The Human and the Inhuman: Ethics and Religion in the zhuangzi

Journal of Chinese Philosophy 41 (S1):723-739 (2014)
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One critique of the early Daoist texts associated with Laozi and Zhuangzi is that they neglect the human and lack a proper sense of ethical personhood in maintaining the primacy of an impersonal dehumanizing “way.” This article offers a reconsideration of the appropriateness of such negative evaluations by exploring whether and to what extent the ethical sensibility unfolded in the Zhuangzi is aporetic, naturalistic, and/or religious. As an ethos of cultivating life and free and easy wandering by performatively enacting openness and responsiveness to things in an immanent this-worldly context, the Zhuangzi is oriented toward the relational attunement of disposition and practice rather than toward metaphysics or religion in a transcendent sense. It consequently suggests an immanent anarchic ethics without principles while neither forgetting nor reifying the sacred and the mundane in its playful illumination of the biospiritual dynamics of cultivating life.

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Eric S. Nelson
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology


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