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An Introduction to Daoist Philosophies

An Introduction to Daoist Philosophies

Steve Coutinho
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    An Introduction to Daoist Philosophies
    Book Description:

    Steve Coutinho explores in detail the fundamental concepts of Daoist thought as represented in three early texts: theLaozi, theZhuangzi, and theLiezi. Readers interested in philosophy yet unfamiliar with Daoism will gain a comprehensive understanding of these works from this analysis, and readers fascinated by ancient China who also wish to grasp its philosophical foundations will appreciate the clarity and depth of Coutinho's explanations.

    Coutinho writes a volume for all readers, whether or not they have a background in philosophy or Chinese studies. A work of comparative philosophy, this volume also integrates the concepts and methods of contemporary philosophical discourse into a discussion of early Chinese thought. The resulting dialogue relates ancient Chinese thought to contemporary philosophical issues and uses modern Western ideas and approaches to throw new interpretive light on classical texts. Rather than function as historical curiosities, these works act as living philosophies in conversation with contemporary thought and experience. Coutinho respects the multiplicity of Daoist philosophies while also revealing a distinctive philosophical sensibility, and he provides clear explanations of these complex texts without resorting to oversimplification.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51288-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Daoist Philosophies
    (pp. 1-18)

    Daoism is often explained as the philosophy of TheDao—an absolute and transcendent substance, the utterly unspeakable ground of all existence that lies beyond the world of experience. Those who believe in a perennial philosophy—a single ultimate truth manifested to different cultures in different ways—take it to be the chinese equivalent of Brahman in Vedanta philosophy, or of the Godhead in christian mysticism. TheLaozisays that there is something primordial and imperceptible; Vedanta says that Brahman is a ground of existence that transcends conceptual distinctions. Are these the same concept presented in superficially different ways, or...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Fundamental Concepts of Chinese Philosophy
    (pp. 19-44)

    Some terms play a foundational role in the philosophical discourse of a culture and get passed down as continuing themes, either presupposed by the tradition or made the explicit object of discussion and argument. In the West, these have included “truth,” “reality,” “illusion,” “beauty,” “justice,” “mind,” “essence,” and “God,” among others. These concepts are widespread, and although they are explained differently by different thinkers, they are foundational to much Western philosophical discourse. Indeed, the words are often capitalized to indicate that what they refer to has an ultimate, transcendent, or absolute status. They do not, however, generally play a central...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Laozi
    (pp. 45-77)

    TheLaoziis traditionally attributed to an elder to Confucius, known as Laozi, or Master Lao.¹ There is an ancient mythology surrounding this venerable name, but no indisputable historical evidence to corroborate his existence. Modern scholars regard the text as a collection of aphorisms accumulated over time, generally associated with a distinctive philosophical and literary sensibility but not composed as a single coherent theory by any one person. I nevertheless briefly recount the traditional “biography,” as it provides the narrative background against which the text has been interpreted.

    The evidence collected by the Grand Historian of the Han dynasty, Sima...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Zhuangzi: Inner Chapters and Zhuangzian Philosophy
    (pp. 78-125)

    Unlike Laozi and Liezi, Zhuangzi, or Master Zhuang,¹ is the one early Daoist thinker whose existence few scholars have doubted, though the evidence regarding his life is neither extensive nor indisputably reliable. He appears to have flourished during the reign of King Hui of the state of Liang, who lived from 370 to 319 B.C.E., and King Xuan of the state of Qi, who lived from 319 to 301 B.C.E. According to Sima Qian, he was born in the village of Meng, in a contested territory in the southernmost part of Song and the northernmost part of Chu, and worked...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Outer and Miscellaneous Chapters of the Zhuangzi: From Anarchist Utopianism to Mystical Imperialism
    (pp. 126-144)

    TheZhuangzianthology as a whole does not represent the philosophical ideas of a single school, let alone a single person, but rather the development of different lines of thought over several centuries. Still, ideas that resonate with those found in theLaoziand in theInner Chaptersremain clearly recognizable throughout theOuterandMiscellaneous Chapters, with the single notable exception of chapter 30, which does not contain any distinctively Daoist ideas. From a careful examination of the complete anthology, we can see that over the course of time, these ideas began to develop their own momentum, and interpretations...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Liezi
    (pp. 145-167)

    Liezi,¹ like Laozi, is probably a legendary character rather than an actual Warring States thinker. According to theLieziitself, he is supposed to have lived in the Butian game preserve in the principality of Zheng, but was eventually driven by famine to live in Wei. The first chapter of theZhuangzirefers to Liezi, so if this name refers to an actual person, he would have lived prior to the writing of that chapter. This means that he would have flourished sometime before the end of the fourth century B.C.E.² He was said to have been a student of...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Philosophy of Skill in the Zhuangzi and Liezi
    (pp. 168-186)

    We flourish best when we are able to foster our health and well-being, so that our lifespans may reach their fullest natural completion. We live wisely when we are able to cope skillfully with circumstances. From the perspective of ordinary people, the most accomplished sage might seem to have superhuman or even inhuman abilities. According to the Daoists, in following the path of artifice we have neglected a significant range of natural abilities and allowed them to atrophy; only by cultivating the potential with which we are endowed by nature can we overcome such limitations. Moreover, to deal successfully with...

  12. Afterword: A Family of Dao
    (pp. 187-190)

    Is there such a thing as Daoist philosophy? Is there one set of doctrines, an essence, that all forms of Daoism share? Apparently not. Since circumstances can always develop in unexpected ways, and even produce radically opposed consequences, the same is true for beliefs, doctrines, anddaos. Doctrines and ways transform into opposing views. Just as paths can branch off as they develop, the resulting paths can continue to diverge further. So, as one follows a path, one’s practice can manifest in different ways; those differences can multiply over time, eventually giving rise to ways that claim the same ancestry...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 191-216)
    (pp. 217-222)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 223-234)