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Dao (2007) 6:281299 DOI 10.


Dao and Skepticism

Paul Kjellberg

Published online: 20 September 2007 # Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007

Abstract The Zhuangzi raises skeptical problems it does not solve. At best, it asserts that solutions are unnecessary but does not prove it. This is not a fault of the text or its author; it is the logical consequence of the arguments themselves. Philosophically speaking, The Zhuangzi raises doubts, nothing more. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, and what we are supposed to do about it, is something we are left to decide for ourselves. Keywords Zhuangzi . Skepticism . Relativism

Skepticism and relativism as extreme as Zhuangzis are not in themselves unfamiliar to a modern reader, far from it. What is perhaps strange to him is that there is not vertigo in the doubt, which pervades the most rhapsodic passage of a philosophical poet who seems always to gaze on life and death with unwavering assurance. Angus Graham1 Your words are grand but useless, so everyone alike rejects them! HUI Shi2 Given the obscurity of Zhuangzis actual position, most readers are initially drawn to him by the questions that he asks and the way that he asks them, reasoning that no one would raise such problems unless he knew how to solve them or at least knew how to live without solutions. The purpose of this article is to show that this reasoning is incorrect: Zhuangzi does not and cannot provide a solution to the problems he raises. A comparative

Mair 1983: 7. All transliterations are rendered in Pinyin for consistency. This article was originally written for the 2003 International Conference on Daoism in Taipei and has benefited from the suggestions of two anonymous reviewers for this journal. 1/44. References toZhuangzi and Xunzi are to the Harvard-Yenching Sinological Index Series by chapter and line.

Paul Kjellberg (*) Department of Philosophy, Whittier College, Whitter, CA 90608, USA e-mail:


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philosophical approach reveals implications of the forms of argument employed in the Zhuangzi that are not apparent when the text is read in isolation. I will make use of the Hellenistic skeptic Sextus Empiricus both as a point of comparison and also for the helpful philosophical categories he established.

1 Types, Objects, Arguments, and Ends of Skepticism Let me begin by explaining what I mean by describing Zhuangzi as a skeptic, since people may already disagree with me on this point. Skepticism is frequently understood as the denial that knowledge is possible or even that there is anything to be known: if I say I am skeptical about astrology, for instance, this may rightly be construed as a polite way of saying that I do not believe in it. If such a skepticism is categorical, denying that we can know anything at all, then it is justly accused of self-refutation, since it claims knowledge of at least one thing: the impossibility of knowledge. Differently put, one must at least claim to know the standards of knowledge in order to argue that they have not been met. A limited skepticism, one that denies only a certain type of knowledge, however, may well be exempt from this charge: on the basis of accepted canons of scientific reasoning, for instance, one can safely deny that it is possible to know simultaneously both the position and the velocity of an electron. The particular type of knowledge under attack may be referred to as the object of skepticism. Many skeptics, however, do not deny knowledge but merely question it. There is nothing self-refuting about wondering whether you might be wrong about anything or even everything, though in the same stroke you would have to wonder how you would ever know. Following Sextus Empiricus, I will call skepticism which questions knowledge aporetic, in contrast to dogmatic skepticism, which denies it (O.P. 1.7).3 While dogmatic skepticism asserts a position (the denial of some kind of knowledge), aporetic skepticism asserts nothing but results instead in uncertainty, a mental state that, for our purposes, is characterized not by the presence of beliefs but by their absence. Skepticism, therefore, is not necessarily the same thing as relativism. It is the failure to recognize the difference between aporetic and dogmatic skepticisms that leads people to equate them, as in our opening epigraph. Understood as the denial that valid judgments are possible except in relation to particular individuals or groups, relativism is a form of dogmatic skepticism. Since it asserts a position, albeit a negative one, relativism is not aporetic; or, to put it conversely, aporetic skepticism is not relativism. People who object to my description of Zhuangzi as a skeptic presumably think that I am accusing him of a dogmatic skepticism or relativism, which would indeed be a mistake. Zhuangzis arguments lead not to conclusions but to uncertainty and are therefore aporetic. Let us consider a representative passage: Gaptooth asked Royal Relativity,4 Do you know what all things agree upon as right? Royal Relativity said, How could I know that?

The writings of Sextus Empiricus are collected in his Outlines of Pyrrhonism, organized by book and chapter: thus this citation is to book one, chapter seven. My translations are based on the Loeb Classical Library edition. The term aporetic comes from the Greek word aporia, which means no escape. The early dialogues of Plato, such as Phaedo and Euthyphro, are referred to as aporetic because they do not issue in conclusions but rather end with the discussants in confusion. 4 Following Mair, I translate names that appear to be allegorical (Mair 1994: lii). The character translated as Relativity, Ni, means end or extreme. Zhuangzi argues that extremes are extreme only relative to one another: the small is small only in comparison to the large, etc (Zhuangzi 17/2428). Hence this translation.

Dao and Skepticism


Do you know that you dont know it? How could I know that? Doesnt anyone know anything? How could I know that? But even so, suppose I tried saying something. How could I possibly know that when I say I know something, I dont not know it? How could I possibly know that when I say I dont know something, I dont know it? Let me try asking you something. If people sleep in the damp, their backs hurt and they wake half paralyzed. But is this true of an eel? If they live in trees they shudder with fear. But is this true of a monkey? Of these three then, which knows the right place to live? People eat the flesh of cattle, deer eat fodder, maggots like snakes, and hawks enjoy mice. Of these four, which knows the right taste? Monkeys mate with baboons, deer befriend elk, and eels consort with fish. People say that Maoqiang and Lady Li are beautiful. But if fish saw them they would dive deep, if birds saw them they would fly high, and if deer saw them they would cut and run. Of these four, which knows beauty rightly? From where I see it, the sprouts of benevolence and righteousness and the pathways of right and wrong are all snarled and jumbled. How would I know the difference between them? Gaptooth said, If you dont know gain from loss, then do Perfected People know? Royal Relativity said, Perfected People are spiritual. Though the lowlands burn, they are not hot. Though the Yellow River and the Han freeze, they are not cold. When furious lightning splits the mountains and winds thrash the sea, they are not scared. People like this mount the clouds and mists, straddle the sun and moon, and roam beyond the four seas. Death and life make no difference to them, how much less the sprouts of benefit and harm! (Zhuangzi 2/6473) As the opening of the passage shows, Zhuangzi is aware of the problem of selfrefutation and carefully avoids dogmatic skepticism. Yet he is clearly skeptical in the aporetic sense of inducing doubt. Though he doubts specific things in specific places, like who knows the right place to live, these limited doubts are part of a larger skeptical project. Some commentators identify language as the object of his skepticism (For example, see Hanson in Mair 1983: 27 and Ivanhoe in Kjellberg and Ivanhoe: 1996). On the presumption that rational knowledge is linguistic, however, this amounts to doubt about rational knowledge in general. On these definitions, then, it is safe to describe Zhuangzi as promoting a categorical, aporetic skepticism. By a skeptical argument, I mean any line of reasoning that causes people to question their beliefs, regardless of the outcome. Sextus Empiricus categorizes skeptical arguments in sets of tropoi (moves) for the skeptic to use to induce doubt, the two most basic of which are diversity of opinion and the problem of the criterion. We typically make decisions on the basis of some criterion or standard, such as logical consistency, empirical evidence, or authority. However, in order to know whether we have the right criterion, we would need another criterion, and another, ad infinitum. Given diversity of opinion over an issue, some people must be wrong even though they think they are right. The fact of disagreement, then, or even the bare possibility of it, raises the question of how one could ever be sure of not being wrong oneself. We have already seen that Zhuangzi appeals to the problem of criterion and diversity of opinion in the above passage. Elsewhere, he challenges our intuitions by appealing to the differences between individual people (for example, Zhuangzi 14/4243), between cultures (Zhuangzi 1/34), between wakers and sleepers (Zhuangzi 2/81), etc. Though Zhuangzi is less systematic than Sextus in his analysis of different types of arguments, throughout the


