Thursday, September 19, 2013

488: First steps in Daoism

The Lao-Zi, also known as the Tao-Te-Jing, is a short Chinese classic of about 5,000 characters traditionally considered Taoism’s (Daoism's) earliest scripture. 
It is one of the most important books of its genre, with numerous translations in the past 100 years and hundreds of commentaries over two millennia.

In Routledge History of World Philosophies, vol 3, History of Chinese Philosophy (2009), the scholar Xiaogan Liu, confronts us with an interesting problem.
Many people, he writes, accept the Lao-Zi (Lao-Tze)  or Tao-Te-Jing as a philosophical text – or at least concede that it contains philosophical ideas – while others remain skeptical. 
Some argue that there is no such thing as ‘Chinese philosophy’, since the term ‘philosophy’ is derived entirely from the Western tradition. 
We do not find in Chinese tradition arguments or systems similar to the Kantian, Quinian, or Wittgensteinian versions of Western philosophy.
It is nevertheless relevant to the question of how we should conduct research on and interpret the Lao-Zi and Taoism. 
Should we apply a Western philosophical framework and its concepts to reconstruct and reinterpret the Lao-Zi? 
Or should we try not to ‘pollute’ the Lao-Zi’s special perspective on human experience and ideas about the universe with our Anglo-American expectations?
Certainly, the answer from scholars of Chinese history and culture will be dramatically different from that of scholars trained in Anglo-American philosophy. 
Some scholars argue that study of the Lao-Zi can have no actual philosophical significance unless it is conducted from a philosophical perspective. 
Others have criticized this claim, arguing that such an approach would yield not a fair consideration of Taoist philosophy but another expression of Western thought camouflaged by the terms and themes of the Tao-Te-Jing.
This was also one of the first reactions I got, when I suggested to do a project on Non Western Philosophy and it also was my personal concern.
The reaction was something like…Well, Eastern Philosophy isn't that rather about religion? Based on the general knowledge I already had of the subject,
I could have concluded that it was all metaphysics and religious ideas indeed and from my materialist and Anglo-American point of  view I could have discarded the subject as not really philosophical.
But it all is a product of the human mind. It created great cultures. You can not ignore that, motivated by a pretty narrow minded view on what philosophy is or should be.
Besides that it can be very inspiring to put these two worlds side by side, like I was able to compare Western thinking with Confucian ideas in the previous lecture.
And with Tao-Ta-Jing and Taoism it even can be more important. In Europe or the US you'll hardly find someone, except of some Chinese person of course, who calls himself a convinced Confucianist.
But in the US and Europe there are books with titles like "The Tao of Physics", "The Tao of Science", "The Tao of Love".
Try a Google search on "Taoism" and you get 3.110.000 hits in 0.31 seconds. And here is such a typical quote from some site:
"Eastern Philosophy is becoming more and more a part of the mainstream in the United States.   
Like most Americans I  have  come across various significant aspects of the Chinese philosophy; Taoism. Among these are Yin and Yang, Tai-Chi and Feng-Shui."
All the more reason to discover the meaning of this part of Chinese thought for us.
Thank you…^_^

Main Sources:
MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
Routledge History of World Philosophies, vol 3, History of Chinese Philosophy (2009)
An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy - Karyn L. Lai, Oxford 2008
Chinese Philosophy, P. Carus, 1902
A Brief History of chinese Philosophy. D.T. Suzuki, 1914
The Discussion

