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  • Created on: 11-01-20 20:34

Dao de jing / Tao Te ching

  • 'Treatise about the Way and Virtue
  • Anthology compiled over a long period 
  • Attributed to Lao Zi or Lao Dan (contemporary of Confucius 551-479 BCE) 
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  • Means 'Way' (manner of doing things)
  • Road, river, waterway or canal (important means of transport and irrigation) - examples of human mastery and distortion of the environment 

"The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth"

"Born before heaven and earth"

"It stands alone and does not change"

"It is the mother of the world"

"I do not know its name"

"I call it Dao" (25)

  • It is the proper way of nature
  • Understood as the source and motive power behind all existences that allocates to everything its own place
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  • Ones station in the world is already ordained
  • Confucians encourage the misconception that by effort and education it is possible to depart from ones status in the natural order and assume another 
  • Recommend a society in tune with the natural order of things (where the strong will flourish and the fittest survive) 
  • View that everything is in transition, process and flux (no beginnings or ends) and there are no boundaries or fixed points in nature
  • Nature is a field of mutually conditioning influences that do not conflict 
  • The way of nature is morally indifferent: Heaven and earth are not humane 
  • Critique of Confucian models of governance (if the ruler cultivates virtue the people will aspire to imitate him - moral example is truly effective)
  • Voice of the disempowered aristocracy or landed gentry (consider themselves born to rule - government is the function allotted to them by nature - Dao)
  • Felt their natural status is being ignored as the centralised government becomes the preserve of an educated civil service 
  • Policies that favour the interests of an hereditary elite (powerful, wealthy aristocrats whose natural endowments make them fit to rule)
  • Favours the qualities of the forceful heroic warrior and martial virtues over deference and altruism
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'The Dao'

  • Should not be understood as an entity or another being among beings
  • It is the ground of being and the source of insight 
  • The true is the real (we must understand the true and be the real)
  • Understanding the true means participating in the real
  • To articulate understanding in words is to objectify what is understood (treat it as an object) 
  • The rational intellect tries to distance itself from the world (adopting an objective attitude)
  • It analyses, compartmentalises and segments Dao into entities and processes of events in accordance with human concerns
  • Intellectual and linguistic understanding alienates us from the reality that is our natural habitat
  • The Dao cannot be talked about or described, it cannot be thought about or taught in words
  • "The Dao that can be described is not the real Dao" (1)
  • The Way is outside the scope of our descriptions (not an entity that has characteristics) 
  • Unconditioned reality
  • Nameless/ formless (these are human interpretations)
  • It precedes beings or individual entities 
  • Said to be 'non-being' (does not mean non-existence but it is not this or that and not conditioned by anything external to it)
  • 'It cannot be 'like' anything existing, anything finite' (67)
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'The Way'

  • 'Nature is a universal flux where... water becomes ice which in turn becomes water... ect..'
  • Effortlessly and spontaeously, the natural order flourishes, withers and decays, and is renewed
  • It never tires, never ceases
  • Self-interested and self-assertive desires isolate and individualise us 
  • Egocentric attitudes cut us off from Dao
  • Dao is a metaphor for the world as a process (everything transitional) 
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Reaction against Confucianism

  • Reaction against Confucian meritocracy and formal bureaucratic style 
  • Confucians emphasised observance of rituals by ruler and society to create order and prosperity
  • The ruler is to behave as a father to the people and they respond appropriately so harmony prevails and communities flourish
  • successful rulers required accomplishments rather than just good birth and need help of sophisticated intellectual elite (employed in civil service)
  • Believed the Way was lost/ Dao declined and Ren and duty (Yi) arose
  • Confucian morality is the end-product of a process of degeneration from natural modes of behaviour and social organisation to artificiality and formality 
  • Confucian teachings represent a decline from genuine, natural behaviour and ways of doing things (Dao) to superficial rituals and the practice of elaborate etiquette (human inventions)
  • They are conventions that arise when human mind superimpose concept and categories on the natural order (introducing distinctions that have no place in nature)
  • 'When the uncarved block is carved there are names - categories and distinctions (conceptualisation of entities) - 32
  • Confucius made admission to the civil service open to all (not restricted to those of noble birth)
  • Daoists have a low opinion of education (life of the mind) 
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Wu Wei

