Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ziporyn on Yin-Yang X: The Givenness of Human Desire

Scott Bradley


In his Ironies of Oneness and Difference Ziporyn several times makes this observation: "To say it again, the irreducible givenness of human desire, and its irreducibility from any reading of the existing coherences in the world, is crucial here." "Here" is the entire Yin-Yang paradigm in all its manifestations. But his point is that Chinese philosophy is essentially always about trying to fulfill human aspirations, or at least, coping with a reality in which they cannot, in fact, be wholly realized, which amounts to the same thing. We might say that Chinese philosophy has its roots in deep subjectivity. Its central concern is not about an objective "what?" about the nature of the world, but about a subjective "how?" we might best live in it.

The drift of Western philosophy, on the other hand, has tended toward the objective, and this has yielded the scientific and technological 'advances' upon which most all the world now depends. It would be folly to dismiss the positive outcomes that this objectification of the world has brought us. It would also be folly, however, to overlook the negative outcomes of such a world view. Among these is a profound sense of alienation from the world, of being separate from Nature, on the one hand, and the view of the world as just so much raw material for our consumption, on the other.

It might be argued that theism is largely responsible for Western objectivism: God created the world as apart from and utterly other than 'himself', and we are enjoined to follow 'his' example and fill the Earth and "subdue" it. The more monist philosophies of the East are not also, for their part, without their downsides.

What these two points of departure have in common, it seems to me, is this acceptance of the givenness of human desires, and the aspiration to fulfill those desires (even when their conclusions sometimes seem to dismiss them). The universal goal is to live as happily as possible.

Might it not be helpful to view the philosophies of the East as Yin to the Yang of the West? Neither is in itself truly holistic; together they provide a more balanced and harmonious interface with the world and provide humanity with a means to realize human desires tempered by true sustainability.

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