HUMAN NATURE VII

Zhuangzi was in no way a systematic philosopher. “Vague! Ambiguous!” (33; Ziporyn). He did not definitively weigh in on any cosmological or ethical issues. This was by design, and leaves his readers to come to their own conclusions. Thus, “The guidelines within them [his writings] are undepletable, giving forth new meanings without shedding the old ones” (33; Ziporyn).

We cannot therefore make definitive statements regarding his position vis-à-vis the character of human nature. We can only deduce a position after considering his larger concerns and advocacy. But even here we must remember that he wished to go beyond the need for any such declarations. We want it to all fit together and make good sense. We want a system, and he suggests we free ourselves from this need. We want a moral system, and he tells us that this stands in the way of our being truly moral. A prescriptive morality is an oppressive morality. And counter-productive. Witness the desire of the religious to impose their values on others despite the harmlessness of the behaviors in question.

On my reading, Zhuangzi suggests we reconnect with our most immediate and unmediated self-experience. Life does not ask Why? It simply lives. So, live. Life is its own enjoyment. So, enjoy. On this basis we can assume that Zhuangzi believes that human nature is “good” in a non-ethical sense. Whether we do “good” or “evil” is of only secondary importance. We do best when we trust Nature as it arises. Questions regarding the ethical belong to an altogether different sphere (road). As some Zennist has said, concern for morality simply evinces a continued bondage to morality.

But we want to know that this all leads to moral behavior. Like a scratched record, we inevitably fall back into the same groove. So here’s the song in my groove: Zhuangzi suggests we become sages—is a sage an immoral person? Perhaps Zhuangzi’s Daoism should come with a warning: Performed by a sage—do not try this at home. In other words, don’t put the cart before the horse. Let your amorality arise from your growth in non-dependent sagacity. My guess is that that will make you very moral in the eyes of the world.

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