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147 Sage-Knowledge and Equality in the Zhuangzi ESKE J. MØ LLGAARD The Zhuangzi has many dimensions, and it can be read in many ways. In the following I try to sound its philosophical depths. But here we immediately face an impasse. Philosophy is a Greek invention, and in its specificity foreign to the Zhuangzi. And yet it seems unreasonable to deny philosophical depth to the Zhuangzi. This impasse has been the source of interminable discussion. The present essay contributes to this discussion a modest proposal. If, as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari suggest, the death of the sage is the precondition for philosophy (1994: 3), then we may say that the Zhuangzi inaugurates philosophy in China. For, as we will see, in the Zhuangzi the idea of sage-knowledge (shengzhi 聖知) is abandoned and the search for equality and freedom begins aided only by friends and our common intelligence. Critique of Sage-Knowledge According to the Quqie 胠篋 chapter (ch. 10), rulers of states are nothing but great thieves (dadao 大盜). As we say in English, steal a little and they put you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king. The king, of course, needs to have some legitimacy in order to secure his position, and sageknowledge is the ideology that provides this legitimacy and so guards (shou 守) the great thieves who rule the state. Sage-knowledge and the robbers who rule the state are two sides of the same coin. They arise together , and they fall together. 148 / Journal of Daoist Studies 7 (2014) Confucians will object that surely we can separate Confucian sageknowledge from corrupt state power. For while it is true that in the imperial period Confucianism served as ideological support for a corrupt and repressive state, there were many upright Confucians in history who were not corrupted by power but stood up for humaneness and righteousness . That is no doubt true. But this objection misses the point of the critique of sage-knowledge in the Zhuangzi. The point is that it is the very belief that there is an uncorrupted center in the state of corruption that makes people submit to the actually existing state as sure as the grass bends to the wind. According to the Quqie chapter, rulers of states are great robbers— they do not just pick your pockets and snatch your purses, they take your houses and your land—but those who promote sage-knowledge are even bigger robbers. This is because sage-knowledge robs people of their natural intelligence. How does sage-knowledge rob people of their natural intelligence? It does so by objectifying virtue, or as the chapter says, by ‚establishing their virtues on the outside‛ (waili qide 外立 其德; 10/25/19—references to chapter, page(s), and line(s) in Zhuangzi 2000). That is to say, virtue (de 德) is objectified in the social order, in noble men (junzi 君子) and rituals (li 禮). The common people are taught that virtue is not something they themselves possess but an outer (wai 外) standard to which they must submit. In order to conform to this outer standard the people must follow the directions of those who know the profound meaning of rituals and the behavior of the noble man. For the people themselves are not able to understand this (Lunyu 8.9; Mengzi 7A5). In this way the common people are robbed of their natural intelligence. Having had their natural intelligence stolen away, the people are seen as being stupid and not fit to govern themselves. The people are treated like children or sheep that must be guided by the wise ruler and his Confucian scholar-officials. But it is not just Confucians who have this view of the people. It is widespread, also in modern times. For enlightened reformers, the common people have no principles but are like loose sand on which one cannot build the new society. For nationalists, the common people lack moral fiber and are unfit to become soldiercitizens and engage in nation building. For communists, the people are unaware of their class interests and must be educated and moved to ac- Møllgaard, ‚Sage-Knowledge‛ / 149 tion by the Party. In capitalist societies, the people are seen as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1941-5524
Pages
pp. 147-162
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-01
Open Access
No
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