The Philosophy of the Daodejing

The Philosophy of the Daodejing

Hans-Georg Moeller
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    The Philosophy of the Daodejing
    Book Description:

    For centuries, the ancient Chinese philosophical text the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching) has fascinated and frustrated its readers. While it offers a wealth of rich philosophical insights concerning the cultivation of one's body and attaining one's proper place within nature and the cosmos, its teachings and structure can be enigmatic and obscure.

    Hans-Georg Moeller presents a clear and coherent description and analysis of this vaguely understood Chinese classic. He explores the recurring images and ideas that shape the work and offers a variety of useful approaches to understanding and appreciating this canonical text. Moeller expounds on the core philosophical issues addressed in the Daodejing, clarifying such crucial concepts as Yin and Yang and Dao and De. He explains its teachings on a variety of subjects, including sexuality, ethics, desire, cosmology, human nature, the emotions, time, death, and the death penalty. The Daodejing also offers a distinctive ideal of social order and political leadership and presents a philosophy of war and peace.

    An illuminating exploration, The Daodejing is an interesting foil to the philosophical outlook of Western humanism and contains surprising parallels between its teachings and nontraditional contemporary philosophies.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51010-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE The Philosophy of the Daodejing
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER I How to Read the Daodejing
    (pp. 1-20)

    The Daodejing or, as it was called earlier in history, the Laozi,¹ is a book that can both fascinate and trouble its readers. Many feel attracted and inspired by its “darkness.” For some, this darkness appears as a depth that contains intellectual mysteries and wonders. To others, this same darkness appears as an obstacle to understanding. These readers find it difficult to make sense of the cryptic verses and vocabulary. They cannot detect anything truly enlightening in the text and find nothing of interest in the hidden and dark.

    The “darkness” of the Laozi is partially due to the fact...

  5. CHAPTER 2 The Dao of Sex
    (pp. 21-32)

    The Laozi talks about sex, and it does so frequently. It talks about sexuality because the Dao, as a “way,” is a way of living and dying. It is also a way of fertility. As such, there is a sexual dimension to it and, accordingly, a number of poetic images in the Laozi are directly or indirectly sexual. Images of motherhood and femininity—for instance in chapter 6: “The spirit of the valley does not die / This is called hidden femininity”—are immediately related to sexuality and reproduction. Chapter 28 connects the image of the fertile and “female” valley...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Yin & Yang, Qi, Dao & De
    (pp. 33-54)

    The preceding discussion of sexuality has, hopefully, shown that the early Daoists conceived of the world as a permanent process of production, as a cycle of fertility. To keep this process going, it is essential to follow the course or order of “nature.” If this order is violated or if one acts contrary to it, disasters and catastrophes may follow. Such a conception of a natural world-order or course of (re)production is not something unique to the Laozi. One may well find comparable views, for instance, in ancient Greece, and particularly in pre-Socratic thought. Still, the Laozi expresses its conceptions...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Paradox Politics
    (pp. 55-74)

    The Laozi is certainly not a humanist text, and Daoist philosophy, in general, is not humanist either. Unlike for Protagoras, here man is not the measure of all things. Human beings are one element or segment of the functioning of the cosmos. Within this scenario, there is nothing special about humans. They were not created as the sole godlike species, are not the presumed master of the world, and are not even seen, in Heidegger’s terms, as the “shepherd of being.” Not only do humans lack the role of dominating nature or a special relation and responsibility toward “being,” they...

  8. CHAPTER 5 On War
    (pp. 75-86)

    From politics it is not far to war. As Carl von Clausewitz famously remarked, war can be understood as the continuation of politics by other means, and this insight is certainly not incompatible with how the Laozi conceives of the interrelation between these two social phenomena.¹ Throughout most of history, reflections on politics and war have been tightly interwoven, and thus a political philosophy is quite naturally related to a philosophy of war. In the Laozi, this relation is both obvious and close. In the preceding chapter, I attempted to point out how the Laozi looks at politics as both...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Masters of Satisfaction (DESIRES, EMOTIONS, AND ADDICTIONS)
    (pp. 87-98)

    Human desires are identified as a main cause of war and social disorder in the Laozi. They are at the core of the “human problem,” i.e., the problem of achieving the same degree of natural functionality among humans as within “heaven and earth.” The personal cultivation of the sage-rulers is thus focused on minimizing desires and corresponding emotions. It is believed that if they succeed in eliminating harmful desires in themselves, this will not only grant them great social prestige but also influence their subjects. If there are no desires at its “heart,” the whole social body will be without...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Indifference & Negative Ethics
    (pp. 99-110)

    The twentieth-century Chinese-American writer Lin Yutang retells the ancient Chinese story about “the old man at the fort” (which is found in the text Huainanzi) in the following way:

    There was an old man at a frontier fort in the north who understood Daoism. One day he lost his horse, which wandered into the land of the Hu tribesmen. His neighbors came to condole with him and the man said, “How do you know that this is bad luck?”

    After a few months, the horse returned with some fine horses of the Hu breed, and the people congratulated him. The...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Permanence & Eternity
    (pp. 111-120)

    The indifference of the Daoist sage relates to the acceptance and affirmation of change. To be indifferent means to equally appreciate different, but complementary, segments of a process of change. It is believed that only the indifference to the different guarantees the smoothness of change and thus its unimpeded continuity. Therefore, the Daoist philosophy of indifference and change is also connected to a philosophy of time—a philosophy that turns out to be one of permanence rather than eternity.

    Permanence is one of the great topics of Daoism, and it is of particular importance in the Laozi. Its many images...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Death and the Death Penalty
    (pp. 121-132)

    Time and temporality are intrinsically connected with a major existential issue that practically all philosophies and religions deal with, namely the issue of the temporality of life or, more concretely, our “being toward death,” our mortality. Death is thus, quite naturally, an important topic in the Laozi. Given its philosophy of permanence, the Laozi seems to identify the Dao with ongoing continuity and thus with the avoidance of death altogether. Chapter 6 claims that, “The spirit of the valley does not die.” In a sense, the Dao seems to be “deathless,” and to imitate the Dao may then mean for...

  13. CHAPTER 10 “Without the Impulses of Man”: A DAOIST CRITIQUE OF HUMANISM
    (pp. 133-146)

    Toward the end of chapter 5 in the Zhuangzi there is the following dialogue between Zhuangzi and his friend Hui Shi:

    Said Hui Shi to Zhuangzi: “Can a man really be without the impulses of man?”

    “He can.”

    “If a man is without the impulses of man, how can we call him a man?”

    “The Dao gives him the guise, heaven gives him the shape, how can we refuse to call him a man?”

    “But since we do call him a man, how can he be without the impulses of man?”

    “Judging ‘That’s it, that’s not’ is what I mean...

  14. APPENDIX 1 A Note on the Textual History of the Daodejing
    (pp. 147-148)
  15. APPENDIX 2 A Note on English Translations of the Daodejing
    (pp. 149-152)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 153-160)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 161-168)