Chuang Tzu

Philosophy 111 – Introduction to Philosophy (Fall 2002)

Epistemology.  Chuang Tzu.  “Let Nature Take Its Course”

[Students and professors, please read.]

[My professor emailed me:  “This is the best paper I have graded” before he went on to ask me to narrow my focus.]

I think the main theme of Chuang Tzu is just to let Nature take its course, which is appropriately illustrated using the light, or in light, of Nature, the common principle.

In Chuang Tzu, the theory of mutual production reminds me that because there is movement, there is matter/energy, and because there is matter/energy, there is movement–each causes the other simultaneously.  Neat-o.

As for the perfect knowledge of the ancients that nothing exists–I can relate to it, because I imagine the same thing, although impossible to fully understand, when I think of God’s transcendence.  I connect the beginning/being segment with the “store of Nature” segment–they are both referring to the same type of transcendence (as is the ‘perfect man’ segment) although it isn’t really transcendence, because all is One.  To explain, the beginning/being segment describes the futility of trying to understand how, basically, something can come from nothing–the same “awe” is reflected in the store of Nature segment, which describes that store as impossible to empty, fill or locate (because it is not physical) (to me this segment says that, in order to know anything, you have to be everywhere at once, embracing everything–you would have to be the store of Nature, not, like we are, a tiny part of Nature–this is transcendence).  I have thought about this a lot in the past in relation to the first cause argument, which is of course a futile argument (who can reach the beginning or non-beginning and come back and tell us who won the argument?  “That one is called the store of Nature”), but I still enjoy it.  We are limited because we are not “all that is” (no–we are the fish!–just kidding), although we are one with it and our physical bodies in reality have no end or beginning–God is not limited because He is all-encompassing, the store of Nature (not just a little part of it). Another way to say it is “Nothing” (the dimmed light) because it encompasses all that exists (Nature) and is therefore distinct from “everything” and yet, all is One–and so is nothing (only in “sensing” do we categorize “nothing” into “something”–this is dreaming).  Even “encompassing” is not the right word, because only something physical can “encompass”.  Reminds me of going from nothing and ending up with three.

The section involving men, eels, monkeys, beauty, etcetera, also the mark/horse analogy, and the segment on sound (we know a sound in comparison to all other sounds that are not that sound, we know all other sounds are not the first sound in comparison to the first sound, so the first stands alone–so things are relative as much as they are not, as are opinions), reminds me of the “now” in Einstein’s theory of relativity–“one” now with an infinite number of ways to perceive it (infinite number of nows inside the one). Some say there is not one definite now because, among other reasons, our five senses do not register as fast as a moment changes into the next moment (or even all five at once), but they are forgetting it is a sensory illusion which misleads us to believe our physical presence is separate and independent from this Universe in which we fit so snugly, and other beliefs that stem from that, and ways of going against the natural flow which stem from those beliefs; it is our senses which prevent us from “seeing” things as they really are and leaving it there (and so even while awake we are dreaming, because we assign meaning that is not there naturally, etcetera); and, getting to the point, that it is not our senses which un-make the one now, or the Natural flow of things, reality–not that I am saying the one now or the Natural flow of things are permanent and fixed…

…and therefore what is harmful or beneficial is not permanent and fixed (for example, imagine if technology put an end to death)–just as the beginning gives way to an ending that gives way to a beginning, and the store of Time is unmoving, etcetera–“harmful”, whatever that means right now, is wrong, and “beneficial”, whatever that means right now, is right (that they are different from eachother leaves no room for argument, a segment I can appreciate from Chuang Tzu–not absurdly relativistic).  If harm ceases to be part of Nature, “wrong” ceases to be part of Nature, but then so would “right” (mutual production/destruction).  So–just forget about it–do not worry about all those distinctions which take care of themselves (reminds me of detachment in the Gita), relax and get comfortable with the natural flow of things and realize all is interconnected, ever-evolving as “One”.

Besides everything I already mentioned appreciating, I enjoy the humor and bluntness in Chuang Tzu.  “I have just said something, but I don’t know if what I have said really says something or says nothing,” made me chuckle, as well as “Suppose I say a few words to you for what they are worth and you listen to them for what they are worth. How about it?”  I like that Chuang Tzu says being overly modest is fake.  And, lastly, what he says about humanity reminds me of the part of our reading of Ayn Rand with which I agreed.

Work Cited

“Knowledge and Relativity.”  The Philosophical Quest: A Cross-Cultural Reader, Second             Edition. Ed. Presbey, Gail M., et. al. McGraw-Hill, Inc, 2000.  110-115.

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