  • Non-action/ non-intervention
  • The Way does nothing but nothing is left undone. If rulers let the way take its course, people will transform themselves. Without desires, the world will settle itself (37)
  • Dao engages in no deliberate purposive action but nothing remains undone
  • If a ruler follows Dao the people will be morally transformed spontaneously (if he does nothing - does not seek to implement ambitious plans) 
  • The people will be tranquil because free from desires and will regulate themselves in acting naturally (37)
  • Conscious planning and calculation - geared to social improvement - is contrasted with natural spontaneity
  • Human desires disrupt the natural order and interventions disrupt the natural process so the ruler should not unsettle the balance
  • Contrast Daoist natural activity with Confucian formality and decorum
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Daoist Sage/ Ruler

  • Accord with the spontaneous flow of natural processes 
  • Secret of success is to behave like water when its left to its own devices and adapts to circumstances
  • Confucians seek to control and divert the flow 
  • Minimal government and non-intervention (and low taxes) 
  • 'One who is good at overcoming an enemy does not confront him' 
  • Relinquish the effort to control everything and allow natural tendencies to take their course spontaneously (not maintain power by coercion)
  • Intervention is to be avoided (is harmful) 
  • 'The wise ruler empties their minds and fills their bellies, he keeps them free from knowledge and from desires' (3) 
  • Purpose of government is to maintain natural harmony between people and nature and not to improve, refine, cultivate people through unnatural education (favours aristocracy - those already in positions of power)
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The 'Carved Block' vs the 'Uncarved Block'

  • Daoist naturalism 
  • Sees the Confucian approach as anthropocentric (in accord with human interests)
  • Confucian elaborate codes of conduct and ceremonies encourage artificiality and complexity (imposed by human viewpoints/ interests)
  • Confucians confuse morality with conventional modes of behaviour but we should act naturally 
  • 'Exterminate ren, discard yi, and the people will again be loyal' 
  • 'Embrace the uncarved block' 
  • 'Let them be selfless having as few desires as possible' 
  • The uncarved block is the metaphor for unrefined, uncultivated nature (Dao)
  • Confucians trying to modify, control and 'domesticate' reality that is wider than the measure of mans mind
  • Confucians claim to be kindly and humane but establish laws and institutions (a Dao that can be named) and make deliberate efforts to regulate peoples behaviour 
  • Confucians reduce morality to merely human conventions 
  • Should not project human values and desires onto the natural world
  • In interests of harmony should adapt to the necessities of natural processes
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Reaction of Confucian humanism (Social Control)

  • Confucians discuss the management of human interactions, conventions and social arrangements
  • Daoists recommend that rulers promote an original simple way of life in accordance with natural harmony 
  • Sage Kings of antiquity were effective rulers not because imposed bureaucracy and legislation but because they practised a simple life in accordance with the spontaneous natural course of things (responsive to peoples needs to better maintain harmony)
  • Reaction to the idea people can become virtuous through education 
  • 'Eliminate the Sage, discard education'
  • 'GIve people an interest in the simple life'
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Wu Wei

  • The wise king's rule should accord with the spontaneous flow of natural processes 
  • Secret to success is to behave like water that when left to its own devices yields and weaves, adapts to circumstances and seeks the natural course of the terrain 
  • Confucians seek to control and divert the flow, build dams and decorative fountains 
  • One should not maintain power by coercion but relinquish the effort to control everything and allow natural tendencies to take their course spontaneously (minimal government and non-intervention and low taxes) 
  • Contrasted with intrusive interference and implementation of grand schemes on public level
  • Rejection of the introduction of changes 
  • Policies should not conflict with the natural order
  • 'Control the world through non-intervention' 57
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Daoist Ruler

  • The best ruler does not speak. When something is accomplished, the people think it happened purely naturally inevitably (because policy accords with the natural course of things)
  • Best ruler does not coerce/ display force or kindness (people know he is there but nothing about him - hard to challenge/ undermine)
  • Effective authority of a sovereign does not depend on charism and character 
  • Does not need devotion and loyalty of subjects 
  • 'Control the world through non-intervention' (Wu Wei) - 57
  • The more laws and prohibitions there are, the poorer the people
  • The more educated the people, the more complex life becomes 
  • Sages: 'I do nothing and people transform themselves' 'I do not interfere and the peolpe prosper' 
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