Saturday, September 4, 2021

 518. Western and Chinese thought

 The notions of fixed substance, an autonomous subject, truth as correspondence of ideas or expressions with reality, in a static ontology of things, have been central in Western thought, since the classical Greeks, e.g with the philosophy of Plato, which has reverberated in the West. In Chinese  Taoist thought, by contrast, central concepts were combination of opposites and contrasts, in dialectics, processes of transformation, not knowledge but life in harmony with nature, in a relational ontology (Clarke, 2000). Changes in philosophy that I liked in the work of Martin Buber and Martin Heidegger, such as the ‘being in the world, in ‘Dasein’ of Heidegger and the ‘in between’ of people, prior to their identity, of Buber  turned out to be features of Taoism, which is reflected in the fact that both Buber and Heidegger studied Taoism. I learned that without knowing it, I had been a Taoist philosopher, in philosophies of learning, transformation, discovery, and language. Daoism is similar, in its dynamics, to the thought of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. A central source of Daoism is the work of Zhuang-Zi, a contemporary of Aristotle. For a long time, Confucianism was the dominant philosophy in China, but there have always been connections between the three views of Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, and currently there is a revival of Daoism (Clarke, 2000). Daoism was averse to the universal rules, strict rituals and bureaucratic hierarchy of Confucianism, and professed a kind of anarchism, in ‘wu-wei’, which seems similar to what Heidegger called ‘releasement’ (Clarke, 2000). That was not the free for all for self-interested individuals, as in Western libertarianism, but lack of restraint in relations between individuals.

 Daoism did not claim to achieve any ultimate, absolute truth. I adopt truth in the sense proposed by Dewey of ‘warranted assertibility’. For an argument, one should adduce logic, and facts , and it should contribute to solutions to practical problems. It is a pragmatic notion, as in Taoism. I still value logic, to clean up arguments, but I am against logicism, defined as the claim that language can capture reality (here, the ‘logo’ refers to its original meaning of ‘word’, and does not refer to ‘logic’) .Meanings depend on context, on perspective, and shift. For life, I have adopted the slogan ‘imperfection on the move’, and I think that is a good characterisation of Daoism.

 Admittedly, facts are problematic since they may be coloured by the theoretical perspective at hand, but often theoretical disputes allow for shared facts. However, when people agree on facts, those are still enclosed in their categorisation, with tacit ‘background assumptions’, and the perspective remains myopic. I propose that truth claims must indicate the shadows, indicate where the myopia, the boundaries, may lie. Art, and humour, may show up boundaries, try to cross them, presenting things in a new light. Such boundary-crossing humour plays a large role in Daoism.

 In Western philosophy, the idea that language can distort, and that meaning is perspectival and can shift is found in the philosophy of Nietzsche, the hermeneutics of Gadamer and the deconstructionism of Derrida.

 Clarke, J.J. 2000, The Tao of the West, London: Routledge.


No comments:

Post a Comment