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458 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 Paul Kjellberg and Philip J. Ivanhoe, editors. Essays on Skepticism, Relativism , and Ethics in the Zhuangzi. SUNY Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture. Albany: State University ofNew York Press, 1996. xx, 240 pp. Hardcover $59.50, isbn 0-7914-2891-5. Paperback $19.95, jsbn 0-7914-2892-3. Or am I the only stupid one? —Zhuangzi, "Qiwulun" The introduction to this volume figures Zhuangzi's text' as engaging the problem of interpretation. We cannot come to it empty of all preconception, and time and again Zhuangzi seems to make an issue of our hermeneutic circling. It is for him in particular a problem of ethics, of a life lived well. How can we act spontaneously and in full adequacy when we come to any situation loaded down with foreknowledge ? The answer many have attributed to Zhuangzi is that we should somehow discard this knowledge. In our subsequent emptiness, we would be able to reflect the world as it really is, and would thus achieve a new certainly in die dao iM, "Way." The difficulty here lies in marking off a spontaneity that would not involve knowing, and thus would not be touched by Zhuangzi's critique. This is unlikely to work: Zhuangzi is suspicious of nothing if not of the founding distinctions of ethical systems; it seems unlikely he would propose his own such distinction (spontaneity/knowing, for example). That such interpretative strategies are so common suggests a profound refusal to take seriously Zhuangzi's confessions of (and arguments for) uncertainly. Essays on Skepticism, Relativism, and Ethics in the Zhuangzi (hereafter known as "Essays") performs an important service in foregrounding this issue. The nine essays collected here are at their best when examining the nature of Zhuangzi's critical project. They are less instructive, however , when subordinating that critique to an ethic understood to be mystical and in its own way certain. The book opens with essays that try to understand Zhuangzi's skepticism not as a philosophical position ("knowledge is impossible") but as a way oflife. Paul Kjellberg starts with a discussion of Sextus Empiricus, a Greek skeptic who was explicitly uninterested in proving the impossibility ofknowledge. Instead, he thought people would live more satisfying lives if they merely suspended judgment on matters going beyond appearance. Kjellberg suggests a similar reading of Zhuangzi: what is important is not the skeptical conclusions, but rather the moti-© 1997 by Universityb r r rjr ·<· ? vations. Zhuangzi thinks mat if people are less dogmatic, they will be more open to intuition and lead more natural lives.2 Reviews 459 Lisa Raphals sets Zhuangzi's "Qiwulun"3 alongside Plato's Theaetetus. She distinguishes between skepticism as a thesis, a recommendation, and a method. The thesis is the apparendy self-refuting "I know that I can know nothing,"4 and she suggests that Zhuangzi never presents such a thesis. His skeptical arguments conclude with questions, not answers (for example, "How do I know that what I call knowing isn't not-knowing? How do I know that what I call not-knowing isn't knowing?" [6/2/66] 5). Instead she argues that he uses skeptical methods and can be understood as giving a skeptical recommendation. In all cases, she argues for a similar reading ofPlato, concluding that ancient Chinese and Greek skepticisms weren't so different as might be supposed. Eric Schwitzgebel, on the other hand, does read some ofZhuangzi's claims as assertions ofwhat he calls "radical skepticism." He nonetheless does not want to attribute such a position to Zhuangzi, for the simple reason that elsewhere Zhuangzi seems to advocate some styles ofliving over others. His essay is an attempt to understand why Zhuangzi would advocate a position he doesn't honestly hold. He argues that the answer lies in the point of Zhuangzi's text: to provoke the reader to take words less seriously. If words are to be taken less seriously, Schwitzgebel suggests, Zhuangzi may not feel committed to presenting only those arguments whose conclusions he accepts. He would be more interested in producing an effect, and he would be right to expect that no argument for radical skepticism is likely to produce very many radical skeptics. Instead, Zhuangzi is, and provokes the reader to be, an "everyday skeptic": he takes words and beliefs less seriously. The issue between Raphals and Schwitzgebel is whetiier or not Zhuangzi asserts a skeptical thesis, and this is a fruitful disagreement. I think Raphals is correct to say that he never claims that knowledge is impossible, but his critical arguments do make positive claims that seem neither to make recommendations nor to be methodological in character. For example, in undermining the possibility of attaining the utmost (M) in knowing he writes: "Only when knowing has what it depends on does it fit. The problem is that what it depends on is never fixed" (15/ 6/2-3). How do we understand such claims? What is it that knowing depends on, and what does it mean to claim that it isn't fixed? Should we accept Kjellberg's and Schwitzgebel's arguments that the conclusion isn't what is important in understanding Zhuangzi, and instead attend to its motivation and intended effect? It is refreshing that none of these three essays indulges in