519. Taoist correlationism.
A key feature of Taoism is correlationism, or dialectics, improving the understanding of something by correlating it to a contrasting thing. The classic example is the contrast and complementarity of Yin, the principle of harmony, care, submission, and Yang, the principle of action, war, conquest.
I must admit that while I understand what is written about Tao, when I turn to Tao itself, for example the writings of Zhuangzi, I balk at the profuse use of image and metaphor. It reads more like poetry than philosophy. I must also admit, however, that in a different way I had problems of not understanding the work of the likes of Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas, and there also, I had to resort to the secondary literature. I could not understand Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit without resorting to Andreas Luckner’s rendering of it
A metaphor tells something in terms of something else. This can trigger the transformation of thought, understanding something you did not understand before, catapult you into a different frame of mind. In earlier work, also in this blog, I proposed the notion of ‘cognitive distance’. People develop thought on the basis of innate potential, in interaction with others, along their particular path of life. It requires interaction but remains individual. The interaction needs to ‘cross cognitive distance’, and this is facilitated by ‘absorptive capacity’, assimilating thought at a cognitive distance, and by helping the other to assimilate by means of rhetorical ability, with the use of metaphor.
The relational ontology of Tao requires metaphor. But metaphor only triggers a shift of thought, which needs further formation, and in my perception, this was often left hanging in the air, in Zhuangzi. But perhaps that says more about me than about Zhuangzi, in my striving for achievement, result, a conclusion, a closure, which I would not want to let go. To me, the meaning of life cannot be to yield to emptiness and do nothing. I do acknowledge that life is ‘imperfection on the move’, formulated by Zuangzi (2009: 72) as follows:
My life certainly has its boundaries, while my consciousness by contrast is not limited by boundaries. Pursuing something boundless with something that is bounded, is wihout fail tiring. Knowing that , and yet acting from your consciousness, implies that you are going to slave to the end of your life.That to me is fine.
Correlation to me is interdisciplinarity, connecting insights from economics, sociology, psychology, political sciencc, anthropology, physics and philosophy, East and West.
According to Yong (2010), the stories and metaphors in Zhuangzi, about craftsmen, politicians, sages, animals, mountains, in everyday language, serve to illustrate and exemplify the central tenet that a moral agent must have the natural disposition to recognise and respect the equal values of diverse ways of life, natural dispositions of others. Monkeys live in trees, eels in moist surroundings, and people in dry places. The Zhuangzi does not claim that this ability to see and value different natural dispositions is an innate disposition, but that it can be developed to become second nature, as sages do. From this, Yong (2005), proposed a ‘Copper Rule’ to replace the famous ‘Golden Rule’, as follows: ‘Do unto others as they would have us do unto them’ (not what I would like done unto me)
Zhuang-Zi 2007, translated into Dutch and clarified by K. Schipper, Amsterdam: Augustus.
Yong Huang 2010, ‘Respecting different ways of life: A Daoist ethics of virtue in Zhuangzi, The Journal of Asian Studies, 69/4, 2010-60.
Yong Huang 2005, ‘A copper rule versus the golden rule : A Daoist –Confucian proposal for global ethics’, Academia, University of Hawai Press