Friday, December 27, 2013

Ziporyn on Xunzi V

Scott Bradley

Part of Ziporyn's discussion of Xunzi is in the context of the debate whether he believed there to be only one normative Dao, or whether there are many possible daos, though only one among them is 'best' given the human condition.

This ambiguity is in part the consequence of Xunzi's apparent belief that it is humanity that creates The Great Coherence, Dao. In this sense, "man is the measure of all things" since he selects out and unifies those elements of reality (various coherences) which best serve his purposes. This is consistent with his statement that "it is only the sage who does not seek to understand Heaven." Since it is humanity who determines how best to live in the context of the world's givens, the unknowable is dismissed as irrelevant. Thus, from the point of view of philosophical Daoism, Xunzi was on the right track in his understanding of the subjective nature of truth (humanity decides what truth is, makes it so — it does not exist outside of this determination) but goes astray in thinking that such a truth is not also a non-truth given the larger context of ultimate incoherence. Xunzi does not allow that his Great Coherence is also part of a Greater Incoherence, but this should not surprise us since it is precisely this ironic Dao of Daoism that he wished to overturn.

This belief that it is humanity who creates Dao can be seen in the following statements: "Laws cannot stand on their own; types cannot function by themselves. When they attain the right person they exist, when they lose the right person they vanish." (44/12/2) "The exemplary person forms a triad with heaven and earth, is the unifier of the ten thousand things, is the father and mother of the people. Without the exemplary person heaven and earth are not ordered, ritual and rightness have no consistency, above there is no true ruler or teacher, below no true father or son: this is called utter chaos." (28/9/63ff)

Again, this is curiously in agreement with the Daoist point of view that Dao is essentially a perspective, only Xunzi requires that there can only be one correct perspective, one of Confucian persuasion. Whereas Daoism contextualizes its perspective in the chaos from which it emerges (does not forget the unhewn from which its perspective is hewn) thereby relativizing its own perspective, Xunzi sees chaos as something to flee and forget, enabling the absolutizing of one perspective.

In this regard the closing story of the Inner Chapters, the death of Chaos (Zhuangzi 7:15), is especially telling. Not willing to allow Chaos to remain such, his friends attempt to humanize him by daily giving him one of the seven holes of humanity; on the seventh day Chaos dies. Xunzi similarly wishes to kill off Chaos through the assertion of the human. How one can do so without acting in bad faith, ignoring and sublimating the obvious, is hard to fathom.

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