loose talk of absolute spontaneity or unmediated experience ofreality. The impression they leave is that Zhuangzi was mostly interested in more flexible, open-minded styles ofliving . Other contributors to Essays, however, seem to think this flexibility can itself be certain: Zhuangzi's sage always knows the right way to cope with a world in transformation, and doesn't need knowledge ("preconceptions") to do it. Mark Berkson presents the most jarring attribution of certainty. He sets out a comparison with Jacques Derrida, arguing that the two share similar negative 46? China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 projects, but that Zhuangzi goes further than Derrida in having a positive project as well. The comparison of "negative" projects is instructive, and I wish Berkson had taken it more seriously. He attributes to Zhuangzi a belief tiiat sages have unmediated access to "the true pattern of reality" once they discard language (that's the negative project). But if the comparison with Derrida is at all illustrative, then this move can't be right. Deconstruction is neither a negative project in Berkson's sense nor one limited to "linguistic skepticism." Limiting Zhuangzi's target to language assumes that only spoken distinctions are really distinctions, and ignores skeptical claims involving such nonlinguistic things as completion (/?£), daos, what knowing depends on, and what language languages. In fact, Berkson is unable to provide any evidence for his attribution of a radical "positive" project to Zhuangzi. He cites the question, "Wherever we walk, how can the Way be absent ?" (4/2/25, cited at 102-103),6 and suggests that this entails that dao, "Way," is Zhuangzi's word for an accessible "true nature of reality." Of course, there is no such entailment, and Berkson provides no other evidence. More nuanced attempts to mark the limits of Zhuangzi's uncertainty are provided by Lee Yearley and Robert Eno. Both focus on the nature of skill as opposed to discursive knowledge. The Zhuangzi presents a number of stories of skilled individuals who seem to have achieved a sort of transcendence through skill-mastery . Only one of these stories, that of Cook Ding, is within the Inner Chapters. Ding7 is so good at carving up oxen that for nineteen years he hasn't needed to sharpen his knife. His lord is impressed with his skill, and Ding explains that after long years ofpractice he no longer operates according to ordinary faculties. Instead , he is overcome by shen jji$, "daemonic energy," and goes by the ox's tianli zRM., "natural articulations." In describing his ability he prefers the word "dao" to skill, suggesting that in cutting up bovines he isn't all that different from the sages invoked as ideals by the philosophers ofhis time. Yearley reads this story as a clue to Zhuangzi's more mysterious descriptions of "the ultimate spiritual state," which involves the coexistence of opposites ("at home where it intrudes"), mirrorlike minds, and total emptiness. Yearley suggests a tripartite division of the self into dispositional, reflective, and transcendent drives, with the last arising from skilled behavior. He gives a detailed account of the experience of skill, and suggests that the sage is one who is skilled at life in general—someone who never stops operating according to transcendent drives. The problem is finding the point where Zhuangzi posits sagehood as such a generalized skillfulness. Even ifwe accept that he privileges skilled behavior,8 this by no means entails that he holds the unlikely view that one can achieve perfect skill in life as a whole. Eno agrees with much of Yearley's assessment, arguing furthermore that the point of Zhuangzi's critique is to defuse attempts to defend one skill-repertoire over another. That is, the Confucian dao consisted in one set of skills (the rites), Reviews 461 and Cook Ding's in another, but argument over which is better is pointless and gets in the way of actual skilled living. The problem here is that arguing over which skill is better itselftakes skill, as Chad Hansen has argued. There is no reason to suppose that the joys of a good game of chess cannot also be experienced in a good argument. The distinction Eno attributes to Zhuangzi is not a good one. But he derives it from another distinction that may be more useful. He argues that Zhuangzi's problem is with behavior that presupposes a fixed ontology, for the simple reason that Zhuangzi doesn't believe any such thing is available. We must always be open to transformation, or we'll end up frustrated and in trouble. This suggests that the problem with argumentation is not that it isn't skilled, but that it generally involves the claim that it leads to (or at least should lead to) the one right answer: the dao. But skilled behavior can involve just such a claim, as it did for the Confucians. They believed that their rituals were the only way to secure harmony in the social world. Their defense of the rites over other skill-repertoires was essential to their conception of these skills, not an accidental inauthenticity. This suggests that Zhuangzi's ethic might have less to do with skill as such than a (limited) coping with a lack offixity. Indeed, this is how David Loy and Joel Kupperman approach the text. Loy attempts a comparison with Nägärjuna, the second- (or so) century Buddhist theorist, in order to