Environmental Concern: Can Humans Avoid Being Partial? Epistemological Awareness in the Zhuangzi

In Carmen Meinert (ed.), Nature, Environment and Culture in East Asia: The Challenge of Climate Change. Brill. pp. 69-82 (2013)
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Discussions of human partiality—anthropocentrism—in the literature in environmental ethics have sought to locate reasons for unnecessary and thoughtless degradation of the earth’s environment. Many of the debates have focused on metaethical issues, attempting to set out the values appropriate for an environmental ethic not constrained within an anthropocentric framework. In this essay, I propose that the fundamental problem with anthropocentrism arises when it is assumed that that is the only meaningful evaluative perspective. I draw on ideas in the Zhuangzi, a classical Chinese philosophical text of the Daoist tradition. The Zhuangzi scrutinises the debates of its day, focusing on the attitudes of the thinkers who sought to trump others in the debates. Through many images expressed in stories, the Zhuangzi asserts the irreducibility of individual perspectives, challenging its readers to examine the insularity of their own views. I suggest that the epistemological awareness in the Zhuangzi helps in our understanding of anthropocentrism.

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Karyn L. Lai
University of New South Wales


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