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text he employs similar techniques of reducing arguments to circles (Zhuangzi 2/22), regresses (Zhuangzi 2/49), and undefended hypotheses (Zhuangzi 2/31; see also 24/38). Zhuangzi also uses aesthetic arguments, when he disorients us by having us focus first on a huge bird disappearing over the horizon and then on a tiny dust specking floating in front of our faces (Zhuangzi 1/15), or portrays the catastrophic Lady Li sympathetically, as a little girl from the country trying to make her way in a strange land (Zhuangzi 2/7980). None of these arguments prove that knowledge is impossible, as Zhuangzi was well aware. A successful skeptical argument need not lead to the conclusion that knowledge is impossible but, in the case of aporetic skepticism, may lead instead simply to uncertainty. Thus the use of the term argument here is atypical since the function of a skeptical argument may not be to prove a point so much as to bring about a change in the listeners by causing them to doubt, that is, not to generate beliefs but to eliminate them. Skeptical arguments used in this way may be thought of as therapeutic rather than conclusive, and this kind of skepticism is best understood as a practice rather than as a position (see Nussbaum in Schofield and Stryker: 3174, and Nussbaum 1994). Rather than proving knowledge impossible, the function of Zhuangzis skeptical arguments was to induce uncertainty, which is a different thing. The enigmatic Perfected People at the end of the above passage make the most sense if interpreted as uncertain in this sense. At first sight, they appear to possess magical and mystical powers that allow them to walk through natural disasters unscathed. Charming though this reading may be, it has the distinct disadvantages that, first, it ascribes to Zhuangzi an implausible belief in magic and, second, it is incompatible with the reasoning leading up to it. Having argued that different homes, diets, and mates are right for different creatures, this reading has Zhuangzi suddenly turn around and make an unexplained exception for the Perfected People, for whom all things are indifferent. A more consistent reading has the Perfected People immune from harm through magic because they are unsure of whether these things really count as harms. Thus Zhuangzi would share with Sextus the assumption that people need only be uncertain whether something is good or bad, rather than certain that it is neither, in order to remain unmoved (O.P. 3.2368). By the same token, other characters in the Zhuangzi such as the True Man (Zhuangzi 6/49), the various Friends (Zhuangzi 6/4560, 6074), or any of the cast of misfits and outcasts (5/3160), are best understood not as possessed of some secret wisdom but rather as paradigmatically uncertain. Assuming that a thoroughgoing uncertainty is possible, the next question is: Why is it desirable? This raises the issue of what is classically referred to as the end or purpose motivating skepticism, which we may also describe as its justification. Justifications for skepticism are easily confused with skeptical arguments since both of them constitute responses to the question Why be skeptical? However, in spite of this superficial similarity, arguments for skepticism and the purposes motivating those arguments are different and independent things. Skeptical arguments question beliefs in order to render the hearer uncertain while skeptical justifications explain why uncertainty is a better state to be in. The arguments cause uncertainty while justifications give reasons for it. Arguments are typically interrogative; while justifications necessarily propositional and conclusive. The two are independent in the sense that the same skeptical arguments can be used for any number of different motivations. A comparative approach is helpful here because it illuminates this difference. In the West, for example, the very arguments Sextus Empiricus used to eliminate dogmatic belief in things non-evident (O.P. 1.13) were later adopted by the young Michel de Montaigne to defend Catholicism in his Apology to Raymond Sebond. Later on in his life, by the time of his famous Essays, Montaignes religious beliefs changed dramatically to a naturalistic pantheism, but he still used the same arguments to defend it. In

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China, Zhuangzis skepticism was simultaneously advocated by Neo-Daoists like GUO Xiang as a method for fulfilling ones nature and by Buddhists like Zhidun as a means for realizing its emptiness (Liu: 1289). What this shows is that the skeptical arguments are neutral. They can be employed in the service of any number of ends and one cannot deduce from the argument itself the end to which it is being used in a specific case.

2 The End of Zhuangzis Skepticism What is Zhuangzis end? What purpose motivates him in advancing his arguments? Some commentators have suggested that, like Sextus, Zhuangzi recommends uncertainty as a means to the end of ataraxia (peace of mind) that results from being released from the impossible quest for truth (See Fung: 221245, Waley: 379, Watson: 128, and Creel: 37 47).5 However, although Zhuangzi may accept peace of mind as a fringe benefit, it cannot be all he is after, as a consideration of his negative examples proves. If peace of mind were Zhuangzis primary goal, then his negative examples, the characters that he explicitly or implicitly counsels us not to be like, should consist of people who are needlessly distressed. In point of fact, Zhuangzi does provide us with some examples of this sort: When the monkey trainer was distributing chestnuts he said, You get three in the morning and four at night. The monkeys were furious. Alright, he said, you get four in the morning and three at night. The monkeys were delighted. Without any loss in either name or substance, he made use of their joy and anger. (Zhuangzi 2/389) However, although some of Zhuangzis negative examples exhibit the monkeys vice of pointless anxiety, the majority of them seem to illustrate a different flaw. Consider the famous story of HUI Shi and the gourds: HUI Shi said to Zhuangzi, The king of Wei left me the seeds of a big gourd. I planted them, and when they grew the fruit was a yard across. I filled them with water but they werent sturdy enough to hold it. I split them into ladles but they were too big to dip into anything. It wasnt that they werent fantastically big, but they were useless. So I smashed them. Zhuangzi said, You, sir, are certainly clumsy about using big things. There were some people in Song who were good at making ointment to prevent chapped hands. Year after year, they used it in their business bleaching silk. A traveler heard about it and asked to buy the formula for a hundred pieces of gold. The clan assembled and consulted, saying, For years weve bleached silk and never made more than a few pieces of gold. Today in a single morning we can sell the trick for a hundred pieces. Lets give it to him! The traveler got it and recommended it to the king of Wu, who was having trouble with the state of Yue. The king of Wu put him in command, and that winter he met the men of Yue in a naval battle. [Using the ointment to keep his soldiers hands from chapping,] he defeated Yue badly and was rewarded with a portion of the conquered territory. The ability to prevent chapped hands was the same in either case. But one

David Nivison refers explicitly to ataraxia as a supreme personal religious goal for Zhuangzi (Nivison in Rosemont: 136).


