GARY OSTERTAG – Columbia Society for Comparative Philosophy Lecture: “The Daoist Dialectic of Enlightenment” Friday Mar 31 at 5:30pm


Welcomes: GARY OSTERTAG (CUNY Graduate Center | Nassau Community College)
With responses from: GRAHAM PRIEST (CUNY Graduate Center)

Please join us at Columbia University’s Religion Department on FRIDAY, MARCH 31st at 5:30PM for his lecture entitled:

The Daoist Dialectic of Enlightenment

ABSTRACT: The paradoxical nature of the Daodejing is evident from its opening lines, which present a deliberate challenge to the reader:

A Way that can be followed is not a constant Way.
A name that can be named is not a constant name. (Ivanhoe, trans.)

These lines set the tone for the rest of the work. We are told that when the beautiful strives to be beautiful it is repulsive; that when the good strives to be good it is not good; that the worst scholars are superior to the best scholars; that inaction is a course of action; and so on.

In this paper, I will present a reading of the Daodejing that attempts to make sense of its use of paradox. My interpretation, informed by Wittgenstein’s metaphilosophical remarks in the Tractatus concerning the limits of what can be said, makes use of the distinction between saying and showing. I compare my interpretation to an alternative one, according to which the paradoxical contexts consist in contradictory assertions or sayings. For example, Jay Garfield and Graham Priest write: “these paradoxes are not simply flourishes of literary style or challenging metaphors, but are meant to reveal the contradictory nature of reality itself.” In contrast, I maintain that the presence of an explicit contradiction signals that the text is not to be taken at face value – that the contradiction is not really asserted. One advantage of this reading, I argue, is that it explains the transformative nature of the text – something that the alternative reading fails to do.

FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 5:30-7:30 pm
Rm. 101, 80 Claremont Ave, Columbia University

May 5th – Warren Frisina (Hofstra University)


Inquiries should be directed to one of the following individuals:

Professor Jonathan Gold
Associate Professor, Princeton University, Department of Religion

Professor Hagop Sarkissian
Associate Professor, The City University of New York, Baruch College | Graduate Center, Department of Philosophy

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