Lecture 5: Metaphors from the Daoist texts Daodejing and Zhuangzi and How They Provide Counterpoints to the Themes Articulated from Confucian Sources; The Desirability of Synthesis Between the Confucian and Daoist Ideas of Governance.
Confucian and Daoist approaches to the social and natural worlds are not just competing, but deeply complementary. Each responds to grave flaws in the other. I take up a characteristic criticism of Confucians to be found in the Daoist texts, which is that the project of achieving virtue easily degenerates into a striving for superiority over others that not only perverts the aim of self-cultivation but defeats the equally important aim of helping others to improve.
Underlying this critique is a rejection of the Confucian made-up heart-mind as the ruler of the person/body. The Zhuāngzǐ presents an alternative: a pluralistic and egalitarian conception holding that there is a wisdom to be found in the qì of a person’s body that cannot be found in the heart-mind. I discuss how this conception is rooted in a view of our relation to the world that asserts both our oneness with interdependent, fluidly interacting things that are never permanent but flow into and become each other. Our relationship to the world is such that there are endless alternative ways we can conceptualize it. The complexity and fluid plasticity of things is part of what makes the range of alternative conceptualizations of the world significant and wide. This way in which all things are one carries with it the expectation that it will be elusive and resistant to adequate capture through our conceptualizations. I relate this view of our relation to the world with a contemporary and compelling scientific view of human perception as a kind of surfing waves of sensory stimulation. One may think that this results in a pessimistic skepticism, but I argue that the result is constructive in pointing out what we have missed and might yet better comprehend about the world.
The Daoist texts do not provide a very useful picture of political and social governance, so I shall try to delineate what a Daoist-inspired picture would look like. I suggest that analogy from the pluralistic and egalitarian conception of organization within the person should have democratic elements in political governance, and discuss what those elements might look like in combination with the Confucian conception of political and social governance that I have sketched in the previous lectures.