2 Matching Annotations
  1. Mar 2021
    1. In Chapter Two: ‘Discussion on Making All Things Equal’, Zhuangzi focuses in on the concept of words, their meaning, and moral truths. He first begins by questioning the entire purpose of words, bringing uncertainty to what he may believe is the common understanding of the purpose of language. He further does so by asking if our language does any more than a peep of a bird. These statements are not meant to be taken literally. Instead, he makes these statements to bring forward the truth that words do hold meaning, and a fixed meaning. Furthermore, Zhuangzi is asking questions about truth itself, also known as the Way. 
      Next, Zhuangzi asks what is the Way based on and if it is reliant on there being an objective truth. Following this, he asks if words are not also reliant on objective truth. Without an objective truth, he wonders if words can truly represent anything. If truth is relative, then what difference would there be between a bird’s peep and a conversation held between two people. In both situations, the meaning of the sounds would be up to the listener to decide what they mean to that person if the words do not represent some objective truth of meaning.
      During this period, there existed two prominent forms of thinking that are both frequently mentioned known as Confucianism and Mohism. Both of these ideologies profess some sort of truth that are considered to be in opposition in one way or another. These professed truths are meant to give a better understanding of the Way, which is part of an understanding of the proper way to live. However, both cannot be right if they oppose one another, and surely the Way is not properly understood in such an opposition. 
      Zhuangzi is making a distinction of the Way and words. The Way being more of an understanding of the objective moral truths and how to live them. Words, on the other hand, act as representatives of the moral truths. It is how we communicate to one another about our understanding of the moral truths and how to live them. However, as we get caught up in our feuds of vain shows of intelligence and logical rhetors between opposing parties seeking truth, we stop actually seeking the truth. Our words become oriented towards victory over another on who holds the truth rather than oriented towards best representing the truth. 
      Therefore, Zhuangzi ends this passage saying that if we want to discover where the truth lies, then we must throw off these poorly oriented arguments and clarify. By clarify, he means to focus all energy into discovering and properly representing the truth, rather than winning the arguments. Through this, we will be able to discover the truths that are in some way held in both the Confucians and Mohists and form a clear understanding of the objective moral truth, find the Way. 
    1. Following the theme of many of the passages, the passage “Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu ‘I have a big tree…’” crafts a narrative of the limited perspective many people tend to have, and the world need not be constrained to. In earlier passage “Free and Easy Wandering”, Zhuangzi demonstrates well the issue of limited perspectives in terms of magnitude in both time and space. However, in the passage of the big tree, Zhuangzi demonstrates the issue of limited perspectives in terms of skill and use. The passage begins with Huizi claiming that a gnarled, bumpy, bent, twisty tree would be entirely useless. He then uses this tree analogy to demonstrate that Zhuangzi’s words and philosophies act in a similar manner: they serve no purpose to anyone. However, Zhuangzi cleverly responds with the very same philosophies that Huizi is attacking. 
      Zhuangzi makes clear the failure of Huizi is in his inability to imagine the various uses something may hold outside the more obvious metrics of usefulness. The first analogy he draws is that of a wildcat or a weasel. Such an animal has use, or capacity, in particular fields such as crouching, hiding, leaping and racing. However, when the animal is caught within a trap or net, it is ‘useless’ in escaping and dies. The second analogy is of a yak. It is large but has no use when it comes to catching rats, unlike a wildcat. The point of these analogies is to say that usefulness is inappropriate to be used as a function of the object’s ability to satisfy the observer’s needs. If rats are needed to be caught by one observer, the fact that a yak is unable to catch rats does not eliminates the yaks use entirely, as it can provide meat, clothing, and company. Likewise, to a carpenter, who has a particular need, this gnarled tree may have no use. However, this does not eliminate the use the tree may serve to satisfy other needs. Here, Zhuangzi takes a moment to consider places where the tree may serve to satisfy needs. He describes fictional villages for relaxation where such a tree would serve well to provide a place to relax, especially as it would not be at threat of being felled by an axe. 
      Just as Huizi, people tend to become stuck in their own perspective and fail to consider the various perspectives that exist. This false consensus effect can lead people to judge other objects as useless because it is seemingly useless to them. Though Zhuangzi’s words may seem worthless to Huizi, there may be others who find value in his words, or Zhuangzi may find them useful himself. Furthermore, Zhuangzi makes a greater point from this position: usefulness is not a function of need, but a function of effect. First, he elucidates how the tree is causing Huizi to be distressed, even if by uselessness. Next, Zhuangzi questions how something without a use can cause grief or pain. The question is to say that if something has no use, how can it have an effect at all because then it would be ‘used’ in achieving an effect. If something is truly useless, it must not have any ability to achieve any sort of end. Huizi’s distress is an end in which the tree’s existence caused. 
      To bridge Zhuangzi’s philosophy to more common day philosophy, he seems to be making an argument out of relativism. However, not moral relativism as we understand it currently but a revised relativism that better mirrors epistemological or measurable relativism mentioned by earlier thinkers such as Einstein where objective truth exists and is measurable, but the particular context or relationship of the truth must be specified, such as speed is a truth understood as a relationship of a changing distance between two objects. Similarly, Zhuangzi shows Huizi that in some perspectives, it may appear that the tree serves no use, just as to some perspectives it may appear an object is not moving. However, the objective truth that the tree has use or the object is moving is still true, it just requires a different perspective to see the relationship.