ON BEING ZHENUINE I

The neologism Zhenuineness, Moeller and D’Ambrosiao tell us in Genuine Pretending: On the Philosophy of the Zhuangzi, better represents the essential character of the Zhuangzian sage than does the term authenticity. Since I have frequently made use of the latter term, I was curious as to how we might disagree. But as it turns out, we mean the same thing. Only these philosophers have a better grasp of the term as it is used in existentialist philosophy generally and Heideggerian philosophy especially, and it is that usage which they take to be a modern imposition upon Zhuangzi’s term zhen (genuine) in its historical context. Their point is that whereas Heidegger spoke of being an authentic self, Zhuangzi spoke of having no-fixed self. Since I see this as a core human experience—that no fixed-self can really be found—I have said that to be authentically human (on other than a metalevel where all things are affirmable as authentic, even when inauthentic) is to live in awareness of and harmony with this reality.

But wait. Before discussing this in greater depth, I’d like to speak more generally about the book. I agree with its arguments completely and would recommend it to anyone who wishes to have a better understanding of Zhuangzi, whether their take be similar to mine or otherwise. Its take is that the Zhuangzi recommends (if one wishes it to do so) a purely secular and mundane response to the life experience. This disallows any religious involvement, however subtle. It is not that a religious approach is not also possible, but only that they are mutually exclusive in practice.

Along those lines, let me reiterate that when we speak of “sages” only a hypothetical is implied. In the end, there are no sages. There is no one to believe in, no one to emulate, no one has “arrived”. The suggestion of sages merely allows our wandering to follow a trajectory without belief in any final attainable goal. This is what it means to “wander aimlessly”. Our authenticity, our zhenuineness, is in harmony with our persistent inauthenticity. It’s simply being human—nothing more.

Finally, this can matter. Whereas the authors of Genuine Pretending are apparently obliged by the rules of scholarship to remain in the realm of the intellectual, what is really on offer here is an invitation to practice a philosophy of life—not just philosophy. We are obliged to have some point(s) of view. Zhuangzi simple suggests we try this one on and see if it doesn’t help smooth our passage through this life.

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