Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Still More on the Butterfly Dream I

Scott Bradley

In his article "Aporetics Ethics in the Zhuangzi" (Hiding the World in the World) Dan Lusthaus attempts to demonstrate that Zhuangzi was not a true skeptic, but rather what he calls "a critical thinker”, meaning he uses skepticism to go beyond skepticism to his own "prescriptive discourse". (According to Wikipedia, in philosophic circles aporetics means "a philosophical puzzle or state of puzzlement".) One passage to which he appeals to make his case is Zhuangzi's butterfly dream (2:49). Although I am not sure I agree with all his conclusions, (nor that I actually know what they are), he does bring some interesting ideas to the mix. The only way to discuss this passage in depth is to first present it in full here. This is his rendering:
Previously, Zhuang Zhou dreamt he had become a carefree butterfly, a happy flittering butterfly, who himself experienced such a fit between his intents and his surroundings, that he didn't know that he was Zhou.
Suddenly he awoke and was unmistakably, undeniably Zhou.
He didn't know if he was Zhou who had dreamt he was a carefree butterfly, or a carefree butterfly dreaming that he had become Zhou.
Between Zhou and the carefree butterfly there must be a distinction!
This is called 'the transformation of things.
Lusthaus points out a very real difference between Zhuangzi who has awoken and the butterfly that has not. The butterfly has forgotten all about Zhuangzi, has no thought of him whatsoever, while the awakened Zhuangzi is very much aware of his having dreamed he was an unawakened butterfly, and for this reason finds himself in an aporetic moment. Between these two, Lusthaus suggests (I think) that it is Zhuangzi in his doubt that best represents one who is awakened. Awakened to what? To doubt. “Waking requires waking from careless inattention and naïve perspective.”

So far, this seems to reflect Zhuangzi’s position generally: “The Radiance of Drift and Doubt is the sage’s only map.” (2:29; Ziporyn) We might rightfully call this a “prescriptive discourse” in as much as it suggests a more authentic way to live.

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

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