Monday, April 29, 2013

Nature Vs Nurture II

Scott Bradley


Kjellberg tells us (in Essays on Skepticism, Relativism, and Ethics in the Zhuangzi) that Xunzi seems to have deliberately used the term wei (action, artifice) to describe the means to achieving his moral sagacity. "Rather than running away from the label 'artificial'", he writes, "Xunzi embraces it as the hallmark of his system." It doesn't surprise us that he would want to take the opposite of Zhuangzi's wu-wei (non-intentional action) as his method given his belief that human nature is "bad", but he also flies in the face of Mengzi's negative use of the term as "hypocritical" or "deceptive". Once again, Xunzi seems to have misinterpreted the spirit of what both these philosophers, proto-Daoist and Confucian, meant by the term.

There are certainly strains of anti-culturalism in the form of human creativity in the Zhuangzi, but these are not representative of the teaching of Zhuangzi himself, or at least of the Inner Chapters. Xunzi seems to have believed that for Zhuangzi wei meant doing something for the sake of self- or societal betterment. This is wide of the mark. It is never about the what of what one does, but the how, that concerns Zhuangzi. Carving a bell stand is a perfectly human endeavor — even if it is poorly executed. The outcome of wu-wei, however, is to make a truly wonderful bell stand. The bell stand maker in the Zhuangzi "matches the heavenly with the heavenly", which is to say the bell stand naturally happens through him. It would not have happened without him, but neither would it have happened without his having in some sense stepped out of the way to let it happen. The opposite of art is artifice.

The Daoist, in this sense, does as much as a Confucian does; only she does it in a different way. The Daoist is ever much as involved in self-cultivation as a Confucian, only his investment in outcomes is altogether different.

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

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