The Dao that Cannot Be Named

This essay claims that the first stanza of the Dao-de Jing (DDJ) attempts to formulate the sense of paradox—and loss—in the transition from pre-linguistic humanity to the first linguistically self-aware Chinese generation. Hegel’s account of the silence of the Sphinx is employed to lay the ground for a Kantian conjectural account of this paradoxical transition. Nagel’s question “What is it like to be a bat?” is employed as a model for the “Kantian” conjectural question posed in the first stanza of the DDJ: “What is it like to be a member of this primordial linguistically self-aware generation?” Also discussed here is the question whether there is a Kantian metaphysical dimension to the DDJ. Finally, an explanation is offered as to why understanding such primordial texts is both so difficult and so important for modern thinkers.