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« On Global Cultural Influence in Modern/Post-Modern Times | Main | Confucius Institutes are not about Confucius »

May 24, 2012


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Personally, I think both Graham and Hinton are slightly off on 而知不能規乎其始者也 (actually, Hinton is much further off). I'm pretty sure 規 here is a scribal error or stand in for the cognate 窺 meaning "to perceive," "to spy out." This makes more sense with the preposition 乎 as well, which I think would seem odd with 規 taken verbally. 知 is not only a noun here (as Graham's translation reflects but Hinton's does not), but it is important that it's a noun; Zhuangzi is talking specifically in many parts of this section about a certain type of knowledge that's inherently limited. I can't think of any possible justification for "what drives them" as a translation for "其始者."

if someone said they were a strategist in the advaita vedantic tradition i would take it to imply that they understood non-duality, unity of opposites, the connection and interaction of all things .... and i would put him or her on my board of directors

i think the daoist statement can be seen in the same light, though i am not an academic

Perhaps Hinton is thinking: "what drives them [from their starting points]." I see the problem: he really should make more explicit use of 始...


My guess is that you're right: he IS thinking that. But to do so is assuming an outside force that does the driving. That's an assumption that I don't think the text supports and would also entail a very particular take on Zhuangzi's view of how the world works (and an incorrect one). Zhuangzi is arguably the most linguistically and philosophically challenging major received text from early China and that's one reason I feel Hinton is a particularly inappropriate translator for it.

Hinton's comment doesn't surprise me. I've seen so many silly quotes misattributed to Confucious. Somebody could collect them all and make a compendium--a sort of alternative Analects existing in 21st century virtual space. And no matter how we construe Hinton's allusion to Daoism, it's hard to imagine how this is in the spirit of anything in classical Daoist works. As for the translated passage (知不能規乎其始者也), wouldn't it be better translated as something like "knowledge cannot provide normative criteria for their primal beginnings". The words "criteria" and "primal" aren't in the original, but it seems like we'd need them to bring out the implied intended meaning. "Calibrate" seems odd as it's a mechanical metaphor that would seem inappropriate to the more legal and social 規,

Karlo-- Just to clarify, Hinton is a "translator" of 論語, 莊子, 孟子, etc. (and a very well marketed one at that), not the author of the piece Sam is discussing. As for the translation itself, I still think it makes much more sense in grammatical context to read 規 as an error for 窺.

Again, I guess my interpretation of major Chinese philosophical ideas are fundamentally different from yours.

First of all, many Taoists consider the Art of War to be in the Taoist canon (and I would tend to agree). And it most certainly is strategic.

“On the face of it, Daoism urges us to eschew planning precisely because we cannot really control the complex reality that surrounds us (which we might take as dao - way). “

This is false. Taoism does not say that we cannot really control the “complex reality that surrounds us”. Likewise, Taoism as far as I know, does not say anything like “we have to let go of conscious management and let relationships emerge and unfold in context as they will, without our purposive effort to steer them in certain directions.”

That is actually a common misconception of basic Taoist principles. Taoism does not say that we have to let go of our “conscious management” and “purposive effort”. If it did it would make it basically an ascetic and stoic philosophy which it is not. It simply says that conscious management and purposive effort is more effectively realized when 1. rigid preconceptions are allowed less sway and we adopt a more flexible and nuanced mindset so as to identify the basic grain of nature (The Tao). 2. we do not go contrary to this grain of nature but go with its grain and allow it to carry us to ends of our purpose.

Also, this is wrong: “But a Daoist would also assert that we cannot know what the actions of others might be ...”

Taoists do not say that we cannot know what drives the actions of others. In fact, Zhuangzi explicitly and famously argues that arguments for unknowability or radical skepticism regarding internal motivation and mental states presupposes the very knowledge the skeptics argue against. How does Huizi know that Zhuangzi does not know that the fish are happy? Huizi seems to be committed to a truth about Zhuangzi's internal states by asserting this skeptical claim which thus undermines itself.

Finally, Taoism is somewhat related to certain developments in game theory. For example, the Taoist idea that spontaneity and certain forms of ignorance (not complete ignorance) about either oneself or another may be beneficial does have game theoretic justifications in many contexts. Although it may also be correct that the author of that article was stretching it a bit with his idea of Taoism.

When Zhuangzi opens his mouth and the words, "the fish are happy" come out, the words are intrinsically calibrated within the context of the relationships he is in, with the fish, the bridge, his friend and you and I (the readers). To think or act strategically is to move outside of social constraints and see things as they actually are. In that sense, "being responsible for our own reality" is simply acknowledging that we are (in) an infinite procession of event/things.


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