suggest that Zhuangzi thinks we get into a lot oftrouble when we understand the world as a collection ofindependent things with ourselves looking on as thing-like selves. Instead, Zhuangzi presents a view ofthings interrelated in complicated ways, and in constant transformation. Things and selves are not self-existent entities, and we should stop acting as ifthey were. What is interesting is that this figures Daoism as inevitable: while we may not recognize the world's instability, we do in fact cope with it all the time. The question, then, is what difference does Zhuangzi's recognition ofinstability (transformation ) make? In an excellent essay, Joel Kupperman approaches this question by considering different senses in which people are spontaneous. On the one hand, everyone is spontaneous: one's thoughts and acts are never fully determined by prior thoughts and acts. At die same time, though, some people are more spontaneous than others, and this is where Kupperman locates Zhuangzi's project. He takes his clue from artistic spontaneity, which, he suggests, consists in an attentiveness to "open structures." He mentions Mozart's remark that his ideas just happened, paralleling it with Zhuangzi's "no one knows from what soil they spring." 9 He argues that Zhuangzi wants to come to terms with "psychic chaos"—the various impulses ofdreams and inclination mat are often ruled outside the boundary ofself. Loy goes further than Kupperman, and this is a mistake. At the beginning of his essay he suggests we can understand Zhuangzi's skepticism or relativism better ifwe understand what it is that most of us expect from knowledge. He then 462 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 argues that, for Zhuangzi, we cannot get this certainty from knowledge—and he concludes that we can get it from ignorance and a transcendence of self. He suggests that certainty can be grounded in an identification with transformation, in a spontaneity (ziran ¡Éî^) ofnon-action (wuwei MJEi). It is suspicious enough that these are terms that Zhuangzi hardly ever uses, but we might also ask how, having abandoned self, we are supposed to identify with anything, much less transformations that are presumably not themselves self-identical. Both Loy and Kupperman invoke a certain degree ofrelativism, and Philip Ivanhoe aims to limit this relativism by attributing to Zhuangzi a belief that human nature is benign. Left alone, a person will pretty much leave other people alone, too. He presents tins reading by arguing against two interpretations of Zhuangzi as a relativist. Against Chad Hansen, he argues that Zhuangzi does have a view ofhuman nature. Against David Wong, he argues that this view is not that human nature is compassionate. Ivanhoe's misreading of Hansen is important here. He suggests that Hansen derives his "hard relativism" from a "heaven's-eye view," or "view from nowhere," from which all human talk is equally true because equally irrelevant. Hansen, however, explicitly denies such a perspective: "Any attempt to talk about a real or absolute perspective is incoherent."10 It is on this denial that he bases his relativist reading ofZhuangzi: if there is no absolute perspective, then we cannot attain authoritative knowledge. What, then, for human nature? Ivanhoe argues that Zhuangzi advocates an "ethical promiscuity" based in the belief that human nature is essentially benign. He argues against Wong's belief that human nature must be pictured "without a face" in order to preserve the principle of equal worth; Ivanhoe's promiscuity consists in a nature with many faces. But it is unclear how this pluralization allows a singular statement of nature. At the very least, Zhuangzi seems reluctant to make such a statement. At one point he asks, "Or am I the only stupid one and among others there are indeed those who are not stupid?" (4/2/20-21). The question is a strange backflip of a remark: the preceding passage suggests that people are essentially incomplete—no matter how stable they seem, they are always subject to further transformation in form and heart-mind. If Zhuangzi thinks human nature is essentially incomplete, he doesn't seem to think his perspective allows him to assert even that much on behalf of everybody. In fact, Zhuangzi asserts very little. A great deal of the Inner Chapters consists of stories, and even when a character offers an assertion, we cannot automatically attribute it to Zhuangzi. When he presents arguments apparently in his own voice, he often ends with questions in the place of conclusions. When he does make assertions, they can fairly naturally be read as assertions of the indeterminacy of interpretation or communication—and, if we follow Kjellberg or Schwitzgebel, we might not even want to attribute those assertions to Zhuangzi. He is certainly explicit that he doesn't know ifwhat he asserts is right for every- Reviews 463 body. Perhaps it is a mistake to assume we can turn to Zhuangzi for a statement ofhuman nature." I think we have to say something like this: Zhuangzi does not assume a perspective shared by all humans. He may, however, believe that his analysis of the uncertainty of communication will secure the assent of some readers, and so constitute something of a shared position—but a position that recognizes the incompleteness ofall positioning and all communication. Which is just to say that what