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gained territory while the others never escaped bleaching silk because what they used it for was different. Now you had these gigantic gourds. Why not lash them together like big buoys and go floating on the rivers and lakes instead of worrying that they were too big to dip into anything? Your mind is full of underbrush, my friend. (Zhuangzi 1/3542) There are two negative examples in this nest of stories: HUI Shi and the silk bleachers. The fault of these characters is not that they are needlessly distressed but quite the opposite, that they are satisfied when they should not be. For Sextus, the problem in life that skepticism is meant to solve is thinking that one is living badly, which is inevitable if one thinks one must have knowledge in order to live well. For Zhuangzi, on the other hand, the problem is evidently really living badly, whether one is aware of it or not. In this case, then, the value of uncertainty for Zhuangzi must somehow lie in its facilitating good decisions and effective actions. This diagnosis is confirmed if we turn our attention to the positive examples, such as the butcher: A butcher was cutting up an ox for Lord Wenhui. Wherever his hand touched, wherever his shoulder leaned, wherever his foot stepped, wherever his knee pushed with a zip! with a whoosh!he handled his chopper with aplomb, and never skipped a beat. He moved in time to the Dance of the Mulberry Forest, and harmonized with the Head of the Line Symphony. Lord Wenhui said, Ah, excellent, that technique can reach such heights! The butcher sheathed his chopper and responded, What your servant values is the Way, which goes beyond technique. When I first began cutting up oxen, I did not see anything but oxen. Three years later, I couldnt see the whole ox. And now, I encounter them with spirit and dont look with my eyes. Sensible knowledge stops and spiritual desires proceed. I rely on the heavenly patterns, strike in the big gaps, am guided by the large fissures, and follow what is inherently so. I never touch a ligament or tendon, much less do any heavy wrenching! A good butcher changes his chopper every year because he chips it. An average butcher changes it every month because he breaks it. There are spaces between those joints, and the edge of the blade has no thickness. If you use what has no thickness to go where there is space, oh! theres plenty of extra room to play about in. Thats why after nineteen years the blade of my chopper is still as though fresh from the grindstone. Still, when I get to a hard place, I see the difficulty and take breathless care. My gaze settles! My movements slow! I move the chopper slightly, and with a sigh its done, before the ox even knows it is dead, crumbling to the ground like a clod of earth! I stand holding my chopper and glance all around, dwelling on my accomplishment. Then I clean my chopper and put it away. Lord Wenhui said, Excellent! I have heard the words of a butcher and learned how to care for life! (Zhuangzi 3/212) If Zhuangzis goal were ataraxia, then the butchers virtue would lie in his ability to preserve his peace of mind. However, surely a bad cook could do the same thing provided he just not care how good a job he did. What is distinctive about this butcher is not his apathy but his skill at cutting up oxen, which, at the lords suggestion, should be taken as a metaphor for skillful living in general. Similarly, the traveler is the hero in his story not just because he ends up content with his lot, which the silk bleachers also do, but because he has in fact gotten the better deal. While the fault of the monkeys may be that they are

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distressed over nothing, the virtue of the trainer lies in his ability to resolve the situation to everyones satisfaction. The implication of all this is that, while both Sextus and Zhuangzi administer skeptical arguments to induce uncertainty, they do so for different reasons: Sextus for the psychological good of ataraxia and Zhuangzi for the practical good of what we may describe for the moment as skillful living. In order to understand what Zhuangzis notion of skillful living entails and how uncertainty generates it, we need to look briefly at the respective objects of Sextus and Zhuangzis skepticisms. Sextus distinguishes the appearances of things (phainomena) and the impressions they make on us (phantasia) from the truth about things (alethia) or the way they are by nature (phusei) (OP 1.9, 1.2530). Though Zhuangzi does not use terminology of this sort, he does draw a consistent distinction between the natural (tian) and the human (ren) (for instances, see Zhuangzi 3/12, 6/1, and 6/95). The word tian refers literally to the sky and is frequently translated as heaven. Zhuangzi, however, uses it to refer to the way that things are really, or, as he says above, inherently, as opposed to the ways people think of them as being. Just as Sextus doubted our ability to distinguish truth from appearance, so Zhuangzi doubts our ability to distinguish the way the world really is from the human constructions we project upon it. In particular, he doubts our ability to capture nature effectively in language and thus questions the reliability of rational thought in figuring out what we ought to do. However, what does Zhuangzi mean by nature? That is to say, what precisely does he doubt the ability of language or linguistic concepts to capture? We have seen several examples already. The possibility of being used as a float, for instance, is part of the real nature of a gourd even though it may not be part of our conception of what a gourd is for. Similarly, the natural patterns (tian li) of bones and muscles in an ox are inescapably real even if they are too variable or minute to be depicted on a butcher chart. The truth Zhuangzi is concerned with is not some elusive quality of things-in-themselves lurking behind their appearances, as it was for Sextus, but has to do with subtle details, unexpected idiosyncrasies, and surprising possibilities that preconceptions are liable to obscure. His worry about knowledge is not that it is radically illusory so much as that it is partial and incomplete. In addition to these facts, nature for Zhuangzi has a normative component as well. For any given creature, there is a fact of the matter about what course of action is best for it given its particular circumstances. The difficulty arises from the fact that what is good for one creature in one situation may not be good for another in a different one, as Zhuangzi illustrates: Havent you heard? Once a sea bird stopped in the neighborhood of Lu. The Duke of Lu received it and threw a party for it in the temple. He entertained it with the Nine Shao music and feasted it with the Tailo sacrifice. But the bird only looked confused and sad, not daring to eat a slice or drink a glass. And in three days it was dead. (Zhuangzi 18/335) Zhuangzi is a particularist in the sense of recognizing that values may vary depending on the individual and the situation. However, he is clearly not a relativist in the sense of believing that what is good for people is whatever they think is good for them: Dont you know about the little boy from Shouling who went to study the Handan walk? But before he could learn he lost his old steps and had to crawl home (Zhuangzi 17/7980). If Zhuangzi were a relativist, then it would not be possible on his account for anyone to make a mistake. Yet clearly the boy from Shouling makes a mistake, as do HUI Shi and the


