As we learned with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, philosophy has much to do with logic and argumentation to get to the truth about various issues we all face. Asian Philosophy also relies on logical reasoning as for example with the Nyaya school of Hinduism, and in China, The School of Names and the Mohists. But both the Greeks and the Chinese also harbor philosophers who believed that language gets in the way of thinking better. They used humor instead. The Greek philosopher who is a master of comedy and repartee is Diogenes, the Cynic. He used his quick wit to ridicule the mindless and arrogant, including Alexander the Great. The Asian master of wit and storytelling is the Daoist, Zhuangzi (sometimes spelled Chuang-Tzu).
Zhuangzi is a master storyteller and he uses that talent to teach important moral and philosophical lessons. The video below (Flight from the Shadow) is an example of the type of teaching he engaged in. Our text offers three additional examples: Nie Que’s conversation with Wang Ni; Huizi and Zhuangzi about gourds; the story of Cook Ding (sometimes called Butcher Ding); and the story of Wheelwright Pian. Even though the lessons are in story form, that doesn’t mean that they are easy to decipher. One reason for this is that the stories probe deep into human nature and the essence of what we are as persons.
So the assignment this week, while easy to read, takes some thinking on your part. Give a short synopsis of each of the four stories mentioned above. Then given what you learned about Daoism in the text, give your view of the wisdom Zhuangzi is trying to impart. What do you think he means in each case? And taken together what do you think Daoism is trying to teach us?
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