Zombies: inconceivable, conceivable but not metaphysically possible, or
|Accept or lean toward: conceivable but not Metaphysically possible||331 / 931 (35.5%)|
|Accept or lean toward: metaphysically possible||217 / 931 (23.3%)|
|Accept or lean toward: inconceivable||149 / 931 (16%)|
|Insufficiently familiar with the issue||84 / 931 (9%)|
|Agnostic/undecided||61 / 931 (6.5%)|
|The question is too unclear to answer|
40 / 931 (4.2%)
Confucians would, I believe, find the notion of zombies not metaphysically possible. A central notion of Confucian philosophy is, after all, Humanity. The Mencian strain of thought, which becomes dominant in the on-going tradition after the Han dynasty, emphasizes the inherent goodness of human nature. While it is true that Mencius also recognizes that people have both good and bad within themselves, it is the good that he highlights, and it is the good that defines us as persons. Would it be possible, then, for the goodness of Humanity to transform, or deform, into a returned-from-the-dead, mindless, flesh-eating monster? I think not. It would simply be beyond the bounds of Confucian ontology.
But further research might be necessary. One never knows what the archeological record might provide...
I think we can be more certain on the Taoist perspective on zombies. Taoism would would accept zombies as metaphysically possible. Indeed, zombies would simply be another aspect of Tao, subject to the same dynamics of the ebb and flow of ziran (occurrence appearing of itself), like any other element of Tao. There is much textual support for this point. Let's go to the Daodejing.
The beginning of passage 2:
All beneath heaven know beauty is beauty only because there's ugliness, and knows good is good only because there is evil...
The inescapable complementarity of all things in Tao (each thing exists in relation to their opposite) suggests a necessity, of sorts, of zombies. We cannot know humans as living, beautiful and thoughtful individuals without the presence, somewhere and sometime, of undead, horrible, senseless zombies.
The beginning of passage 5 also suggests zombies:
Heaven and earth are Inhumane: they use the ten thousand things like straw dogs. And the sage too is Inhumane: he uses the hundred-fold people like straw dogs...
Here it would seem is an insight into the political significance of zombies. Clearly, zombies are, by definition, Inhumane, and they certainly treat the hundred-fold people like straw dogs (i.e. not caring for their interests or feelings). And it is in that natural inhumanity that they might be models for the "sage." The text is telling us: don't get caught up in humanly-created standards of right and wrong that are disconnected with the natural unfolding of Way. Rather, follow your natural instincts. And if those include coming back from the dead and eating people, just do it...
We could go on but I think the point is clear: the Daodejing accepts the metaphysical possibility of zombies. So, too, does Zhuangzi. Think of all of the images of disabled and crippled and deformed individuals in that text. Think of how those images are presented as being closer to an apprehension of Tao than the powerful and proper and beautiful. And then ask yourself: if deformity is not only an element of Tao but might also open us to a fuller understanding of Tao, then aren't zombies particularly well suited to reveal something fundamental about Tao? Consider this brief passage from chapter 3:
When he saw the Commander on the Right, Duke ParadeElegance (Kung Wen-husuan) said in astonishment, "What kind of person is this? Was it heaven that made him so strange, or was it something human?
"It was heaven, not human," another said. "When we're born, heaven makes each of us different. Our appearance is given to us. He understands this and is satisfied with himself: this is how you can tell it must have been heaven, not human."
There has long been debate about who the "Commander on the Right" might be. He holds a military rank, but the Duke remarks upon his strangeness. Is he incredibly ugly? Deformed? Disabled? Perhaps. But might he also be a zombie? It is possible - at least within the bounds of Taoist metaphysics. It is not clear that he is fully human. Which raises the possibility that he is post-human, reanimated. Coming back from the dead, a kind of rebirth, is something beyond human control; it is a process driven by fate and destiny, the chief components of the ancient Chinese conception of "heaven." And it is fate, not humanity, that gives rise to zombies.
I think there is also something here for the zombies themselves. It is as if Zhuangzi is writing this passage from them to read. He is saying to them: don't be so anxious and obsessed with consuming humans. Rather, accept you zombie-ness, be satisfied with yourself. See yourself as an element of Way, as integral to the wholeness and completeness of Way as any other element.
Such is the Tao of zombies....