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silk-bleachers, the people who sleep in the damp, the Confucians, the Moists, and the monkeys. Thus there is a true nature of things for Zhuangzi that involves both facts and values. The connection between nature and skill is well illustrated in the story of Woodcarver Qing, who is famous for his bell stands. When asked his method, he says: I am only a craftsman. How could I have any method? There is one thing, however. When I am going to make a bell stand, I always fast in order to still my mind. When I have fasted for three days, I no longer have any thoughts of congratulations or reward, of titles or stipends. When I have fasted for five days I no longer have any thoughts of praise or blame, of skill or clumsiness. And when I have fasted for seven days, I am so still that I forget I have four limbs and a body. By that time, the ruler and the court no longer exist for me. My skill is concentrated and all outside distractions fade away. After that I go into the mountain forest and examine the heavenly nature of the trees. If I find one of superlative form, and I can see a bell stand there, I put my hand to the job of carving; if not I let it go. This way I am simply matching up nature with nature. (Zhuangzi 19/549) The woodcarvers skill lies in his ability to integrate himself, including his own abilities and interests, as well as his unpredictable aesthetic responses, with the contours and capacities of the wood he is working with, a process he describes as matching up nature with nature. As we saw with the butcher, skill is the ability to harmonize ourselves with the world. Zhuangzi doubts the ability of language and hence rational thought to make people skillful for several reasons. Words are too crude either to capture subtle differences or to contain ambiguous possibilities. As one character, a wheelwright, puts it: When I chisel a wheel, if I hit too softly then it slips and does not bite. If I hit too hard then it jams and will not move. Neither too soft nor too hard, I get it in my hand and respond from my mind. But my mouth cannot put it into words. There is a knack there. But I cannot teach it to my own son, and he cannot learn it from me. (Zhuangzi 13/713) However, even if we created a language that was nuanced enough to communicate these subtle distinctions, there would still be the problem that different definitions of words like good and right will be appropriate in different circumstances: what is right for a fish is not right for a person and what is right for a person from Handan is not right for someone from Shouling. Simple knowledge of the definitions themselves is not enough to determine which definitions apply in particular cases. Language alone is not enough. We need to know how to use it, and this is not something language can tell us. The humor of Zhuangzis stories lies in his using language to point to something which language cannot capture, such as the fact that a gourd may also be a float, that an ox may not be the same as an ox, or that what is good may also be bad. If people rely on language or thought in making their decisions, they cannot help but live clumsily. Yet, however many examples Zhuangzi has illustrating the inadequacy of language, he has an equal number illustrating the adequacy of nature: The walrus said to the centipede, I go hopping around on this one leg and theres nothing like it! How can you manage with all those ten thousand legs of yours? The centipede said, Not so. Havent you seen a man spit? He just hawks and drops big as pearls, fine as mist, mixing and falling!you cant even count them all!

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Now I just put into motion my natural mechanism (tian ji). I dont know how it works! (Zhuangzi 17/556) We are able to do things, like walk and digest, without knowing how we do them. By the same token, we know things, such as what objects are in front of us, without knowing how we know them. We simply open our eyes and see. Anything else that we are able to demonstrate or deduce relies ultimately on these things we just know. This much requires no explanation. What does require explanation is not how we succeed in knowing things but how we fail. We fail, according to Zhuangzi, because of our conviction that we know already; that is, in effect, simply because of our refusal to open our eyes. The next ox may or may not be like the last one. No amount of meditating on the butcher chart will tell us the answer, but looking at the oxen will. A ladle is not a float; but the object in front of us might be both. Words cloud our vision, tempting us to see the world not as it is but as we are predisposed to think of it as being. By undermining our faith in language, skepticism clears our vision and allows us to see things afresh as they naturally are. Certainty causes people to second-guess nature and makes them clumsy. Uncertainty is valuable, for Zhuangzi, because it leaves people open-minded and attentive and thus enables them to live skillfully and well. The value Zhuangzi places on uncertainty, however, should not be taken as denying the importance of education. Simply remaining open-minded would not automatically make someone a skillful surgeon or diplomat. The skill stories all emphasize the time required for people to master a craft: the butcher acknowledges spending 19 years. Evidently, Zhuangzi takes the need for education for granted. The open-minded attentiveness he advocates is not meant to replace learning so much as to complement it. Indeed, one of the finest examples of this combination is Zhuangzi himself, who ridicules the logic of his adversaries but uses it deftly against them when the situation demands. He denigrates book learning; yet the wide variety of literary forms he incorporates into his writing and the infuriating number and obscurity of the characters he uses all evidence a familiarity with the Classics of which Confucius would have been proud. (In particular, he seems to have taken to heart Lunyu 17.9, where the Master encourages his students to study the odes to learn the names of birds, beasts, plants, and trees!) What makes Zhuangzi so skillful is not simply his erudition but his ability to step outside of the tradition and adapt it flexibly to his own situation. He recommends skepticism not as an alternative to learning but as a method by which to interpret and apply what one has learned. The motivation for Zhuangzis skepticism is this set of epistemological and evaluative assumptions, which we can refer to collectively as his naturalism. The implication of this naturalism becomes clearer if we consider it in light of the objection raised against it by the Confucian philosopher Xunzi .

3 Xunzis Objection to Zhuangzis Naturalism Xunzi was one of Zhuangzis earliestperhaps immediatecritics and possessed of a keen philosophical mind of his own. Even though he disagreed with Zhuangzi, there is no reason to doubt that he understood him. We can sharpen our understanding of Zhuangzi with an analysis of what Xunzi objected against. In his chapter Jie Bi , Dispelling Obsessions, Xunzi criticizes Zhuangzi, saying Zhuangzi was obsessed by nature (tian) and did not know [the value of] the human (ren)


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(Xunzi 21/22).6 Xunzi uses the word nature here in the sense that Zhuangzi used it, as the way things really are, including all their subtle variations, untapped ambiguities, and hidden potentials, as opposed to whatever ways people might be predisposed to think of them as being. In particular, Xunzi is talking about the natural state of people, with their intrinsic needs and often unrecognized capacities and limitations. By the human Xunzi means things that are man-made, artificial, and added to nature as the product of conscious thought, i.e., culture. There are several possible interpretations of Xunzis objection, three of which we will consider in turn. The most obvious is that Xunzi is accusing Zhuangzi of being so narrowmindedly fixated on the natural world that he fails to appreciate the values offered by the social one.7 Such an objection is strongly suggested by the title of Xunzis chapter and by its opening line, All peoples troubles arise from their being obsessed by a small corner and ignoring the larger pattern (Xunzi 21/1). However, people can overcome the problem of obsession, he argues, through the achievement of a mind that is empty (xu ), unified ( yi ), and still ( jing ): How can people know the way? I say, with their minds. How can their minds know it? I say, by being empty, unified, and still. The mind never stops storing things away, and yet even so can be described as empty. The mind can never escape multiplicity, and yet even so can be described as unified. The mind never stops moving, and yet even so can be described as still. Not using what is already stored away to hinder the reception of new things is called emptiness.... Knowing two things at the same time is multiplicity...but not letting [knowledge of] this thing hinder [knowledge of] that one is called unity.... When people sleep they dream, and when they are idle they go off on their own.... Not allowing dreams and fancies to confuse their knowledge is called stillness. (Xunzi 21/349) That the mind is empty does not mean that it is devoid of knowledge. It means that people can learn about things while still remaining open-minded, by not allowing their knowledge to lead to prejudice and preconception. Similarly, unity does not mean that the mind has a single, fixed view but rather that it is capable of encompassing different and even conflicting ways of looking at things without being torn apart by them. Finally, it is natural for people to speculate about possibilities and toy with different preferences. Their minds can nonetheless remain still, however, to the extent that they are able to preserve a critical distance on their own activities and emotions.8 So long as people can overcome these problems of prejudice, equivocation, and enthusiasm, Xunzi argues, they will see the world clearly. Anyone who simply looks at the world clearly will realize that the Confucian way is in his or her own best interests. Zhuangzis mistake, on this interpretation, stemmed from his belief that one could not question societys values without withdrawing from society altogether, as a result of which he failed to realize the value of the social goods provided for by ritual (li) and so failed to realize the value of Confucianism. The problem with this reading of Xunzi is that it does not constitute enough of an objection to Zhuangzis position. Xunzis notion of obsession is almost identical to the
6 7

