Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ziporyn on Xunzi VI

Scott Bradley

In this post we will take a speculative look at the possibility that Xunzi and the author of the Tianxia (33rd) chapter of the Zhuangzi might have been mutually informing each other as likely contemporary members of the Jixia Academy in the state of Qi (late 4th cen. B.C.E.). They certainly share a Confucian point of view and, more strikingly, an understanding of Truth as that which unites the many truths.

In the Xunzi we read: "Human problems all derive from obsession with a single corner of things which obscures the Greatest Coherence. When ordered, these all return to the norm, but when doubts arise, over alternatives between them, there is confusion. In the world [tianxia] there are not two Daos, and the Sages are not of two minds." ("Dispelling Obsessions"). In Tianxia we are similarly told that the "ancient Art of the Dao" is one Dao that has been obscured by "nook and cranny scholars" who have seen only one corner of the whole.

Ziporyn calls this "a whole/part epistemology". "The question to be adjudicated when confronted with conflicting claims is not which is true and which is false, but rather which is more complete." This seems on the surface to reflect Zhuangzi's all-inclusiveness, but lacks the ironic dimension that negates any final 'true' Whole. Ziporyn goes on to say: "In Xunzi's case, there may be some claims which have no place in the whole and must be eliminated completely, although he clearly makes an attempt to be as all-embracing as possible in his inclusiveness." The question arises, by what criterion are some daos then rejected? The answer is, by that "truth" which Xunzi holds in reserve, that is, his own.

Laozi and Zhuangzi are among those who are subsequently "eliminated" as being incompatible with, and thus unable to be successfully incorporated into, the Whole. Their negation of the very possibility of an intelligible Whole makes this inevitable.

The author of Tianxia, on the other hand, has a very positive take on both Laozi and Zhuangzi and is somehow able to include them as part of his Whole, despite their only grasping one corner of it. How he can do this, given their aforementioned negation of any coherent Whole, is not clear. However, others, especially Huizi, are eliminated from participation in the Whole, and in this the author is consistent with Xunzi.

In contrasting Zhuangzi with Xunzi (and Zhuangzi's later interpreters), we see that Zhuangzi saw chaos (unintelligibility) as primal and thus doubt as unavoidable, whereas Xunzi, like most of us, could live with neither. Xunzi walks one road — his own; Zhuangzi walks two — his own which also allows him to walk that of the present other.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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