A DAOIST EXISTENTIALISM I

The theme of this series is inspired in part by Robert Miller’s Buddhist Existentialism: From Anxiety to Authenticity and Freedom to which I will make occasional reference.

This presentation of a form of existentialism that takes its inspiration from Daoist philosophy serves two purposes. First, it faithfully represents the actual philosophy that Zhuangzian Daoism especially has led me to embrace. It is not simply something conjured up, but rather something that has grown out of my engagement with both existentialism and Daoism. Secondly, it serves to further distance this philosophy from any presumption of representing itself as the “correct” interpretation of Zhuangzian Daoism.

This latter has become increasingly important to me for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, it renders the philosophy consistent with what I take as fundamental to Zhuangzi, namely the inescapable ambiguity of every cognitive representation of reality. We must all of necessity have a point of view, yet every point of view is perspectivally derived and utterly tentative. The exercise of this philosophy is thus not a pursuit of the truth, but rather a pursuit of an effective strategy by which to best live in the absence of truth. This, of course, is also fundamental to existentialism.

There is also the sense of contentiousness that arises from criticism of the interpretative takes of others vis-à-vis my own. Declaring what Zhuangzi is about necessarily involves disagreeing with others, and these others are for the most part significantly more scholarly qualified to speak than I. Though such disagreements are unavoidable, an understanding of this philosophy as derivative, that is, as one that makes use of Zhuangzi rather than attempts to represent him, allows this disagreement to be other than about the truth of things.

All this was previously addressed in the series A New Philosophical Daoism. This series simply puts a finer edge on the character of that philosophy and casts it in a bit more secular light. In both, the use of the indefinite article “A” is important in that it indicates that it is but one among many possible daos.

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