References to Xunzi are to page number in the edition by LI DISHENG.

David Nivison presents an interpretation much like this, describing Xunzis Confucianism as the logical outcome of CHUANG Tzus Taoism (Nivison in Rosemont:138). My account of these terms differs slightly from those given in Yearley: 4712, and Nivison in Rosemont: 1301.

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problem of narrow-mindedness diagnosed by Zhuangzi. His prescription of emptiness, unity, and stillness not only recalls Zhuangzis story of Confucius and YAN Hui in Chapter 4 (Zhuangzi 4/134) but even borrows much of the same terminology. Although Xunzi nowhere invokes skepticism as a means to this end, he does provide a perfect summary of the frame of mind Zhuangzis skepticism was supposed to bring about. He even describes the sage as a practitioner of wu wei (Xunzi 21/667). On this interpretation of Xunzis objection, Xunzi seems to agree with Zhuangzis general project and to object only that he does not prosecute it scrupulously enough. If this is a criticism of Zhuangzi, it is a criticism of his personal failure to put his own ideas into practice, rather than of his philosophical position as such. On a second, more robust interpretation of Xunzis objection, he continues to agree with Zhuangzi that what is best is what is natural, but he disagrees that skepticism reliably reveals the natural course. Zhuangzi assumes that if we simply respond open-mindedly and follow our natural inclinations we will be drawn toward the things that are naturally best; but is this true? There might well be things that fulfill very natural needs that we are not, however, in a position to appreciate without first acquiring certain types of knowledge. We do not ask children, for instance, whether they feel naturally inclined to go to school; nor do we send sick people into drugstores to take whatever medicines appeal to them most after an open-minded consideration. People may well have real, natural needs that uncertainty will not reveal. The thrust of Xunzis objection, on this second interpretation, would be that skeptical open-mindedness must be supplemented by learning. He makes this point clearly in his chapter Encouraging Learning (Quan Xue ): I once tried spending a whole day in thought, but found it of less value than a moment of study. I once tried standing on tiptoe and gazing into the distance, but found I could see much farther by climbing to a high place (Xunzi 1/79). This is followed by an anecdote that appears to be a direct parody of Zhuangzi: In the Southern Region there is a bird called stupid dove (meng jiu ). It makes a nest out of feathers woven together with hair and suspends it from the tips of reeds. But when the wind comes, the reeds break, the eggs are smashed, and the baby birds are killed (Xunzi 1/911). The grammar of Xunzis opening line here echoes the opening line of Zhuangzis famous story about Kun and Peng: In the Northern Obscurity there is a fish called minnow (Zhuangzi 1/1). However, the story itself makes the opposite point. Zhuangzis tale of the fish swimming and then turning into a bird and flying away illustrates (at least, on GUO Xiangs interpretation) the reliability of our spontaneous responses in coping with changing situations (Guo: 2). Xunzis parable of the bird who builds her nest on too narrow a branch and so loses all her eggs in the high wind, by contrast, is a lesson about the inadequacy of our untutored intuitions and the necessity of forethought and study. The Stupid Dove here may be a direct reply to Zhuangzis student dove (xue jiu ), who illustrates the pointlessness of trying to learn from others (Zhuangzi 1/8). In any case, the story illustrates Xunzis point that skeptical openmindedness alone is not enough but must be supplemented by learning (see Ivanhoe: 309322). The problem for us with this second interpretation of Xunzis objection, however, is that it is based on a misinterpretation of Zhuangzis actual position. This objection would make sense only if we attributed to Zhuangzi the belief that mere open-mindedness can replace learning, which, as we saw earlier, is clearly contradicted in the text as well as by common sense. This is not to say that this second interpretation may not be an accurate reading of Xunzi. However, since our purpose here is to consider the ways in which Xunzi might shed light on Zhuangzi, we should avoid attributing a misinterpretation of Zhuangzi to him so long as there is another alternative available.


Paul Kjellberg

There is a third interpretation according to which Xunzis objection has real teeth. On this interpretation, Xunzi objects not simply to skepticism as a means to the natural life but to the notion of the natural life itself as the proper goal of human existence. The purpose of education and training may not simply be to teach people new and unforeseen ways of fulfilling desires they already have but rather to cultivate in them new desires they did not have before. The goal of life, then, would lie not in satisfying human nature but in transforming it. Not only would people in an untutored state be unable to appreciate the effectiveness of Xunzis Confucianism in satisfying their needs, on this third interpretation they would not yet even have the needs that Confucianism so uniquely satisfies. Xunzi suggests such an interpretation with his famous proclamation that human nature is bad (Xunzi 23/1 ff.) and with his vivid metaphors of humanity as, for instance, bent wood that has to be forced straight and dull metal that has to be ground against a stone (Xunzi 1/12, 23/5). Good people, he says, train their eyes so that they do not desire to see what is not right, train their ears so that they do not desire to hear what is not right, train their mouths so that they do not desire to taste what is not right, train their minds so that they do not desire to choose what is not right. Once they have finally come to love [what is best], their eyes will love it more than the five colors; their ears will love it more than the five sounds; their mouths will love it more than the five flavors; and their minds will consider it more to their advantage than [dominion over] the empire. (Xunzi 1/4750) Xunzi does not think the natural desires can be gotten rid of, nor does he think they should be (Xunzi 22/56). Evidently, however, he does think they can be supplemented. It is this supplementation of the natural desires with new ones that constitutes the transformation of human nature. The value of the best life, on this model, is measured by the satisfaction not of natural needs and desires but rather of artificial ones. This reading of Xunzi as an advocate of artificial values is supported by several other aspects of his thought, such as, for instance, his choice of the word wei to refer to the activity of deliberately choosing a course of action rather than simply following ones inclinations. While wei certainly does mean this for Xunzi, it also has other overtones of which he was not unaware. Zhuangzi uses it to mean false in explicit contrast to zhen (genuine or true) (Zhuangzi 2/25). Mencius uses it to mean something more like hypocritical or even deceptive (Mencius 3A4 and 5A2). Although Xunzi does not think of wei as something bad, he no doubt chooses this particular term to emphasize that, to begin with at least, moral activity is not the sincere expression of ones true feelings but a self-conscious and deliberate effort to act contrary to ones natural inclinations. Rather than running away from the label artificial, Xunzi embraces it. This third reading also allows us to resolve Xunzis puzzlingly Daoist-sounding admonition to be empty, unified, and still. Xunzi recommends these qualities not to the beginner, for whom they would be disastrous. They only become virtues after peoples natures have been transformed by education. It is only on this third interpretation of Xunzis position that we have a real disagreement with Zhuangzi and an adequate account of his criticism of Zhuangzi as obsessed by nature and ignorant of the human. The most important things in life, according to Xunzi, are of artificial value and are not things toward which we are naturally inclined. Such carefully cultivated desires, among which Xunzi includes the social and moral desires, can become very deep-seated and sincere, but they will never be natural in Zhuangzis sense; Xunzi compares the effort of the untrained person to appreciate them to that of a blind man trying to distinguish colors or a deaf man