interpretation depends on is never fixed. The issues raised in Essays are frequently both important and suggestive for those ofus trying to read Zhuangzi. In particular the problematic they engage— the articulation of uncertainty and ethics in Zhuangzi—is a crucial one that has often been ignored or simply assumed not to be a problem. Alongside what often strike me as bizarre dogmatisms, interesting questions are raised and a few interesting answers suggested. I hope the trend signaled by this book continues. I should also mention the book's bibliography, which is a treasure. Compiled by Edward Slingerland, it is billed as a comprehensive survey ofworks devoted to Zhuangzi in Western languages, with a few key works in Chinese and Japanese thrown in for good measure. It might never stop being useful. Dan Robins University ofHong Kong Dan Robins is a doctoral candidate whose researchfocuses on WarringStates thought. NOTES1. 1 refer primarily to the Inner Chapters ofthe Zhuangzi, which is a composite work usually dated to the fourth and third centuries b.c. The Inner Chapters are widely considered its authentic core. They may or may not have been written by the historical Zhuangzi; regardless, "Zhuangzi" is generally taken to name whatever person or persons are responsible for putting the Inner Chapters in their present shape. I will follow this usage here, although I doubt it can be justified. 2.Kjellberg ends his essay with a reading ofXunzi's criticism that Zhuangzi "was obsessed by the natural and didn't know the human." He argues that this is best understood as disagreeing with Zhuangzi's purpose in offering skeptical arguments, rather than as a criticism ofthe arguments themselves. For Xunzi, living a more natural life is not a worthwhile goal. 3.The translation ofthis title is controversial, and I will not propose one here. A. C. Graham suggests "The sorting which evens things out." 4.This isn't the only possible skeptical thesis. Kjellberg ends his essay with another: "We said in the beginning that the only thing we can saywith confidence is that we are not really sure what the answer is. Ifour reasoning here is correct, however, then the unfortunate conclusion is that we cannot even say that" (p. 21). 5.In citing Zhuangzi, I will reference the page, chapter, and line number in the HarvardYenching Concordance. 6.Berkson uses A. C. Graham's translation from the latter's Chuang-tzu: The Inner Chapters (London and Boston: Unwin Paperbacks, 1981), p. 52. One could replace "the Way" here by 464 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 "a way." Zhuangzi would then be making the pluralist point that any way of acting would constitute a dao, or way. 7.Ding"f may be an indication of low rank rather than a proper name. 8.Perhaps we should be skeptical even of this: elsewhere skill is apparently described as both a completion and an injury (5/2/43). 9.Graham, Chuang-tzu: The Inner Chapters, p. 50. 10.Chad Hansen, "A Tao of Tao in Chuang-Tzu," in Experimental Essays on Chuang-tzu, ed. Victor Mair (Honolulu: Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, University ofHawaii, 1983), p. 47. 11.Ivanhoe suggests that attributing a belief in a benign human nature inserts Zhuangzi into the philosophical debates of his time—but attributing to one a presupposition that one doesn't make explicit, much less defend, hardly inserts one into any debates. Paul R. Kleindorfer, Howard C. Kunreuther, and David S. Hong, editors. Energy, Environment and the Economy: Asian Perspectives. New Horizons in Environmental Economics. Cheltenham, England, and Brookfield, Vermont : Edward Elgar, 1996. xiv, 292 pp. Hardcover $69.95, 1SBN 1-85898-391-6. Energy, Environment and the Economy: Asian Perspectives is a collection of papers presented in Taipei in 1994 at a conference of the same title jointly organized by the Wharton Center for Risk Management and Decision Process and the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research. The contributors include specialists from Australia , Austria, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States. The volume is part of the publisher's impressive New Horizons in Environmental Economics series published under the distinguished general editorship of Professor Wallace E. Oates. The contributors address the critical issue of integrating energy production and consumption and economic development with environmental protection. This issue is nowhere more important than in Asia, home to many of the world's most dynamic economies and the majority of the world's population. Rapid increases in standards of living have lifted many out of poverty, even while minimizing income inequalities in cases like Taiwan. Nevertheless, many regimes in Asia have been ill-prepared to cope with the environmental consequences of eco-© 1997 bv Universitv nomic development, resulting in increased pollution loads, haphazard project ofHawai'i Pressplanning and facility siting, and in some instances local political conflict. Although these problems primarily affect Asians, the rising role ofAsia and the Pacific Rim in the global economy and with respect to global commons issues such ...

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ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 458-464
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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