Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Another Recent Dissertation: Chai on Ontology and Cosmology in Zhuangzi


Here is anther recent dissertation in Chinese philosophy, posted with permission. David has already published articles on Ji Kang and on Xuanxue, and will be presenting papers at the Eastern and Central APAs on topics ranging from “Ziqi and Yan Hui on Forgetting” to “Heidegger’s Lichtung in Light of Daoism” to “Being and the Abyss: Heidegger’s Leap into Daoist Nothingness.” 

Title: Nothingness, Being, and Dao: Ontology and Cosmology in the Zhuangzi
Author: David Chai (david.chai@utoronto.ca)
Defended: February 2012
Institution: University of Toronto, Canada (Dept. of East Asian Studies)
Supervisor: Vincent Shen


The following dissertation is a philosophical exploration of the cosmology of the Zhuangzi, arguing it is meontological due to the prominence afforded the Chinese word wu 無;, rendered as both nothingness and nonbeing. It puts forth the argument that the Zhuangzi’s cosmology creates a relationship whereby nonbeing and being are intertwined under the purview of Dao 道;. As a result, the text’s axiology is unique in that it states cosmological freedom is attainable via uniting with primal nothingness. Chapter one seeks to disprove the notion that nonbeing cannot be anything but a transcendental other by arguing that Dao is a negatively creative source that simultaneously gives birth to nonbeing and being, making it impossible for nonbeing to be nihilistic or seen as an absolute void. Chapter two delves into the manifestation of things and how the sage, as an epitome of the naturalness of Dao, follows the becoming and returning of things to the One, darkening himself in nothingness in order to cultivate his life. Chapter three poses the question of whether or not the ontological movement of things is temporal and how temporality can even be possible considering the meontological nature of the universe. The next two chapters focus on the arts of useful uselessness and forgetting, the two principal means by which the sage achieves harmony with the oneness of things. Chapter six concludes by arguing that freedom attained by perfecting the arts of uselessness and forgetfulness is not rooted in ethical virtue but is the pinnacle of one’s cosmological relationship with Dao and is embodied in the act of carefree wandering. Zhuangzi’s cosmology is thus rooted in the life force of nothingness and doing away with ontic distinctions so as to return to natural equanimity and stillness of spirit.


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