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tones (Xunzi 2/3940). Xunzi does not criticize Zhuangzis arguments as flawed but the motivation behind them as misguided, aiming at a natural rather than an artificial life.

4 Zhuangzis Possible Response Xunzis objection brings into clearer focus what we mean by Zhuangzis naturalism as the background motivation for his skepticism. More importantly, it demonstrates that this naturalism is not a necessary presupposition, since Xunzi presents an alternative. If there were no other option, then the justification for Zhuangzis naturalism would be unproblematic. Indeed, the late Angus Graham, still the leading scholar on Zhuangzi in the West, described Zhuangzis naturalism in this way as the only default position, one which it would be madness to reject (Graham 1981: 14). However, Xunzi has shown us that this is not necessarily so; there are other reasonable positions. Once this fact is established, the familiar skeptical machinery is set in motion: the fact of diversity of opinion raises the problem of the criterion, the insolubility of which results in uncertainty. However, in this case the object of uncertainty is the justification of the skeptical arguments themselves. The dazzling effectiveness of Zhuangzis arguments tempts the reader to forget that skeptical arguments do not provide their own justifications. As we saw earlier, arguments and their justifications are different things. Skeptical arguments, especially aporetic ones, are typically interrogative and by nature inconclusive; justifications must be propositional and conclusive. A skeptical argument is effective if it eradicates belief and causes uncertainty. However, this is not the same thing as providing a justification, and this is the problem. The success of Zhuangzis arguments shows that a categorical, aporetic skepticism is possible, perhaps even inevitable, but it does not show that such skepticism is justified. The value of the natural life is an assumption Zhuangzi makes in advancing his arguments, not a conclusion he proves by means of them. There are several places in the text where Zhuangzi seems to be aware of the problem Xunzi raises, although he casts it somewhat differently. One passage runs as follows: To know what nature does and to know what humans do is to have reached perfection. Those who know what nature does live naturally. Those who know what humans do use what they know they know to nurture what they know they dont know. Living out their natural term and not dying along the way, this is the flourishing of knowledge. Even so, theres a problem. Knowledge depends on something before it can be fitting. But what it depends on has not yet been fixed. So how do I know that what I call natural isnt really human and what I call human isnt really natural? Only once there has been a True Man can we have true knowledge. What do I mean by a True Man? The True Man of ancient times did not resist poverty, did not glory in success, and did not plan his affairs. One like this can miss without regretting it and hit without being pleased. One like this can climb high without shuddering, can enter water without getting wet and enter fire without getting hot. Such is knowledge that is able to climb up to the Way.... The True Man of ancient times knew nothing of loving life and nothing of hating death. He emerged without delight and returned without resistance, coming and going briskly, and nothing more. He neither forgot his beginning nor sought his end. Receiving something he enjoyed it; forgetting it he handed it back. This is called not using the mind to resist the Way, not using the human to help the natural. This is called the True Man. (Zhuangi 6/16, 79)


Paul Kjellberg

Although Zhuangzis terminology in this passage is similar to Xunzis and may even have influenced him,9 his formulation of the problem is slightly different. Here Zhuangzi considers the possibility that the creation of artificial values in the form, for instance, of cultural norms might be a perfectly natural activity. Consequently, the effort to return to nature by questioning those values may itself be unnatural. People do set goals for themselves all the time; the refusal to do so requires considerable effort and is hardly a normal thing to do. Thus, Zhuangzi phrases the problem differently from Xunzi but it amounts to the same thing: rather than questioning the relative status of natural and human values, Zhuangzi asks instead whether he might not have gotten the distinction between them confused and whether, in effect, it might not be natural for people to be artificial. In order to decide the issue, he continues, the definition of the natural has to be fixed (ding ) as meaning either peoples spontaneous responses in a state of open-mindedness or the creation of and conformity to artificial values. Zhuangzi resolves the problem by reference to a paradigmatic person, the True Man. He then goes on to describe the skeptical sage with whom we have become familiar. This solution is odd, however, for several reasons. First, he has said elsewhere that the meaning of words cannot be fixed (Zhuangzi 2/24) and he gives no indication of why he now reverses that judgment in this crucial case. Second, his reasoning is unabashedly circular: he simply asserts this ideal without justification when the question of its status as an ideal is precisely the point at issue. Third, the appeal to ancient authority is a familiar Confucian strategy that Zhuangzi elsewhere criticizes and systematically avoids, preferring stories of ordinary people, his contemporaries, and even animals instead of sage kings of the past. On all three of these counts, it is odd that Zhuangzi suddenly reverts to modes of argument which he systematically rejects elsewhere. The fourth and final irony, whether conscious or not, is his designation of this paradigm as the True Man. What is this figure supposed to represent, the natural or the human? Zhuangzi gives us a paradigm, but he leaves us hanging on the question of what exactly it is a paradigm of, the hero or the fool. Far from putting the matter to rest, the introduction of this pointedly ambiguous character only highlights the fact that the problem itself has yet to be resolved. For all these reasons, in spite of its declarative tone, the passage has to be looked at more as raising questions than providing answers. In other places Zhuangzi is more explicit about his self-doubt, among them one passage partially quoted earlier: They bound off like an arrow or a crossbow pellet, certain that they are the arbiters of right and wrong. They cling to their positions as though they had sworn before the gods, sure that they are holding on to victory. They fade like fall and wintersuch is the way they dwindle day by day. They drown in what they doyou cannot make them turn back. They grow dark, as though sealed with seals.... Once they receive their completed form they do not forget it while awaiting their exhaustion. Clashing with things and bending before them, they exhaust their course at a gallop. Nothing can stop them. Isnt it tragic? Slaving away their whole lives without ever seeing any real accomplishment, utterly exhausting themselves and never knowing where to look

9 The terms tian , ren , and zhi are all used in Xunzis Discussion of Nature (Lun Tian ) in such a way as to suggest that the whole chapter is a reworking of this passage in Zhuangzi.

