opposes dichotomies , such as true versus untrue, between which you have to
choose, and sees them as polarities, where you can choosee a position in
between. Not black or white but shades of grey. This is part of a wider stance
of getting away from rules (wu-wei) and preconceived ideas, to ‘think out of
the box’. Fox (2015: 65) uses an example of traffic lights. They used to be red
or green depending only on duration. Now they depend also on the time of day,
the length of queues and the weather However, rules are never complete, and
depend on circumstances. When a car in the line breaks down. the ordering
fails. The point is that one should always keep an open mind. to a different
is also needed in communication, to understand, with the aid of metaphor, the
different perspective of someone else, whose values and ideas will always
differ.Zuangzi talks of ‘goblet words’ that empty themselves in order to refill
themselves (Fox, 2015: 66). Metaphor is seeing something in terms of something
else, i.e. the other’s perspective.
is skeptical, at best ambivalent, concerning language. Porat (2015) traces this
to the simple fact that language creates our view of reality, and does so by
cutting it up, dividing it, with words putting things into boxes, categories,
while reality is an indivisible whole , and thus cannot be put into words, is
I want to connect this issue with existing ideas concerning language from
Western philosophy of language. There one finds the hermeneutic circle , which
professes a circular to-and-fro between a paradigmaticaxis and a syntagmatic axis. Hermeneutics means interpretation of a text,
called after the Greek god Hermes, who was the god of commerce, travel and
communication. The paradigmatic axis is composed of the generalised concepts, of
a cat, for example, and the syntagmatic
axis of particular uses of the concept in specific contexts, in sentences,
this particular blue-grey striped cat on the mat. A dominant view is that
meaning can always be reduced to a general concept, the paradigm. The general concept
may be seen as having a variety of possible particular meanings, in things it
may refer to. I associate the notion ‘cat’ with my particular tabby, with
blue-gray stripes. Particular things may be odd, exceptional in some way, but remain
seen to belong to the concept, and may in their peculiarity shift the concept,
in being included in the general notion, or may constitute a new notion. This
sounds like the idea, in Taoism, of a ‘goblet word’ (Fox 2015).One misconceives
the world if adhering to the paradigmatic axis with its fixed categories, neglecting
the fluidity, transformation, on the syntagmatic axis. The goblet is
continuously emptied and refilled
The French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure called the
generalised inter-subjective order of language langue and the individual subjective meaning parole (Saussure, 1979). In the hermeneutic circle, general, public
meanings or langue lie along the paradigmatic axis, and particular,
situation-specific meanings or parole along the syntagmatic axis. A general
concept, taken from the hermeneutic axis is inserted in a sentence, the syntagmatic
axis, in a specific action context, and becomes a particular. Langue becomes
parole. In interpretation, the langue of a text is interpreted in terms of the
parole of the reader or speaker. A cloud of potential reference condenses into a
rain of particular ones. In the sentence the concept can adopt new associations,
which when adopted by others turns into an expansion or shift of the general
meaning, and is adopted in the public meaning along the paradigmatic axis.
Reading and interpretation can become creative. This is a model of how one can
go from order (langue) to disorder (parole) and back again, in an ongoing
development. Openness to this process is the ‘fluidity’ that Taoism aims at.
General concepts change in the long run. Order regulates disorder, but is
shifted in its practice.
Thus, I do not reject generalised, intersubjective
meaning, as Taoism seems to do, but propose it as the freezing of a Taoist
process of a variety of different individual, context-specific meanings that
shifts public meaning. It is still wu-wei in rejecting existing meanings and
ideas as fixed, but adds the role of shared meaning in communication.
A.2015, ‘Zhuangzi’s weiwuwei epistemology seeing through dichotomy to
polarity’in: in: New visions of the
Zhuangzi, (L Kohn, ed.), Three Pines Press.
Saussure, F. 1979, Cours de linguistique
générale, Paris: Payot.
R. 2015, ‘Layers of ineffability in the Zhuagzi: Why language shoud not be
trusted’in:. New visions of the Zhuangzi,
(L Kohn, ed.), Three Pines Press.