Heaven and man in the Zhuangzi: reading a heterogeneous text

Author: Vávra, Dušan
Source document: Religio. 2016, vol. 24, iss. 2, pp. [167]-188
  • ISSN
    1210-3640 (print)
    2336-4475 (online)
License: Not specified license
This paper proposes a reading strategy for the Zhuangzi based on the distinction between "conceptual framework" and "argument". It is argued that one conceptual framework can accommodate various arguments; conceptual frameworks are not the focus of the text – they consist of literary devices (shared vocabulary and terminology, literary topoi, narrative structures and topics) that are used in the text to form specific arguments. The paper opposes those approaches to the Zhuangzi which present the text (or a part of it) as a unified philosophical vision. The paper argues that every attempt to read the Zhuangzi as one philosophy (to translate the multi-faceted text into a philosophical treatise) is reductionist; it achieves philosophical coherence at the cost of sacrificing the richness of meaning we find in the text. One specific "conceptual framework" is analysed in this paper – the dichotomy of "heaven" and "man". "Heaven" represents a cosmic power that can be adopted by human beings so that the human can fulfil his natural potential and live better (or more effectively) than within the confines of human society ("man"). The paper analyses a number of instances of the dichotomy in the Zhuangzi and shows that the dichotomy (a conceptual framework) is used differently in various contexts in the Zhuangzi and accommodates diverse arguments.
  • This text was completed with the generous support of the Czech Science Foundation (GAČR), project no. GP14-24730P, "Cosmology and Self-cultivation in the Zhuangzi: Meaning Construction in Early Chinese Texts".