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for restcan you help pitying them? People say theyre not dead. But what difference does it make? Their bodies change, and their minds do so along with them. Can you not call this the greatest of pities? Are peoples lives really this deluded? Or is it only me that is deluded and other people not deluded? (Zhuangzi 2/1112, 189).10 People adopt wrong standards and consequently pursue the wrong things. They struggle their whole lives convinced they are right, with each success taking them farther from their real goal. Zhuangzi thinks he has avoided this problem by suspending all standards and instead trusting to nature. However, he ends by asking himself how he knows he is different from other people and what reason he has to think he has not made the same mistake in spite ofor even because ofhis efforts to avoid it. Perhaps the most striking expression of Zhuangzis uncertainty lies in his treatment of Confucius. Confucians and Confucianism are consistently ridiculed in the Inner Chapters, along with the Moists, the Sophists, HUI Shi, and others. Confucius himself, however, is subjected to quite varied treatment. Sometimes he is treated simply as a dupe (Zhuangzi 4/8691). More often, he is made a straightforward spokesperson for Zhuangzis Daoism (Zhuangzi 5/3149, 4/134, 4/3453, 7/7582, and 7/8993). In some places he gives voice to Daoist ideas but then denies that he means them (Zhuangzi 2/7376), while elsewhere he is depicted as a conventional Confucian who then recognizes the error of his ways (Zhuangzi 5/2431). In the following passage, he professes the superiority of Daoism but acknowledges his own inability to live that way. It is interesting that in demonstrating his own ambivalence by sympathizing with Confucius, Zhuangzi depicts him as one who was himself ambivalent:11 Master Mulberry-door (Zi Sanghu ), Anti-Mencius (Mengzifan ), and Master Great-Zither (Zi Qinzhang ) all three joined together as friends. They said, Who can join with others in not joining with them, do for others by not doing for them? Who can climb heaven, roam the mists, and whirl in the infinite, living forgetful of one another for ever and ever? The three men looked at each other and smiled. None was reluctant in his mind, so they joined as friends.

10 The meaning of the character mang (translated here as deluded) is debated. GUO Xiang takes it to mean the same, thus reading the line as, in effect, if they are all like this, am I not like this too? LU Deming supports this reading with a quotation from the Jian Wen . The shu sub-commentary reads it as benighted. The same term is used, however, in Mencius 2A2 to describe the Farmer of Song who kills his grain plants by trying to help them grow. Though in this context it looks more as though it means exhausted, ZHU Xi reads it as meaning with the appearance of ignorance and applies it to the farmers family members who do not know what he has done. All of these meanings could apply here. People are deluded in their vain pursuit of things that are not good for them. They are exhausted because, try as they might, they cannot find satisfaction. They are all alike in this, and Zhuangzi asks if he too might not be like this, that is, wearing himself out having adopted the wrong method. 11 Graham writes: Very curiously, while the HUI Shih of the Inner Chapters and elsewhere in the book talks like the logician that he is, Confucius is a moralist only in his behavior; his thoughts are Chuang-tzus own. But he understands them only in the abstract, and calmly accepts that he himself is irrevocably condemned to live by the conventions.... Confucius is credited with having the dignity to accept himself as he is. But why Chuang-tzu chooses to present Confucius as sympathizing in theory with his own philosophy is a puzzling question.... Psychological speculation is hardly in order here, but it is almost as though Confucius were a father figure whose blessing the rebellious son likes to imagine would have been granted in the end (Graham 1981: 178). In what follows, I try to give philosophical reasons for why Zhuangzi might have been able to see something of himself in Confucius and vice-versa.


Paul Kjellberg

Nothing happened for a while and then Master Mulberry-door died. Confucius heard about it and sent Zigong over to help out. One of them was plaiting frames for silkworms and the other was playing the zither while they harmonized together and sang: Oh, Master Mulberry-door, Oh, Master Mulberry-door, Youve returned to your true self, While we go on as men-o! Zigong hurried in and approached them, saying; Excuse me! But does it accord with the ritual to sing over a corpse? The two men looked at each other and smiled, saying What does he know about the meaning of ritual? Zigong went back and reported this to Confucius, asking What kind of men are those? Correct behavior is as nothing to them, as though their physical bodies were something external. They sing overlooking the corpse without even changing expression. I dont know what to say about them. What kind of men are they? Confucius said, Those are men who wander outside the rules. I am one of those who wanders within them. Inside and outside dont meet, and it was rude of me to send you to mourn. They are about to join with the director of things as people12 and wander in the single breath of heaven and earth. They think of life as a hanging tumor and a dangling mole and of death as a lost wart or a bursting boil. People such as this, how can they say whether death and life are ground gained or lost? They commit themselves to different things but trust to their all being of one body. They forget liver and gall and abandon the ears and eyes. They exchange the beginning for the end and cannot tell a premonition from an echo. Bemused,13 they wander about beyond the dirt and dust and play at the business of not doing anything. How could they get worked up over conventional politeness just to put on a display for the ears and eyes of the crowd? Zigong said, So why then does my master follow rules himself? Confucius said, Me, I am one of those who are punished by nature. Even so, I share this with you. Zigong said, May I ask about these rules? Confucius said, Fish direct (zao) one another in water. People direct one another in the Way. For things that direct one another in the water, dig a pond and they will be provided for. For things that direct one another in the Way, dont busy yourself with

This is a troubling line in many respects and my translation is tentative. At issue are the phrases zao wu zhe and wei ren . Most modern translations have followed WANG Yinzhi in reading wei ren as to be a companion, and consequently personify zao wu zhe as the Maker of Things, since it has to be the sort of thing that people can be companions to (Guo: 269). GUO Xiang adopts the more usual reading of wei ren, understanding it as meaning to be a [certain sort of] person. Thus, to know someones wei ren means to know what kind of person he or she is (cf., for instance, Guo: 206 and Lunyu 1.2). The phrase appears again at Guo: 293, in a context identical to this one, and so does not assist in interpretation. Reading the line in this second sense allows us to depersonalize zao wu zhe, understanding it, with GUO Xiang, as referring to the spontaneous processes of nature that give direction to peoples intuitive responses. Thus the point of the line is that the friends are relying on nature to guide their actions and form their personalities rather than on self-conscious activity in conformity to human normsexactly the opposite of what Xunzi recommends. This reading of zao wu zhe coheres better with the recurrence of the character zao a few lines later where it clearly means to guide or give direction to rather than to create.

13 This word, mang , is the same one Zhuangzi used earlier to describe the delusion of normal people. The fact that he uses it here to describe sagehood may be one more indication of his ambivalence.