[13:26] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:26] herman Bergson smiles at his dedicated audience
[13:26] Oceane: smiles to the charismatic teacher
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: does same
[13:26] Bejiita Imako:
[13:26] herman Bergson: there are two  issues here...
[13:26] herman Bergson: one is...and that is the big one....
[13:27] herman Bergson: how can we understand Chinese philosophy? Can we apply our western concepts to it for instance?
[13:27] Bejiita Imako: it is so special
[13:28] herman Bergson: The second issue , more trivial, is that final quote....
[13:28] herman Bergson: Eastern Philosophy is becoming more and more a part of the mainstream in the United States.
[13:28] herman Bergson: and as he continues......."Like most Americans I  have  come across...."
[13:29] herman Bergson: I doubt that "Most Americans" thing :-)
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:29] herman Bergson: But yet...there is a book with the title "The Tao of physics"
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: but most people know basically at least what yin and yang and feng shui is however i bet there are many more things
[13:30] ἀρετή: Is it a natural attraction for the west to be attracted to eastern thoughts, studies and cultures and for the east to be drawn to the western cultures...?
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: sorto of like japanese food is more then just sushi
[13:30] herman Bergson: Well Aryen..that is an interesting point.....
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: indeed
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: cause they are so different from each other
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: curiosity
[13:31] herman Bergson: The Chinese HAD their own science.....physics, astronomy, astrology......
[13:31] herman Bergson: they never adopted Western science in the period it was developing....1600 to 1790...
[13:32] herman Bergson: Like they didn't adopt christianity
[13:32] herman Bergson: But in the 40s-50s there was an increased interest in Western philosophy
[13:33] herman Bergson: only then....
[13:33] herman Bergson: John Dewey and Bertrand Russell visited Chinese universities in those days..
[13:34] herman Bergson: And nowadays China is adopting Western consumerism....
[13:34] ἀρετή: very much so :)
[13:34] herman Bergson: All amazing events to me...
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: indeed
[13:35] ἀρετή: is this already the yin and yang at play?
[13:35] herman Bergson: I have no idea if the world is created of yin and yang....
[13:36] herman Bergson: but something is happening here indeed :-)
[13:36] herman Bergson: Everything on this world is focused on economy....
[13:37] herman Bergson: and economy is related to power...
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: seems so very much
[13:37] herman Bergson: what when China is the strongest economy of the world?
[13:37] herman Bergson: Is just a matter of  time...
[13:38] herman Bergson: and then we have two opposing cultural systems....
[13:38] herman Bergson: Western individualism against Chinese Confucianism.....the subjugation of the individual to the welfare of the state...
[13:39] herman Bergson: Ho Rodney :-)
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: hi Rodney
[13:39] Rodney Handrick: Hi Herman
[13:39] ἀρετή: hi Rodney
[13:39] Rodney Handrick: Hi Bejiita
[13:39] Rodney Handrick: Hi Areyn
[13:39] Oceane: hi Rodney
[13:40] Rodney Handrick: Hi Oceane
[13:41] herman Bergson: I think we are heading for So I guess it might be interested to be informed at least about Taoism:-)
[13:41] ἀρετή: Have you heard of Hans Rosling?
[13:41] herman Bergson: Not sure
[13:42] ἀρετή:
[13:42] ἀρετή: he predicted asia will overtake the west in 2048
[13:42] herman Bergson: I think I saw his TED talk....
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: hmm ok
[13:42] herman Bergson: the moving statistics...
[13:43] ἀρετή: yes, that was the talk
[13:43] herman Bergson: That was impressive...
[13:44] herman Bergson: So I would say that there should be more students here in clase to prepare themselves for the (chinese) future :-)
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: this can be some good stuff indeed
[13:46] herman Bergson: Well..thank you  fro coming and your participation....
[13:46] Bejiita Imako:
[13:46] herman Bergson: Class dismissed
[13:46] ἀρετή: Thanks for raising the issues.
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: ok cu soon again
[13:46] Bejiita Imako:
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:46] Oceane: ok see you again soon, herman and thanks for the class
[13:47] ἀρετή: Is the eastern philosophy known by the west really eastern philosophy?
[13:47] herman Bergson: That is the big question Areyn....
[13:48] herman Bergson: as I said....
[13:48] herman Bergson: what is left of Eastern philosophy if we describe it in our Western philosophical concepts
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:49] herman Bergson: We'll discuss this in coming lectures
[13:49] ἀρετή: Thank you
[13:49] Oceane: waves good bye
[13:50] herman Bergson: Bye Oceane :-)
[13:50] ἀρετή: Have a good day/evening everyone :)
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: bye all
[13:50] herman Bergson: Bye Bejiita
[13:50] ἀρετή: Time for me to go too and chew on the dummy book for philosophy :)

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