; within the Totality, things just are that they are, as they are, without qualification. She who would follow the Daoist vision is invited to share this laissez faire impartiality. Since Dao does not, in fact, have a perspective, "the perspective of Dao" is a human phenomenon; we are invited to exercise our peculiarly human capacity for having a perspective by adopting one which most approximates the nature of Reality as it appears to us.

The second perspective is that which is held by particular things in the context of their particularity. It might be argued that this even applies to inanimate things, but we need not make that case in order to understand how it does apply to all things animate. Even the single-celled organism has its own survival and replication at the heart of its existence. Within the apparent hierarchy of consciousnesses, the human being certainly most clearly exemplifies this self-love. We are, each one of us, the center of our universe, and our individual well-being, 'rightness', and 'worth' are of paramount importance. Understanding this, we are enabled to mediate and transcend it through a more expansive perspective. We are invited out of the box.

The third perspective is that which we apply in the context of others. The conventional perspective is that which judges. Finding within ourselves a sense of right and wrong, true and false, we impose evaluative judgments on others and ourselves. Though this can be the source of a great deal of unnecessary discord and strife, it also seems a necessary attribute whereby a society functions and protects its survival and that of its citizens. The point, it would seem, is to keep it in perspective; and that perspective is the broadest obtainable, the perspective of Dao.

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

1 comment:

  1. I think it is important to not go "to far", as you say, regarding taking a Tao perspective to an extreme. The teaching of Tao is a pointing finger directing us to rise above our subjective mind. Words are used to take us out of our box of opinion but those words should not become cannoned into just another higher fixed opinion. Yes, in one sense, we could say in the light of eternity that all temporary things are obsolete, but that statement does not negate the now-reality of the present value of things. All views do not have equal value. In other words, Tao puts us through an exercise to get us out of our box but after experiencing the results of that exercise don't take that exercise and make it into something it’s not. Throw the exercise away and forget about it. Concluding that all things have equal value is just creating another higher valued opinion


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