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them and their lives will be settled. Hence it is said, Fish forget one another in the rivers and lakes; people forget one another in the arts of the way. Zigong said, May I ask about deviant people? Deviant people deviate from people but converge with nature. Hence it is said, Natures petty person is a prince among men. The prince among men is natures petty person. (Zhuangzi 6/6074) The Friends are recurrent characters in the Inner Chapters. They appear elsewhere under different names, still typifying Zhuangzis skeptical sages. They are characterized by a general disregard for rituals, in particular the funeral rituals which are so important to the Confucians. The familiar reason for this is made clear in a related story about the friends Master Priest, Master Pomp, Master Farmer, and Master Arrive who, when taken sick, are not upset because they cannot be sure that death will constitute a change for the worse (Zhuangzi 6/4560). As a result of their suspension of judgment, the friends are able to live a life in accordance with nature. Zigong is appalled at their behavior, but perhaps even more surprised by Confucius apparent admiration for them. He asks why, if Confucius evidently thinks it is so much better to live in accordance with nature rather than convention, he does not do so himself. Confucius response that he is one of those who are punished by nature, which echoes Shushan No-toes description of him as mutilated by nature (Zhuangzi 5/31), has several implications. First, it suggests that the life he lives is natures punishment for his unwillingness or inability to free himself from conventional valuesthis is the meaning given to the phrase at Zhuangzi 14/54 in a later chapter attributed by Graham to a later editor (Graham: 126; 130). On this reading, then, Confucius self-description stands as a degrading admission of his own inferiority. At the same time, however, in describing himself as punished, Confucius aligns himself with the cripples, criminals, and outcasts lauded throughout the rest of the Zhuangzi, many of whom were presumably mutilated for the commission of some political or social crime. Zhuangzi explores their condition and asks whether the punishments inflicted on them by society are not the inevitable results of their natural ways of living (Zhuangzi 3/1214). He goes on to suggest not only that the defects may be natural but that they can put their possessors in a better position to continue to lead natural lives by distancing them from societys restrictive norms (Zhuangzi 4/8386). By referring to himself as punished, then, Confucius raises the possibility that his commitment to the social project is as unavoidable an aspect of his fate as are the illnesses and handicaps that befall others, in which case his reconciliation with this aspect of himself is a sign of success far more than of failure. It raises once again the question examined earlier, whether artificiality might be natural and the effort to return to nature artificial. The character of Confucius is rendered even more sympathetic by his following line: Even so, I share this with you. The remark is surprising and has two meanings. On the one hand, he is delivering the alarming news that, like his teacher, Zigong is defective, too. At the same time, though, he identifies their defect as something they have in common, something that binds them together. Although this seems to be an admission of inferiority, it stands in a suggestive juxtaposition to the behavior of the Friends. In spite of their designation as friends, these characters are cold and distant to one another. Not only do they speak about Zigong in the third person even when he is standing right in front of them, they never even directly address one another: they harmonize but do not converse. In the story of Masters Priest, Pomp, Farmer, and Arrive their interaction is limited to challenging


Paul Kjellberg

opportunities to each other to express skeptical indifference to their diseases and imminent deaths. This stands in marked contrast to the obvious and touching warmth of the relationship between Confucius and Zigong.14 The story presents us with two alternatives, the skepticism of the friends versus Confucius dogmatic rule-following. Confucius himself admits that the two can never meet. On the side of the friends are all the skeptical problems that Zhuangzi explores and pronounces unresolvable. On the side of Confucius is the disturbing intuition that something importantly human is being lost in this surrender to doubt and reliance on nature. The story seems to be presenting and exploring this as a problem rather than offering any solution: it remains unclear to the end who the true hero of the story is.15 In this and the other passages we have looked at, Zhuangzi recognizes the limitations of his skepticism and acknowledges the suppositions underlying the application of his own method.

5 Conclusion What are we to make of this? Does it prove that Zhuangzi is wrong? No. Does it prove that the Confucians are right? Surely not. It leaves us precisely nowhere, with no indication of how to proceed. Is this where Zhuangzi wanted us to be? Perhaps. It may have been his intent to provoke uncertainty about uncertainty and skepticism about skepticism. However, even if it were, the possibility of retreating to a deeper level of doubt does nothing to resolve the question of whether skepticism is a good thing. This is not Zhuangzis fault. Skeptical arguments and their justifications function independently and the success or failure of one has no bearing on the success or failure of the other. Categorical aporetic skepticism precludes the possibility of its own justification: one cannot be persuaded by the arguments and confident of their worth at the same time. The absence of a justification, however, in no way dismantles the arguments or weakens theirto speak perverselyvalidity, since arguments and justification are independent. Though unjustified and unjustifiable, the arguments remain as compelling as they ever were. It is hard not to sympathize with HUI Shis frustration.
14 The ambiguity of the situation centers on the status of Confucius punishment. This in turn draws our attention to the character lu , which usually refers to the slaughtering of political enemies (e.g. Zhuangzi 4/13), though the fact that Confucius is still alive suggests that here it means something more along the line of mutilation. It is etymologically related to the character chou , which is used in the Inner Chapters to mean, by contrast, recovery or health (see Zhuangzi 4/3 and 7/22). Both lu and zhou contain the character liao, which Zhuangzi uses in his Pipings of Nature passage to describe the blowing of the wind as it rushes through the various openings in the world. Each opening produces a different sound depending on its shape. Similarly, the image implies, the differences among philosophers are simply so much wind stemming entirely in their initial choices of definitions. Other variations of the character in the Inner Chapters all suggest the indistinguishability of things that we saw to be the result of Zhuangzis skeptical procedure (see Zhuangzi 6/45, 6/82, and 7/8). We might speculate then that there is a pun at work here assimilating Confucius condition to the wind. Its status as punishment or health, deficiency or perfection, is ambiguous and dependent on ones choice of definitions and standards. 15

GUO Xiang denies that there is any conflict between Confucius and the Friends (see Guo: 268). He argues that the three Friends represent the inner psychology of sagehood and Confucius its outer manifestation. There are two problems with this. First, there is a real conflict, as Xunzis objection makes clear. Second, Confucius acknowledges the conflict quite clearly in this passage when he says Inside and outside dont meet, a line GUO Xiang is forced to ignore. Rather than reading the passage as expressing the paradoxical unity of apparent opposites, i.e. the skepticism of the Friends and the activism of Confucius, I read it as representing Zhuangzis recognition of a real incompatibility.

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The moral of the story may be that it was a mistake to read Zhuangzi this way in the first place. Perhaps instead of trying to prove anything, he was simply expressing a way of life that he valued but could not defend for the reasons he explored. This may end up being the best interpretation, but at a cost: Whether this life is more fulfilling or more effective are empirical questions that can be tested. However, the role of the scholar would seem to be limited to textual exegesis. To return to the beginning, Zhuangzi does not and cannot provide a solution to the problems his text raises. The structure of the arguments prevents it. If we are drawn to him not by his solutions, since he does not offer any, but by the questions he asks and the way he asks them, we must also admit we have no way of knowing whether his unwavering assurance, to quote from our epigraph, is a sign of virtuous courage or reckless abandon.

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