The Live Creature and The Crooked Tree: Thinking Nature in Dewey and Zhuangzi

Philosophica 47 (47):61-76 (2016)
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Abstract

This paper will compare the concept of nature as it appears in the philosophies of the American pragmatist John Dewey and the Chinese text known as the Zhuangzi, with an aim towards mapping out a heuristic program which might be used to correct various interpretive difficulties in reading each figure. I shall argue that Dewey and Zhuangzi both held more complex and comprehensive philosophies of nature than for which either is typically credited. Such a view of nature turns on the notion of continuity, particularly that between an experiencing organism [Dewey’s “live creature”] and the conditioning environment [Zhuangzi’s “crooked tree”]. Where Dewey’s and Zhuangzi’s ideas about nature converge, one finds similarities in prescriptions made for human action, and in the few places where they differ, one finds mutually complementary insights.

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Christopher Kirby
Eastern Washington University

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