RE-THINKING THINKING IX

A CRITIQUE OF LANGUAGE

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Another aspect of Zhuangzi’s critique of reason concerns the ability of language, words, to adequately represent reality, or more importantly, to not distort it. In this he was a skeptical nominalist and in sympathy with some within the so-called “School of Names” (mingjia), a diverse group of philosophers who flourished during the Warring States Era (479-221 BCE). His friendship and anecdotal sparring with Hui Shi (Huizi), a prominent exemplar of this “school”, seems to have especially influenced him in this regard. Huizi used a number of paradoxes to demonstrate, among other things, that our definitions of things are determined by our perspective rather than by something innate in the things themselves. This led him to a form of relativism which he used as an occasion for sophistry in the winning of debates. Zhuangzi was in essential agreement with this thesis, but put it to a far better use. Zhuangzi’s perspectivism is a central point of departure for his use of new, recontextualizing perspectives as a means to transforming our interface with the world so as to realize greater harmony with ourselves, others and the world.

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