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  • A Rejoinder to Hsu's Comments
  • James D. Sellmann

When so much is based on speculation, finding the correct understanding is difficult. Clearly, we have different perspectives, preferences, and speculations about the Daodejing.

An old system that is no longer in use by the experts in a discipline is a dated system. Experts are increasingly using pinyin to romanize Chinese characters instead of the Latinized names "Confucius" and "Mencius." In my opinion, we no longer need to use Latin-sounding names for pre-Qin philosophers.

In part my review was an attempt to stress the importance of meaning what you say and saying what you mean. If Hsu wants to say that the physical shape of Chinese characters does not change according to grammatical relationships, then he should say the physical shape does not change. A Chinese character is more than a physical shape; it has pronunciations, syntax, meanings, and other characteristics that may, and do, change.

Context is everything. In modern Chinese, xiaoxin means "to be careful." In a classical medical text, it could literally refer to a "small heart organ." What is considered logical also depends on the context. In a Euro-American system of order, beginning with the source and then moving to the expression makes sense. I proposed that in the pre-Qin, Qin, and Han contexts one would begin with the expression or manifestation and work one's way back to the source.

From my perspective, readers of pre-Qin philosophy must first be freed of the Western metaphysical baggage of the eternal and the absolute in order to understand and experience dao as an ultimate reality.

When the translation and the emendations derived from variant readings all spin in the same circle and are based on the same assumptions, then a lack of critical, opposing perspectives results, in my opinion.

The discussion of being and nonbeing, or rather having and not having, was presented to display an alternative perspective. Being and nonbeing are the nature of reality, depending on the metaphysical theory at work. If the Daodejing as a whole is philosophical poetry, to argue that one verse is poetic and another is philosophical when, in fact, both are philosophical poetry seems strange to me. Maybe Hsu is proposing a matter of degree? Some verses are more philosophical and some are more poetic?

Because ziran is a technical term that appears to be coined for the Daodejing, its meaning should be technical and have less contextual variation.

Concerning weight, the antonyms are "heavy" and "light" in the Daodejing. "Weight" is a relative term that covers a spectrum from heavy to light weight. The text says that "Being heavy is the root of being light." The contrast is between the heavy and the light. It is not the case that "gravity" or "weight in general" is the root of being lightweight. It is the specific heavyweight that grounds the lightweight. [End Page 20]

That we can agree to disagree is good. In the Daodejing there is a depth of ambiguity and poetic license that leads to much speculation in both Hsu's translation and my review. If others did not laugh at it, it would not be the way (Poem 41). [End Page 21]



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