Friday, March 16, 2012

Three Points of View, Part 3

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)

The perspective of Dao shows us that we have no special value in comparison with anything else. This does not mean we have no value; our value, to the extent that we have it, is intrinsic. This is true of all things. Thus, all things are of equal value in as much as no comparisons between the value of things is possible.

Within the context of our own existence, however, we are the most valuable thing of all.

Unfortunately, we do not typically extend that perception of self-value to include the self-value of others. We do not, for example, say, You are to yourself as I am to myself, and therefore, I will treat you as I would like you to treat me.

Instead, we apply the discrimination of the conventional perspective; my value is intrinsic, but yours is dependent on your meeting certain conditions. I may not have to 'prove' my worth, but you do.

The Confucian project, it seems to me, is largely an attempt to allow one's own sense of intrinsic worth to inform one's conduct toward others. With this, Daoism is in agreement. Everything is good in itself and should be allowed to fully realize itself. The sage, therefore, "follows along with the rightness of the present this", that is, things as they are encountered.

But whereas Confucianism sees the rightness of things as being but a reflection of Heaven's moral nature, Daoism makes no such connection. Dao is not 'moral', but utterly amoral and impartial; the worth of things is intrinsic to themselves. Things are 'good' because they are "thus-so", not because Dao makes them so. Because Dao does not create things, there is no causal link between things and Dao. Things are Dao. Dao is the Totality.

Consequentially, Dao informs the perspective of things regarding themselves in a radically different way. Instead of an agreement of value between Heaven and humanity, the perspective of Dao renders the human perspective relative. We believe ourselves to be of infinite worth in contrast to others, but Dao recognizes no such thing as comparative worth. This "equalization of the assessment of things", thus requires of us that we transcend our insular particularity. From the perspective of Dao we have "no fixed-identity" and live in a world without fixed-norms. We needn’t enumerate the negative consequences of having a fixed identity to appreciate how its loss is liberating.

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

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